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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!

Wow, today was like traveling back in time to grade 9.  I was working an SPCA booth at a Kamloops Storm hockey game.  (I can’t tell you much about the kids that were playing or the level of play;  there are more hockey leagues up here than you can shoot a puck at.  It’s Canada, eh?)

Anyway, there I was, up on the concourse with our fantastic fundraiser PT, and lo and behold:  a woman was wearing legwarmers!  I can see the attraction of wearing them to a hockey game, but seriously, where can you buy legwarmers in 2008?  Or did someone save them, for “when they come back in style”?  And are they back in style?  Clue me in, internets!

Over the course of the game, I counted at least a dozen women with 80’s hair.  You know, that long perm, with the bumpy bangs shellacked within an inch of their lives?  Where you’d curl sections of your bangs, and not comb them out, so they sat like a stairway of bumpy, shiny, steps?  I know that Big Hair Envy knows exactly the hair I mean.  I haven’t actually seen hair like that since high school.  And what’s with all these 80’s-haired women being at the Storm game?  Are hockey moms stuck in the 80’s?  Maybe I should ask Sarah Palin.  (Ooh, cheap shot!)

But I’ve saved the best for last.  Here’s the backstory first.  When I was in grade 9, my friends and I spent all our time at the roller rink.  We had a great one here in the ‘Loops, and roller skating was way popular.  There was this guy who worked there, behind the skate rental and repair counter.  I’ll call him Skateguy.  (I do know his actual name, of course, but in case he’s one of the four or five people who regularly read my blog, I’ll keep his anonymity.  And you’ll see why in a minute.)

I had the world’s hugest crush on Skateguy.  I loved rollerskating, but I have to admit that there were many times that I went just to see Skateguy.  He was a few years older than I was, with blonde hair and (what I realize now was a weedy kind of) mustache.  I spent a lot of my time at the rink watching him clandestinely.  Or at least, I thought it was clandestinely.  Looking back, it was probably pathetically obvious that I was sooooo in love with him that I thought I would die.

Now, back to the future with me.  I saw Skateguy at the Storm game today.  He was very… round.  And his face, it was round, too.  Unmistakably him, but my God.  So round.  Probably he looks more round than he really is because he’s not the tallest guy.  He was wearing pretty much the same clothes I remember from way back then… well, not the same clothes, I’m sure.  But jeans, some sort of jacket with a sports theme (like a letter jacket, but not quite so lame), and a ballcap.  When they played the national anthem, he took his cap off and holy sh*t, he only had hair around the sides and back, with a great big bald spot, right on top of his head!

I was just astonished!  And I couldn’t help myself, I immediately thought that if that’s how he turned out, isn’t it a good thing we didn’t get together, get married, and have a passel of kids?  (Not like he even gave me the time of day back then, but you know.)  I squealed and poked PT, telling her who he was.  We laughed until we almost peed our pants.

(Now internets, I am certainly not claiming that I’ve aged particularly well myself.  But, to my knowledge, he didn’t have elaborate fantasies of us spending our lives together, so the way I turned out is irrelevant.  So there.)

Skateguy was there by himself.  I don’t know if he was there to cheer on his kid who was playing in the game, or if he’s a hockey addict who goes to all the games of all the teams to get his fix, or if he’s just creepy.  I was just congratulating myself on having squeaked out of a future together.

I hope that his life is good.  Even though he never so much as acknowledged my existence, beyond giving me my size eight skates, I hope he’s got a life he likes.  And, especially, that he’s not creepy.  I feel like that would be weird, for me to have had such a desperate crush on someone who turned out to be creepy.

From the BCSPCA.

Halloween Can Spook Animals

Some tips to protect animals over the Halloween Season

While Halloween is fun for trick or treaters, it can be a scary and dangerous time for pets and farm animals. “Loud noises can cause animals to panic putting both pets and children in danger,” says Lorie Chortyk, Director of Community Relations for the BC SPCA. Farm animals are at risk too. Dogs or cats could dart into traffic or jump through windows, while frightened farm animals could run into barbed-wire fences or other obstructions. Dogs can also act out of character at the sight of strangers in costumes coming to your door.

Keep Your Pet Inside

Prevent your pets from escaping or confronting trick or treaters by keeping them in a quiet room. You may consider disabling your doorbell for the night if your dog is the type that gets excited whenever it rings. Now is also a good time to make sure your pet has identification – a tag and a tattoo or microchip – in case your pet gets lost. Cats need identification too — indoor cats too — in case they bolt from fright.

Don’t Feed Candy and Chocolate to Pets

“Any sudden diet change will cause stomach upset in your animal,” says Dr. Jamie Lawson, BC SPCA Director of Animal Health. “Feeding animals candy can lead to health problems such as diabetes or obesity,” says Lawson, “and chocolate is especially dangerous because it naturally contains theobromine, an ingredient which is toxic to cats and dogs.”

