Living with anxiety…

A few years ago, before mental illness fully struck, I would not have understood how someone could live every day and every night with anxiety. I would not have understood how simply rocking could be a relief. I would not have understood that feeling in the pit of my stomach. How, when the anxiety grows, that feeling creeps upward, pushing under my ribs and strangling my lungs, leaving me gasping and panicking. But that was then.

I’ve finally got a medication routine that seems to be helping. I no longer look at high places and think of death. I no longer pause before grabbing a knife to chop veggies. But that doesn’t mean I’ve gone back to normal. Normal doesn’t exist anymore.

These days I go to two very different community groups. Both are two hours long. The first group is social recreation. We make crafts, go bowling, watch movies, play board games, and simply talk. The second group, called Wellness, does something new each week as well. We’ve gone Nordic pole walking, done yoga, learned about finances, learned how to knit *cough* I mean other people learned how to knit, and baked cookies.

My social rec group is very small and easy for me to manage. I enjoy the Wellness group too but, when it’s crowded, it is hard for me to cope. I’ve had one panic attack in that group and the staff and other students were very helpful. I worked past it fairly quickly and was able to rejoin the group before it was over.

I also have people from the Canadian Mental Health Association coming in every other week now. They help with paperwork and will be there for moral support if I need to make a phone call but they’re mostly there for social interaction and to fuss over my kitties, who absolutely adore the attention.

And, finally, I’ve got friends who go out for karaoke with me once a month. They found a bar and it’s perfect for me. I think the highest number of customers I’ve seen (minus us) was six people. I don’t know how the bar stays in business, hopefully they have a good lunch crowd. But it’s something to look forward to.

I walk a fine balance between looking forward to things in my future and overwhelming myself with the sheer amount of days. I pick one or two for certain things and hold onto them as an anchor, proof that the future is coming and will be fine. And it’s not even just the far distant future. I’ve overwhelmed myself by planning dinner because it’s four hours away and what am I going to do with myself until then. There’s too much space to hold on to. That’s the difference between a good day and a bad day.

Some days are great. I chat with Kait, wash the dishes, make a meal for lunch, go grocery shopping, and make something simple for dinner. Other days, the best I can manage is scrolling through Facebook and messaging friends. Getting dressed is too hard, preparing meals is even harder, and there’s no way I’m getting out the door, except maybe in case of fire. Most days are in between. I might stay in my cupcake onsie pjs all day but make a kick ass dinner. I might go out grocery shopping but have an english muffin for dinner. As many people know, it’s all about the spoons.

I’m registered for a new group called Lead your Life. It’s only from early April to the beginning of June and I’m already low key concerned because it’s 2 1/2 hours and I find two hour groups a bit long. I know I’ll manage and I know the group will be great but the anxiety is still there.

I sometimes think about going back to work only, once again, to realize that’s out of the question. If I can’t manage attending a group for longer than two hours, there’s no way I could manage eight hour shifts. I would not be able to get away from loud noise or crowds. If I got anxious, the best I could do is take an Ativan tablet, something my previous manager joked about as in “Kathleen’s going to get high again”. There wouldn’t be an option for going home or going to a quiet corner. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to break my work into manageable pieces with plenty of short breaks in between. I’m reasonably sure I’d have another break down if I went back to work, something nobody wants… especially me.

Right now I’m sitting in my warm room, kitties curled up in various locations, and Facebook open and ready for me to chat. I’ve got enough spoons to make a decent spaghetti for dinner tonight. And for now, I’ll stay content and leave the future ahead of me.


Picture from Joy of Mom


Mental health isn’t just one day…

Every year, in Canada, Bell Canada has a “Let’s Talk” event. It runs for one day at the end of January and is supposed to stimulate conversation about mental illness. Which is great but mental illness doesn’t exist for just one day.

I had a rough day with Colin but it didn’t start today, it started back in August when he came home from his psychiatrist and informed me Dr. A was going to be away for a while. My first thought was summer vacation. It was the right time of year to go.

School and family and appointments went on until one day, I said to Colin, “You haven’t seen your doctor in a while… like a really long time.  Did you make an appointment with him?”. Colin reminded me that he hadn’t made an appointment because his doctor was going away. I remembered that conversation from months earlier. Surely he had to be back by now.

