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.

That dark little rain cloud…

That cloud just keeps hovering overhead no matter what’s done to try and stop it. Last month my psychiatrist swapped most of my medications for new meds in an attempt to make an improvement. I’m now on ten medications (18 pills) a day. My parents worry about me. They say I look drugged, that my pupils are small. That I zone out constantly. From my side I feel exhausted. It’s less zoning out and more nodding off.

I could deal with the side effects if the medications were working but they aren’t. I had another panic attack last night as I climbed into bed. It came out of nowhere, knocking the air out of me, making me feel like I couldn’t breathe. My chest hurt. What if something was seriously wrong? What if I was having a heart attack? I knew I couldn’t stay in bed at that point. I downed a 1mg of Ativan and curled up in my swing chair. No screens, just quiet and a chance to work on my breathing. And it slowly helped. But it wasn’t a one off.

Going out on my own makes me feel naked and exposed. I try different coping strategies but nothing beats the relief of getting back in my door. I’m better out with people but I can’t handle too many activities or stores. Two or three is the most for me. Even writing about going outside is making me nervous and I’m sitting safely in my own bedroom with the front door locked. I’m not going anywhere and yet that fear remains.

And the depression. My whole body feels leaden while everything takes more energy… more effort. Even getting up from the table requires thought and effort. My thoughts are heavy and run slowly. I make more mistakes, typing the wrong letters, using the wrong words. It all seems pointless… futile. What difference is my life going to make anyway? I’ve been trying the whole “fake it ’til you make it” idea but so far it’s not working. And then comes the fear of what if nothing works and I just keep feeling like this forever? I don’t know what I’d do if that were the case. And, for total irony, I got this with my dinner tonight…

20200604_184921-01

 

Eeekkkk….

20200125_185107-02There’s ten more days until I move. Ten measly days. I’ve got a wall of boxes in my bedroom and so much more to do.

Colin got told he had to clean up all his belongings before the agency who’s helping him will help him pack and we’re still waiting to hear about a place for him. He has a packing appointment on Tuesday and I’m crossing everything I own that he has a place. He doesn’t have to be out of here until the 29th but I’d much rather him out as soon as possible.

The cats see this as an amazing adventure. They rip the tape off boxes and dive inside and, mostly Smudge, climb to the top like they’re scaling Mount Everest. It’s going to be a huge shock for them when the boxes are all flattened and taken away.

My psychiatrist is worried about my anxiety, visibly worried. Worried enough that he’s stopped tapering me off Effexor and cut it out entirely so he can put me on Zoloft right away. I wake up multiple times a night and can’t sleep because I’m so anxious then I’m anxious all day. Hopefully the move will help. That phrase has become a mantra. Hopefully the move…

And here I sit, rocking every time I stop writing. I think I’ll put that pent up energy to good use and do some more packing. And tomorrow I’m into the single digits.

I went through a year with a move with no date…

livingroom2Now we’re getting to the deadline. At least I’m assuming we’re getting there. Neither Colin or I have an actual date yet. He’s got someone coming in to help sort and pack next week. I’ve got my own two hands and panic to help me through mine.

One nice thing is I’ve got pictures showing me what my living room and kitchen will look like (I’d love to see the bedroom). And I’ve got a layout that gives me a good idea too. I’m still worried about where everything will go but I’ve worked out most of my furniture and am confident I can fit almost everything in, except maybe my electric stove, which is tiny but my room will be a tight squeeze for most furniture.

kitchen1

The hard hat is not included

I’ve been peering at the kitchen photo, trying to figure out where I’ll put things. The cutlery is easy. As for the rest, I’m thinking it’ll be easier to plan once I’ve moved in and start organizing.

My apartment is going to be great once it’s done. All new appliances… all new everything. Laminate flooring and a lot of kitchen space. The counter’s a bit smaller than what we have here but it has three outlets, which will be a help.

There’s three ways this move is anxiety inducing. The main one is simply not having a move in date. I can’t organize the movers, change my address via Canada Post and the government, or request elevator time with no move in date.

The next is comfort. This here is my home and my room is my sanctuary. I have a lot of new pretty things for my new room but will it feel like my room? Where am I going to go to feel safe? I had an anxiety attack the first time I thought of this and it still makes me uneasy.

The final is socialization. Right now I have friends who live in the building behind mine. I can get there in two minutes. We sing karaoke about once a week and chat on Facebook between times. I also was going to two groups a week, which was great. I’d meet friends on the bus there and there was always something interesting going on. I mentioned groups to one of the support workers whose going to the new building and got told, “Oh groups! Maybe we could throw something together”. That does not make me feel comfortable. Hopefully I can meet people around the building.