Loud Bangs Panic Some Animals

Because exploding fireworks can affect pets in varying degrees be sure to spend time consoling your pets whenever there are loud noises. Some dogs will howl, while others might cower and whine. “I’ve seen cases where a dog has bolted in fear right through a screen door. The dog was gone for days just because of a loud bang,” says Dr. Dave Sedgman, veterinarian with Thompson Rivers University, in Kamloops. “In extreme cases animals will try to dig into a hardwood floor or even jump through a plate glass window in fear.”

On Halloween night, leave your dog at home while trick or treating; bring dogs and cats indoors; and set off legal fireworks in areas away from pets and farm animals. By thinking about the animals, Halloween will be a safer and stress-free occasion, as well as fun for kids.

Happy Saturday, everyone!

A good friend (Daisy0 posted yesterday about the release of Beverly Hills Chihuahua.  She used this great poster, and told us to distribute it far and wide.

The issue here is that after a movie starring dogs is released, there is often a rush by people to get a dog “just like” the one in the movie.   I think most of us know how 101 Dalmatians led to massive overbreeding (and irresponsible breeding) of the Dalmatian.

This can also happen after a TV show, such as Frasier, which led to many people buying Jack Russell terriers without a real understanding of the breed’s needs.

Because they don’t know the real needs of the dog they are getting, people end up surrendering many, many of these poor animals to SPCAs, humane societies, and other animal shelters.  Their expectations don’t square with the reality of the breed, and they give them up.

Now we’ve got a movie about Chihuahuas.  It looks like a cute and fun movie.  But we want to get the word out:  if watching this movie makes you want to have a Chihuahua of your very own, PLEASE do your research!  Learn about the breed to find out if your lifestyle and the Chi lifestyle are compatible.

And just as important, PLEASE start your search for your new Chi best friend at animal shelters and rescue groups!

Not long ago, I did a post about puppy mills.  Well folks, this is just the kind of situation that has puppy mill owners and irresponsible backyard breeders rubbing their hands together in glee (and greed).  They know that there will be an increased demand for Chihuahuas as a result of this movie, and they will overbreed and inbreed the poor Chis in order to meet this demand.

What many people might not know is that the Chihuahua is the fifth most posted breed on www.petfinder.com.  (This is a great site!  It advertises the animals available for adoption at shelters, rescue groups, and animal control facilities all over North America.  I just did a search for Chihuahuas in Western Canada and the Western US, and I stopped looking once I hit 500 dogs up for adoption.  I don’t know how many more there were, but seriously:  500 Chihuahuas!)  There are so many Chis out there already who are looking for a home.  If you or someone you know decides that they want a Chihuahua, please adopt one from a shelter or rescue!

Spread the word!  Rescue dogs are AWESOME!

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Today is Puppy Mill Awareness Day.  I would ask you to please read this post, even though it is a hard subject to read about.

A puppy mill is usually defined as a breeding facility that produces puppies in large numbers. In my neck of the woods (the Interior of British Columbia), we often include backyard breeders and smaller-scale operations in the definition of a puppy mill. What I focus on is the treatment of the animals, rather than defining a puppy mill merely based on numbers of puppies bred.

So, for me, a puppy mill is a place where dogs are bred and some or all of the following are present:

  • lack of sanitation in the breeding facility;
  • overbreeding;
  • inbreeding;
  • poor quality food and inadequate shelter;
  • overcrowded cages or pens;
  • inability of the animals to express behaviours that are natural for those animals, and necessary to their well-being;
  • minimal vet care;
  • lack of human contact and socialization of puppies (and their mothers); and
  • focus on profit rather than on the welfare of individual dogs.

One of the reasons that I don’t like to focus on the total number of puppies produced is because the conditions in which the dogs and puppies live is to me far more important. I have seen many puppy mills where there are many adult dogs forced to live in space that is too small for that number of animals. Where cages are piled on top of each other in every available space.  Where the dogs live out in the open, without a roof over their heads.

Or where there is either a lack of food and/or water, or the quality of that food and water is deplorable. (And here I’m not necessarily talking about the food being of minimal quality in the way that many dog owners would judge. I am talking about food that has gotten wet and allowed to mold, or rotten human food given to the dogs, or dogs having to cannibalize other dogs who have died and not been removed from the area. And water that is dirty, nasty, or just not there at all.)

Where urine and feces are never cleaned up, just allowed to build up and rot. Where the breeding females are bred every time they come into heat, from their first heat onward. Until they are too worn out and no longer of value to the breeder. Where no one ever spends any time with the pups or the dogs, and they are not socialized to people or to situations. Where disease and genetic health problems are widespread, and veterinary care is lacking (often completely).