That was when we got a message from the pharmacy saying that Colin’s prescription had expired a while earlier and the doctor was not responding to their faxes or returning their calls. They could no longer extend his prescription and it was ending the following week.

I had a psychiatrist’s appointment that week and Colin’s grandmother was dying in the same hospital so Colin left school a little early on the day of my appointment and came up to meet me. The receptionist informed us that his doctor was on leave and Colin should have received a letter in the summer with his temporary psychiatrist’s name and a request to make an appointment. He didn’t get a letter. There was nothing they could do other than schedule an appointment now but the earliest date available was the end of March. This was the middle of January. We made the appointment. What else could we do? It turned out we could go down to the ER and speak to the on duty psychiatrist.

Colin visited his grandmother, while I politely waited in the hall, then we went down to the ER to wait for the psychiatrist. Well he did. I was struggling with anxiety and went home. He came home quite proud of himself after talking to the doctor and we both breathed a sigh of relief that the prescription had been filled. At least until two weeks later when his blister pack of medication didn’t arrive. We were informed then that the ER doctor only prescribes enough medication for one week. That was when Colin said he wasn’t taking his medication anymore. It didn’t make a difference and he wasn’t going to sit in the ER every single week. I knew it would make a difference but had to admit I wouldn’t want to sit there each week too. And it wasn’t like I could force him to go.

Sometimes it’s not just one thing but a bunch of little things that cause mental health issues. Colin was stable on his medication until those little things piled up and toppled him off. And, to be honest, he wasn’t very compliant with his medication to begin with, something people struggling with bipolar disorder are notorious for. I quickly took over his blister pack, doling them out three times a day, until the pills ran out. Because if I left it to him he’d “forget” two out of every three pills. And we bumbled along until, thanks to a bunch of things, the pills ran out. Then, over a week or two the meds slowly left his body.

For me, today started at 3am when Colin woke up and turned on his videos in the living room. I think he was in the living room, I didn’t even open my eyes, let alone get up. “Emma?” I called. “Can you please turn that down or put on headphones?”

Medicated Colin would have complied. Medicated Colin would have turned down the video or stayed in his room with headphones on because 3am is fricking early. Not unmedicated Colin.

“No! The video isn’t on that loud and I’m working on several different computers so I can’t wear headphones. You just need to learn how to tune things out.”


“Tune it out Mom!”

I ended up drifting back into an uneasy sleep, never knowing when I was going to get woken up again. At one point Colin frantically asked how far our furniture had to be away from the patio doors as our building is having all with windows and patio doors replaced.

“Umm, three feet,” I replied sleepily. “But they’re on-”

“Okay,” he interrupted.

“Emma,” I continued. “They’re on penthouse right now and they’re only doing three or four apartments a week. It’s going to be spring before they get to us.”

“But we only have 24 hours,” he told me earnestly. Sure enough, I got up to find all our furniture moved away from the windows. We can’t use half our table but the windows are clear.

Then came school. He’s started a program at our local college, which isn’t far from us, maybe 5 minutes by bus. He decided not to buy a bus pass this month, instead he’s going to walk or bike. A laudable choice but it’s February. One thing we can count on is snow and slush. I figured it would take him about an hour to walk, giving him time to wade through unshovelled snow and slush.

He wanted to get to school about a half hour early today, which is fine, but he didn’t start getting ready until after 9am for a 10am start. I’m honestly not sure what he was panicking about as much of it was aimed at himself and a bit indistinct due to yelling. He needed a water bottle, maybe a plastic disposable bottle or maybe a reusable one. I told him where we keep our refillable bottles but there wasn’t one. Chances are they’re all in his room somewhere but that didn’t stop the complaints.

He left then came back for something then left again then finally came back. I began to wonder if the door was revolving.

“The sidewalks are wet and slippery,” he yelled. This wasn’t news to me. I’d told him that when he suggested biking in the first place. I thought he was going to walk.

“I need your bus pass,” he continued as he rummaged through my coat.

Then came more yelling. I was horrible and mean for not getting up to help him. It was my fault he was going to be late for school because I didn’t help him get ready. I pointed out it was his school and his responsibility. He stormed out only to call me at 9:59am.

