In three short days I’ll be in a rental car driving the Golden Circle in Iceland. I’ll be flying there from Toronto tomorrow, and meeting one of my dearest friends in the world in Reykjavik. Following a few days in the land of ice we’ll be flying back to her home in London, and later I will continue my adventures solo around England, Denmark, and Norway.
While this certainly isn’t my first time heading off on a grand adventure, it will be the first time since my anxiety has become so severe. And that, for me, makes this one of the most important trips I’ll ever take.
To say that the past two years have been hell is an understatement. In that time I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder, panic psychosis, and severe chronic depression. I’ve been through periods where I was unable to leave the house. I’ve experienced emotions so severe than I didn’t know how to cope with them. I’ve had difficulty maintaining friendships, employment, and my own physical health. And just a few months ago I had bout of depression and anxiety so severe that I tried to take my own life.
In this time I’ve been on a dozen different medications, seen countless doctors, counsellors, and nurses, and been admitted to several outpatient and inpatient mental health programs.
In moments of panic it feels like my mind has turned against me, and convinced me that danger lurks around every corner. My attacks, which had always been unpleasant experiences, have become unbearable episodes of sheer terror. The frequent fear and stress have become all consuming, and over the years has slowly chipped away at every aspect of my life.
Even in periods when the attacks, anxiety, and depression are less intense, I’ve discovered that it’s difficult to enjoy things I once loved, like theatre and travel. In the past few years these things have provided me with little more than fear and nausea. At one point I even thought that perhaps I’d just stop partaking, because what was the point?
But, at the end of day, I just couldn’t bring myself to give up my last semblance of hope. So in the spirit of ‘go big, or go home’, I’ve decided to get over my fears by visiting three countries I’ve never stepped foot into before (two of them on my own). I’m also giving myself London, because it’s the love of my life.
And I refuse to let my anxieties take it, or anything, away from me.
Over the past few months I’ve quit several jobs, but still can’t seem to get over this chronic fatigue. I’m at the point of sleeping 10 hours a night, and taking 3 hour naps during the day. On top of that my overly intense panic attacks recently returned, and I’ve started having fainting spells due to a new health issue that is still in the process of being diagnosed.
Oh, the joys of chronic illness!
I wish more people understood chronic illness. I feel like in the past year so many friends have drifted away, frustrated, and I just haven’t had the emotional, mental, or physical energy to pull them back in and explain. But perhaps that’s for the best, because the fact remains that I can’t keep up.
I don’t even have the energy to write more of this post. Please see The Spoon Theory.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in Canada, and CMHA is suggesting we #GETLOUD for mental health. As I’m always happy to further conversation on the topic, here I am, getting loud. Or at least speaking at a moderate level ;)
Over the past year I’ve been volunteering with a local children’s mental health organization, and it has opened my eyes to the great strides our country has made when it comes to talking to young people about mental illness. Part of my volunteer role involves running information booths at mental health fairs and events held in secondary schools around the region. And every time I go it never ceases to amaze me how informed and engaged young people are about mental health issues.
I can’t help but feel a little envious.
I often wonder if I’d had all this information, would I have been a little more prepared when mental illness took a hold of me? When it started during my second year of university I didn’t have a clue about what mental illness was, that it affected 1 in 4 people, or that it was most often triggered during post-secondary. I didn’t understand what was happening to me or why, and I was certain that I’d never be okay again. I would go to sleep wishing that I’d never wake up because the confusion and pain felt unbearable.
I didn’t know that I could go and seek help. I didn’t know about counselling or medication or crisis lines. I didn’t know about all the resources that were offered through the university to help me get better, or that this was something that thousands of other students were dealing with at the same time. I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t know any of this because no one had ever told me.
But this generation does know. They know signs and symptoms to look for in themselves or in their friends. They know who to call and where to go if they need help. They know that there’s no shame in mental illness, and are active in making sure that the stigma is gone. And while I know that this knowledge won’t lesson the occurrence of mental illness for them, I’m hopeful it will make the lives of those who deal with it down the road just a little bit more bearable.
