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National Poetry Month is a month-long celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets.   Many poets celebrate this month by writing a poem a day;  it is sometimes called NaPoWriMo.  This year, I am taking part in the Poetic Asides April PAD (Poem a Day) Challenge.   Robert Lee Brewer is the head poobah in this challenge, and every day this month he will post a prompt.  Today’s prompt was to write an origin poem.  I will be posting my poems here, as well as at the Poetic Asides site.

Writing a poem a day, especially for someone like me, means that what I post will not be the great polished gems that I would prefer for people to read.  I might edit my work a bit, but there’s no way these poems are going to be much more than drafts in progress.  Hopefully, I will take some of them and keep working on them.  But I will do my best to do some writing every day this month, even if all I end up with is a fragment.

Edited to add: I can’t make WordPress give me paragraph breaks between stanzas.  Therefore, you will note that between each stanza, there is a line with a period on it.  That is my version of a stanza break, because I don’t have the time or will to fight with WordPress today to figure out how to do it properly.

So, here is today’s offering:

The Attack

It begins:

A near-silent whisper

Through the subconscious.

Or perhaps

A nebulous shadow,

Flitting between thoughts.

.

The mind,

Not consciously aware,

Nonetheless sounds the alarm.

Like good soldiers,

The body’s systems

Ramp up for battle.

.

Lungs, they quicken,

A bellows squeezing

To keep pace with the siren’s roar.

The heart

Sends blood thundering to

Cells: on guard.

.

Sweat rushes

The pores of the skin –

Drowning, drowning.

.

Now the mind is listening.

.

Fear, intense and cutting,

Flies through the circuit.

Limbs tremble,

Reason crumbles,

The flood of danger rumbles.

.

A dagger through the chest;

The bellows can’t keep up.

Brain is spinning, dizzy and dipping,

Sweat is dripping,

Mind is ripping, stomach tripping,

Hands are gripping.

Panic has taken control.

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from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/03/20/depression-they-just-dont-get-it/.  I am just cutting and pasting it because I’m too lazy to blog about it today.

Depression: They Just Don’t Get It

By Therese J. Borchard
March 20, 2009

I’ve learned in 12-step support groups that if you decide to share something important with a loved one, or try to mend a broken relationship, you should do so without any expectation of a response.

I wish I had followed that advice the day I sent a family member an incredibly personal piece that I wrote about my severe depression (suicidal thoughts and all), and the first moments of dawn, hoping that it would make us closer.

Her response was one word: “Thanks.”

I felt like Princess Leia in “Star Wars” when she cries out to Han Solo (before he leaves for some empire war): “I love you!” And he says back, “I know!”

But part of my disappointment was my own fault.

I sent the piece to her with an agenda. This is what I wanted to hear: “You’ve been through a lot. I’m so happy you’ve come through to the other side.”

And when I didn’t get that, I was upset. I assumed she “got it”–the whole depression thing. I see now that this involves two mistakes (actually just one really big one): an assumption. ALL assumptions are termites in a relationship, and ESPECIALLY with regard to depression. Most people just don’t get it. Period. And I should stop expecting them to.

My mom keeps teaching me that lesson. Over and over again. I just now hung up the phone with her. Her last words: “People don’t get it. Remember that. And you’ll be less disappointed.”

I was venting to her just like I did the afternoon, fresh out of the psych ward, when my friend Liz told me that she thought antidepressants suppressed a person’s emotions, insinuating that I’d do well to pitch the happy pills and tough it out like the rest of humanity.

“No one understands, Mom. You and Eric. That’s it. And a few friends. Everyone else thinks I’m weak for joining the droves of Americans on Prozac.”

“Who cares?” she asked. “Why do you need their approval?”

“Because I’m not weak and it’s unfair to be labeled that way,” I explained.

“I don’t think you’re weak. Eric doesn’t. And you have several friends who believe in you. If you don’t want to be constantly frustrated I suggest you lower your expectations. Assume that people won’t understand, and you’ll be less disappointed when they don’t.”

Just as seasoned parents say “Just you wait!” to the pregnant lady in front of them at the checkout line, a person can’t begin to appreciate the harrowing darkness of depression unless she’s been there.

William Styron wrote his memoir, “Darkness Visible,” as a response to the public’s reaction to the suicide of Primo Levi, the Italian-Jewish writer and chemist who had survived the Holocaust. The scholars who admired Levi wondered how he could have endured years of torture by the Nazis yet break under depression.

