Hobbies

When I’m depressed or anxious, sitting around and doing nothing is the absolute worst thing I can do. I need to get up and move around or focus my brain on something other than the dark clouds hanging above my head. Grounding, breathing exercises, and meditating help, but I find that nothing soaks up time and is as gratifying as working on a hobby. They leave me in a better mood and sometimes I learn something, which also makes me feel good.

Everyone should have at least a couple of hobbies. I’ve got dozens of them. In fact, I have to rotate which hobbies I’m actively doing or my attention is spread too thin and I don’t get anything done on any of them. Bass guitar, lock picking, electronics, astronomy, (micro)biology, welding, writing, motorcycle riding and maintenance, computer gaming, collecting (and listening to) records, colouring, painting, reading… I could go on for a while, but you probably get the point.

I find the only problem I have with hobbies is that on the days where I have to fight hard to get out of bed I can rarely motivate myself to sit down and do something. It’s tricky that way – sitting down at my electronics bench would make me feel better, but to summon the oomph to do it can be very difficult.

I’ve got to keep working on it, though. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to convince myself that something that I used to find fun before I became ill will still be fun now. I still have days where I can’t do anything (like earlier this week), but sometimes even just knowing that there are fun things to do when I get up helps.

I think I’ll do some posts on the different hobbies I have. Some of them may be topics that others had never considered before but may find interesting. Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy even when you’re not feeling well?

Stay safe!

Not Too Bad

I slept pretty well last night. Only woke up once from a nightmare but was able to get back to sleep pretty quickly and without disturbing J. When I woke up this morning, I was pleased to find my mood had lifted quite a bit and I was looking forward to the day. I exercised, listened to more records, and wrote the previous post.

I wonder why mood changes while I sleep. Some days I go to bed feeling down and wake up feeling great, while other days I can go to bed feeling great and wake up feeling down. What causes that? Dreams? The quality of sleep? Or is it just something that happens to everyone and nobody knows why? I’ve seen videos of brains in an fMRI machine – I wonder if anyone has tried to sleep all night in one. It would be interesting to see what parts of a brain are lit up when someone is happy or sad or cranky.

I’ve been working on writing a letter of appreciation to the Patient Care Manager at the hospital that fixed me up twice. It’s been difficult, though. For one, I’ve got so many people to thank that it’s going to be hard to keep it to a manageable length. It’s also difficult to write it in a way that’s professional and thankful instead of all wishy-washy. I just need to take it slow and not overthink it.

My appointment with Dr C today went well. Now that I’m not showing up with a different crisis every week, it’s really nice to be able to work on something for a couple of sessions in a row. Right now we’re working on thickening my skin and making me more resilient when bad things happen or I’m in a situation that has one (or more) of the triggers that really get to me. I’m going to try to deal with the anxiety and negative thoughts as if they were a person. So I’m planning on saying to the thoughts that they’re welcome to keep blathering on, but the rest of me isn’t going to be paying attention to them anymore. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

I’m also grappling with a bunch of other questions. The two that cause me the most consternation are “how can I be significant and insignificant at the same time?” and “What makes a good person?” The significance question bothers me because I have a direct effect on the people around me but at the same time if I weren’t here, the world would still turn and the sun would still shine. The good person question bothers me the most because I really want to be a good person and have the opportunity to do that while I’m putting myself back together. I just need to figure out what qualities good people have. It’s harder than it sounds – a quality that is positive in one person may not be in another. I’m a little worried these are the kinds of questions that you need to meditate on for years to answer, but I’m going to try.

J had an exam this morning and to celebrate her doing well we had pizza and watched Dr Strange. It was a pretty good movie. The effects were really done well and any movie that has Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton in it has to be good. Good company, good pizza, and a good movie makes for a good evening.

Stay safe!

Grounding – Updated September 16th, 2017

Having runaway anxiety and panic sucks. Most of the things I worry about have either already happened or haven’t happened yet (and there’s no proof they will). I shouldn’t be worried about them or catastrophize – and yet, due to the anxiety, I can’t help it.

The good news is that there’s a way to short-circuit the anxiety before it becomes full-blown panic. It can also help shorten or even stop a panic attack in progress, and even lift your spirits if you’re feeling down. The tool is called grounding, and it helps to bring you back to the here and now instead of events from the past or possibilities from the future.

