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Even When Things Go Sideways

I kid that every time I go out to eat at a restaurant it’s like I’m playing Russian Roulette because of Celiac disease. I totally say this as a joke, yet there’s more truth to it than I like to admit. This has become abundantly clear to me because in the past two months, I’ve lost this game twice. No, I wasn’t shot in the head, I was gluten-ed. The first time was at a little food truck where I’ve eaten before and I ordered what I always order. Which means that they either changed the recipe so that it now includes gluten, or there was cross-contamination. I know what you’re likely thinking, “Why in the world would you ever eat at a food truck? Half of those people aren’t even trained chefs! Of course your food was cross-contaminated!”

To that I would counter you with my second exposure to gluten. It occurred at a fancy restaurant, after I had spoken in detail with my server, who then spoke with the chef about what I could and could not eat. In this instance, even after all of the precaution, they served me a rice flavored with the exact same miso sauce that they had removed from the meat because it contained, you guessed it, gluten!

Yay

To be honest, I’m not even upset about the first one. Shit happens. People who don’t have Celiac don’t realize that all it takes is a crumb or two, so even when they’re being careful, they may not be careful enough. The risk of cross-contamination is the gamble I take whenever I decide that I don’t want to prepare my own food. The second instance, pisses me off. Why did we all go through that stupid elaborate dance of ‘What can Kat eat?” if nobody’s going to pay attention in the end? In all honesty, this is why I hate eating at fancy restaurants. The fancier the food gets, the more ingredients they use, and the chefs are generally not big fans of removing elements from their perfectly balanced dish, because it means that someone in their restaurant is going to eat bland food.

Thankfully, I was able to identify the miso flavoring with my first bite, and I was actually able to throw most of it up. I generally can’t make myself throw up at all, so the fact that I was able to that night sheds some light on just how upset I was. I was upset on several levels. First, that I was going to have to leave my friend’s wedding reception while I was still able to drive home. Second, that any plans for the next day or two would have to be cancelled as I would be at home feeling like shit, and any plans around large groups of people for the following week would have to be cancelled since my immune system was going to be compromised.

quarantine

But mostly, I was upset because no matter how strong I am, no matter how careful, how thorough, how detailed I am, all it takes is one bite of food to take me out. And when I get taken out it just highlights how restricted everything in my life is. How there are people who can gallivant about carefree and go on trips spontaneously, or go places with the expectation of ‘finding food there,’ and how I will never be able to be that person. Shit, I can’t even go to a dinner party without putting the host through the third degree, or bringing my own food. I can count on one hand the people that I trust to give me food without making me sick, and that’s mostly because they tell me every single ingredient they used. Something as simple as eating, will always be a production with me. There will always be a conversation, there will always be a risk. It’s not only frustrating, it’s exhausting.

So when the friend, whom I had cancelled on because of the gluten exposure, not only completely understood, but offered to bring me food – as long as I told her exactly what to bring – it lessened the frustration and the exhaustion somewhat. On top of everything else, when this happens I feel even more overwhelmed because I see myself as a burden on those around me. Not just with the gluten thing, but with my mental illnesses as well. Sometimes I really see myself as someone who is hard to live with. As someone who it is hard to be friends with as you never know when plans may have to be cancelled, or when I may not be feeling well. So the reminder that even when I cancel plans and I am not feeling well, I’m still someone worth spending time with was something I really needed.

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!

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

OCD – Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

Last December my company had its annual holiday dinner, and since the restaurant was near my house a couple of co-workers came over to get ready. For whatever reason, I don’t remember what, I mentioned that I have OCD. Unlike the other mental illnesses that I have, no one ever seems to believe me on this one. I don’t think people think I’m lying or anything, but “I’m OCD” gets bandied about as a joke so commonly by people who aren’t, that it’s hard to imagine that someone actually has it. So when I actually show symptoms people are surprised, as is what happened with my coworker.

That night at dinner we were seated next to each other and she happened to look over and see my plate right as I was finishing organizing my food so that there was a piece of chicken paired up with a proportionately sized piece of potato all neatly lined up. I was so engrossed in this task I didn’t even realize she was looking at me until she said, “Wow, you really do have OCD.” It cracked me up. Hadn’t I just told her that I did? Then came the inevitable question, “So do you have to wash your hands three times, or check the stove multiple times, or anything like that?”

ocd

No, that’s not how my OCD manifests. Okay, that’s a little bit of a lie. I always grab three paper towels to dry my hands in public restrooms. Doesn’t matter if two is enough, I inevitably grab that third one. I can’t stop myself. But other than that my thing isn’t counting; it’s organizing. If it can be alphabetized, it is. If it can be color-coded, it is. If it can be sorted by size or shape, it is. If it can be alphabetized, color-coded and sorted by size or shape I am one happy camper!

As a child, this was how I coped with having no control on the rest of my surroundings. My bedroom was the epitome of the saying, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” If my sister walked in and moved something even half an inch, I knew it and I had to fix it. One time when I was at camp my mom and her friend thought they would be nice and cleaned up my trolls for me – I had over 200. The problem was that they were organized into a troll village that took up over half of my room. I hadn’t left them out, I had left them in their respective homes. So when I got home and saw that all of this had been “cleaned-up,” I lost my shit – like yelling, crying, furiously working to get it all back in place lost my shit. I wouldn’t eat or sleep until I got it back to normal.

This was the worst that I ever got, which is admittedly pretty bad. But as I got older and got my compulsions under control I started to swing in the opposite direction out of fear that I would get compulsive again. Even if it bothered me, I wouldn’t allow myself to organize everything. My desk had to be cluttered. Or my nightstand. Something had to be out of order to prove to myself that I was better. That I didn’t need everything to be perfect. It wasn’t until last year that I finally realized I was doing this. That was also when I realized that OCD aside, I am more content as a person when things are neat and organized. So I organized my desk, and amazingly the world didn’t end, nor did I fall back into harmful compulsive behaviors. Whoo! Instead, I realized that I can use my OCD to my benefit. I’m going to England for vacation and food might become an issue at times because I have so many food allergies. So much to my little OCD heart’s delight, I made a baggie of snacks for each day that I will be gone, taking into account the activities of the day, my sweet tooth, and penchant for low-blood sugar.

snacks

Nailed it!