It’s amazing the difference a year can make.

On a late night, one year ago, I decided that I was in too much pain to keep on living and that my existence was too burdensome on everyone around me. I had been dealing with ongoing suicidal thoughts for years, but in the months leading up to that night they’d become more and more intense.

I awoke the next morning in a psychiatric Form 1 lockdown at the hospital, with my parents sitting by my side. I remember feeling little more than numb through much of my two week stay in Unit 1M. And when I returned home I felt more discontented with life than ever before. I dropped out of my anxiety treatment program, stopped going to counselling, and tried to fade out of people’s lives.

Fortunately for me, I had a few amazing people in my life who wouldn’t stand for the latter. With their help I spent the summer slowly learning to live again and remembering so many of life’s little joys.

In late summer I set off for adventure, hoping that a bit of solo travel and space would help me regain some lost confidence. I spent three weeks driving under the Northern Lights in Iceland, boating through the Fjords in Norway, wandering the cobblestone streets in Denmark, and lounging with old friends in England. The trip gave me some much needed time for reflection and appreciation. For the first time I truly allowed myself to look at my life and the reasons for my unhappiness. The main one, I realized, was that I was scared.

In the autumn I came home determined to open myself up and conquer my fears. I took risks, faced new challenges, and found myself entering winter feeling something I had never truly felt before: Contentment.

And now, one year on, my life is virtually unrecognizable. I found a job that encompasses everything that I’ve ever wanted in a job. I fell in love with someone who makes me happier than I ever thought it was possible to be. I’ve started reaching out and attempting to mend broken relationships. And I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I’m not such a human disaster after all.

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#BellLetsTalk day has rolled around once again.


I’ve always tried to be open and honest about my struggles with mental illness, as I know how important open conversations are to ending the stigma. I used to write about my experiences regularly, but have found myself doing so less and less over the last couple of years. At first I simply wasn’t finding the exercise of writing as helpful as I had in the past. But last spring it became much more than that.
Late one night in June, after 10 years of inner turmoil, I became so overwhelmed with my anxiety and depression that I attempted to take my own life.
I then spent the next two weeks as an inpatient in the Mental Health unit of the new St. Catharines Hospital and can truly say that that was the worst week of my life. But probably not for the reasons you’re thinking…
Each day I was in there I would meet with my assigned psychiatrist, and each day he would make the same comment: “You’re a highly educated and well-travelled young woman. You’re not the type of person I should be seeing in here.”
I never knew how to respond to this. He used words like “typical” and “should” and I just didn’t understand. Educated people can and do have depressive disorders, and well-travlled people can and do have anxiety disorders. Who was he to tell me I shouldn’t be there, when the fact was, I WAS there. I was there, and in pain, and instead of being helped, I was made to feel like my thoughts and emotions were invalid. I was made to feel like I should have somehow been above mental illness.
In the end, I didn’t receive anything in the way of “treatment”. My medication was switched to something I’d been on previously, and I slept a lot, played cards with my dad, and then after a week was discharged.
I left the hospital feeling completely discouraged. Following my discharge I dropped out of the outpatient anxiety treatment program that I’d been taking part in for a year previously, stopped going to counselling, and never spoke to anyone about how the experience effected me.
(Until now.)
I spent the summer wallowing in self-pity and feeling like a complete failure, followed by an autumn spent travelling and learning to trust my own abilities again. Thankfully the latter worked, and I returned home feeling like maybe, just maybe, I could be okay eventually. I built up the nerve to take some big chances, as well as rid myself of a few bad habits.
For a long time I didn’t think I’d live to see my 30th birthday.
But I did make it to 30. I made it, and now when I think of the future it’s not a blank question mark, but filled with possibilities. And for the first time I in as long as I can remember, I want to be alive to see what happens.

The Anxious Wanderer Returns, Take Two

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.

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Locked Up

Exactly one month ago I was released from the hospital after spending 7 days on a mandatory hold inside of the psychiatric unit. It was undoubtedly the worst week of my life, and the lowest point I’ve reached during my decade long struggle with mental illness.

