Finally Getting Help

Feeling like your heart is in your throat and also in your stomach. Feeling hot and prickly and sweaty all over. Hearing your heart in your ears so intensely it sounds like waves crashing against a stone wall on a stormy day. Your heart can’t stop racing; you think it has never beat so fast, and you wonder what’s wrong with you, what’s happening, are you sick? Is this a heart attack? No, you’re young, you can’t have a heart attack. But could you? Are you going to die?! Do you have to go to the hospital. What if you need to go, but it’s really nothing and everything thinks youre a drama queen. But why is the room blurry and why is every sound making you irritable and angry, and why is your breathing sharp and shallow, why does your chest feel like there is a bag of rocks sitting on it, why do you feel like crying, there’s nothing physically wrong, so why can’t you calm down? Your mind is racing through all of these what if’s, and you wish there was a pillow nearby for you to stick your head into and scream.

That is a panic attack.

Or at least, that is what a panic attack is like for me. 

My struggle with depression and anxiety is a relatively new one. Actually, what I should really say is that I’ve struggled with a form of anxiety all of my life, but didn’t realize it until a few years ago. Years of an undiagnosed mental illness, a genetic disposition to mental illness (90% of my family battle mental illness), a strong and stubborn desire to prove to the world/me/my family/society that I was not weak, to maintain an outward “perfect” appearance (i.e. good grades, keeping a job, being social, going out, being “happy”, achieving and “proving” my value to society), and in my final month of graduating university with a degree in creative writing. All of these things are a terrible cocktail for what I’ll refer to as my breakdown.

My sister, noticed one afternoon that I wasn’t acting myself. And I wasn’t. I felt funny. To provide some context here, I had finished school. I was graduating. I was walking across the stage in my cap and gown a week from that day, and I felt so lost and sad and unaccomplished, even though it should have been the best summer of my young, undergraduate life.

I was having people over for some drinks in the backyard. Something had happened earlier that day that must have triggered something in me, and I was feeling short of breathe. The more I thought about it, the more worked up I got. My heart began to race. I felt dizzy. Everything felt hot but I was getting chills and shivering. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I went to my room to lay down before everyone came over. My sister came in a couple minutes later, came around my bed and asked what was wrong.

I should say here that my sister is a beautifully perceptive person, who also suffers from depression and anxiety. She said she had been watching me and could tell that something was wrong. The second she asked what was the matter, I started hyperventilating. Everything felt wrong, but nothing was actually wrong! What’s the matter with me?  I sobbed, tears rushing down my eyes, bleeding into the pillow case bellow my head. I feel like I’m going to pass out.

Is it hard to breathe? Is your heart going really really fast? Does it feel heavy on your chest? I nodded yes to all of her questions, still wheezing for breath, my vision going spotty and blurred. I couldn’t calm down. She took my hand and said quietly and kindly: I think you’re having a panic attack. This happens to me a lot. Just listen to my voice, and hold my hand, okay? Now, I know it’s hard but take a deep breath. Breathe, Kirsten.

My sister sat on my bed beside me and walked my through my first (known) panic attack. It lasted for 3 or 5 minutes, and there was a lot of crying. My sister explained that sometimes she will get them for no reason, and that other times, something will trigger her. In retrospect, I see that something had triggered me that day (driving a friend to the hospital…hospitals have bad memories for me and my family).

That certainly wasn’t my last panic attack, but it is my most memorable. I will never forget the feeling of my chest, like an invisible person was sitting on it. Everything felt…off. My heart racing in my chest. How dark my vision got because I wasn’t getting in enough oxygen. I drenched my sheets in sweat. And the adrenaline. Oh man. Afterwards, I was exhausted, and in no mood to have any people over. But (oh, the paradox of social anxiety), I was too afraid to tell people to leave. So I sat there, trying to make small talk, hoping I blended in, feeling wrong and gross and tired, and wishing I could just curl up in a ball and fall asleep.