So, I’m going to #GETLOUD for all those like me who just didn’t know. Mental illness affects everyone, and we should all be talking about it.
I can feel an overwhelming chorus of “I told you so!” coming my way after this post. And, to be honest, I told myself so as well. Yet here we are at… burnout.
“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses.” (x)
After spending several long months ill and unemployed last winter I finally found a job with the Chamber of Commerce in late spring. It was only part-time, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to ease myself into work life after so long away. I spent 6 months doing this, but near the end felt I needed to find something full-time. I began applying and interviewing for positions in late summer, but unfortunately never landed anything.
In the autumn I decided that my finances required I figure something out, so I began applying for other part-time jobs that I could do in addition to the Chamber. Within a week of making this decision I found myself with 4 offers, and decided to accept 2 of them. One was a part-time retail position conveniently located in the same complex as my first job, and the other was a casual position at a local sport/entertainment venue.
For the next few months I easily balanced the 3 roles. I was tired, but it was working. When January rolled around the retail hours diminished, so I took on a second retail position that offered 1-2 shifts / week. However during January the hours at the casual position unexpectedly shot up to full time, and I found myself working non-stop. At the casual job I also found myself assisting other departments during events, and was offered a job in the finance department, which my people-pleasing self accepted in a moment of weakness. This brought me up to 5 jobs.
Did I mention that on top of this I was also doing regular volunteer work with a local non-profit as well and taking courses for my outpatient anxiety program? Yeah…
In all of January I had one day off. I was completely exhausted, but knowing the hours at the casual job would drop down in February I powered through. And then February came and I thought ‘Oh, sweet relief!’
Except, not so much.
A family crisis hit early in the month, which I won’t get into, only to say that it was horrible and caused a lot of stress. I was so flustered that I began giving incorrect availability at jobs, double booking myself, missing enough class to eventually be kicked out, and having panic attacks at work (which as you know from my last post was a huge trigger issue for me).
Everything came to head last weekend when I went on holiday. After months with only a handful of days off, and too tired and busy to think about anything other than work, I have 4 whole days off! And doing what I always do when such an event occurs: I hopped on a bus to NYC. I was expecting a few fun-filled days with theatre, friends, and wandering. And while all of those things happened, I can’t say the days were fun-filled.
The night before I left for NYC I developed a fever. As I have auto-immune disease this wasn’t a rare occurrence, so I ignored it, as I usually do. Unfortunately one of the effects of me being fevered is an increase in anxiety. And with finally having time off to breathe and relax all of the stress of the past month(s) hit me full force. I spent the entire weekend in a state of low-grade panic, I couldn’t sleep, and became wholeheartedly convinced that I was going to die. I was in full fledged terror psychosis mode, and actually wrote goodbye letters to people. It was terrifying.
“Anxiety is a poorly performing fight or flight system, which is the system that your body activates when it’s experiencing severe danger. An anxiety attack is essentially the peak of this fear. Your body rushes with an intense amount of adrenaline, and this alters your brain chemistry and thought patterns to tell you that you’re in grave danger. It’s the same way you would feel if you were holding onto a ledge above a 10 story building. Your body is telling you that you need to be very afraid because your life is in danger. Unfortunately, in the case of panic attacks, your body is wrong.” (x)
When I got home I was beyond exhausted. I went back to work on Monday and by Wednesday felt like I was losing my mind. Some unpleasantness that I’d rather not talk about happened over the next 24 hours and I went to the doctors where I learned that 1) my white count and liver enzymes are completely out of whack; and 2) I am, indeed, burnt.
My doctor ordered that I take some time off, so between now and April 1st I’ll be working just 2 jobs. This should total only about 25-30 hours / week, leaving me time to do my classes (6 hours a week), get some rest, and pack (as I’m moving on April 1st). I am also taking a full 7 days off in the middle of March for a big meet-up in New York. I’ll be seeing Hamilton (!!!) and Fun Home, catching up with lots of amazing friends, eating an obscene amount of delicious food, and doing activities all over the city. Needless to say, I’m very excited! And it’s nice to have something to look forward to in the midst of all this chaos.
