Sticks and Stones…

CN: discussion of suicide, no details

I learned the words long before I knew what they meant.

Crazy. Insane. Nuts. Psycho. Lunatic. Schizoid.

I learned the words long before I realized our favourite babysitter Margaret fell into that category. She was our funny babysitter who played the best games. Our quiet babysitter who my Mom urgently said to not make cry. I overheard my parents and their friends complaining to each other how no one else would hire Margaret anymore even though she was at no risk to others. It became moot as she was in the hospital more and more. The one time we went to see her she was still, fragile and motionless, her entire body etched in sadness. Several years later my Mom informed me that Margaret was dead. The hospital she had been staying at was the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital, now Ontario Shores. Then it was a cluster of buildings perched beside white cliffs overlooking Lake Ontario. Margaret had gone on an unsupervised walk and threw herself off one of the cliffs. I asked why, something, of course, that my Mom couldn’t answer.

Years passed and I learned what all those words meant. They meant crazy, or mentally ill as many adults said. The rest said crazy too. Crazy meant yelling on street corners… talking to themselves… screaming at the moon… things normal people wouldn’t do. And jumping to their deaths. Like Margaret.

I was horrified to find out that when someone’s discovered, perched up high, deciding whether to jump (because it’s extremely hard to push past that need to live) people will congregate below and yell for them to jump. As if their lives are meaningless, akin to an 8-bit video game. I couldn’t imagine dying being stared at by indifferent strangers while thinking that everyone hated me. Someone who’s suicidal already feels the absolute worst about themself so this would be like rubbing salt in a wound. I wanted to run around and catch every last jumper. To sit beside them and assure them they’re both wanted and needed, that they have a place in the world.

Then it came my turn to fall under the crazy umbrella and I found myself unable to tell anyone due to the stigma. Our local mall is two storeys high at one end; the top storey is cut out in the centre and edged with a waist high railing. I’d never had any issues with said railing, in fact I’d barely noticed it. But suddely I had this incessant need to yeet myself over the edge and plummet to the floor. This would be painful and humiliating but, almost certainly, not deadly seeing as I’d only fall one floor. This urge went on for several decades, leading me to always walk beside the stores. It’s what’s known as “intrusive thoughts” because it’s an unwanted thought and, while it would cause harm, it was not intended to and wouldn’t cause death.

The next thought was at the bus stop. I’d be waiting for the bus then get this strong urge to jump in front of oncoming traffic. It terrified the crap out of me and I’d stand a body’s length away from the road until the bus approached. At the time I thought both of the nightmares my brain was chucking at me were the same. They aren’t. This one is “suicidal ideation” because even though I didn’t want to die I was standing on the side of a minor highway so my chances of making it out alive were significantly lower. Luckily the solution was the same for both. Unluckily the solution didn’t come until I was properly medicated in my 40’s. This problem started in my teens. Without stigma how much safer would I have felt?

And it’s not just me. I’ve belonged to online groups, in person groups, and zoom groups as well as simply talking to people at the hospital (because when you’ve been admitted talking is one of the only things you can do) and the stigma affects everyone. While there are other groups who have negative terms used against them, I think mental illness is the only one who has their slurs used so often and as such broad descriptions.

“That idea’s so crazy!” someone will say, as if an idea could think.
“You’re insane if you think that will work” when it’s simply a proposal that’s different but not particularly risky.
“She’s nuts,” when they really mean eccentric.
“He’s an absolute lunatic,” says his former partner in an attempt to discredit him.

Everything from the weather to the latest clothing style can be described as crazy. The word (and its cohorts) are like a cross between the Energizer Bunny and a Whack-a-Mole game. They just keep going and going and pop up everywhere. And they’re always negative.

I haven’t kept it a secret that I’m mentally ill. Not because I’m super brave or anything, simply because there’s no real way to hide it. I have major depressive disorder (I can’t remember for how long, too long, it can fuck off now), severe anxiety, agoraphobia, autism, mild cognitive impairment (likely due to depression) and ADD – inattentive. We had our Thanksgiving dinner last night and I spent a good chunk of my time in the living room while everyone else stayed in the kitchen. I just couldn’t go in there. There was ten people and four dogs in there plus bright lights and colour. I could hear everyone just fine so I stayed alone but that is just. not. normal. And it’s something people notice.

