Panic Attacks 101.

Here are a few things that have thrown me into an ugly panic tornado:

  1. Confronting someone about something I feel passionate about.
  2. When I’m about to text or call someone new in my life.
  3. Calling the pizza guy.
  4. When I’m meeting friends, and have to show up alone.
  5. Waiting for anyone and they are even a tiny bit late.
  6. When I’m misunderstood in regard to my feelings.
  7. When someone disagrees with me.
  8. When I need to present in front of my company and someone asks a follow-up question.
  9. When someone looks at their phone when they’re talking to me.
  10. When I’m laying in bed at night, going over the day’s events.
  11. Recalling an awkward or humiliating event from XX years ago.
  12. When I don’t wear makeup in public.
  13. Shopping alone and everyone is judging me for it.
  14. When someone doesn’t return my text or call or email.
  15. When I do something somewhat embarrassing – like I mispronounce a word.
  16. When I do something really embarrassing – like my skirt flips up in public.
  17. 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.
  18. Making a typo in an email.
  19. When I have no direction when starting a new project (usually work-related).
  20. Doing math.
  21. When I need to talk to an authoritative figure.
  22. When store clerks try to talk to me.
  23. When store clerks ignore me when I need help.
  24. 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.

I cry.

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. giphy
  • 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.
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K thx.

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Lawyers, Charlie Sheen, and 50 Cent.

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 fuck would 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.

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The same way as 50 Cent feels about dollars.

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.

He wrote back.

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Yeah, So Sue Me.

*Potential Trigger Warning*

I’m going to talk about scary things involving mental illness and suicide.
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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.

Say whhaaaaat?

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.

I hope my actions can help evoke positive change.

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The Two-Minute Hug™.

When I was in my late 20s, I was a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.

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Surprise! I am Beyonce.

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.

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Couples are so nice.

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.

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I want to thank all the little people who made this possible. Mostly my ex-boss.

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.

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*Every blog says “I digress” at one point. I promise I won’t do it again.

 

 

Hush.

Quieting the mind.

It’s kind of an impossible task, stopping the incessant chatter.

Instead, listening. Observing. Noticing without judging. Seeing without computing an opinion. Watching without engaging.

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It’s such a simple concept. But I can’t deny that it’s difficult as all hell to put into practice. I swear I have a three-year-old in my brain who’s just learned to talk who yacks away in my head 24/7. It is very difficult to shut it up. I desperately need some peace.

I’ve written about my meditation attempts here before. Meditating is something I have been continuing to try to work into my daily life over the last few months, but it’s absolutely not something I have mastered yet.

I’ve been reading about it a lot lately, looking up podcasts and YouTube videos, and – get this – sitting down and trying to meditate.

I take a deep breath, and spend about 2 seconds focusing on not focusing. And it doesn’t work. All I can hear in my head is “no, stop! Stop thinking! Okay don’t say “stop thinking” because that counts as thinking. And stop humming rap songs, loser.”

I feed like I need guidance. But I’m given up when it comes to figuring out where to find it.

There is a Buddhist temple in my city with a sign that invites everyone to come meditate – but as you can imagine, I cannot bring myself to even seriously consider attending. My Ego tells me that I’d be judged and not be welcome there. I picture myself sitting there, doing it wrong somehow, watching others for cues but giving myself away, and people watching me back – wondering why a girl like me thought she had any right to intrude into their sacred place.

I know it’s not true. Not being welcome at a place of worship is unfathomable. But Mr. Ego has a very loud voice, and it’s even more difficult to ignore when I’m attempting to find quiet. It would add a layer of difficulty to an already difficult endeavour. It’s off the table for me.

I’m still looking for ways to meditate, though. I try to spend some time every day…

—Ugh. That’s a total lie. Lately I’ve only been doing it a couple of times a week. Meditating is really hard, and I don’t enjoy it. I’m just so bad at it!

