#GETLOUD

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.

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Ya Burnt!

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.

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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…

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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).

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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.

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“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.

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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…

 

 

 

 

2016: Same Old, Same Old

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.

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World Introvert Day

Happy World Introvert Day! For those not familiar:

World Introvert Day is held on 2 January each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to better understand and appreciate introverts. The first World Introvert Day was held in 2011. –World Introvert Day Online

I’m an introvert through and through, something that I receive wildly differing reactions to when I discuss it. The reason for this is simply a misunderstanding of what introversion and extroversion are, so I thought I’d do up a post to provide those who might be confused with some clarification.

Introversion and Extroversion are personality classifications, with most people falling into one or the other. (However it should be noted that when measured on a scale some will fall into a third middle ground classification. For the sake of simplicity I won’t get into the third.)

For me the easiest way to understand introversion and extroversion is in the way that each gains and losses energy. As an introvert I find social situations to be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. I leave them exhausted and the only way to recharge is with solitary time. Alternately many of my extrovert friends are physically, mentally, and emotionally charged by social interactions. They thrive in those situations, and many find solitary time to be draining.

Extroversion and Introversion as terms used by C. G. Jung explain different attitudes people use to direct their energy. These words have a meaning in psychology that is different from the way they are used in everyday language. The Myers & Briggs Foundation

Typically in social situations introverts prefer to sit on the sidelines and observe the action, while extroverts prefer to be immersed, surrounded, and at the centre of it. There are of course other factors that affect someones willingness to engage, such as shyness, anxiety, or sensory sensitivity. There is a common misconception that shyness and introversion go hand in hand, but this is simply not the case. A person can be deeply drawn to social interaction, but too shy to engage, making them feel unfulfilled. Reversely, many introverts do not suffer from shyness and can easily engage socially. It is simply that the experience uses up their energy rather than restoring it.

More simply, introversion and extroversion can be summed up as inward versus outward force.

[Introverted] people are more introspective, attentive to internal thoughts, while wilder beings are driven by sights and sounds—they crave sensory stimulation. Psychology Today

I consider myself to be an introvert who is not shy. I do not have trouble speaking with new people or making small talk. But I live more inside my head than out, and identify on the Myers-Briggs scale as INFJ. I have high sensory processing sensitivity (HSP), and anxiety. As such my limit for social interaction is lower than most non-HSP introverts, sapping my energy more quickly. And my anxiety leads to above average avoidance behaviour when it comes to social interaction. There are also correlations between my sensory sensitivity and my anxiety, but I won’t get into that!

For those interested in a good read that looks more closely at introversion, I highly recommend the book The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling. It is a humourous and truthful account of what it’s like to live an introverted life.

I also recommend reading more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Personality Test. It tells you a lot about what the varying personality types mean, and is quite interesting to try and determine where you fall.

Here’s a few links for those interested in taking some tests:

Are You An Introvert or Extrovert?

Are You A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

MBTI Personality Test (not exact, but no free versions are!)

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Resolutions

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:

1. Save

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.

2. Relax

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.

3. Explore

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.

4. Create

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!

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Adulthood

Tomorrow I turn 29 and I’m honestly not too sure how I feel about it.

I’ve spent far too much time this past year obsessing over the fact that I’ll be turning 30 at the end of 2016. It’s only now that I’ve finally sat down and tried to figure out why. My best guess is that 30 seems to be the line drawn by society to separate transitioning adulthood from real adulthood. A specified point in time when it’s socially required to have your shit together, so to speak.

This line is completely arbitrary, of course. And generational. And situational.

Legally adulthood begins at 18. Some consider it to begin when they finish post-secondary. Others define it as when they leave their parents house. It could be when careers or families start, or simply when the onslaught of adult responsibility starts. But there’s no all encompassing definition that takes into account legalities, responsibilities, accomplishments, etc. So, what is adulthood? Is there a magic moment when you suddenly feel like an adult?

If there is, it certainly hasn’t happened to me yet. But I don’t feel like a child or young adult. I have credit cards, pay car insurance, and owe an obscene amount in student loans. I buy groceries, book vacations, read self-help books, and have been denied life insurance. All of these typical adult things are a part of my life.

So why don’t I feel like an adult? And why does the idea of it freak me out so much?