During and following my hold I didn’t tell many people about what was happening. Partly because I was embarrassed and ashamed, and partly because I simply didn’t know how to talk about it. I still don’t, to be completely honest. But despite that, I’m writing now because I feel it’s important to say something. It may not be the correct thing, or what people want to hear, but the one thing I know is that keeping quiet out of shame only perpetuates stigma.

The ‘How?’ and the ‘Why?’ are likely what people most want to know, but are in my opinion the least important aspects of the story. While it was one rash and desperate decision that landed me in the hospital, the path leading up to it was a long and complicated one. My incarceration was 10 years of poor decisions in the making. Poor decision that I, for the first time, realize come from the fact that I simply don’t value my own life.

That revelation is in and of itself heavily complex. And along with it I also have my crippling anxiety, chronic depression, and unstable emotional responses to stress and upset. But I’ve come to learn that identifying and accepting issues is half the battle.

And as of tonight, that battle is not yet lost.

#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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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

The Actual WORST (IMHO)

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I’ve struggled with self-esteem issues since I was a kid. I mean I was chubby and weird, so that’s not a huge surprise! But then in my second year of high school I got sick, and remained sick for almost two years, during which time I didn’t have the energy to be so negative on myself. And when I came out the other end I was just so happy to be alive and healthy that all those negative thoughts didn’t get to me much.

They slowly returned in university with the onset of depression and anxiety, and have weaved in and out of my life since. And as I got older, the negative thoughts evolved. When I was young I recall it being a constant fear and paranoia about what other people were thinking (which I know is a classic symptom of Social Anxiety Disorder), but as I get older it’s been more of a struggle with self doubt and self judgement. It’s a constant stream of never-ending negativity.

// I’m a terrible friend. // I can’t do this job. // Why would anyone love me? // I screw everything up. // I’m an embarrassment. // What’s the point in trying? // I’m a failure. // I give up. //

And the longer my life stagnates, the more intense the negative thoughts become. The more friends I lose touch with, jobs I’m rejected from, relationships I’m in that fail, etc, the more I start to doubt myself. I know this is something that everyone struggles with- I just wish I knew how they get through it! For me it leads to crippling anxieties and the mentality of ‘why bother?’ and assumptions, that are correct in my head (and maybe in reality).

// Why bother applying for this job because I’m not going to get it. // Why bother trying to stay in touch with this friend because they clearly don’t want me in their life. // Why bother trying to date because no one in their right mind would ever be interested in me. // Why bother trying this or that because I’m only going to fail. //

I let myself fail before I even try. Sure, there are a lot of things I’ve done, even when they’ve scared me. Many times even because they scared me. But in my mind everything I’ve done has been a failure in its own way. University and grad school, moving abroad, travelling, projects- all the things that people tell me are accomplishments- I’ve never seen them as that. I focus on everything in those experiences that went wrong, and how that was all my fault and I should have done better. And I use them as excuses not to try new things.

I got thinking about this because few days ago I had a job application that asked me what other people like or admire about me. Not knowing how to answer, I decided to ask on Facebook. People were very kind in their answers, but they were difficult for me to read because I don’t believe them about myself. I wish beyond reason that I was courageous, or kind, or determined. But I’m not. Or I’m not enough of those things. Enough of what, I’m not even sure. But there’s something missing.

I don’t expect to ever feel “I’m awesome!”, but I’d like to find a way to stop holding myself back.

Blog For Mental Health 2015

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m taking part in the Blog For Mental Health 2015!

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“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

My Story

I’ve always been anxious and moody, even as a child. But it was never to an extent that affected my daily life, nor did it hinder or alter my decision making or thought processes. Any recollection I have of being particularly emotional or frightened were in situations where such reactions were understandable: death, assault, dying.