I know this is hard to think about. But if we don’t think about it, and make decisions based on facts and evidence, then we unwittingly support the practice and perpetuate it.

Where do puppy mill puppies end up? In pet stores. Even if they say that they don’t buy from puppy mills, those puppies are highly likely to have come from a situation of poor welfare and poor standards of care.

Where else? On the Internet. In the newspaper. From the breeder’s backyard. From the mill itself. And if you go to breeder, you will not likely see where the dogs and pups really live, or how they are really treated. And if you ask to see the parents of the pups, you have no way of knowing whether they truly are or not. It is a common practice for bad breeders to show you better cared for animals that the parents actually are.

If you want know more about puppy mills and what you can do about them, please go to the Puppy Mill Awareness Day site. The number one thing that you can do to stop these inhumane breeding practices is to adopt a dog or puppy from a shelter, or pound, or rescue group.

And please don’t think that all animals at shelters and pounds are “problem dogs”. Most of the dogs who wind up at an SPCA, humane society, or other shelter are there because:

  • the people who brought them there didn’t know the dog would get so big/need so much exercise/have so much hair;
  • they have developed allergies, or their children have;
  • they have a new baby;
  • and the number one reason that dogs are brought into shelters is that the people are moving and cannot find a place that allows dogs!

These dogs are there through no fault of their own. Many of them are “adolescent” dogs, who are full of energy and have no outlets for that energy. Many of them are not trained in even the basics of proper behaviour (like not jumping on people, or how to sit), and just need someone to spend a little time with them.

Dannan, my fabulous little dog, came into the SPCA as a stray.  He is smart as can be, loves to learn, is healthy, and has no behavioural issues.  He is also typical of the kind of dogs that are at shelters.

So please, think about where your dog has come from, and if you are getting another (or know someone who is getting a dog), please think about this issue!  For the love of dog, please think about it.

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.

********

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!

…so I haven’t been getting to comments. Thank you for them, and I will get to them on Sunday. Our local SPCA is having a major fundraiser on Saturday, and I am trying to get everything ready for my part of the day. So I’ll be back online on Sunday; my NICIAW posts are all pre-written, because I knew I wouldn’t have time by today!

This is my first official post for National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week (NICIAW). Today, I wanted to write about my reality: invisible chronic illnesses that are psychiatric.

First, some background. I have chronic depression and anxiety. Scientists have discovered that once a person has had one cycle of clinical depression, that person is more likely to have another cycle. The more cycles one has, the more likely it is that one will have more.

I cannot tell you how many cycles I’ve been through. I do know that since my breakdown in 2000, I have relapsed every year at least once. Some relapses are mild, but others are quite severe. None have been as severe as my breakdown in January of 2000 (thank the universe or whatever’s out there!), and I’ve heard many times in treatment that once we start treatment, we can never be in the same place again because we know more than we did at that time.

I’ve done many different kinds of therapy, the most helpful of which have been Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and regular old talk therapy. I’ve done group therapy, which was important at the time, but I’d prefer not to have to go through it again. I’ve had psychiatrists and therapists, psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists. The important thing is to find the thing that works for you, with the “therapeutic person” that you have a connection with. As far as I know in Canada, psychiatrists mostly just prescribe medications, and don’t do a letyot of therapy. That means that a patient has to have some other variety of therapeutic person in order to do therapy. I firmly believe in the importance of therapy in the treatment of mental illness.

However, I also believe in the importance of medication. Depression can be caused by life circumstances; usually, this is the kind of depression that goes away with time, as those circumstances change. But depression is also caused by brain chemistry, and often medication is vital to changing that brain chemistry. I take more pills than I’ll list here, but I do know that I will always take an anti-depressant, for the rest of my life. My brain just doesn’t work as well without it.

And as far as anxiety goes, I believe the same thing: therapy is critical, and medication can be a lifesaver.

You can’t tell by looking at me that I have chronic depression and anxiety. Part of that is because I’ve probably had clinical depression since high school, if not earlier, and I developed a Mask. My Mask is one of competence, confidence, and capability. I have had literally YEARS of practice at appearing to be well (or at least okay and functioning) when I was in fact far from it. One of the phrases I particularly like is “hiding in plain sight”, which I read in someone’s blog. (Forgive me, lady blogger, I thought I’d bookmarked the post where you said that, but I apparently didn’t, and I can’t find it again. If you’re reading this, please let me know!)

One of the negative outcomes of having this kind of Mask is that it’s like a default position for me. I can assume my Mask in all but the most severe and dire relapses. This is hard for people to square with the idea that I am disabled and debilitated by my illnesses.

The Mask won’t stay on forever, though. It is a limited time coping mechanism. (And not a very good one, at that. I do not recommend it.) I can keep it up for a while, but after a couple of hours of smiling and nodding and seeming to be very capable, I will go home, collapse, and quite often cry for hours. And then I will be out of it for days.

