My Nightmares

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

I’ve been having the same nightmares for the past sixteen months. I can trace their beginning back to an incident at work that I initially didn’t think much of but that quickly started to gnaw on my nerves. The nightmares came on strong and I found myself waking up in a sweat, heart racing, and sometimes not knowing where I was right away. It quickly got to the point where I was experiencing them multiple times every night.

There are three of them. They all start out the same. Someone is calling the police in a panic, saying that some people are missing in the middle of nowhere and nobody can get ahold of them. The police contact the Search And Rescue (SAR) group and relay the message. The SAR crew tries to get some information but their computers aren’t working. Meanwhile, I’m in a room, surrounded by more computers and panicking because the system is down and I don’t have the parts to get it working again.

The SAR plane takes off and starts searching. This is where the nightmares diverge.

Nightmare 1

The SAR plane searches for hours and then finally finds a large orange tent in the snow. The plane comes in for a landing and the wind from the propellers ripples the tent fabric before blowing it away, revealing five people who have frozen to death. I can see their faces, the stubble on their chins, and their clothes rustling in the breeze. The SAR people are upset. For some reason, I know deep down that if they had made it there just minutes earlier, they would have been able to save the people. Minutes they wouldn’t have lost if their computers were working. It all ends up being my fault.

Nightmare 2

The SAR plane searches for hours and then finds small orange dots in the water. The plane descends and finds five people in lifejackets, all drowned or dead from exposure. Again, if they’d made it there just minutes earlier they would’ve been able to save the people in the water. Again, it’s my fault.

Nightmare 3

The SAR plane searches for hours and then finds an upturned boat. The SAR crew can find no signs of life on the boat – all of the crew has drowned. Again, five minutes would’ve made the difference, and again it’s my fault.

There are significant continuity and factual problems with these nightmares, but it doesn’t matter – that’s how they play out in my head. I’ve left out a lot of detail (mainly because it bothers me to think about it) but that’s pretty much how they go. People dead and it’s my fault. In all three of them I can hear and see everything. I can feel the panic and sweat running down my back as I look around the room with all the computers, knowing that no matter what’s wrong, I don’t have the parts to fix it.

Back when the nightmares were really bad, Dr C took me through an exercise where I recorded myself talking about a nightmare in as much detail as I could. Then I would play it back again and again and build up a tolerance to it. It worked very well. At the same time, Dr W prescribed me prazosin which greatly reduced the number of nightmares I was having.

For a while I was almost nightmare free but recently they’ve been making a bit of a comeback.

So that’s what happens to me at night a lot. Ever since I got home from the hospital the first time, we’ve been leaving some lights on upstairs so when I wake up in a panic, there’s enough light for me to be able to tell where I am. Usually I’ll get out of bed and walk around the house a bit, just to make sure everything’s okay. It makes me feel a little better and I’m usually able to get back to sleep within 15 minutes. If I go from nightmare directly to panic attack, it takes considerably longer.

Stay safe!

Getting Close To The Weekend

Song: “Long View” by Green Day

Mood: 7

I had two nightmares overnight that I can remember. Same stuff as always. They weren’t as vivid as they usually are, so that was nice. Maybe it’s the start of a trend.

I got up with J and had breakfast and then went for a nap after she left. Nine hours of sleep seems to be the sweet spot for me – any less and I don’t feel well, any more and I feel groggy for most of the day.

Today I spent quite a bit of time writing. It was easy to concentrate and I wasn’t getting frustrated by trying to find the right words. I really enjoy writing, and even though nobody else will see it, I find it to be a relaxing and enjoyable hobby.

I also listened to some James Last records. Man, that stuff is cheesy but in a good way. It really makes for good background music. Kind of like if I spent my day in an elevator.

This weekend, J and I are heading over to FA’s place to help her take down an old fence. I’m looking forward to it – it will be interesting to be away from the house for a while and it’s always fun hanging out with friends.

I’m feeling pretty well today. It’s been a good day.

Stay safe!

A Good Wednesday

Song: “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas

Mood: 6.5

I had a couple of work nightmares last night. One of them woke J up and she carefully woke me up and told me I was having a nightmare. I do not like nightmares, and they’re in a bit of an upswing over the last little while. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been anxious about work during the day too so maybe that’s part of the problem.

