Category Archives: mental health

The Anatomy of Anxiety (AKA A Boy Running In Circles)

Once, when my nephew was little, he got really scared and panicked.  I don’t remember the details of what it was that happened exactly, but I clearly remember what followed.  In the height of his panic, and not knowing what else to do, he ran in circles.  He literally just ran in little frantic circles, oblivious to everyone and everything around him, until his parents were finally able to get him calmed down.

I think of those circles sometimes in the context of trying to describe acute anxiety, and/or panic attacks.  I know I write about depression more frequently than anxiety, but anxiety is often my bigger sticking point.  Dealing with anxiety is HARD.  I like to think about it as depression’s dirtier cousin.

I would think most people in 2017 are familiar with, at a minimum, the physical symptoms that come with a panic attack:  Take your pick from a smorgasbord of: dry mouth, nausea, racing heart, dizziness, faintness, chest pain, stomach pain.  Sometimes there are hives. Sometimes you start experiencing tunnel vision, or even temporarily stop hearing what’s going on around you.  When my anxiety is on high alert, I always feel on the brink of either throwing up or passing out (or both), and the anxiety over either possibility just compounds the anxiety I started with.  I have trouble speaking.  My mouth doesn’t seem able to form words. In its most extreme form, it literally feels like you’re dying, and you’re incapable of convincing yourself otherwise.  Not just incapable of convincing yourself really, but incapable of merely believing it to begin with.  This stuff is real.  Anxiety is real.  And it’s debilitating.

But as far as I’m concerned, none of that is the worst part.  And don’t get me wrong, it is terrifying and awful in its own right (and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy), but for me it’s just not as terrifying and awful as the other piece:  What’s going on inside my own head.

Which is where the running circles comes in.  When I’m in the midst of a panic attack, I feel like I’m going crazy.  And I don’t use the word crazy lightly.  I know it’s a term that’s thrown around casually all the time, (“Oh it drives me crazy when people text and drive!” ) Which, yeah, that drives me crazy too, but it is a very VERY different thing than literally feeling like you are in fact, going crazy.  Like, I need to be hospitalized and locked up or locked down or shot with a tranquilizer because I AM GOING CRAZY.  Every synapse in my brain is firing at once.  It’s sending out a “Danger! Danger! Danger!” signal, but there’s too much… noise.  To0 much chaos.  All inside of my own head.  I can’t hear anything.  I can’t feel anything either, other than the aforementioned physical symptoms.  Outward people do not exist. All there is, all that exists, is pain and fear.  Honestly more fear that just about any I’ve ever experienced. My brain is convincing me that I am under attack. I am afraid for my actual life, and I want to run, but … you can’t run away from your own mind.  The enemy is, quite literally, inside you.

And so, I’m left with little more than what my nephew did:  running in frantic circles, except circles that only figuratively reside in my own mind.

There are things that help (believe me, I am well, well versed in anxiety remedies, both natural and pharmacological).  There’s meditation, there are grounding techniques, there are breathing techniques, there are helpful acronyms from CBT.  There are drugs.  My toolbox is full.   And yet, while most of them help… in some cases, at certain times and in certain places, none of them help ALL of the time.  Especially during my “trigger” places:  big, crowded events, and uh…. small, intimate events as well.  Basically all social situations, except with people I know very, very well.  Driving, particularly downtown. Certain restaurants. Certain people.  Making phone calls.  Going to new or unfamiliar doctors or dentists.  Every Tuesday that I go to therapy.

I don’t think I’ll ever be free from anxiety.  And that’s not me being pessimistic, it’s just me being … realistic.  It’s how my brain is wired, for better or worse.  I have good days (lots of good days), but they’re punctuated by not-so-good days.  And I can get in a really good place, and do a super good job with my self care, and using my tools, and being really mindful about what’s going on around me, and maybe I’ll go weeks without a problem.  Maybe months.  Maybe years!  But it’ll still be there.  Ready to wrap it’s fuzzy little tentacles around my brain at the next opportunity.

