Healing

Peace

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Friday was my last day of work at my old job, and I can’t say the day went well.  I started crying before I left and didn’t stop all the way home.  I bawled all through supper, and it didn’t end until I went swimming with my husband.  Even on Saturday, I felt extremely anxious and depressed.  I honestly had no idea how I was going to hold it together with not working and the stress of moving on top of it.

On Monday we had my good-bye lunch with my co-workers, and afterward my husband and I went for a walk in the woods.  The temperature was perfect, breezy and sunny, and the woods were so peaceful without a soul around.

As we started walking I could feel my thoughts start to race again.  Fear, self-doubt, and negative thoughts crowded around.  But the day was so pretty and lovely, I told my mind to stop talking.  I forced myself to pay attention to my surroundings and only my surroundings, and let my thoughts be carried away on the wind without holding onto them.

It was perfect.  It was lovely.  We saw birds, and chipmunks, and frogs.  I breathed in the scent of pines (trees are known to help reduce stress).  My husband just stood and held me for awhile.

It wasn’t everything.  It wasn’t forever.  But just for that afternoon, I felt peace.  More than I’d felt in a very long time.

Healing · Sensitivity

Journeys

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Cruise ship, California, April 2017

I have been away for most of this month.  I took a much-needed vacation on a cruise ship that traveled the California coast.  Something that would have been impossible for me to do six months ago was suddenly attainable.  I survived.

Here are things I enjoyed about the journey, and helped me heal:  being away from stress and responsibility.  Spending time with people I cared about.  Being around others (more difficult to think dark thoughts).  Eating lots of delicious food.  Swimming and going on long walks every single day.  The feeling of the ship’s engine and the swaying of the boat lulling me gently to sleep every night.  Warm, dry, sunny weather. Getting to see places that I have only ever dreamed about seeing.  Listening to classical concerts on the ship and letting the music sweep me away.

Here are things that stressed me out: Feeling bored and restless during the late afternoons on the ship.  The constant crowds: oh my lord were there crowds, everywhere.  Having to wait in line all the dang time.  Really boring rich old people on the ship.  Worrying that I wasn’t enjoying myself “enough.”

But I made it.  I came back a bit tired, mostly relaxed, and more confident in my ability to navigate the world and survive outside of my routine (something I find very stressful).  I did enjoy being spoiled a bit, and having everyone wait on me hand and foot, although not without a lot of guilt over my first world privilege. (I at least treated the staff with courtesy, unlike a lot of my fellow passengers).

I didn’t feel a lot of creative energy on the ship and I couldn’t muster up too many daydreams.  The closest I got was having a cocktail  in one of the lounges while listening to classical music and pretending I was in an Agatha Christie mystery.   But I did form memories that will provide inspiration for the future.  Plus, I got to see dolphins playing one morning alongside the ship!

Before my husband and I left, we got our house ready for sale.  It was an extremely anxiety and depression-inducing week before the trip, as travel always makes me anxious and selling one’s house is no picnic.  This week has been stressful, too. I’m still jet-lagged and haven’t been able to spend time in the house because of all the viewings.

There is also the anticipatory anxiety of moving, which has been plaguing me ever since the start of my mental health episode.  Part of the reason I am moving is to get away from my current work/life situation and return to my hometown after ten years of being away.  I already have a job lined up (which happened for me on my trip) so that at least is a weight off my shoulders.

I am also slowly weaning myself off my medication.  I was initially hesitant to get off it at all, thinking I was better off just taking it forever.  But at my doctor’s advice I am going off it at a glacial pace.  I am currently at 5 mgs every other day, down from 10 every day this winter, and I plan on spacing them out to every three days soon.  At first going to a half dose was horrible.  I felt a similar level of anxiety to what I felt in the fall, with racing thoughts, nightmares, flu-like symptoms, etc.   Now at least I know what is going on and am able to account for it.  The transitioning gets easier every day.

I will be glad when my house sells and I don’t have to worry about strangers traipsing through my house all the time.  I have to keep trying to carve out relax time for myself, but it is difficult.  Sometimes all I get is a quick nighttime bath or ten minutes with the bunnies.

Anxiety · Depression · Healing

The slowly changing seasons

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Artwork by my mom

As this is the second time in my life I’ve been seriously affected by anxiety, I have noticed a pattern in the progression.  I am attempting to chronicle it here, not just for my own future reference, but in the hopes that it might help someone else too.

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It approaches in stealth mode.  I don’t feel it coming.  Once in a while I’ll feel a tightness in my chest, or feel down for no reason.  It builds in a way that I don’t really notice, slowly over weeks and months.  As time goes by, I feel more and more a shortness of breath and a growing sense of unreality.  My normal mode starts to become angry and helpless.  My body becomes affected with everything from nausea to uncontrollable twitching.  However, in this stage I am still able to enjoy things when I am relaxed.  Up until the tipping point.