I had my Dr C appointment this morning and she was very happy to hear that I got out on my bike and also did some welding. We talked for a little while and then she took me through a mindfulness exercise that was really very relaxing. I’ve always found it interesting that when I think I’m relaxed, there’s still a lot of tension in various parts of my body that can be released and leave me feeling like a rag doll (in a good way).

This is also my second-last appointment with Dr C before she leaves for a year. I’ve already got another psychologist lined up – Dr P. I will miss Dr C – I’ve been seeing her about once a week for almost 18 months and I am very comfortable with how she runs the sessions and how she digs around to get to the bottom of a particular feeling or emotion. The first day I saw her I could barely spit out the words I was trying to say and I was incredibly nervous about talking about my thoughts and emotions with a stranger. She made it easy.

J came home early to take me to my Dr W appointment, which went quite well. I told Dr W about my recent thoughts about work and he gave me a step-by-step thing to tell myself next time work pops into my head.

I don’t know why I keep worrying about work. I’m slowly getting better but I’m still not in any condition to be a productive worker. I’m still worried that I will be forced back into my previous job but both Dr C and Dr W say they’ll write whatever letters they need to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ve been putting in a LOT of work to get better and it would all be for nothing if I went back to my old job and lost all this progress. I’ll try to stop.

Other than that, I’m happy to say that things are going pretty well. I hope your day is going well, too.

Stay safe!

When The Wheels Fell Off, Part IV

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

My most recent stay at the psych ward was brought on by worsening depression and the inability to do anything other than stay in bed. For a while there I was in bed almost twenty hours a day and I felt terrible. I was hearing voices and having nightmares and wasn’t sleeping very well.

When I hear voices, there have always been two so far. One of them has always demanded to know where my Disaster Recovery Plan is (that was one of my jobs at work), and up until this time, the other has berated me and told me I was no good, a loser, a waste of time. This time was a little different. The voice that usually berated me started telling me that everyone I knew would be better off without me. Everyone – J, my family, DA, FA, WG, Dr C, Dr W… everyone. It was frightening and I was having difficulty stopping them. Suicide was on my mind and I was unable to clear my head.

One evening it got so bad that J called the Crisis Line (I was having trouble communicating) and had a good chat with the person on the other end. We got a couple of helpful ideas and planned to call Dr W on Monday to see if he could help.

When Monday came, J made the call, and – bless him – Dr W found a bed for me. Since I was actively having suicidal thoughts they assigned a Nursing Aide to follow me around and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid. The first night I was glad to have someone checking in on me as I didn’t trust myself.

After bumping some of my medications back up and talking to the staff, things quickly started to get better and by the end of the second day I didn’t need anyone to follow me around. That was the first time in all of my stays at the hospital that I’ve been followed around like that. I guess it’s because they’re serious about patient safety.

Once I got used to things, I started to attend the groups and had some good conversations with my nurses. It didn’t take very long before I was feeling a lot better. Dr W says that sometimes people just need to be given a bit of a nudge and they’ll get back on track. I’m very lucky that so many people want to keep me on track!

Every time I get out of the hospital I feel stronger and like some aspect or issue has been “fixed”, and I’m very grateful for that.

If you feel like the world’s a grey and unpleasant place or you’re considering harming yourself or others, please call your local crisis centre, talk to your doctor, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Stay safe!

Did Some Welding!

Song: “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite

Mood: 6.5

I slept pretty well last night and only woke up for nightmares twice. This morning, J and I had breakfast together and then I went back to bed for just a short nap because I wanted to get outside and try some welding before it got too hot out.

I’ve got two welders – a little SP-135T MIG 120V welder and an AC-225 240V stick welder. The stick welder weighs around a hundred pounds so it’s a bit of a pain to move it around the garage. Last year I started building a cart for it. I started with a log carrying cart that was on sale and tacked some angle iron to it so there was enough room for the welder to sit on properly. Today I cleaned up those welds and did a standing test with both myself and the welder on the cart. It didn’t bend or sag or anything, so I’m pretty happy with that. If I have some time tomorrow I may do a bit of grinding and then paint it.

After I was done working on the cart I thought I’d just run some practice beads on some scrap metal with the stick welder. I started with the 6011 and it worked fine – about the same as I remembered. Then I went and opened the little box of 7018AC rods and went to run a bead. No matter what I tried, I could not maintain an arc (for those times when I was actually able to start the arc). I was getting a little flummoxed – after all, this stuff is supposed to go down easy and look great. I took a closer look at the rods and they just say 7018 on them. I checked the box again and it said 7018AC. Using a regular 7018 rod on a little AC machine like my stick welder is nigh impossible. Unfortunately, I can’t remember when or where I bought them but at least I didn’t buy 10 pounds of it.