If people think I’m at risk of harming them because of my diagnosis, I don’t know what to say. The only one I’ve been at risk of harming is myself and I’ve been working my hardest to learn how to love myself again. Otherwise, I rescue fruit flies from my glass and let them walk around on my arm before they dry off and leave. I rescue worms from the sidewalk before they become baked worms. I try to help bigger beings too, especially if I know what they need.

I guess what I’m trying to say is think before you speak. We have an entire language at our disposal, using slurs isn’t necessary. Stigma hurts and keeps people from accessing help, often for far too long. Just because someone’s different doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Different doesn’t mean dangerous.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to spread awareness about the struggles people face and the successes that people achieve. Most importantly it’s there to help inform someone who might not have had this information before. Maybe that someone is you.

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Sixteen more days…

insert me here

Photo by Kate O’Rourke

It was the end of November when my Mom casually said, during an evening call, “We’re all going to Cuba. Would you like to come too?” Of course I said yes. Who turns down a week long tropical vacation with family? That being said, it didn’t feel very real. My parents were halfway across the country, we were facing who knew what restrictions with covid, and it was freaking cold and dark. It’s hard to picture warm, sandy beaches and feeling comfortable in shorts while picking out what gloves and toque to wear.

And the snow came. And the temperature plummeted. And the sun hid herself away. And reality started to jar with my feelings. Sure, it felt like nothing could ever be warm again but the plane tickets and resort accommodations had been booked and paid for. I was visiting my parents and sister a couple of weeks ago and my Mom mentioned my sister had bought her health insurance the day before. I sat on the couch, while my Mom sat beside the fire chatting about insurance and, with a few questions, I bought mine. Mom was more than a bit surprised that I’d purchased it right there, on the phone. But the days have gone since we took everything to a travel agent.

Years ago I read a biography by a woman who wrote about her childhood in Toronto during the depression. It was a memorable book and I read it a few times (although I apparently forgot to read the title). At one point she went to a pool near the beach because, when it came time to drain the pool to clean it, they let the children swim for free until the water was gone. What she remembered was all these children flailing about in a desperate search of water until they all lay tangled on the bottom of the pool. That’s how I feel, flailing about trying to figure out what to do and when. I need my passport but what if I put it into my purse now and get my purse stolen? I’m 51 years old and have never had my purse stolen but that doesn’t stop me worrying. Flip side is what if I forget it? My passport is right. in. front. of. me. What if I don’t have enough clothes? Unless they have speed eating moths in Cuba I think I’m fine. Forget the moths, will there be something for me to eat as a vegan? According to everything I’ve read there’s a bunch of restaurants, snack bars, and a buffet, I’m sure I’ll manage. What if I get my period? Okay, this one’s valid. I’m in perimenopause and my body’s currently using a roulette wheel to decide when to get things started. So I might not get it for another half year (if at all) or I might get it tomorrow. Only fate and my endometrium can say. The rest is up to planning.

I’ve got three friends coming to take care of the cats (not all at the same time). I’ve got my medications planned because they’re really freaking important. I have quiet music bought and downloaded for the plane and for stressful times. I’ve got several books bought and downloaded onto my phone. I’ve got a battery bank bought for my phone. I mean how else am I going to take 368 photos? I need the power! I’ve even got a neck pillow for the plane, which is really important because we’re getting up at 2am to leave for the airport. I don’t do 2am, exhaustion is the major trigger for my migraines, and the only pain medication I can take with my medicine is regular strength acetaminophen. I’m sure you can all see the problem here.

Cuba tipsThe last thing I’ve been planning is tips. I’ve been told by a few people that Cuba is really struggling between the 50 year old embargo and covid-19. It’s hard for them to get most products. So I’ve been picking up items for tips. This is what I’ve got. Hopefully this is enough. The Canadian bracelets in the corner are for children and the lettering book could be for a child or an adult. I was also told that many Cubans love the Toronto Blue Jays. I couldn’t find much but I did find these bumper stickers which, presumably, will stick to any hard surface.

I’ve got my countdown list to keep me occupied and the above picture to keep me calm. No wonder so many therapists and counsellors recommend visualizing a beach while relaxing. My brain will be like, “The cats are all going to die while you’re gone and you’re going to end up with permanent liver damage from eating pineapple off the buffet” then I look at that beach photo and all it can manage is, “Aww… so pretty…” Which is amazing because I really do need a shut up button for my brain sometimes. But I digress.

I think the best reminder this trip will bring is that winter is not forever. There is green grass coiled in the roots under the snow and mud. Those trees might look barren but, hidden under every branch are tiny leaves and buds simply waiting for the warmth. The vernal equinox is five days after we get back and the cats, my healthy liver, and I will all be there to enjoy it! The inevitable snowstorm we’ll get afterwards is merely a bump in the road.

