I Fought Anxiety (and I won!)

I really hate anxiety sometimes.

Last night, people started posting pictures of an ice skater I like with this girl who is supposedly his former skating partner and girlfriend. Naturally, everyone was having a giant hissy fit and freaking out. Completely overreacting considering it was just a picture and no one knows a thing.

I wasn’t upset. I really wasn’t. I was more concerned that other people were that upset. I found myself reading all over Twitter instead of just quickly checking my favorite hashtags like I’d planned. People were melodramatically announcing they were going into seclusion and never watching them skate again, crazy stuff like that.

So naturally, my anxiety decided that I must feel so much more upset than I do.

Last day of Nanowrimo, Anxiety whispers.

You’ve been feeling really good.

I told you something would happen to ruin it.

You’ll never make it through tomorrow.

See how awake you feel right now? That’s because you’re really upset.

You won’t sleep.

It’s really late. Why aren’t you sleeping?

See, you’re super upset about this.

Everyone’s going to laugh at you because you’re upset.

Just wait until people find out you let a random famous person dating a person you don’t want them to send you spiraling into a mental health crisis.

You’re never going to write all those words tomorrow.

And then when I woke up in the night for a few minutes:

See, you’re so upset you can’t even sleep through the night.

You’ll never fall back asleep.

You’re going to feel terrible in the morning.

You’re so stupid for liking these people so much.

You’ll never enjoy figure skating again.

And again when I woke up this morning:

Don’t feel good, do you? That’s anxiety. Remember anxiety, you hate it. You’re going to feel like that forever now. Or at least so long that it will mess up your life. Everyone’s going to think you’re stupid.

And you will never finish your novel for Nanowrimo. It’s all ruined. The fun is over. You’re a failure and you always wuss out.

I know all these things are a lie. I know it’s just Anxiety messing with my brain. I know it’s my own head spiraling and turning one tiny thing into a huge thing inside of my brain.

This morning I woke up with tingling and cold arms. Which tells me something else that Anxiety doesn’t want me to know: this is merely a poorly timed set of withdrawel symptoms. I lowered my dose last weekend. I was due a day or two of feeling crappy and/or anxious. It has nothing to do with my self worth or how much of a life I have.

It’s just Anxiety on a power trip, poking it’s ugly little head up when it spots a weakness, a crack in the wall I’m building.

But you can’t fool me, Anxiety. You can say all those things, you can make me feel sick and shaky and horrible, but I know you’re wrong. I am not a terrible person. I don’t choose to feel like this.

And I am going to write the hell out of today. When I see the numbers read 50,000 words I am going to remind you just how wrong you were.

Take that, Anxiety.

Update:

This was written first thing in the morning on November 30th. I never intended to post it, I just wanted to get some words out of my head so I could get back to my novel. I came across it when re-reading my Nanowrimo novel and was surprised by how coherent and strong my words were.

How could I not share this with the world?

Normally, I would have given myself a day off. But this was the very last day of Nanowrimo and I’d worked SO HARD. I wrote almost 25,000 words in the last three days. I think I had 8,000 I needed for the final day.

I did it. I fought though Anxiety and reached my goal.

And it was glorious.

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How I Cope on ‘Bad Days’

I didn’t have any orange days in February.

I started keeping a mood chart in the back of my planner three years ago and I love being able to look back at the entire year and see many good (and bad) days I’ve had. Anyway, this year orange is the color for an anxious day and February was completely devoid of orange. Instead it was filled with turquoise (for a ‘meh’ day) and blue (a happy day!).

Unfortunately the streak didn’t make it though March, but it was still a big deal!

I’ve been feeling disturbingly good mental health-wise the past few months. Disturbing because some days it just feels weird and suspicious. Unnatural even.

I wrote this on my personal insta a couple years ago and it still says it the best.

For the first time in, probably a decade, I feel like I’ve really got my life on track. I can finally focus on my physical health more. For so long I had to put my mental health at the front of the line because if I didn’t have good mental health, my physical health didn’t really matter. But now I’m at a point where I can focus on eating more nourishing foods and getting more movement.