I should take a moment to say that the new welding jacket that J gave me for Christmas worked like a charm. No burn through and I didn’t even set myself on fire!

After it warmed up to the point where I was sweating like crazy, I shut down all the welding gear and sat outside in the breeze to dry off a bit. After that it was lunchtime and then I thought I’d do some writing.

I have my Dr C and Dr W appointments tomorrow. It’s been two weeks and Dr C hasn’t heard that I’ve been on my motorcycle yet. I think she’ll be happy to hear about it. I think both she and Dr W will be pleased that I got back outside and did some welding, too.

This evening, J and I finished watching the original Magnificent Seven. It was a pretty great movie and it was interesting to see so many big-name actors in a movie. It kind of reminded me of The Great Escape in that way. I’m not sure what we’re going to watch next – we’re out of westerns.

Stay safe!

Don’t Be Afraid To Take Some Time For Yourself

Part of the recovery for any illness or injury is rest. You don’t immediately jump up and down after the doctor puts a cast on your broken leg, and you don’t go jogging when you’ve got pneumonia. Mental illness is no different – recovery takes a lot of work, but also time and rest.

Here are seven of the things that I do when taking some time for myself:

  • Spend some time where I do my best to worry about the things that are bothering me so they don’t bother me as much later,
  • Meditate or do breathing or muscle relaxation exercises,
  • Do my best to get enough sleep,
  • Get some exercise,
  • Eat properly,
  • Spend some time on one or more of my hobbies, and
  • Listen to the kind of uptempo music I like.

I do my best to make time to do these seven things every day. Some days it can be difficult, particularly when I’m feeling pretty down or have a busy schedule. I think it’s okay to miss a day or two here or there, but it’s really important to me to keep doing those seven things. Sleep, in particular, is very important for me. If I don’t get about nine hours of sleep, my mood darkens and all I want to do is hide in the basement.

To set time aside, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. I don’t have as many hobbies as I used to (although J will probably say I still have too many), and I’ve cut way back on the time I spend using my computer or tablet. Part of that is because I don’t enjoy computers the way I used to (in fact, there are many aspects of them that I am really uncomfortable with now), and the other part is that I could see how many hours I wasted just sitting in front of a screen, accomplishing nothing.

I used to have three blogs but I felt that I had to keep posting content and that was stressing me out. I shuttered them all and started this one and made myself a deal: if I didn’t have anything to say on a particular day or not enough time, I wouldn’t post. That has made this site a lot easier and more enjoyable for me.

I think I’m getting a little off-topic here but it doesn’t hurt to look at the things you do and decide whether letting some of them go would make your life easier. Make some time somewhere during the day when you can sit down and take a couple of minutes to recharge. It can make a world of difference.

Stay safe!

Anxious Today For Some Reason

Song: “Desperado” by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

Mood: 5.5

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been pretty anxious all day. I think I slept pretty well, but I could feel the anxiety as soon as I woke up.

I did some grounding and some breathing, both of which helped a bit, and then tried to keep myself busy. I spent a bit of time out in the garage again but made sure I was only out there in the morning when it was relatively cool out.

Once I was done there, I came inside and went downstairs to listen to some of my favourite records at a pretty high volume. That helped knock the anxiety back a bit, too. As long as I kept busy, I was okay. As soon as I took a break or sat down for a minute, it would come back again in full. Not a great way to spend the day.

J texted and said she was going to be a little late today so I made supper and had it ready by the time she got home. We had a good talk and after supper we went downstairs where she worked on her tablet and I did more breathing exercises with a fan running to chase the nervous sweat away.

This is something that really annoys me about my anxiety. It can show up whenever it wants. I’m in my basement, in a comfortable chair, I’ve just had supper, and my wife is sitting just a few feet away. There’s absolutely nothing bad going on or anything I have to do, but I’m sitting there, clenching my jaw, sweating, and nervous for no reason. It’s frustrating and embarrassing.

After a while, J and I went out to the garage and did a bit more cleaning and throwing out some stuff. If I manage to get myself moving tomorrow before it’s too warm, I’m going to finally do some welding. It’ll be good to get in some “arc therapy” and practice a bit. It’s been a long time. I’ve got a little list of things that I want to build, modify, or fix, and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy doing it. I’m also looking forward to trying out the new welding jacket that J got me for Christmas.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rest of my evening. Whatever it is, I need to keep busy.