“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it,” Styron wrote. “To the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.”

Like Styron, I was both enraged and saddened that friends and family were shocked to hear that two doctors sliced me open — before full anesthesia kicked in — to save little David’s life in an emergency C-section. Yet when I voiced the desperation of depression — which made the knife cut feel like a knee scratch — they often brushed it off, as if I were whining to win some undeserved sympathy votes.

But I should know better. Most people don’t get it. And the day I get that through my head I’ll be less disappointed.

I don’t know whether there is or not; I haven’t found one yet.

More than nine years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and soon after, Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Both diagnoses were a long time coming, probably since as far back as high school. And here I am, more than nine years in, and I still rail against them. These twin demons define my every day, and I’m bloody tired of fighting against them. Even though this battle drains me and drives me crazy (ha!), I haven’t yet found the way to stop.

All my life, I have been a go-getter. An over-achiever, a person who could do anything she put her mind to. For many years, it never even occurred to me that there were things that were beyond me. What an ironic slap in the face to find out that I really can’t do everything I put my mind to, that many things are just not possible for me.

I always had a pretty clear vision of what my life was supposed to be: fulfilling career, travel, achievement. Comfort. Contentment. Home ownership. But here I am at 36: disabled from work, agoraphobic, actively uncomfortable. Likely to be spend the rest of my life renting rooms from people who are kind enough to accept less than market value for the space, because that’s all I can afford. My best achievement most days is getting out of bed and getting through the hours without completely breaking down. I wanted to make a difference in the world, but most days I can’t even get outside of my own chronic conditions to make a difference in my own life.

The lingering image of what I expected my life to be like is probably part of the reason that I cannot accept that my life just is the way it is. Perhaps I fear that by giving up on my dreams and my vision, I will be giving up hope. Hope that I could ever achieve those dreams, that I could ever have the kind of life that I always wanted.

Acceptance would be far easier than the hell that I live with, but it is harder than anything else I can imagine to actually attain it.

A dear friend told me today that in her opinion, I am working harder now than I ever have before. It is a feature of the depressive mind to see the negative aspect, and here it is: If I am working harder than ever and at best only keeping myself afloat, what does that say about the years ahead? It is true that keeping myself going is a momentous task, and I guess the fact that I’m here writing this is proof that so far, I’ve succeeded. I’ve been fighting for my life for more than nine years; I don’t know how many more years I can do it. And there are many days like today, when I question whether it is even worth trying.

Before you jump on that statement, just indulge me a moment. Imagine that every day for years, you are lost at sea, struggling to keep your head above water. Treading that water every waking hour, every single day. Over and over, year in and year out. Wouldn’t you be tired? And what if you had no realistic reason to expect that the years ahead were going to be any different? That is to say, you will be treading that same water indefinitely? Never gaining much ground and in fact often losing ground, drifting further away from shore. How excited would you be about the prospects for that life? How long could you keep treading along? (And let me warn you: It’s easier to say that you could do it for as long as it takes, than it actually is to do it.)

That’s life with chronic illness. Life with Major Depressive Disorder, particularly when it’s treatment-resistant (as mine is), is one big struggle to keep treading that same water. It often seems hard for people to understand unless they’ve been there, but living with this kind of depression requires a tremendous amount of work. To just survive the moments strung together, to simply make it through the day, is a huge chore. And I’m talking about a day where you don’t accomplish much beyond surviving. I’m not talking about a day filled with activities; often, to even do the simplest things that most people take for granted is impossible. I long for a life where I can regularly keep my house clean, where I can do laundry when it needs to be done, where I can cook dinner every night. It has become my new dream: being able every day to walk the dog, to get dressed, to shower. A far cry from the dreams of my youth, that’s for sure.

And I won’t even go into the stigma that people like me face all the time. Or the fact that so many people cannot understand that this is not a matter of willpower or strength of character. If it was, I would be queen of the frickin’ world by now. Excuse the bitterness; the title should have warned you.

All this negative spew was spawned by finding out that a friend from my past has achieved a huge milestone in her life – and despite the way it probably sounds, I am very happy for her. It just brings crashing back into focus the fact that I won’t ever reach that milestone. That I cannot reach that milestone. Even if I find the magic medication and take all the therapy and rehabilitation on offer, it’s not in the cards for me. I haven’t accepted it all yet, but one thing that I have realized is that there really are some things that cannot be done. No matter how well I someday may become, there are concrete limitations that my illnesses place on my life. And should I ignore those limitations and forge on ahead, I will find myself right back where I started. God knows, I don’t want to end up back there again.