The flight, the wind, and then nothing…

TW seriously TRIGGER WARNING this post discusses my worst night when it came to suicidal depression. If you are suicidal or easily triggered, please do not read this post. Also, I have a whole slew of phone numbers, text lines, and websites on my resources. If you need one (or more) please use it.

I wrote this post for my storytelling group and shared it with them today. I’d meant to post this here in January for Mental Health Month but life, aka depression, got the best of me. I’m only ten-ish days late. And so, here it is. I hope this helps and makes at least one of you feel less alone…

hardest thingI stood at the patio door and stared into the distance, my hands leaving sweaty prints on the glass. The space between the door and railing was empty and beyond that there was nothing but air between me and the ground seven stories down. Eight if you included the slope to the basement. Who knew however many feet down down to the pavement… or the dumpster if I aimed well enough. And if I hit the dumpster no one would have to do anything with me at all, they’d just take me away with the trash. That’s all I was, wasn’t I? And this would make me a bit less of a burden. No fuss, no funeral.

I couldn’t see the ground below but I knew it well enough. The dumpsters. The cracks travelling toward the sewer. The random tossing of what Colin and I figured was white paint. Whatever it was never washed away although we couldn’t figure out why anyone would throw paint there in the first place.

Colin. He was off at youth group, on the other side of a copse of trees, and wouldn’t be home for another hour. That’s why I’d picked now, I didn’t want him to be the one to find me. But… I pictured him coming home from group all cheerful and wanting to talk about what happened and discovering an empty apartment. He knew how I was feeling. What if he went to the balcony to check and found me anyway? Or found me as he came through the back door from his group? My family loved him but didn’t understand him. They’d take him in but would it be a good fit? ‘Maybe they’d do better,’ a small voice inside me whispered. ‘It’s not like you’re a particularly good Mom, maybe they’ll get him succeeding at school and making more friends. Maybe you’re holding him back’ the voice continued.

I thought about the dumpsters again and figured they were close enough… but they held mostly garbage bags, which were a lot softer than pavement.

I backed away carefully. Was it far enough of a drop considering the relative softness of the bags? I figured it was but what if it wasn’t? I didn’t want to end up a quadriplegic, unable to try again.

Was it or wasn’t it?

Meanwhile I pictured jumping over and over; the flight, the wind, and then nothing.

My feet inched another step back and another until I was in the corner of my room, as far away from my balcony  door as I could and then I reached for my phone. I immediately went on Facebook and searched through my friend’s list for anyone who could help and M showed up right at the top of the list.

M is a mental health friend of mine who has paranoid schizophrenia. While I don’t think she’s struggled with depression, she knows too well the feeling of being out of control in her own mind and was more than willing to chat about inconsequential things until Colin got home. I have no idea what we talked about. I’m not sure I even knew while we were messaging, but she stayed online until Colin was safely inside the apartment and that was what mattered.

Then I told him what happened. And then he pulled my bookcase in front of the balcony door. And then he tucked me into bed and called me his pocket sized Mom. And I slowly drifted off to sleep with my biggest stuffy, scared but with no tears. I’d promised myself I’d never cry again a few months earlier.

The next morning I got up and carefully packed a bag full of safe items, plus a handful of quarters for the payphones on the fourth floor. Then I went to the hospital, by bus, to be involuntarily committed. They were pretty damn concerned about me, right to the point of parking me in front of the nursing station before I got to see the doctor and get that Form 42. Then they kept me in the back part of the ER until the psychiatrist arrived. And then I went upstairs where there’s nowhere comfortable to sit, nothing to do except colour with crayons, where talking to my Mom costs 50 cents (and if she calls the payphone someone has to come hollering down the hall for me), and there’s that all time favourite meal time task of buttering cold toast with a spoon. I stayed for a week, I’ve stayed for a week in all my five or six stays. And then I went home.

I ostensibly got better but I wasn’t really. I was simply auditing my life. I had one foot out the door and, if things went south, I was gone. I’d made a new plan and was all set. Life was going okay so far but I always felt like something awful was waiting around the corner. And I was ready.