I’m having fun.

It’s always scary when I start to feel this way because I know it won’t last. I could wake up tomorrow and have a bad day. I could have a series of Bad Days. With Anxiety and Depression there is just no way to know.

Over the years, I’ve developed a routine of sorts. When those Bad Days come (and they will), I know what to do. And that makes them just a little less terrible. For me, I know nothing but time will make that terrible feeling go away. I just have to survive each day at a time until it runs it’s course. Having a routine makes those days a little less scary and reminds me that it will end, just like it did the last time it happened.

Here is how I cope on the days when I wake up and know instantly that things are not all right:

  1. “Comfort” Shows.

I use television as a coping mechanism a lot of the time. I find the background noise comforting while I do other things. When I am anxious, the distraction becomes even more important.

I have two main shows that I use on Very Bad days: Psych and Castle. Both are light hearted shows that always make me smile, even when I don’t want to. They are well written (at least the early seasons) and the characters are like good friends that keep me company when I’m sad.

On days that are a little less bad, I have others I add into the mix: The Mentalist, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, Elementary. You’ll notice these are all police procedurals. I find the predictable format reassuring and they all have clever and quirky characters that keep things from getting too serious. (I love Criminal Minds, but that one has to wait until I’m much more emotionally sound!)

  1. Comfort Foods.

When I’m a little anxious, I might eat a pint of Ben n Jerry’s to cheer myself up. But when I’m a lot anxious, I’m too nauseated and sick to eat. However, I also know that if I don’t keep something in my stomach I will only get sicker feeling as my blood sugar gets low.

So what do you grab when you’re nauseous? Ginger Ale and crackers. Sipping Ginger Ale (Canada Dry being my preferred brand) and nibbling on crackers doesn’t make me feel more sick and it keeps me from feeling worse because of not eating anything. There have been weeks where I drank nothing but Ginger Ale because it was a simple comfort to cling to and remind myself that things were going to be okay.

I even have a specific type of cracker for the occasion. My current ones are Tollhouse Foccacia crackers in Rosemary and Olive oil flavor. I buy them in bulk and always have a box on hand. Over time, I’ve come to associate these crackers with the comfort they provide. Not to mention they are delicious.

  1. Distraction.

This can be a tricky one. I need something complex enough to keep my brain engaged but also fairly simple. (TV isn’t enough, I need something to do with my hands.) Bad Days bring brain fog, which makes it hard to focus or concentrate, which is why reading doesn’t make the cut. I also shake, especially my hands, and find that I’m more clumsy and prone to dropping things.

Very basic knitting projects have made the list. One year I joked that you could tell the status of my mental health by how many dishcloths I had knitted. (I made a lot that year) The kind of project I usually find tedious and boring is all I can manage on Bad Days.

One year when a medication change left me really messed up for a couple months, I sorted buttons. My mom who is a professional seamstress, has always had huge jars of loose buttons. As a kid I remember playing with them. That year, I spent the better part of those two months sorting buttons by color and type, stringing like ones together on pieces of yarn. Was it a useful project? Eh, that’s debatable. But the act of sorting and organizing was a simple job that kept my mind occupied.

More recently I’ve added puzzles to the mix. I buy mostly 500 piece puzzles from the dollar store (and thrift shops too) that are small enough to assemble in the top of a copier box. That way I can sit on the couch while I do the puzzles. I buy colorful ones and sort the various colors into special puzzle sorting containers before I begin assembling the pieces. (Any small plastic container work just as well. I used them until I decided to treat myself to the “fancy” version.) For me, the sorting is just as enjoyable as actually putting the puzzle together.

Phone apps cycle in and out of this routine as well. I don’t like anything timed, nothing stressful. Solitaire is always a favorite. (I did grow up in the 90’s with a bulky desktop that only had solitaire and minesweeper on it after all.) Other puzzle games cycle in and out depending on the day.

