Jump to content

I Prefer the Insomnia

I am no stranger to sleeping problems. I first developed insomnia when I was 16, and a couple of years ago I found out that my cortisol levels are backwards. They’re high when they should be low and low when they should be high which is why I’m exhausted in the morning and get one hell of a second wind at 10 pm. If I had complete control over my schedule, I would go to sleep at 3 am and wake up at 11 am. As I do not have complete control over my schedule, and we’re getting closer but haven’t yet fixed the cortisol problem, I do not take a good night’s sleep for granted. But of all of the issues I have with sleeping, I’ve always been grateful of the fact, that my problem is never a racing a mind. I’m either wide-ass awake with brain functioning normally, or I’m asleep. Being wide awake when you’re trying to sleep is bad enough, so I can’t imagine the hell of being exhausted but unable to get your brain to wind down.

Portrait of an insomniac man trying to sleep in his bed

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. I got a taste of this last night. Not the full-on anxiety brain, I had OCD brain. On Sunday, my laptop decided that it wanted to freeze up, never to work again. Yesterday it got sent out, likely for a new hard drive, which meant that I had lost all of the work that I’d done on Sunday. Argh!!!!! I need to finish my novel, and to do that I need my laptop, and I need to keep work that I’ve done, not lose it! Talk about feeling helpless and having zero control over something . . . cue my OCD. I couldn’t control what was happening with my laptop, so my brain decided to control everything else around me.

I immediately mapped out the rest of my evening in order to complete an extensive list of things on my to-do list.

  • Stop by CVS, use coupon to buy birthday card.
  • Stop by the store to pick up some forgotten groceries. Get exactly what I was missing, nothing less, nothing more.
  • Take dogs out.
  • Start my laundry.
  • Cook my dinner.
  • Prep potatoes while my dinner cooks.
  • Eat my dinner.
  • Cook potatoes while I eat my dinner.
  • Move my laundry over.
  • Pull out potatoes and let cool.
  • Cook scrambled eggs and add the rest of the breakfast burrito ingredients while the potatoes cool.
  • Assemble 8 breakfast burritos and wrap them up for the freezer.
  • Put burritos in freezer and put away leftover ingredients.
  • Fetch laundry from laundry room.
  • Grab ingredients and assemble two pepperoni pizzas, wrap them up for the freezer.
  • Put pizzas in the freezer and put away leftover ingredients.
  • Chat with roommate – this wasn’t on the original schedule.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Do a sink-full of dishes.
  • Realize that while the water is dirty, there’s still room in the drying rack for more dishes.
  • Run more water and do another sink-full of dishes.
  • Strip and remake bed.
  • Take dogs out.
  • Get ready for bed.
  • Lie in bed thinking about the fact that while I folded my laundry, I didn’t put my laundry away which needs to be done. Then think about the fact that the dishes I did earlier should be dry by now, and thus can be put away making room to do the remaining dishes. And the counters and oven really need to a good scrubbing, and hey I can use that new spray I got!
  • Start to get out of bed to do the aforementioned tasks.

It was at this point that I caught a glimpse of the time on my alarm clock, and realized my OCD had kicked in. I am not usually this productive after work. Especially when my evening starts out by spending an hour at the Apple Genius bar. But as I sat on the edge of my bed, taking deep breaths and trying to re-center myself, it occurred to me that I hadn’t wanted to do that second sink-full of dishes. I had simply been incapable of walking away until the precarious tower of Tetris-ed drying dishes was such that the addition of a single spoon would have sent the whole thing toppling down. I then reminded myself that while I always wash and fold my laundry on Monday, I generally put it away on Tuesday. So no, that didn’t need to be done at 2 in the frickin morning.

Go to bed

My entire evening had been driven by a NEED to clean, organize and plan the world around me. I had been working in such a frenzy, that my normally snuggle-tastic dogs were curled up on my bed against the wall so that they weren’t touching me. Honestly, I think they were afraid I was going to throw them in the bathtub and scrub them down if they made their presence conspicuous. Which I might have, so well played puggles. Even with the knowledge of what was going on in my head, it took another half an hour lying in bed wide awake to convince myself that I had done enough for the evening, and like the proverbial mouse with his cookie, if I got up to do just one more thing, I would literally be up all night. Ooof! So long story short, I feel for those of you with anxiety, because the racing thoughts thing sucks!

