So… About The Last Few Days

This week hasn’t been one of my greatest. Wednesday and Thursday in particular.

To start with, I haven’t been sleeping very well and I’m pretty sure it’s caught up with me. I’m clumsy, walk into things or knock stuff over, and I’ve been fishing for words a lot lately. Even when I have the word, I often don’t trust myself enough to use it without consulting a dictionary. You know when you stare at a word long enough and it doesn’t right anymore? Like the spelling is wrong, or even that the letters aren’t letters, but a bunch of weird symbols? That’s been happening a lot, and it’s very frustrating when I’m trying to write something. It’s frustrating AND embarrassing when I’m standing in front of J, trying to tell her something and I’m waving my arms, trying to will the word I want to say into my head. It’s the same thing that happens when I’m on the phone with someone like my parents or my sister. I feel dumb, I feel unsure, and it really bothers me.

If I’m having a thought and want to mention it later, I need to write it down or it gets lost. J and I were having a conversation the other day and I couldn’t keep two thoughts in my head at the same time. That’s not an exaggeration, either – I couldn’t keep track of two thoughts without writing it down, and in the time it took me to write one down, I’d forgotten the other. That is also very frustrating and embarrassing.

Just in case you’re wondering – no, I haven’t had a stroke. Nor have I been drinking or making “adjustments” to my medication. I’m pretty sure I’m just overtired.

My weight is also really bothering me. I used to think I was fat before I put on 60lbs after I got sick. Now, I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror when I’m brushing my teeth. None of my old clothes fit. J had to buy me a new winter parka because I couldn’t do up the zipper on my old one. Frankly, I don’t really care about the health aspect of me being fat; what bothers me the most is how I look and how inconvenient being fat is. I’m embarrassed around my family and friends, who all try not to say anything but are worried I’ll drop dead from a heart attack or diabetes or any of the three billion different diseases and syndromes related to being overweight.

For the last while, I’ve been working on ACT with Dr P. More specifically, the personal values aspect of it. One of the hardest exercises I’ve had to do was work with him to come up with a list of what I value, give them a value out of ten that says how important I think those values are, and then think about each of them and come up with another value out of ten that reflects how those values are ranked in my real life – in what I say and do.

There are a couple of them that really bother me. Selflessness and loyalty, for example. Believe it or not (and if you are someone who knows me, you may not), I want to help people out and make them safe and happy. I was always the designated driver. I despise moving my own stuff, but don’t mind helping others move. If someone’s upset, I don’t mind lending an ear or a shoulder and trying to help them out with whatever’s going on. I don’t like the heat and I don’t like bugs, but I’ll happily stand in the middle of a patch of poison ivy, getting swarmed by ants and ticks, to help somebody set something up at their cabin. If I see someone stuck in the snow, I’ll stop and help get them moving, even if I have no idea who they are.

Selflessness is very important to me. I want to be able to help J out with anything she’s having difficulty with. I want to make her life easier, to give her more time to enjoy her day. Same thing with my family. I was speaking with my dad the other day and he said that he’d really like to get together for a BBQ or take a road trip. I would really like to be able to do that. I don’t have many friends, but the ones I do have I treasure. I want to be the person that they can call on if they need anything. I want to be available and helpful, to make their lives easier. Even with strangers, I want to be helpful. I’d really like to volunteer at the hospital, reading to or talking with people, playing cards… something to get their minds off of their predicament, if only for a moment. I’d like to be able to give back to the mental health resources and programs around here, too.

But here’s the thing about me nowadays: I do nothing. I accomplish nothing. I produce nothing.

The other day, J asked me to pre-order the groceries so she could stop in at the store and it would all be ready, taking her five minutes instead of an hour to do the shopping. I happily spent half an hour browsing 800 different kinds of pasta and beans, and then, once I’d clicked “submit”, I sat back, happy that I’d done something to make J’s life easier.

But then I thought about it, then thought about it some more. And then it hit me – that was kind of pathetic. J does all the shopping, all the driving, all the running-around-town-to-get-stuff-done, and I spend a half hour every couple of weeks clicking on a website to order groceries. She does everything.

This problem of me doing nothing affects my friends and family, too. If anybody wants to see me, they have to come over. If I want to see someone, they have to come over. I only see my sister and nephews if they get on a plane and come here. I like being an uncle, and I would really like to know the kids better before they’re grown up and out on their own.