The good news?  The positive in all of this?  My track record for surviving my anxiety (and my depression for that matter)  is still 100%.


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When To Call In The Professionals

People often ask me for advice.  They always have. I don’t know why exactly, except I’d like to think that I’m a good listener.  The great irony of course is that it takes a lot – a lot, a lot – for me to ask anyone else for advice, and advice that is unsolicited lands squarely in my top three pet peeves of all time.  I actually like giving advice though (when it’s asked for) because I like helping people.  It’s something I do a lot due to my blog… obviously not as a professional, but as an unschooler of four kids, and as a parent of nearly 21 years.  I’m not any kind of expert though, nor do I claim to be.  On more than one occasion, I’ve had to tell someone who emailed with an extreme concern (for example, their teenage child was being physically violent) that I didn’t know how to help them.  And that, honestly, it would be inappropriate and irresponsible for me to try.

Sometimes you just need a professional.

As a yoga teacher, I’m always happy to answer long distance questions about my favorite mats, which DVD series I’d avoid , or which stretches are good if you wake up feeling stiff. But if I cannot actually see you, teaching from afar is not comfortable for me.  It’s way too easy to do things incorrectly, and/or to push yourself to0 far and cause or exacerbate an injury.  Instead, I’ll always recommend seeing a professional in person, even just once, to help avoid bad habits and poor form.

I very rarely take my kids to the doctor.  Most things that people go to the doctor for – rashes, sore throats, flus, colds, fevers, stomach viruses, minor injuries – can be safely and effectively handled at home.  Plus, by keeping them home, I’m not out there spreading all those germy germs to the entire Phoenix valley.  But when one of my boys landed wrong playing basketball, and his ankle swelled to the size of, well, a basketball, we took him in for an x-ray.  (Lo and behold, a broken bone in his foot). And when that same boy had an array of weird and concerning symptoms that culminated with a symptom on the “never-to-be-ignored” list, we went straight to the ER.  Broken bones, cuts requiring stitches, serious injury, illnesses that are getting worse instead of better:  I don’t ask Facebook, I don’t fiddle around with essential oils.  I GO TO A PROFESSIONAL.

I wouldn’t have wanted anyone other than a professional to do my shoulder surgeries or remove my gall bladder, and that goes doubly for placing my kidney stent.

I don’t know how to fix my car.

Or fix my toilet.

I would most certainly struggle with doing my own taxes (being married to someone who works in finance is a big boon in this area.)

If I wanted an addition put onto my house, an addition that wasn’t at great risk of the walls caving in, I’d call someone who actually knew how to do that.

Sometimes you just need a professional.

Mental health should be no exception.

It’s alarming to me how many people either 1) completely ignore their own declining mental health (been there, done that), 2) think that they can fix it just by “thinking positively” or getting more exercise or spending more time in the sun (been there, done that, too) or 3) Seek counsel from people who aren’t actually trained or qualified to give such advice.  I recently saw a post on a natural health Facebook group that I belong to that rang some serious alarm bells for me.  The poster was asking what natural remedy they could use for alcoholism and EXTREME mental lows (emphasis is theirs).

Can I just say, as a general, blanket statement:  If you’re feeling extreme mental lows, seek professional help.

If you’re feeling extreme mental lows that are making you think you’re in imminent danger of harming yourself, go to the emergency room.

If you’re feeling extreme mental lows that are interfering with your life, go to a mental health professional.

A mental health professional, it needs to be said, is someone who has gone through years of schooling, rigorous training, and a rather long and arduous licensure process.  It is not someone who is just really good at listening.  It is not someone who attended an 8-week life-coach certification course.  It is not someone who paid $97 for an essential oil starter kit.  I’m sorry, but it’s not.

Just like the broken foot and the broken toilet and the yet-be-done taxes: if you want to get actual help, you need to go to the appropriate person.

