I have a good, well paying job. I have a house. A yard. A car. I have lots of clothing and shoes and makeup and books and a phone and a computer and TVs and pretty items. I’m engaged, and planning a wedding. I just went on vacation. I do not have debt. I am attractive. I am not hungry, or cold, or wet, or injured, or ill. I have two of the sweetest pets I could imagine. I have a loving family. I have loving friends. I have money in the bank. I have food in my cupboard. I am intelligent. I have no papers due. I have no upcoming tests. I have free time ahead of me.
I have everything I ever wanted.
And yet, my anxiety and depression hover around my beautiful bubble constantly. Threatening to prick it and shatter everything I hold dear.
I don’t know how it would happen. When it could happen. Why it would happen. If it could happen.
But I still stay in my bed any time I can, huddled deep in my blankets.
My eyes gaze, dead, at nothing. Contemplating how I feel. Not focussed on the abundance in my life. Not of the love that surrounds me. But of the deadness inside of me.
How no matter what I experience, there is that shroud of darkness.
I’m trying to just plunge forward. My feet feel like they’re stuck in deep mud. But I’m still trying.
Sometimes I give up – But I don’t let myself give up for long these days.
I’ve been sick with a flu for a while, and it’s given me too much time to reflect on the darkness. The ugly, dark, heavy coat of anxiety and depression.
I’m trying to remind myself it isn’t real. It isn’t tangible.
But it’s present right now.
And as perfect as my life is, it’s heavy. It’s muddy.
No matter how nice I look, or how together things seem on the outside, there is still a struggle.
I’m not giving into it. Not fully.
But tonight, I am acknowledging it.
If only to tell it “you are next to me, and so, you are not me.”
I keep making promises that I cannot keep – and I apologize for that. I keep saying I’m “so busy but I’ll write soon!” but then I just don’t. My advice is not to have any real expectations when it comes to me and my writing. Sometimes I will write, sometimes I will not.
Pardon my mental illness, but it’s all part of it.
I’m overwhelmed with life. There’s nothing more I can say than that.
When I started my blog, I was on sick leave. I had nothing but time on my hands, and reflection was a big part of my healing. Writing helped that.
Now, I do have enough time to write. I still spend a lot of time napping, watching hours of Netflix and make terrible television program choices, and I read a lot, and I bet I spend more time than anything scrolling through Pinterest, not looking for anything in particular. Not even pinning anything. Just kind of looking at things.
My point is that I have not added anything significant to my life aside from a regular old 9-5 job, which we all have, and which I have had in the past as well without incident.
But after the humiliation I experienced this fall (I can’t believe it was like 6 months ago now…), life has changed a lot for me. I feel like talking about it today because I am home sick, but I am actually well enough to sit up and feel boredom.
You can tell you’re really sick when feelings of boredom don’t arise. You can tell when you’re (hopefully) getting better when you are bored.
I have technically – on paper – put my old job behind me. I made my arguments and made my peace as far as anyone on the outside is concerned, but things have not settled for me in my mind.
It’s something I’m working on ignoring. Not in an unhealthy “swallow it all down and deny” kind of way. Just in a “these feelings will pass, don’t focus on them, don’t think about last year’s incidents constantly” kind of way.
But it is still very present in my mind, and therefore, in my life.
I have some severe scars following my dismissal from my job (read about it here if you have no clue what I’m talking about). The very short version: I was on medical leave for 6 weeks for my anxiety and depression, and on what I was told would be my first day back at work, I was fired instead. This multiplied my anxiety and depression in ways I’d never experienced, but I did find the courage to hire a lawyer, settle out of court, and move on.
The scars have two main branches, I’ve noticed. One involves my new work persona. The other involves being in public.
Don’t Talk To Me
I’ve been at my new job for almost three months now, and despite a couple of very unfortunately-timed bouts of illness (it is nerve-racking to have to call in sick when you’ve only been there a month; aka PLEASEDON’TFIREME), things are going well there. The job is a breeze so far, the people are nice, and my boss is really great too. There’s nothing I can complain about – so why am I so unhappy with it?
I go to work, do my work, actually take my lunch break, and then clock out at precisely 4:00 and head home. I used to work through every single lunch hour, and I never left when I was scheduled to be. There used to be (and still is, I hear) a dust cloud of gossip and stories hovering in the office at all times – I can’t recall a day I went in and didn’t hear some story about someone. Now? I really haven’t even overheard anything. People exchange recipes, ask about vacations, and update one another on their spouses’ medical issues. People certainly aren’t gossiping about me (although right now? I’ve been away sick for more than a week so they may be wondering if I have Ebola or something).
I’ve noticed, though, that I am reserved. I am not funny at work anymore. I am not trying to make friends, and I don’t start conversations. If a few people are sitting in the lunch room, I quickly go in, get my food, and hurry back to my cubical to eat alone. I never ask my group about their home lives or families. I never go out of my way to compliment anyone. I smile when I enter a room, but I don’t say anything or make eye contact. When group events arise, I opt out.
