Accomplish Something Today

I have found that mental illness can be pretty ruthless. I’m never sure when I’m going to be hit with a huge bout of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, fear, or worse. Up until recently, I’ve been enjoying relatively few nightmares but they seem to be making a bit of a comeback. I have tools to deal with most of this stuff, but it can be very discouraging to have to fight off the same things over and over again.

One thing that I find that helps is to break my day down into the tiniest pieces and treat every completed piece like a win. On the days I’m stuck in bed, even something as simple as sitting up and putting my feet on the floor can be a win. Making breakfast and taking my pills is a win. Sitting on the couch with the blinds open and enjoying the view outside is a win. Taking the time to do my self-compassion exercises is a win. Calling someone to talk is a win.

There are going to be some days when I can’t even put my feet on the floor. I know it will happen but hopefully they will be few and far between.

You know what I find sucks the most about all this? I have to do it. J, Dr C, and Dr W can help (and help a lot), but I’m the one who has to go through the steps and do the work. There doesn’t appear to be any instant or magic solution to all of this – it’s all about how much effort I put into it.

For that reason, I try really hard to accomplish something – anything – each day. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but on most days I can put at least a couple of wins under my name.

Stay safe!

Finally Did It!

I think I’ve said this before, but J has been my biggest support, encouragement, and cheerleader throughout this whole ordeal. She knows how much I enjoyed riding my motorcycle and was very cautiously encouraging me to get back on and go for a ride. We picked up a new jacket earlier this week so I had all the equipment I needed.

This morning, I was very nervous about going for a ride and was thinking of putting it off until tomorrow. J suggested that I should try today since traffic should’ve been light and the weather was good. Finally, I agreed and put on all my gear. J went out to the garage with me and was very encouraging all along the way.

I should mention that I haven’t taken a ride since September 30th, 2015 and other than an oil and coolant change, the bike has been sitting all that time. I could feel my anxiety building as I thought about what would happen if it suddenly stalled in the middle of a turn or what I’d do if it broke down a little too far from home to push it back. I hit the starter and after a couple of cranks, the bike started right up, sounding healthy and ready to go. I talked with J for a bit while it warmed up, then got on and duck-walked it between the cars and the house. Once I was past the cars, I let out the clutch and put my feet up.

As soon as I turned out of the driveway and onto the street, it felt like the bike and I hadn’t missed a step. It’s not a fast bike and it sure isn’t pretty, but when I’m riding, my mind clears and all I can focus on is the road around me and the bike. It’s a great feeling. I tend to anthropomorphise quite a bit when dealing with the bike, but when you’re riding down the highway at 100km/h it’s hard not to think of the bike as my buddy. We both have good days and bad days and we both cover for each other’s mistakes. It’s kind of like a horse, just exactly not a horse.

Anyway, I brought my helmet camera along for some proof:

It felt good to be back on the bike. I put about 25km on it before I pulled back into the garage. I wasn’t nervous about it anymore, and I think there will be many motorcycle therapy sessions in store for me over the next while.

J, if you’re reading this – thank you so much for all your help and encouragement! You help make me brave and I really appreciate it.

Stay safe!

This Sucks

I’ve got to say, I’m getting tired of all this. You’d think that being able to stay at home for over a year would be fun, but that’s not how I see it. To me, it’s boring, tiring, and depressing.

I wish I was working.

I wish I could work.

I wish I could hop in the truck and drive to wherever I want.

I wish I didn’t have to take two handfuls of pills every day just to keep my head above water.

I wish that nobody had to worry about me.

I wish I hadn’t scared my wife and family so many times.

I wish I could jump out of bed, stretch, and smile at the sunrise.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that I needed help earlier.

I wish that I didn’t have the same nightmares coming back to haunt me again and again.

I wish that the medication I’m taking didn’t make me gain weight.

I wish that I hadn’t had to spend four and a half months in the psych ward.

I wish I could concentrate enough to do anything I wanted.

I wish that I could say that everything is fine.

I wish sirens and loud noises didn’t scare the hell out of me.

I wish I could look at a government office without my stomach turning.

I wish I could trust myself.

I wish I could answer the phone.