So, is there a statute of limitations on bitterness, anger and grief? Perhaps there is. At any rate, the hope that someday I can let them go is the reason I’m getting through today.

It feels like forever since I posted last. I’m also terribly behind on Dannan’s blog, and on replying to the heap of email in my inbox.  However, I am beginning to allow myself to be the awful correspondent that I always have been, but which I have fought against. Three cheers for self-growth!!

At any rate, things were pretty rough here at The Muse Asylum.  The “trial” med that I was stuck on for three months wasn’t doing me any favours.  Neither was my psychiatrist’s office assistant, who couldn’t find me even a minute of his time.  But that’s a whole other rant, which I might actually have already ranted.

On February 19th, I rounded the corner, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.  That was the day I made my first trip to OneSouth, our local psych ward.  To sum up how I got there (because I’m too lazy to edit):  I was on one heck of a lot of meds, which all had nasty side effects that got together, had a party, and increased exponentially.   And as I’ve mentioned,  my past year has been rough in terms of access to a psychiatrist;  when my original Psydoc closed his practice in December of 2007, he referred me to a great female psydoc named Dr. F.  She was super, except for the fact that she and her husband decided that they didn’t like it here and moved to the Lower Mainland in June of 2008.  Long story short, I didn’t see anyone from June until November, and that was too long.

In November, my new guy (Dr. W.) saw me. I think he will prove to be fabulous if a person can actually get in to see him.  We decided to try a(nother) new med, on the theory that I would see him once a month for at least a year.  Except that he is supremely busy, and I am on the cancellation list until July of 2009.  (From then on, I do have a monthly appointment with him, if I can actually make it until then.)

From mid-December, no matter what we told the office assistant, I couldn’t get in to see Dr. W.  It didn’t seem to matter that I ended up moving home with Mom and Dad because I didn’t feel safe at home alone all day, or that my mood had absolutely plummeted on the new med.  Nothing would get me an appointment.

Finally, The Therapist suggested we tell her that it was “urgent”, which is apparently a code word that opens doors as if by magic.  Except.   Except her response was that their office doesn’t handle “emergencies”, so if it was urgent, I needed to go to the ER or to my GP.

Finally, on February 19th, Mom took me to my GP.  By this time, I was in a very bad way.  GP said she couldn’t do anything except admit me to OneSouth.  I didn’t want to go (OH, how BADLY I didn’t want to go), but I told Mom and GP that I was in no position to be making decisions for myself.  And this is how I came to be admitted (involuntarily, despite both my consent and Mom’s – the only way to get a bed was to go involuntarily), and how life started to be a bit brighter.

I have always been terrified of going to the hospital.  I have never been in the hospital overnight, other than for two sleep studies.  And when I practiced law, a number of my firm’s clients were folks with various mental illnesses.  Often when they called, it was from the psych ward.  And did they ever have awful things to say about it!  It’s quite ironic, actually, that their descriptions would foster this great fear in me.  When I think back to those days, one former client in particular comes to my mind, and I wouldn’t have considered here to be a credible witness on any other issue.  One of the more prominent features of her illness was that she was delusional;  most of what she told us was considered to be questionable in terms of it’s actual basis in reality, until further investigation was done.

However, the lasting effect of her (and others’) accounts of life on the psych ward was that I became extremely afraid of the place.  Certainly, at the beginning, a big part of the fear was probably that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, be admitted to the very ward ward where my clients could be.  (My whole adventure with mental illness began in Victoria, and it really was a possibility that such a situation could have happened.)  Thus began more than nine years of absolute refusal to be admitted to any psych ward (even after I left Victoria), and absolute terror of what would happen to me if I were admitted.

Despite my terror, OneSouth is a good place.  Even the isolation ward (where one wears yellow baggy pajamas and has a bare cinderblock room with only a bed, a pillow, and a blanket) isn’t so bad.  I was terrified when I got there, even under the influence of a hefty dose of Haldol. At GP’s office, I literally begged my mother not to send me to OneSouth.  I even at one point promised her that I wouldn’t be ill anymore, I would be better, if only I didn’t have to go.  In the circumstances, I am very proud of her for having made the decision to have me admitted anyway.

I calmed myself down once I was in the “cell”, mostly because I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to go home if I was hysterical.  (Suffice it to say, I could never have actually calmed myself if it weren’t for the shot of Haldol.)  I was, at first, determined to go home as soon as humanly possible (hopefully the next morning, if not sooner).  As time passed, I began thinking that the isolation ward wasn’t such a bad place to be. (I may write more about this in another post.)