Time keeps moving me closer and closer to the date, even if I have no idea when said date will occur. So now I will head down to my storage locker to organize my holiday decorations (I have so many bins) and decide what I need and what can be donated. Hopefully I’ll have an actual date before I post again.

New Year… same me…

New Year same meI saw the meme on the left and it really spoke to me. I’m so tired of making goals to lose weight. It’s a never ending goal. I weighed 170lbs and was in a size medium and it still wasn’t good enough. This year I’m focussing on changing things to make life better and easier for me.

I’m joining a gym, not to lose weight but to keep flexibility and sleep better. It’s one of the healthiest choices I can make.

I’m eating better because I want to stay healthy. Diabetes runs in my family and I’d like to skip that. Plus I really don’t think junk food is going to help my depression. That being said, I have no problems with making easy food. I routinely buy boil in a bag rice and chana masala. That’ll be dinner tonight. Two minutes and a piping hot, healthy meal. My depression and anxiety makes eating healthy a challenge but I’m going to do my best to make quick, healthy meals to nourish my body and soul.

And I’m not going to push myself to the point of an anxiety attack. I don’t have to take out the recycling now, it can wait until tomorrow. Same with the dishes. And the world won’t come to a crashing halt if I sit in my swing chair for a half hour to unwind. It also won’t stop because I took a nap, and if that nap ensures I can function for the next few hours, all the better.

We live in a no pain, no gain society. Work hard… no harder! Train hard… where are your six pack abs? Diet to a size zero. We ask whether someone’s on keto or counting their macros but never how they’re doing mentally or emotionally. Where we are is not good enough when there’s someone else doing better. And we’re rapidly burning ourselves out in a futile attempt at being perfect.

None of us are going to make it to perfect. We all have flaws. As Leonard Cohen writes:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

So do what you can… do what you must… but don’t forget about you. The only person you’re going to be with for your whole life is you and don’t you think she deserves a little respect?

me-on-new-years-day

Me taking a walk on New Year’s Day

Pas de deux…

These days I’m caught up in a dance I don’t want and don’t like. Both dance partners, anxiety and agoraphobia, hold me tight in their arms, making me feel like I’m being torn in two.

Last night I put on quiet music and turned the volume down until it was just background noise. I got my chamomile, rose, and white tea pillow spray and misted my pillow. The bathroom nightlight was on, which meant my room was dark but not too dark, and I read a chapter of a previously read book while ensconced in my swing chair.

The kittens were snuggled at the foot of my bed and stayed there while I made myself comfortable.  Then I closed my eyes and panic hit. It clenched my heart and sent my thoughts into an unreadable whirlwind. It was horrible and terrifying and I just wanted to die so it would stop. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even cry.

I knew what I needed to do. I started with my breathing. This was remarkably similar to taking a toddler’s plastic bucket and scooping the water back to stop the tide. Then I grabbed my bottle of Ativan and took one tablet. The time it took between making that decision and getting the pill was probably only a matter of minutes. It felt like hours. The Ativan makes such a huge difference but it’s addictive so I try to keep from using it as much as possible.

I wonder sometimes if people think I’m faking because I manage to get out and do things but, at the same time, have my meds set for delivery (for example). They don’t realize that some days I can go out to a couple of nearby stores and other days I can’t go out at all. Plus, if I know I have to go out to the drug store every week to pick up my meds, I’m more likely to be anxious about it and unable to go out at all. And just because I can make it through a handful of stores doesn’t mean I’m fine. I’m just as likely to go home and make a beeline for my swing chair, unable to do anything else that night. Cereal for dinner and a 7:30pm bedtime. Even the cereal is a struggle.

I went out to Marshalls today and Superstore. I managed the buses and crowds and even made small talk with the cashiers. And I remembered almost everything I needed (except for the green onions). I’ve also eaten nothing but Kettle Brand Dill Pickle Chips and Bixby & Co Crunchy Peanut Butter and Maine Sea Salt Bites today. A chickpea salad with canned chickpeas and cherry tomatoes for lunch was too much. Dinner’s set to be microwave in a bag curry and rice. I’ve used all my energy today. It’s not just managing all the minutiae, it’s managing it all while controlling anxiety and agoraphobia. Meanwhile depression is still kicking around but anxiety’s been stomping it into the ground. It mostly manifests itself as inertia.

I need to get off the computer.

Fifteen minutes later…

I really need to get off this computer.

I believe this is called executive dysfunction and it shows up in my meal prep and, well, everything. Have you ever needed to use the toilet and had to give yourself a pep talk to go?