And I get it.   OH MY WORD do I get it.  It’s hard.  It’s hard and it’s scary and no matter what anyone tells you, there is still very much a stigma about seeking mental health treatment.

Go anyway.

You don’t have to wait until it’s extreme, either!  In fact, as someone who waited until it was quite extreme, I’d very much advise not to wait until it’s reached that point.  I think that anyone could benefit from at least a little bit of therapy, in much the same way anyone could benefit from twice a year dental cleanings.  I didn’t used to think so, either.  In the interest of full disclosure, up until 18 months ago, I used to be rather anti-therapy. But because (take your pick:) people change, people grow, life happens, I value myself more than I used to…. I’m now perhaps the biggest pro-therapy champion you’ll ever meet.  I have SEEN the darkness of unchecked mental illness ….. and I so much prefer the light.

Therapy and medication quite literally helped save my life.  The hard work was mine (and make no mistake, it has been really freaking hard work), but I could not have done it without the professionals.  I wouldn’t have known how to do it were it not for the professionals.  I AM HERE – not here on my blog, but HERE, on the earth – largely because of that professional help.  I’m glad that I’m here.

Sometimes I think about it; about would have/could have happened had I not sought help when I did.  It’s not a particularly cheery thing to think about, and I know it’s not productive to dwell in the what-ifs.  But every now and then, it’s there, in the corners of my mind.

And it reminds me…

Reminds me of where I was, reminds me of how far I’ve come, reminds me of where I am now.

I’m likely going to be ending therapy soon.  Not because it didn’t work, but because it did.  Words can’t quantify how much I’ve learned from my therapist.  I’ll continue to see my pdoc for check-ins and med refills, and if I ever felt like I needed it, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and schedule another therapy appointment either.  (Except, I’d probably hesitate just because I so dread making phone calls.  Tony, if you’re reading this, maybe we should work on my phone phobia next.)

But I would call, and I would get more help, because it’s important.  It is so, so very important.

I figure my life is – at a very bare minimum – at least as important as a broken toilet.


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Making Peace With Self-Care (Again)

Last night, someone was mean to me on the internet.

And when I say someone was mean to me, what I really mean is:  I got my feelings hurt.  In a big way.  Because they were not “mean.”  Incredibly condescending, but not mean.    I’ve (mostly) learned to deal with it when people actually are mean.  When they swear at me, I can laugh it off.   Tell me I should I die?  Cool.  Tell me that my kids are going to grow up to be ax murderers and drunk drivers and rapists because I don’t spank them?  Whatever.

But admonish me, however politely, for not being a good enough human?  To use patronizing language to call my character into question?  To tell me, as a stranger, that I need to do better, to be better, no matter how well intentioned… holy hell.  HOLY HELL, does that cut deep.  I’m pretty sure that I have the years of damage from my fundamental Christian upbringing to thank for that.  The great irony (because my life is one big example of irony) is that I was being chastised for not having enough grace for people.  That I never knew what someone else was going through – which, of course, is absolutely 100% true – so I shouldn’t judge them based on one unkind and nasty snippet on the internet.  What I wonder is if this person would have shown me more grace if they knew more of my story?  Because yeah, I overreacted.  But there was a reason.  It doesn’t excuse it … but there was a reason.

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

It’s only been 3, 4 weeks now I think.  Usually it takes a couple of months before it causes a complete mental break, which means if I can get on top of things, there’s still time to catch it before I end up where I was in July: suicidal and threatened with involuntary hospitalization.

Anyway, I haven’t been sleeping.  First because of mania, then because of anxiety, then … I don’t know.  And I’ve learned that nothing, nothing, unravels me faster than lack of sleep.  I could eat nothing but junk food for months on end, sit on my couch like a sloth, ignore everyone and everything and still manage to function (relatively) normally.  But take away my sleep?  I start to slip.  Like rapidly, rapidly, down-the-rabbit-hole free-fall.  If I’ve learned nothing in this past year and half, it’s that I need to watch my sleep.  You’d think that I would have learned that sooner, having been a chronic insomniac on and off since my early twenties, but… sometimes I’m a slow learner.

