Grounding – Updated September 23rd, 2019

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 are techniques that can help short-circuit the anxiety before it becomes full-blown panic. It can also help shorten or even stop a panic attack in progress. 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 is 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 train. 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.

6) Watch and/or count leaves in a tree
Sit comfortably where you have a good view of a tree. Look at the whole tree, then the trunk. Follow one of the thick main branches upwards and outwards, and at some point follow a thinner branch, then a thinner branch, again and again, until you end up at a single leaf. Watch the leaf sway or dance or twist in the breeze. Notice how it reflects light differently as it moves. In the event that there is no breeze, pick what looks like the highest leaf on the tree and going from side to side, methodically start counting them.

7) Pour water between cups
Take two medium to large (preferably plastic) cups and fill one 3/4 full of water. Get a towel and place it on your lap, then sit comfortably at a table. Pour the water slowly from one cup into the other. Note the sounds and the feeling of weight lessening on one hand and increasing on the other. Vary the speed – try to do everything from slowly trickling the water to dumping it back and forth. If you’re comfortable with it, try closing your eyes a few times and concentrating on the sound and feeling. If you spill a bit, it’s not a big deal – you’ve got a towel ready on your lap.

8) Dice

If you have a few dice kicking around – regardless of how many sides they have – pick one up and place it in your hand, then roll it around using the fingers of the same hand or with the other hand. Feel the surfaces, edges, and corners, and watch the light reflect and bend around the edges and in the indentations where the numbers or dots are. Add a second or third and do the same thing. Observe the feeling and the sound as the dice come together and their surfaces rub, making clicking and squeaking sounds.

9) Run the dishwasher
This one’s great because it can help get two things done at once. Load up the dishwasher, put in the detergent, and start it up. Sit close enough to it that you can comfortably put your hand against the dishwasher door or lean a knee against it (don’t sit right against it because it’s not good for the seals). Listen to the dishwasher fill, the valves open and close, and the rhythmic swish-swish as the dishwasher arms and jets spin inside. Feel the vibrations as the water jets pass and the water splashes around. Try to visualize what’s going on inside, from the water spraying, down to what’s happening to that single little piece of mashed potato that was on one of the plates.

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.

I hope that some of these work for you. If they do, or if you know of any other techniques that work well, please share via comment or the Contact form as well as a name or nickname so I can give you credit!

Stay safe.

WHOLLY PHOHCH

I did it… had to change into a fresh set of clothes when I got home, but I DID IT. It’s been a year and a half since I was last able to drive to Dr C’s office.

Things could change again tomorrow but for now, I’m pretty pleased (and a little embarrassed that I feel like it’s such a big deal).

Stay safe.

So That’s It, Then

I am now officially “retired”.

My co-workers and I used to dream about what it would be like to retire, and a few of us had even figured out how many months or even days left before that wonderful day. We joked about the trips we’d take, or the time we’d have to go to shows or concerts, or riding our motorcycles around. All the things we could finally accomplish without that 40-hour-a-week weight around our neck.

Well, here I am, and it sucks. Things have not turned out the way I’d hoped. Not even close. Twenty years of work flushed down the drain.

I don’t know what I’ll be able to do, or what I even CAN do anymore.

I don’t spend the day relaxing at home, doing whatever tickles my fancy at the moment. I wish. It sucks when I look at a bunch of things that I enjoy doing but have to grit my teeth and force myself to sit down and play with some electronics or start up the printer, instead of just going downstairs and sitting on the couch in the dim quiet.

Started thinking too much about this stuff a couple of hours ago and had a good cry. No panic attack, at least. So there’s that.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about today (or if I was going to care about it at all). I’m sad because life hasn’t gone how I’d hoped. I enjoyed working with WG, DA, and so many other people. I enjoyed solving problems, fixing things, and figuring out ways to provide new services to clients or improve existing ones. People across the country would ask me for help planning or troubleshooting. I was proud of the work I did. Whether it’s old-school or chauvinistic thinking (or if they’re the same thing), I wanted to be the rock so that J could do whatever she wanted. Go back to school, start a business… anything. That didn’t work out, and I feel terrible about it.