I don’t want to make friends when I don’t actually have control over whether I will ever see them again. I lost nearly everyone (except Work BFF) at my old job – poof, gone. No one reached out, myself included. I know they must know I was fired, and they’re not going to compromise their own jobs by befriending an employee who was fired.
I have thought about connecting with a few of them, but I can’t handle the potential for being ignored. Being ghosted. Being rejected. And now, so much time has passed that it would just be straight up weird to contact someone.
Those people, who I felt were my family, are just lost now. Just a memory. I am trying to come to grips with that, and I am discovering that I am certainly not cultivating friendships at work the way I used to, in all of my past working career.
Now, my job is just a place where I work.
Don’t Look At Me
I now work in the same downtown district as my old work’s offices. We are only about two blocks away from one another. Every time I am near their offices, I can’t ignore the heavy feeling that there is an invisible dome surrounding it that signifies it is Their territory. Not mine.
Now, this is our busy downtown core – the business district, the shopping district, the tourist district. It is an area that belongs not only to this city, but to everyone.
But not me. I walk swiftly, hunched, eyes darting from side to side, head down, just trying to get to my destination as quickly as possible without being seen. I feel like someone in exile, someone who isn’t allowed to be there, and that I’m doing something wrong or dangerous. Like the police could arrest me at any moment and humiliate me for thinking I had any right to come anywhere near this area of downtown. I don’t belong here, it’s Their territory.
Every time I enter an downtown establishment, I search the room – not for my companion, but for Them. Are They here already? Had They had the same idea for lunch today? Is that Them, also here for the movie? Are They also picking up bread at this bakery?
A couple of times, I’ve met up with Work BFF for a coffee or to drop something off. She knows the drill now – I can’t come onto Their property. I can’t meet at a Starbucks on the same block. We have to meet at a spot well out of Their Zone. She asks me where I’d like to meet, and makes sure “it’s okay” with me before we meet up. She knows I can’t be seen, and I love her for understanding.
One time, as we were walking to a coffee house, we saw Them walking ahead of us about a block ahead. I felt like the blood had drained from my body and couldn’t figure out what to do. I stopped momentarily, my eyes wild, and Work BFF calmly told me it was okay, and that we could still go. That They weren’t going to the same shop as we were.
In my mind, I couldn’t take that chance. I wanted to call the whole thing off – not go for coffee after all. It was freezing cold out, but I thought perhaps we should take off in a different direction, add 10 minutes to our walk, and go to a Blenz in a totally opposite direction. BFF gets me, but she also knows how to handle me. She didn’t give me a hard time as we kept our distance, ensured one full block separated us from Them, and let me be sure they were indeed headed into a different shop.
As we sat and drank our coffees, I ensured I could see the entrance to the coffeehouse so I could monitor each person who entered, always watching for Them.
“They don’t ever go to Starbucks – don’t worry. I promise,” Work BFF told me, and she was right. After a while I did see Them – they passed by, just on their way back to their office.
Disaster averted. But panic attack, although low-grade, not averted. It has the best of me. And it’s constant.
What would happen if I ran face to face into Them? Would I die? Would I be injured? Would everyone stop, stare, and listen intently as He yelled at me, telling me what a horrible employee he thought I was? Would everyone agree? Would He shove me aside? Would He give me a dirty look? Would He stare at me? Would He nudge his friend, point, and whisper something about me?
No, probably not.
In fact, he’s a pussy and would likely pretend he didn’t see me, leave if possible, or just get his shit and leave.
But I react as those all those things are possible. I still can’t face Him. Not after what he did to me. What he took from me – what I’ve given up, what I’ve lost, what’s changed.
I am missing a large part of my confidence, my sense of belonging, and my sense of security. I haven’t taught myself how to regain any of that yet.
I am not whole. Despite things turning out in my best interest, all things considered, I still feel like I am the loser in the game I played with Them.
I have an on-again off-again relationship with anti-anxiety meds.
And it’s never been because I am against them, or because they hadn’t worked.
I know anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication (same thing, as far as my Dr. says) is a majorly contentious topic. Even when I was looking up memes to put on this post, I kept seeing a picture of a forest that said “this is an antidepressant” with a picture of a pill beneath it that says “this is shit.” That bothers me a lot, because every person is different, and every person will experience something different when on a drug. They will work for some of us, and they will not work for others. Let’s just respect each other on that one, k?
But I just wanted to discuss the topic. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want!
I was hesitant about disclosing what drug I am on, but I figure it probably isn’t a big deal to tell you that I am on Paxil. Those little pink pills have saved me. It’s been the one drug I have been on the most throughout my life, and I don’t intend to stop taking it any time soon. I am stable (ish) on it, and have way more control over how I go about my life.