So I haven’t been sleeping, and I got my feelings hurt on the internet, and last night I found myself rather violently cleaning the kitchen at 9:00 PM, just to give myself something to do with my angst.  It was the second night in a row that I’d gotten swept up (Swept up.  Ha.  See what I did there?) swept up in the act of rage-cleaning before bed.   Second night in a row that I’d gotten into bed depressed, and anxious, and jumping out of my skin.  I’d deleted the offending post and all its comments on my Facebook page, but I still felt gross about it.  And I realized as I was slamming the sixth plate into the dishwasher that it was at least the fourth time this week that I’d deleted something because I’d gotten my feelings hurt.  Or felt shamed, or embarrassed, or angry.  Which made major alarm bells go off, because I only start doing that when I Am Not Okay.  Or at a very minimum, on the verge of Not Okay.

And rather than trying to push through – which never works.  Which never, ever works – today I’m sitting with my not-okay-ness.  I’m admitting it; I’m saying it out loud.  And I’m breathing, and I’m being gentle with myself, and I’m working out what has to change in order for me to start sleeping again, in order for me to start interacting like a reasonable human again.  Letting go of my own self-care, letting myself get swallowed by the Big Black Hole, and then couching it in, “It’s not my fault; it’s the bipolar!” helps no one, least of all myself.  Or my kids.  Or my husband.  Or anyone who has the (mis)fortune of being within a 50 foot radius when I am as jacked-up as I am right now.   Whenever I feel myself starting to slip, self-care is the very first thing to go…. and the very first thing that I should turn to.  I know this.  I know this.  And yet, here I am, once again.

It’s time to make peace with self-care.  If I can’t do it for myself, I can at least do it for my kids.

And so, to the person who (rightly) reminded me of the importance of giving people grace last night:  Thank you.  You were right.  I absolutely do need to give people more grace.

But today I have to start with myself.


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Rock Bottom

A happy photo for a not-so-happy post

Note:  The following is a raw, honest, mental-health related post.  I know some of you don’t like those.  I write this for three reasons:

  1.  It is crazy cathartic for me.
  2. It helps me feel less alone
  3. It helps others feel less alone.

If it’s not your sort of thing, no hurt feelings if you skip it.  Otherwise, grab a cuppa and read on:

_______________________________________________

One week ago on Tuesday, my therapist recommended I go to the hospital for stabilization.  I wasn’t allowed to leave the clinic until I saw a psychiatrist for a “risk assessment.”  I sat in the waiting room, terrified out of my mind, for 2.5 hours to wait to see her.  Sometime during this time period, he called my husband (something he’s only allowed to do if he feels I’m in imminent danger) to tell him how concerned he was.

And then the bottom dropped out of everything I’d been trying so hard to hold together.

I ended up declining the hospital – with the support of both the psychiatrist and the PA who’s my normal prescriber – but I (gladly) accepted a new medication for sleep, and I (gladly) accepted an increase/change in my regular day-to-day meds.  It was time, and I needed it, and I knew it.

The past week has been horrifying and messy and painful, but….

I’m glad it happened.

The entire situation, especially the call to my husband, rang a bell that couldn’t be un-rung.  I’ve known I’d been spiraling since the middle of June.  And I kept pushing, kept holding it together, kept pushing some more.  And I spiraled more and more and more until I said the things to my therapist (Tony.  His name is Tony) that made him concerned, that set off this whole chain reaction that just made everything …. stop.  It dropped me to my knees.  It forced me to admit that at the present time I AM NOT OKAY.  I am safe – it feels important to make that clear but I’m not okay. I’ve hit rock bottom.  The lowest rock bottom I’ve ever hit.