I wish I didn’t want to run and hide every time the doorbell rings.

I wish I didn’t disappoint my friends.

I wish I could get angry at things again.

I wish I had an appetite and a “full” switch.

I wish I never had to worry about having a panic attack again.

I wish everything wasn’t so difficult to do.

I wish I didn’t want to curl up into a ball and hide in the basement.

I wish going out places wasn’t as distressing and difficult as it is.

I wish I was a reliable person again.

I wish I could contribute.

I wish I could look at the door once and trust that it was locked.

I wish I didn’t remember bad things from work so vividly.

I wish I could enjoy thunderstorms again.

I wish I wasn’t scared about what the future holds.

I wish I felt better.

I wish this stuff didn’t happen to anyone.

 

Stay safe.

When The Wheels Fell Off, Part II

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

Christmas had been a little rough for me. The fact that everyone had to come visit us instead of the other way around really bothered me and I felt like I’d let everyone down. The final trigger that sent me to the hospital the second time was a telephone conversation with my disability insurance case agent. They like to call every six weeks or so to see how things are going. Unfortunately, I was (and still am) unable to answer the phone, so J spoke with them and set up an appointment for them to call when she’d be home to help me.

Up to this point I was feeling not too badly – maybe around a five or six. The thought of talking to the insurance company made my stomach churn a bit but I thought that with J there things would be okay.

When the call came, J answered the phone and then put it on speaker so we could both participate in the conversation. I was immediately nervous and could feel panic building in my chest. The case agent was pleasant enough, but the questions she asked were very difficult for me to answer. J stepped in quite a few times to help, but as the interview continued, it felt more like a grilling than a conversation to see how I was doing.

After a while, I began to shut down and answered fewer and fewer questions. All I could think about was how the insurance company was going to cancel my insurance and the financial hardships that would surely follow. At the time, J wasn’t entirely sure what was going on with her job and the idea of losing the house felt very real to me. I could feel myself beginning to fall apart.

After what seemed like hours, the conversation ended. I was in very rough shape and J was concerned about me. A few days later at my Dr C appointment, I broke down and wanted to kill myself. Thankfully, Dr C could see what was going on and wouldn’t let me leave her office by myself. J was on the phone with Dr W, telling him what was going on and came to pick me up. Fortunately, there was a bed available in the hospital so I was able to get in.

As I said earlier, the insurance company wanted to call around every six weeks to interview me. Dr W called them, told them what had happened, and that they were a trigger and weren’t to call until he told them they could. He told me that I didn’t need to worry about the calls and that helped me quite a bit. There was still a lot of fixing to be done, though, and five weeks later, I was home.

Stay safe!

My Panic Disorder

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

Panic attacks are awful. Usually I can feel them coming and I get scared even before they hit. My chest hurts, my vision changes, my body feels like it’s screaming all over, and my mind completely gives up rational thought and all of my fears and insecurities and worst-case scenarios wash over me again and again.

More than almost anything, I hate panic attacks.

You know what’s really dumb, though? If I’m not careful, I can have a panic attack about having a panic attack. Yes, really. I worry a lot about having a panic attack when I’m driving or out in public somewhere like a store or mall or gas station.

I used to be a confident, average driver. I’ve got a little truck mostly for winter driving and a motorcycle for the summer. I used to really enjoy driving, but one morning, I had a severe panic attack while driving and ever since, I feel anxious even being a passenger in a car.

I’m very limited as to when and where I can drive right now. I’ve been improving things a bit at a time, but I’m a long way from being the reliable and comfortable driver I used to be. I worry that I’ll have a panic attack while driving and lose control of the vehicle and hurt someone or stop up traffic. I’ve been on 4000km trips with my motorcycle but last summer I couldn’t even sit on it, nevermind starting it up and riding it.

The thing is, a lot of the time when a panic attack hits, I’m the only one who knows about it. I’ve had several panic attacks in the local grocery store – including once while I was at the checkout – and aside from my own discomfort and misery, I don’t think anyone else really knew what was going on. I may have been breathing a little funny and sweating for no reason but it’s not like I was jumping up and down or running around screaming.