I first started taking them in my late teens (see this post). I know a lot of people have experienced too many side effects to bother with them – but for me, they have been worth it. Now, at the age of 33, I am on them again, and still, they are worth the cost (minimal, thanks to my work’s benefits program) and side effects (also very minimal).
Sometimes it can be a real bitch when you’re trying out a new medication. That goes for a lot of meds out there: Even when my doctor prescribed sleeping pills for me, there were a couple that basically made me feel like I had injected caffeine directly into my aorta. Not exactly helpful. Drugs can be finicky. But under the guidance of your medical practitioner, you might be able to find something that works for you.
I can’t remember for sure if the first medication I tried was Paxil. It might be that I tried a couple. I might not have seen any results, or maybe I had too many side effects and tried a couple until I found one that worked well in my system. It’s been a really long time. The thing is, I have tried several different types later on as an adult, so it’s possible that I’m mixed up. It probably doesn’t really matter. All the same, it’s been a bit of a rocky road.
When I was young, I wasn’t that great at taking my medicine. I would forget half of the time, and one time I took six of them in one day because I mistook them for Tylenol 3s. They look nothing alike so to this day I do not know how I made that mistake – I just kept popping them because I still wasn’t getting the pain relief I so desperately needed! Don’t worry, I did call poison control and they said I would be fine, but would probably get pretty sleepy. I ended up napping for like 9 hours straight that day. (Coincidentally, I also have a story about how I took 6 Tylenol 3s – on purpose – since they weren’t kicking in as fast as I needed them to. I would not recommend it unless you like having a hot, itchy head, a frightened coworker, and a very, very deep sleep).
The only major side effect I can remember was that if I did forget to take it, especially for more than one day in a row, I would feel very nauseated. I remember that it would often be so bad that I needed to take them at the exact same time every morning. If it took them even an hour later, I’d feel sick enough to want to vomit. I’d struggle through work, and would even stay home. I was also struggling to take my birth control in a timely manner around that time, so it’s possible that that was the reason for the nausea too. I was very not good at the complexities of timing in those days.
I’m currently on Paxil today, and find that I definitely do not notice that I feel as sick as I used to. I’ve totally forgotten them many times, but never was it so bad that I ever needed to take a sick day because of it. I don’t know if they’ve altered the ingredients over time (I have no clue how things go in the pharmaceutical world), or if my own body chemistry just meshes better with it now. Either way, I don’t care. I’m on them, they work well enough, and I am not sick.
A few years ago, when I had re-started my prescription (after a breakdown – that post is for another day), I was going through a particularly rough patch and wasn’t convinced the drug was doing as good of a job as I’d expected. My doctor had me try a couple of other prescription antidepressants, and fuck. It was horrific.
First, I tried Prozac. Not only did I just plain not feel any better (emotionally), but I was always feeling kind of sick and anxious. Not the combo I was looking for. Plus, the goddamn things were gel-caps – those, to me, are horrible. I can’t handle those things for some reason – I feel like they stick to my tongue and they taste disgusting. But since I felt sick for more than a couple of weeks, my doctor said it was unlikely that that feeling would subside, so he wanted to try something else.
I tried Cymbalta.
Cymbalta and I are no longer on speaking terms.
That stuff was the most wicked stuff I’ve ever taken. When you first start taking an antidepressant, you will normally feel a little out of sorts for the first few days, or even for a week or two. That’s normal; your body is adjusting and the symptoms don’t usually last too long. That was somewhat the case with Prozac and me – except the nausea never truly went away. Same goes for Paxil. Sometimes you’ll feel a little loopy – maybe in a bit of a haze. That’s what Cymbalta was for me. But it never went away. And it was intense.
I felt very alert, and very, very woozy on Cymbalta. The whole time.
One thing with prescription drugs is that you should never stop taking them abruptly, or even try to wean yourself off without talking to your doctor first.
Even when you do switch up prescriptions under the direction of a doctor, things can be shitty.
Cymbalta and me were not getting along. Since I felt super loopy and spaced out, after a couple of weeks, I was done. I went into a walk-in clinic (my doctor works there, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see him that day), and begged to go back to my safe, predictable Paxil. The doctor said “sure” and said I could simply switch that same day. I had run out of Cymbalta anyway, but still had lots of Paxil at home, so it would be no big deal.
Except it was such a big fucking deal.
The next day, I started experiencing what I can only describe as hard-core withdrawal. As someone who has never taken recreational drugs to the extent that I have been addicted and, uh, jonesin’ (…what’s the lingo here? Sorry, I am not cool.), I figured my ailment was akin to Joaquin Phoenix’s rehab scenes in Walk the Line.