For the first few days after that appointment, the world came to a standstill.  I slept and I cried.  For about 5 days straight.  I cancelled a chat I was supposed to do; I cancelled all plans; I emailed my professor to ask for an extension (and she was wonderfully kind and gracious about it);   I had Mike run the kids to their activities;  I had Mike deal with all the conference stuff that came up; I had Mike deal with, well, basically everything.  And I just let myself be there, in that deep, dark, scary place.  Again, I was safe.  But I stopped trying to pretend that I had everything together.  I stopped trying to pretend that I was okay.  And I’m slowly, so very very slowly, starting to make motions to heal.  The overwhelmingly positive thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up.

As for today?  I’m still not okay.  I’m still not able to deal with most of life.  I’m not able to deal with people needing me (good God, all the emails!).  I’m not able to deal with questions. I’m not able to deal with extraneous noise.  I’m not able to deal with anyone or anything else but me.

That sounds selfish, I know.  But depression is selfish.  It is a selfish, selfish beast.  And I’ve decided that it’s selfish for a reason.  It’s selfish because when it gets to this point, you HAVE to be selfish.  You HAVE to be selfish in order to get well.

So in the interest of selfishness:  I’ve gotten dressed four days in a row (which sounds silly, but if you’ve ever been depressed, you know it’s a really big freaking deal).  I’m getting up.  I’m making myself do things around the house.  I’m writing this blog post!  The meds are starting to kick in, though at the moment they’re mostly making me drowsy and a little bit – or a lot – out of it.  I hope I’ve written in complete sentences.

I have a couple of friends I’ve been texting with, but if I may, a little bit of honesty:

I want to be left completely alone.
Except I don’t.
I want to hear reassuring words.
Except I don’t.
I want someone to remind me to put on pants and get myself some tea.
Except I don’t.

In short, I don’t know what I want.

The only thing I know for super sure that I want (and this is actually something I said to Tony the day this all went down) is for someone to SEE ME.  I have never felt more invisible in my entire life.  And I pick up my phone, and I scroll through my contacts, and my thumb just hovers.  This one is not very good at listening; this one would probably rather talk about herself; this one is very anti-psychiatry and psychotropic meds and there would be thinly veiled judgement; this one minimizes everything and would likely think I just need a good night’s sleep.  So I set down my phone, and I text no one.  And these are friends!  People I love!  It makes me feel terrible, and…. selfish.  But, well, see above.  I feel selfish, and alone, and just want someone to see me.

Yet at the same time, I’m pushing everyone away.

Depression is a terribly manipulating monster. But I’ve beat it before, and I’ll beat it again.  It’ll take time, and effort, and patience, and gentleness, and grace (so much freaking grace).  It’ll take faithfully taking my meds that I often hate myself for having to take.  It’ll take even more visits to Tony that I often hate myself for having to make.  It’ll take ACCEPTANCE, for who I am, and what I am, and where I’m at.  Even if no one else can see me, I can see me. Right here.  Right now.

And I’ll do it.

A quote I recently saw that resonated so deeply it hurt:  It helped me, so maybe it will help one of you.

We’re going to be okay.


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The Dark Cloud: A Day In The Life

It always sneaks up on me.  Always.

I’ll be doing fine – better than fine even – and then one day, I’m not.  And it’s not that it happens in one day, because it doesn’t.  It’s sneaky, and insidious, and oh so patient as it wraps its tentacles around me, little by little, day after day.  I don’t notice, until I do.

I wake up in tears, and suddenly realize I’ve been waking up in tears for the last 6 mornings in a row.  And wait, it’s been what, 3, 4 weeks since I’ve actually gotten a good night’s sleep, or any sleep at all?  And when was the last time I took a shower?  And why did I stop listening to music, one of my very favorite things?  Why did I stop doing all of my favorite things? And how long have I been messing with my diet… vacillating between eating everything I can get my hands on, or eating nothing at all?  When did my body start hurting again?  When did the bone-crushing exhaustion set in? When did it all – ALL of it: living, breathing, decision-making, interacting with people and places and noises, dear Lord the noises– get so, so difficult?  So difficult that the mere act of existing feels like it takes a Herculean effort?