It’s the 1% That Gets You

If you compliment something I’m wearing, or my purse, or a piece of jewelry, I’m likely going to offer up an interesting fact about it. I’m just that person. I’ve come to embrace it. What kind of facts, you ask? Things like, “You can still get it at Target,” or “I got it on sale for $3!” or “My best friend gave it to me for my birthday.” I have no idea why I do this, I guess my brain likes to make associations. 99% of the time, I have no qualms with this little peccadillo. But the 1% drives me insane.

I have this fantastic skirt. It’s classy, hugs my curves in all the right places and flares out with a subdued, yet feminine ruffle at the knee. It’s dark gray with black specks and made of raw silk so you can dress it up or down. Best yet, it is comfortable! Really, the only flaw in its design is that it doesn’t have pockets. However, with all of its other attributes, I’m willing to let that slide. The thing is, I hardly ever wear it. Maybe once or twice a year, tops. I always see it hanging there, admire it for a moment and then move on to something else. Wanna know why? It is the 1% that drives me insane because I wore the damn thing to my mother’s funeral.

Charlie Brown

Any other interesting fact about that skirt gets trumped by the fact that I wore it to my mother’s funeral, so that’s the fact that pops into my head. It doesn’t make me sad or bring up the emotions from that day, it’s simply a factoid. You compliment my glasses, I tell you that I got them for free because Lenscrafters broke my other frames while trying to fix them. You compliment my cute brown loafers, I tell you that I got them for half off on Zulily. You compliment my gray skirt . . . you know how this ends. Now truth be told, nobody has ever complimented me on my cute brown loafers. Mostly because I don’t think anyone else thinks they’re cute. There’s no accounting for taste (you can decide whose in this scenario.)

So if I had worn the brown loafers to my mother’s funeral, I would have zero problems. However, the damn skirt is so cute that I inevitably get 2-3 compliments on it every time I wear it. Then I have to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, “I wore it to my mom’s funeral.” Because let’s face it, that would be awkward. Nothing puts a damper on a conversation like playing the dead mother card. Especially when it’s a complete stranger in the bathroom! Nobody wants to hear where I wore the skirt, they just want to tell me that it is super cute.

Awkward

So I bite my tongue and move on with my day. Then somebody else says something and I bite my tongue again. This goes on all day until I get home and just to relieve the tension that has built up, I tell my dogs that I wore the stupid skirt to my mom’s funeral and I’m never wearing it again because it’s exhausting! And they wag their tails, give me kisses and don’t care that I said something macabre, because they’re dogs. Which just proves that dogs are easier than people.

Charlie and Snoopy

If you haven’t already guessed, I recently wore that skirt and have thus been traumatized once more by the experience. I would get rid of it instead of ranting here, but it’s just so damn cute! Life is hard.

Self-Help, My Butt!

About a year ago, a friend of mine recommended a book to me that really helped her with her anxiety. So I figured, what the hell, I’ll give it a read. I finally finished the damn thing last night. Due to the fact that it took me almost a year to finish, you can imagine how helpful I found it. Actually the only reason I finished it at all was because it was listed on my Goodreads “Currently Reading” shelf and I got sick of seeing it there. That’s why I finished it by skimming through the last couple of chapters.

Now I’m not saying that it was total crap from beginning to end. I’m sure it would actually be quite helpful for some people, like the friend that recommended it. However, this author’s entire program I did in therapy about a decade ago. I’ve been living/breathing/practicing his program for over ten years. And yet, I’m still depressed. I still have panic disorder – although knock on wood, that has abated quite a bit. As soon as I realized this, I decided that I would continue to read the book, as it could serve as a sort of refresher course for me. But the further into the book I got, the more he lost me.

