Saturday, June 9, 2018

Lights in the Darkness

As I continue to drag myself out of this trench of depression that held me earlier this year, with the help of medication, I'm rediscovering the sensation of being purely happy in the moment.  This doesn't mean my anxiety is gone - it's always hovering, telling me that the other shoe is bound to drop at any second.  But, it's manageable.  I can brush it away, tell Mildred to shove off, and I can continue to feel really, truly happy.  And on a few rare occasions, simply content - which is a rare feeling for me, even when I'm not depressed.

But as the fog is beginning to drift away, I realize exactly how bad it had gotten.  You never realize how dark it's been until the sun begins to rise. 

And I realize that part of the reason I made it through the dark were the stars that shone brightly, leading my way, reminding me that there was light beyond the abyss.  And those stars were my friends.  Friends who knew how bad it was, and never made me feel guilty about.  Friends who went out of their way to invite me to things.  Friends who, when I had gone too long avoiding people, would do everything they could to make me come.

"My Monday sucks.  Does yours?  Why don't you bring the kids over and they can entertain each other while we drink coffee and try to remember how to function."

"The kids have been asking to play with Sam and Miles.  Mind if we pop by for a couple of hours this week?"

"I need to run to the store for ten minutes alone.  Can you watch my kids, and then we can have lunch after?"

"Join us for dinner.  Everyone is going to be there.  So-and-so was saying they haven't seen you in ages."

"Let's grab coffee and talk about these Festival details that need to be ironed out."

It never felt forced.  Just very chill reminders that there were plenty of people who cared about me, and who would help carry me through this rough patch.  And when I just couldn't, there was no shame, no cajoling.  Simply a sincere, "I get it.  Maybe we can try again tomorrow.  Or next week."

And throughout that, they were honest about the struggles they were having in their lives.  They made me feel normal, and human, on days when that seemed impossible.  And in those times that they were struggling, we leaned on each other, held each other up, and continued to trudge, together, through some of the least pleasant of human experiences.  And they never let me doubt that we'd come out stronger on the other side.

In short, it was exactly the sort of support that someone struggling with depression needs.  And I know exactly how rare and unique that is for someone with mental illness.  I have read the stories, talked to the people, seen the statistics that show what mental illness is for other people  The realities that others face.

And I am reminded how very, very lucky/blessed I am.

So to each of those friends, Thank You. 

I love you.


[Disclaimer: It goes without saying that while my friends were the stars in my night sky, my husband was the one who walked beside me, one steady hand on my back, the other holding a flashlight to light our way.  Love you, Patrick.  Thank you.]

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Positive self-talk

Most days, 5:00 pm rolls around, I look at my house, and I think, "I have gotten nothing accomplished today."

Some days, that's entirely true.  Some days, my depression and anxiety kicked my ass onto the couch and didn't let me up.  Some days, the weight of fighting my own brain has exhausted me, and left nothing else.

But some days - maybe even most days - it's a lie Mildred (my anxiety) likes to tell me.

Because while it may be true that the house is a disaster and we're eating leftovers again because I forgot to order the groceries (again), it is completely ridiculous to think I did nothing.

Every single day, I hug my kids and tell them I love them.

Every single day, I check in on a friend to make sure they're okay, when a Facebook post from them worries me.

Every single day, I make sure my children eat three meals and two snacks.  Even if I buy them McDonald's from the drive-thru, I'm making sure they're fed.

Every single day, I spend what seems like hours listening to my daughter tell me about her gazillion imaginary sisters, and my son explain something I've never heard of as though I have an intimate knowledge of it.

Every single day, I make sure Miles is reading something.

Every single day, I make certain my children are learning something, even if it's "just" the social skills they gain by playing with friends, or how to treat a stranger with kindness.

Every single day, I make sure the pets are healthy and taken care of, at least at a very basic level.

Most days, I pick up things I don't want to.  I sweep floors I just swept.  I wipe some unknown substance off a surface.  I talk to a friend, and remind them that they are going to be okay, that we're going to get through this rough patch together, and that this parenthood thing stinks sometimes.

Every single day of my life, I try.  Even when I don't want to.  I do the things that have to be done, even if it's just the bare minimum.  But I do it.

