Progress Made

It’s a funny place I find myself in, sitting comfortably in my mid-thirties, rid of all the angst of my late teens to mid-twenties. I still recall the emotional turmoil I was in, the loneliness, the anger- so much anger! Despite the ability to recall it all, in vivid detail, it also feels like a lifetime ago. The suffering definitely helped to shape who I am, but that person, that version of myself seems foreign to me now.

I remember… staying up all night, watching tv and chatting over AIM with 5 people at once and writing two pieces at a time. I remember all the pent up rage over my (perceived) inability to live a normal life. I remember the feelings of isolation, desperation, and loneliness that overwhelmed me. I remember having my first full blown panic attack one night around 1am, while watching Vanilla Sky, wondering if I should wake my parents to take me to the hospital or let them sleep and maybe find me dead on the couch in the morning. I let them sleep and hoped and prayed I wasn’t having a heart attack and dying like I thought I was, like I felt I was.

I remember… writing dark and twisted poetry about the fury, the sorrow, and romanticizing suicide. I never truly considered it but it felt like such a tempting escape from the misery I was in.

I think back to all the crazy that I attracted to my life during that time. The drama filled people who seemed to find me like I was a magnet and truth be told, I probably was. It seemed like one friend after another was in crisis. My friendship circle consisted of self-harmers, pill poppers, and the like. It was also filled with people who had been dealt some really shitty hands in life but year after year they continued to be the victim rather than become the heroine of their own life. I remember one often repeating, “I don’t know what I did in a past life to deserve all of this.”

I remember… finding solace in the darkness of depression, the depression that anxiety drove me into. Misery does love company and I found my tribe. I remember feeling so liberated being able to share the chaos and storms that were swirling within me. I was no longer alone in my looney tribe of misfits. We were all wounded in our own ways and suffering but we had each other and that made it less lonely.

I remember… the clouds starting to lift in my life. The poetry dried up and I feared I was losing my creativity. I remember that the down moments came less frequently, the mood swings not as severe. I remember feeling at odds with myself because I didn’t recognize myself anymore without turmoil. Sometimes, even now, a little part of me misses it. For the creativity that is. There is something about angst and writing that go hand in hand, at least in my twisted mind.

Yet, I wouldn’t go back to it. I like being in a happy place now. That’s not to say my life is perfect but I am more appreciative now. I understand my anxiety better and have a better handle on it. I’m thankful for my struggles because there are somethings one cannot fully understand without experiencing them, mental health issues being one of them. Yes, I remember my battle and I’m grateful for it but I am so content to be exactly where I am right now. 100_0291_2.jpg

Mourning and Moving Forward


shutterstock_558143062.jpgI am sure it comes as no shock but I’ve been in a bit of mourning with the current political climate. I don’t know that it is even so much the results of the election but the sheer ugliness and divisiveness being expressed towards anyone that has different views. Being totally transparent, yes I was disappointed by the results of the election. However I know that we are not always going to get our way, you win some and you lose some. I’ve done a good job of sort of blocking it out since then but with the inauguration a whole new wave of ugliness has crept in, not to mention I have no choice but to face reality.

I’m not writing this post to rail against our current officials or trash talk his supporters. That sort of thing plays out on Facebook day in and day out. I’m tired of it. I’m writing this because I need to find a way to move on. I need to find a way to use my voice to share some positivity and tolerance. Many of us are disappointed as of late. Regardless of who had won the election, many of us wonder how anyone could vote for XYZ candidate. However that does not solve anything. Accusations and cruelness only serve to breed more contempt and anger. I’m looking for a higher road. If you’re happy or unhappy do something about it. Use your voice!!!

A couple things I have discovered in the last couple of days:

Countable (website and app)

https://www.countable.us

Helps you to identify your representatives, keep you abreast of current issues, and provides an easy platform to get your voice heard.

Petitions on WhiteHouse.gov

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/#signapetition

You can sign or create a petition that, with enough signatures, will illicit a response from the White House.

A couple last thoughts:

“We have far more in common than that divides us.” Jo Cox.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi (though I’ve heard he wasn’t the one who said this)

First Step…

They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting that it exists. Well, I’ve long admitted that I have issues; with anxiety, stress, social anxiety, trust, insecurity, abandonment, need for control, need to fix everything, take care of everyone, etc. Ok in all fairness most of the issues stem from anxiety/social anxiety. I’ve known that ALL people could benefit from therapy while actively avoiding going to therapy. I did try it once, but it was the wrong fit and quite disastrous. Also, being (mostly) self aware I knew a lot of the things I need to change/work on/address so… How would discussing it with a stranger help me, really?