So, I have 5 weeks to get my head back on straight. Wish me luck…
How is it almost February?
I spent January working my ass off and being sick, so I’ve lost all concept of time. I started a 4th and 5th job, so my schedule is ridiculous. Honestly, if I didn’t have a multi-device syncing calendar I’d be completely screwed. And it’s not like I’m working an excessive number of hours (40-50 a week, on average), but being all over the place at all different times of the day is making me scatterbrained. I’ve turned into a complete flake, and it’s really starting to get to me!
(In a spontaneous act of crazy, needing to feel like I had some sort of control, I got a pair of scissors and chopped off all my hair. Thank you to Saira for being my inspiration there! Heh.)
It’s also not helping that my anxiety is getting bad. And the irony is that the source of anxiety is that (1) I’m beyond paranoid that I’m going to have a panic attack at work, and (2) I lose my prescription benefits at the end of this month.
A big issue for me in early 2015 was that I stopped sleeping regularly due to nocturnal panic episodes, caused my dreams (typically the traditional teeth falling out dream). They went away last spring, but returned in the last few weeks. Recently it’s the same dream over and over: I’m at work (my retail job, which I’ve been at since October and quite like) and am constantly getting into trouble because I’m doing everything wrong. As the dream goes on coworkers start coming up to me and telling me how incompetent I am and that management is furious. Eventually in the dream I have a panic attack, am yelled at by a manager, and fired. And then I wake up in a panic attack (hyperventilating, crying, nose bleed, all that fun stuff). I’ve had this same dream, and same panic episode, the last 3 nights in a row. UGH.
As for the benefits, I don’t even know what to do. I can’t afford my auto-immune meds AND my anxiety meds. So I weighed the option of taking one vs the other. If I stop the anxiety meds I’ll probably relapse into my anxiety-ridden self, but if I stop my auto-immune meds I could potentially die, so… I voted for anxiety meds! But I went to my doctor this morning and asked about weening off the meds to which I received the most incredulous look of all time. “You have an incredibly severe anxiety disorder. You can not go off medication.” OKAY, OKAY.
So, I now need to figure out how to pay the $500/month for meds. I keep getting denied for private insurance, so I might try Trillium again. I’ve been denied twice, but maybe third time’s the charm. Everyone please cross all fingers and toes. Thx.
Hmm, what else? I was supposed to start the 3rd semester of my out-patient anxiety program yesterday, but being a sleep deprived flake, I missed the first session. So I need to make sure that I sort that out and don’t get myself kicked out of the program. And today I finally made appointments with my counsellor and occupational therapist. They’re both going to shout at me for taking more jobs…
The last time I saw either of them I had just taken on a second one, and neither were impressed. But I think I needed to do it, and I’m happy I did. I realized the only reason I wasn’t was because I had convinced myself I couldn’t. But it turns out I could! I’m not completely incompetent!
Well, not outside of my anxiety dreams, at least.
I’m the absolute worst when it comes to new years resolutions, but I still continue to make them. With my birthday being the same time I consider them more to be year resolutions. So, I suppose this is my list of Year 29 Resolutions:
2016* will be the year of fiscal responsibility. I want to work on lessening unnecessary spending, as well as make and keep a personal budget. My goal is to pay off my credit card by the end of the year, and have a significant amount in savings.
*We’ll turn a blind eye to any extravagant purchases made in 2015 for things taking place in 2016… Heh.
HOW: Create a budget and keep track of where my money goes. Identify unnecessary spending and make a reasonable course of action to reduce it. (For example, spending $30 a week at Subway can be removed, and replaced with the lower cost of packing a lunch from home.) Put the credit card in a drawer and only remove in cases of emergency! And do no convince oneself that a weekly deal on Amazon constitutes an emergency.