The weight gets too heavy and the shackles too tight, and I see nothing but blackness. Deep, suffocating, oily blackness.  And finally I have to admit it, because it’s just too damn hard to deny anymore.

F*ck, I’m depressed again.

The world doesn’t stop for me either.  Doesn’t give a damn about me and my depression.  There’s still a whole house to take care of, and kids who need me, and a husband who tries really hard but doesn’t quite know what to do with me when I’m depressed. There are still errands to run, and plumbers to come, and appointments to keep.  There are still kids’ activities and places to be and people to see… and it hurts.  It physically hurts dragging around the cloud that threatens to drown me, threatens to swallow me whole.  I can’t see.  I can’t breathe. The breaths I dare inhale yield nothing but more blackness.  Blackness and desperation.  Fear and numbness, both existing at the same time.  Do people see it?  Do they know?  Part of me feels like they can’t miss it.  How can you miss a darkness this dark?   A weight this heavy?  But part of me knows they don’t see it at all, because they don’t see me.  I never feel as invisible as I feel when I’m depressed.  I’m wearing an invisibility cloak, completely encased in my own private hell.

I had to go to Walgreens today.  And when I say “had to” it was because my choice was either that or sit in on a drum lesson.  And drum lessons mean sounds.  And people talking, and jokes, and TOO MUCH WORK trying to act normal.

So I put on some clothes (with no makeup, and a messy bun in my hair… when was the last time I combed my hair?), drop off my kid, and go to Walgreens.  Walgreens carries Caramel M&Ms, my favorite, but they’re out.  And I stand there, in the candy aisle, trying to decide if I want to get another candy instead.  Some Milk Duds maybe, or Hershey Kisses, or a bag of miniatures.  But the CALORIES.  And do I want to gain weight or lose weight, because it’s always one or the other, and only one of them ever makes me feel better.  And I stand there and I stand there, and I agonize as if my life depends on this very decision.  It’s too hard.  Too much.  And then the tears are in my eyes before I can stop them.  Tears in the candy aisle.  But no one can see me beneath my cloak.

I slowly walk through the other aisles (sans candy), avoiding eye contact, looking but not seeing…. the makeup, the bandaids, the outdoor toys… until I get to the office supply aisle.  I pick up a new pen and a cute little leather-like journal, tiny enough to tuck in a purse.  I put them down.  I pick them up again. I don’t need a new journal or a new pen, and I know they won’t fix anything.  But they stand for … hope.  Hope for when I’ll enjoy them.  Hope for when I feel better.  I take them with me.

Before I leave, I decide to get a soda.  I’m not drinking coffee anymore, gave it up a week ago, and think a small jolt of caffeine will help somehow.  Some sort of elixir to my hurting soul.  I get a Diet Coke.  I haven’t drank Diet Coke in about 20 years.  The chemicals.  Today, I don’t care about chemicals.  Today I care about a memory of a different time, a time when Diet Coke was my drink, the thing that would get my newlywedded self through my late shifts at the mall.  I see they have a caffeine free Diet Coke, and I take that instead.  Maybe caffeine is a bad idea.  But I put it back.  And I take it again.  And then I put it back again.  And then I finally get the regular Diet Coke before I can repeat my candy aisle tears.  It says Stephanie on the bottle.

My total comes to $17 even, and on another day, in another time, in another place, I would have enjoyed that.  That almost never happens.  But today it’s just a number, taunting me on the little screen.  $17.00.  $17 isn’t enough to cure depression.  I pay the nice man at the register.  Might have even smiled.  Normal, normal.   See, I can do normal. 