I’m angry at the people at work who moved me into another department without letting me know, and the management of that new department who, through incompetence and neglect, slowly degraded and ruined the services, systems, and relationships I’d worked so hard to build. Their indifference when I begged for help or parts. Their casual, uncaring disassembly of all the plans and agreements I had with previous management that allowed me to take university courses. The humiliation I felt when I had to look people I’d known for years in the eye and say that yes, I knew that I used to be able to do that stuff in an afternoon, and yes, I knew it’d been a year, and no, I couldn’t tell them when I’d be able to help them. The dread I felt (and still feel) whenever the phone rang, or when I heard footsteps approaching my door. All the time I spent hiding in the server room or another building because I couldn’t face people and tell them I couldn’t help them.

I also feel very guilty about all the stress I put my family and friends through both after I ended up in the hospital and the months or years before that where I was unwell and acting strangely but unable to see it for myself. I honestly didn’t know that I was being unpleasant or downright dickish. I should’ve listened to J when she first suggested I go talk to someone. Or when she suggested it the second time… or the fifth time, or the thirtieth time. I am so, so sorry to everyone I upset, stressed out, inconvenienced, or otherwise bothered. Thank you all so much for sticking around and supporting me. I don’t know why you did, but I am so incredibly grateful I don’t know how to express it properly.

So yeah. I’m 43 and “retired”. It’s not as much fun as you’d think.

Argh… I better go hide in the bathroom, I think another cry might be coming and the hot water tank guy is here.

Stay safe.

PROGRESS!

Today marks the first time I’ve driven myself to an appointment in close to a year and a half. Check it out:

Parked At The Clinic

Yep, that’s my sneaker. And my truck.

I had to change clothes when I got home, though – it was pretty much a tsunami of flop sweat.

It didn’t even go badly. I parked far back in the lot where there was lots of space, and made sure there was lots of time for me to get to where I needed to be.

The appointment was more difficult than usual because I could barely concentrate on what Dr H was saying, but I drove the truck… by myself… to an appointment. AND I LEFT THE GATE UNLOCKED.

No guarantees I will be able to do it again next time, but I’m pretty happy with this today.

Stay safe.

Interesting Article About Childhood Anxiety And Possible Treatments

I was going through my usual morning RSS feeds while eating breakfast, and I came across this article from Science News:

“When anxiety happens as early as preschool, treatments can help”, by Sujata Gupta for ScienceNews.

Do you know one of those kids who’s afraid to try anything, thinks that everyone is going to hate them or make fun of them, or can’t tolerate being unable to see their parents? It seems there is no lower limit to the age where excessive anxiety or an anxiety disorder can appear. The article mentions that there have been experiments done that have identified children that are overly cautious or anxious, and the researchers discovered that many of those children grow into adults who have anxiety disorders.

Researchers also think they have identified the parts of the brain involved, and what about those parts causes the problem.

The great news is that a particular kind of CBT that’s customized for kids appears to work in almost two-thirds of cases. A combination therapy with CBT and an antidepressant (they used sertraline) seems to work about 80% of the time. As it’s still a new and somewhat experimental approach, it’s not widely available yet, but the researchers’ success so far bodes well for being able to help children and potentially keep them from suffering from anxiety disorders as adults!

Stay safe.

The Flop Sweat Experiment

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a fan of hot weather. Not to be any more disgusting than I have to, but I sweat. A lot. Yes, I’m fat, and yes, I have an armoire full of black shirts, pants, and shorts, but there’s something else going on, too.

I remember one New Year’s Eve when I was in high school. I was driving friends home from a party (I was always the designated driver). Some of them lived out in the country, so there I was, squinting through thick clouds of blowing snow. It was so cold (below -33C) and so windy that my car wasn’t warming up, and to keep the breath of five people (four yelling and joking around) from fogging up the windows, I ran the defroster on full blast. It felt like my eyes were going to freeze in their sockets. I was cold – very cold, and nervous – very nervous. Despite the cold, I could feel sweat running down my chest in little icy rivulets. Once I finally dropped off my last passenger and made it home, I took off my jacket and was surprised to find my shirt was soaked with sweat.