I want to be selfless, but if I want to do anything with anybody, that person is the one who has to expend the time, effort, and resources to meet up. That’s not selfless – that’s… pretty much the opposite of selfless.

I talked with Dr P about this kind of stuff and he turned my questions around and asked me what I could do to help people from home. I thought I could write some more articles about my experiences with mental health. I also thought it would be a good idea to donate to some charities or projects that I feel are worthwhile.

But doing that feels utterly insignificant. In the grand scheme of things, will me donating $50 to the local food bank make any kind of difference? Does anybody other than Russian web bots and a couple of my friends and family even know that my website exists? In both cases, probably not.

Thinking about this stuff has got me grinding my teeth and getting headaches like I used to get every day when I was at my job.

I texted with one of J’s aunts and she said something that has stuck with me. We were talking about her volunteering work and she said this:

“I can’t do huge things so I decided I’m going to be the rock that causes ripples.”

I think that’s a really good way of looking at things. I do.

But again, I do nothing. I accomplish nothing. I produce nothing. No ripples.

I haven’t even been able to hammer out that little blurb about cells that I want to send to my nephews. I keep looking at it and there’s always something wrong. There’s a wrong word, or a sentence that doesn’t have to be as long as it is, or something reads awkwardly. I’m not trying to write a thesis here, I’m pretty much just trying to take some microscope pictures and write a description. JUST FINISH IT, I tell myself. But I can’t.

I’m not looking to have my birthday named as a civic holiday. I just want to be useful. Cause some ripples. Make someone’s life a little better. Because right now, I feel that as far as the Universe goes, I’m a net negative.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be over here, alarmed at the creaking noises the chair makes when I sit down, grinding my teeth and trying to remember the word for that thing that I should’ve written down when I thought about that other thing I also can’t remember when I was grabbing a Tylenol.

Stay safe.

365 Days

Song: “Banana Splits” by The Dickies

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 0

I didn’t sleep very well again last night – no nightmares but I kept waking up, worried about something or other. The good thing is that with no nightmares or panic, it usually doesn’t take me too long to get back to sleep. It was tough getting up this morning, though. It sucks being stuck where I can’t get back to sleep but I also can’t find the oomph to haul myself out of bed. It feels like I’m wasting time.

Despite not sleeping all that great, my exercises went pretty well this morning. I had to get up and run around a couple of times but when I was done my time I felt considerably better than when I started, and that’s the idea.

It was already pretty warm this morning when I went for my walk. I headed toward the creek, but decided to go a different way and I ended up walking around the next block over before heading for home. It was unpleasant, but I guess that’s another route I can take to add some variety if I want.

I spent some time texting again today. I like saying hello to everyone. It’s like saying hi to people when I’m pacing around the parking lot at the store, just considerably less creepy.

I gave the battery in the truck one last attempt to charge today. Unfortunately, the charger did the same thing – ran in desulfating mode for a couple of hours and then showed an error and stopped charging. I checked the battery with a multimeter to make sure the charger was reading it correctly, and it was. I guess that’s what I get leaving it sitting there for six or seven months through the winter and spring with all the electronics hooked up and no maintenance. I will put a tender on the next battery if it looks like the truck isn’t going to be used for a while. I should’ve known better, yeesh.

After hooking up the charger, I went to the back yard to take a look at the garden. Out of habit, I locked the doorknob. Also out of habit, I pulled the door shut behind me and locked myself in the back yard. The keys were in the house. My phone was in the house. The back door was locked. The gate was locked. The front door was locked.

Enter my good old friend, flop sweat.

I briefly thought about jumping the fence. Any of you who know me in person are probably laughing at that thought. I’m a lot more likely to run through a fence than try to scramble over it. Neither was appealing, so I put the thought aside. Then I tried to take the gate apart but I’d tightened things very well and wasn’t having much luck until I scrounged up the largest rock I could find in our pile of gravel and bashed at it until it loosened up. Hooray, I was free… I put things back together, closed everything up, and went inside.

[wow it just started raining really hard]

I noticed the pepper plant on the deck needed some water, so I filled up a pitcher and went out onto the deck. Out of habit, I locked the doorknob. Also out of habit, I started to push the door shut, but woke up and grabbed it before I locked myself in the back yard twice in 20 minutes.