Once the tipping point is reached, the dark thoughts begin to enter my head.  I lose all sense of reality.  My body is completely possessed, with panic attacks, racing heart and nightmares all the time.  I cling desperately to everything that is familiar, unable to leave my narrow comfort zone.  The thought of getting better again feels impossible.

In this dark place, there is no pleasure, there is only survival.  There are days when it feels easier to end it all rather than continue in this hideous state.  Somehow, though, I manage to hang on by my fingernails, dangling over the edge of the cliff.  This is the absolute bottom, when all I can do is cry for help.  I take medication, I go to therapy, I reach out to everyone I know and trust to help me through.

Then, slowly, a change begins to happen.  From somewhere deep inside a crack of hope begins to appear.  Just a single crack, one day.  Maybe the next day it’s gone.  Maybe it’s even gone for a week.  Then later on, it appears again, perhaps for an hour.  Then a few days later, for half a day.  A few months pass, and you have one amazing day where everything works out right and the hope is blooming.

After that you have more bad days.  Then another good one.  Then a bad week, and two good days.  You’re whipping back and forth between hope and despair.  But the hope is winning out.  It starts bleeding into the bad days.

Months have gone by.  The crack is now a wide opening of sun.  Most days are good now, but during some you walk in the shadow.  The shadows are growing smaller, though, and it’s easier to see the sun beyond them.  They are like snow melting in the spring.  You nervously walk around them.  Sometimes you have to go through them.  It sucks but it’s getting easier.

Eventually, you notice the season has changed completely.  You no longer tremble in fear of the shadow.  This is the point where you say, Life is Good.   Every so often you encounter the shadows again.  There are always clouds moving across your sky, even on the best days.  But now you know what they are.  You look at them and say, bring it on, shadow.  I survived worse.

Healing

Where I am now

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I haven’t been blogging as much lately.  I have been so, so, busy.  It has felt wonderful.  It is exactly what I need.  When I’m not working, I’m exercising, doing art, baking and talking to friends. I have been researching more about depression and anxiety, and what it means to be highly sensitive.  Every day I stand on the edge of the shore and watch the anxiety slowly receding away onto the horizon, taking the depression with it.

This is not to say I don’t still have rough days.  Last week I had a headache that lasted four days, and it was really unpleasant.  But I know now that was what was making me unhappy, not that I am a terrible person.  It just means I have a headache and it’s affecting my overall mood.

I have learned so much about myself.  I know now what are normal, healthy thoughts and obsessive or dark thoughts caused by anxiety.  I know now that exercise will help dispel the tight feeling in my chest.  When things start to feel overwhelming, I give myself permission to withdraw and do something relaxing, like colouring or Buzzfeed quizzes.

The #1 thing I have learned is that NOTHING is more important than my mental health.  Nothing.  I can and must protect it at all costs.  I cannot exist and function without it.  I will do whatever it takes: whatever medication, whatever amount of exercise, however many times I have to say “no” to something I don’t want to do.

My new mantra is: never again.  When I look at where I was four months ago, back in October, I marvel at the changes that have taken place since then.  Back then I couldn’t wake up without throwing up.  I couldn’t be alone for an hour.  I couldn’t relax at all.  Even though day-to-day it is hard to see the changes, looking back it is amazing what I have accomplished.  I will never be that person again.  I refuse to allow it to happen.

Healing · Sensitivity

Sensitivity

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Spring flowers, 2016

My education in myself continues.  I am reading two very interesting books about introversion and high sensitivity.

Introvert Power is an excellent book if you’re an introvert, as studies have shown almost half of us are.  It discusses the ways that introverts are viewed with negativity in our society and why this is wrong. I really like the chapter on retreating, and how to take time from your stressful, busy life.  It has inspired me to take my own mini-retreat to work on my art this coming week.  I hope to chronicle the outcome here.

Of particular interest to me is a book I found when I visited Toronto at New Year’s.  Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World has given me so much insight into myself.  I wish I had read it years ago.  I always knew I was a highly sensitive person, but I never really understood what that meant for me.  Suddenly I am seeing my life in a whole new way.  The pieces are falling into place and I make so much more sense now.  If you are an HSP, you have a rich inner life filled with daydreams.  You are also much more prone to depression, anxiety and mental health issues.  This was a huge lightbulb moment for me in terms of viewing what happened to me last year.

Thinking back on so much of my life, being highly sensitive explains my personality and experiences perfectly.  We take in more of the world, which is why our memories and dreams are so much clearer and vivid than others’.  We get overstimulated easily by things that other people wouldn’t notice.  It actually causes our stress hormones to skyrocket, making us upset and angry.  This explains why a sudden, loud noise makes me cranky, why when I was little uncomfortable socks would make me cry, why music I don’t like being played in public spaces makes me moody.  This book goes a long way in explaining why we feel the way we do, and how it’s actually perfectly normal given how our nervous systems are built.  More than just giving insight, it also offers some good suggestions for how to cope.  Not surprisingly, expressing yourself artistically is high at the top of the list.  HSPs are particularly artistic, given how quiet, thoughtful and observant we are.