Life came back in the weirdest of ways. Our local Pet Valu had two white kittens and I’d always wanted a white cat. I wasn’t worried about finances at the time, for obvious reasons, so decided now was the time. Colin couldn’t imagine the second kitten being left alone without her sister and begged for us to get her too. So we did. But the Humane Society only took cash and we didn’t have $200 between the two of us. So we ran around withdrawing money from my credit card and buying pack after pack of gum so we could get the maximum cash back at the grocery store. Then we finally had enough and took them home. Colin fussed over them but it was me who dealt with all the tiny details. I kitten proofed my balcony to the point where they couldn’t escape even if they took up pole vaulting, and supervised them outside playing every 5am.

Both kittens were tiny and still had an intense urge to nurse. Smudge on my stuffed lamb Rufus and Lara on our then 10 year old cat Blackie. I was the one who kept them in my room at night and woke to them sucking frantically. Who moved them to their food and water bowls and made sure they ate and drank. They gave me a focus and a sense of purpose. And then one night I woke suddenly just as Smudge, who was playing near my head, rolled off the side of my bed… and I somehow managed to reach out and grab her.

I was a bit shaken. That was a big drop for such a little kitten. But she was calm, staring peacefully into my eyes. She knew I was going to catch her. That I always was going to catch her. I was the centre of her world. And that’s when I realized I couldn’t kill myself. People could talk to each other and comfort each other but she’d never know. The centre of her world would simply disappear. And I couldn’t do that to her.

There are many reasons why people decide against suicide. As for me, I did it for a cat.

Another year older and hopefully wiser…

Last year was the big year, the big five-oh, and I had it all planned. A mother-daughter-sister visit to Ste. Anne’s Spa with my Mom and sister. I poured over their website, checking out every room and cottage available to our number of guests, searching for the perfect accommodations for us. My favourites were saved in a file on my computer, all ready to be shared when it was close enough for us to book. And then covid hit… and stayed. My birthday was lots of fun but I don’t think anyone could say that eating takeout pizza in my kitchen (with family) in any way compares to eating a freshly prepared gourmet meal on a beautiful patio, also with family.

my beach selfieThis year was different. My parents left in early July to visit my other sister, halfway across the country and I gave up on the mega planning. My napkins and candle were from last year and plans were made on a whim. And it was fantastic! I started out with an exercise class (that wasn’t the fantastic part) and then a video call with my parents so they could see me open their present to me. Then I visited friends who lived near my old building, the friends I sing karaoke with. We went to a nearby Dollarama and I found three fall items that I spent all last fall looking for and didn’t succeed. They’re going to look so good in September. They’re so not getting put out now. By that point it was time to head home and I got back just in time to have another friend over for dinner followed by an evening trip to the beach. Plus a video call with Colin. Plus my sister and her boys came over for dinner two evenings later. It’s been busy but a good busy and it was so nice to see everyone.

I thought I would have things more figured out by my 50’s than I do but here I am still chanting “righty-tighty lefty-loosey” when I need to loosen a screw and singing the alphabet song whenever I have to remember where a letter goes. I spent half a cab ride wondering why the driver kept going left when his little robotic directing device was telling him to go right… only to realized I’d mixed up my directions (again). Left and right are very nebulous to me. And I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, although I have changed my mind about being a garbage man.

One thing I have figured out is I need to take better care of my mental health. Years ago I told the man who called me from Canadian Pension Plan – Disability that it felt like something had broken inside my brain and I didn’t think it was ever going back together. I still feel that way. I’ve made strides in so many ways and I’m sure I’ll make more but I need a nap every day because I’m drained by early afternoon. Lately I’ve been too tired to even eat lunch. And my memory is… wait… what were we talking about? Oh yeah, I saw the cutest brown bunny on my walk last week.

So I’m in several online groups, which would be in-person if it wasn’t for covid, and I talk to Colin several times a day. I hang out with at least one friend a day too. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy starts in just over a week and I’ve got my kitties for lots of snuggles and attention. So many positive things.

Evelyn the cypressOne thing I have been doing is decorating my apartment so that it feels more comfortable and homey to me. It’s a lot easier to relax and feel calm in a place you feel safe and at ease, right? I’ve worked a lot on my bedroom and the living room and now I’ve been working on my kitchen, with the help of a Homesense gift card from my parents. I didn’t like the top of the cabinets, it was way too bare. I had one little tin of yellow and orange flowers at the end closest to the stove, I bought them from Dollarama last year. But they simply emphasized how empty the rest of the space was. I took an hour long bus ride to the nearest Homesense and found the perfect pot for my mini cypress Evelyn. I didn’t, however, find the rectangular planters I’d been hoping for. They did have fake marble pots similar to the ones on my table, so I grabbed two of those. Now I needed something long to place in the middle space. I got to the end of the aisle and noticed white and burlap and then the word “kitchen”. It was a big, rectangular framed wall art and just the right size and shape. Basically it was eminently suitable. I took a quick look at the rest of their art but there was nothing else remotely similar. So I bought it and stood precariously on the counter to hang it up. I’m telling you, 51 years old and climbing onto a counter don’t go together well. But I got down, cleaned up, and took a good look and, wouldn’t you know it, I absolutely love that picture. It just ties together the whole room. I might change up the greenery someday but for right now it’s just perfect.