I’m making it a point to insert relaxation into my schedule in 2016. I’ve already registered for a yoga class that begins in just a few days time, and would also like to look into some meditation sessions. In my outpatient program I’ve also learned several relaxation exercises that I have yet to try at home. So, I should start incorporating them.
HOW: Weekly yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises.
As you know, I love to travel. Unfortunately I spent the majority of 2015 unemployed and dealing with crippling anxiety. As a result I didn’t do much jet setting. However, I did meet my set goal of visiting one place I’d never been before when I went on a road trip to Savannah over the summer. And this year I’d like to increase that number to three new places, with an added specification that these places be in three different countries. I know this sounds counterproductive to #1, but the intention is for the some of the savings to go towards the travel.
HOW: Just do it.
I have such a desire to write and photograph, but I’ve somehow convinced myself that my lack of skill outweighs my passion. Which is unfair, because skill is gained through experience. If I want to become a stronger writer and photographer, then I need to continue to write and photograph! So, in 2016 I want to work on creative and passion projects, and perhaps even take some courses to help build my skills and confidence up.
HOW: Set a goal to blog 10 times a month. Set a goal to get out an take photographs at least twice a month.
5. Be Social
When 2015 began I was dealing with agoraphobia. I was petrified to leave the house, and would break out into waves of panic at the mere thought. Now, at the close of 2015, I’m happy to say that is behind me. But I still have a long way to go. Intensive treatment has helped me re-enter the world, and I am now able to hold down 2 part time jobs (and a 3rd casual job), all of which I am comfortable in. It’s incredible to not spend an entire day at work petrified that I will have an attack. Or better yet, not spend an entire day at work having attack after attack.
So, stage one of re-entering the world has been a success, and stage two is to work on being around people. I don’t have social anxiety, per say. But I occasionally get so worked up over the idea that I’ll have a panic attack around people that it leads to a lot of avoidance behaviour. On a good day I can socialize no problem. So I’d like to work on is learning to work through the anticipatory anxiety I experience on the not-so-good days. I need to stop avoiding, and start enjoying.
HOW: Stop finding excuses not to do something. Stop instigating negativity in order to justify not doing something.
6. Be Healthy
I spent much of 2015 working to improve my mental health, and I’d like to continue that in 2016, while also incorporating the improvement of my physical health. The goal is healthy mind, body, and spirit.
HOW: 1) Physical Health- There’s three main things that I’ve been slacking on that I need to fix: Showing up to doctors appointments; Getting required monthly blood work done; Taking auto-immune medication. 2) Mental Health- Things to continue or improve: Continue going to outpatient anxiety program regularly; Continue reading to help improve my understanding of panic disorder; Practice the lessons taught in program.
And then, of course, healthy eating and exercise. That’s a given on everyone’s list, isn’t it?
HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS! Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and stress-free 2016!
It’s the end of the year, and as always I’d like to reflect on the previous years happenings. Rather than post a best/worst list though I thought I’d mix it up with a self survey I found online.
1. What am I most proud of this year?
I’m proud of becoming a self-advocate for the improvement of my mental health. I spent years frustrated and feeling failed by a flawed system. But this year I fought back and was finally able to find the treatment I needed. It’s still a daily challenge, but I’m proud of myself for getting where I needed to be.
2. I have become a better _____________?
Friend. At least I hope so. After spending years floating in and out of crippling anxiety and depression I was finally able to focus energy outside of myself, and give back to the people in my life who mean the most to me. Though I haven’t had the energy to mend relationships with all the people I’d like to, I’ve managed a few and am beyond grateful to have them back in my life. And I can say that those relationships are stronger and better than they’ve ever been.
3. Where am I feeling stuck?
Career. I spent a long time questioning if I was ready to take one on, eventually convincing myself that I wasn’t; That I was too weak and too broken. At one point this year I became convinced that I couldn’t hold down any job, certain I would fail at whatever I did. But as my health improved I found a job that met my needs. And now I’ve taken on another, and it’s helping build my confidence about my ability to at least be out in the world without losing my mind.