There are many grounding techniques. Some work for some people but not others. Some also work with different levels or types of anxiety or panic. Sometimes they’ll work and sometimes they won’t, which is why it’s good to know a couple of them. They all take practice but for me, it’s been really worth it.

Here are a few of my favourite grounding techniques:

1) The 5-4-3-2-1 method
Dr C taught me this one in one of our early sessions. It has helped me immensely and is usually my first go-to grounding technique when I’m in trouble. Here’s how it works:

– Look around you and find five things that you can see. The more detail, the better. “I see a wall” isn’t as effective as “I see the little indents on the inner circle of a paperclip that’s sitting on the desk”, or “I see that the store down the street has used an ‘F’ in place of an ‘E’ in their sign”.

– Sit (or lie) still, and find four things that you can feel. Again, more detail is better. “Butt on chair” isn’t as good as “right sock has fallen a bit and is lower than the left sock” or “I can feel the gentle breeze of the ventilation system moving the hairs on my right forearm”.

– Now focus on your hearing and identify three sounds you can hear. “Cars” isn’t as good as “the Doppler effect of the cars going by” or “the whirr of the computer fan.”

– The next thing is finding two things you can smell. If you can’t smell two different things, then think of two smells you really like. Again, describe them as well as you can.

– The last step is to think of one good thing about yourself. Be honest. If you’re feeling down, this can be difficult, but remember that everyone has at least one good thing about them.

If you think about it, each of the steps is harder and requires more concentration, which helps push what you were worried about over to the side. With luck, doing this once or twice will help break the cycle of anxiety/panic at least for a little while.

2) Water Over Hands
This one I discovered myself when washing my hands one day. Turn on the tap and put your hands into the stream. Now just feel and watch. Feel the water running over your hands. Feel the tiny variations in temperature. Watch the bubbles as they form and run over your hands and down the drain. Look at the paths the water takes as it flows over your hands and how easily you can move it around with subtle movements of your hands.

I like this one because I can use it in public restrooms without looking too weird.

3) Ice in hot water
Get a cup of hot water from the tap and drop an ice cube into it. Listen to the ice crack and watch as parts of it thin out and become translucent, then transparent. Does the ice move to a particular side? Does it move around at all while it’s melting?

4) Listening to music
This one worked quite well for me yesterday when I was in a slump. Get some uptempo music that you really like or find interesting, put it on speakers, and crank it up (but not so high you hurt your ears). Let the music wash over you. Try to pick out and listen to each instrument or voice one at a time. No ballads, no slow music. Something fast that you can tap your toes to.

5) Sit in front of a fan
Sit in front of a fan that’s turned to a low setting. Feel the air buffet you, feel the hair on your head and arms move. Notice the cooling effect the moving air has on your skin.

This is just a tiny sample of the many grounding techniques out there. I highly recommend having at least a couple of them in your toolbox to help you cope.

Do you have any particular techniques that work for you?

Stay safe!

Nice Weather, Poor Mood

I woke up today feeling much the same as yesterday. It was difficult to get excited or even interested in anything. After J went to work, I went back to bed and slept for another two hours or so. I got up again, had a fruit smoothie for breakfast, and wandered around the house, trying to figure out what to do. I put up the Anxiety post (it was already written), and tried to do something. Computer game? No interest. Make bread? Couldn’t be bothered. Play bass guitar? Nope. I went back to bed and spent the next three hours dozing and staring at the ceiling, wishing I was doing something – anything – instead of being a useless lump.

Finally, I managed to summon the willpower to pull myself out of bed and go for a walk on the treadmill downstairs. All I could think about was going back to bed even though it was the afternoon. I did half an hour and then caught myself before I could go back upstairs to bed. Listening to records often cheers me up and the bag with the records I’d bought on Monday was sitting on the floor right in front of me. I picked one of the 10” oldies, put it on the turntable, and gave it a bit of a cleaning. When I started it up, the blues poured out of the speakers in much better quality than I could have ever hoped for from vinyl pressed in 1952.

I sat down in the reclining chair in front of the speakers, turned up the volume, and let the music flow over me and sink in. After that record was done, I put on Boots by Nancy Sinatra. I could feel my mood lifting. Not a lot, mind you – but enough that I wasn’t thinking of going back to bed anymore. James Last’s Beach Party was next on the turntable and despite how cheese-tastic the music was, I found myself tapping my foot to it.