No matter how many times Mildred tells me I'm useless and lazy, I need to remind myself that she lies.  I am not useless.  What I do matters.

And I do a lot during the day.  It may be nothing big, but I do a million little things that keep our lives moving forward.

And I think that's a pretty important accomplishment.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What Is Anxiety (for me)?

Hi, I'm Tabitha and I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Depression.

I sometimes feel like that's how I should introduce myself, but the reality is that when I do mention those things, something strange happens:

People start talking to me like I'm either a time bomb, or a small child.  Or they start asking uncomfortable questions and saying things like, "But you don't seem anxious/depressed!" or "Why are you anxious?  There's nothing to worry about!"

Let's start with the obvious: Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Depression are Mental Illnesses.  By definition, that means that my brain does not work the way it's supposed to.  It means that there doesn't have to be anything "scary" or "worrying" going on for my brain to randomly decide to hit the PANIC button.  It can literally be anything, or nothing.  There might or might not be a trigger.  And if there is a trigger, I'm not always able to identify it right away.

You know, because my brain is in panic mode instead of thinking rationally.

Sometimes, I don't even realize that it's my anxiety or depression acting up.  My brain slowly begins to feel foggy - slowly enough that I don't realize it's happening until I "suddenly" can't think clearly.  Sometimes, I start getting cranky for no reason.  Sometimes, I feel like running away.  Others, I want to curl up in my chair under a blankie.  Often, I want to be left entirely alone, and any noise is too much noise (a delightful experience when one has children).  For me, my depression is so wrapped up in my anxiety that I usually can't tell which is which, except by evaluating whether I feel more like running away (anxiety) or more like sleeping for a week (depression).  Add in the fact that I haven't had a good, regular sleep pattern in years (again, thanks kids. lol), and I often can't tell what's going on in the moment.

Some other facts about my particular brand of mental illness:

  • It tends to be worse in the winter or when it's particularly cold, but it's been pretty solidly in the "not good" category for over a year, now.  We're working on it.
  • I have "brain fog" pretty much constantly right now, even with medication.  I know it's there because occasionally, things will be going just right and it will clear a bit and I'll remember what it's like to think clearly.  
  • Having constant brain fog makes literally every single thing I do a monumental task.  It's exhausting for me to have a conversation.  Writing lesson plans takes forever.  Letting the dog out requires a moment to collect myself so I can drag myself to the door.  Cooking dinner takes so much energy and focus that sometimes, I don't feel like eating by the time I'm done.
  • The only thing that reliably helps me feel better is a combination of therapy and medication.  I'm on the meds.  I still haven't had the mental energy to find a therapist.  One of those catch 22 situations.
  • I am "lucky" in that I have a pretty clear idea as to the root causes of my anxiety and its bff depression.  That doesn't mean I know exactly what triggers each episode or panic attack, but I do know the root cause.  Unfortunately, the root cause is not something I can just erase or cut out of my life.  I'm still learning how to deal with something that is so much a part of me that it will literally never go away.
  • Because my mental illness has its roots in my childhood, I literally have no idea what parts of my personality are "disordered" and which are "me".  Is my spontaneity a symptom or a characteristic?  What about my "fight me" attitude?  Where does the illness end and the person begin?  Is there really any differentiation?
  • Being around people helps.  A ton.  Unfortunately, the planning required often exhausts me to a point that I avoid it.  Which makes my depression worse.  Another great catch 22 of mental illness.
  • Here's a big one: I don't feel like my brand of mental illness is a "real" mental illness.  I mean, it could be waaaaaay worse.  I can often "pass" as "normal", so it doesn't "count".  (Intellectually, I know all of this is bupkis).  What does that mean in a practical sense?  It means that I don't feel like I should be allowed to speak about my mental illness, because it's somehow less important than others.  Again, I know, intellectually that it's nonsense, and that my anxiety and depression and panic are valid, recognized mental illnesses.  But that doesn't stop me from feeling like they're not.
  • Just for brevity's sake, I refer to my anxiety/panic disorder as Mildred.  I picture her as a middle-aged, middle-class housewife screaming profanities at a customer service rep (me) because she's bored and unhappy.  I've discovered that a lot of people who struggle with mental illness use this technique to separate the illness from themselves.  It helps us to frame it in a way we can fight back.  It's difficult to fight your own brain.  But fighting this other, this anthropomorphized version of our disease, that is something we can do.
  • My depression, as yet, does not have a name or an imagined form.  Mostly because it is much less invasive in my life.  I tend to think of my depression as an emptiness, a void.  It doesn't tell me I'm worthless (Mildred has that covered), it just removes all feeling - all highs, all lows.  I stop dreaming.  I stop creating.  I stop doing things that make me happy, because they don't anymore.  I know others experience depression differently, but for me, it is an abyss.
  • I had a GOOD childhood.  Was it perfect?  No.  But the vast majority of it was pleasant and fun.  The parts that lie at the root of my mental illness, in perspective, are relatively small portions of my childhood.  And yet, somehow, they've affected me very, very deeply.  And none of them are particularly horrific.  Just the somewhat mundane, long-term and unpredictable sorts of things that some people would not even be affected by.  But not me.  For me, they are a source of anxiety, even now.  Not by choice.  It's just how my brain is wired.
  • My favorite forms of self-medicating include, in no particular order: coffee, overworking myself, "rescuing" someone or something, mindless video games on my phone, oversharing with everyone, and zoning out.  By favorite, of course, I mean most common.  
  • My preferred methods of self-harm include: overworking myself, being sedentary, isolating myself, and forgetting to eat.  Again, by preferred, I mean most common.  It's not like I enjoy any of these.  But they are the places I go when things get bad.  I figure it could be worse.
Basically, it's a big, mixed up, complicated mess.  Because that's what we humans are.  Especially those of us with mental illness. 