His whole claim, is that if you do his program from start to finish and keep at it, your depression/anxiety will go away. That his program is the only thing keeping you from living symptom free. He even has little quizzes throughout the book that you can refer back to in order to gauge how you’re doing. Well guess what? I passed each of his quizzes with flying colors. I have eliminated by child-knee-jerk reactions (he has a name for these that I don’t remember) and replaced them with healthier, more positive reactions. I can find the silver-lining in almost any situation.

ray-of-sunshine

I haven’t been able to lose the sarcasm though. That’s here to stay. But, for the most part I agree that self-talk and re-framing your thought processes works wonders. Emotionally I am a totally different person than I was before I learned how to do this. So why don’t I like the book? Because I’ve done everything that he says to do, and I am still depressed. I understand the need to market and sell books – trust me, I understand that – but I have a huge problem with someone saying that X is a cure-all, and if it doesn’t work for you, then clearly you’re doing it wrong. I have a major problem with that. I have enough problems without someone telling me that my depression is still there because I’m not working hard enough.

WTF? Screw you, Mr. Psychologist guy. Maybe I am doing it right, and I still need assistance from pharmaceuticals. Maybe that’s a thing that exists. Wow, this blog took a turn. Clearly I am still more worked up over this then I thought. It just drives me nuts when somebody espouses that there is only one fix that will work. Whether that’s the ‘You have to be on drugs!’ camp, or it’s the ‘Only talk-therapy will help you!’ camp. None of us are the same, so our ‘fixes’ will likely vary and be a combination of things. Depression and anxiety are hard enough without someone implying that you aren’t diligent enough if it’s not working. So here’s my recommendation – the book has some very good tools, but his process is likely only one step in your therapy, not the whole cure.

I Don’t Wanna

I am a lover of lists. At the end of each year, I make a list of the things that I would like to accomplish the following year and then break them down into which month I will do that task. At the end of each month, I make a to-do list for the following month. This list includes everything from my year list, everything that didn’t get done from the previous month’s list and everything on my calendar. Then I break these tasks into weeks, then days. At the end of each week, I refine my to-do list for the following week. Finally, at the beginning of each day I gauge my energy and concentration level, see whether anything has been added to my calendar that day and adjust my to-dos as needed.

This is how I operate. How I’ve operated for years, and I really don’t understand how people can function and get things done without lists. For everybody who has ever asked me how I get so much done, or how I remember things, this is how. It’s all written down. And over the years, I have learned the gracious acceptance and forgiveness that has to happen when you hit the end of the day and you’re not done with your list. Because let’s be honest, 99% of the time the list isn’t done because there were too many things on the list to start with! It’s not a personal failing, it’s a failure of proper minions. If I had minions, those damn lists would be done every day by dinner. Well, except for the dinner dishes. Those have to happen after dinner, for obvious reasons.

minions

Despite the fact that I have found a Zen place in regards to unfinished to-do lists, I have found that lately my lists are being pared down to the bare minimum. If something doesn’t absolutely HAVE to happen on that particular day, it gets bumped to another day. There are no options of things that can be done that day, or contingencies like, do X, Y, and Z should your appointment be shorter than anticipated. None of that. Lately, my lists have been sparse, down to the point that three day’s worth can fit onto one typed page. For comparison’s sake, it’s not odd for a single day to take up an entire page.

Why the change? Lately, I have had an extreme case of the, “I don’t wanna’s.” Not in the sullen teenager sense of, “I don’t wanna do the dishes,” but in the clinical depression sense of, “I don’t wanna do anything. Not move, not eat, not socialize, not anything.” Okay, sleep. I totally want to sleep, but that’s it. I probably would spend all weekend in bed if it weren’t for my dogs who are rather insistent on peeing and eating on a regular basis. I probably would have been fired from my job by this point, if it weren’t for the Prozac. The thought of having to get up and go to work in the morning makes me want to cry, but with the Prozac I’m able to do it. I get out of bed, put on clothes, feed/walk my dogs and get in my car.*

To do list

Now logically, I know that all of this is in my head. I have nothing to be sad about, my life is actually going quite well at the moment. But that doesn’t matter, so instead of fighting against where I am right now, I’m trying really hard to work with what I’ve got. I know that if I had one of my typical to-do lists right now, I would shrink away and choose to do nothing at all. Then at the end of the day feel crappy because I didn’t get anything accomplished. So instead, my to-do lists include simple everyday things like shower and walk the dogs and then 2-3 action items to get done toward completing my goals. It’s much easier – even when exhausted with zero motivation – to look at a list of two things and say, “Yeah, okay. I guess I can do that,” then it is to say that while looking at a list of ten things.