That was two years ago.

Today is huge for me. I went and asked for help.

If you have anxiety, and you’re like me, the thought of talking about my anxiety with anyone not close to me was anxiety inducing. But it had to be done. This past week has been overwhelming, stressful, and dark, and I realized that I needed to stop hiding behind my fears and start living the life I want.

So I went to the Mental Health and Addictions Centre, where they have walk in counsellors. I cried, I shook, I drenched the armpits of my t shirt, but I did it, and I am really proud of myself for doing it.

I’m not sure where this journey will take me. But I know I am feeling at least 10% better than yesterday for being active in my recovery. The past 6 months have been all about taking care of myself, with regular workouts, eating healthier, daily walks with the dogs, and being more accepting of myself. It has led to a more confident me, a more trusting and loving relationship with my fiance, and more energy. But I know that physical fitness is only one part of the equation. I have to be active in my mental fitness.

So this is it! I’m nervous and excited, I want to pee my pants and cry and also laugh for joy, but it’s here, it’s finally here, I finally did it, and I am ready. Man, I’m so fucking ready.

Writing

It’s been a while since I’ve written…well…anything. If someone were to ask my why I’m not writing, I couldn’t tell them, or, maybe, I would tell them a plethora of excuses that I’ve doled out over the past 6 months to friends and family and new acquaintances when they ask that terrible question: “Why aren’t you writing?”

Me:

“I’ve got writers block; I’m stuck on chapter 4, and on my characters, they’re pretty 2D and non believable.”

“I don’t have the time these days, between work, the gym, the dogs, staring at the walls…”

“I’m taking a break from my projects, getting a bit of perspective.”

But really, if you’re a writer, reading my excuses, you know. We all know. You’re not committed to your craft unless you’re actually actively writing. Anyone will tell you that. Google can tell you that. If you aren’t writing, you are not a writer.

I loathe that sentence. It’s a guilt ridden trap that never fails to spoon feed me a serving of self despair. You are not a writer if you are not writing.

Well, it’s true. Which is why I’ve plunked myself down at the keyboard. To write, to be a writer once more. But also, to tackle this tricky subject of guilt and writing and mental wellness.

This is my writing/creative lifestyle in a nutshell: if it’s not perfect, it’s not good. If it doesn’t seem to have the hints of perfection about it, it’s worth abandoning.

That’s so terrible to write out. Because writing is all about suffering for your craft. Like anything in life, it’s being incredibly vulnerable, and allowing yourself to just let go and BE, to breathe in and out and let the words flow onto the page.

But my writing process suffers from my shitty mental illness, which desires above all else for people to perceive me as cool, funny, hip, and awesome. Basically, as a Socially Anxious person, I strive at all times to not be in any embarrassing situations that might someone make me look stupid, silly, not smart, or uncool. It’s an exhausting mental process that has become like breathing to me at this point (long term social anxiety sufferer=very ingrained aversive behaviours, yay!)

So writing has always been the place where I am easily at my most peaceful, but also where I am at my best. When I can sit down at a page and write, take time to think about what words I want to impress upon an audience, I am in my element, truly. I can say that with no doubt in my mind. When I’m in the groove of it, and the words are coming easily, and all the rest of my surroundings fade into a blur, that’s when I know I’m in what I call my happy spot.

But my happy spot hasn’t been so happy, lately, because I’ve had this strong desire to be perfect in my writing. Like my external life, I strive to impress and not seem mediocre. And this means that when I sit down to write, more often than not these days, I’ll give up before I even begin, thinking: what is the point? At some point, someone before me has written exactly what I’m going to. And that starts that terrible cycle of negative self talk: not good enough, not a good writer, etc.

Why do we always believe the bad but never ever the good?

So tonight, I came home, thought about all the projects I want to do, thought about the kinds of writing jobs I want to obtain and experience in this life, and decided, like most things in life, to just do it. Like breathing. Just remember to breathe, and let go of all the negatives and the worries of the day. Just write, just let it go, and let the words ease out onto the page. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself to do.