“How we doing today?”  the friendly, if somewhat overly aggressive, voice greets me as I leave the store.  There’s a table, and some sort of donation jar, and flyers, and a multitude of other things I can’t deal with.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.  But I don’t say it out loud.  I don’t look at her.  Can’t look at her.  Stare straight ahead through my tear-stained sunglasses.  I’m rude and I’m never rude.  But I can’t make myself do it.  Can’t make myself interact with another person.  I’m not invisible, and she sees me.  Sees me try to look at her and instantly turn away.  Sees me walk past her and walk to my car.  She says something to my back, but I can’t hear what it is.  Can’t hear it over the thumping of my own heart.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

I’m ready to fall apart, need to fall apart, but I’m not done yet.   I need to drop something off at UPS, and I need to get my kid at drum lessons.  The clock tells me that the rest of the lesson only takes a half an hour, but my head tells me it takes about five.  I sit in the little room, waiting, listening. I read a book, not seeing the words.  I look at my phone, scroll through Facebook, respond when spoken to.   I can do normal.

Home.  I just need to be home.  The thought beats a steady staccato in my frantic chest.  I can do this.  I just need to get home.

And then I’m home, as exhausted as if I’d just run a marathon.  Reality tells me I just dropped off a kid and ran a couple errands.  12 whole miles from home.

But I can’t breathe.

And everything hurts.

I know that alcohol will temporarily numb it (and seriously, WHAT THE HELL with all the Facebook memes that outright encourage moms to self-medicate with alcohol?), but I stopped drinking alcohol 13 months ago.

I know that Klonopin will temporarily numb it, and I have it – too much of it – in the cabinet with the rest of my meds.  But I don’t take that either.  Take it twice a day if needed, my prescriber tells me.  But if I take it more than every other day, I lose somehow.  Just like I lose if I buy the candy and the regular, non-diet Coke.  Today I choose to be a winner.  I choose to be a stubborn, miserable, winner, and I’m not sure I like what I’ve won.

I know that if I stopped to think about it, stopped to remember, that tools from my therapist would help too.  My therapist that I’ve seen for 13 whole months now – not that I’m counting – who’s simultaneously helped me and angered me more than anyone else in my whole life, ever.   I literally can’t even think about how much he’s helped me without tearing up.

But today, screw his tools.  Screw the sunshine and fresh air and exercise adages too.  Screw the “just think positively!” tripe.  Screw the “Have you tried this essential oil?” panaceas.

And you know what else?  Screw depression.

So I sit here, and I do the one thing, the only thing I can make myself do.  I write.  And I write and I write and I write until my heartbeat slows, and my breaths come more easily.

My soda is gone… I drank it too fast and it gave me a stomachache.  I find the stomachache oddly comforting.  It tells me I’m here.  Reminds me that I’m still alive.

My mind is fighting to answer the question of “why?”  Why depression after having done so well, for so long.  But I know the question is unhelpful and invalid. (That’s my therapist talking).

The “why” doesn’t matter.  It just …. It just IS.  And knowing that, truly accepting that, makes it just a tiny bit easier to carry.  It doesn’t make it better; doesn’t make it go away.  But it softens it, smooths out the edges, makes it more manageable to live with for one more day.  And that’s important, because tomorrow?  Tomorrow I’m going to get up – even if I’m crying while I do it – and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, and I’m going to breathe in and out.  And as counter intuitive as it sounds, I’m going to try not to try so hard.  I mean yes, I’ll continue to try to get rest and exercise and all that good stuff.  And I’ll continue to do the personal work I need to do to get well.  And I’ll continue to take my meds.  And so help me, the next time I’m in a Walgreens I AM buying some candy.  But the mental gymnastics I do to try to figure it all out, the unrealistic pressure I put on myself to just hurry up and FIX IT ALREADY?

Never helped me.  Never will.

So instead I’ll focus on self care (That’s also my therapist.  Seriously, how my mind can simultaneously carry so much gratitude and so much annoyance at the same person at the same time is beyond me.)

I’ll trust that it won’t be forever.  I’ll trust that I’ll feel better.