I was always relatively fine though. Introverted, emotional, and weird, but that was just me. When I was 18 I went off to my first year of university in England and had a ball. It had its ups-and-downs, but they weren’t much different than what everyone else was going through (well, aside from that time I was quarantined in the hospital!). I spent the first couple of months being mildly homesick, but by New Years was loving it, wanting to stay there forever.

First year came to an end and I made a decision to transfer schools in order to pursue a particular (and, at the time, rare) program. I would have finished off my degree in Kingston, but instead decided to head to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, just a couple of months in the program was cancelled, and I started to change. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, other than I miserable. And that it continued to get worse and worse. Everything became so incredibly difficult. Reading, writing, eating, getting out bed. Some days I just couldn’t. I was embarrassed and confused and alone. I once tried to explain to my mom what I was feeling, and she told me just to work my way through it. I remember being so angry and upset because that’s what I was trying to do and it wasn’t working. So, I unplugged my phone and went to bed for 2 days.

As parents do when their child is 1000 miles away, showing signs of severe emotional instability, and not answering the phone, they got a hold of the uni. My RA was alerted and came to check on me. I can’t even remember her name, but she was incredibly nice and encouraged me to go to the health centre. I eventually did, completely mortified. I don’t know what exactly I told the doctors, but they gave me medication and set me up with regular counselling.

Doctor # 1 / Diagnosis: Clinical Depression.

Things shifted back and forth after that. I’d start to feel a bit better and then not. By the end of the year I was still deeply depressed, and had flunked (or nearly flunked) several classes. When I moved home in the spring I told my mom I couldn’t go back there. Still not quite understanding what I was going through, her reaction was “well, you need to go somewhere“, at which time I applied to Brock.

I spent that summer (’07) working several jobs, visiting doctors, and discovering The Office. I know it’s cheesy as hell, but I still credit TO with helping me through that time. In the months that preceded I’d reached the point where I just didn’t want to live anymore. And to find something that brought me some amount of joy after nearly a year of misery… Well, I clung to it, and I clung hard.

I went back to uni that autumn, made some wonderful friends, and eventually, finally started feeling some version of “normal” again. I was on and off of various medications for the following year, all to varying degrees of success. Of course, with depression/anxiety meds you tend to determine if you stay on them or not based on the side effects. Some make you stay awake for 48 hours straight, others make you gain 30 lbs.

Unfortunately by 4th year things started to take a turn again. Thanks to spring/evening courses I had been able to catch up on my credits, so by winter I was eligible to graduate with a Pass. I was disappointed in myself for not getting a 4 Year Honours degree, but I’d become familiar with my limits, and knew by that point I’d reached them. So, I quit while I was ahead and in Feb 2009 was issued a BA.

I spent the next two and a half years working, travelling, medication hopping, and taking a few classes. During that time the depression had eased off, but the anxiety had swooped in. I’d started experiencing bad panic attacks while at Brock, which continued after graduating. Though it wasn’t until after that the debilitating daily anxiety really hit me. Getting attacks at the thought of leaving the house, or having to use a phone? It was exhausting. It is exhausting.

Doctor # 2 / Diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

In early 2011 I was working in a contact centre (email based) and completely fed up with the state of my life. Having found a postgrad program that I was interested in in Toronto, I decided I’d head back to school. Sadly, it turns out that getting through school with debilitating anxiety is just as (if not more) challenging than getting through school with depression. But, the anxiety had the bonus of just really pissing me off, and making me that much more determined to go through with something (as opposed to depression, which makes me unmotivated, lack focus, not care, etc).

Doctor #3 / Diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder.

In powering through I started to experience severe daily attacks and took on several terrible, and sometimes dangerous, coping mechanisms. I’m still not at a point of being able to openly discuss the latter, it’s far too difficult to get into. Suffice to say, I spent most of grad school as an anti-social, anxiety ridden, mess. Though I somehow made it through the coursework successfully. It still kind of bothers me that most of my classmates probably just saw me as that weird, asshole girl in the corner, but many have been kind enough to listen to me speak / write about my anxiety, and hopefully realize that wasn’t really me.