“I’m going to be late for school and it’s your fault,” he informed me. “I’m taking my computer monitor back. I only lent it to you.”

I pointed out that he built me a computer with a monitor but it was pointless to argue. He wasn’t in a position to listen. And besides, there’s no telling what mood he’ll be in when he gets home. He could be angry, exhausted, euphoric, or just simply happy about school. What I do know is the anger will come back and keep coming back until he’s on his medication again. Uncontrolled anger is a symptom of bipolar, along with the swinging moods. It’s a rage that breaks through giddy happiness and blends in with unchecked depression.

“You don’t care,” he’ll sullenly inform me. “You only care about your book.” Or my blog, or Facebook, or whatever I happen to be doing at the time. “I could kill myself and you wouldn’t even notice!”

The only difference between the two rages is his up rage is more vocal and direct while his down rage is more quiet and manipulative. But either way it’s there.

People joke about being crazy  like it’s fun. Sharing memes about driving the crazy bus and being close enough to walk. About using the fine line between creative and crazy as a skipping rope. But it’s not fun.

Crazy is screaming at 3am because the rage is bubbling in your soul and has nowhere else to go. It’s being so happy you’re floating above the world and can see eternity… until you come crashing down. It’s lying in bed unable to get up because it’s pointless. Every single day is exactly the same and nothing will change. You will live and die in ennui until the end of eternity or until you get the guts built up to jump and end it all. But you don’t have the energy for that either. It’s the little voices that whisper and pick. You’re stupid and worthless. You don’t matter. When people say they like you they’re lying. You’re a horrible friend. It doesn’t matter if they’re in your voice or in voices of their own… they sit on your shoulder and jabber away. Crazy is not fun.

This year’s “Let’s Talk” is done. The Facebook messages and posts are over for another year. And many people will settle back down in their lives and not give mental illness much thought until the blue splashed messages appear again.

Let’s talk. Let’s talk real. Let’s talk ugly. Let’s talk scared. And, most of all, let’s listen. We’ll be here waiting.

hope says try

Reality is just a word…

I woke up this morning feeling discombobulated. Well actually I woke up feeling like I had to pee but as soon as that got sorted out I felt discombobulated. Like the rest of the world took a step to the left and I misread the instructions and took a step to the right. Everything looks the same but there’s something off. Chances are it’s me. Meanwhile life goes on, even if it doesn’t feel quite like my life. As if I’m running after normal… kind of like when I was a kid and tumbled off the wagon at the apple orchard. Running as hard as I can and hoping someone will reach over and help me back up.

My eleven year old cat Blackie has lost a bunch of weight, like half her body weight. I didn’t notice at first because she’s fluffy and has a big round tummy. Plus I usually scratch her neck and chin. But last week I ran my hand across her back and felt backbone. I did more rubbing and found her collar bones and her breast bone. I’d originally called that her keel bone but that’s in birds and I’d have to take another step to the right to get that far from reality.

Last night I sent Colin out to get wet cat food and he came back with Whiskas Duos. My plan was to get a small plate and open the tin in the bathroom. Colin pulled a Oprah instead, snapping off cans and handing them out willy nilly. Here’s wet food for you, you, and especially for you. They all loved it and, most importantly, Blackie immediately started gobbling it down. Then I looked closer and realized she was only eating the broth, not the chicken bits.

This morning, Blackie was sitting by the electric fireplace, just relaxing, so I got her a container and spooned it out on a plate. And today she started eating the chicken pieces. I don’t have a “way to go you’re eating chicken bits” award but if I did, she earned it. Then I made the fatal mistake. Smudge likes to lick peanut butter off my finger while I eat breakfast. She’d been there before I served Blackie but wandered off.

“Smudgie… Smudgie-pants… I’ve got peanut butter for you!” I called.

Smudge ran over, sniffed my finger and walked away. Behind her came Lara, Angel, and Oreo… while I blurted “I didn’t call you”. Soon they were all crowded around Blackie. I went from eating breakfast to turning into a cat bouncer. And all the while, Blackie gobbled away. When she stopped, Angel (our 12 year old) was the only cat left so I let her have a shot at the plate. Ten minutes later, the sounds of retching filled the air. I followed the sound to the bathroom, where Angel was busy vomiting.