Reading these books helps me to not be quite so frustrated with myself, which leads to depression.  It helps me see that I am who I am, and I need to take care of myself to flourish.

Healing

Squeezing your creative juices

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I took a mini holiday this past weekend to relax and refresh my spirits.  While I was there I tried to take everything in with an artist’s eyes.  Instead of asking myself how I was feeling all the time, as is my habit, I tried writing my narrative in the city as if I was telling a story.  It helped me appreciate things like the snow falling against the streetlights at night, and the hustle and bustle of people.  I looked at buildings with a thoughtful eye, noticing details and wondering about the stories behind them.  I bought some art books, and went to a gallery to seek inspiration.

Recently, I mentioned a book called The Power of When that has helped me shape my day.  I am using it to help me get the most out of my creativity.

I still worry about anxiety, of course.  Anxiety about anxiety – it’s a real thing, my therapist tells me.  I worry that it’s lurking there, out in the shadows, ready to strike when my guard is down.  I thought about it lurking around the corners of a building while I was out walking this weekend.  I thought about it jumping out at me when I couldn’t sleep and got out of bed last night.  I am often concerned about it pouncing in the late afternoon when I am tired and cranky.  But so far it hasn’t.

The Power of When has really helped me break my day into chunks, and see them as just hours, nothing more scary than that.  Days are made up of hours, and I can handle hours.  The book explains that sleep happens in 90 minute cycles, like washing machine cycles.  If you miss a cycle, it’s no biggie.  It also explains that we all have a natural high energy time between about 10 am-2 pm.  If you can get all your high-energy things done then, you’re golden.  Knowing that has made a huge difference.  This is when you want to squeeze your creative juice, so to speak.  It’s like how airplanes take advantage of the wind to push them along.  The book suggests drinking coffee at 10 am instead of first thing, and I’ve been doing that to great advantage.

And at 2 pm, like clockwork, I notice my energy plummet.  The book is so right!  Now I can plan for it.  I like exercising in late afternoon, as the book suggests.  I’m not going to be productive then anyway.  At that point in the day, my body is warmed up and I can push myself further.  I’ve noticed this before, that I don’t tire as easily at this time of day on the treadmill.  I’ve never liked working out in the morning, as I feel like I’m working against my body then.

I am looking forward to the new year.  I am sweeping out the cobwebs of my old life, organizing and discarding, and tapping into my creative energies.  I think this will be a good year.

Anxiety · Depression · Healing

Be good to yourself this Christmas

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Photo taken by me, December 2016

This Christmas has been an exceptionally hard one.  It feels like everyone else is celebrating with their families, and I am not able to go anywhere for Christmas.  Even if I wanted to, my family is all split apart.  None of the four of us live in the same time zone, let alone the same city.  This is the first Christmas since my parents’ separation. I worked almost every day for the last two weeks straight to cover various illnesses and vacations.  I am exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.  I worked Christmas Eve and afterward went to my husbands’ store to help him clean up and tally receipts.

I spent Christmas Eve night crying on the bathroom floor.

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not me, it’s my stupid biology.  I am trying so hard to do everything right.  I am going to bed and getting up at the same time, eating regularly and well, exercising, accomplishing tons of things at work, getting everything done that I need to do. I take my pills every day and have done all my therapy homework. But it’s still not enough.  I still feel like crap a lot of the time.

It upsets me so much, because it has been a nice Christmas in many ways.  I don’t have a lot of the family obligations most people have, which is a source of stress for so many.  My husband is a great cook and I have had lots of yummy things to eat.  Everyone has been kind and generous with their presents, and I got some great gifts. I got a lot of art supplies that I can’t wait to use.  I know there are so many people so much worse off than I am.  Feeling sorry for myself isn’t helping.

I think the problem is my own expectations.  When I was a little girl, Christmas was the most wonderful and magical holiday ever.  I used to get so excited, I couldn’t sleep for days beforehand.  It felt like a completely enchanted time, where nothing bad could happen and anything was possible.  Many of the best memories of my childhood are around Christmastime, the food, the presents, and the family gatherings.

Yesterday, it just didn’t feel like Christmas Eve to me.  It felt flat, like just another working day, nothing special.  The weather was cold and grey and not very snowy.  I cried because of my grief, and because of my exhaustion, but also because I was mourning missing out on what I felt Christmas ought to be.

But when I think about what made Christmas special in the past, it wasn’t even the things that were planned, it was the unexpected events that I remember and treasure the most.  And maybe that’s the secret to enjoying Christmas as an adult  It’s letting go of what you did before, and enjoying what you have now.  Above all, it’s being good to yourself, especially if you have a mental illness.  It can be hard to be away from your routine, and to be expected to act a certain way around family and friends.  I think we should all find that one special thing we can do for ourselves, and make it our Christmas present to ourselves. Our health and well-being are more important than any gift we could receive this year.