With my mood having gone from a four to a six, I got cleaned up and went back to the records, listening to them while waiting for J to come home so she could take me to my appointment with Dr W (my psychiatrist). She arrived a short time later and we talked for a little while before heading out to the hospital. It was gorgeous out – at least +10C and the air smelled and felt fresh. Between the weather and conversation with J, it was a very pleasant drive.

While I was in Dr W’s waiting room, I saw a couple of the staff that had taken care of me while I was in the psych ward. I felt a curious mixture of being happy to see them and not wanting to see them as we waved at each other. Then a fellow who I became friends with while in the hospital walked over and we had a good chat about how we were doing. It was very good to see him – I’d been curious as to how he was and it was great to see him smiling and hear that things were going well. I hope things continue to go well for him.

My appointment with Dr W went well and turned today into an important day for me. I’d been tired lately – not just feeling down, but actually tired. I’d been sleeping well, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. After discussing it with Dr W, he suggested we start lowering the dosage of some of my medications. Now that I think about it, it’s a significant event – if I don’t need as much medication, I must be getting better! He decreased two of them (Lorazepam and Quetiapine) and explained the need to take it slowly by saying it was like we’re in a car on an icy road. We have to be careful or we’ll end up in the ditch. I think I’ve already started to notice a difference – I don’t feel as tired as I usually am in the evening and with all the good stuff that happened this afternoon, I’m in a considerably better mood than I was this morning. Probably about a seven or so.

It also feels good to write this stuff down. It’s therapeutic in its own way.

Call it seven and a half.

Stay safe!

My Anxiety

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

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I think that I’ve always been more anxious than the average person, and I’ve felt that it’s my responsibility to keep everything (and everyone) around me safe and happy. Back when I was five years old, my family went on a trip to the coast. The plane ride was quite long, and they shut off the lights for people to get some sleep. Everyone around me was sleeping, but I couldn’t. What if something happened to the plane? It was a fundamental thing – I must keep watch.

But what could a five year old kid possibly do to help if there was a problem on a DC-10 plowing through the night skies?

The same thing happened with high school trips – the bus would be cruising along in the dark and the last of the students had either nodded off or picked up a book, but not me. I would be sitting straight in my seat, watching the front of the bus, the back of the bus, the terrain sliding by outside the window, and any approaching vehicles in case they were in the wrong lane. I just couldn’t close my eyes and relax.

Between the anxiety and the OCD, I was an excellent Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity (DR/BC) planner. At work, I’d embrace the anxiety and OCD to find the worst case scenario and then find something worse… and worse. Then I’d plan for it. It was quite similar to the freezer scenario from my earlier post about my OCD. My bosses encouraged me to imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen, regardless of whether it was rational or irrational. I was so good at it that people from different places would send me their DR/BC plans and ask me to see if there was something worse that they needed to plan for.

I could always find something.

Fast-forward to today and it takes an effort for me to not think of the worst case scenario everywhere I look. I have to think about what’s going on and try to only listen to the rational side of my mind. Unfortunately, I’m still not great at that.

My anxiety is pervasive and has its ugly tendrils everywhere. My father used to be a fire fighter so I was well acquainted with the colours and sounds of the trucks. Since before my first breakdown last year, something happened and I’m no longer able to cope well with any kind of siren, klaxon, or warning alarm. I freeze and my mind goes wild, thinking of the worst possible thing those sirens could mean. Is the building I’m in on fire? Has J been in an accident? Is there a real fire or a false alarm? What do I need to do to help?

Even typing this out makes my pulse rate climb.

When things were getting bad at work, I would leave my office and hide if I heard footsteps coming down the hall. If my phone rang, I’d leave my office so I wouldn’t have to answer it.

I still have difficulties answering the phone, even when I’m safe and secure in my own house. I can call people with no problem, but when the phone rings… I just can’t answer it because it could be something awful.

For years, I was able to corral my anxiety and use it to my advantage, but eventually it got too big for me to handle. Now I find it difficult to go outside or do things I used to be good at and enjoyed or even something simple like answering the telephone. With therapy and medication I have come a long way but still have a long way to go.

If you feel anxious or nervous or worried all the time or find yourself thinking about the worst possible outcome for everything around you, don’t try to fix it yourself. Don’t make my mistake – get help sooner rather than when you’re at (or have exceeded) your breaking point.

Stay safe!