I say this with a smile on my face. Meditation is practically (actually?) an industry nowadays because it’s so hard to conquer. And, we live in a world where we want clear instructions and a clear outcome. Really, just think about it. We want everything to happen so quickly, and our society has created the fastest ways to be rich, beautiful, and smart. The lottery. Liposuction. Wikipedia. Why hasn’t anyone figured out a way to instantly meditate?

Here are the steps to meditating:

Step 1: Don’t think.

Don’t we live in the most amazing age where anything is possible? The hundreds of thousands of webpages, books, recordings, TV shows, podcasts, and classes dedicated to teaching meditation must have figured out a simple way to actually meditate successfully for more than my 2-3 second average.

Why hasn’t anyone figured out foolproof steps to actually stop the mind from thinking!? A tried and true patented manual? A scientific method? Some kind of meditation life hack?

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Well fuck.

 

If a psychiatrist suggested that I plug my brain into a meditation machine, I would do it. In a heartbeat. I would buy it off Amazon, and I’d buy stocks in the company.

For now, I’m just going to continue to try and focus on my breath, the ticking of a clock, or the sounds of babbling brooks or mating whales on my phone. Actively tell myself to hush when it gets too loud in there.

But in the meantime, if anyone has a succinct get-enlighted-quick guide they’ve been hiding?

Gimme! I will give you all of my dollars (which, for the record, is zero dollars. Sorry).

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No Money Mo Problems.

The aftermath. It’s shit.

But financially, it’s becoming a real problem. I don’t understand why rap stars don’t write about it more often. Throw your bills in the air like you just don’t care. So much more relatable.

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0 + 0 keeps not equalling $1,000,000. I don’t get it.

I’m a relatively financially responsible person. Boyfriend and I have a strict budget and each month we sacrifice allocate money toward various savings accounts. We don’t spend a lot of money eating out or in bars or lounges anymore; our careers leave us far too exhausted to want to recuperate from hangovers these days. Also, I am old as balls so staying home is my jam.

I am a credit card points whore, but usually pay off my card balance each month. I am not, aside from that, the best saver, so I rely on automatic withdrawals from my paycheques to retirement savings plan accounts to save for the future. If I don’t see the money in the first place, I am not going to miss it.

But overall, I’m used to indulging my desires. If I want some new article of clothing, I buy it – but I’m a sale junkie. I take up J Crew’s 40% off sale items offers, and scour places like Marshalls for last season’s discounted (or grey market?) Kate Spade. I also like my Starbucks and my pho. I imagine that the majority of my frivolous spending is on lunches, actually.

At Christmastime, I blow through my budget faster than Trump blows through administrative staff. Buying my loved ones the perfect gift is my favourite. It brings me so much freaking joy. Boyfriend in particular lights up like a little child when he opens gifts from me, and I live for that look on his face. I have a picture of him on our first Christmas together, and it makes my heart smile.

But I’ve been on government assistance, for the first time in my life, since October. It’s a pittance, being less than half my salary. Since Boyfriend is footing the bills right now, I’m not immediately responsible for much. But my therapy bills swallow up about half of that paltry sum, and I’m still paying for things like my cell phone. And, I have an ever-mounting debt to him, which I will be paying back to him when I can.

And so, I essentially have no money right now. I’ve depleted my savings, and am afraid to look at my credit card bill because I’ve only been able to manage $100 payments per month.

I can’t spend money on anything, and Christmas is only weeks away. There are several family birthdays this month, too. I was abashed when my mom emailed me telling me not to buy her anything for Christmas this year, since she knows my situation. It’s humiliating that Boyfriend has had to foot every single bill for the last two-and-a-half months. I dropped an eyeliner into my shopping cart a couple of weeks ago, and felt immediate guilt that he was paying for it.

I’m stressed out because I’ve completely depleted my insurance resources. Realistically, I can’t actually afford my $160 therapy bills.

But the other day, I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about mental health taking its financial toll on him and his family. Check it out here. As I read about his experience, and those of other people’s experiences in the comments, I felt somewhat ashamed for having anything to complain about.

I am lucky.