Stay safe!

A Lazy Day

Song: “Tom Sawyer” by Rush

Mood: 7

When I went to bed last night I was worried that I would wake up today in a poor mood, but fortunately, today has been a pretty good day. I didn’t do much but that was just fine by me. J went grocery shopping this morning and when she got home we put the groceries away and then had lunch. We hung out for most of the afternoon until she took a nap and I did some writing.

After J got up, we chatted some more and then had supper. J and I have been married for over fifteen years but we still always have something new to talk about. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m very lucky.

This evening we finished watching The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly again. We started it last night but forgot that it was three hours so we stopped about halfway because my medication was kicking in and I was falling asleep. This is the second time we’ve watched it, and it made a lot more sense this time than the first time through.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened yesterday evening at the store. I think part of the reason that it bothered me so much is that I’m not a young fellow anymore and carrying all this extra weight isn’t healthy. There’s also a lot of diabetes in my family, so if I’m not careful, that’s probably in my future, too. I’ve been tested recently and there’s no sign of anything yet, but who knows how long it takes for diabetes to “turn on”. Another part of it is that I’ve cut back on what I eat and J and I are eating a lot healthier now but the numbers on the scale keep inching upwards. I think I’m on three medications that are associated with weight gain, but it really feels unfair when I’m eating salads and cutting the amount of food I eat by a third or a half and I still gain weight.

That being said, there’s no way I would even consider stopping any of those medications. My mental health comes first because without it I can barely function, nevermind take care of myself properly. I might talk to Dr W about it at my next appointment and see if he has any suggestions.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do tomorrow. If it’s not too hot I think I’m going to try and get out to do some welding – even if it’s just running a few practice beads.

Stay safe!

My Apologizing

I’ve always been worried about offending people. Even when I was a kid, I was sensitive to the thought of hurting someone’s feelings or making them mad. High school was the same thing, and so was work. In the evenings, I’d worry over conversations I’d had earlier in the day, re-running them through my head to see if there was something that I’d said that could’ve been taken the wrong way or something that I should have said or not said. As I got older, I found that I was not only re-running through conversations that day, but I was still going over conversations I’d had days, months, or years ago, too.

It is very difficult for me to just accept that someone from twenty years ago isn’t still mad about something I’d said or done. Even now, I worry about stuff that happened decades ago. Is Chris mad at me for accidentally hitting him in the eye with a snowball back in Grade 4? Is Greg upset because when I was twelve I launched his little foam plane it hit the ground and broke? Is my dad still upset that I didn’t follow his instructions and got the pellet gun jammed up back when I was 13? Is my mom upset because one Christmas I told her that I already knew what Grandma had sent? Is my sister angry that we didn’t play her Sweet Valley High board game more? Is J upset that we didn’t go and play badminton out at the park nearby ten years ago? Is FA mad that I broke her little hand mirror 23 years ago? Is DA mad that I accidentally bumped his ATV trailer into a tree?

I could go on and on.

I feel silly apologizing for things that happened years or decades ago but they eat away at me, and the people who I have apologized to have all said they don’t even remember the incident, or they do remember and they weren’t upset at the time. It doesn’t matter though – like I said, it eats away at me. That’s why when I think I’ve done something wrong now, I apologize profusely. Sometimes too profusely. There are times when people get irritated at my apologies, and what can I possibly say to them about that?

The worst part is that apologizing right when I think I may have said or done something wrong doesn’t keep me from running through that conversation or event over and over again in my head. It’s like I’m stuck in some kind of anxiety loop where I’m worried I’ve offended someone but also worried that they said not to worry about it just to shut me up or make me feel better while inside, they’re seething.

Dr C, Dr W, and the staff at the hospital have all told me (several times) that I am not responsible for other peoples’ thoughts or emotions. Of course, if I’m wandering around and trying to upset someone, that’s a different story, but if I’m just going about my day and having a normal conversation, it’s not up to me what other people think. This is very difficult for me to accept. I want people to be happy and definitely don’t want people to be angry, upset, or disappointed with me. I wish I could say I have a solution to the problem, but I don’t. Not yet, at least.

Stay safe!