4. Where do I need to allow myself grace?
Again, career. I have to stay positive that one day I’ll be ready to take it on, and when I am I’ll find where I’m meant to be.
5. Am I passionate about my career?
Ha! Well, this is fitting. I’m passionate about my desired career. And I enjoy the jobs I currently hold. I’m working in positive environments where I feel accepted and appreciated. For now that’s all I can ask for.
6. What lessons have I learned?
To be more compassionate with myself. That to trust in and share with others can lead to great things. That I am loved.
7. What did my finances look like?
Umm… Not good. No, 2015 was not a good year financially.
8. How did I spend my free time?
I spent more time with friends. I started The Panic People Project, which is currently on a break, but I plan to get back to in the new year. I read a lot and watched Netlflix.
9. How well did I take care of my body, mind, and soul?
Body: I spent the first 6 months of the year going to the gym 3 days a week. When I started working it fell by the wayside, but while it lasted it improved so many aspects of my life.
Mind: I entered an outpatient program for people with severe anxiety. It has helped improve my quality of life immensely.
Soul: I reconnected with friends and for allowed myself to be open to trust, support, and love.
10. How have I been open-minded?
Yes. But there’s always more to learn, and I hope to do so.
11. When did I feel most creatively inspired?
When I began work on The Panic People Project. I felt so ambitious and inspired in those first couple of months. I hope I can regain that feeling.
12. What projects have I completed?
I’m not sure I’ve completed any projects, but I’ve come a long way on many.
13. How have I procrastinated?
Netflix. Definitely, Netflix.
14. In what ways can I re-structure my time?
I need to learn to balance my time again. I’ve spent so long with an empty schedule, and now that I have so many things on the go, I’m struggling to keep up. I also get too ambitious in my time management planning, but struggle with the execution (ie, thinking ‘I’ll be fine to work a 16 hour day following a midnight shift’ is not incorrect), so I need to forgive myself on my requirement of sleep and down time. I also need to allow myself time to do things I enjoy.
15. How have I allowed fear of failure hold me back?
This is a complicated question for me. My irrational mind screams ‘YES’. That I’m a failure in so many aspects of my life. But my rational mind pops in to tell me that it’s been a rough year, and that there is nothing wrong with taking time out to take care of myself and my health before diving into something new.
And in all honesty, agreeing to the intensive outpatient anxiety program was 100x scarier than hopping on a plane to Europe with no money and a 2 year visa.
16. Where has self-doubt taken over?
I live every moment of my life in self-doubt. ‘What if I fail?’, ‘What if I panic?’, ‘What if I embarrass myself?’, ‘What if they fire me?’, ‘What if this is the wrong decision?’. Everything is a ‘what if’, and I’m learning to simply tell myself ‘What if I don’t fail?’
17. When have I felt the most alive?
As always, when I’m travelling. This year didn’t see many trips, but the ones that did happen were great fun.
18. How have I taught others to respect me?
I’m not sure I have… But if I have, I hope by being an honest, kind, and compassionate person.
19. How can I improve my relationships?
As I said earlier, this is something I’ve been working on and will continue to do. I’ve always been very closed-off and have been trying to let some of those walls down these last few months. I can improve my relationships by accepting the idea that it’s okay to put your trust others once in awhile.
20. Have I been unfair to anyone?
Oh, absolutely. A few people. I’m still figuring out how to turn my attitude around on those fronts.
21. Who do I need to forgive?
I think that over the past year I’ve been able to let go of a lot of resentment I held towards certain people, and those relationships are on the mend. Other than that, I don’t believe I ‘need’ to forgive anyone else. There are things not deserving of that energy.
22. Where is it time to let go?
I think it’s time to let go of a lot of my trust and boundary issues. I don’t know how yet, but I’m hoping 2016 will bring some clarity.
23. What old habits would I like to release?
I’d like to release some of my obsessive tenancies! But The X Files returns in January, so that’s not likely ;)
24. What new habits would I like to cultivate?
Mindfulness. Meditation. Healthy eating. Healthy and positive attitudes. Exercise.