[there’s some thunder, too… wow, it’s raining hard]

The fish tank in the living room has been getting pretty gross lately. The fish and shrimp don’t seem to mind too much but I don’t like it being all cloudy and green in there. It makes me feel like a bad fish dad. So I spent about an hour removing algae from the walls and the inside of the filter and changing out the water. I’ve got to admit, it looks pretty darn good. I missed a few algae spots but I’ll work on them tomorrow.

I played some more Star Trek Online. I played around with the new things that became available with getting the promotion to Admiral and it was pretty interesting. I also found out that the USS Pinkeye is getting a little long in the tooth. I wandered into a spot where another Federation ship was duking it out with a Klingon ship. I slowly turned and started to close the gap so I could help my ally out (you have to be within 10km to be able to attack something). Anyway, as I was chugging toward them, they suddenly darted much farther away, then closer, then way behind me, then ahead of me again. Finally, I closed to within 10km, and the Pinkeye let go with everything she had. The game shows you how much damage you’re doing, and I was seeing a lot of 40s and the occasional 65 popping up. It was going to take a bit, but I knew then that my ally and I were going to mangle this other guy. Well, as soon as I thought that, my ally’s ship blew up. No problem, I thought – I can handle this on my own. I turned to bring my torpedo tube to bear, and before I could fire, he hit me twice for twenty-three THOUSAND points of damage. And so ended my attempt to patrol that particular area of space. They’ll be lucky to find anything large enough left to make souvenirs out of.

Locking myself in the yard and my ship exploding aside, today is a significant day for me. Exactly one year ago, I walked out of the psych ward at the end of my last stay. I’ve been out for a year. It’s kind of hard to believe in some ways. There have been a couple of times over the year that I’ve almost felt like I needed to press that button again, but fortunately things worked out. I’m very grateful for being out, but I’m also very grateful that I can go back again if I need to.

J and I celebrated this evening by having chicken fingers and fries for supper and a small (but very tasty) cake for dessert.

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE – FAMILY, FRIENDS, PROFESSIONALS. I WOULD NOT BE HERE RIGHT NOW IF IT WERE NOT FOR ALL OF YOU.

I don’t want to look like I’m taking the easy way out here, but I’m fighting to keep from falling asleep. I probably should’ve started my post with this stuff, but I will post more about it tomorrow. Thank you all again – I can never repay you for what you’ve done!

Stay safe.

So… I’ve Been Thinking About This A Lot

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

There has been a lot of media coverage of the suicides of two celebrities last week: Kate Spade on Tuesday and Anthony Bourdain on Friday.

Other than being familiar with the names, I know very little of either of them. I still find myself shaken and feeling terrible for them and their loved ones, though. It is, unfortunately, a familiar feeling. Many times a year, the loss of someone famous – be they wealthy/popular/creative/loved/loathed – makes the news, and, in too many cases, it turns out that they took their own life.

It bothers me in so many different ways. Part of it is how it plays out in the media. There’s always the initial shock and statements of grief. Then, invariably, the questions and positing begin. Some will wonder how anyone so wealthy or famous could possibly turn to suicide. Others will attempt to analyze and explain the behaviour. Still others will shake their heads and turn away in disgust, calling the deceased “weak”, “cowards”, “selfish”, or other misinformed pejoratives.

It embarrasses me to admit it, but I used to be in the latter group. I used to think that anybody could get through anything if they just put their head down, worked hard, and did what they had to do. Mental illness was synonymous with not working hard enough. If someone couldn’t do the work, they were either lazy or weak, and suicide was taking the easy way out. I thought therapy was a scam and psychiatric drugs did nothing but turn people into zombies. My opinions were formed by too many crappy movies and old books, and a casual disregard for the public speakers who came into my school and the posters and pamphlets in my doctor’s office or on the school counsellor’s desk.

I was wrong. Really, really wrong. I wish I could go back in time and slap some sense into my arrogant younger self and apologize to the people I hurt along the way. Knowing what I know now, I can see that, even at a young age, I was experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Everything from math to driving to writing to forcing myself to stay awake on plane and bus trips just in case something happened, starting when I was around four or five years old. I really wish I could go back and change some things.

Unfortunately, I can’t, and I will feel guilty and embarrassed about that for the rest of my life.

What I can do, though, is talk about how I was wrong.