My lists are paltry, and my progress has been painfully slow, but at least there’s been progress. If you’re wondering, yes, writing this blog post is on my list. And yes, it’s been like pulling teeth to get it done. Apologies if it reads like that as well, but you gotta do what you gotta do! What do you do to keep your progress moving forward, when all you want to do is stay in bed? I’m genuinely curious. Not that I’ll probably try anything new right now, but I will later when my gut response for everything is no longer, “I don’t wanna.”

Don't wanna

 

*For those who are confused, yes it is totally possible to be on Prozac and still be depressed. If I were to up my dose to a level that would eliminate all depression, I would be a zombie. Not worth it.

Don’t Have to Be Happy

I feel like our cultural places a huge importance on being happy all the damn time. It’s exhausting. I’m sure that there are people out there who can accomplish this. They are just naturally happy, and even when things go wrong they eventually bounce back to happy without much work. I really want to believe that people like this exist. However, I am not one of those people. In fact, I would say I go for days at a time without being truly happy. My status quo is not set at happy, it’s set at content. Or satisfied. When I’m not actively depressed that is where I hang out. I pop up into happy, but it is truly work to maintain happy.

For years I did that work. I tried my damnedest to maintain happy at all costs. Because of that, I often went from happy to flat out exhausted, followed by depressed because I failed at my endeavor. It’s only been a recent epiphany of mine that there is nothing wrong with being content or satisfied. There is nothing wrong with visiting the land of happy, but not setting up camp there. It’s like vacationing at Disneyland, but booking the Holiday Inn a mile away to save some money. It’s not the same, but there’s also nothing wrong with it. Ironically, it’s actually better in some ways because it removes the stress of an over-expenditure, allowing you to enjoy your time there more.

Heart Brain

This is what I have come realize, and I’ve embraced it. It works for me. However, I’ve discovered that there are still certain situations where I forget this. My birthday was this past weekend and I had a great time celebrating with friends. I had brunch with some friends, then later in the day met up with a different group to grab dinner and then go see a movie. Brunch was great. Dinner was a hoot. The movie, not so much. In fact, I hated it. And it came close to causing me a panic attack.

#1 – It was my birthday, and apparently my epiphany does not hold true on birthdays. If it’s your birthday, you are to be happy and like everything all damn day. No matter what!

#2 – I’m the one who chose the movie, so why in the world did I choose a movie that I hated? Clearly I am a moron who does not deserve to be happy.

#3 – See #1

Instant recipe for a panic attack! In my defense, I truly did think I would like the movie, but honestly, that is so far beside the point! Because I had set this insane requirement that I be happy with everything all day, instead of merely being disappointed that I didn’t like the movie, I practically had a mental breakdown, ruining the entire day. Now that makes sense! Looking back now, I can see that this is what happened. At the time, all I knew is that I was really upset, and all I wanted to do was go home before anyone caught on to how upset I was. If I wasn’t actually happy about everything, I wanted to at least maintain the illusion that I was. I didn’t succeed.

People caught on to the fact that I was not happy with the movie. So I failed on that front completely. However, I think it’s a good thing that I failed. Because while everyone was bummed that I didn’t like my birthday movie, the world didn’t end. It didn’t take away from the fun we’d had earlier that evening and it didn’t damper the big hugs that everyone gave me upon leaving. I was not happy for my entire birthday, and that was perfectly okay. It is okay if you aren’t happy all of the time. Even on your birthday.

Stopping a Panic Attack

In my previous post I talk about how we need to give ourselves credit for shutting down, or stopping panic/anxiety attacks. What I failed to talk about is how exactly I do that. Which was pointed out to me in a couple of emails. Oops! My bad! I guess that is good information to share. So here’s how I stop my panic attacks before they become ER worthy. Please note, I have panic attacks, not anxiety attacks which you approach from different angles. If you have anxiety attacks, I’d love to hear what you do differently or the same!