I got to see Dr. W. the next afternoon (Friday).  How do you like that?  Three months of begging for a moment of his time…  Admittedly, I wasn’t begging him, but rather his office assistant.  Anyway.  He transferred me to the open side of the ward as soon as we had finished meeting. Our decision was to take me off all of my psych meds so we could start all over again. No better place to do that than in the hospital.

I’m now on a med called Remeron (mirtazapine), and I was in a good place to go off everything else. And I finally got to see for myself what the psych ward was all about.  I have a friend who told me once about one of her other friends who called her times in the psych ward a vacation.  I couldn’t imagine before how anyone could say such a thing, but it is in reality a very nice place to be. Rooms of four, a richly-appointed lounge with a pool table, a table-top curling game, a ping pong table, a piano, board games and puzzles, and lavish comfy chairs. An open kitchen where a person helps herself to whatever she want at any time. A TV room, nurses to look after anything a person needs, and time to do whatever a person wants. I had a grounds pass, so I wasn’t confined to the ward.As long as I wrote on the chalkboard by the nurses’ station that I was going for a walk, I could do it.

I was there from the Thursday of the GP appointment until the following Monday, and it was the best decision I never made.  (I have thanked both my mother and GP many times for finally overruling my fearful protests.)  And, so far, the new med is working well (knock on wood). Not too many side effects (and most of myformer side effects are gone!). I am very sleepy all the time (somnolence being the #1 side effect), and I’m pretty dizzy most of the time (the #2). My appetite is also way crazy (another side effect), but I’m trying to keep my eating in reasonable check.  I had also decided that if I had to choose, I would choose sane and balanced over keeping my girlish (ha ha!) figure.

The big thing:  my mood is better than it has been in many months, and my anxiety (which had become almost unmanageable) is well in control. I haven’t really been doing well since June of 2006 (when I went off all meds to do my second sleep study, which in the end told me absolutely nothing), but I think that I might have turned the corner.

Wow, what a long story.  All to get to the point of writing this:  as I wrote, I am doing better than I have in a very long time.  I nap a lot;  nothing like compulsory napping to make a person feel four years old.  But when I was in my very bad state, having to nap everyday sounded a hell of a lot better than the way I was feeling.  So I’m holding to that memory, and I’m also happy to say that the somnolence is lessening as time passes.

The dizziness, not so much.  I did a trial drive to the grocery store yesterday, having decided that I was okay to be on the roads.  (Fortunately, the grocery store is quite close to my parents’ house, and I can get there and back on roads that are virtually empty of people at the time of day I tried this.)  Turns out, sitting around all day and only moving around the house is a misleading test of how dizzy I am.  I drove home very carefully, on the deserted roads.  So I have to give up some of my independence and allow other people to drive me places.  (Have I mentioned that public transit makes me very anxious?)  And I even have to ask people for rides, which is an exercise that The Therapist will be very happy to hear about.

My appetite is still enormous;  indeed, it seem to grown everyday.  I could eat the world, that’s how it feels.  So we’ve stocked up on fruit, veggies, cereal bars, rice cakes, cheese and crackers, and the like.  I’m not trying to diet, but if I’m going to eat the world, I might as well start on the healthier part.  Get some of my recommended servings from the food pyramid.

I am slowly starting to get back to my routine.  I’m going out to dinner with The Roomie tonight, and tomorrow I am going to a Chamber of Commerce social for the SPCA.  I’m posting here, and I’m catching up gradually on the many posts piled in my Google reader.  I’ll post something soon for Dannan, too.  It’s all so much better than it’s been in so long, I can’t even begin to tell you (even though my 1800 words so far are probably far too long of a start!)

That’s the update.  Now for the next part….  Elton John gives me shivers!

I was watching the last episode of The Bachelor last night (no, I’m not going to bother linking to it;  Google it if you need to find out what I’m talking about), as well as their post-competition wrap-up shows.  (Yes, I watch terrible t.v.  You don’t have to watch it with me, so let me have my vice in peace.)  During the commerical break, I was channel-surfing, and I found this:  Elton John: Live at the Royal Opera House.  As long as I can see him perform songs like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Your Song”, the world is a wonderful place.

Seriously, hearing him play these songs with a 90-piece symphony sent shivers through me.  And at the time, I was thinking:  I must always remember that life is worth living so long as there is music out there that can send chills through my entire body when I hear it.

