Great and Terrible

I am simultaneously great and terrible. Life is progressing, school is coming along, and on my quest for health, I am closer to having answers.

Sadly the answers are not fast enough as I sit here in pain. Thursday I went to see the “female” doctor and the GI doc. I have a test set up for next week. However, Friday, I awoke feeling miserable, my stomach churning and in pain, and to top it off I was quite anxious. The anxiety grew into a full blown panic attack. I got up, popped a xanax and used some oils for calming. I was awake much earlier than I needed to be for work and my plan was to take control of how I was feeling, I had no intention of missing work.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was still incredibly anxious and my stomach was hurting/nauseous something fierce. (Avoiding more details as I think you get the picture). I called in and went right back to bed. Hours later I awoke feeling a bit better. Still queasy but food seemed like it could work out. I ate a little, then worked on school work, while playing some episodes of Once Upon A Time in the background. Gotta love Netflix.

By three in the afternoon I was thoroughly exhausted, drained from feeling so poorly and the panic attack I guess. I laid back down in my bed and dozed on and off until maybe 8pm? I got up, worked on more school work and then decided to call it a night as I had to work at 9am today.

I couldn’t sleep. Not because I had slept all day, I was still tired. I was in pain. So. Much. Pain. Heartburn that I think burned a hole through something, pain in my right side and along the bottom of my ribcage, the stabbing pain in my left side was back. I got up and popped several drugs, tried repositioning many times over, anything for some relief.

Hours later some relief finally came and I dozed off only to be awoken at 6am by more pain. I popped more drugs and went back to bed until 7:30am when I had to get up for work. I was still miserable and called off, feeling horrible for leaving them shorthanded.

Eventually I fell back asleep and then got up around noon. I had some tea and then some yogurt. I binge watched Girls to the point I am now caught up. Then I switched to Sex and the City episodes from the first season. I pondered life a bit and felt good that I am closer to figuring out what the heck is causing me so much pain and discomfort. I decided to be happy that the lack of appetite will probably spur some weight-loss, which is needed to be at a healthier weight. (Belly fat = increased risk of lots of nasty things) I am also putting way more effort into school than I ever have before, which is a great feeling. I know I am on the right track to claim the life I have always dreamed off.

As I sat today, with a dull ache in my side, watching some of my favorite shows, hearing the sounds of my neighbors enjoying this beautiful, if not slightly cool day- I realized, despite the current annoyances, I’m happy.

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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.

Emerging From The Darkness

I am emerging from the darkness. I am once again feeling stronger. After a few weeks of being down, dancing between two emotions; numb or melancholy, the fog is lifting.

Every so often I slip into a low. As my mother puts it, it is like a blanket that covers me and keeps me from being myself. I agree with her, partially. It is like a blanket, or a fog, or a haze that descends upon me. The usual happy go lucky demeanor takes a back seat. I get introspective, contemplative, quiet, and yes- moody.

However, I am still me, this is a part of me. Is it mild depression? Is it just part of my personality? The need to pull back now and then and take stock of my life? I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me, not too much at least. It doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t last. The only time it ever lasted I was on the wrong meds/too strong of a dose. Then I withdrew pretty much all together and spent any time not at work lounging or sleeping in my bed. That is not where I am now. That is not where I have been for a long time. 

To me, there is a certain beauty to darkness. I think embracing it now and then is important. Is it painful? Yes, but it also leads to growth, to joy, to a stronger version of me. Embracing it, as long as it is not stopping me from fulfilling my responsibilities (much), or totally cutting everyone out of my life, or having suicidal thoughts (which I don’t), then I say, embrace away. 

Still, there must be a balance. The dark cannot overtake the light. I mustn’t dwell for too long. Life is too precious, too fragile, too beautiful to focus on the misery and the sadness for an extended period of time. 

I was sort of due for this little segue into the land of sorrow. Uncle John’s birthday was just a week ago. There are other changes going on in my life that I was not thrilled to hear about. I have not been focusing on maintaining a positive attitude. There are a few stressors that had been weighing me down as well. Mix that all together and it’s a perfect recipe to backslide a touch. 

Besides, if I get too comfortable in life, if things are going too smoothly, it makes me a tad uncomfortable. I spent so many years overwhelmed and miserable due to my undiagnosed anxiety disorder that peacefulness can actually be unnerving at times. Realistically I suffered from my anxiety issues for years (at least seven years totally undiagnosed, three of those years experiencing panic attacks that scared the bejesus out of me). Just as I began to learn about my anxiety disorder and seek treatment the health of several relatives went into decline, one right after the other. 

In some ways, I’ve had a rough go of it since I was 17 years old.To be clear, not as rough as many in this life but this is my life, my journey, and my issues to deal with. Sure there were pockets of calm in between but also a lot of chaos, a lot of stress, a lot of… well… a lot. Not to mention the amount of growth a person does in those years regardless of other factors. 

So here I am, learning to adjust to a new normal. One I never imagined but one that I am content with. A normal that sadly doesn’t include people that I assumed would be around a lot longer than they were. A normal that still battles anxiety and depression. A normal with more amazing friends than I dared to believe possible when I was younger. A normal that includes healthy relationships with my family. A normal that is all mine. Yes, I am emerging from the darkness once again.

Emotions

Emotions. They can be rather tricky things. Especially if you miss a dose of your anxiety meds. Effffff. I hadn’t done that in such a long time. I had been pretty consistent, though never taking my pills at the exact same time every day. Taking medication at all annoys me, even if it helps me, even if I need it.