  1. Know my triggers, and how to soothe them. I have two dogs and they are my babies, so them being attacked by another dog is the thing of nightmares for me. I know this, because they have both been attacked by other dogs on multiple occasions. Therefore, my biggest trigger for panic is when I hear two dogs snarling/growling at each other. I hear it, and my heart immediately begins to race. So when this happens, I remind myself that my dogs are safe and I look at their pictures on my phone to reassure myself that they are just fine. If they are around, I hold them tight for that reassurance. Nine times out of ten, I can cut that panic attack off by specifically addressing the trigger. Of course, this only works if you can identify what triggered the attack.
  2. Close my eyes and inhale on a count of 5, then exhale on a count of 10.
  3. Tune into and name the objects in my immediate surroundings – 2 framed paintings, a light switch with 4 switches, 1 window, 1 door, 2 coffee mugs, etc.
  4. I move to a completely different environment. If I’m inside, I go outside. In my office, I run to the restroom. Anything that completely changes what I’m seeing/hearing. Sometimes I panic because I feel trapped but don’t realize that until I’m in a new place.

trapped-1

With the exception of #1, these techniques are not enough on their own. They’ll take off the edge by mentally taking me out of fight-or-flight mode, but the racing heart, tightness in the chest, etc usually remain to some degree. So then I move on to one of these two things.

 

  1. Curl into myself as much as possible while tensing every muscle in my body. We’re talking white knuckles, thighs engaged, abs flexed and butt squeezed. Tense those muscles until it hurts, then release everything all at once. When you strain your muscles then let them go, they release endorphins – I think that’s it, but it might be some other chemical that ends in ‘phin,’ so don’t quote me. This is the cause of the “workout high” that you hear gym-rats talk about. Truth be told, they actually are high, it’s just on their own hormones/chemicals/whatever you want to call them. Clearly I’m not a science major. So by tensing all of your muscles then releasing them, you replicate a fraction of that gym-rat high, which will counter the adrenaline released in a panic attack.
  2. If trying that a couple of times doesn’t cut it, I’ll go run up a couple flights of stairs. I’ll essentially burn off whatever adrenaline is still there. Also, if you’re out of shape like I am, your body becomes more concerned with breathing than panicking. Good times!

Can't Breathe

So basically, I do a combination of those things, generally in no particular order and with some of them repeated. Okay, #6 ALWAYS comes last, but that’s because I’m lazy and don’t like running up stairs . . . or I’ve injured myself and running up stairs is seriously painful. On a good day, this will take care of my panic and I’m okay. On a bad day, I start this all over again every few hours. Those days suck, but not as much as going to the ER. So I’ll see ya on the stairs.

Find and Focus on Your Wins

I don’t know about anybody else, but when it comes to my mental health I rarely give myself credit for how well I’m doing. Or when I have a particularly good day, I don’t celebrate that. Instead, I find that my focus stays on the negative. Instead of acknowledging that I got a lot done because once I was up and about I had a lot of energy, I focus on the fact that I slept through my alarm and was late. I focus on what I didn’t get accomplished, because if I hadn’t slept in clearly I could have gotten that done too. There’s no way that I would have spent that extra time futzing around on Facebook or Pinterest. Nope, definitely not. That was missed productivity time, and therefore deserves self-flagellation.

Pinterest

Most of the time I don’t even realize that I’m doing this until someone points out how productive I am, or what a good mood I’m in and I take a moment to reflect. All in all, I have more good days now than bad. Not easy days necessarily, there’s always something to overcome, but at the end of a week more days fall into the good category than the bad. A friend got me thinking about this, when she shared this meme with me.

Anxiety

I have panic disorder, not generalized anxiety disorder, meaning that I skip over the whole racing thoughts thing and just jump straight to the physical symptoms of the panic attack. When I was at my worst, I would have 6-7 panic attacks a day. A good day meant I only had 2-3. Bad days would frustrate me almost to tears. Why couldn’t I get a grip? What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I make them stop? Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why did everything have to be so hard?

As you can imagine, this did wonders for making them stop. Insert sarcastic font here. I was expressing this frustration to my therapist one day, and she stopped me. Because she couldn’t figure out how I had had 6 full-blown panic attacks in one day and not wound up in the ER. I replied, rather testily, that obviously I had stopped them. Duh! At this she laughed, I don’t think she could help herself. Apparently this thing that I completely took for granted – the ability to stop a panic attack – was “amazing.” The fact that I could do it over and over again all day long was “huge.” I was so busy focusing on the fact that the panic attacks started in the first place, that I was failing to give myself credit for stopping them.