Suicide is NOT cowardice

Nobody thinks that killing themselves is a quick and easy way to fix something that’s bothering them. People who consider suicide are ill with something they can’t see or feel, but is as real as a broken bone or tumour. They are miserable, feel they have nothing, and genuinely believe that the world would be a better place off without them. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow – just the slow, inexorable grinding of the intolerable NOW. Suicide is a cry from someone in horrendous distress – a flawed, desperate attempt at a solution to what feels like an intractable problem.

Suicide is NOT selfishness

I have been hospitalized four times over the last two years because I was in imminent danger of hurting myself. Not once did I think, “it sure will be nice when I don’t have to worry about upsetting J anymore,” or, “now I don’t need to worry about missing my nephews as they grow up”. All I could think about was how much stress and misery I was inflicting on all the people I care about and how much better it would be for them if I was no longer around. I also felt horrible for how much of the therapists’, doctors’, and nurses’ time I was taking; I was certain that they were wasting their time on me and would be better off using that time on other patients. I didn’t want anything – I just wanted to go away. I figured that people would be upset, but it would be like tearing off a band-aid – painful for a very short time but better in the long run.

Nobody – not even the most stressed-out family member or most overworked nurse – agreed that they thought the world would be better off without me. I also know several people who lost family or friends to suicide over the years and their lives were never the same – they still mourn their loss and question what they could’ve done differently to prevent it.

Suicide is NOT a joke

You make me want to kill myself!! – Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)

The next person that offers me charity or pity will be mentioned – by name – in my suicide note. – Jeff Winger (Community)

Everybody has joked about killing themselves. It may have been a lighthearted moment, friends joking around with friends. Maybe someone got startled, or just discovered how long the chore list is. It may have been in a serious situation, like after failing an important test, or a teenager waiting for an angry parent to pick them up from the police station. Books, television, and movies are filled with characters mentioning suicide for comedic effect.

If you find yourself talking or thinking about suicide, stop for a moment and consider the context. Are you frightened? Are you depressed? Do you feel desperate? Do you feel alone? Do you agree with the sentiment? If you feel negative emotions (or a lack of emotion) while thinking about suicide, talk to someone and get help. Go to the nearest emergency room. Call a Crisis Line. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your therapist. Talk to your favourite teacher. Talk to your parents. Talk to someone and get help. If you don’t think the person you talked to understood or believed what you were saying, talk to someone else.

You deserve to get the help you need. You are worth it. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

Another reason that the suicide of a celebrity bothers me so much is that, for every news headline or front page story about a famous person who killed themself, there are thousands of other people who aren’t known the world over who ended their own life. We collectively mourn the rock star, the football player, the physicist… but what about those who don’t have their daily activities followed by legions of fans? The nurse? The teacher? The electrician? The lady at the paint counter? The neighbour? The artist? The friend? Family?

On average, there are 123 suicides in the United States per day, or 13.42 suicides per 100,000 people.1

In 2009, there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, or 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people.2

In 2016, there were 5,965 suicides in the UK, or 10.4 suicides per 100,000 people.3

I am not implying that we should not mourn celebrities – far from it. We do, however, need to remember that, just as the suicide of a celebrity shocks and saddens us, there are hundreds or thousands of others who are stunned every day at the suicide of a family member, close friend, coworker, or someone they knew in passing.

Mental illness is the primary cause of suicide.2 The US National Institute of Mental Health says that “Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016).”4. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that “In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.”5, while, “In 2007 nearly one person in four (23.0 per cent) in England had at least one psychiatric disorder and 7.2 per cent had two or more disorders”6.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people regardless of gender, orientation, age, race, wealth, appearance, career, success, location, family… anything. There is no certain way to prevent it, nor any definite way to cause it. Anyone can experience mental illness at any time in their lives. It can be mild or life-altering, temporary or lifelong.

It is nothing to be ashamed of.

There has been considerable progress in treating mental illness, both by new and evolving therapies as well as new medications and a better understanding of older ones.

The public opinion and awareness of mental illness and suicide is changing. More people than ever see mental illness as something that can (and should) be treated – like a cyst that must be removed or a bone that must be set. Fewer people see it as weakness or as a flaw in a person’s character or personality. This is great news, but more must be done. Nobody should feel embarrassed to talk to someone about their mental health, and everybody should have easy access to help.

Whether you’re a celebrity or not.