I was now taking my Paxil, as directed, but simply stopped taking my (rather high) dose of Cymbalta. I felt so sick, so spaced out, and incredibly dizzy. I felt like the entire world moved every time I moved my head an inch. I was sitting at my desk at work, unable to focus on anything. I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror after holding my head in my hands for a good 10 minutes. I was sweating and my pupils were totally dilated. Very pretty.
I then did what any reasonable person would do: I had someone pick me up and take me to the doctor I Googled my symptoms, convinced I could find myself a cure. As it would turn out, a lot of my symptoms were pretty consistent with symptoms of vertigo. I texted a friend who legitimately has vertigo, and further confirmed my self-diagnosis. Now I was on all fours, moving my head around like a weirdo, trying to mimic the Foster Maneuver.
It didn’t work.
I texted my mom and she was horrified that my doctor hadn’t stepped me down off of my medication, and suggested that I visit a pharmacy to see if they could give me 2-3 pills so I could ease myself off the drug slowly. Clearly I needed some of the drug back in my system so I wouldn’t be so dopesick (thanks, Urban Thesaurus). Luckily for me, there was a pharmacy directly below my office. Off I went. Staggered.
I recall feeling very dazed and confused as I waited in line to speak with the pharmacist. I question whether there was even a line to be standing in. I was studying the label of some Cold FX and trying to figure out how to get myself and my car back home in one piece, since I could barely look at the wall without spinning out. I felt like I had to look at that Cold FX package – I was experiencing some tunnel vision and if I lost focus, I would probably pass out. When I finally got to speak with someone, they (surprisingly) would not hand over random prescription drugs to a random girl who looked incredibly strung out and could not form a cohesive sentence.
Dejected, I went back upstairs and proceeded to [who knows? I was way too high and messed up to even remember. Maybe I worked? Or maybe I napped George Costanza-style under my desk. It’s impossible to know].
I never did talk to my doctor about the withdrawal episode I encountered. It did wear off after a couple of days, and a social-anxiety fiend such as myself was more than happy to take a couple of days off in lieu of dealing with my issue in a reasonable manner.
As I mentioned, I did continue to take my tried-and-true Paxil, and do to this day. There have been a couple of times when my doctor suggested trying other drugs (since my panic attacks do not seem to be willing to chill out, even on Paxil), but for me, it’s been better to stop toying with things and just pop an Ativan when things get tough.
You know, coping at its finest.
Paxil isn’t a cure-all. If it was, I would not be in the midst of a 6-week work hiatus as we speak. But it keeps me level enough to make real life decisions and face most days without too many issues. Paxil ain’t broke (well, not overly), so I don’t try to fix it.
And as Marilyn Manson said, “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me” … kind of.
Here are a few things that have thrown me into an ugly panic tornado:
Confronting someone about something I feel passionate about.
When I’m about to text or call someone new in my life.
Calling the pizza guy.
When I’m meeting friends, and have to show up alone.
Waiting for anyone and they are even a tiny bit late.
When I’m misunderstood in regard to my feelings.
When someone disagrees with me.
When I need to present in front of my company and someone asks a follow-up question.
When someone looks at their phone when they’re talking to me.
When I’m laying in bed at night, going over the day’s events.
Recalling an awkward or humiliating event from XX years ago.
When I don’t wear makeup in public.
Shopping alone and everyone is judging me for it.
When someone doesn’t return my text or call or email.
When I do something somewhat embarrassing – like I mispronounce a word.
When I do something really embarrassing – like my skirt flips up in public.
When I think that maybe the facial expression I have had while talking to someone is really ugly or not appropriate and now I need to change my facial expression, but I am not sure how my face is supposed to look.
Making a typo in an email.
When I have no direction when starting a new project (usually work-related).
When I need to talk to an authoritative figure.
When store clerks try to talk to me.
When store clerks ignore me when I need help.
When my alarm goes off and I have to go to work.
There may or may not be other triggers (read: there are definitely other triggers).
I’d say the worst trigger is, well, not a trigger at all. It’s when I’m just hanging out and anxiety creeps in like a shadow.
What is it like for me?
Before I know it, I can feel my chest tightening, and I get a sick feeling in the back of my throat. I start to look for ways out – physical exits. I need privacy and I need to get away from wherever I am. Immediately.
It may or may not turn into a full blown attack. If I am somehow able to get myself under control, then it basically ends there. I still feel that feeling of dread and tightness in my chest, but it doesn’t escalate.
If it does, though, things get really yucky.
My breathing quickens. I may begin to hyperventilate. I break into a cold sweat. My senses dull. I can’t hear properly, and I can’t see properly. Sometimes I get tunnel vision and I begin to black out.
That might be one of the worst symptoms, because you can’t hide tears when you’re in public. And drawing attention when you just want to disappear just makes everything worse.
Not just the feelings, but the anxiety attack itself. It is immediately amplified if I know that people I don’t know or trust can see it happening.