And that’s what tonight’s little self ranting post is about! To get my thoughts on a page, let go of ideas and desires for perfection, and recognize that life is messy, and so is writing.

276. Stopping the stigma or just trying to understand…

Changing the world every day

Some people see mental illness as a sign of weakness. When you see someone with a physical affliction you respond with sympathy and compassion, why can’t we all just do that for people suffering from mental illness?

This week is mental illness awareness week, I’ve shared a status on a social network and shared this thought with you. Are you prepared to speak out and stop stigma?

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The List

Things that are making me sad today:

1) work

2) myself

3) trying/failing to be the “perfect” girlfriend to my boyfriend

4) ^stress from trying to reassure myself no one is “perfect”

5) the feeling that I’m a failure, disappointing those that I love, disappointing myself, leading to a very large and icky feeling of self loathing today.

6) cold

7) impending winter

On the bright side..

Things that are making me happy today

1) tonight at 9, work is done, the weekend is here

2) tomorrow I get bangs

3) knowing that my boyfriend loves me no matter what

4) i saw my niece today, and she gave me big hugs and kisses

5) my dogs and their squishy little faces

6) i’m leaving work early to take care of me (thankful my work allows me to do this)

7) ^ therefore, bubble baths

It all balances out.  Second merp day this week.  2 out of 7 ain’t so bad, I guess!  Positive thinking, positive thinking, positive thinking, come on positive thinking!

Heading on home for some reruns of Friends and some soup and some happy thoughts.

Merp Day

I’m having an icky day.  A merp day.  When I’m feeling anxious or like I’m on the cusp of falling into a depressive state, I associate that feeling with just feeling blah, feeling urgh, feeling merp.  Sort of like:

“How are you feeling?”

“Meh.  Merrrrp.”

Interestingly, I googled “merp” to provide some sort of contest.  Urban Dictionary gave me this definition:

a word said when an awkward conversation is happening to make things less awkward,quiet or can be used as an expression of sadness or to change the conversation
boy: wanna high-five?

girl:….um no

boy: merp

So.

It’s a merp day.

What bums me out even more is that I am coming off of 7 really incredible days!  I felt so happy at work, at home, in between.  I had very few panic attacks at work, and my negative self-talk was minimal.  I had no paranoid thoughts about my boyfriend leaving me, no obsessive dwelling on what I did or didn’t do enough of to make people happy.  I was relaxed, calm, and sort of felt like I floated through all of last week on a cloud of laughter and ease–everything was so easy and comfortable!

I know that I’m in control of my happiness, and that I should be focusing on what is positive in my life.  I should be mindful of my present instead of worrying about the future.  Instead of trying to figure out why I’m anxious, I should just be aware of my breathing.

But today is just a merp day.  It’s a prickly icky day.  Things feel overwhelming, and I’m already fantasizing about being at home, in a blanket, with my boyfriend and my dogs.

Merrrrrrp.

I know that things will get better.  I know that a good day is around the corner, and that my anxiety does not define me.  Already, just typing out these words, I’m feeling a little more at peace.  Also, I have leftover cheese pizza for lunch, and that thought alone is carrying me onward.  Yes indeed.

Deep breathes in.  Deep breathes out.  Go away, merp day!

Mental Illness Awareness Week

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Oct 5-11 is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada, a national public education campaign to help shed light on the reality of mental illness.  1 in 5 Canadians are suffering with or recovering from some form of mental illness, including yours truly!

I am extrmley fortunate to work in a facility that promotes education and growth.  I have a vast amount of resources available for me, resources that help me understand the way I am, how to find relief, and how, ultimately, to know that my illness does not define me.

I am also very lucky to have healthy and positive relationships with the people that I love, who are understanding and supportive.