Aaaaand… There’s The Down

I knew something was different when I woke up this morning. It was harder to get out of bed, very tempting to not shower or put on clean clothes, more difficult to leave the house for my appointment. Upon getting home from my appointment, I just wanted to go back to bed or sit in a chair and stare at the wall. I gave my parents a call to talk and that helped a bit, but I’m still feeling quite down compared to the last few days.

It sucks, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s normal. You can’t enjoy the good days if you don’t have the not-so-good days. Nobody has a great day every single day – even without depression, it’s normal to have days where you feel kind of bummed.

On one of my first appointments with Dr C, she drew a diagram that compares how people with mental illness would like to recover versus what it’s really like:

008-Daily-1Life is a series of ups and downs. Recovery is no different. It’s important to remember that. I may be having a bad day now, but I’m still light-years ahead of where even my good days used to be a year ago. It helps a bit just knowing that.

I keep that diagram at the front of my binder for easy reference (I’m the one who wrote “REMEMBER THIS” at the top).

It’s also important to remember that just because I’m having a bad day, it doesn’t mean I’m sliding backwards. Even several bad days in a row doesn’t mean that I’m in trouble. Turning things around could be as simple as doing some anxiety-relieving exercises or watching a movie or knocking something off a To Do list.

I use a scale of 1-10 to indicate how my mood is:
– 10: complete and utter bliss (very, very few days fit in here)
– 9: Doing great
– 8: Feeling well
– 7: I’m okay
– 6: Not at my best
– 5: Feeling a little down, difficult to motivate myself
– 4: Feeling very down, difficult to get out of bed, eat, drink, or take a shower
– 3: Feeling very down and having bad thoughts **Talk to a professional or Crisis Centre**
– 2: Feeling awful and planning a way out **Go to the hospital**
– 1: Pure, unfettered misery and wanting to act on the plan **CALL SOMEONE AND GET TO THE HOSPITAL NOW**

The last few days I was running an 8 or 9. Right now I’m sitting around a 5.

So what changed?

I have no idea. I didn’t get any bad news yesterday or today – in fact, my appointment with Dr H this morning went very well. It’s cloudy today but I don’t think that’s it. Have I been doing too much over the last few days and I’m just tired?

Maybe my brain got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

Has that ever happened to you?

Stay safe!

Record Shopping And Other Important Things

Turns out I had no reason to be anxious about going to the record store with WG. We met up and it was just like no time had passed. We talked about everything from how he was doing, to what movies we’d seen lately or like to see, to records and bands, to how I was doing. I really enjoyed hanging out with him again and am relieved we’re still good friends.

The record store worked out quite well too. Besides WG and myself, there were probably only about five other people in the store, which was great. Plus, they were playing good music over the speakers. WG and I both headed over to the new records bins and then I wandered over to the dollar shelves. And boy, did I hit the jackpot! I picked up 14 new records, but the gems of the day were these three 10” records from 1954, 1951, and 1952, respectively:

They’re in great shape – with a bit of cleaning they should play just fine. I like listening to old records and thinking about whether any of the musicians are still around or what they did, what was their world like, what did they think of disco, that sort of thing.

WG had to get back to work so with record bags under our arms, we headed back to his car and had another good chat. I really enjoyed getting together with him and hope to do it again soon. Maybe I’ll see if I can have him over for lunch or something. It would be nice if we kept in touch more than once every couple of months!

The rest of my day went well. I spent some time cleaning up the house a bit, watering the plants, and trying to figure out what the horrifying thing in my little aquarium was. Turns out one of the shrimp had moulted overnight and its old skin was just floating around the tank like some kind of ethereal bug/shrimp/skeleton. Blargh.

Today has been another good day. Tomorrow I have an appointment with my GP, Dr H, and then I plan to try to do some painting while listening to crappy records. Paper/canvas painting, not house/wall painting.

Another thing I need to do is figure out a daily schedule. Since I got out of the hospital, I’ve been skipping from one thing to the next as the mood strikes me, but if I’m having a bad day it’ll be hard enough to get out of bed, nevermind keep my mind engaged and feet moving around. Having a schedule that lists what I should do (and when) should make it easier to focus when I’m down and hopefully help me to push the dark clouds back.

Stay Safe!

My OCD

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

The first thing I thought when I was told I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was “but I don’t have any problems with washing my hands”. What I didn’t know was how broad a spectrum of behaviours OCD covers. Compulsive, repetitive hand washing is just one of the many ways OCD presents itself. My particular flavour of OCD is “checking”. Is the oven off, did I leave the door unlocked, are the car tires flat, did I flush the toilet – that sort of thing.