And now I’m going to pull on my super soft nightie from my Mom, give Oreo some scritches under his neck and behind his ears, grab my phone and my favourite peanut butter cups, give Evelyn the cypress a good sniff (because she smells so good), and play my favourite phone game. Because that’s what life is, it’s all about the little things. The big things might be flashy but the little things are the meat of our lives and they’re what counts.

I hope you have a quiet, comfortable, and peaceful evening wherever you are (and if you have a pet, give them a skritch for me).

kitchen with Pooh mitts

Positive reinforcement isn’t positive…

plus signI play a game called Redecor on my phone. It’s a fun and relaxing game. They post colourless rooms and you need to “colour them in” with various materials such as fabrics, tiles, and wood. Then everyone is organized into groups of ten, we all can vote for which room we like the best (two at a time), and finally the top three people win prizes and we move onto the next room. Simple right?

Not so simple. I was fine with decorating the rooms and love choosing the colours and the materials (I’m absolutely in love with the Caribbean upholstery and the Peacock sequin cushions). It’s great hanging out in the Facebook groups too. And a friend of mine (the one I sing karaoke with) plays it too so that’s great. No, it was the easy peasy room judging that left me doing my breathing exercises and reassuring myself and I couldn’t figure out why.

First I’ll quickly explain how the judging works. You click on the judging and are shunted into two options. The first has you judge five sets of one current room (10 rooms in all). You see two rooms, no identifying information, and then you choose. Once you choose you see the same rooms but with the people’s screen names, the level they’ve completed this season, and their current score (out of five). The second has you judge ten sets of ten “design duel” rooms (so 20 in all). Everything else is the same except you see their score by percentage. Also, after you vote you get a prize, kind of a “thank you for voting” thing. It’s usually $75 for for first option and $150 for the second but I find you can get quite a bit more between 8 and 9pm. That being said, there’s nothing overtly scary about the judging. No punishments, you can’t vote “wrong”, it’s just a game. And I like flipping through and seeing all the pictures, at least until my chest starts tightening and it gets hard to breathe.

I think I inadvertently loosened something recently. I’m in a Storytelling group run by a mental health organization and, while my story about explaining non binary to Colin was well liked, everyone else dealt with big issues that had big feelings. So I thought that maybe I could talk about my early school years. I don’t know why. I’ve blocked most of those memories away then deadbolted them shut. But I thought… maybe??? And I remembered myself standing on a stout pipe that stuck out of the school, watching all the other kids playing together and wondering how they decided to be friends. Then I picked out one girl who looked friendly and a bit like me and went over to ask her… in front of her friends… and I mentioned that I thought we looked alike. I just remember the stunned disbelief and the laughter. I don’t remember what was said but it was enough to send me slinking back to the pipe. Enough that the next time I made friends with someone at that school, it was a tree.

But that memory was enough. I was sitting at the kitchen table late this morning and flipped the game over to judging. Soon the panic began to build but, this time, I could hear myself instead of just staticky panic.

C’mon Kath, you need to pick right. You need to pick the right one or else they’re going to take your reward away.

And, as soon as the word “reward” hit, I knew exactly what was going on. The reward is why positive reinforcement is supposed to be so good. There’s no punishment, you’re simply rewarding for good behaviour. Really? You ask a child who was promised a chocolate bar if they washed the dishes then missed a dish and didn’t get the chocolate bar if that’s a reward or a punishment. The child knows about the reward, it’s not a magical surprise that happens later, so if they don’t get it they know that too.