Please – if you are contemplating suicide or otherwise hurting yourself or someone else, please contact your local crisis line or go to your nearest emergency room. You can find some contact numbers on the resources page.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU AND WANT TO HELP. PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO REACH OUT.

YOU ARE WORTH IT.

 

 

1. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/ – retrieved 2018-06-11
2. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm – retrieved 2018-06-11
3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2016registrations – retrieved 2018-06-11
4. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml – retrieved 2018-06-10.
5. https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness – retrieved 2018-06-10.
6. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-survey/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-in-england-2007-results-of-a-household-survey – retrieved 2018-06-10.

An Anniversary Of Sorts

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

While J and I were having supper this evening, she mentioned that two years ago this weekend I spent my first night in a psychiatric ward. I had been transferred there from the Crisis Centre (which the Emergency Department at my local hospital sent me to after evaluating me earlier in the day), and the following day I would be transferred again to the hospital where I would spend the next three months under the care of Dr W.

I don’t remember much of that first evening, but J says that we kind of played Crazy Eights and talked. I say “kind of” because I apparently kept losing my train of thought and forgetting how to play. I do recall walking around in hospital clothing with a big plastic mug full of ice water that had “PATIENT USE ONLY” stamped on the side.

If you feel like you may want to harm yourself, please take two or three deep breaths, and contact or go to your local Emergency Department or Crisis Centre. It may seem daunting to ask for help, but you can do it. There are people who care about you in this world and they want you to feel better.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There are links and phone numbers that may be helpful on the Resources page, including a link to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) Crisis Centre list.

Stay safe.

A Bit About Eating

When my depression is running rampant, it is very difficult to muster the motivation to get out of bed or off the couch and force myself to go to the kitchen to eat something. On days like these, cooking (or even microwaving) something can be far too much for me to do. For that reason, I try to keep things around that take minimal time or effort to prepare, like cereal, yogurt, fruit, and cheese. Sometimes I’ll be lucky and there will be some leftovers in the fridge. I try to stay away from canned or frozen meals because many of them have a lot of salt and/or sugar in them. Besides, I’d rather eat cold leftover home made beef stew than warm canned stew.

Some days, I’ll have an intense craving for something sweet, like Nanaimo bar or candy. On those days it can be very difficult to clear my mind and think about anything else. I try to make sure there’s none of that stuff in the house to tempt me, but if I’m out and pick up a little bag of candy or something, I try not to beat myself up about it. Something sweet every once in a while isn’t going to be the end of the world.

Another thing that depression has done to me is mess up my feelings of hunger and satiety. It’s not that I don’t want food, it’s that I just don’t get hungry anymore. I can go through a whole day without eating anything and the only hint that I’ll get that I need to eat something is that I start to feel dizzy or shaky. The other side to this is that once I start eating, I don’t ever feel full. I’ll eat until I clear the table and have as many helpings as are available.

My solution to this is that I eat by the clock and manage portion size. Breakfast when I get up, lunch between noon and 1PM, and supper between 5 and 6PM. No snacks, and I try to only have one helping of food and then get any leftovers into the fridge quickly so I’m not tempted to have more. This has been working reasonably well so far.

Stay safe.

My Side Effects

I’ve been taking psychiatric medications for almost two years now, and I consider myself to be very lucky with the side effects I’ve experienced. They have been more of an annoyance and haven’t really affected my quality of life. I am taking (or have taken) the following medications to help me with my recovery:

  • Haloperidol (no longer taking)
  • Lorazepam (no longer taking regularly, but have PRN if needed)
  • Prazosin
  • Quetiapine
  • Sertraline
  • Venlafaxine
  • Zopiclone

I can’t say for certain if these side effects are related to the medications (the whole “correlation is not causation” argument), but they only started happening after I began to take them. Here we go:

Weight Gain: This has been the most obvious side effect that I’ve experienced. Since beginning the psych meds, I’ve put on almost 50 pounds. I’ve managed to lose a little bit of it, but it’s proving to be difficult. I don’t consider it the end of the world, though. Like I said in a previous post, I’m willing to put up with the weight gain because of the stability that the medications give me.

Hand Tremors: This mainly involves my fingers, particularly my index and pinky fingers on both hands. Some days it’s noticeable to the point where I have difficulty typing well, and handling small objects like screws and electronic components can be frustrating. I enjoy puttering around with my bass guitar, but the tremors make it very difficult.