Fast-forward to my first year of university. My vector mechanics final exam. I knew I was unprepared but had crammed as much as I could into my brain over the previous day. I made my way into the gym and sat down on one of those crappy metal folding chairs, staring at a very thick pile of exam pages turned face down. The TAs supervising the exam called out, telling us we could start and we had three hours. I flipped my exam over.

At the top, it said “IMMUNOLOGY”.

In hindsight, I probably would’ve done better on the immunology exam than I did on the vector mechanics exam, but at the time, I thought I was going to throw up. My skin felt prickly everywhere and I started to sweat like crazy. It only took maybe 30 seconds for me to get mildly scolded by a TA and moved to a table with the correct exam, but it really knocked me for a loop. As I tried to concentrate on the exam, I had to keep wiping my forehead and I could feel the sweat running down my chest, back, and sides.

Three hours later, they announced the end of the exam. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I stood up, felt something kind of weird, looked down, and sat right back down, fiddling with my pencils and staring at my watch until almost everyone else had left. Turns out I had sweat so much that I’d soaked right through my shirt and jeans and there was a puddle on the chair. I got up again, cleaned it up as best as I could, dropped my exam off at the front table, and ran as fast as I could to get back to my room so I could change. It was humiliating.

A few years later I was dating J and her parents came into town. They took us out for dinner and as we sat around talking, I said something (I don’t remember what anymore) that I was worried that sounded wrong or dumb. Nobody said anything or acted any different, but I felt that familiar prickly sensation and I started getting the sweats. I had to excuse myself from the table four or five times so I could go to the washroom and run cold water over my face and hands, and use the hand dryer to dry the sweat out of my hair.

So yeah, I’ve got a history of the flop sweats, although they used to only show up when I was in some kind of high-pressure situation. Since I got sick, though, I get a good flop sweat going for almost any reason. Getting ready to go for a walk? Flop sweat. FA coming over? Flop sweat. My parents coming into town? Flop sweat. Dr C appointment? Sitting in the truck? Setting something up? Measuring something important? Threading my sewing machine? Getting into a cab? Installing a new app on my phone? Walking through the hardware store? Taking a shower before going out or someone coming over? Waiting for a package on the day it’s supposed to be delivered?

Flop sweat.

Something that really gets me about this whole thing is that I may only be a little anxious about something in the first place and just get a little sweaty, but then I start worrying about the fact that I’m visibly sweating and what are they going to think when they see this and why is this happening… I sweat because I’m sweating! It’s stupid and annoying and embarrassing.

A little while ago I decided to try and figure out if there was anything I could do to lessen the frequency or magnitude of sweaty armpits. Two things came to mind for me to try that could possibly make a big difference: flop sweat when I’m getting ready to go out or have someone over, and lessening the visibility of the sweat after it happens.

For the first thing, I needed to figure out why just taking a shower would get me nervous. I thought about it for a while and realized that one (or more) of four songs play in my head:

The theme from the Commodore 64 game Zarjaz. Speed it up to about 50 percent faster than usual. This is the one that gets stuck in my head the most. I have no idea why – I haven’t played Zarjaz since 1992 or so.

“Rockin’ Robin” – the original Bobby Day version, but about 25 percent faster than it’s supposed to go.

The theme from the Commodore 64 game Commando, bumped up 50%. Again, no idea why. I remember the music from a lot of C64 games, but this and Zarjaz are the only two that get stuck in my head. What I would give to get Hover Bovver stuck in my head sometime.

“The Circus Bee”, by Henry Fillmore. I was in a band that played this back in… 1992? 1993? It’s already pretty fast, but bump it up 25% and that’s more like what plays in my head. It’s a great song, but at the wrong time it definitely contributes to my anxiety.

I like uptempo music, but for whatever reason, those four songs play extra fast, get stuck in my head, and make me nervous. The good news is, all I had to do was play another song loud enough that it drowned out anything I was thinking and my brain fixated on the song that was coming from OUTSIDE my head. So far, it’s been “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO. It’s a great song, uptempo and happy, and it’s one of those songs where so many things are going on that I don’t think I will get tired of it for a long, long time. It’s been over a month now and it’s been pretty consistent with keeping me from going back to those four songs and getting nervous.