Music is so powerful, such a gift to humanity.  For me, many pieces of music (from all sorts of different genres) evoke this kind of response.  Elton John (at least his older work) is an example.  If death metal, hip hop or even Marilyn Manson give you chills, then I’m glad for it.  Even if I don’t understand it, I’m glad for it.  If there’s someone out there with this kind of musical taste who can tell me that it makes you shiver, please leave a comment.  For me, this is the magic of music, and I’m curious to know if you fans feel the same way.

Enough for today.  I’ve got many other ideas for posts bubbling away in my brain, so hopefully my next post will be soon!

I am a ruminant.  I allow my mind to focus on some thought, and I worry it to death.  Often, people liken this to a hamster, stuck in a wheel, careening crazily to nowhere.  Apt.  The more I ruminate about something, the higher my anxiety level shoots.  The higher my anxiety, the more frantically I ruminate, I think in an attempt to try to control something.  There is definitely a component to this kind of anxiety that makes one believe that if only one worries hard enough, obsesses long enough, one will have a talisman against bad things happening.  Not true, of course.  All that is guaranteed by this rumination is that one’s stress level will be off the charts, and the bad thing will either happen or not, just as it would have done without the rumination.

At any rate, my ruminations right now have a particular focus.  (Sometimes, they have no focus at all.)  First, the background.

I have begun to see an new psychiatrist, Dr. V.  He has a whole list of new meds for me to try, in the ongoing attempt to reduce my anxiety and improve my mood.  I have been working on Cymbalta since the beginning of December;  it is hard to tell whether my high anxiety and desperation were side effects, or if they were just par for the December course for me.  Perhaps everything would have been even worse without the Cymbalta.  I did wean myself off of it, but then decided that I needed to try it again before my next appointment with Dr. V.

I have to admit, I don’t really think that I will ever find the magic combination that will make me “well”.  (“Well” being a relative term, of course.)  So the rumination that I have been working on lately is this:  if this is the best I will ever get, can I accept it?

After many days of obsessive consideration, I think that I might just be able to accept my life this way, if and only if I can somehow believe that it is okay to let go.  (I was going to type, “give up”, but if I’m talking about acceptance, those words have no place.)  I would really and truly have to believe, based on (probably) input from Dr. V and the Counsellor, that it is okay to live like this for the rest of my life, that I am not giving up, that I am not being the bad person who malingers.  I am not really certain about what would cause me to have such a real and true belief;  at this point, I cannot envision that it could come from within me.

At the same time, I think that I would be driven truly insane if I had to live decades as I now do.  I am coming up on the anniversary of the day my mind broke;  on January 25th, it will be nine years;  in some ways, I cannot believe that it has been that long but in others, it seems like I’ve lived like this forever.  I hope that if I had the real and true belief, I could be satisfied and content.  But it is hard for me to imagine.  Some days I cannot see how I will live through one more day like this, never mind the rest of my life.

I’m losing focus here, so perhaps I will end it now.  The post, I mean.  (Obligatory black humour of a chronic depressive.  Forgive me.)  I am on the cancellation list for appointments with Dr. V until July, so I have no clue when I will see him again.  I am supposed to see him monthly, but it has been eight weeks since my last (and only) appointment with him.  NOT helping my anxiety!

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Um, hi.  Remember me?  Couldn’t, wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.  It feels like it’s been a hundred years since I posted last.

I got stuck in my head, lost in my own issues.  The longer I didn’t post, the harder it was.  Then, I got all over the idea that since it had been so long since I posted, I had to have the perfect post to come back.  As a recovering perfectionist, I usually try to remember that “done is better than perfect”, but that old demon is never far away.  And it jumped on me, big time.

This whole blogging thing has actually turned into a whole microcosm of my various issues.  In non-blogging life, one of the biggest struggles I have is that for my whole life, my only sources of self-esteem have been through achievement and by doing everything I can for others.  This latter idea is a real killer, folks.  Because I derive my worth from service to others, I got into the trap of thinking that if I wasn’t following and commenting every day on my favourite bloggers and those who were kind enough to read and comment on my posts, then I was a failure.  And the longer I let myself think these thoughts, the more intimidating and overwheming they become.