I found this book while I was teeming through the piles that we put on display at the library.  It’s a collection of personal essays from people in Canada dealing with mental illness.  It’s so nice to read their thoughts and experiences!  Too often, I find self help books to be distant and like I am reading a textbook. Actually hearing from everyday people like me feels like I’m not alone!

Today I did something I consider brave.  Not a lot of my friends know I suffer from mental illness.  I get swallowed by that endless stigma that our society places on people with mental illness: that I’ll look crazy, that people will be weird around me, that my “less than perfect” outward appearance will have failed society’s standards for “normal”.

Well.  Fuck normal!

So today I posted a selfie, the above selfie, declaring my love for “Out Loud” , my support for Mental Illness Awareness Week and my position as one of the “1 in 5” Canadians fighting mental illness.  Scary!  But relieving.

Happy Friday, indeed!

🙂

Social Anxiety in the Workplace

I am really lucky.

I work in a public library, and sit at a desk in an office where I can go about my work load in a way that doesn’t over exert my mind and my emotions.  I also work with a group of women who are understanding of mental illness, who either go through it themselves and are supportive, or know someone else going through it, and are sympathetic.  Whenever I am feeling anxious, when I shower, get dressed, eat a balanced breakfast, when I’ve done EVERYTHING right possible for my well-being, and STILL I am a big anxious mess, I know that I can call into work at take a day off from the office, work from home, and take care of me, and that I will not be judged or ridiculed or have anyone be angry at me for being absent.

I try not to do this often, though, and anyone who suffers from Anxiety knows why.  Whenever I am feeling low, nervous, worrisome, and panicky, that “perfectionist” voice struts its way into my head with a big dumb megaphone, yelling things like “You should be better than is”, “don’t be so pathetic”, “it’s just in your head, you should be able to control it, why can’t you control it?”.  This then all leads to a terrifying death spiral into critical self-talk such as “you’re weak”, “you can’t do anything right”, “what’s wrong with you?”, “what a failure, you’re such a piece of shit”.

Combine all of that with my Social Anxiety, which fears what people will think of me if I stay home, what they’ll say behind my back for not trying hard enough, and ultimately judging me for being incompetent.

Oy.

Even just writing that all out is exhausting.  Imagine living, eating, breathing that day in and day out?

I am only beginning to understand the extent of how much my Generalized and Social Anxiety inform how I act and think.  For example, this weekend, I took part in a day long course that involved a practical exam and a written exam.  My boyfriend had taken it years before, and said that there was a manual for the course, but that you didn’t need to read it, since the instructor goes over everything in the eight hour day.  So, there goes me, Anxious Kirsten, who likes to be super prepared for everything so she can avoid looking silly and dumb, deciding to wing it and see what happens.

Who knows where this is going?

Not even five minutes into the course, the instructor calls on me to answer a question, one, he says, we should all know because we were supposed to have come to this course having read the manual.

Oh. My. God.

I gave him this doe eyed, deer in headlights look, and shook my head ever so slightly.  He turned to someone else, and I buried my head in my notes, cheeks burning, teeth grinding.  Seconds later, I pulled out my phone and sent a panicked text to my boyfriend: “You said we didn’t have to read the manual!!!”

I spent eight hours having back to back panic attacks, worrying that I was going to fail the test, scared that I would be called on again and again for questions I didn’t know the answer to, and crippled by the idea that there was nothing I could do to help me get through it all (normally, when I panic at work, I take a five minute walk, or go to the break room, or look at pictures of dogs while I drink a warm cup of tea.  But at the workshop, I couldn’t do anything to help me calm down.  I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t take a break.  I sat there with tense shoulders, sweaty everything, a steady course of adrenaline, and a hammering heart and headache all day, trying to remember my Buddha belly breathing, failing, once more, the voice in my head told me, at being “normal”.