Limb Twitching: Another side effect that comes and goes, and I only notice it when I’m not moving around, like when I’m watching TV or lying in bed. It involves my limbs and occasionally my torso. I’ll be still and then suddenly one of my legs kicks or my arm flails out. I’ve accidentally smacked J a couple of times and woke her up because of this. I don’t flail around, it’s just a single movement.

Slow Urination: I think this one is specific to the sertraline because it started happening well before I started taking anything else. My issues are also nonexistent first thing in the morning but appear in the afternoon and get worse into the evening, after the sertraline has taken effect. No discomfort, and I can always void – it’s just slow.

Jumpiness: This showed up after I started taking venlafaxine. Everybody jumps at sudden loud sounds, but I’m startled by a lot more stuff than I used to be. Sudden sounds – everything from the TV to the phone ringing to the slight creaking noises the house makes – startle me and make me jump. It doesn’t matter if I expect the noise, and it doesn’t have to be loud, either. The same thing happens if I see something in my peripheral vision. On really bad days certain bubble sounds from the aquarium can make me jump, and something as simple as a car pulling up next to me while driving can startle me.

Flashes of Light: I only notice this when I’ve got my eyes closed, and it’s worse at night when it’s dark. Flashes of light that look like ribbons appear and float downwards. Sometimes it reminds me of a curtain being lowered repeatedly. This doesn’t really bother me, it’s more curious than anything.

Heartburn: This one is definitely caused by the sertraline. It caused me some pretty brutal heartburn until I got another medication to help.

Low Blood Pressure: I take prazosin in the evenings to reduce the frequency and intensity of my nightmares, but it’s actually a blood pressure medication. It sometimes makes me a little dizzy at night, particularly when suddenly standing up.

Runny Nose: This one’s pretty irritating. I eat something, my nose runs. I drink something, my nose runs. I brush my teeth, my nose runs. I go from a warm room to a cool room, my nose runs. I go from a cool room to a warm room, my nose runs. I brush my teeth, my nose runs. I put on my CPAP mask, my nose runs. I watch TV, my nose runs. You get the idea. I spend a lot of time blowing my nose.

Morning Grogginess: Zopiclone and quetiapine both cause drowsiness, so it’s just a matter of sleeping the grogginess off or waiting it out. My head is usually clear by 10 or 11AM.

Like I said before, I consider myself to be very lucky with the side effects I’m experiencing. Psych meds are no joke and can cause very serious and life-altering problems. It’s very important to keep informed and to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about the medications you’re taking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be open with any concerns that you have.

Stay safe.

A Letter To Myself

When I had emerged from a nasty low last year, Dr C encouraged me to write myself a letter to read when I was stuck in a rut again and having a rough time. My first effort came across as way too glib and saccharine, so I made another attempt some months later. It was quite a bit better but I think it was still off the mark.

Since I just clawed my way out of a rough rut and am feeling pretty good, I figure that this would be a good time to write myself another letter. Maybe I’ll hit all the right chords this time. Here goes…

 

Dear Mark,

I’m writing this to remind you that things are going pretty well right now. Your medications and therapy are doing the trick and you’re feeling good.

You were stuck on the couch for quite a while there, and it was really tough to do anything. Even simple things like brushing your teeth felt out of reach on some days. Remember when you’re having days like that that it’s not your fault or you being lazy, it’s the illness talking.

Keep in mind how much better you felt on the days when you’d go for a walk. Not only did you get some exercise, you got outside and off the property and pushed your comfort zone a little bit. Even the days when you sat in front of the computer or electronics bench, things were better.

Hanging out with friends is really important, too. Getting together with DA or going to the record store with WG is fun, and hanging out with FA is always a treat with a bunch of laughs built in. Plus, the trips to the hardware store get you on your feet and out of the house, too.

You’ve got family all over the country who care about you and want you to feel better. Your parents, sister, uncles and aunts, in-laws – everyone is just a phone call, text, or email away and they’ll always take time to talk if you’re feeling down.

You’ve got the best wife in the world. She’s your best friend and your coach. She makes you laugh, she dries your tears, she understands and encourages you, and she’ll stick with you through anything – she’s already proven that. You’re a very lucky guy.

Somehow, you’ve managed to luck into a great group of professionals, too. Dr C, Dr P, and Dr W are all fantastic and you’re always less than a week away from your next appointment. If you have to go back to the hospital for a tune-up, you can – and the staff there is fantastic, too.