After completing the coursework, the final requirement of the postgrad was several hundred work experience hours. Feeling emboldened with the recent success, and still wildly angry at / in rebellion against my anxiety, I decided to move back to England. “Don’t want me to leave the house, anxiety? Well, suck it- I’m moving across the ocean!” Or something like that.

So, in late summer 2012, off I went. I don’t think I would have survived my first few months there had it not been for the unreasonably generous hospitality of a friend and her mother. Though my mental health issues proved to be too much of a strain and our friendship quickly dissolved, I still remain immeasurably grateful to them for their kindness. I was able take my time in learning the new city, finding work, finding lodging. As a result by my 4 month anniversary I was working an exciting job, living comfortably, and finding myself quite content. The anxiety was still burdensome, but I was determined to find a way to live with it, even if it meant crying and hyperventilating on public transit regularly.

Doctor #4 / Social Anxiety Disorder.

However, as happens, life had other plans. In the new year my physical health started to deteriorate. My lungs, kidneys, and liver had all gone haywire. My white count was through the roof. I learned then that having a fever can have an enormous impact on my anxiety. And after frequent doctors visits and no real answers, I decided I should go home. I felt terrible, and working had become more and more difficult. Back across the ocean I went…

After only 48 hours back in Canada I found myself in the ER with a doctor telling me I should be dead. Again. And thus began my Toxic Summer. (Brief rundown: The medication for my auto-immune disease had built up in my system, slowly poisoning me, deteriorating my organs, etc.) I then spent much of the next few months in bed, and most anxiety/depression stuff was put on the back burner.

By the autumn I was feeling better than I had in years (it’s nice how being healthy does that!) and was ready to take on the world again. I headed back to London, got my old job back, found a new place to live, and started the search for an internship. I also finally found an anxiety medication that worked. I didn’t have panic attacks for months. MONTHS. It was glorious!

In that time I even managed to finish grad school. Of course, my luck being what it is, there was a clerical error that resulted in me not being allowed to officially graduate for another 7 months, but, that’s neither here not there.

In summer 2014 I moved back to Canada and started figuring out what to do with my life. However, after months of rejection and getting nowhere, the anxiety and depression returned.

Doctor # 5 / Diagnosis: Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia.

In January of this year I started an outpatient program. I’m seeing a psychiatrist, several social workers, an individual counsellor, and am in an Anxiety and Panic Management group. I’m doing better than I was, but still not great.

This past week the social workers who run the group session pulled me aside. They said they’ve been observing me for the past couple of months and believe my anxiety is too severe to fully benefit from the program I’m currently on. They recommend an inpatient program. Upon hearing this news I completely broke down. I still don’t know what to think or where to go with such a recommendation.

And that is where I am. 9 years, more aware, more comfortable speaking openly about this, but still completely and utterly lost.

Let’s Talk About It

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My dad and I went to an event at Brock tonight called “Let’s Talk About It”, wherein a panel of students, parents, and nurses openly discussed mental health issues. It was really interesting, and well done. Three current students spoke openly about their struggles with different types of mental illness, the mother of a student discussed her experience both with her own issues, and being the parent of a child going through it (there was a recent article in the Review about them), and a nurse from Health Services moderated / answered questions.

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The whole thing was about an hour and a half, and anyone interested can watch a recording here. I was pleased to see that Brock’s relationship with students who are dealing with mental health problems has vastly improved in the years since I graduated. Not to say it was terrible back then, but it certainly wasn’t as good as it could have been. The event itself was put together by a committee that included Brock, CMHA Niagara, Niagara Public Health, and a student group called Active Minds.

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All of the speakers openly discussed their histories, victories, and loses with mental illness. It was incredibly emotional to listen to, and I give them so much credit for standing up there and doing it. I’m honestly not sure I could.