There are certainly much scarier things than the unavoidable reality of being an adult. Many things that I myself have done. I moved abroad at 18; I jumped off a cliff; I backpacked through 12 countries alone; and moved solo to Europe in twenties with $50 in my bank account. Twice. I’ve wandered abandoned sanatoriums, spent several nights in foreign hospitals, and driven a rental car through the terrifying country roads of Northern Ireland. All of these are legitimately uncomfortable things, but I never feared them. Yet I do turning 30?

I think what it comes down to is that I fear being a failed adult. If I were imagining my life 10 years ago I would have certainly had grander ideas of where I’d be than the reality of where I am. I didn’t imagine I’d be back living with my mother, suffering from an anxiety disorder so severe that I require an ongoing, intensive treatment program, and still career-less after 7 painstaking years of university and grad school. My imaginings didn’t include crippling debt, long months spent bed-ridden with physical illness, or a million other little things that crept up in the last decade.

When I sit back and think rationally about my situation, I know I’m doing the best I can. And that compared to a year ago I’m doing very well. I can and am working full time hours for the first time since 2014. My health is okay. My relationships are good (for the most part). Overall, things are looking up.

So maybe it’s time to just accept the fact that I’m an adult, but throw out the notion that there exists a necessity to define oneself as a failure or success. That to be alive and content in the moment is enough. That to understand your passions and pursue them without fear is enough.

Appreciate all that you are and all that you’ve done, instead of focusing on who you’re not, and what you haven’t.

I think that if I can learn that, then 30 won’t seem so scary after all.

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25 Questions About 2015

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.

2015

Stress

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!

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12 Hospital Visits, In No Particular Order

Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2003

They called it a “moderate cardiac event” and put me in the ICU for a week. I was only allowed 2 visitors each day, and for only 1 hour total. When, at 16, I cried for my mom they broke the rule, but only once.

The room was perfectly white, except for a single red-tinged splat near the bathroom door.

I would hold my breath until the heart monitor alarmed, just for my own curiosity on its sensitivity. One of the nurses rolled in a television and lent me the only VHS tape that they had in the unit: Speed 2. I watched it on repeat for 4 days.

Sandra Bullock never did stop that cruise ship from hitting the dock.

St. Thomas’ Hospital, 2014

The admitting nurse brought me into a storage closet and inserted an IV in the dim light. He placed a piece of heavy duty tape over it, wrote my information on it, signed his name, and told me not to give the IV to anyone else.

Sat across the hallway was a man in handcuffs with two police officers on either side. He looked back and forth between myself and the couple that sat next to me, a pair of impeccably dressed men whose hands clung together in discomfort and fear. To the left lay a man on the floor, in a pool of his own urine. Doctors and nurses stepped over him, as if he were a permanent fixture in the doorway. Maybe he was.

Once in a room, a stranger entered. I can’t remember her name, though she told me several times. Her hair was dyed bright blue, and her glasses magnified her eyes to comical degrees. She was well past 80, sporting leopard print tights and a pageboy hat. She had a thick Cockney accent and a terrible stutter. She lifted her shirt to show me the tattoos that adorned her abdomen- Fairy tale imagery of butterflies and flowers, spiraling about her wrinkled skin. She told me of all the people she knew that had died in the hospital, how she’d cared for many of them in their final months or years. She was evicted twice from my room by the Aussie nurse on the unit, but she’d always return and continue her story.

They never used the IV line, but at least there was free Wi-Fi.

Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2010

I spent 4 days in the Emergency Room with a rampant fever that wouldn’t break. They ran every test they could think of, but could not find the issue. They even called in a special diagnostician team (like House) who asked a million and a half questions, before leaving and never returning.

On day 2 a doctor who was not one of mine came in and announced that my pregnancy test came back positive. When my mom burst out laughing he looked to me and asked, “Are you not Amanda?”

My dad came to visit one day wearing unreasonably form-fitting spandex exercise pants.

Laying on a gurney for 4 days is not comfortable, at all, FYI.

McMaster Children’s Hospital, 2003

This was my first long stint in a hospital. I was 16 and had been sick for well over a year. I didn’t know what was wrong, but my body was shutting down. I’d lost 50 lbs. in the months leading up, my hair had started falling out, my teeth were rotting, I’d been sleeping 20 hours a day, and I was slowly losing my vision.

I’d missed over 40 days of school that semester, and was admitted into the hospital just days before final exams.