Good Day, Crappy Panic Attack

Song: “Freeze Frame” by the J. Geils Band

Mood: 8 -> 3 -> 5

I didn’t sleep all that well last night. I just couldn’t get comfortable and kept waking up to shuffle around. Not a huge deal, more of an inconvenience.

Last night before bed, J put together supper in the crockpot and put it in the fridge to start cooking in the morning. A nice turkey and vegetable meal which would be ready at 5:30. It smelled great throughout the day.

FA arrived around 9:30AM and we had a good chat before we took a look at the stack of records she’d recently purchased at a garage sale. Most of them were 10″ shellac records that needed 78RPM but one was a 33RPM vinyl LP. Just for kicks, we gave it a try on the turntable and, after a round of cleaning, it played really well. Kind of cheesy music – FA said it best when she mentioned that some of the songs would make a good soundtrack for a cartoon. Interesting stuff, and no idea how old it was (other than “quite”).

After that, we started work on her Raspberry Pi. It took a while but I think we finally got it to do what she was hoping it would do. I had a lot of fun working on it with her, it reminded me of the times we hung out way back during our university days.

With the Pi done, we headed off to lunch at the local burrito place. I really like the food there, but today it was particularly good. Lots of good flavours. I probably should’ve remembered what I ordered so I can get it again…

After lunch, FA wanted to go to a specialty kitchen store. This place has everything from spatulas to really fancy knives to mummy-shaped cookie cutters. She was looking for a cheese knife, and after a brief consultation with one of the staff, we were led to the cheese knife section (I told you this place has everything). I was pretty dazzled by the selection (cheese knives!) and had no idea which one was better. The serrated one with the holes in it? The plastic one with the blade made out of wedges? The steel one that was curved backward like a scimitar? My contribution to the discussion was to suggest she get the one with the red handle. Hopefully I didn’t lead her astray.

Back at the house, we tried out some cheese that FA had brought along. There was an old Gouda and another one that had the taste of carmelized onions. Her new cheese knife had its first test and I think it passed. Both of the cheeses were really good, but that onion one… man, that was tasty. I’m going to have to go and pick up some of that myself sometime. Once we were done sampling the cheese, we sat down and had another good chat before she had to head home. I had fun and it was a blast hanging out with her again. She mentioned that she wants to tear down an old fence – I hope I can get out to her place and help her with it!

After FA left, I tidied up a bit and sat down. J got home at about 4:45 and we talked for a bit before getting supper together – which basically required two plates and a serving spoon. The turkey was perfect – you didn’t even need a knife to cut it – it just fell apart. The vegetables were perfect, too, and the starch from them basically turned the broth into gravy by itself.

Everything was going well. It was a great day. Then I mentioned to J that I wanted to go to the store to pick up a pair of pants.

You see, I’ve put on quite a bit of weight over the last year. I had to buy a new motorcycling jacket because of it, and all of my old jeans that I wore while welding no longer fit. I wanted to buy a cheap pair of jeans that I could wear out to the garage and not be upset if they got wrecked. My other plan was to buy a pair of good jeans and sacrifice one of my old “good” pairs of jeans that still kind of fit to the garage gods.

We got to the store with no problems and I went into the change room to try on a couple of pairs of jeans. The first pair was the same size as the jeans I last wore. Not a chance – I couldn’t even get the button done up.

I started to sweat. Not a big deal, I told myself. You’ve put on a little bit of weight, we’ll just try a size up. So I did. They didn’t fit either – not by a long shot.

For some reason – I still don’t know why – I started to panic. J helped me grab pants that were two sizes up from where I was, and those finally fit. Soaking in a full-on flop sweat by now and my world condensed down to only what was directly in front of me, waves of panic were washing over me. Thank God J was there – I passed the jeans to her and asked her if she could buy them while I went out to the car.

I think she knew I was in trouble because she didn’t ask any questions (bless you!) and I fled the store and sat in the car with the air conditioner blasting. After a few minutes, she joined me in the car and drove us home.

Once we got home I headed into the basement and sat in my comfy chair doing grounding and breathing exercises for about 15 minutes before the panic finally broke and left me alone. I made my way back upstairs and talked briefly with J to let her know I was okay. She gave me a hug and told me that if I needed anything to just ask her. I’m really lucky to be married to someone who understands that I don’t always have words for what’s going on with me and even if I do, sometimes I can’t get them out in the right order (or at all) to explain what’s happening.

So that’s been my day. Really good, then really crappy, then getting better. I think J and I may watch another western this evening. We’ll see what happens.

Stay safe!