When my anxiety is really high, the Mask slips somewhat. As I am writing this, I just received an email from an SPCA colleague of mine. We have our annual Walk for the Animals on Saturday the 13th, and I am in charge of the registration process and all of the money. This is Year Three of the challenge, and I haven’t been very happy with the way it’s worked either of the past two years. So my anxiety level is really high, and it obviously came through in the email I sent to her asking if she’d gather some materials for the booth at which she is working that day. Her response began, “Linds, relax a little.” I know I’m bad when my Mask doesn’t even work over email.

I’ll talk a bit more about the Mask in my next NICIAW post, which will be called Stigma and Scepticism.

1. If I was to walk into your life, would you let me stay or ask me to leave?

2. Catch a bright star and place it in your pocket for a rainy night.

3. And you can send me roses, but I prefer wildflowers.

4. I want to move on from my misguided past but I’m dealing with a memory that never forgets.

5. I’m the innocent bystander / Somehow I got stuck in the middle of your nightmare.

6. What’s keeping us apart isn’t selfishness, it’s my complete inability to commit.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to working on my posts for National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, tomorrow my plans include a fun and furry BBQ at Mary’s and Sunday, I want to have dinner at the Westsyde Pump and raise money for the SPCA!

Friday Fill-Ins are fun!  See what other people said here.

If you were to name the one thing you have the most compassion for, what would it be?

There is not one single thing/person/entity for which I have the most compassion.  But my criteria for who I would have the most compassion for would be those who are helpless, who cannot speak for themselves, who have to rely (for good or for ill) on others for their well-being.  This category would include animals, children, and people who are disabled who cannot communicate or who lack the cognitive ability to understand what abuse is and that they might be experiencing it.

I’ve mentioned that I work with the local SPCA, but I haven’t mentioned my work with the Canadian Red Cross.  I am a certified Abuse Prevention Educator, and we focus on preventing abuse against children and youth (child abuse, relationship violence, bullying and harassment, violence in sport, etc.).  Often, the disabled who are unable to communicate or who lack the ability to understand that they are being abused are targeted by abusers.

All of this work has led me to have the most compassion for those who cannot express that they are being abused or neglected, such as animals, children (who may not even know that what they are experiencing is abuse and/or neglect), and those who cannot express what they are experiencing or who don’t know that it is abuse.

(Sorry that this is a little repetitive;  I’m a little dizzy today.)

It’s been said that, “The best things in life are free.” Do you think this is true?

Somewhat.  Certainly, things like love, companionship, kindness, compassion, friendship, and joy do not come with a price tag attached.  However, things like security, health (both physical and mental), peace of mind, having sufficient food to eat or clean water to drink, and feeling safe in the world are definitely not free.  They all require a certain amount of money to achieve.  Having lived on a very limited income for the past eight years (with the safety net of friends and family who have the resources to help when I truly need it) and planning my future with an equally limited income and perhaps much less of a safety net, I am becoming aware that this second group of “things” are certainly not free.

What is the most valuable thing you own?

It pains my heart that animals are considered property, but there it is (for now, at least).  And since that is the case, I would have to say that Dannan, my furry family member, is most valuable.  To me, having him in my life is beyond price.  If you are interested to find out why, read on.  If not, just skip to the end.

In the past, I have called Dannan my “suicide prevention dog”, which no one seems to find funny except for me. But he surely is.  When I am completely lost in the darkness, he is what keeps me from considering suicide.  Even my family doesn’t enter into my thoughts;  when I’m really low, I tell myself that they would understand.  But I know that my dog wouldn’t, and I could never abandon him that way.  So that’s part of it.

Also, he is the reason I get out of bed on many mornings.  There are definitely several days out of the average month that I might not do it if it weren’t for him.  And he is so happy in the morning at the idea of getting up and out of bed, that he reminds me every day that I should be glad that I’m here.

When I am not feeling well, whether it is the flu or a cold, or whether it is because I am very anxious or depressed, he sticks close by me.  He either lies in my lap, or close enough to me that we touch.  It really kind of seems like he realizes that I need him nearby.  And the days when I am crying, he gets into my lap and licks my face until I catch my breath and calm down.

When I am anxious or depressed, I scratch and stroke him, and this helps me to moderate my emotions.  Having to look after him also brings me out of myself.  His needs for fresh air and exercise are almost always what motivates me to go outside and to exercise myself.  I never feel judged by him;  he always loves me and wants to be with me.

I really don’t think that I would be where I am in my recovery without my dog.  His unconditional love and his very presence in my life keeps me plugging along.  Taking care of him forces me to take care of myself when I might not otherwise.

To see what other people have said about these three questions, check out Manic Monday.

Please visit Violence Unsilenced – Help end domestic violence and sexual assault

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