Those are the three things that I primarily use as coping mechanisms on Bad Days. I’m sure other’s look different, especially people who don’t have the ability to stay home as much as possible when those terrible days come. In many ways I know I’m very blessed, although staying at home has it’s own disadvantages.

What do you do on those days that nothing is going to make the darkness better? How do you power through to the other side? I’d love to hear from each and every one of you.

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Boredom and Figuring Out What I Want

My last couple therapy appointments left me stunned with two revelations that were pretty simple.

1. I’m Bored

My mother always described me as a kid as never being bored. I always had a thousand things I wanted to do and never enough time to do them all. That never really stopped until my mid-twenties, when Depression took away my ability to act on those things.

Almost four years ago (with the help of therapy and medication) I was able to dig myself out of that depressive rut. Recovery from a depressive episode that long is a weird experience, but that’s a whole other blog entry (Coming Soon!).

So when my therapist suggested that I was bored, my first thought was, “Yeah right.” I’ve never been bored! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how right she was.

I love routine, and mine had been pretty stale for a long time. I binge watch a lot of television shows, read voraciously, and have gotten way too obsessed with a few game apps (I’m looking at you, Dragon Merge, Klondike, and GSN Solitaire!). I’d become complacent and the variety in my life had been non-existent.

I took her words to heart and made an effort to fight this boredom head on. I learned some basic origami. I started making jewelry again. I bought a few puzzles and kits to put together. After a month of solid rain, I started taking advantage of every sunny day and got out to swim and soak up some vitamin D. Basically, engaged my brain in new ways and worked at getting back to my old self who never allowed herself to be bored.

2. I Need To Decide What I Want Out of Life

My second session ended with a question I haven’t thought seriously about in too long.

What do I want out of Life?

The first few days I reeled from it. It seemed like such a simple question, but so very hard to answer. I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about all the things I SHOULD change, but I never really stopped to think what I WANT.

When I was sixteen, it was an easy question. If anyone had asked me, I would have immediately rattled off what I wanted out of life. I wanted to get married, have a bunch of kids, and write traditionally published romance novels. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I would have those things. If someone had told me what my life would be like at thirty-three, I would have laughed at them.

My life is nothing like I’d planned and different in many ways. I live with my parents (I don’t mooch, I pay rent and live in the upstairs of the house). I don’t have a driver’s license (by choice, I never wanted one). I’m pretty cool with being single (I’m bringing Spinster back!). I’m not sure I would want children anymore if the chance came up. If and when I publish my books, I have no desire to traditionally publish.

Figuring out what I want out of life is going to take longer than I thought. But I’m on the job. I see it’s importance now and I’m going to get going. One thing I do know is that I want to post more on this blog, so I’ll keep you updated as I figure it all out.

Has someone (friend or therapist) ever said something so simple to you about your life that you wondered why you didn’t think of it yourself? How did it affect your life? How do you fight stagnation and boredom? As usual, I love hearing from my readers (all four of you, lol).

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Welcome to Withdrawal Hell

NOTE: I wrote this entry about a week ago and couldn’t get it to post. My symptoms disappeared as fast as they came after almost exactly twenty-four hours, which I really hope is a pattern that will hold for my next reduction in dose.

It’s been about four days since I took my first lower dose and I feel like crap.

It’s not unexpected. When I was a teenager I was prescribed Paxil, which has a bad reputation but was a miracle drug for me. I decided to try something else after a couple years because I let people get in my head about the side effects, which didn’t really bother me all that much (because, for the first time in my life, I felt AMAZING). Withdrawal from Paxil is INTENSE. I remember feeling like a drug addict detoxing. In a nutshell, it sucked.

After a few tries, my psychiatrist finally ended up putting me on Effexor, which works similarly to Paxil. It worked great, and I’ve been very happy with it until this past year when it stopped treating my anxiety effectively. Many anti-depressants poop out eventually, but I’d been on Effexor for about 15 years at this time, so it was a good run.

I knew getting off Effexor was going to be long and unpleasant, and so did my doctor. (I cannot stress enough to go to a psych doctor for your medication. General Practitioners just don’t have the training and education to keep up with these specialized meds and often have people go down in dose way too fast.) I was prescribed a new medication which has worked wonderfully for my anxiety and I’ve been feeling really good for the past couple months, but the time had come to start the process of giving up Effexor.

