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!

I Am Not Weak

My mother-in-law sent me an email a while ago when I was feeling pretty down. She told me she wished I’d stop beating up on myself and remember that I’m sick, not weak.

She was right.

On my down days it’s difficult to get out of bed, difficult to shower, difficult to feed myself and difficult to take my medication. It can feel like I’m taking steps backward in my recovery. It took me a long time to realize that that feeling of slipping backwards is part of my recovery – every day can’t be rainbows, unicorns, and sprinkle-covered donuts.

Mental illness is just that – an illness. The brain is a very complex machine and we don’t understand a lot of what makes it do different things. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists are getting better at it all the time, though.

We are living in good times. People are no longer locked away in asylums for the rest of their lives, militaries are starting to recognize that PTSD is not “cowardice”, lobotomies are no longer suggested as the only way to “cure” patients, and Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) is a precise and safe tool – far removed from the old brute force electroshock days.

There are many antidepressant, antipsychotic, and panic-relieving drugs available. Combine that with new psychological treatments like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and it becomes apparent that we are very lucky to be living in this age of psychiatric and psychological treatment.

There’s still a long way to go, however. Too many people still view mental illness as a weakness or a failure on the part of the sufferer. Too many employers either don’t recognize mental illness as a problem or don’t follow their own mental illness program. Other employers have a mental illness program but have byzantine requirements in place to access it. Insurance companies hate paying out money so they’ll put applicants who are having difficulty functioning through the wringer to try and avoid it.

It’s very important to remember that mental illness IS an illness. I certainly didn’t ask for it, and I’d really like to return to a somewhat normal state as soon as possible. It may take years, but I’m going to do my best. I’m sick, not weak.

You’re not weak, either.

Stay safe!

When The Wheels Fell Off, Part III

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

A few months ago, DA invited me out to his cabin for the weekend to help him get some stuff ready for the summer. I only thought briefly about it before saying yes. I’ve always enjoyed myself at his cabin and enjoy working, riding bikes, or just hanging out. This time, the main focus was to clear deadfall from the dirtbike trails he maintains on his property. Lots of hard work, and hard work helps me feel better. It seemed like a great test for how I was doing.

He picked me up at 10AM and we headed to his cabin. As soon as we arrived, we got to work. We finished putting his dirtbike back together, changed the oil in his quad, and started in on the deadfall. Everything was going well. We worked until dark, then had supper.

After supper, we listened to music and talked about all kinds of things. At around 1130PM, he headed off to his room and I unbundled my sleeping bag and started to get ready for bed. A flash caught my eye – lightning in the distance. Not a big deal, I thought – I’ve enjoyed thunderstorms since I was a little kid watching them through the window with my mom.

The lightning and thunder came closer. I thought about how I wouldn’t be home until the next day; the thought made me uncomfortable. Discomfort changed to anxiety as the storm started to boom around the cabin, shaking the walls. Anxiety started to turn to panic, which caught me completely off guard. I should have been enjoying myself with the storm raging outside – after all, I was dry and safe. I turned on my little tripod flashlight and shone it at the ceiling to light up the area a bit (I can start to panic if I forget where I am) but it didn’t help. For the next four and a half hours, I was either terrified or outright panicking. My nighttime medications weren’t even putting a dent into it, either. I was wide awake and scared. Storm after storm rumbled through and all I wanted was to be at home, hiding in the basement with J. Being afraid of the storm was so foreign to me that it fed into my panic, too – what had I done that had broken that part of me?

Eventually, the storms died out into the distance and I fell into a nightmare-filled sleep. I woke up a few hours later feeling drained and anxious. Talking with DA and getting back to clearing trails helped a lot, but I just couldn’t shake both the anxiety and the shame I felt.

After we finished the deadfall, DA and I cleaned up and headed home. He dropped me off at home and instead of the instant relief I expected to feel, I still felt anxious and scared. Talking to J helped a lot but I just couldn’t shake it.

Over the next few nights, nightmares kept me from getting much sleep and I fell deeper into my anxiety and panic. I finally realized that I needed some extra help. J got in touch with Dr W and he had a bed ready for me 24 hours later. Ten days after that, I was out and feeling much better.

I think the problem was that I took on too much stuff at once. I hadn’t been away from home prior to that, and staying overnight was probably too much. The added stress from staying overnight probably didn’t help me deal with the storm, and the lack of sleep over the next while magnified all of the negative things going on and leaving me in really bad shape.

We haven’t had a good storm at home yet this summer, so I’m not sure if I’m going to enjoy it or want to hide out under the furniture in the basement. I’m interested to see what’s going to happen.

Dr C and Dr W wanted me to make sure that I realized that – even though it was really rough – I went out to DA’s cabin and stayed overnight. It was quite an accomplishment for someone who’s uncomfortable leaving the house. They’re right, but I sure could’ve done without all the drama.

DA has some more projects that he was asking if I could give him a hand with, and J has offered to drive out and pick me up in the evening so I didn’t have to stay overnight. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but I hope that I’ll be able to help him out.

Stay safe!

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was pick up the phone and call a psychologist’s office and tell them I needed to talk to someone. J had been suggesting it for a couple of years, and even when I was in free-fall it was difficult to accept that I needed help.

Another really difficult thing was talking to my GP and telling him that I was in trouble and needed help.

I’d waited too long, though, and ended up in the hospital for three months after nearly ending it all. While I was there, I felt very guilty about asking the nurses or Dr W for anything. You know what happened? Every single one of the health care professionals I dealt with told me to not be afraid to ask if I needed anything, and that’s why they were there. One of the nurses even helped teach me that it was okay to be a little assertive if there was something I needed.

I often felt guilty about taking up a space in the ward, too. The answer I would always get back was that I deserved to be there just as much as anyone else and if they thought I was okay to go home, they’d kick me out. I was there because I needed to be there.

It took me a long time to accept that, but it’s true, and if it’s true for me, it’s true for you, too. If you’re having troubles, go ahead and ask someone for help. There are people out there who want to help you. You don’t have to face your problems alone.

Let me repeat that – YOU DON’T HAVE TO FACE YOUR PROBLEMS ALONE. It can seem daunting, but all you need to do is tell someone that you need help. Talk to your doctor, go to your local emergency room, call your local mental health crisis line – just reach out a little bit and people will help you.

If I broke my leg, would I call someone? You bet I would. Mental illness shouldn’t be any different and should be treated as seriously as a broken leg or an infection.

So, if you’re having a really tough time, please pick up the phone and call someone. Start getting the help you need and deserve.

Stay safe!

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!