“It’s okay baby. Sometimes food is like that,” I assured her as she gagged. It didn’t come back up last night so I’ll give it another chance, maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe she took a step to the right too. Maybe the food’s different here. Whatever it is, she gets one more chance with wet cat food, otherwise she’s staying 100% dry.

I don’t know what time Colin went to sleep last night but I woke him up at noon and just now, at 12:40pm. Hopefully he’ll stay awake now because I want to clean up the living room today and all the mess consists of his computers and two chairs which he insists we need and I insist we don’t need… especially in the middle of the floor.

One weird thing I’ve noticed is I don’t rock when I’m typing. But today I’m rocking all the rest of the time. Maybe typing counts as stimming? Maybe that only works a step to the right?

I’ve got a prescription to give to my pharmacist. My psychiatrist does not like the sheer number of pills I’m taking a day, which would be ten. I just counted. So he’s switching out the clonazepam for another pill that also works as an antidepressant and will continue to drop and modify my prescription with each appointment. He also knows my blog address now. I don’t know if he was just reading it that once or if he’s checking in every once in a while. It was probably just a one time thing but, just in case, hi Dr. K.

With any luck, Colin will be willing to drop off my prescription today. Otherwise I’ll have to do it tomorrow. I’m not going out feeling like this. I have to cross an intersection of two fairly big roads and I don’t feel connected enough to my body to do that. I’ll stick with dishes and standing in the living room saying, “I’ve got half a computer tower here. Where do you want it? No, the centre of the living room is not an option.”

But maybe I’ll cuddle with Blackie-boo first.

The butterfly…

According to my notifications, I’m getting a lot of views right now. I don’t know from where but if you’re new, please feel free to check out our about page.

I was in the hospital for two weeks back in September and it was such a positive difference. Two doctors checked me over and changed my medication slightly. But that slight change made a huge improvement.

The next thing I did was buy a Fitbit Flex 2. I love it. It’s small, comfortable, and waterproof. Plus it automatically logs all my exercise, including swimming. And I’m determined to get my 10 thousand steps in every day. Which is a bonus because I have to go outside to get those steps. Depression and going outside don’t often play together well.

I talked to someone from the Canadian Mental Health Association about getting a therapist and, voila, she had information in her satchel. Not only that but I only had to wait a week. I talked to the therapist yesterday and think we’ll work well together.

Then today I got to meet my new psychiatrist. I liked my old psychiatrist but he didn’t think he was doing much to help me… that we just didn’t click… so he transferred me to a new doctor. And the new doctor and I clicked. We obviously had serious topics to discuss but I left him laughing which seems like a good start.

I feel like a caterpillar now. I’m changing into I don’t know what. All I know is it will be beautiful.

Weighty matters…

When I first started gaining weight, I treated it like a fluke. Nothing had changed diet or exercise wise and soon the gain would stop and I’d go back to normal. Except it didn’t stop. One day my pants fit like usual then I couldn’t pull them up at all. The gain was rapid and relentless. By the time it stopped I’d gained 47lbs, all in half a year.

Emma took a video of me singing “Stay” at karaoke last night and I didn’t even recognize myself. Even my face has changed dramatically. I hate the way I look now. I miss my old self.

If I followed societies narrative, I’d be doing anything I could to lose weight. Restrictive diets, extreme exercise. Even medicine fueled weight gain must come off eventually. That’s how success happens, right?

I see the videos and before and after pictures of smiling, happy people… finally proud in their new skin. I also know the failure rate and the struggle and this is when I say “fuck it”.

Our society teaches us to shrink ourselves in so many ways. Physically is just one of them and from now on I’m refusing to shrink.

My Facebook flashback today showed a past me who bragged about only eating one crepe at work and I brought my own diet syrup so I could save 20 extra calories. This was a once only experience where our store owners came in and made crepes and pancakes, complete with whipped cream and strawberries… and I refused an extra crepe so I could lose weight. I didn’t by the way.

We only have one life to live and I refuse to live it in an endless cycle of trying to lose weight so society likes me more. And endless cycle of saying no and praising myself for punishing my body.