One of the best examples of my behaviour is where the keys are before I go to bed. Most people would remember where their keys are; some would take a quick glance to make sure they’re inside the house or something. In my case, I need to do the following:
1) I need to be able to see the keys
2) The keys need to be in the right order on the hooks
3) I need to touch the keys
4) I need to tell J that the keys are in the right place
5) I need J’s acknowledgement.

Some days I will be stuck on steps 1-3, repeating them over and over again, or even have to leave for a moment and redo the process all over again. I can’t help it.

Why do I do this? Well, despite seeing all of the keys on the right hooks right in front of me, in my mind’s eye, I keep seeing an image where it’s night time, the outside light above the front door is on, and there’s a set of keys hanging from the doorknob. Then I worry that someone will take the keys, which then escalates to include things like vandalism, theft, and even harm to J or myself.

Without satisfying my compulsion and proving to myself that the keys are in the right place and everything is okay, it is impossible for me to go to sleep. I just can’t do it.

Another example is the chest freezer in the basement. Until recently I couldn’t close the freezer lid without banging on it with my fist and scrutinizing the surface, looking for a reflection. Most people would close the lid and not give it any further thought. Others may worry that the food may spoil. My mind would go to irrationally huge and improbable circumstances. The typical result was that the freezer would warm up, which would make the compressor work harder, which could cause it to seize, which would cause it to heat up and start a fire, which would burn the house down, which would spread to the neighbour’s house and kill their kids.

I know how ridiculous that sounds, and in real life this would never happen. We might end up with some spoiled food, but that’s pretty much as bad as it would ever get. Unfortunately, once my mind started spiralling out of control I was unable to do anything about it. I had to thump the freezer lid with my fist and look for the reflection or horrible things would happen.

Another example is when I take exams. If I finish before the time runs out, I have to start from the beginning and redo all of the questions over and over until they announce that time’s up. Even then, I have a hard time passing the exam to the invigilator.

I could go on for many pages but hopefully by now you’ve got the picture. Like so many other things, it’s worse when I’m tired or under pressure.

Dr C began treating my OCD by asking me to stop and think about what was going on in my head when I was doing things like banging on the freezer. It was difficult at first, but I’ve become much more aware of what thoughts are going on in my head. After that, we did a lot of Exposure and Response Prevention (E&RP), where I’d resist a compulsion for as long as I could and chart the amount of anxiety I felt and what was going on in my head. Here’s one of my work sheets from when I was obsessing over whether I’d flushed a toilet. You can see my anxiety go up and then come back down. There were quite a few that went up and up before I had to give in but on that particular day, I was successful:

E&RP ChartWith Dr C guiding me and a lot of work, the E&RP has been quite effective for me. The freezer lid and many other triggers are no longer an issue. I still slip occasionally but for the most part, I can just stop, turn around, and walk away. While my OCD will never completely disappear, little victories like the freezer lid give me hope that I can break free of many of my other checking compulsions.

Stay Safe!

A Little Anxious This Morning

So today I’m going to meet up with WG and we’re going to go to the record store. I’m a little nervous because I haven’t seen WG in months and I need to drive to our rendezvous point. I really hope things go well – I really value WG’s friendship and don’t want to ruin it. He’s the one who got me into record collecting and really expanded the musical world for me. Late ’70s UK punk is not something I had ever given any thought to, but he introduced me to it and now I really enjoy it.

As an aside, If you’ve never heard of The Undertones, I strongly recommend listening to almost any song from their first two albums. “Get Over You” is a great song. It’s one of the songs I turn way up and immerse myself in whenever I’m feeling bad. It usually helps cheer me up.

So anyway, I’m really hoping things go well today. WG is pretty laid back but you just never know. People change, right? I know I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Wish me luck!

Stay safe!

Characters

To keep things a little less cluttered, I’m going to list the various characters I talk about here and will keep updating it as more are added. For privacy reasons (theirs and mine), I’m not going to use their real names.

DA: A good friend
Doctor C: My psychologist & therapist (away on leave)
Doctor H: My GP
Doctor P: My new psychologist & therapist
Doctor W: My psychiatrist
FA and DM: Good friends
J: My wonderful wife 🙂
Mom, Dad, Sister, in-laws, etc.
WG: A good friend