As for hiding the sweats when they happen, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I’ve been wearing black clothes pretty much exclusively for the last 18 years or so because they don’t show sweat as much as, say, a red shirt would. Nowadays, though, that’s not enough. It could be because my confidence and self-esteem vary from ‘nonexistent’ to ‘maybe tomorrow’, it could be because I have the kind of complexion where someone can look at me and tell if I’m lying or embarrassed or any number of emotions, it could be that I’m disgusted and embarrassed at the idea of being the only person sweating in an air-conditioned room.

Since I got sick, I’ve carried a handkerchief around with me whenever I go out, just in case I need to dab (or swab) my forehead, neck, or even if I have to squeeze some extra sweat out of my hair (I’m sorry, I know it’s gross). Sometimes, the hankie doubles as a fidget toy and I fold and unfold it over and over. Most of my worry in this department is about beads of sweat forming on my forehead or the top of my head and running down my face.

My experiment for this problem? A hat. I have a big floppy one that I wear outside when I’m doing yard work but I needed something a little less… silly. J bought me a baseball cap a while ago and, while I’ve never really been a baseball cap person, I find that wearing it while I’m out (and sometimes when people come over) helps tremendously when it comes to ye olde flop sweate. Not only does it hide any sweat that shows up on my forehead, it also absorbs and keeps the sweat from going anywhere. It doesn’t do anything about sweat getting into the hair at the back of my head, but with the other things minimized, I feel a lot less uncomfortable so I sweat a lot less and my hair stays dry.

Jeebus… I’ve gone on about this for two and a half pages. I guess the takeaway from this is that there are aspects of my behaviour that I seem to be able to do something about, and it doesn’t take a huge investment of time or effort. Being able to break out of that loop where I’m nervous about getting all sweaty and gross, then I start sweating, then I get more nervous, then I sweat more… breaking out of that loop helps me in a few ways. Sure, I’m still going to get nervous and sweat like crazy when I’m at the dentist, but at least I won’t have had sweaty pits two minutes after I got out of the shower, and I won’t have to worry about people seeing me sweat in the waiting room.

So yeah… I’ve figured out how to lower the number of times I have to change shirts during the day. I know it sounds silly, but every bit helps.

Stay safe.

That Escalated Quickly

Song: N/A

Mood: 5.5

Nightmares: 6+ (Thursday night)

**NOTE**

I started this post yesterday (Friday) evening but had to go to bed before it was done.

This post was supposed to be about how my day had gone and how nice the peppers are that we’re getting from the plant on the deck. See?

Chili PeppersBut other things have happened, which weren’t quite as fun. Anyway…

I went back to the walk-in on Wednesday morning for my follow-up. Today is Friday, and I didn’t get home until about 2:30PM. It was quite an adventure, quite a lot of discomfort, quite a bit of embarrassment, and enough anxiety that I was holding on by my fingernails for a while.

The next thing to get out of the way is that I fibbed a bit in a couple of my posts. After I confirmed it with every medical person who would talk to me, I am confident in not being the only person who has had an infection…

On their butt.

Yes, it’s true, dear readers. I lied to you and said abdomen because I was embarrassed, but the doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, surgeons, and the lady who brought the newspapers around all say it just happens. Doesn’t mean I’m disgusting (although I kind of feel it right now), doesn’t mean I’m dirty… it just happens.

Okay, so here we go – best as I can remember.

WEDNESDAY

I got up at 7:30AM, showered, and got ready to head out. I figured I’d take my pills and breakfast when I got home (which I foolishly assumed would be less than an hour).

J and I got to the clinic at 9AM. At about 9:20, I got in to get my infection checked. It was not the same person who I saw on Monday about it. This person took a quick look and immediately summoned a colleague. Painful probing and embarrassing questions followed, and then the two of them huddled for a minute before turning back around and telling me I had to to go the emergency room. They would call ahead to the triage nurse so they’d know what was going on.

At about 10AM, J and I got to the emergency room. I was in quite a bit of discomfort at this time, but we got in to see the triage nurse quickly. I really like the renovations they’ve done – it’s way better than the old system.