My doctor knows I had a hard time getting off Paxil so she’s taking me down very slowly. The plan is to get me completely off by the end of the year. So four days ago I went from taking 300mg to taking around 250ish milligrams.

The first couple of days were uneventful, but yesterday I felt my first ‘brain zap’. (if you’ve never experienced them, you lucky dog, I describe it as static electricity to the brain/upper body) Shortly followed by minor nausea and dizziness, as well as a mild headache.

All in all, it could be worse. It’s like when you’re getting over being sick and you don’t really have any symptoms anymore but you generally feel like crap. I just have to rest and be kind to myself while I ride it out.

Hopefully the symptoms won’t last a long time, but they will likely reappear every time I lower my dose. I’m ready, I’m prepared, and don’t have to worry about my anxiety symptoms coming back because I’ve already got other medications on the job. It’s not fun, but I’ve got this.

The hardest part for me is to balance not pushing myself too hard with getting out of the house regularly. My first instinct is to be a hermit and never leave, but that’s my social anxiety and agoraphobia talking and I won’t let them win.

Mental Illness has left me feeling hopeless for long periods of my life, but despite the general sick feeling I’m dealing with today, I feel hope. Hope that things will slowly improve.

So take that, Effexor withdrawals. You’re not going to rule my life.

**DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a medical professional. I am merely a patient who has been treating my mental illness for many years with medication. Nothing I say should be taken as medical advice; go to your doctor for that. I am merely sharing my experiences with others.

Have you ever had withdrawal symptoms while going off medication? How did you deal with it? (If you’ve never had the pleasure, feel free to ask any questions you might have about the process. I’m happy to share my experiences.)

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#MakeChesterProud – One Year Later

(From a series of posts I made on Twitter on the one year anniversary of Linkin’ Park frontman Chester Bennington’s death; placed here as a  permanent memorial.)

When I got the email last night from @TheMighty about the anniversary of Chester Bennington’s death I didn’t think it would impact me. My first thought was to wonder why people kept track of the day. Today I put on the playlist #themighty put together and I understood.

Last year when I saw the news that Chester Bennington had killed himself and read about his history with mental illness his death hit me in a way few celebrity deaths do. Suddenly I understood why Linkin’ Park’s music meant so much to me as a teenager. Why those songs meant what they did to a scared, anxious kid who didn’t understand why her mind was hurting her.

When #LinkinPark first came out with “One Step Closer” I was 15. To me their music was a complete game changer and I probably listened to Hybrid Theory a thousand times. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. When I was frustrated at the world I would pull out my Walkman and put my headphones in, blasting the album until I calmed.

Today my heart ached as I listened to “One More Light”. I realized how much of his music I had never heard. When “Leave Out All the Rest” played my jaw dropped in amazement. How eerie it is to listen to on today of all days. We all fear never making an impact on the world or the people in it, Chester put it into words.

If I could say one thing to Chester Bennington today, it would be that he did make an impact. That his music made a difference in so many people’s lives. He will not be forgotten. Even through his death, he’s helping. #MakeChesterProud guys.

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Missed Dose

I feel like such an idiot. It doesn’t happen often. Being on antidepressants for over a decade kinda drills the routine in your head. 

But it happens. My routine changes, something knocks my world off it’s axis, just a minute amount, and it slips my mind. 

I wake up the next morning and something is wrong. My stomach twists and my arms are tingly and cold. I feel the panic begin to rise. My heart beats faster. Hands shake. I haven’t felt this in some time and I begin to struggle to breathe. I feel the anxiety attack rising. 

There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my head. This doesn’t make sense. I’ve been better. I though I was stable. I want to sob. I don’t want to have one of these days. I have weekend plans, for once. 

An idea drifts to the surface. I did take my pills yesterday, didn’t I? I can’t remember, although that doesn’t mean anything. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. 