I’m simultaneously looking forward to my move and outright terrified. Right now, even on my worst days, I can say, “You’re going to Metro for milk. Can you pick me up a bag of English muffins too?” I’ll be alone when I move. Organizing my groceries around meal planning is great if I knew that I could make curry for dinner on Tuesday. That would be a definite maybe. So I wing it and sometimes even winging it is too hard. So I eat Froot Loops or potato chips and hope that tomorrow will be better.

It’s 4pm this afternoon and I’ve only got 4 thousand steps today. Maybe I’ll go downstairs to the gym after dinner. I’m hoping that extra walking will help keep me from another night like last night. Who knows?

Googles exercise and sleep quality

Apparently John Hopkins University knows and a half hour of exercise can be beneficial. So I’ll be on the treadmill tonight hoping to stave of an anxiety attack like last night. I see my psychiatrist on January 20th and hopefully he’ll have more advice for me too. Until then I’ll be doing whatever I can to keep myself calm and in control of my surroundings.

Feeling down…

Inside my stomach feels like a ball of angst… all hard edges and uncomfortable. Otherwise everything else feels flat and bland. I click on a video and am bored with it after two minutes. I didn’t nap today even though I was up for two hours last night. Or more accurately because I was up for two hours last night. I don’t want to have a repeat tonight. But I don’t feel tired, at least I think I don’t. Usually I’m exhausted by now; today I’m just here. And here is a long grey stretch of nothingness.

My psychiatrist was pleased at how my depression was being handled last month but not happy with my anxiety. So he’s been slowly weaning me off Effexor and switching me to Zoloft to deal with both of them. So far it hasn’t. My anxiety feels okay, unless it’s been subsumed by depression. My depression, on the other hand, feels horrible. I’m not at suicidal yet but I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, how much hopeless can I take before I start looking for a way out?

I know depression isn’t a fun conversation topic but it is a very real one. More than 300 million people world wide struggle with it. A significant amount don’t survive. It’s important for people to know they aren’t alone. There are people like them. There is help. As for me, I’ll be calling my psychiatrist’s office tomorrow to try and get an emergency appointment because the 10th seems so far away.

gentle with yourself

A Hormonal Tilt a Whirl…

There are so many things that could be affecting my mood right now. The medication adjustments (albeit minor ones), the season’s change, “normal” hormonal fluctuations, and so on. What I do know is that my anxiety and depression are not playing together well. Or, more realistically, they’re playing together too well. Anxiety’s screaming, “OMG we’re all going to die!!!” and depression replies with, “Great idea. If we get some momentum going, we could jump the railing before cowardice steps in.”

I’m not going to jump. I’ve got too many friends and family who would miss me plus Blackie and Lara would never understand why I didn’t return. I couldn’t do that to them. People talk about cats being aloof, Blackie and Lara are anything but aloof. And they love me dearly.

I hate this feeling. Everything seems scary but I have no idea why and, at the same time, I don’t really care. Part of me is craving sleep while the rest is dreading it. Last night I drempt I was standing beside a river, watching body parts floating by. The only good thing my mind could come up with was at least they weren’t climbing out of the river after me. I don’t remember what else happened but I was up for an hour afterwards.

And I try to make bedtime comfortable. Calm pillow spray with chamomile, rose, and white tea. My big squishy stuffed carrot. Soothing bedtime music. And my heart still pounds.

It’s not much better when I’m awake. I struggle to get anywhere, breaking each trip into pieces and only focusing on one piece at a time. Sometimes that works, other times it doesn’t. Then I just make do without whatever I was going to get. Going with someone helps… except my someone is Colin which means a monologue on how the conservatives are better and how hard done by men are. I’m hoping this is a phase he’ll grow out of but am losing hope on that one.

And today is the 80th day until I move. It feels like it’s so far away but I have to give notice at the end of this month and then I’m into the final crunch. Another huge chunk of anxiety to deal with.

I’m struggling with posting this. Half of me says that no one wants to hear me whine while the other says there are people who need to know they’re not alone. I can deal with people thinking I’m boring. It’s the people who feel alone that matter to me.

For those of you who feel you’re alone and drowning in pain. There are people out there. They might be hard to find but they are there. You can do it! I believe in you!

keep fighting

Time is sprinting…

Our current building does a home inspection every year and this year’s was done today. When the property manager and superintendent were leaving, I asked who I give the letter of notice to, the management office on the top floor or with the superintendents in the basement. It will be with the superintendents, who were quite surprised we were leaving. Then I realized I’m giving them my notice in three more weeks, the real start of the moving countdown. 83 days (today) seems very long. Two months doesn’t

Colin’s blissfully unconcerned about moving. He knows he’s getting a room… somewhere. Apparently someone in the John Howard Society has one but she was off for the last few days. I need to get Colin to call her tomorrow because I’m not nearly as blase as he is. He’s positive everything will turn out perfectly in the end, like this is some Disney Movie or one of his animes. But we’re not in a show and he needs to be a lot more proactive. Sadly I can’t push him into calling, it’s like moving a mountain. He’s stubborn to say the least.