Instead of a pleasure and a joy, blogging had become a duty and I was shutting myself down.  I’ve also had this problem over at Dannan’s blog, but because it was “his” blog, I tried to power through it.  I was more successful over there — after all, I was doing it for someone else!  (How twisted the mind can be…)

I know that I have to get over it and move on.  Read when I can, comment when I can, and post when I can.  And not put all this crazy pressure on myself, or turn what is supposed to be an uplifting and fulfilling creative hobby into another anchor pulling me down.  And I have to stop apologizing all the time.

Fact is, I’m a (recovering) perfectionist and procrastinator.  (The two go hand in hand, if you didn’t know.)  I spend a lot of time stuck in the morass of my issues.  Chronic depression and generalized anxiety disorder often seem to take the starring role in my life.  I started to blog so that I could explore my inner writer and enjoy myself.  And I need to keep blogging for those reasons, for only myself.

I may never be a regular-as-clockwork blogger.  I may not visit all the blogs I enjoy all of the time.  I might not comment on every post I read.  But I’m going to release myself from the pressure of feeling that I have to do all of that.  (And of course, I’m going to have to keep reminding myself that that’s what I’m doing!)  But I do truly enjoy the writing that I’ve discovered, the people behind that writing, and the connections that sometimes seem to spark from our interaction.  I’ll do the best I can at nurturing those connections, without letting my issues hijack it as another stick to beat myself up with.  (With which to beat myself.)

I’ve been told that I over-explain myself, when there is no need to do it, and that it sometimes usually just another manifestations of my issues.  But I do feel that need to explain (working on it), and to be able to “get over it and move on”, I choose to make the explanation.  Here it is, and here I go.

(Therapy in action.  Don’t you just love how, once you start working on yourself, everything in your life turns into a therapeutic exercise?  Or maybe you don’t have any experience with that.  Please excuse the use of “you”.  Not pointing my finger at “you” in particular.)

That’s it for that subject.  I need to write, and I need this blog.  Thank you for your patience.

The other thing I wanted to write about is somewhat ironic, given the timing.  Just as I withdrew from blogging, the fabulous Jack, over at Slightly Off-Centre, gave me an award.  Way back on November 26th.

award-kreative-blogger

The irony is not lost upon me, I assure you.  Jack, if you’re out there, I’m sorry for not getting on this right away.  After all, it’s my first award here at The Muse Asylum, and it’s from a fellow Canadian whose blog is very cool.  Head on over and check her blog out, you won’t be sorry.  And I’m going to get back to being that Kreativ Blogger that you gave this award to.  (To which you gave this award.  See, I do know proper grammar.)

And Jack, THANK YOU!

There are rules to this award:

♥ List 6 things that make you happy.
♥ Pass the award onto 6 Bloggers you consider to be Kreativ.
♥ Link to the blogger who gave you the award.
♥ Link to the blogs receiving the award.
♥ Notify the recipients.

6 things that make me happy

  1. Dannan, my Little Brown Dog
  2. My family and my friends
  3. The sight of dogs playing together
  4. Crisp days where the sun is shining brightly
  5. Reading a good book
  6. Making a breakthrough in the work I’m doing on, and for, myself

I’m not going to send this award along to anyone, at least not right now.  I feel rather odd, receiving such an award when I’ve been so checked out.  I don’t feel today like I am able to pass it along, but I will someday soon.  And if I have any readers left at all, please consider yourself awarded!

That’s all for now.  I’ll be back soon, I truly will.

Today is massive fall cleaning day at my house.  And tomorrow, it’s Depression and Anxiety Education and Screening Day.  I obviously don’t need to be screened, LOL, but the psychiatrist that I’m going to be seeing at the end of November is giving a talk at the university.  So I thought I’d go check him out, see what he’s like.  Damn, I hope I like him!

On Friday, I will post a review of Natasha Mostert’s Season of the Witch, so come back then!

I am struck by the idea that this week has been a major downer. Lots of negative posts; well, if not negative, then certainly gloomy and depressing (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). So there are some final thoughts I want to share with you.

I am thankful that I had my breakdown. Yes, very thankful.

The first reason that comes to mind is that at the time, I was involved in an abusive relationship with The Narcissist. (I used to call him The Bastard, but The Narcissist fits him better.) I didn’t know how to leave, and my breakdown was one way to do it (not the best way, but hell, it worked).

The second, and more overall reason is that I am so much better off now than I was then. It seems like a bizarre thing to say, but it’s true. If I had kept living the way I was, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. I was headed toward suicide if I didn’t get help, and the ways I tried to get help didn’t work. So, big reason to be thankful.