Family, friends, professionals… there are so many people who want nothing more than for you to feel better. You have a great support structure in place – don’t be afraid to use it.

When you’re feeling down, remember your mindfulness exercises and try to stay active. You’ve been through rough patches before and have always made it out the other side – remember that.

Take it easy,

Mark

Very Difficult To Keep Busy

I’m having a lot of trouble keeping myself busy. I’m spending far too much time on the couch or in bed and not nearly enough time working on something. At home, I’m surrounded by things that I can or should do, but I’m having a lot of trouble motivating myself to do any of them.

I don’t know why this is happening. I’m still not feeling great but at times when I’ve felt worse I’ve been able to do more stuff. I just sit on the couch and space out for an hour or two before getting up, doing another walk around the house, and returning to sit on the couch again. It’s frustrating.

Even things that I used to really enjoy getting into are being neglected. I haven’t done any welding in months, my bass guitars are getting dusty, I haven’t looked at anything under the microscope in a long time, and computer games and TV aren’t really grabbing my attention right now.

All I want to do is nothing. Just writing this out is taking a huge effort, and I’m sure that once I’m done I’ll return to the couch.

The problem (and paradox) here is that to feel better I need to do things, but to do things, I need to feel better. I wish I could find a little reserve of motivation somewhere just to get me over the hump and doing stuff again. Even sitting on the couch and listening to records would be better than nothing at all.

I have an appointment with Dr W tomorrow. He’s not going to be happy that I’ve been sitting around a lot, and I don’t blame him.

I keep hoping that I will wake up one day soon and feel like I’m ready to take on the world. That would be wonderful for a change. It would be nice to look at the clock and wish I had more time before bed instead of looking at the clock and wishing time would go faster so I could go to bed.

The weather is beautiful for this time of year and I’m missing it. Not only that, but there are things I need to do outside that would be much easier to do when it’s nice and warm than with frozen fingers. I just can’t force myself to do it, though.

I’m not sure what to do other than hope that tomorrow is a little better.

Stay safe.

Pushing Back The Boundaries

Let me just put this out here: I am most comfortable when I am sitting at home, in the basement, and listening to music. I can’t hear the outside world, and if I’m all the more comfortable for it. Sometimes the phone will ring and I will stare at it until either it stops ringing or I manage to answer it, but for the most part, sitting downstairs and listening to music is when I’m most comfortable.

The problem is, the outside world exists. I can turn up the music or wear headphones but the reality is there’s a real world out there and I need to be a part of it.

I’ve been having trouble driving for a year and a half now. I am limited to driving in about a 5km radius around the house. It was even worse when I started driving again but I’m getting a little frustrated now because things have obviously plateaued and I’m having a lot of trouble expanding my zone of comfort. I managed to ride the bike around the city, but I’ve always been more comfortable on the bike than in a car, and part of the bike ride was very unpleasant anyway. I really appreciate her help, but I feel guilty that J has to drive me to my Dr W appointment every week because it’s too far away.

I need to figure out how to drive more comfortably and without risking a panic attack if I go too far, and I need to figure out how to calm down my OCD while I’m driving. Changing lanes is very difficult because I turn to look and make sure my blind spot is clear but as soon as I look forward again I don’t believe it’s clear and I’m going to cause an accident. Even when I’m driving a straight line in very light traffic, I get worried that I’ve run a red light or caused an accident because there are no other cars around me.

I also need to get out of the house more. Both Dr W and Dr C have told me many times that getting out – even for something like a short walk or drive – is very beneficial. It can be really difficult for me to do, though. Some days it takes so much effort to get out of bed that there’s no way I’m going to be able to go outside. Even on easier days, I would much rather stay home than go out. I worry about the house – did I leave the stove on? Are the doors locked? Are the windows closed? Is the hot water tank leaking? Is the garage door closed? I worry about missing an important phone call. I worry about missing an appointment if I have one that day.

My anxiety and OCD keep me catastrophizing about every little thing, and my depression makes me want to not even try. It’s a one-two punch that is really difficult for me to work through. I really need to make some headway here, though, because I feel like I’m weighing J down when it comes to things like holidays and when she takes time off. I also feel terrible for making our parents come into town last Christmas instead of us driving out there. It was the first time in 20 years that that’s happened and I would really like to not have to do it that way again. I was also invited by my uncle and cousin to go out East and hang out with them for a while, but again, I can’t do it. I don’t want people thinking that I’m trying to avoid them, it’s just so difficult to get out of the house, and leaving it for a couple of days is pretty much unthinkable at this point.