At about noonish? Somewhere around there, I got moved into a small examining room. Over the next several hours, I was prodded and probed by more nurses, a physician’s assistant, and a doctor. The doctor took a look and then said he thought it was going to end up being a surgical intervention.

So we waited for the surgeon to come by. They’re busy people and a fat guy with a butt pain doesn’t rate high against car crashes and stabbings. But, he finally came and took a look. He was pretty sure that taking the antibiotics would be the best thing but he was going to consult with his boss.

A while later, his boss and several of his cohorts came by and took a look. The boss and his associates prodded around, said some fancy medical words, and then said they were going to slot me in for surgery, and they hoped they could get me in that afternoon or evening. That was great!

Except I couldn’t eat or drink anything until after the surgery… including my morning pills, which I had not yet taken.

Two Hours LaterI was brought up to a room that normally held four but I had all to myself. It was pretty nice. More people came to check on me and poke at me, and then J went home to pick up some stuff – magazines, clothes, my phone and charger, CPAP machine, all kinds of stuff. I was really glad she was there, but I feel terrible for ending up in the hospital AGAIN during one of her holidays. (I’m really sorry, sweetie – I don’t do it on purpose, I promise!)

Later Wednesday evening, it was determined that I was not getting in that day for the surgery. I got some of my night medications (the quetiapine and zopiclone were there, thank goodness) and two of the best tasting pieces of toast I’ve ever had in my life, and then got hooked up to a bunch more machines and tried to go to sleep. Of course, the fire alarm picked that time to start ringing. I was frozen in place, pressing the palms of my hands to my eyes and trying very hard to ignore the ringing and relax. Fortunately, the alarm didn’t sound for too long and I was able to use some of the ACT stuff to calm down a bit. I was already pretty tired, and between that and the zopiclone and quetiapine, it didn’t take too long to fall asleep. I woke up many times over the night in a panic, worrying about the house, worrying about J, worrying about the car, the garage door, if there were problems on the ward, if the nurses were okay, the hot water tank, the toaster, all kinds of things. I didn’t get a good sleep that night.

THURSDAY

Surgery was going to happen, so no food, no drink, and no venlafaxine again. I didn’t think missing a day or two would cause that much of a problem, but by the afternoon I had the sweats and the shakes, and it was REALLY hard to keep from freaking out or punching my way through a wall and walking home in my gown. All I could think of were all the horrible things that were happening that I couldn’t do anything about because I was stuck in the stupid hospital because of a stupid infection that I should never have got in the first place. My nurse came into the room and asked me if I was okay. I told her I was panicking and having a lot of anxiety, and she said, “Okay, I’ll be back in a bit,” and left. I understand why she did that now – she had dying people to keep an eye on and a fat guy with the sweats wasn’t at the top of her priority list – but at the time, it felt like a betrayal. I went back to bed and screwed my eyes shut and set my phone blasting ocean sounds into one ear and tried with every fibre of my being to keep from freaking the hell out. I tried every technique that I’d been taught or even heard of. It was so hard to think or to focus on anything. I had some luck with the cognitive defusion techniques that Dr P had taught me, and some with the grounding techniques that Dr C had taught me, but they served mainly to keep me rooted where I was instead of changing back into my own clothes and bolting for the door.

I managed to send out a couple of slightly mangled texts when I heard that I was finally going to be heading in, and they came and got me for my surgery shortly after. I finally went in around 2:30PM, and they asked me to try and lie still on the operating bed but I told them I was doing my best. Then down came the mask, they told me to breathe deeply, and for a couple of beautiful seconds I felt my anxiety melt away just before I fell asleep. I don’t know how long it took and when I woke up in the recovery room, it was only myself and two nurses, both of whom were very pleasant and helped bring me back into the world of the awake. My throat hurt quite badly (I’d been intubated for the procedure) and I was having trouble making more than a raspy sound at first.