Also, through my years of therapy, I’ve learned more about myself than I ever knew in the preceding 28 years I’d been alive. There are some unflattering things I’ve learned about myself, more than I’d like to admit. And there are some amazing things I’ve learned. But more importantly, this knowledge is genuinely, truly about me. Not about the person I thought I was supposed to be, or the person that other people wanted me to be. About me, the person I am when I look deep inside myself and leave behind the Mask.

I’ve learned better coping mechanisms. I’ve learned how to make my life better, by not listening to my negative automatic thoughts, for instance. I know how to change those automatic thoughts (although it’s always easier said than done, and by no means am I able to do it all the time). I know how my thoughts can set me up for painful feelings. These are all things I probably wouldn’t have learned, but for my breakdown and illnesses.

Most importantly, perhaps, I’ve learned that I can make my life better. I know that the darkness always ends, it just takes time. Feelings are transient; if you wait them out, they’ll change. I know I will feel better, because I have felt better before. I know I can come out of a depressive episode, because I’ve done it before. I might relapse again, but I can hold on to the knowledge that this too, will pass. And I will not only survive, but I will learn from each relapse. I might always have chronic depression and anxiety, but I don’t have to always suffer from them.

Thank you for sticking it through this week. I hope that you learned at least one thing here that you didn’t know before. And that today’s message that there is hope and that things can get better reached at least one person who needed to hear it.

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Today was the Kamloops SPCA’s annual Paws for a Cause Walk for the Animals. I was in charge of registration again this year, and we had 143 registrants. We don’t have a final total, but it’s over $30,000, which is awesome!

I spent over seven hours going full bore today, and have exhausted myself. So I might take a day or two (more!) off from blogging, but I’ll be back! I just need some sleeeeeeeepppppppp!

I’ve written mostly about depression this week. It’s hard to write about my anxiety, especially at a time when I am at a really high level of anxiety, which I am right now.

My anxiety adds a whole other dimension to everything else I’ve written this week. Anxiety is an energy waster. I’m going to write more about energy tomorrow in The Spoon Theory, but for today, I’ll just use this analogy: Think about a big pot of water on the stove. Imagine that this is your water for the day, for cooking and cleaning and bathing. You turn on the burner when you wake up, and you leave the burner on all day. Even if you never take a drop out of that pot, at the end of the day, you will end up with less water than what you started with. That’s what chronic anxiety is like. A constant simmer of worry or dread, that is always happening in the background, wearing you down. Even if you’re not conscious of being anxious, you are still wasting energy.

Which is not to say that there is any fault or blame to be attached to a person who always has a low level of anxiety simmering away. Everybody knows what it feels like to be anxious about something; imagine if you had a feeling very similar to that, but ALL THE TIME. Trust me, if people who have chronic anxiety knew how to make it go away, we would give all our fingers and toes, and maybe even an organ or two, to do it.

So there’s this constant level of anxiety going on. Then there are the specific things / tasks / people that cause a spike in anxiety. These can be anything. For me, hearing the phone ring provokes panic. If I have to make a phone call, I will often have a panic attack. You will never know that when I call you, however, because the Mask will be firmly in place when I pick up the phone. Which will make some people sceptical that I am truly phobic of the phone. But I am, and whether they accept that or not, it’s the way it is for me.

Other things that provoke anxiety for me can include having to leave the house, thinking about having to interact with people. Or even the thought of having someone look at me. If ebay sold an invisibility cloak, I’d buy several. Sometimes it’s a clutching fear that something bad will happen to my dog, that I’ve poisoned him with the bug spray I used the other day to ward off the spider invasion, that I’ll never be well again, that I won’t have enough money to get groceries at the end of the month, that my parents will die and I’ll end up homeless and alone. Some of these fears are not rational (some are, though); knowing that they are not rational does not make them go away.

Again, in some people’s reaction to chronic anxiety, there can run a thread of “well, just get over it already!” or “that’s a silly thing to worry about, so why don’t you stop?” As I wrote above, if I could do that, I would.

I’m not going to write much more about chronic anxiety. Just imagine, if you would, how all this background static of anxiety adds to the effects of chronic depression and the side effects of the meds and the mind games we all play with ourselves about expectations and what we should be doing and accomplishing and being. And then, suddenly and often out of the blue, there is a big explosion of fear and anxiety that is right in the forefront of everything. And imagine that this happens many times a day, sometimes. It sounds debilitating, no?

I had originally planned to write about Stigma and Skepticism yesterday, but I guess I get a little side-tracked….