I mean, that’s one of my real triggers – being judged by people. So when I am literally in my most vulnerable state, and people are watching me, things are officially over for me.
I’ve passed out in big crowds because of this. Sometimes I feel like my response is to pass out because then people won’t know it’s a panic attack, and might instead suspect it’s a medical emergency of some sort.
People don’t understand invisible illness, of course. It’s only natural that humans believe that people around them should be experiencing and reacting to situations the same way they are. I don’t even blame them.
I have a wish list when it comes to other people who witness someone having a panic attack:
If you know the person, be there for them. Ask them before assuming they need something. Bring the person a glass of water, a tissue. Depending on your relationship, give them a hug, rub their back, or hold their hand. Say nice things. If the person doesn’t want you there, they will tell you.
If you do not know the person, but they are alone, offer your support. It would get weird if you started stroking their hair, but you can help them not feel so stressed and awkward. See if you can move them to a more private place. Empathize if you can. Don’t overstay your welcome.
If you’re uncomfortable (we get it), don’t watch the person like they’re a side-show. Have some respect. Move your group elsewhere if you can, don’t talk about the person or ask them stupid questions. I’ve seen randos looking at me with this disgusted, judgy face. Exercise a little restraint.
Don’t tell the person to calm down. Fuck off.
Do remind them that this will pass. It’s temporary.
Breathe with them. Help them to catch that rhythm with you. You may not be aware of anxiety-expert-approved breathing exercises, but you can certainly figure out something. A friend of mine once said “let’s do pregnancy breathing!” It was the best thing she could come up with, and it helped a lot.
Above all, just be accepting of what’s happening, and convey that. If you think it’s going on longer than you thing it should, keep your mouth shut. They’re already overwhelmed and very self-aware, and making them feel like they’re abnormal or that you don’t approve is going to ruin any progress they’ve made.
Follow up. If you’re pals, send a text, stop by their office, or give them a call that night. I’ve had friends send me funny memes the next day to show their support. A simple “how are you doing?” can mean the world to someone. If they get sketchy and embarrassed, just smile and leave it at that. They know.
Over the Christmas holidays, I learned that I have a real live angel watching over me.
Remarkably, the story of my so-called legal action against my ex-employer is truly heartwarming. Really. It’s heartwarming.
Years ago, I had my first real experience of anxiety and work getting to know each other. I did not want them to become pals, but they sure as fuck did. It was rough.
And really. Who the fuckwould willingly go from happily doing his or her job to breaking down very publicly in a single bound, and purposefully shred everything they’d built for him/herself for no reason? We can’t all be Charlie Sheen.
The thing is, my employer at the time was so cool about it (I was certainly not working for AssWipes Limited). They got it, they understood, and they respected that I am a human, and like all other humans, I was broken sometimes. They knew that 1. it’s okay to be broken sometimes, and we just need some time to mend, and 2. that it wasn’t exactly legal to deny me of that anyway. Whatever their reason for treating me with kindness and understanding, I could give a shit. I was able to heal, regroup, and reenter the workforce as good as new.
It can be simple, you know.
What I also learned was that I could get through really hard, humiliating stuff. It also didn’t mean I was worth less than anyone else, or that I was less deserving of respect. I’ve been there, and seen it, and experienced it: employers can treat their employees in a humane manner.
I was resolved not only to stand up for what I felt was right, but also to create a happy ending of sorts. Resolve things in a way that did not end with them having laughed their evil laugh and won, while I was left to rue the day I went quietly into the night.
I needed to end things on my terms, or die trying.
After I resolved to pursue some sort of action against my former employer, I had no idea where to start. I actually filled in an online questionnaire to a local law firm (my friend’s dad is a partner there, so I figured it was a good place to start) saying I potentially wanted to commence legal action against my employer. They did not email me back immediately, so I began crafting my own bleeding heart of a letter to my employer myself. I figured I could just handle this myself, not spend money I did not have, and that my beautiful, heart wrenching words would cause Idiot, Idiot & Co. to smile kindly upon me from their tall golden thrones, pay me a sum that would cover 10 years worth of therapy, and sign off on a meaningful hand-written apology letter. In blood.
I texted Boyfriend and my mom the hastily written Evernote letter I drafted. It truly touched their hearts. But my mom in particular thought that I should hold off on emailing anything just yet. She gave me that sage advice, “sleep on it.”
But during our conversation (is it a conversation if one of the participants is blubbering like a toddler?), I remembered something.
I know a lawyer.
Now, lawyers don’t cost $free. Even the ones who are friends of yours, or more like acquaintances. Most lawyers around here charge around $500 per hour. It is very difficult to afford a lawyer when your income is $0, and you’re paying hundreds of dollars per week on various therapies to keep your mind from succumbing to the quicksand it has stumbled into.