After recovery, I was sent back up to my room, where J was waiting for me. What a sight – I appreciate her so very very much, and her being there when I got back to my room was fantastic. She stuck around for hours to talk and be supportive, leaving a couple of times when nurses or doctors or that guy from Maintenance came by to look at my butt. She also sent texts out to some people to let them know I was out of surgery and it had gone well. Some of my lucky relatives even got a picture that looked (mostly) like this:

Hospital BedI was still pretty relaxed and groggy from the anaesthetic, and between that and J being there, I felt a lot better than I had earlier in the day. Supper came by, and I lucked out – it was perogies, garlic sausage, and corn. Not too shabby.

Eventually, J headed home to get some sleep (I felt really bad for her – she looked so tired but insisted on hanging around and making sure I was okay), and I got my evening medications and went to bed early.

Unfortunately, Thursday night was not good. Whether it was because of my discomfort, the aftereffects of the anaesthetic, that I had gone cold turkey on the venlafaxine, or that I hadn’t been given any prazosin, I had rampant nightmares. I was also hooked up to machines on either side of my bed so I couldn’t get up and go to the nurse’s station, and I was too much of a chicken to press the call button and tell the nurse I was panicking, so I laid there most of the night, shaking and sobbing through panic attack after panic attack. It was unbearable.

FRIDAY

I was very sore and groggy on Friday morning. Every one of my muscles felt like they were rusty and didn’t want to move – everything from my ribs to my shoulders to my thighs to my neck to my hands. Thankfully, though, the first thing my nurse brought me was my venlafaxine and I took it immediately.

Breakfast was a cinnamon bagel and some applesauce. Again, not too bad.

My nurse came by to remove the packing the surgeon had left in the wound. I was expecting it to feel kind of weird as she pulled it out, but was a little worried when she told me to “breathe through the pain”. And boy, was there pain. She stopped for a second and I said, “can’t you just rip it out and yell TAA-DAA or something?” I think she thought I was joking because she chuckled and then went back to tortuously pulling what felt like a red hot bass guitar string coated in salt and vinegar chip shards out of me, one agonizing femtometer at a time.

Finally, it was out. It took a couple of minutes before the pain died down. A couple more doctors and nurses came by to inspect my new butt hole and nodded approvingly. I got out of bed and had to admit that just standing there felt better than it had before the surgery. Sitting was another thing, though, and I’ve still got to be pretty careful when it comes to that.

My nurse then started to talk about letting me go home. We went through the paperwork and care instructions, and then she said I was free to go when I was ready. I texted J and she came right over. We waited to talk to my nurse for a little while (there was a critical patient on the floor that was in rough shape and needed help) but we chatted until my nurse came back and gave us the okay to head out. I changed back into my clothes and J and I headed home.

J dropped me off at home and then went to get my prescription and pick up some supplies, while I took some PRNs to calm down before I made some calls and sent some texts telling everyone I was home and doing alright. I also called Dr P and thanked him for introducing me to ACT techniques because some of them helped me get through the pain and venlafaxine withdrawal. He sounded very interested in talking about my experience and how I managed to handle being away from home.

I still have my appointment scheduled with Dr H on the 15th and I’m going to keep it. At my last count, 17 strangers have looked at my butt; may as well make it 18 and make sure everything is healing properly. I am also supposed to make an appointment to meet with my surgeon in a month to make sure everything is okay.

SATURDAY (Today)

So far, today has gone reasonably well. I’m a little uncomfortable but less uncomfortable than I was before I went to the clinic on Wednesday. My muscles all feel even stiffer and rustier than they did yesterday but once I get to shuffling around a bit, I start to limber up. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m stiff all over. J suggested it could be that I spent hours curled in a very tight ball when I was panicking – that could certainly be a cause.

Pretty much all of my family I’ve talked to have said that I proved that I can handle being away from home if I have to. While that may be technically correct, and while it’s true that I didn’t run out of the hospital and grab a taxi home, I was utterly miserable and wasn’t really a functioning human being. Thursday night was AWFUL, and after the third or fourth nightmare (all of them were the one with the tent) and subsequent panic attack I was starting to think about how to stop it all.

But now I’m home and safe. I won’t be going for my walks for a little while and I’ve got a bunch of restrictions on what I can do but I did my exercises today and they went reasonably well. And like I mentioned earlier, I already notice some positive changes from getting the surgery done.

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.