I was in a double room, and my roommates rotated every couple of days. On the first night it was a 4 year old with a shattered arm. She screamed all night from the pain. My next roommate was a ginger girl who was about the same age as me. She was having her tonsils removed, and spent all day complaining to me about her mother, despite the nurses telling her not to talk. The bed was blessedly vacant for the last couple of nights.

A few days in my good friend Tara and her mom came to visit (the hospital was about an hour drive from where we lived), so naturally 5 minutes after they arrived the nurse took me out for tests and didn’t return me until the end of visiting hours.

I would go for walks around the hospital late at night, when the halls were empty and still. The hospital was colour coded, and I’d walk in a square, from Red to Purple to Blue to Yellow, and back to Red, where my wing was. I’d do the walk with my IV pole in tow, and it was inevitably start beeping about halfway through my walk. I’d ignore it.

Barnet Hospital, 2013

I was terrified. I couldn’t stop having panic attacks and I didn’t know why. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?

The doctor at Barnet Hospital sent me in an ambulance to a country hospital for a psych assessment; in a town I’d never been, where I sat alone in a room for 6 hours. Eventually someone came to talk with me, and said the panic attacks weren’t anything to worry about and I was discharged.

It took me 3 hours to walk back to London along the country roads.

Eastbourne District General Hospital, 2006

It was my first year away at university and I’d had a fever for several days. When my limbs started to go numb my RA sent me to the local doctor, who immediately put me in a taxi to the hospital. I was admitted into a special ward for patients who were susceptible to infection. It was 9 women, all over the age of 85, and myself.

The nurse was angry with me for saying I was not from Australia, when she was sure I had an Australian accent. Myself and another patient on the ward tried to assure her that I was most definitely Canadian (the patient testifying that she had lived in Toronto for 50 years and would know the accent anywhere), but the nurse was having none of it. She called me a liar and said she would not care for liars.

The same nurse also happened to answer the telephone when my mom called the hospital, after the university had informed her that I’d been taken there. She told my mom that I had meningitis, though after hanging up would realize that she misread the doctor’s handwriting. Meanwhile my parents, neither of who had passports at the time, were on their way to Toronto in order to be issued emergency travel documents from the government so they could travel to the UK to be with their apparent meningitis infected child. (Don’t worry; someone eventually contacted them with the correct information.)

After several days my fever broke, and I was told I could go home in the morning. Unfortunately that night it was discovered that there was an outbreak of the Norovirus in the hospital, and within a few hours I had it.

Due to the severity of the outbreak the hospital was quarantined, and because I was infected, our room was a hot zone. Plastic was put over the door, no one was allowed in without proper HAZMAT outfitting, and none of us were allowed to leave the room, for any reason whatsoever. And I mean any reason. The woman next to me died on the third day of quarantine and remained there until it ended.

The Dean of my university, whom I had never met, heard about the situation and made a special request from the hospital to come and visit me. They suited him up and he was allowed entrance into the room. He told me through his paper and plastic helmet that he had a daughter my age and that thinking about her being alone in a hospital across the ocean made him quite emotional. So, he decided to come and visit me. It was such a kind gesture that still moves me to this day. He sat with me for the afternoon, and we chatted about this and that.

Welland County General Hospital, 2012

I watched him exhale and go very still, his cheeks sinking in and his face turning a strange shade of white. It was peaceful, but my heart is still broken.

Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2015

I started to have a terrible panic attack in the waiting area of the Emergency Room. A woman came over and began talking me through it. I later learned that she was a local yoga instructor who had taught a course specific to people with anxiety. She gave me her business card, and I texted her later to thank her / apologize.

She now sends me uplifting, life affirming texts every week. They always put a smile on my face.

Credit Valley Hospital, 2011

I was putting oil in my car in the parking lot of a Canadian Tire in Niagara Falls when the hood fell shut over my arm. A stranger who was close ran over and lifted it up, and my arm didn’t seem to be damaged. So, I got on the highway and headed to Toronto to write my Communications exam. However, as I got closer my wrist became more and more sore. By Mississauga it had doubled in size and turned blue, so I exited on Erin Mills Parkway and went into the Credit Valley Hospital ER. Panicking that my exam was in a few short hours turned out to be unnecessary as I was in, checked over, x-rayed, and plaster casted in under an hour.

I hopped back on the highway to Toronto and was soon after shouted at by my program coordinator for coming in. I said I was fine, but as the wet plaster left white marks on the ID office counter, she picked up the phone to call my instructor to have my exam pushed a couple days later.