Sometimes doing a round or two of grounding helps. Sometimes being fixated on an object like the ones I have in my stress box helps. Sometimes nothing works and I just have to ride it out, reminding myself that they don’t last forever.

The good thing is, thanks to Dr C, Dr W, and J, I’m not having nearly as many as I used to.

Stay safe!

Meditation

On most days, I find meditation to be very helpful for anxiety and I try to include a time for it every day. I’m not really into the “ommm” type of meditation; instead, I usually focus on my breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to do the trick.

There are times when meditation doesn’t work well for me. For example, when I’m hearing voices, meditation can be problematic (and even tortuous). Similarly, if I’m in over my head with anxiety, it can be difficult to calm the crowd in my head enough to get any benefits.

When it does work, however, I find it works well. It’s like a cool mist settling down over a raging forest fire – it doesn’t put out the flames, but it makes them more manageable, which can help tip the balance towards a good day instead of a bad one.

I find that to meditate successfully, I must be in a room where the light is pretty constant and there is very little sound or some white noise. The sound of a distant thunderstorm is nice, too, but in the city it’s difficult to separate that from other sounds like traffic, construction, or lawnmowers.

Even if I can’t completely get into the meditation, I find that sitting still with my eyes closed for a while helps recharge my batteries – as long as the anxiety or voices don’t come storming in.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM) has downloadable audio files that I have found helpful for both breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. You can find them here: (http://www.adam.mb.ca/audio-relaxation).

Stay safe!

Don’t Wait

I was a bit of a strange kid. I’d always stay awake during trips in case something happened, I’d always be the designated driver, and when I was in university I’d always be the one who helped (and sometimes carried) the drunk people up to their dorm rooms and check in on them. It wasn’t fun but I always felt like I had to be the responsible person in the room.

Fast forward some years to when I started working in my current job. I was responsible for ensuring business continuity in the event of a disaster. Disaster planning became one of my specialties – at the time I didn’t realize it, but I was feeding my OCD and using it to help me be a better planner. Other people would send me their disaster recovery plans and I’d always find something that they’d missed, regardless of how unlikely it was.

Then, in 2012, management changed. I could no longer get spare parts for the equipment that I was responsible for and had to start cannibalizing redundant systems. Management didn’t seem to understand or care how important the systems were. I was starting to spin out of control, my OCD and anxiety opening the door to panic attacks and severe depression.

All along, J was trying to get me to go and see someone about what was going on. I was sure I could handle it myself – I figured all I needed to do was put my head down and work harder. I started getting headaches every day. I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. I was not pleasant to talk to. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t able to get angry anymore, I just felt dull irritation and resignation to everything.

J was very patient and supportive of me, and when I finally started to listen to her and looked around for a therapist, she was 150% onboard. My first session was very difficult. I wasn’t sure how things went, and to be honest, I wasn’t completely sure I needed to be there. It didn’t take long, though, for Dr C to figure out what was going on. My OCD had taken over and I was spiralling downwards like a bird with a broken wing. She suggested I speak with my GP about medications, which, while terrible at the time, paved the way for me to meet Dr W and get the proper medications.

Could I have avoided a lot of these problems and heartache if I’d just listened to J and went to a therapist before I was already in deep trouble? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is yes. Maybe not all of them, but it would have helped. Even just the grounding techniques that Dr C taught me were invaluable and, if I’d known them earlier, would have helped me tremendously at work. I don’t think I would have ended up in the psych ward twice, and, with luck, I wouldn’t have experienced suicidal ideations or auditory hallucinations.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you have family or friends who are worried about you, or you’re worried about yourself, don’t wait to see someone. There are resources out there you can access, people who want to help you, and people who are paid to help you. Don’t wait until you feel like there’s no way out or nobody who you can talk to. Millions of people experience the same feelings – you are not alone. Nip mental illness in the bud by talking to someone before things get out of control!

Stay safe!

My Worry Time

I have a lot of anxiety. I’m taking medication for it and undergoing therapy for it, but I’ve always been an anxious person. You know the type – the guy who’d rather get to the airport three hours early and go through security right away just in case? That’s me. Whenever I hear sirens, my first thoughts are that I did something wrong or one of my family or friends is in trouble. Once I became ill, my anxiety shot through the roof and was making me do all kinds of strange things. I’d pace back and forth with my arms moving around like someone else was running them, stutter or lose words mid-sentence, and be completely unable to relax.

