Anxiety · Depression · Healing

The slowly changing seasons

Fourseasons

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.

Anxiety

I can’t relax

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Abstract, January 2017

(The following was written on a cranky Sunday evening, during a very pessimistic mood.)

It’s the middle of a three-day weekend and I am already itching to get back to work.  I know that sounds terrible, but that’s how I feel.

I feel like the only person in the world who can’t relax.  I’m the only person who hates the fact that I get a three-day weekend every other week.  We are required to work longer days to earn that extra day, and I think it’s stupid.  I want to work five days like everyone else.

I don’t understand people who don’t want to work.  What do they do all day?  I would start cutting myself if I couldn’t work.  I love working.  I have a job with a lot of responsibility and I love going in each day and having people who rely on me and lots to do and making a difference in my community.  My mood always elevates the day I go back to work and is really high by Thursday or Friday when I’ve been working for awhile and in the work zone.

Relaxing?  Not for me.  I mean, I get that it’s important.  I am just not interested in relaxing the way other people do.  I like having a bath before bed and reading a good book.  That’s all I need to relax.

But Sunday afternoons?  I’m ready to start banging my head against the wall.  By then my housework is done and I’ve already read and watched what I wanted.  I don’t need any more time off.  I want to be out doing and talking to people at work.  I can’t imagine enjoying things people are supposed to love doing on Sunday afternoons, like golfing or mowing your lawn.  I get bored thinking about it.

Summer?  Forget about it.  I hate summer.  I spend the other nine months of the year dreading it.  It’s awful.  There is absolutely nothing pleasant about summer.  The heat gives me a constant headache, I can’t sleep properly, it’s noisy, and everyone is outside telling you that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t want to be outside enjoying it too.  Being me in the summer is like having the cranky, restless stage of the flu every single day.  Spring, fall and winter are great.  Summer is hell.  Again, I’m an HSP.  Extreme heat feels like being shoved in an oven and stabbed with steak knives.

Why am I writing this now?  Well, because I try so hard to make weekends work for me.  I try to fill them with to-do lists and exercise.  I try to do fun things too, like art and listening to music and eating out and watching movies and meeting friends for coffee.  Every Friday when I drive home from work, I think, I’ve got it this time.  I’ve got this weekend.  And every weekend, inevitably, my good mood deflates the longer it’s been since I was at work, and I start to feel lonely and restless.

The only time I’ve ever been able to get around this is when I’m on a trip.  Somehow, being away from my house makes everything different.

I have a constant, recurring anxious vision of myself retired, old and alone, my mind stagnating, my days filled with tedium and boredom and anxiety.  I just can’t seem to get this image out of my head. It has been haunting me, stalking me relentlessly, since I had my nervous breakdown.  I don’t know how to get rid of it.  I know I am a good thirty years away from retiring, but in my mind I’m already living that life.  It sounds crazy, but I have been trying to think up ways I can keep working until the day I die.  I’ll volunteer all day if I have to.

So many people I work with can’t wait to retire.  I don’t know why.  Everyone I know who has retired loves it, and I honestly don’t know how they do it.  I don’t know how they get through every single day completely adrift and unstructured.  I need, crave, thrive on routine and structure and responsibility.

Nobody at work who read this would every suspect it was me who wrote it.  I know they all think I’m someone who has it all figured out, who lives a charmed life, who has her shit together and never doubts herself of gets anxieties.  They don’t know that I’d rather be them.  I’d rather be a screw-up at work and be happy at home and not mind free time than feel like a neurotic, depressed mess when I’m outside my work environment.

Sensitivity

The sound of silence

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Maybe I’m just aware more now of my sensitivity, but boy, sounds seem to bug me a lot lately.  I’ve really been noticing music in public places and it always grates on me.  But the people sounds are worst.

Today I had a few errands to run at the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart.  (I know. Wal-Mart on a Sunday.  Bad idea).  Everywhere I went, there were moms and their kids.