I find myself trying to pick the right rooms so I’m voting with everyone else so I don’t get stuck voting the wrong way. There isn’t a right way or wrong way in the game. And I’m often stymied by the lack of rules. People say beige and one pattern is the way to go and then someone will make a room with three bright colours and just as many patterns and get a great score. Then I end up blindly guessing until I recollect myself and assure myself that it’s alright to pick the room I like, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

When I was a little girl I had undiagnosed autism, ADD, and dyscalculia. My coordination was horrible. I struggled to hold a pencil. I was also incredibly bright, talkative, and wrote well enough that the teachers were passing my stories around in the lunchroom because they were so cute and enjoyable. Basically I was a mixed bag and needed help. I also needed someone to realize I was trying and not dawdling around and daydreaming on purpose and my numbers didn’t drift because I was lazy. All kids want to do well and please the adults around them, if it’s not happening, we need to sort it out. I don’t know how, I just know that positive reinforcement isn’t the way.

The adults around me were trying to teach me but the way they were trying wasn’t working. I wasn’t getting it. That, to them, meant I wasn’t trying hard enough (note they never wondered about their own teaching skills). So, since I must know the subject since I’d been taught it enough, I was given assignments with positive reinforcements to encourage me. And what do you do when you know you have to answer like everyone else but have no idea what to do? When you have to answer no matter what? You guess of course. And I was left panicked because if I didn’t guess correctly I was going to lose my reward, through absolutely no fault of my own, even though I was trying to the best of my ability, because the adults around me couldn’t find a different way to teach me.

Forty-three years later and it’s still strong enough to trigger anxiety attacks. Don’t tell me positive reinforcement is positive.

Love has whiskers…

1st pictureCN: mention of suicidal thoughts

Five years ago this past Saturday, two white kittens were born. I, of course, had no idea of this. I had no intention of getting kittens any time soon. I had bought my wedding dress the day before and plane tickets to visit my fiance in England two weeks earlier. My life was planned out in ways that did not involve kittens in Canada. We’d roughly planned most of our small wedding and ogled wedding rings (he’d urged me to get my finger sized as soon as possible). We even picked out which town to live in. I just needed to save up and stay sane. Unfortunately the latter one was proving to be increasingly difficult.

I admitted that I was suicidal at the beginning of May and he broke up with me two days later. Then I finally went into the hospital a month later and he blocked me everywhere the morning after I was released.

2nd pictureTo say I was devastated would be an understatement. We’d been friends for half a decade and best friends for most of that. I trusted him completely and implicitly. He knew my deepest secrets and I’d felt that he’d always be there for me. Always turned out to be a very short time. Breaking up is horrible at the best of times, breaking up while deeply depressed and suicidal is absolutely horrific. And throwing my best friend into the mix made it even worse. I remember one night, messaging a friend and begging her to please stay online and chat with me. I wanted to die so badly and the urge to jump was so strong. I couldn’t do it while Colin was there but he was at Youth Group for another half an hour. The balcony pulled like a magnet and the thought, “just a moment [in the air] then it’s over” looped on repeat. Thankfully she stayed on messenger and chatted until Colin was home and I felt safe enough. I honestly don’t think I’d be here if she hadn’t. And then I had a dream.

It was one of those dreams that faded almost as soon as I woke up, leaving only the smallest pieces behind. And one of those small pieces was the image of a white cat. It lingered with me all morning right through us heading out, me to the lab for bloodwork and Colin to the pet supply store for, well, pet supplies. I noticed a cat adoption sign outside as I walked past and thought of that white cat then I decided I couldn’t be that lucky. I was unlucky in one way, the lab had stopped serving people who weren’t patients at that clinic, but I was lucky in another. When I asked Colin if there was a white cat up for adoption he informed me the only cats there were two white kittens. We immediately went to take a look.

Of course we held them. Of course we fell in love. And while I was waffling hard about which one to choose, Colin came up with a plan. Why didn’t we each adopt one? And so we did. It wasn’t that simple. They only took cash which necessitated a run to the grocery store and multiple transactions before we had enough paper money to cover both their fees. And we ran into Dollarama to pick up supplies to kitten proof my balcony (it was like the Fort Knox of balconies… I kitten proofed up to 6 feet, you know, in case they could jump really high).

And soon we were home, watching them nose around, sticking closely together. Our other three cats stuck together too and watched those little balls of fluff roam around. Thankfully everyone settled in soon.

For anyone who’s suicidal, I can’t recommend kittens strongly enough. One of them gets lonely… you can get three if you really want to spice things up… but two is perfect. Smudge and Lara were so small when they got here, small enough to crawl under the dresser and bookcase. And both still wanted to nurse. Smudge latched on (literally) to my stuffed lamb Rufus while Lara suckled on a bemused Blackie’s chest fur. Which was cute except they’d forget to go eat real food. Instead their nursing got more and more frantic as their hunger increased. I was already restless and awake multiple times a night but now it was with purpose. I was listening for that frenetic sucking then lifting them over to my side table where I’d placed their kitten food and a little bowl of water. Then I’d wait for them to finish and ferry them back to bed. This happened until dawn, which is damn early in the summer, when they wanted to go outside and play on my balcony. And I’d sit with a mug of hot chocolate and watch the sunrise and enjoy them playing with toys and each other.