shutterstock_139247051.jpgStill… As the anxiety/stress was leaving my shoulders and stomach in knots, as I was reeling from the emotional fallout of some big decisions, and knowing that I deserve better in life I finally sucked it up and sought out therapy. Again.  I called my insurance stuffs, found a recommendation, and made an appointment. Even making an appointment led to my active mind kicking into overdrive. My therapist treats people in his office or at his home. His home was closer and also better parking options not to mention the day that worked best for me happened to be a day he was working out of his home. Enter active mind: I’m meeting a man I do not know, in his home, and I’ll be alone. Is that really safe?  Is that wise? What if he is creepy? What if he is some weirdo? What if, what if, what if? The two biggest words that roll around in my brain. Ok. STOP. BREATHE. 1. If your health insurance/employment is recommending this person he probably checks out. 2. If he is some psychotic, monster he probably wouldn’t have passed whatever screening was necessary to be recommended by reputable companies. 3. Just hush noisy brain. Hush.

For anyone who has never gone to therapy, the first session mainly revolves around paperwork, dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s, establishing what is bringing you in, in a nutshell. The first appointment we didn’t discuss anything huge. Right away I felt at ease with him. He reminds me of my uncle John that passed away. He has a plant growing in his living room, the same kind of plant that my sisters and I gave to our relatives for Christmas one year as kids. I felt comfortable.  I also realized pretty quickly that he was perceptive and picked up on the things I wasn’t saying. While we didn’t cover anything deep or significant, I felt lighter. He gave me some ideas to consider, a few challenges in how I think about things.

At this point I’m about 5 or 6 sessions in. I can definitely see it helping me. I was right, I know a lot of the things I need to work on but it does help having someone neutral to discuss things with. I’m finding that I am getting better at stopping my mind from spiraling out. My aunt says I am calmer, less nervous. The thing I’m finding, I didn’t fully realize how neurotic I was until I started making positive changes. I was explaining one of those realizations lately to my best friend and told her, “I was so crazy before, the thought process that would have been going through my head over something so insignificant, but now, I am ok with making this inconsequential decision and not analyzing it to death or assuming what the other person could be thinking.” She was very  gracious and told me I wasn’t crazy before but that my brain was definitely very busy and that it must have been exhausting. True dat. 

The Tragedy of Mental Health

Robin Williams. Robin fucking Williams. One of the funniest people on the planet. Gone. He is gone because of a disease that turns the mind against itself. I was shocked and terribly saddened when I learned of his passing. It felt like a punch to the gut.

A friend had posted something on Facebook which sent me on a rabid search of the web. At that moment there were two results to my search; one gossip site proclaiming his death and one rather sketchy looking site proclaiming it was a hoax. I clung to the hope  it was a hoax. We couldn’t lose Robin Williams.

In the back of my mind I recalled he did suffer from depression and had substance abuse issues in his past. The site that was announcing his passing said it was suicide brought on by a severe bout of depression. I know that what I am writing so far is nothing new, nor am I an authority of any sort. I have no degree whatsoever, just my own battles with mental illness and bearing witness to the battles my loved ones have endured, and one that lost her battle.

In the days following Robin’s death there has been a great deal of dialogue. Questions like, “How could he? He was so rich and successful. He was so funny,” etc. What people don’t get is that mental illness doesn’t discriminate and that it is an illness. I skimmed over a few insensitive comments on Facebook. I even fell victim to one mistaken thought myself. For one, very brief moment, I thought it was dreadfully sad he chose to take his life while people like my uncle, who was killed by cancer, wanted nothing more than to live. How selfish. How very selfish.

At that moment, luckily, I got angry. Not at Robin, not at anyone who has ever committed suicide, but at myself. As someone who battles anxiety and mild depression, I, of all people should know better. I do know better. In my sadness though, I forgot, for just a moment.

Mental illness is coming into the open bit by bit but not fast enough. It is not given the same respect or understanding as diseases like cancer or diabetes or anything quantifiable. With mental illness people usually look ok. The same way that sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia look ok. There isn’t a blood test or an ultrasound or an MRI to detect it. Mental illness is a disease of symptoms and feelings and thoughts. So for many, it isn’t real.

Well-meaning people give ineffectual advice like, think yourself out of it, or focus on the happy thoughts, or just breathe. One cannot think themselves out of diabetes, or emphysema. In fact, if someone told a diabetic, “Just don’t think about it and you’ll be fine,” they would be looked at as if they were crazy. Yet, for people suffering from mental illness it is common practice to tell them to think their way out of their disease. It doesn’t work like that…

I have general anxiety disorder and mild depression. There are days that I’m scared to death, panicked, over nothing. I may wake up that way or it may hit me out of nowhere, in the middle of my day. Imagine waking up from an intensely scary dream, your heart pounding,being totally overwhelmed with fear. Now imagine feeling that way for no apparent reason. That is what a panic attack is like.