Next we need to find boxes. It used to be easy. NoFrills, a Canadian grocery store, always had bins of boxes at the front of their store. We’d go in and grab the suitable ones. Now they’re selling yellow shopping bins at the front of the store. I guess free boxes were competition.  I know there’s boxes for sale at Home Depot because my sister got hers there. I’m still hoping for free boxes first.

I should have asked someone at NoFrills today what they do with their cardboard boxes now. No Frills being where Colin asked me to meet him, although honestly, it would have been better if I never went. I knew I was really anxious before I left but my psychiatrist suggested taking an ativan and immediately leaving, which I did. I might as well have taken a skittle considering my anxiety got worse instead of better. The walk to NoFrills  and back were okay seeing as we went through the park instead of down busy roads. And I made a beeline to my swing chair and giant soft carrot as soon as I got home. That helped a lot. Part of me wants to go out for a walk now because it’s gorgeous and being in the woods would be so nice. But the rest of me feels the anxiety squirming around my stomach and knows it would be one miserable struggle.

I’ve bought all sorts of things for my new apartment. Wooden cutlery rack, dishes, beautiful cutlery shaped like tree branches, candles from Bath and Bodyworks. And there’s so much more to buy. I need a new dish rack because mine is falling apart. My garbage can is a cheap one mounted inside a cabinet door and it’s breaking. We need a slim line one for the kitchen. Luckily I get the GST cheque after I move to pay for some of the odds and ends.

And it’s evening here again. The cats are all sleeping, Colin’s watching shows and me? I just don’t know.

And every passing second brings us closer and closer to moving. And then my life will start up anew.

smudge-on-my-packing-boxes

Losing myself…

We were all lazing around the resort pool on a hot tropical afternoon. I was a bit bored and remembered that someone I know, who was on the trip, used to brag about her “gaydar”. So I went up and asked her to guess me. I wasn’t that interested in the label, I just wanted to see if she actually read my posts.

“Kath,” she replied, “you’re not going to like this but I see you as being lost, lonely, and desperately looking for labels.”

I was simultaneously shocked and angry. Shocked that she could think such a thing and angry that she paid that little attention to my life. I’ve been identifying as an asexual for around four years now and panromantic for almost as long. I never mention it anymore because the label gets too long but I’m still demiromantic too. We have to be friends for me to be interested in a relationship. The last four people have been friends. I’ve only ever mentioned two of them though.

A little while ago someone who’s very close to me told me several things, all having to do with “the old me”.

“These days you put yourself in so many tiny boxes. The old you wouldn’t do that.” and so on. I’m assuming the boxes are sexual orientations.

Most of the conversation washed past with the “the old you” comments stinging like a wasp’s bite. I know I’m not the same as the old me. I have memories, both my own and on Facebook. I know I could do a lot more before my breakdown. I didn’t need daily naps and didn’t go to bed at 8pm. I didn’t struggle with making simple meals. I used to meal prep on Sunday, something I think I posted recently, and had no problem doing so even though it took most of the day.

Being told I’m not the same as the old me makes me feel like the new me is an inferior copy, one that can never succeed.

It’s noon on Monday and I’m still in my pjs. I’ll get dressed soon but will likely pass lunch because there’s nothing I can think of that I want to eat. It’s okay because I’m not hungry anyway.

I try my hardest to be a good and decent person. I hold doors open for people, smile and hold a cheery (albeit brief) conversation in the elevator. I always make a point to smile and say “hi” to the homeless people downtown and give any food I have, which is usually my own lunch. I support people on Facebook, helping talking them down from suicide sometimes, giving relationship advice (mostly how to tell if it’s abusive). I’m not qualified for either but somehow I’ve fumbled through and helped. And all of that feels inadequate because I’m not working 40 hours a week anymore then coming home to cook from scratch. I’ve always tried my hardest, it’s just that my apparently my hardest isn’t good enough anymore. And I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t go back to my old me. She’s gone now and I have no way of bringing her back.

It’s now 1pm. I’m up and dressed and even fielded a phone call from a Facebook friend of mine. I’ve even made my bed. So now’s the time to wash the handful of dishes in the kitchen and take a nap. I’m going downtown this evening to support having a rainbow crosswalk (or two). I don’t want to leave this post on a down note so here’s a song I sang while my friends and I sang karaoke. My apologies for the couple of flat notes in the beginning and I don’t have a clue where that half a line went. But it does get better, hopefully just like me.