My point was going to be that it’s a double whammy when you have an invisible chronic illness and that illness is psychiatric in nature. The first whammy is that it’s invisible; in our advanced Western society, we don’t believe what we don’t see. We are empiricists; we want to see it. If you’re sick, show me your symptoms.

Well, invisible chronic illnesses, by definition, can’t be seen. You can’t see anxiety or depression (or fibromyalgia, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, or any of dozens of other illness I could name) by looking at someone. The illnesses do often have physical manifestations (e.g. someone with rheumatoid arthritis might have swollen or differently-shaped knuckles), but most of those physical manifestations of invisible chronic illness are not considered evidence of the illness that caused them.

The second whammy is “psychiatric in nature”.

There are still people, even in this day and age, who think that depression and anxiety (and for all I know, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) are “all in your head”. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “feel the fear and do it anyway!” or “can’t you just decide to be happy?” There is a pervasive belief that “getting over” depression and anxiety are a matter of willpower. Either that, or that we’re all a bunch of hypochondriacs who imagine that we’re ill. Or even worse, that we’re doing it deliberately for attention, or to take advantage of someone.

When I wear the Mask, I know I make it harder for people to understand that I am ill. I can seem confident, capable and competent, but it’s only for a short time, and I will pay a significant price for the illusion. The Mask and my illnesses don’t square well with each other.

Another unfortunate belief is that a person with depression or anxiety is somehow to blame; either for having the illness in the first place, or for failing to “get over it”.

When this perception is still not uncommon out there, is it any wonder that people who have a psychiatric illness don’t want to tell people about it? Trust me, even if you think you can tell, you really can’t tell whether a person harbours this perception.

This belief works nicely with the stigma still attached to mental illness to make the double whammy even stronger. This links back with the “blame” aspect: if I was only strong enough, or had enough determination and willpower, I could get better. Since I’m not better, I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

Well, I’m here to tell you, I am as strong as a bull. I have enough determination and willpower to choke a whole herd of your choice of animal. I have tried and tried and tried, more times than you can even imagine. And I’m still ill. If strength, determination, and willpower could make me well, I’d be the most damn well person you’d ever meet.

I guess I should define my terms here. Stigma is a mark of disgrace or shame. When something has a stigma attached to it, what it basically boils down to is this. A label is applied to that thing (or person). That label comes along with negative stereotypes (see above), and those to whom that label applies are considered to be of a lesser status. They are marked because of it, and seen as somehow “less”. Less worthy, less deserving of respect. And then, stigma is often followed by discrimination against those who have been so labelled.

The stigma and the skepticism often will keep me from revealing my illnesses. Why would I set myself up for all that? If I don’t know you well enough to know what your reaction will be, I probably won’t bring it up in casual conversation.

When I was first recovering, I thought, “To hell with the stigma! I’m going to be a one-woman anti-stigma crusade!” I thought I would tell everyone, and single-handedly change the world. As time went by, I discovered that this attitude set me up for unnecessary arguments about the nature of mental illness and the quality of my character. So now I’m more selective in whom I tell. Not everybody needs to know.

People with mental illness are no different from people with other diseases, like diabetes. When we’re recovering, we’re no different from people who are recovering from heart attacks. Doctors say this all day long. But people… people just don’t buy it… or get it, or something.

One thing that my favourite psychiatrist told me (I affectionately called him Psydoc) was that it took me twenty or more years to get to the point of breakdown; why did I expect that in a few weeks, or even a few years, I could recover? He often told me that we don’t expect someone who has a heart attack to get up and run marathons, so why would we expect someone recovering from severe depression to be well overnight?

Psydoc was also fond of reminding me that not so long ago, people with depression as severe as I have were not out in the community, getting well. They were in sanatoriums, or institutions. But he was right; even a couple of generations ago, someone with a severe case of depression would live in a psychiatric facility, undergoing treatment every single day, under care 24/7. And I was out in the community, having therapy at most once a week, doing try-it-and-see-if-it-works with meds. In a facility, meds can be given intravenously, and it is MUCH faster to do it that way. It takes a certain level of many meds in your bloodstream before they become effective, and it takes time to reach those dosages when someone is taking meds orally. And with inpatient care, they are constantly monitoring the patient, able to adjust meds as needed, and to try many more types of medication in a much shorter period of time.

Psydoc was a wise, wonderful man. I miss him. Psydoc, if you’re reading this, please move back from the Yukon!

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