I will eat healthy food, exercise to keep myself limber, and treat myself when I need some kindness. And I will accept that I am no longer a size medium, average woman.

Maybe someday I’ll be that size medium woman again but I doubt it. I’m on too many psychiatric medications (including Abilify and Lithium, which are known for weight gain). I have a feeling the only way to lose this weight, other than starvation, is stopping the meds… which are keeping me alive. That’s not an option.

My life was not meant to be scenery. I was always more than a pretty face and now I’ll show it.

One year later…

This winter went on too long then, just when I thought I couldn’t stand another grey day, the trees burst forth in blossoms of lime green. I’d forgotten how soft they looked pressed against the sky. How brilliant the green contrasts against the blue. How the weeping willows look like they’re dancing with veils. How new leaves glisten in the sunshine.

This time last year I was convinced my life was over. There was nothing to live for… no one who cared. I was going to jump off my balcony and land in the dumpster seven floors below. My thoughts at the time was it would save my family money for a burial. Somehow I figured the truck would simply take my body away with the trash. Obviously I wasn’t in my right mind.

I wasn’t going to leave a letter, I didn’t think anyone cared enough to read it, but a former friend of mine convinced me to post a note on Facebook saying how I felt. I didn’t see the point and then he dared me to. If there wasn’t a point then it didn’t matter? Why didn’t I try?

So I did try. I posted and my sister almost immediately replied. So did my Mom and countless others. People did care. I did matter. I’d cried until my eyes swelled shut, I was a mess, and people still cared.

If life were a made for TV movie, everything would be perfect now. I’d be back to work, my relationship would have magically healed itself, and music would softly swell over a picturesque ending. But life doesn’t work that way.

I didn’t jump that day. Thankfully. But my soul… my self… shattered and it hasn’t magically fitted itself back together again. I’m still fragile. I take a handful of pills a day to function.

And yet…

Just like the softened new blossoms are distinct and real against a twilight sky, my thoughts coalesce and form into a whole. I might not be perfect but I’m me. And I’m glad to be here.

Finding the shape of my days…

CN: suicidal thoughts

It was Friday, February 10th and my mental health worker had just arrived. I was… in not good shape. I’d gone to cut my pills the night before and found myself mere millimeters away from slashing the hell out of my arm with a ceramic knife. I managed not to but it was close and I wasn’t in a good mindset.

The worker asked how I was doing, I told her the truth and she called 911. Within minutes the police and paramedics were here. The paramedics left just as quickly as I didn’t need medical attention and the police promised to drive me in to emergency. Did you know they don’t have seat belts in the back seat of their cars? Also, being escorted in by a police officer garners a lot of attention.

Everything else was the same as the last two times. ER doctor, crisis nurse, and psychiatrist… all with copious amounts of waiting in between. Then the psychiatrist asked me if I wanted to go home or stay. If I stayed, I’d end up in the ER all weekend because there weren’t any beds. She left me alone to make up my mind and I burst into tears and called myself names. Then she came back in and walked me to the ER. I was upstairs in the psychiatric ward by 10pm.

The first thing I realized was that my intense homesickness last time was nothing of the sort. It was the same severe anxiety I always have. The second thing I realized was that anxiety faded away with Clonazepam.

I quickly found a routine for myself. A nap after breakfast, walking around the halls to get my 10,000 steps on my Fitbit, chatting with the other patients, a second nap after lunch, reading, more chatting, and cards after dinner. Ironically enough the game of choice was Crazy Eights.

Mood wise I’m doing a lot better. I’m on a handful of drugs now. Effexor, Abilify, Clonazepam, and Lithium. The lot act like tiny balloons, lifting up my feelings. Tiny sedating balloons. Right now I’m groggy from the Clonazepam but I’ve been assured that will lessen over the coming month.

I got released on Thursday and find myself struggling to fill the shape of my days. The hospital had a set routine and I’m finding I need something similar at home. A pattern… a routine.

My alarm is set for 8am daily and I’m going to walk at the local walking track every morning (starting tomorrow). Otherwise I haven’t come up with anything. I’m sure it won’t take me too long to fill in my days.


Me on my hospital bed