In saying that, I can’t finish a blog titled ‘Let’s Talk About It’ with an ‘Or not’ comment. I’ve always tried to be as open as I’m comfortable with, which has often meant writing over speaking. But I’m not sure I’ve really openly discussed my full experience before. I made a brief summary of it on Ending The Stigma, back before it crashed and burned. ‘Brief’ being the operative word.

So… *deep breath* …in the hopes of helping to break the cycle of silence, end the stigma, and ‘talk about it’, here we go…

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Explaining Panic: An Open Letter

I’ve become accustomed to explaining (or attempting to explain) anxiety and panic disorder to people. Seriously, I should just print out little cards with the CMHA blurb written on them and pull it out whenever I meet someone new.

“Hi, I’m Spencer. Are you familiar with panic disorder? Here’s a leaflet…

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder involves repeated and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of intense fear or terror that lasts for a short period of time. It involves physical sensations like a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, shaking, sweating or nausea. Some people feel like they’re having a heart attack or suffocating, others fear that they are dying.

Panic attacks can be a normal reaction to a stressful situation or a part of another mental illness. With panic disorder, panic attacks seem to happen for no reason. People who experience panic disorder fear more panic attacks and may worry that something bad will happen as a result of the panic attack.

Got it? Awesome. Please keep it in mind in the future! Oh, and nice to meet you!”

Now, of course it’s never that straightforward and simple, but I’ve made a point over the last 5 years or so to not shy away from talking to people about it. Chances are that if we have even casual contact with once another you’re going to see me having an attack eventually.

Unfortunately, every once in awhile I reach a place of thinking ‘what’s the point?’

Especially knowing from experience that such a definition is meaningless to most people. Because in spite of a diagnosis from a doctor and the above explanation, I still find myself stuck in regular conversations where I’m told things like “for god sake stop it, you’re an adult!” or “just get over it” or “try harder” etc, etc, etc.

I understand that the people around me are frustrated, I really do. But saying things like that on regular basis do nothing whatsoever to help. In fact, not surprisingly, they hinder. Do you not realize that whatever frustration you’re feeling, I’m feeling tenfold? Honestly, you think it sucks being around me for an hour or two- Try living inside my head. It’s a nightmare. And, bonus, after a short period of time in my company you get to leave. I don’t.

And this is every single day for me. I have panic attacks for little to no reason on a daily basis, meaning that on a daily basis my body freaks the fuck out when my brains sends a ‘you’re going to die‘ red alert signal. My blood pressure skyrockets, my nose bleeds, it feels like someone is standing on my chest, and I can’t stop crying. This has become my life. Do you honestly think I’m not beyond infuriated with it? Do you not think that’s why I’ve been going to doctor after doctor, trying medication after medication for years? Did it ever occur to you the lengths I’ve gone to find relief from this? The things I’ve done that I would never even utter on this blog, but done nonetheless because at the time they’re all that worked?

I’m sorry that me and my imbalanced brain are an occasional annoyance to you. But this is my (often unbearable) reality. I can’t even escape it when I sleep! Did you know I wake up sweating, nose bleeding, and crying from dream-induced attacks on a regular basis? Plus the panic/anxiety is often worsened by other factors like depression and PMS. Please don’t even ask me what the trifecta looks like… I’ve only just worked up the nerve to talk to my doctor about that one!

Anyway, the point being: I know I’m a lot to take and if you need to bow out, I understand. You won’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last. But for everyone else- the family and ‘you’re stuck with me forever’ friends- please don’t be too harsh. All of that frustration and anger you’re feeling towards me, know that I’m feeling it towards myself too. Spending too long with me, does not a good relationship make. Small doses, all that. It’s the reason I try and keep a lot of space between visits. It’s the reason I try not to stay in one place for too long. It’s the reason I generally stick solo.

I’m sure that sounds fairly sad and pathetic to most, but it’s how I roll. I’ve always done my own thing, in my own time, and have been fortunate enough in life to find some people who get that. And the rest, well, I vent to them in passive-aggressive blogs that they’ll probably never read.

IMG_8524One day I’ll know this to be true.