25. How can I be kind to myself?
By working on changing my thought process. By ignoring my irrational mind. By continuing to learn and love and be loved. By learning to love myself.
As some of you know I’ve been in an outpatient program for severe anxiety with the NHS since the beginning of this year. The experience has been incredibly tough, but if I look at where I was 12 months ago compared to today I can say that it has been – and continues to be- rewarding. The program has provided me with clarity, acceptance, and in its success the will and motivation to continue my path to recovery.
However, in saying that, over the past month I’ve found myself missing sessions due to work conflicts. But considering I was unable to work when I began the program, there are much worse reasons for absence! And I did meet with one of my clinicians last week and commit to improving my attendance come the new year. Having recently been offered a permanent role with my new employer (I was hired as a seasonal staff member) I am now left with the dilemma of whether or not to disclose that I am in this program. On one hand I want to explain my sporadic availability, but on the other I still greatly fear being fired. But, that’s something I’ll need to continue to mull over.
But that’s not the reason I decided to write today, so moving on!
I’ve been on a self-help book kick lately. Most recently I dug out my copy of The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, which I was given during my stint in the Region’s anxiety program. (Remember the anxiety program I was kicked out of for being too anxious? Yeah, that one.) At the time I didn’t get very far into the book, first being too overwhelmed with the program, and then being too upset after being asked to leave. But going back to it I must say that it’s excellent. I’m only in section 2 but am already finding a lot of new and helpful information. I’m also realizing some misconceptions or misunderstandings I had about certain topics, namely: Stress.
My relationship with the idea of stress has always been complicated. I’ve spent years beating myself up, and telling myself that I can’t be experiencing stress. What do I have to be stressed about? I don’t have a stressful job, or family to take care of, or any of these other things that I’ve always associated with being sources of stress. But I’m coming to realize that I hold a very myopic view of what stress is. It’s not a short list of things that affect everyone in a specific way. It’s a very, very long list of things that affect everyone to varying degrees.
Section 2 of the book is entitled “Major Causes of Anxiety Disorders”, and one of the topics discussed is Cumulative Stress. It includes an instrument called the Life Events Survey, which is used to determine a person’s level of cumulative stress. Several events are listed, and given an accompanying score. If an event has occurred more than once over the past two years, then you would count the score the applicable number of times. The conclusion states that:
If your score is under 150, you are less likely to be suffering the effects of cumulative stress. If it is between 150 and 300, you may be suffering from chronic stress, depending on how you perceived and coped with the particular life events that occurred. If your score is over 300, it is likely you are experiencing some detrimental effects of cumulative stress.
Examples of ‘events’ include Personal Illness, Change in Residence, Losing a Job, Change in Finances, Major Purchases, etc. It asks you to include only events that have occurred in the last 2 years.
My score was… 595.
I guess I need to stop beating myself up, thinking I have nothing to be stressed about!
I have a few things I’ve been meaning to post about, and thought I might as well do it all in one go:
1. I went to NYC and had a great time. Saw lots of friends, did lots of wandering, and ate lots of good food. My 3 favourite things!
2. Still no luck on the job front. I’m starting to feel really disheartened. Like, what do I do with my life if I can’t find a job in the field I want?
3. I thought I’d been kicked out of my outpatient anxiety program for being a flake, but it turns out I wasn’t. Apparently vanishing during your first 6 weeks isn’t all that uncommon. I start back on Tuesday, and hopefully this time goes better.
4. I’ve become obsessed with adult colouring books.
5. I joined an online creative writing club. I’d heard about it through some friends, and I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve been partnered up with someone in Ottawa for a couple of projects, so it’s been a pretty cool experience. I haven’t really done creative writing before, so it’s nice to have someone to bounce everything off of.
6. I got quite frustrated with my Panic Project and put it on the back burner a couple of months ago, but I think it’s time to get it going again. I just need to figure out where to start! The creative writing project has made me realize how helpful having a partner for it would be. Sigh. Maybe one day!
I think that’s it. My life is pretty boring! How are you doing?