Breakfast holds no appeal, so I grab the bag of mini donuts I keep for this very reason. Two tiny chocolate covered pastries help me swallow the five tablets in my pill case. I say the colors to myself as I take each one, to make sure I don’t miss anything. Two maroon, then blue, white, yellow. 

I’ve developed a routine for days like this. Step one is a comfort show. I choose Castle, putting the first disc into my DVD player as I think once again how much easier it would be if it was streaming somewhere. 

The first season has 13 episodes and I know all of them nearly be heart. The familiar theme plays and I breathe a sigh of relief, feeling my anxiety recede just the tiniest amount. 

I drink my coffee, more out of routine than for pleasure. The pilot episode plays and I can’t help but smile at Nathan Fillion’s antics as the playboy novelist Richard Castle. 

I know how this goes. At best, I will feel “off” for the rest of the day. Periodically there will be little zaps to my brain, unpleasant but not painful. That will ease as the day goes on. I probably won’t get much done. It’s entirely possible that I’ll finish season one by tonight. 

I struggle to not yell at myself and call myself names. I know it won’t help. I’m not perfect. This has happened before and it will happen again. I know what to do. I take deep breaths and pull out a coloring book while Castle quips on the screen. With any luck, by tonight I will feel normal again, or at least my usual baseline “normal”. 

It’s just one day.

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What Having Depression Means

(This post originally appeared in my personal Instagram account, but it’s message is still utterly accurate so I wanted to share. There may be a few more like this.

2/12/17

Having depression means when you wake up happy, it’s unsettling. Instead of enjoying the feeling, you’re suspicious. You wonder why you have a smile twisting the corners of your mouth. Why is it here and when will it go away?

(Because it always goes away.)

It makes happiness hard to enjoy because you’re constantly questioning it. Constantly accessing it. Is it just a fluke or did you do something different? Was it that good therapy session? The new Vitamin D tablets you started taking? Is it the result of a normal upward swing in your serotonin levels? 

Unsettling though it may be, one thing you do not do is waste it. Depression sucks, but it does make you more appreciative of the good times. You cherish them, make the most of them, because you never know what the morning will bring. 

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My Stolen Imagination

imagination photo

When I was a kid and a teen I had a huge imagination. I had so many story ideas I couldn’t write them fast enough. I kept

lists of novels I wanted to write, ideas that I wanted to explore.

I loved going to bed at night. I would close my eyes and daydream, usually about members of boy bands meeting and falling madly in love with me. Or I’d pretend I was one of my characters and mentally write scenes that were yet to come and exactly what I would write down the next day.

But when I got depressed, that all ended.

I stopped writing, except during November of each year, for Nanowrimo. But I never wrote new ideas, only ones I had come up with years before. I chipped away at my list of novels I wanted to write. When November ended, I turned off my laptop and never went back.

I didn’t daydream anymore. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything to daydream about. My life was so dark and colorless that daydreaming was pointless. Instead, when I went to bed I read fanfiction for endless hours. The familiar characters comforted me. I didn’t like reading original fiction anymore. The idea of reading about new people made my stomach twist into knots.

 

alone photo
Photo by My name is Randy

 

When I finally admitted my depression and went on medication to fight it, everything started coming back. First was my motivation. I wanted to do things again. I cared about my surroundings. People didn’t have to drag me out of the house. I had things I wanted to do.

When we moved here two years ago, I made a rule for myself that I could only read fanfiction at night. No more going back to bed after meals and doing nothing but read fanfic and nap. I had the ability now and I was going to take advantage of it.

Then came reading. I’d never stopped buying books, but they’d sat unread on my shelves. I bought books I knew I’d have wanted before I was depressed, and they were all sitting on my bookshelves, dusty and waiting to be opened.

Lastly, my imagination came back.

For the first time in years, I have new novel ideas. In fact, I’m starting to build up a list again of things I want to write. As I read, ideas pop into my head I need to jot down, complete scenes, characters, little blurbs for future books.