I’ll trust that when I feel this bad again, I’ll find a way to stay home, and have the good sense to avoid drug stores completely.


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Filed under about me, anxiety, bipolar, depression, mental health

Lost (And Found) In The Forest

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never been alone.  Is that weird?  I mean, yes, I’ve been alone in my house of course, and my car, and a million and one other little ways, but it was always within the context of my other responsibilities.  I went from my parents’ house, to having a roommate in college, to getting married at 19, to being a stay-at-home parent for 20 years (20 YEARS.  Is that right?)

 

Which brings us to now.  I’m 43 years old, and I’d never been alone.

 

Earlier this year, I decided that it was really important that I get away.  Just for a couple of days, all by myself.  It was almost painfully difficult to describe why I needed to do it, but I just knew it was something that had to be done.  And it specifically had to be done around April or May, as the pièce de ré·sis·tance to my year of self-care and self-discovery.

I had to be alone.

I had to give myself total space… to think, to feel, to grieve, to celebrate.  I had to know, beneath the mom and the wife and the homemaker and the blogger, I WAS ALSO STILL ME.

I went into it with no expectations, other than to let it teach me what I needed to learn.  I brought books (but it was okay if I didn’t read).  I brought my laptop (but it was okay if I didn’t write).  I brought journals and crafty things and sketch books (but it was okay if it all remained untouched.)  I brought hiking shoes (but it was okay if they never made it out of my suitcase.)  If I needed to cry, that was okay.  If I needed to sit outside and drink coffee and watch the squirrels, that was okay.

As it turned out, I needed all of the above.  I had no phone, no internet, and no outward distractions.  It was just me… alone with nature and alone with myself.  It was intense, and it was scary, and it was important.


From my journal, on the first night:

I’m sitting alone, in my little cabin.  I feel… I don’t even know what I feel.  I feel overwhelmed, and yet relieved at the same time.  Broken, but so strong.  Lonely, but empowered.  I am crying, and don’t remember when I started.  Crying for the girl that so badly needed this, crying for the girl that was so, so broken for so long.  Crying for the woman, who needs to know, perhaps more than she’s ever known anything, that she is enough.  Not enough as a mom, or a wife, or a daughter, or a sister, or a friend, but just ENOUGH.  As a person.  Stripped of all those other labels.  I’m enough and I’m crying and uncomfortable and I needed this.

I’m not sure what made me think to do it, but I decided that first night (in the midst of a rather severe mental health crisis) to make a little video diary to chronicle the experience.

The rest of my story will be told through those short videos.   They’re self-explanatory, but a couple of notes on the first one:  It’s real and raw and not especially pretty.  Also, notice how I have trouble catching my breath?  That’s what the end of a panic attack sounds like.  Or the beginning.  I don’t even remember.  To be honest, most of the first evening was one long panic attack.

So..

Did I learn something new?  Am I a new person because of my little 48 hour excursion?  Well, no.  The thing with life is that it keeps going, no matter how much we’d like to stop it sometimes.   No sooner had I arrived back home, I was thrust back into responsibility and errands and obligations.  Real life called.  But I lost myself in those woods, and then I found myself again.  And what I did realize is that that momentary peace I felt, that brief grasp of ataraxia (look it up) is something that I can work on feeling in the midst of the busy.  In the midst of the chaos.  In the midst of LIFE.  And if I’ve learned anything in the past year – anything at all – it’s that life and relationships, even (or especially) relationships with yourself are not something that you can just anoint with a 48 hour balm and expect to be successful.  They need constant, mindful, attentive care if you expect them to thrive, and expect them to be healthy and rich and fulfilling and worthwhile.

And as for myself?  My little trip reminded me, more than I’ve ever been reminded before, that no matter how much I fight it, no matter how many times and how many ways I keep having to tell myself…  no matter what society says or anyone says:

I am me.

And that’s enough.


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Filed under about me, life, mental health, self care, vacation