At this point, I want to stop and clarify a few things.  Afterwards, when the day was over (yay!) and I had passed both exams (100% on the practical, 94% on the written, yay!), I had to explain to my boyfriend why the panic, why the crippling anxiety.

My boyfriend and I are lucky to know and have one another.  We both deal with Mental Illness.  Though he does not suffer from Anxiety, he knows and understands the way your mind can take complete control.  Still, there is a lot he won’t understand about how I think and act because he does not have Social Anxiety.  If he were to be called out in front of everyone, he wouldn’t freeze the way I did and get red in the face, sweaty all over, shaky in the limbs, and feel like he’d want to vomit.  Or, if he did freeze, he wouldn’t spend the rest of the day worrying over how stupid he looked for not knowing the answer.

But that’s what I did that day.  And that’s what I do most days at work.  I fear looking incompetent.  I fret over appearing stupid.  I worry over mistakes, I hover around decisions, and spend most of my time carefully planning all of my actions so that I can avoid being embarrassed.

If that sounds excessive, if that sounds at all weird and exhausting, if you’re someone who reads this and thinks My God, it’s just a question, NO ONE was judging you, then I will say to you: you’re right.  It is.  It’s excessive, exhausting and weird.  I spent a lot of time worrying about what you think of me, and I spend even more time panicking about how the thing I said to you at last night’s party made look dumb, and I go to sleep at night wincing and grimacing over the ways I am a weird, neurotic and annoying person because I put too much value in external things rather than in myself.

My rambling has a point.

When all of this happens in the workplace, when I avoid my boss because I fear she will judge me for not working hard enough, when I avoid situations where I have to be social and on my feet, when I spend the majority of my day panicking at my desk for feeling like I’m failing to meet my co workers standards of “good work”, I have to tell myself this:

It is okay to make mistakes.  I am learning and making mistakes is the journey to being the best version of me.

Dealing with Social Anxiety in the workplace is really hard.  I dwell on the “should’s” and worry about the “what if’s” and if I am not present enough, I can talk my way into a panic attack.

But I’m getting better at it.  When those “should’s” creep into my head, I tell myself, and that “perfectionist” voice, that I am doing my best, and that is all that anyone can do.  I choose, on my good days, not to listen to that voice, and to be kind to myself.  Certainly, I’m not great at it.  There are days when it’s easier to listen to that irrational and negative self-talk.  But this week has been a good one.  And the more good days I have, the more easier it is to be kind to myself, and when I am kind to myself, when I actively choose to believe in me, and not in that negative voice that says I will never be “good enough”, then I have the confidence that I’ve always dreamed of, in my work, in my relationships, in myself.

Here are a few other things I do at work when I’m feeling anxious:

Take a break: even if it’s just five minutes, take some time to breathe, walk, or have some tea or coffee.

Deep Buddha Belly breaths: When I can’t escape my desk, when I can’t get anywhere quiet to meditate, I take a minute to breathe in through my nose, down deep into my belly.  I am mindful of my breaths, and of my heart.  I tell myself this: “Breathing in, I am aware of my heart, breathing out, I am smiling at my heart.”

Display a mantra beside your desk, or keep one stored in your phone.  Something that is positive and that affirms your belief in you.  Mine is something simple: “I love and accept myself for who I am.”

Watch a dog or cat video: or anything animal related!  Get yourself smiling or laughing, and relieve those frown-y muscles in your face.

Apply some Essential Oils: this is a new one for me.  I bought Cedarwood Oil a month ago at the suggestion of my mom (thanks mom!).  I apply it on my wrists before bed (it helps with relaxation) and I apply it before heading to work, too, because it’s calming and helps with anxiety.  And if nothing else, breathing it in reminds me that I put it on for a reason: to calm me down (plus, it smells so earthy, you feel like you’re walking through a forest!)

These are just a few things I do.  But everyone is different!  If you suffer from Social Anxiety or any form of Anxiety or Mental Health, I want to know: what do you do in the workplace to help you get through the day?

xox