So, when I introduce myself, and 5 minutes in, mention that I have anxiety/panic disorder/depression, this is a bit of why.  I can't help myself.  But I'm also judging how you're going to respond to me.  If I tell you about my mental illness, and you keep talking to me like I'm a "normal" person, there's a good chance we'll be friends.

Condescend to me and it will take much longer for me to learn to trust you.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

"How are you?"

"How are you?"

"I'm okay.  I'm tired."

It's true, but it's not the whole truth.

I'm exhausted.  I am fighting my own brain 24 hours a day - and have been for months.  I am constantly ambushed by surprise panic attacks.  I have a list a mile long, and so much anxiety that I can't even start on it, which causes me more anxiety.  I drag myself out of bed, out of the chair, out of the house, when I can, when I have to.  I maintain what I can through sheer stubborn force of will.  But dammit, it's exhausting.

I'm overwhelmed.  I have children who need a million small things every second.  I have a job/hobby that requires research, and leadership, and decision-making skills, and making my own costume - none of which I feel "good enough" to do acceptably.  I have a household to run, groceries to order and pick up, dishes to run, laundry to fold, clutter to donate, dust bunnies to sweep, papers to file, appointments to arrange, lists to make...

I'm weary.  The world is falling apart around me.  Hatred. Death. Destruction. War. Tyranny. Injustice. Prejudice. Xenophobia. Bigotry. Illness. Poverty. Struggle. I cannot observe without feeling, and I have felt so much, so constantly, that I am weary of feeling.  I want to feel numb, just for a little while.  And yet, I know how much I hate that feeling, so I avoid it, too, trying not to feel anything at all, not even numb. I don't have the energy, even for that.

I'm sleepy.  The new meds don't give me vertigo, at least, but I can't keep my eyes open.  I sleep seven. eight. nine. ten hours.  Still sleepy.  Take a nap.  Wake up more sleepy than when I fell asleep, if you can call it that.  Is it really sleep when your brain doesn't stop asking, worrying, chewing on a problem, even when the rest of you is asleep?  Is it really sleep if all your dreams are of being chased, of running away, of being too slow, too stupid, too weak?  Is it really sleep if you wake up just as sleepy as when you laid down?