99 Problems

Yes, it sucked that they existed at all, but I was kicking ass in taking care of myself so I could move on with my day. Once I started focusing on the positive aspect of the whole situation, it was easier to deal with. It wasn’t a magic pill or anything that made the panic attacks go away, but it definitely served to reduce the frustration in my life, which in turn probably reduced the attacks. I don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t paying that close of attention at the time, but my attacks have dwindled down to once in a great while instead of daily. So I feel like there has to be at least a small connection.

But what this meme did for me even more, was remind me to start giving myself a break in terms of my depression as well. Yes, I have felt more depressed than normal as of late and it has definitely interfered with my social life. I also haven’t gotten things done that I wanted done back in January. Which sucks, but I’ve also gotten a lot of other things done. And I have made time for friends where I was able. So not all is lost, and maybe I’ll be more likely to catch up to where I want to be if I stop beating myself up for not being there already.

Ending the Pity Party?

In a recent conversation, I found myself talking about pity parties. Namely, that I needed to stop throwing them for myself. In my defense, I have been dealing with chronic illness for over two years, my first overseas trip in a decade was plagued by illness – including fevers so high it made wearing a coat in England in January frivolous – and a broken little toe that may require surgery. So I’ve got some crap going on that warrants the occasional pity party. That being said, I do my best to stay positive. Please see previous blog post.

Pity Train

That means, that when I do throw myself a pity party, it’s not a long drawn-out affair. Generally, I give myself about an hour. For one hour I am allowed to bemoan all of the ills that have befallen me. All of things in life that are unfair, all of the times that I’ve gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop and all of the opportunities that I miss out on because of all of the crap mentioned above. In essence, I get to be in a surly, shitty-ass, nothing-will-appease-me, stay-back-or-I-will-end-you sort of mood. At the end of the hour, I shake it off, let it go and move on with my day.

It’s quite refreshing, and lately has become more and more a necessity to maintain my mental health. Which I’ve been looking at as a problem. The inner dialogue looks something like this: “Why do I need this so much lately? What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a whiner? Buck up and get over it!”

Complaint Department

That’s a great inner monologue, right? Very healthy. This is what I was bemoaning in my recent conversation, when my whole view on the matter got turned upside down. My therapist (I try to only whine about stuff like this to people whom I pay to listen) posited an alternative way to look at it – “What was wrong with throwing yourself an hour-long pity party every week? Or even every day? That’s healthier than bottling it all up inside.”

What? How in the hell could feeling sorry for myself every day for an hour possibly be good for me? Think of all of the other things that I could be doing in that time. An hour a day. That’s seven hours a week. 28 – 31 hours a month. 365 hours a year. Why in the world would I spend over 15 days a year purposefully feeling sorry for myself? That’s ludicrous! Then she asked two more questions:

“Name the happiest child you know.”

I gave the name of a friend’s child.

“Ask that child’s parents if there is a time every day that the kid is impossible to deal with.”

Hyde Gif

She intended this to be homework, but as it so happened, this child’s mother and I had recently talked about this very thing. Like clockwork, this child goes from happy and bubbly to inconsolable every day around 4:00. Doesn’t matter where they are or what they’re doing, nothing will please this kid. Something that was a piece of cake at 10:00 that morning, will cause a complete breakdown at 4:00. Then after an hour or so, he’s back to his happy self. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Apparently this is something that well-adjusted children do. They store up all of their injustices and frustrations throughout the day, and then let them out all at once. They throw themselves a daily pity-party, and are happier for the rest of the day because of it. Huh? That actually makes a fair bit of sense. I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around it completely – probably because I’ve spent my whole life being told not to feel sorry for myself – but this might be worth trying. Who knows?