It hit me today how much I’d missed my imagination. Depression had come like a dark cloud, covering up all that was beautiful in my life. It had done so so slowly that I didn’t even realize what was gone until I came out on the other side.

Every day I see a little more of ME come back. And I swear on everything I love that I will never forget to be grateful. Because when the black days come back, I know that the bright days will return.

And the bright days make everything else bearable.

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Things Left Undone- a rare poem

I have to be honest, I’m not a poetry fan. I don’t read it, I don’t write it, I just don’t particularly enjoy it at all.*

*with a couple of rare exceptions, such as Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, and ysome Dorothy Parker.

Last Sunday I took a bathroom break while reading the book “Every Last Word” by Tamara Ireland Stone (if you enjoy YA at all I strongly recommend this book)and when I sat back down this popped into my head and I had to write it down.

So, without further adieu, I present the only poem I have written since my teen years.

 

Things Left Undone

 

sometimes I look around
and all I see
are things left undone

books to be read
crafts to be finished
kits to be sold

a storage box I never filled
mugs never put away
folder laundry sitting there waiting
dresses that should be hanging

a yoga mat gathering dust
oh the dust
there’s so much dust

projects I haven’t started
pictures never hung
paper that needs to be filled
notebooks never defiled

a planner I do not write in
a shirt I will not keep
outfits I have yet to wear
canisters just sitting there

everywhere there’s a place to start
a step to take, a move to make
instead I sit here typing
wondering why
I cannot seem to move
I cannot seem to do

 

I shared this with my therapist yesterday and she found it insightful, so I thought I would share with my readers. If the mood strikes you, I’d of course love to know what you think.

Do you write/read poetry? Have you ever felt inspired to write poetry, even if it is not usually something you write?

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My Motto for 2018

“Be better, not perfect.”

I’ve decided this is going to be my mottofor 2018. I’m a terrible perfectionist and have a tendency to avoid doing things simply because I know I can’t do them the way I want to be able to. This is the year I’m going to put that aside.

Those of you who suffer from mental illness likely know what it’s like to feel paralyzed. You see all those things that need to be done, like cleaning, and all the things you want t

o do, like writing, but you can’t seem to get yourself off the couch and actually do them.

It’s a terrible and frustrating feeling. Especially when you know that getting certain things done will do wonders for your mental health. I don’t know about you guys, but when my apartment is clean and decluttered I feel a sense of satisfaction whenever I look at it. I can’t help but feel better.

But that nasty perfectionism comes and bites me in the butt.

I’ve always struggled with it. It likely began with my mild case o

 

f OCD. I can remember as a kid my mom would send me to clean my room and two hours later she’d find me putting the finishing touches on alphabetizing my bookshelf. I couldn’t see the bigger picture. Everything had to be done just so. To this day my bookshelves are more organized than the rest of my home.

This year I want to put into practice something that I’ve learned from reading books by The Fly Lady (Sink Reflections), and more recently, UnF*** Your Habitat. Both books focus on building routines and doing something rather than nothing. Dust for ten minutes. Give the worst spots 20 minutes every day. Or ten, or five. ANYTHING you do is better than doing nothing.

On an extra hard day, it might mean cleaning my bathroom i

 

n increments over the course of the day. One bathroom trip I might wipe out the sink. Another, clean the toilet. A third, shake out my rugs and leave them in another room so next time it’s easy to run my vacuum around. At the end of the day, it might not be perfect, but it’s a million times better. And instead of putting it off another day because I can’t do everything at once, I’ve divided the chore into short steps that don’t seem so overwhelming.

Life is still frustrating. I was all excited, feeling like my new medication was kicking in and feeling ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, I was sick for the last two weeks of December and by the time I could get up and move, all that motivation was gone. I feel hopeful, however. Maybe the next dose increase will be the one that sticks. It’s obviously working at least a little.

Until then, I’m not going to let myself get tripped up by perfectionism. It’s an ideal I can never achieve and it will only cause frustration and hopelessness.

Be better, not perfect.

Do you have a mottofor 2018? Does perfectionism get in the way of your getting things done? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing from each and every one of you.

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