Aaaaand… There’s The Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what changed?

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

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

Has that ever happened to you?

Stay safe!

Record Shopping And Other Important Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Safe!

My OCD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Safe!

A Little Anxious This Morning

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Characters

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

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

Another Good Day

Today has been another good day. J (my wife) and I went to Walmart and I picked up a new pair of shoes so I can do time on the treadmill in the basement. I’m actually looking forward to it. Back in the hospital, I would get out and use the gym a lot. It felt good to breathe different air and see different things. Plus, I find that walking with some music playing is a good way to clear my mind and keep bad thoughts at bay.

It was good to get out – it takes a lot of effort to get out of bed and keep busy but it’s very important that I do. After a session a few months ago, Dr C (my therapist) suggested I write down a list of the hobbies I used to enjoy and then pick one at a time and force myself to do it. Things slowed down around Christmas when I started to have troubles again, but I want to get back to it. I’ve got a ton of hobbies, like:
– Welding
– Astronomy
– Biology
– Bass guitar
– Lock picking
– Painting
– Colouring
– Making bread by hand the old fashioned way
– Electronics
– Writing (which, incidentally, I’m doing here)
– Record collecting and listening
– Watching movies
– Computer games
– Photography
– Motorcycle riding and maintenance
– Listening to music

Those are just the ones off the top of my head. I have the list I made for Dr C around here somewhere – it had quite a few more items on it.

There are also a couple of things that I really should do soon. The staff at the hospital were fantastic so I want to send a letter of appreciation. I also want to go to a nice restaurant with J and get together with some of my friends to catch up on how they’re doing. I also want to build a little cabinet with some of the scrap steel I have lying around in the garage. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot harder than I’m expecting, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

Driving is another thing I need to work on. I think there’s probably enough there for an entire post so I’ll talk about that later.

One last (quite exciting) thing – I got a call today from WG, a good friend of mine. I haven’t seen him in months so it will be very good to get together for a bit. We’re going to meet up tomorrow and then go to the record store where he will head to the “new this week” shelf and I’m going to go to the $1 shelf, after which WG will make fun of my choices and I will make fun of his. I haven’t been to the record store in almost a year and I think it will be good to get back into that and pick up some really bad records to listen to.

Stay safe!

Riding High

I’m still riding the high from being discharged from the hospital two days ago. It was my second stay in the psych ward – this time it was five weeks long.

It sure feels good to be out. When I went in, I was a trembling mess that could barely even talk in coherent sentences. Other than for food and hygiene, I didn’t leave my room. I hated myself for making my family and friends worry. I hated myself for taking up a spot in the medical system that I didn’t feel I deserved. I hated myself because this was the second time in the psych ward. I hated feeling like a burden to my wife, family, friends, nurses, aides, therapists, psychiatrists, and doctors. I hated myself because I felt like I was letting everyone down by needing to go back. I begged the nurses to not let me leave the ward because I was certain that if I got out, that would be the end of me.

I tell you, though – the staff in the psych ward I was in was phenomenal. After a lot of talking (and crying) to the nurses, a medication tweak, and a session with my therapist, I started to feel better. By the second week, I was attending groups. By the third week, I was spending time outside my room just because I could. By the fourth week, I was going on passes with my wife and having a good time. At the start of the fifth week, I was going to the gym, going on passes, and doing almost anything I could to get off the ward.

It was time to go home.

It’s only been two days, but I still feel better than I have in quite some time. I feel like I’ve managed to get my feet under me again and I can go back to working on getting better.

What caused this recent mental crisis? That’s a good question. The Christmas season is always stressful for me (as it is with a lot of people), and because of my illness, my wife and family had to change how they did Christmas for the first time in 17 years. I felt terribly guilty for that and was sure everyone was disappointed in me. That hung over me for weeks.

Another trigger was knowing how much the people I care for were changing their schedules and going out of their way to help me out. Lots of guilt there, too.

I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the insurance company called to interview me for my disability insurance. It was not an easy conversation. My wife had to step in several times to help me answer the questions. I was sure they didn’t believe us and couldn’t stop thinking that they’d cut off my support and my wife and I would be out on the street soon. I was winding up tighter and tighter.

The wheels finally came off when I was at an appointment with my therapist. I barely remember anything except falling apart and talking with my wife in the hall. My therapist wouldn’t let me leave her office until someone came to get me, and by the time my wife had arrived, she’d been in touch with my psychiatrist and he was getting ready to admit me.

I have little doubt that if my therapist had let me go, I wouldn’t be here to type this. So, Dr C, if you’re reading this – thank you a million times over.

But… with every up comes a down. I’m still waiting for that to happen. It won’t be another end-of-the-world down, but it’s coming. I need to keep positive and keep myself busy.

Stay safe!

First Post

I’ve tried starting this blog a couple of times now and haven’t had a lot of luck. I’m hoping this time I can stick to it, and try to treat it as something of a journal of sorts. Maybe someone else will see it and will understand it, or maybe someone will see it and see something of themselves reflected in it.

Around four years ago, a significant change in my life was the trigger for an exponential increase in the daily anxiety I felt. Originally, I was able to ignore it; later, I could no longer ignore it but was able to work through it. Eventually, I could no longer do even that and things reached the point where my family, friends, and co-workers were able to see that something was wrong.

I was slowly turning inward, unable to make decisions or handle any changes or disruptions to my schedule. The effort of pushing through the day was exhausting, leaving my wonderful and understanding wife to bear the brunt of my illness in the evenings. I couldn’t sleep and would lie awake in the dark, wondering if the chest pains and shortness of breath I was experiencing were a heart attack. I began having trouble doing anything without ritualizing things, like making sure doors were locked, the stove was turned off, or the different sets of keys were on particular hooks before I could go to bed.

I found it difficult, humiliating, and frightening to admit that I was no longer the person I was just a few years ago. My wife had been suggesting I see someone about it for a while; I finally agreed with her when things reached a breaking point a few months ago. After a couple of sessions with a therapist, I finally began to understand what was happening to me. Unfortunately, psychiatry was not my GP’s strong suit and what he prescribed made it almost impossible to sleep. Two months later, I ended up in the psychiatric ward after nearly committing suicide. I got out three months later with medication, some really good coping tools, and a diagnosis.

I suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.

It is hard to explain how difficult that is to type out. It would be so much easier if I could say that I had broken an arm or had a kidney stone or something like that. There’s a stigma around mental illness that makes it so hard to talk to people about it. Maybe it’s because of the way it’s portrayed in books, TV, and movies. Maybe it’s because it’s something that doesn’t show up on an x-ray or blood tests. Maybe it’s because it can happen to anyone and that frightens people. Maybe it’s because many people were brought up with the “can do” attitude that mutated into more of a “man up and walk it off, sissy” attitude. I don’t know.

Part of my therapy is to force myself to do something that I used to enjoy but no longer do because of my illness. Writing is one of those things. I hope that if you’re reading this and suffer from the same issues that you know that you’re not alone – what you’re feeling is not uncommon. It feels horrible, but you’re not alone. There are people and medicines that can help. You just need to gather up the courage to ask for help.

I guess I should just say one last thing. While I am suffering from mental illness, I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, physician, therapist, or have any knowledge whatsoever of evaluation or treatments. I am only writing out my experiences, so please, PLEASE do not take any of the information on this site as psychological or medical advice. I apologize for the boldface but it is very important that everyone understands that. No forum, chat room, or group of friends can take the place of a professional.

Stay Safe!