 

 

Do What You Can, When You Can

Over the years I have gotten pretty good about accepting the limitations placed on me because of medical issues. My diet is extremely limited, so I’ve learned to eat before going to group gatherings, to carry food with me, and to cook just about anything using substitutes for the foods I can’t eat. I figure it out and despite limitation continue to enjoy food. I’ve learned to work around injuries when exercising. Tendonitis in my ankle flares up, I do Pilates instead. Costochondritis (rib inflammation) flares up, drop the Pilates and embrace long walks. Break the living shit out of my toe, let’s do some leg lifts. I adjust, I modify, I keep moving.

Okay

My mental illnesses are a bit trickier, because they can’t always be planned for. But where I can, I plan. If I have a day filled with crowded spaces and constant interactions with people, I make sure I have a nice quiet evening at my house planned for that night. I have a light on a timer in my bedroom that turns on every morning to help simulate the sunrise. I keep lavender on my night stand to take if dreams wake me in the night, and I have gaba in my purse to take if I’m out and about and start to feel panicky. I accept my limitations and I work around them.

At least on my good days I do. On my bad days, I feel like I’m being betrayed by my body. I feel like there is some sort of conspiracy to prevent me from doing anything useful, or anything at all for that matter. Then I spiral down into self-pity and resentment and my depression kicks in and all I want to do sleep all day. But if I sleep all day, then I wake up and feel even worse, because then I REALLY didn’t get anything done. It’s a vicious cycle, and can feel never ending. At least that’s how it’s felt lately. So I’m adopting a new mantra. Okay, it’s not new at all, it’s actually well-worn, but I’m pulling it out of the closet and dusting it off.

What you can

I’ve been repeating this to myself a lot lately. When I feel like I’m not writing enough, creating enough, or moving forward in my career. When my dogs are bouncing off the walls with energy and I just want to take them on a nice long walk, but have to remind myself to let my foot heal so I don’t have to have surgery. And especially when I look at everything the current administration is doing and I want to take action, protest and make my voice heard, but some days the thought of even making phone calls is overwhelming. It is on these days that I am now saying to myself – Do what I can, when I can. That is enough.

That is enough.

 

 

You Are Not Alone

Because of my mental illnesses, I have been subject to a plethora of misconceptions. My depression tells me that I am a burden and not worthy of the attention and love of those around me. My panic disorder tells me that I am in extreme peril and my PTSD tells me that I will never be safe again. Those last two like to work in tandem. As paralyzing and inconvenient as those things are, they aren’t as damaging as the misconception that I held for years – that I was all alone. That nobody understood how I was feeling, that nobody could relate or truly empathize, that there was no community where I could belong. I was too broken to reveal my true self to anyone.

Broken

I have since come to discover that I am not alone. That belief is a load of shit. I actually belong to a rather extensive community, but few know it exists. Because of the stigma of mental illness and the shame associated with being a victim, people don’t talk their mental illness or abuse. Those that do are often labeled as outliers, over-sharers, attention seekers at best and are shamed and ridiculed at worst. It is not a “polite” topic of conversation. However, I feel that it is an absolutely essential topic of conversation.

By staying silent I felt alienated and that made all of my symptoms worse. Then one day I summoned up the courage and I wrote a blog post about my depression. In this post, I poured out my unique experience and the feelings that only I was feeling while out there all alone in my abyss. You can imagine my surprise when I got comments, both public and private, from people agreeing with me and saying that they feel exactly the same way. That they go through the exact same cycles and emotions. That I had put into words something they had been trying to say for years.

Truth

What? How could these people understand my inner most feelings when society had been telling me for years that I was an aberration? Simple. Society was wrong. I was not/am not an aberration. The things that I was going through, the thoughts that I was thinking were common place. In fact, I would hazard to guess that they run rampant throughout our society. This revelation that I was not alone and that people understood me, did more good than several months of therapy. It was like a burden had been lifted. I didn’t have to carry the weight of my illness by myself anymore.

For me this discovery was years ago. I bring it up now because I have been receiving messages from people who share their stories with me – either in part or in full – and a recurring theme that is coming through is that my blog helped them feel like they were not alone. I’m so glad that they got that message and I hope it sinks in. But for those who haven’t received that message, it occurred to me that it bore stating publicly. Because as I discovered years ago, with all of my other dark thoughts, the feeling of being all alone is not unique. You are not alone.

Not Alone