Last week, I was exhausted from attempting to clean the dickens out of my house in preparation for Easter. Monday night I fell asleep at 8:30pm. I had been taking my pills at night and while the idea of them danced through my brain as I dozed off, I reasoned that the dogs would get me up soon and I’d take the pills then. To be honest, I’m not sure if they did wake me up that night. It is too long ago now and I was too tired to remember. 

I do know I woke up Tuesday morning around 6:30am with the panic inducing thought of, “I didn’t take my pills last night.” Shit. I really didn’t want to take them that early, I prefer night as I have been closer to taking them around the same time that way. I knew I couldn’t put it off until that night though. I would go into some form of withdrawals for sure. So I took my meds, cursing the fact that I was now taking them in the morning. 

I do not like taking my pills in the morning because if I’m running behind, that is one last extra thing I have to remember to do. Also, I do not have a set schedule at all, so I’m never up at the same time every day. One day I wake up at 6:30am, the next it could be 9:30am, and on a day off it may be 10am. Which means I’m all over the map for taking my pills. 

Still, it is what it is, and I need my meds to keep the panic attacks at bay. I swallowed them down and promised myself I would ease my way back into taking them at night. Wednesday I took my pills a little bit later in the morning. Thursday I had off from work. I decided I would push my pills back until the afternoon. This way, by Friday I could take them at night. It wasn’t the gentlest, slowest easing back to night time pill taking but it was better than just saying “eff it,’ and jumping from morning to night like I have done in the past. See, I’m growing after all!

Thursday did not go as I had planned though. I slept in and lounged about for awhile. Then I got ready and went to visit a friend. I had anticipated getting back home around 4pm at which point I would take my meds. However, my mom text me and said that her and my dad were on their way over to install the new faucet I bought for my bathroom and as payment I could feed them dinner. (That’s a fair trade in my book). 

In all the chaos of the afternoon/evening I didn’t remember I still needed to take my meds. I remember watching Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal that night, feeling extra emotional during them. I am someone who can tear up over a good commercial so it is not unusual for a tv show to get me worked up a bit. Something felt off though. The emotions felt a little too raw, a little illogical. I remember thinking it was odd but I had no explanation. Around 11pm or midnight I was very stuffy and congested. It hit me; I hadn’t taken my meds… Fuck. I got up and took them immediately.

Despite being tired and not having any caffeine late in the day, or napping, and having been up since a very reasonable 9am on Thursday, I could not get to sleep that night. My stomach hurt, I was nauseous, I was agitated. I couldn’t get comfortable and I couldn’t quiet my brain. I was keyed up. I was frustrated. It still wasn’t dawning on me as to what was going on. It had been so long since I had felt this way…

Friday morning I got up for work, I felt miserable. My body ached, I felt out of it, somewhat removed and also raw. I ate my cereal and made some coffee. I was mentally trying to figure out what was going on with me. Withdrawals. Thanks to a hectic week and going hours past when I should have had my meds, twice in a week, I was now suffering. I have always been sensitive to missing a dose of my anxiety meds, no matter what med I have been on for it. 

As it became clear to me why I was feeling so miserable I started to panic, which is oh so helpful. I started imagining my day at work, knowing how raw and jumbled my emotions were, how miserable I felt physically. I tried to assess whether or not I could put my best foot forward, working with the public, or if I would somehow screw up, being short tempered and rude. It all felt too much and I realized I had tears in my eyes that were starting to spill down my cheeks. It felt like someone took all the range of human emotions and shook them up inside my head like a snow globe, letting them all fall at once. I was scared, I was agitated, I was panicked, I was so so sad. I felt like I was going to throw up and my body hurt. 

I called in to work, somehow bumbling through the conversation, hearing myself talking, analyzing myself talk, and not sure I was even making sense. As soon as I got off the phone I was tearing up again. I started texting my mother who was the one who brought some clarity to the moment. She encouraged me to bust into my essential oils. “Get some of your calming oils,” she said. “You must have some for the physical symptoms too.” 

I filled my diffuser with water, put in some lavender and Valor (a blend of oils), and sat it as near to me as I could. I put lavender on my hands and cupped them over my nose, breathing in deep. I took some peppermint to calm my stomach. My pups got on the couch and snuggled with me. I wrapped myself in a blanket, inhaling the wonderful calming scents from my diffuser. I felt a great deal of relief.

I was still very jangled that day, and felt rather off. I was exhausted by the time nighttime came. I fell into bed, totally wiped out, very mad at myself for messing up but also feeling a little bit better. The next day I went into work and it was a bit rough but I wasn’t feeling quite as miserable, my emotions not as raw. I have since taken my mother’s wise advice and set an alarm to remind me every night to take my pills. A thought I had had many times over but never followed through on.

This week, I’m feeling much better. I’m still very embarrassed for having screwed myself up. I do not like messing up, I certainly do not like feeling the way my mistake made me feel. Still, in some ways it was humbling. It reminded me that I do have a battle to fight, daily. That anxiety will always be a part of who I am. That if I don’t take care of myself, I will feel miserable. 

It was also a wake up call. To know that my body is so dependent on my anxiety meds, and how strongly it reacts if it doesn’t have them makes me want to work harder to find natural ways to manage my anxiety issues. I need to find something that works with my body rather than coming in and kind of forcing normalcy on my system. Which… maybe doesn’t make sense but it does to me. For now I’m just making sure I am doing what I can to take care of myself and to keep myself feeling the best I can.