Even something like cooking food is difficult for me. Easy things like cereal and pasta are no problem, but throw in something like produce or meat and I start to have problems. When I’m opening a salad kit, all I can think of is whether it’s dirty or if there’s been another vegetable recall because of e.coli or something, and when I’m cooking meat, I have a lot of trouble believing it’s done. I’ll use a thermometer to confirm but that’s not good enough to calm my anxiety so I very frequently ask J if she can take a look at it before we call it cooked.

I’ve got to start answering the phone more. It’s such a basic thing but I find it so difficult to do. Even when it’s my parents on the caller ID, I have trouble answering. I get so wound up that work is trying to call me in or the insurance company is calling to cancel my coverage that I can actually start to sweat while the phone is ringing. Even with my parents calling, I worry that somehow work or the insurance company has called them and asked them to call me on their behalf. I know this is irrational and there’s no way it would happen, but I just can’t get it out of my head.

There are so many aspects of my life that I feel like I have little to no control over, and everything is just so much better if I stay in my safe space. I need to fix this.

Two appointments ago, Dr W and I were talking about safe zones and making progress in pushing the boundaries of the safe zone outward. I’ve always seen my safe zone as a little circle with danger and discomfort around it, and when I got more comfortable with one thing, the whole circle got a little bigger. One of my problems is I tend to see the big picture and don’t think about the little pieces. I have to start considering every aspect of my life that my illness has affected as individual things instead of one large problem to solve. That way, I can work on them one at a time and push the safe zone outward like an amoeba’s pseudopods instead of like a circle:When I think of it this way, it also makes it easier to tell which problems I’m making headway on and which still have a long way to go.

As with everything, some things will be easier to work on than others, but expanding my boundaries is a huge part of my recovery. I will have to keep talking with Dr W and Dr P, too – they should have some useful techniques for me to use to help keep my focus.

Stay safe.

It Takes Time

One of the things that frustrates me the most about mental illness is that there is no quick fix. It takes a lot of time, work, and (in my case) medication to be able to claw my way out of the pit and into the sunlight.

You’d hope that antidepressants would work quickly, but a lot of them can take weeks to reach full strength. And, of course, in the meantime you can still experience the side effects. Some psych medications work quickly but their effects are temporary.

I find that keeping my mind and hands busy can be very difficult when I’m having a rough day. All I want to do is go back to bed or plop down on the couch and try to shut the world out. That doesn’t help anything, though, and if I do that too many days in a row it can really cause me problems.

Dr W has told me many times that the best thing that I can do for my recovery is keep active, and anything that bumps my heart rate up a bit and gets me moving is important. He’s right, too – on days where I really don’t feel like doing anything but I manage to force myself to spend some time on the treadmill, I feel better after I’ve walked for even just half an hour.

I look at myself today and see someone who, in many ways, is quite a bet better than a year ago. There’s still so much more I need to do, though, and I wish I could make myself get better a lot faster.

I can’t, though, so I need to make sure I keep doing things to pass the time. J and I watch a lot of movies – that can use up two hours out of a day. I play computer games (not as much as I used to) and that can be a good way to pass the time. Listening to records or any other source of music helps pass the time and cheer me up when I’m in a poor mood. Playing with some of my hobbies is a great way to pass the time but can be difficult to start when I’m feeling down. Even just watching videos on YouTube can take hours out of a crappy day.

Then there’s people. J and I spend a lot of time talking and laughing about stuff. Getting together with friends or family can be difficult sometimes but it sure is rewarding, and even just giving them a phone call helps me with the feelings of isolation that come with the depression.

Meditation, mindfulness, and worry exercises can use up an hour or two a day if I’m able to clear my mind enough. Sometimes just sitting still with my eyes closed for a few minutes can be refreshing and give me a bit of a boost to help me get engaged with something.

All of these things help me pass the time, and on bad days they can take a great deal of effort to do. As the time has gone on, though, I can see a trend that I’m having more good days and fewer really bad days than I used to. It tough to remind myself of this when I’m feeling awful, but it’s true. I just need to remember that getting well takes time.

Stay safe.