I'm anxious.  Above all, I am anxious.  Every second of every day, my body vibrates with it, this underlying but certain dread that everything is going to end, soon, and badly.  My face smiles while my brain whispers, "Watch for the other shoe.  It's about to drop.  Any second now, all of this will be gone."  I put on lipstick and try to pretend I'm someone else, someone whose brain doesn't insist on playing out visualizations of all of the horrible things that could happen to a person.  I stay at home, pretending I just need to get things done, that I'm not terrified of taking my children in a car on the highway where my brain will play a video of us crashing, rolling, dying, screaming.  On repeat.  Until we get where we're going.  And then I get nothing done at home because I'm so anxious about all that needs to be done that I ignore it all and sleep.

I'm panicking.  Not multiple times a day, anymore, not like last week when I couldn't go more than a few hours without my brain hijacking my body and making me feel like I was dying.  No, at least not that.  Now, it's only once - or maybe twice - a day.  Only once - or twice - that my heart races, and I can't catch my breath.  Only once - or twice - that my muscles tense, preparing to fight, or fly - only there's never anything physical to fight, or to run away from - so they just stay tense, waiting.  Only once - or twice - I get so nauseous I think I'm going to puke from all of the built up nervous energy collecting in my belly, filling it up with worry, so that I'm not hungry for food.  But this is improvement, and if I keep it up, maybe, someday, it will all go away, and I will stop having to watch over my shoulder for its inevitable ambush.

But that's all too much.  That much truth would overwhelm you.  That much truth ruins the social niceties.  That much truth makes you chuckle, nervously, and change the subject.  That much truth makes me seem crazy.  That much truth will make you sad.  That much truth is too much, for most people.  That much truth is too much for me.  It's too hard to explain, over and over again.

So, instead,

"I'm okay.  I'm tired."

And leave it at that.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Should...

I'm overwhelmed.

I should be posting information for my Living History cast.

I should be making preparations for Sam's birthday party this Saturday.

I should be folding the laundry that is clean, or washing the piles that are not.

I should be washing the dishes.

I should be clearing out the flower beds in front of the house.  (I should have planted ages ago).

I should be reading to the children.

I should be filing the paperwork I am drowning in.

I should be clearing out the clutter that makes me feel anxious and claustrophobic.

I should be sweeping the floors that gather dust faster than anyone can keep up.

I should be answering messages from people.

I should be scheduling appointments.

I should be writing my novel.

I should be sewing a costume.

I should be ...


But how can I when I'm drowning in the static that is anxiety, loud and endless as the ocean.

I can't even think.  How can I function?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Escape

When I was younger, in my late high school and early college days, I would often repeat the age-old sentiment as though I'd discovered it: "Stop the world. I want off."

For me, it was never a statement about the outside world.  It was always about having too much happening all at once, on a personal level.  Too much to process for someone like me, who needs time to analyze every.little.thing. It was often a springboard for writing something out to process what was going on, and how I felt about it.  It was a sincere desire to walk away from everything, temporarily, to give myself time to breathe, and time to process, and maybe even time to relax a little.

When my anxiety was at its worst, this feeling came back, even stronger, urging me to leave everything behind - run away, and never look back, if that's what it took to escape everything that threatened to overwhelm my senses.

And still, there are times, when the world at large or my little world here seems overwhelming, and I just want to run away.  Stop everything for awhile, and go somewhere and breathe.  The good news is that, now, I want to take my family with me.  Run far away - somewhere warmer - and pretend I don't have to deal with anything.  Even if it's just for a few days.

(I hear tell that this is called a "vacation".  Maybe one day I'll get there...)

Anyway, I'm there.  The world seems at once too big, too intimidating and yet, too small, too confining.  I am restless, in a way that only winter can make me feel.  I have yet to find what cures that restlessness.  Until Spring, I am here.  Trying to find my way, wanting desperately to ignore the world, to hide away, somewhere warm, and play with my kiddos in the sun.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tired

I haven't really felt much like writing, lately.

Seasonal depression/blues/whatever is in full swing, and it just makes me tired.

Plus, I've messed up my back again, so it's hurting, which makes me tired.  And it has been cold.  Which makes me tired.

And I've made the mistake of reading the news.  Which definitely makes me tired.

We've been doing a lot of fun stuff.  And I want to tell you all about it all.  But I'm tired.

Maybe tomorrow.  Or the next day.

Sigh.