But I decided that perhaps he could at least give me some direction. Maybe tell me whether I had a case to bother with. Suggest a lawyer in town who was worth spending all of my pennies on.
Just kidding. Canada doesn’t even have pennies anymore. I’d be using my credit card, obvs.
I was fucking terrified of writing him an email and having to reveal my story. Having to include another human in this already mortifying tale was something that I did not want to do. But I didn’t really feel like I had any other options. And connecting with this man seemed to hold a small glimmer of light.
So before I could talk myself out of it, I emailed him. Asked to meet when he had time.
I’m going to talk about scary things involving mental illness and suicide.
I have a confession to make. I have been holding out on you!
Before I get into that, I wanted to point out that I am very aware that I’ve also been really bad at writing, at looking at my social media (which I hate doing anyway), and keeping up with my favourite blogs out there. Christmastime is a real time vampire.
But also, I have a job now.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a job. As in, a thing I have again. A place where I have to go to and stay at all day and think and type and talk and have a coffee break and then I get money.
I almost feel like a normal human being!
The best part is that I’m actually making more money than I did before (because I now work 260 fewer hours per year than before, and let’s not even get into the amount of unpaid out-of-the-goodness-of-my-heart overtime I will no longer need to work in order to “get ahead”). My boss is very smart and doesn’t say “supposably.” I have encountered exactly zero instances of nepotism, which is an added bonus.
Also, I have a reason to shower and wear makeup again. I don’t smell like a homeless person anymore and I don’t resemble Joaquin Phoenix! So many benefits!
But I wanted to talk about something else today. And that is standing up for your fucking self when it’s hard.
I got a bunch of messages back in November about how I should sue my old work. Well, obviously I was on the same page as you guys on some levels, but it’s not something I could (or will) write about…. in much detail. But let’s just say I did pursue a thing or two, because fucking obviously, and settled the matter before it got to the point of going on the public record and needing to visit a judge. Avoiding that portion has been great for my anxiety and my soul.
The week after ShitEaters Incorporated canned me, I went though a lot of crazy emotions. I couldn’t figure out who I was supposed to be mad at: myself? Them? I felt foolish, embarrassed, angry, sad. I wanted to cause them pain. Then I wanted to disappear. I wanted the owner to call me and tell me his son was an idiot and I certainly was not fired. I wanted to let bygones be bygones. I wanted to move away. I wanted them to pay for me therapy bills. I wanted them to have to job-hunt for me to save me the work. I wanted it to be a dream. I felt bad for them. I wanted to get on with my new life. I wanted their business to fail. I wanted everything to have never happened. I wanted to work in a dark corner of a used book store where no one would ever see me and there was no pressure to do anything except organize things. I hated myself.
I started to spend a lot of time thinking “you should have just swallowed your emotions and just pushed through it and stayed miserable and that way you’d have a job.” My mind had changed: I truly felt that they believed they hired a person (me) who was both capable physically and mentally to do the job at hand. I clearly fell short of that in the mental department. Didn’t they deserve to have a good employee? Why should their company have to suffer the consequences of MY emotional reactions? Why couldn’t they just get rid of the loose cannon that I was, and move forward with a more productive person who would not hide in the bathroom crying 1.2 times per day (rough estimate)?
I felt that way. I sided with them on a majorly self-deprecating level. It caused additional stress and compounded my emotional distress in a way I was not aware was physiologically possible. More guilt. More anger. Less self-worth.
One afternoon, I was texting a good friend of mine. She was horrified at what happened, and she told me she was super pissed that they’d let me go.
“What if you went home and killed yourself?”
Those words were harsh and uncomfortable. She is a fiery redhead, you see. Reading them on this page right now, I cringe. But you know what? Those words are a perfectly real, true possibility in this world. If someone with a mental disorder of some sort (especially depression) was in my position, that person very possibly could have been suicidal. Being misled and fired unexpectedly very possibly could have been the thing that pushed that someone over the edge. What made my boss think that that was not within the realm of possibility for me? I didn’t even know that I would be physically safe in the end until afterward when I noticed that I was indeed still alive. Will I still feel strong tomorrow? I don’t know.
The thought disturbed me.
What made my boss think that his business endeavours were more important than a human life?
As far as I know, robots have not replaced humans in the workforce (entirely). We hire humans to work for us. They are not perfect. Humans have a lot of baggage. Therein I found my resolve.
Humans have feelings. Problems. Families. Histories. Plans. Celebrations coming up. Disasters trailing them. Annoying voices. Messy hair. Weird shoe choices. Too much cleavage. Tendencies to be late (ahem). Sick kids at home. In-laws in town. Spouses who are leaving them. Fathers who suffered heart attacks. Sisters who died. Wives who gave birth.