One of the more difficult but rewarding tools that Dr C has taught me is how to compartmentalize my worry. I found the idea kind of silly at first but now I’m a firm believer. The idea is to reserve a specific block of time each day where you can sit down and concentrate on all the things that are worrying you. It can be everything from OCD matters to family issues, to the irrational fears that tell you you’re never going to get better. You concentrate hard on those worries and think through them one at a time.

Once you’re done, you set aside the worries and go about your day. Now, it would be ridiculous to think that just because you’ve worried for an hour you won’t have any worries the rest of the day, but now you can tell them that you’ll get to them again tomorrow. Sometimes I treat the worries like bullies and tell them in my mind (and sometimes out loud) to get lost. Other times I tell them to go ahead and say whatever they want but I’m going to ignore them for now.

I’m still not very good at it, but with the practice I’ve had so far it’s definitely helping. My worry time is from 9 to 10AM every day (unless something else comes up), which makes sure I’m awake and alert and am ready to worry my face off. I think it’s important to set aside a specific time so that I can tell the worries that I’ll talk to them at 9AM tomorrow. That way, it feels less like a therapy tool and more like some kind of strange office meeting.

What do I worry about? Well, pretty much every aspect of my life. Am I getting better? When will I be able to go back to work? Is J getting tired of me having crisis after crisis and is thinking of leaving? What’s going to happen if J loses her job? Am I going to be of any use in a crisis situation, like one of my parents getting sick or worse? Is the house okay? Are DA, FA, and WG still going to be my friends in a year? What the hell am I going to do if we get bedbugs?

That’s just a small sample. Like I said, I worry about pretty much everything. At the end of the hour, I say to myself that the worry period is over and will begin again tomorrow at 9AM and all of the worries are invited back. I hope they don’t come back, but if they do, I’ll deal with them then.

I have also found that this takes some of the bite out of the worries for the rest of the day. Being able to tell myself I’ve already worked on it helps a great deal.

This is another very useful technique that I’m going to keep in my tool box. Maybe someday I will be able to use less than an hour. That would be great!

Stay safe!

My Problem With The Phone

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

One of the things that really bothers me about my illness is how it’s got its tendrils wrapped around almost every aspect of my life, making normally simple tasks difficult or impossible. One of the best examples of this is answering the phone, or rather, how I’m unable to.

It started happening while I was still at work. At first I was just dreading getting phone calls. Then I would sit there and stare at the call display and be unable to answer the phone unless I was sure I knew who it was. It finally got to the point where the phone would ring and I would get up and leave my office because I was afraid of who was calling or what they may have wanted. The same thing was happening at home – the phone would ring and I would try to ignore it or wait until it was done ringing and then check the call display log to see who called.

Here’s what happens when the phone rings: my pulse and breathing speed up, I start to sweat, and there’s an uncomfortable feeling in my chest that reminds me that a panic attack is probably on the way. All I can think about while the phone is ringing is that someone’s calling to call me back into work, wants to question the legitimacy of my illness, or has terrible, world-shattering news to tell me. I feel like a frightened little kid who wants to hide under a piece of heavy furniture – just because the phone is ringing! It’s embarrassing and frustrating at the same time.

I have tried Exposure Response but as I have no control over when the phone rings, it’s difficult to get myself ready for it. I’ve tried changing the ringer volume and sound but that hasn’t helped either. I’m not sure what the best course of action is at this point but I think this is something I need to work on with Dr C. If I ever want to get back to work (and I do want to get back to work), I really need to be able to reliably answer the phone.

Even typing the previous sentence out makes me feel silly. I’m a 40+ year old man who gets scared whenever the phone rings. I understand that mental illness has a lot of manifestations, but of all of them that I’ve experienced so far, this one has to be right up there with the most embarrassing.

I am hopeful, though. Dr C and Dr W have guided me through many dark and scary corners of my mind and I’m able to do a lot more than I used to. Hopefully this will be no different.

Stay safe!