The biggest part was that they needed me. I was lost. I couldn’t find myself. I wasn’t sure I was even worth finding. They didn’t care. They loved me and trusted me implicitly. I remember waking up once as Smudge, who was rolling around on her back, rolled right off the edge of the bed. And I caught her. It was one of those “I can’t believe I managed that” moments. Then I looked into her eyes and all I saw was trust. She had complete faith in me that I’d always catch her… that I’d always be there for her. It was definitely a moment for me, a realization that I couldn’t just off and kill myself. I could make excuses for family and friends that they have other people around… people with stronger connections… but that trusting innocence? She would never understand why I was gone and why I never returned – and no one could explain it to her.

I’ve got friends and family who love me dearly but, honestly, it’s not the same. Love often comes with strings attached, like guilt or embarrassment. Animals just give you love. They loved me for me. Not who I should be, not who someone thinks I am, not who I was ten or twenty or thirty years ago. Me. Right here, right now. They’re the glue that’s been slowly help stick this heart back together again, one piece at a time.

3rd pictureLara is the clown of the two. She’s chubbier and the one people see the most as she runs for the door as if it’s for her. She also likes to check in on zoom calls. I often have scratch marks on my arms and legs as she pats me for attention and doesn’t always remember to retract her claws. And she’s also the sweetheart of the group. If one cat’s going to be snuggling with another, you can be sure Lara was the instigator and often the one grooming too (as you can see in their birthday photo).

Smudge is the quiet introvert. She sleeps on my swing chair or perches on the table above everyone. She’s the only one who does either and I’ve long since given up on the table as she jumps back up the second I put her down (over and over). When she gets tired of the world, she retreats to a box in my closet, which she lies on. I’ve padded it with a soft dog blanket now to make it comfy. She play fights with Lara and gets along with the others but otherwise stays alone. Except for me. Every time I sit in the swing chair she lies on my chest, purrs in my ear, drools into my hair, and waits for a belly rub. She does this so often that one side of her is faintly blue from rubbing against my hair.

Smudge and Lara were born on the Vernal Equinox, the time when day and night are equal. A time of promise for more light and hope ahead. For two cats who spread joy to everyone who meets them, I can’t imagine a day more suited for their birth.

Happy 5th birthday! You two are the best kittens ever and deserve all the skritches and all the treaty-treaties and all the crinkle balls and plastic springs. I wish you many more happy years and I’m looking forward to spending them with you.

Self help coming out my ears…

The first time I saw a therapist was in college. She was a nice lady and I felt so bad for her because all I did was sob through each session, I couldn’t manage to say anything. She suggested Prozac, in fact she might have been qualified enough to prescribe it, it’s been a long time since I saw her. But my Mom worked at the drug store and the pharmacist terrified her with the side effects. It was another decade before I took that medication.

Years later my marriage was rapidly dissolving. My ex haughtily informed me that I was being too hasty and he wanted to try counselling. Except he didn’t want to look and he’d only go if it was free. So I asked my doctor about that and about counselling for myself only to be told that both were expensive and free would be years… probably close to a decade. I left feeling defeated about the counselling for me and relieved I could guilt-free yeet my husband out of the apartment. No way was I putting up with ten more years of his bullshit!

It was again another decade before I found out about free therapy in my neighbourhood and I called immediately. I went on my own then I went jointly with my daughter and then Colin went on his own. Sadly there was a cap on the number of sessions we could take but it was definitely a help. Since then I’ve had another short term therapist who was really kind and friendly. Unfortunately he wanted me to carry a clipboard with me everywhere I went and fill out an 8.5×11 inch chart during every anxiety and panic attack. Because there’s nothing I want to do more when I feel like I’m going to die than fill out a chart! Needless to say my clipboard stays at home. Then I got a therapist, a friendly elderly man who immediately became severely ill and is on indefinite sick leave.

This would have ordinarily left me at loose ends but, thanks to covid (and I’m floored to say that), I’m doing fine. Because of covid there are zoom classes available from every organization and I signed up to every single one I could find. Which means that I joined four 1 1/2 hour long self-help classes this fall. This is on top of the three zoom exercises classes a week I’m already taking. And all the self-help classes had reading and homework.