Humans have mental disorders. Depression. Anxiety. And any of the million other mental health issues I could name here, none of which truly impedes that person’s ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Depression itself doesn’t stop you from crunching numbers, pushing paper, or serving customers. We are all equal the way. No mental disability dehumanizes or minimizes a person’s worth.
These humans, these wonderful, disastrous humans – they are the only choice. And they are worth so much more than some CEO’s bottom line.
They’re worth more than the inconvenience of being a body short in the office. Than deadlines not being met. Of workloads piling up. Of having to hire a temp. Humans are more important that money.
If your company enjoys a $20,000,000 windfall because you got rid of some pour soul who went on to take his life after being let go, then go fuck yourself. You aren’t the kind of human this world needs right now. Seriously, get off my fucking blog page, and fuck yourself repeatedly.
On that note, I’ve come to realize that money is the only thing that matters to my old boss. It’s the only language he really speaks. Compassionate and progressive he is not.
Emotion is my language. Positive change is important to me.
I began to feel that if I didn’t pursue things, I was tacitly condoning those actions and opinions that hamper our society. I was agreeing that people don’t matter. The thought of laying down and essentially saying “you win, I’m not even going to try to fight back” made me feel ashamed of myself.
It was the best shame I’ve ever felt.
Don’t I advocate for mental health? Isn’t that, if nothing else, the only thing I feel truly passionate about in life?
I think that society accepting mental health in the workplace without the stigma has made a good start – but it’s got a long way to go. I am proof of that.
The only way to change society is to be that change. If the minions of the world don’t stand up to their bullies, there would be no progress. That’s where #MeToo and other campaigns truly originated from – the little guy going up against the beast, over and over until everyone else starts to take notice.
So after thinking about it really really hard, I did what I thought was right. I stood up to them. I decided to force them to turn their minds to the aftershock of their actions. The result didn’t matter. Their attention did.
A million dollars can’t make things better for me. What I truly need is impossible. A law court can’t wave a magic wand and erase the humiliation I felt (and still feel). It can’t restore my self-esteem. It can’t allow me to walk down the street without feeling terrified that I’ll bump into someone from my old office. A court can only award money.
But money is the only thing my ex-employer values. The only thing that gets his attention. The only way I could get his attention.
I’m not going to get into any details. There was no clear winner, and no clear loser. But in and of itself, it was another step toward destigmatizing mental health in the workplace.
I’m going to share the experience here in the coming weeks. No details will be revealed: no dollar amounts, no steps I may or may not have taken, no names, no positions, nothing.
What I can share is my emotional experience. What my hopes are. What my sociological goal was.
When I was in my late 20s, I was a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.
Let me rephrase that.
I was single and lived alone with seven cats. Just kidding. Zero cats. But definitely single, definitely living alone.
I partied a lot, obviously, because I was extremely popular. I led a very fulfilling life.
Shit. More lies. I got out, but my outings were limited to drinking at my friends’ homes.
Un-single friends, to be precise. I spent every spare minute with friends who were in devoted relationships. I had no single friends.
Before that, when my friends were single too, it was awesome. People wanted to stay out late and drink lots. We went to bars and lounges. I could crash in a male friend’s bed without it getting weird. I could go out with a girlfriend and not face the inevitable disappointment of having to unexpectedly be third wheel. Wait a second, you say. Inevitable + unexpected in one sentence…? Yup. Learning lessons is not one of my strong suits. And you’re right on another point: this is also another mediocre example of me incorporating a little foreshadowing into my post for ya.
It’s not like my life was shitty. And to be honest, my anxiety level at that point in my life was actually relatively low (although, I would later attribute my singledom to being too anxious to reveal any emotion to dudes). But there was a problem with my lifestyle. I was the single girl who hung out with couples, who all only knew couples, and who didn’t care to venture past their doorsteps. I never met guys anymore, and the couples physically clung to one another like two-way stage 5 clingers.
That meant there was no physical human interaction for me anymore.
And kids, I am not even talking about the dirty deed. I am talking about good clean fun. I’m talking about hugs.
Just that natural resource of human touch!
I didn’t realize it until one day when I found myself really, really craving a yoga class. Which is ridiculous because I have an exercise sensitivity. Like gluten, except with like, push-ups.
My yoga teacher always ended every class by massaging our temples during savasana. It was a simple thing, but I noticed after a while that it was the only physical human interaction I experienced like, ever. I started really looking forward to those 3 seconds where my meditation was sort of enhanced and the scent of lemongrass wafted through the air.
Sidebar: Please, seriously – be cool. Don’t ruin it by thinking for even a moment that there was any sexual element to my enjoyment of this whatsoever. There was not.
It was just those moments of human touch that touched my heart. Here was the woman who I knew on a very limited basis, who placed her fingertips on my temples after my workout, giving that to me. You’d think that there would be nothing to it. But for me, it was really important. I’ve often thought about emailing her anonymously to let her know this. But of course, I don’t want her to panic and (understandably) be concerned that she has a lunatic stalker on her hands. Ahem.