Now, I don’t have children.  And today just reinforced why.  I honestly don’t think I could put up with the constant noise of them.  The constant high-pitched whining was awful.  “Moooommmmyyyy.”  It never ended.  And those were the good kids.  There was also the classic, “I’m BORED, can we go now?” and the screaming and tantrums.

I couldn’t wait to get in my car.  The radio was on, and I couldn’t find a station that didn’t bother me.  So I switched it off, enclosed in the quiet, happy bubble of my car.

Aaaahhhh.  It felt like a little piece of paradise.  The sun was shining, all I could hear was the faint sound of my engine, and I had left behind all the noisy people to go home to my peaceful house and peaceful bunnies.

Quiet: it’s good for your mental health.

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.

Anxiety · Sensitivity

This Week Sucked

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This alligator also thinks this week sucked

I have a friend, he used to have a lot of anxiety and depression.  Now he doesn’t any more.  He says he never has bad days anymore.  HE NEVER HAS BAD DAYS.  Wow,  I thought.  I want to never have bad days again, either.  What an inspiration!  If only I think more positively I, too, can achieve this awesome state of being.

Alas, if only it were that easy.  If only my work were perfect all the time.  If only I never had to worry about the future.  If only I never got sick again.  If only I weren’t a woman, living in a man’s world with PMS and hormones and being patronized constantly.  If only I weren’t a Highly Sensitive Person.

Willpower can only take you so far.

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Here’s the cheerful thought that’s been running through my mind all day.

The anxiety and depression I’ve been feeling today didn’t come from nowhere.  It came, largely, from the fact that this week just sucked.  I went up to Toronto by myself for a conference, and I hated it.  I hated feeling alone and wandering around the city lonely and feeling small and meaningless.  I hated having to push through the crowds to get anywhere.  I missed my bus connection and didn’t get to do what I really wanted, which was sketch the passenger pigeons at the museum.  I came home tired and with a headache.  I hurt my back this week and it’s been in pain since then.  I have been hunching my shoulders at night, causing me more pain.  The temperature dropped and I feel cold all the time.  I couldn’t sleep last night.  Work was tiring and stressful, and patrons were extra rude and demanding and I couldn’t get a break from constant interruptions.  My thoughts were racing and I couldn’t turn them off. I wanted to take a poker to my brain today.  And there was a beautiful cardinal dead on my driveway on Friday morning.

Fuck you, week.  Seriously, fuck you.

I am wondering in a case like this, is it so wrong to feel down and depressed when things go genuinely badly?  Is it wrong to admit that some days are worse than others, by any objective measure?  Should we try and be cheerful and happy all  the time? Maybe acknowledging when things are wrong, and getting upset about them, isn’t always a bad thing.  It’s what starts civil rights movements, protests, and revolutions.  It could be my body once again saying, “Slow down you crazy woman, you’re getting battered by life again!  Just draw a picture and watch something silly on YouTube.”

I am waiting for the tide to turn.

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.

Depression

Grief

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Rabbits, January 2017

Last weekend, we lost our beloved bunny, Lucy.  She has been the light of mine and my husband’s life for the last four years.  We had no warning.  One day she was fine, the next she got sick and we had to drive her to the emergency vet.  We went in thinking she could be cured, and ended up having to make the heartbreaking decision to put her down.  Driving back from the clinic last Friday night, I felt like the weight of my grief would never end.

But of course, it does.  It feels like a betrayal, but the body and mind do heal.  You just can’t cope with that level of grief all the time, or else you would die of a broken heart.  Every day gets a little bit better, and we are able to focus on the warm, happy memories rather than her last devastating night.

And of course, putting one foot in front of the other, always.  Such times of sadness and loss are the price you pay for loving a pet as much as you do.  But four wonderful, happy years are worth the price of one terrible weekend.  We would not have traded Lucy for any other rabbit in the world.  She was the dearest, sweetest, loveliest bunny to ever hop this earth.