It definitely wasn’t easy. My memory is awful so I’d forget which instructor said what plus three of the four classes were very similar, two of them even had “self compassion” in the name. I have noticed a difference in how I treat myself though. I treat myself kinder, forgive myself easier. I try to grant myself patience, especially during those times when I’m in a whirlwind of panic, positive I’ve screwed up everything… even though absolutely. nothing. is. going. on.

Would I ever do it again? I’d say no, it was too busy except… I saw the information for the winter groups and quite a few of them sound interesting. I’m going to have to take a closer look and make a few calls on Monday.

so many groups

Is it a good fit?

Back in June I asked my psychiatrist if I could have a referral to a therapist and he immediately obliged. Thankfully the therapist took on my case and we had our first phone appointment in early July, a case history. He set the next appointment for exactly a month away and then I was left hanging with nothing to work on.

The month went by and I finally had my next appointment. The therapist was all set to work on my agoraphobia and anxiety until I told him that I’d come to the realization that I hate myself and he focused on that instead. I figured he’d want to try and figure out where the hatred was coming from and work on getting me to think more positively about myself. But no. Instead he wants me to make a whole new self, one that I’ll like, built on the carcass of the old me. I’m still not wrapping my head around this.

He continued on by telling me I should have no close friends at all, that ideally I should aim for 14 or 15 superficial friends. That people prefer pleasure and push away pain and, when you have close friends you talk about deep subjects that can make people uncomfortable… which makes them push you away. But with superficial friends you only talk about light things, like the weather, so the topic never gets deep or painful.

My whole being shudders away from this. I don’t mention it often but I’m demi romantic, closer to aromantic than asexual. I crave deep friendships and I can’t have a romantic relationship without having a deep relationship first. No deep friendships means no relationships ever.

And then he gave me an appointment two months away with nothing to work on except to write and make superficial friends. What am I supposed to do? Chat up the cashier? So I’ve got until the end of September to figure out what to say to him. Hopefully we can figure something out that will work better for me.

smudge2

My cat Smudge being cute and nibbling on my sunflowers

Just what I needed… another diagnosis…

me1-filteredI talked to my psychiatrist this week and he agrees with my therapist that I have ADD. This is something I’ve wondered for a while, something I brought up with my family doctor well over a decade ago, but nothing was ever done about it. Now something has. I’ve been placed on Adderall with an increase next week and it’s making a world of difference. Suddenly I can organize. My thoughts don’t fly around like frightened birds. And it’s helping my depression too, apparently it can do that… work alongside antidepressants to make things better.

That being said, I have so many diagnoses already. I’ve been diagnosed with:

major depressive disorder
severe anxiety
agoraphobia
autism
and now ADD

The list seems to just keep growing. The good news is my psychiatrist has emphatically said I don’t have a personality disorder which scratches sociopath, borderline personality disorder, and narcissist personality disorder off the list entirely. And hopefully I won’t gain any more.

I find some people get upset about labels, even if they’re on someone else. I, for one, find them a help. They help explain some of the quirks I’m dealing with and lead me to people who are dealing with similar quirks. Sometimes they offer solutions for the more annoying ones.

I didn’t really need another label but at least it was one I was already expecting. And that helps.

A tiny bit of an update…

I try to write at least once a week but just haven’t been up to it lately, this along with everything else. I figured I’d pop in for a quick update. I’m still here and still depressed. Sometimes I wonder if I irritate people by mentioning it over and over, I’ve been almost constantly depressed for four years now. But, honestly, it’s worse on this side.

I had my psychiatrist’s appointment today and it went well. He brought up having me admitted but I didn’t want to go. Going meant being away from the cats and my home. No Doctor Who. No listening to music. I’m second and third guessing myself now but it’s done and I’m in my pjs. I don’t particularly feel like doing myself in at the moment. I’m currently seeing (by phone) my psychiatrist every two weeks and my Canadian Mental Health Care workers twice a day (once a day on weekends). Sometimes I think it’s overkill then sometimes I start making plans. I’ve got my cats and my family though, I can’t leave them.

Is this post long enough? It’ll have to be long enough because I can’t write more. I’ll add a photo too. Oh and my psychiatrist is putting me on Adderall because my memory sucks and I’ve got the attention span of a squirrel on crack. Picture. Must add picture.

me with balloons

Hopefully me once the Adderall starts working