I cannot even count the number of times I have argued with myself, trying desperately to tell myself there is no reason to feel this way. Nothing is wrong. Calm down, breathe. Focus. I’m fine. But I am not fine, not in those moments. In those moments, I’m terrified, or feel like I am dying, or want to cry because internally I am out of fucking control. I’m shook up, on the inside.

I went years feeling detached from the world around me, feeling numb. I was sad and angry. I was filled with rage. I couldn’t explain it, couldn’t tell a single person why. I have a good life. I have two loving parents who are still together. I grew up in a stable home environment. I have been surrounded by a loving, extended family. I have never been raped or molested or kidnapped or beaten. By all accounts and measures, I have a good life. No trauma to “explain,” why I have these issues.

Yet, I have a mental illness. It turns out, it runs in my family. While I do, in some ways, count it as a blessing- it gives me an empathy and understanding that no outsider can truly feel- it is also a curse. Freaking out over nothing? Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room and suddenly feeling like I can’t breathe, that I am dying? It’s awful. Experiencing tension throughout my body  that is so painful and an ever churning mind that I cannot shut off? Torture. Having my stomach in knots, heart pounding, and feeling split in two? Certainly not fun.  

When my anxiety is running high I am like two people in the same body. There is the version of me that others see, the version that is trying desperately to act normal and carry on like everything is ok. Then there is the other side, the darker side, the one that is struggling terribly, trying desperately to coach myself through the situation.

Try having a conversation with a total stranger, staying focused and coherent, while inside your heart is pounding, breathing is difficult, you feel tingly, you want to run away, you want to scream, you want to cry, you think you’re going to be sick, maybe your face feels numb, or you have odd pains, you wonder if you’re having a heart attack or stroking out… So many feelings, all of the feelings, wrapped in panic and fear and worry, happening inside of you all at once. Welcome to my life. Welcome to the life of someone with a mental illness. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it? To top it off you feel dumb because you know its totally illogical, there is no threat, no danger. The panic is useless but it’s still there, unrelenting.

Sometimes I wish for education sake, people could be forced into a panic attack, just once, so they would get it. So they would see how thoroughly futile it is to “think your way out of it” I wouldn’t wish an anxiety disorder on anyone but if everyone could feel it just one time…

Depression is even scarier. I have mild bouts of depression from time to time. I have never been suicidal. Suicide was an intrusive thought, a tempting release from the pain I was in. It was dark and beautiful and poetic. It would mean having some semblance of control when everything else felt hopeless. Or it would be a way to punish those that hurt me. However, I am lucky, for me it was just a pretty idea to write about in morbid poetry. That was enough of a release for me. I’ve also never been a cutter, and while I have occasionally had too much to drink, I don’t use alcohol to self-medicate or treat my anxiety and depression.

I am lucky while others are not as lucky. There are people that I love that are Bi-Polar II. It painful to watch them spiral out of control as they enter their lows. To know they are engulfed in despair. To know I’ve been there but never as dark or as deep as them. I know what it’s like to sleep away life, I’ve done it. I know what it is like to feel… Nothing. To simply exist and go through the motions day after day. I know what it is like to hate yourself completely. To not find a single redeeming quality about yourself. I’ve been there. Still, as dark as I got, wrapped up in my own misery, I have always seen light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe faint at time. Sometimes things felt completely pointless but there was always a shred of hope. Not everyone is as fortunate.

One of my friends committed suicide a year ago. She had fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, she lived with her abusive mother, she was in her thirties but couldn’t hold down a job due to her health issues. Some days were good, some were awful. There were days she couldn’t get out of bed because the pain was so bad. She was hospitalized many times for her Crohns disease. She had such dreams, such beauty inside of her, compassion for others. Yet, the suffering, her diseases were too much. She couldn’t make it through. I was heartbroken when I learned of her suicide. I was angry. I questioned myself if I could have saved her. I was sad because she was gone from this earth. I was sad for the hand she was dealt. In the end though, no matter what I felt, no matter what I said, no matter what I did or could do… I was not her. I didn’t know the extent of her demons, the depths of her despair, or the hopelessness that swallowed her up.

I do not condone suicide but I do ‘get it,’  I can understand being at war within yourself, feeling hopeless and beaten. Knowing that so many people suspect you’re lazy or faking it, or that life just isn’t that bad. As someone that suffers from mental illness I know the dialogue society still has about it. “Everyone has stress, you need to learn to deal with it.” There is still a stigma, plenty of judgement, and a gross lack of understanding. I hope one day, that won’t be true. People with mental illness are so busy fighting within ourselves we don’t need to defend ourselves against the world too.

*** To be clear, I am currently in a good place, my anxiety seems to be under control again and I’m not “down,” or otherwise affected by depression. However, they are a part of me, so this topic really hits home and I felt the need to voice what it is like to suffer.