Processing

IMG_1047I’ve been processing a lot lately. I’ve been evaluating myself, my life, my relationships.  I’ve been looking at what brings me stress and what brings me joy. I’ve been focusing on my motivation and gratitude. I’ve made tough choices, I’ve made changes, I’m leaving myself vulnerable in ways I haven’t in a long time. It’s been scary and difficult and painful but I am moving in the right direction.  I couldn’t have done it without my support system, my family, my close friends.

I still have a long ways to go. I’m realizing that this world and all its ugliness is leaving my soul tired. It’s depressing and makes my heart hurt. It makes me want to run away, buy an island (like I have money for that), and never interact with the world at large again. Instead I need to be a force of change. I can’t run, I can’t hide. I can only do what I can to make the world a better place.

I have to let go of what I can’t fix because in truth, I want to fix anything and everything that brings me sorrow. I am accepting my limitations rather than dwelling on what I cannot change. I’m letting go and opening up at the same time. It’s hard, I don’t like to let go, but it’s a process and one I’m committed to.

Advertisements

Back to School Take 2

So I am back in school, it is official. I have completed one week of class already. While the new week started yesterday I have not done much about it other than map out what is due and when. I figure that is a good enough start.

I cannot believe that it is already September. I am trying to soak up every ounce of good weather that we have left. I have been walking my dogs like crazy! I’ve been riding my bike, though not in a few days now. I’ve cut lawn but it is about time to do that again. I sit on my patio sometimes while reading things for school. I will make the most of this weather while it is here.

The increase in my physical activity and tracking my food is starting to pay off. I have lost about three pounds and I have been told that I look like I am losing weight. That is always a great feeling to know my hard work is paying off a bit.

This week I see two doctors in the quest of fixing me. That is about it for me and my life at the moment. I’m happy, busy, and at peace.

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.

Thanksgiving 2013

I kind of missed the boat when it comes to posting something daily that I am thankful for. I decided today was the perfect day to sit down and take stock of my blessings.

For being raised to have faith. Non-denominational, non- judgmental, embracing everyone with love kind of faith.

I am thankful for a family that sticks together during the tough times. Lord knows the past 4 years have been filled with them. I wouldn’t have made it through without my family.

I am thankful for a group of friends that have changed my life. I am blessed beyond measure.

I am thankful for the people who work tirelessly for the good of others. Whether it is for the sake of adults in need, at risk kids, or animal rescue. You’re all rockstars and I’m grateful to you.

For a warm home.

Food on the table (assuming I went grocery shopping)

My pups. Sometimes they drive me insane, sometimes they still  potty in my house but the silliness and love they bring to my life makes every moment worth it.

A job that I enjoy. Granted, I’d rather stay home if given the chance (who wants to leave a comfy bed with three snuggly pups) but I know that each day I make a difference for people and I have fun doing it.

Working for an amazing company.

Having compassionate and supportive bosses.

Working with a team of highly talented, passionate, individuals.

A safe, reliable car.

Laughter. Every day. (often from my pups or the people I work with or the family and friends).

Good books that suck me in and transport me to another world.

Love. In all its forms.

Wine. So good. White. Red. Blush. So many varieties.

All of my (many) jobs in the past. They all taught me something and gave me a rather varied set of experiences.

Coffee. It is a perfect pick me up, the warmth, the caffeine. As Gram would say, ‘it opens the eyes.”

For wonderful examples of enduring love and relationships within my family and their long marriages.

For our military, police, fire, and ems. These people put their lives on the line daily to protect our freedom and safety. They are underpaid and undervalued but they do it anyway. I am thankful for them.

Teachers.

Living in a state that doesn’t have many natural disasters.

The kindness of neighbors. Last week one neighbor cleaned the leaves that were piled up at my curb. Another mulched the leaves on my front lawn.

Technology- for all the ways it can connect people, educate us, and entertain us.

Music. It can totally change one’s mood. Picks me up when I’m down. Calms me down when I am worked up.

The availability of nutritious food and clean water. The money to supply those.

My health. Without that one has nothing.

Having someplace to go today and people to celebrate with.

There we have it, twenty-eight blessings for the past twenty-eight days.Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!!

Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving and so I am jumping on the bandwagon of talking about what I am thankful for. It only seems appropriate.  This year has been a challenging one for myself and my family. Sometimes it’s hard to look for the silver lining. It can be difficult to see our blessings when weighted down with sorrow. Still, there is a lot I have to be thankful for.

I am thankful that I made the decision to move in with my Gram. She was able to spend her 93 years on earth in her own home, a home she loved, and a home I am now buying. We shared a lot of laughs, some shouting, and several frustrations but I have so many memories of her that I would not have had otherwise. Like her singing, “I’m Just a Gigolo,” at two in the morning, while sitting on the toilet. It was usually followed by her own song, “God Bless My Family,” when she would sing out all of our names, including, “that boy who comes over,” since she couldn’t always remember the name Brian.

I am thankful for an amazing family. This year we’ve had several health scares with Grams, a few with my Uncle John, and we all stick together. It’s good knowing none of us are in this alone. There are certainly better ways to spend our time together than evenings in the emergency room waiting area but at least we keep each other’s spirits up and make it interesting. Despite all we’ve been through, my family has even found the time and energy to help me with changing up the house.

I am thankful for truly amazing friends. They say that you know a true friend based on who is there for you when the chips are down. I can gratefully report I have a set of true friends. More than most perhaps. I am a very lucky woman. From offers to sit with me in the hospital, to sending flowers, to lending an ear. I am very blessed.

I am thankful for the two little furballs that live with me. Dane and Frankie have been a tremendous source of joy in all of our lives. They keep us laughing with their antics and they are the best snuggle partners. After Gram died, I think I would have lost my sanity if it weren’t for them. Having them to take care of and focus on made all the difference in the world.

I am thankful for my job. I can’t talk about it much but they have been so amazing, understanding, and compassionate during all this stressful stuff. It’s also a great joy to be doing work I love.

I am thankful for this blog. Since I’ve worked to be a little bit more active I’ve also been more active in reading and I’m finding some blogs I really enjoy. I’m not much for reading the paper but reading blogs has become a bit of a pastime for me.

I am thankful that I have to wrap this blog entry up because I have things to do.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!