If you look into it, the human touch is actually pretty much vital to our being able to thrive. And even to our survival – I read an article that suggested that when babies aren’t hugged, even if they have all the nutrition in the world – they stop growing and can even die. You guys. Not to be super dark on Christmas – but orphan babies are dying because they aren’t hugged. Many large North-American cities have baby hugging programs where you can sign up to hug babies. YOU CAN VOLUNTEER TO HUG BABIES SO THEY DON’T DIE. They do not, regrettably, have this program in my smaller city. I checked.
Sorry, my ovaries took over for a minute there and *digressed.
There are studies that have found that human touch reduces anxiety. It slows down our heart rates. We feel protected, cared for, empathized with. We become calm.
And when we don’t get that key human contact? We can become pretty pessimistic, unhappy, unwell, and of course, alone. It’s a recipe for depression and anxiety.
Those few moments between me and my yoga instructor were helping bridging the gap between me and happiness, when you think about it. That’s because touch triggers a release of oxytocin – which is the neurotransmitting hormone that helps oversees positive social interactions. It’s essentially what is responsible for allowing us to create relationships.
Sorry, that was more science than I typically want to subject you to.
Personally, I have always been in the hugs > kisses camp. Because hugs can comfortably be longer, not sloppy, and they’re toasty warm. I’m obviously a hugger. I hug my best friends when I see them, even if I saw them yesterday. I hug Boyfriend when he gets home from work. I hug my very reluctant cats. It doesn’t have the same effect, but I hug my pillow at night.
Hugs are pretty much imperative to my recovering from a panic attack.
And that’s why I invented the Two-Minute Hug.
All it is is a hug that lasts about two minutes. It is not complicated. You hug someone, and they hug you back, and then you just keep hugging for two minutes. It does not need to be exactly two minutes. Oftentimes it only takes 20 seconds or so for the effects to kick in. I call it ‘two-minutes’ because by accepting it, Boyfriend commits himself to two minutes and cannot wriggle free beforehand if I don’t want him to.
I can go from crying, hyperventilating, and hurting badly on the inside to experiencing feelings of warmth, calm, and love within a matter of seconds. It’s like washing anxiety away. A hug just makes everything bad run down the drain.
Anytime I’m feeling even somewhat nervous, I yell/whine/blubber “TWO-MINUTE HUG” to Boyfriend, and he immediately opens his arms to me and holds me. It always works.
I recommend that everyone indulges in the Two-Minute Hug every single day. Take multiple doses. The more the better, actually. It’s addictive but in a super healthy way and your mother won’t judge you for it.
It doesn’t need to be from a boyfriend or girlfriend. You can hug your mom or dad, friend or sibling. Anyone who is willing (i.e. Do not hug your boss or young children you don’t know). I think hugging a pet totally works, too, although I would urge you to choose a pet that enjoys being hugged. Maybe a tree would work for you — I have no idea. The only requirement is that you need to feel the love.
Honestly, just go hug someone. They might be the one who needs it. You might be the one who needs it. But the lovely thing is that you both win.
So, it’s Christmas Eve. Get off the goddamn computer, and go hug your great-aunt Ida.
PS!! I was awarded the very, very prestigious Liebster Award by the beautiful blogger Pages of Paige.
I love Paige because she reads my blog, apparently, which is something that astounds me every day, and because she has a prima facie appreciation for puns. Also, because her blog is deliciously hilarious and I feel like we’d be BFFs in real life. I need to pass this award on to a few other amazing blogs – and I already know who I’m thinking of – but Christmastime = zero time for such endeavours. I mean, this post alone took me 2 weeks to write and I don’t even have a job. But I will do it, I promise, because I am so, so thrilled to have received a blogger award and I want to share that feeling.
So thank you, Paige. If you are ever in Canada, you can crash on my couch (or sleep in the guestroom if you’re fancy), and I’ll take you to see a cactus so you’ll feel right at home. Truly. Canada does have cactuses. And by Canada I mean any of Canada. My place is close to all of it. That’s how Canada works.
This also feels like a good opportunity to thank Damn Girl, Get Your Shit Together for featuring me on her blog this month. Lady, your advocacy for pumping other female bloggers’ tires is fucking wicked, and I thank you from the bottom of my black heart for choosing me, and for the new followers you sent my way, and I apologize to those followers for not having the answers to curing anxiety you undoubtedly followed me for. Although, in retrospect, I wish I’d provided DGGYST a link icon that said “FREE PORN HERE” or something, because I think it would have generated tons more traffic and I could have ended the year as a internet millionaire. Feel free to update my branding for the remaining few days of December. Also, you are also welcome on my couch/bed. We can both try maple syrup for the first time together.
*Every blog says “I digress”at one point. I promise I won’t do it again.