On my way home I realized I was in a manic panic, after running a streetcar stop sign and bursting into frantic tears that lasted for an hour.

Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2003

The room was cluttered with disassembled beds and cribs, laid half-hazard against every available surface. There was a single assembled bed in the far corner, where I was assigned. I stayed there for several days, with a doctor checking in only on the first and the last day. His wife had unexpectedly gone into labour and he forgot to reassign my case. He transferred me to McMaster on the last day.

North Middlesex University Hospital, 2012

It had been a month since I’d arrived in London. I had a job working at the Natural History Museum, and things were going well, up until that day. I woke up very panicked, and it got worse as I made my way to work. When I got in I was having a difficult time, and my manager insisted I take the rest day off and head home. I assured that this wouldn’t be a common occurrence, and the attack was not in any way related to the job, which I quite enjoyed. She told me to stop being silly, that of course this wasn’t a problem and we’d return to normal tomorrow. So, I left. On my way home I started having a panic attack on the Piccadilly Line. It was by far one of the worst I’ve ever experienced to this day. The tunnel vision became more and more intense, until everything went black. I don’t remember what happened next.

My next memory is sitting on the platform of an unknown station, covered in blood. My nose had begun gushing at some point, and my uniform front was sopping from where my head had been leaned forward. And as the fog cleared I realized a woman was sitting next to me, asking me questions. I can’t remember her name, but she was from Poland and owned a café close to the station. She helped me up and took me to a TFL employee, who called an ambulance.

The paramedics arrived, and I insisted that I was all right. As my nose was still bleeding and I’d yet to calm down, they urged me into the ambulance and took me to the hospital.

The visit was uneventful. The blood loss wasn’t severe, my pressure was going down, and there wasn’t anything to worry about. They let me leave.

Except when I got out of the hospital, I didn’t have the slightest clue where I was, or how to get home. I didn’t have Internet on the cheap phone I’d picked up for emergencies when I’d arrived, so I called a friend in Ireland, not sure of what else to do. I gave her the name of the hospital and she kindly researched how to get back. She also topped up my Oyster card online, as I didn’t have enough money on it to get home. But I finally made it back, well after midnight.

No one batted an eyelash when I got back on the tube looking frazzled and covered in blood.

Oh, and I was fired from my job the next morning.

Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2013

I’d been back in Canada for less than 48 hours. I’d felt unwell on my first day back, but chalked it up to jet leg. But by day 2 I knew that something was wrong. I’d started working my first day back, but asked to leave on day 2 when I began having difficultly standing. A co-worker drove me home, and when I arrived back I asked my mom to drive me to the ER. She didn’t look thrilled at the prospect of spending 8 hours in the hospital waiting room, as we’d done so many times, but she obliged.

When I arrived and went into triage, I realized that I’d forgotten my health card. Having been out of the country for a year, I hadn’t had the chance to reassemble my wallet yet. And anyone who has had any experience with the Canadian health care system knows that arriving anywhere without a health card is a no-no.

As such, my first indication that something was wrong was when I realized that I didn’t have my card as the nurse was taking my vitals. I told him I’d have to go home and get it, but he shook his head and said he couldn’t let me leave. He walked me over to the registration desk and said something to the nurse, who quickly got me registered, with no comment about the health card.

I then got up and went over to find my mom in the waiting room. Anticipating a long wait, she had brought her students workbooks to mark and had them strewn across the chairs around her. As I approached the triage nurse came up behind me and took my arm, saying that a bed was ready. Both my mom and I looked at him in total confusion. Shouldn’t I be called in 6 hours from now?

He took me back to a private room, and then next 20 minutes were a flurry of activity. Chest x-rays, blood work, an EKG. There were nurses and doctors running in and out, and I began to freak out, having no idea what has happening. I’d been hooked up to a heart monitor and when the panic attack started the nurses circled around me telling me I needed to calm down.

During all this my mom stood baffled in the corner.

Not long after the doctor returned with test results. He said it was a good thing I came in when I did. He said that if I’d gone home and gone to bed, I probably would have died in my sleep.

hospital sign_15

Random Roundup

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!

12049486_10100121342851474_5207737945734156213_nTimes Square

12063845_10100121342706764_8052982763288268484_nWashington Heights

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.

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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?