I am lucky that I have Boyfriend, who’s still employed, financially sound and who pays our mortgage and grocery bills.

I am lucky that he has extended health insurance through his work that I have been added to. Not only does it pay for extended benefits (things like psychologist visits, physiotherapy appointments, and medication cost top-up), but it also pays for my mandatory provincial healthcare premium. It’s allowed me to recoup the costs of my therapy, and has also cut my monthly bills by about $75.

Finally, I am so incredibly to live in Canada.

Canada has amazing health care.

If I didn’t make a decent salary, my health insurance would be free. My prescriptions would be free. I’ve had this since I was born. There’s no such thing as co-pays (I’m not even 100% sure what that is, to be honest), or being aware of what prescription drugs actually cost, or pre-existing conditions. Signing newcomers up for health insurance is something I did at my old job; our governments don’t seem care if you come to Canada with a brain injury. You’re covered. In fact, in the province of Alberta, you’re covered as soon as you step off the airplane, which I found especially wonderful.

In Canada, I can walk into the doctor’s office every day of the year and never pay a cent. I have never paid more than about $10 for prescription drugs, and that was only a few times when I was uninsured through work. If I get hit by a car tomorrow and spend a week in the hospital, my bank account will be none the wiser. If I am diagnosed with cancer, my family will not have to pool together funds to keep me alive. If I get pregnant tomorrow, I will not have to make decisions based on whether or not I’m okay with applying for a second mortgage.

Canada is a wonderful, wonderful place. It is magical. It is a dream.

Yes. Being off work has its drawbacks. But my necessities are covered. I am clothed, warm, and fed. I do not live in fear that my family will ever lose everything to medical bills.

I need to remember that so, so many people do not have this luxury. That this is a luxury.

It pains me to think of how many people are not as fortunate. Do I wish that my government paid for all of my therapy? Sure. Do I wish my old paycheque were still being deposited into my bank account? Yes! Of course I do!

But if I’m honest, most of that money that I’d be saving would be going toward things I don’t have to have. I don’t need a manicure, or new shoes, or a dinner out.

I need the basics. I need my family to be healthy and happy.

I have those. I am so, so, so lucky.

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The Atomic Bomb.

This is Part II in my little I Got Fired + Swearwords story. Here is Part I.

Quick catchup: We left off when my supervisor and the company owner had just handed me my the proverbial pink slip.


Between hyperventilating breaths, I told my bosses that I couldn’t believe they were firing me because I’d been on medical leave. Amid a hurried exchange of glances, both of them quickly claimed it had nothing to do with my leave of absence. Nothing. They shook their heads determinedly, like two kindergarteners lying to the teacher about eating paste.

Of course, I think they are full of shit. And I am pretty certain that my facial expression at the time let on just as much. But I also knew there was no point in arguing. They’d certainly rehearsed what they’d planned to say to me if I questioned them anyway. There was no point in standing my ground.

Mostly, I just didn’t have that vitality left in me. I was depleted of any energy I had mustered for the day, like a burnt out light bulb hanging in the room, completely useless. Here I was, experiencing a collaborated effort to squash me run its course successfully. My soul felt crushed, and the somber cloak of dejection wrapped itself around my hunched shoulders. I knew depression was present. I’d never felt it come on so rapidly, so surely. It owned me.

In a room that was now so unwelcoming to me, so uncertain, depression felt so safe. Depression understood. It was there for me, and it was all I could rely on. In the preceding moments, I’d so swiftly been taught that I couldn’t rely on my bosses treating me with compassion. I couldn’t rely on a tacit respect of the law or even of human decency. None of that was within my grasp. I let depression stroke my head and tell me everything would be okay. I could rely on its presence.

The two men left the room, awkwardly aware that there was nothing left to say, and closed the door behind me. And I sat there, feeling like a fool. How had this happened?

Immediately after everything went down, I realized how painfully obvious it all should have been to me in the days leading up to doomsday. There we so many God damn signs: My boss was keeping me at arm’s length. No one from the management team contacted me to ask how I was doing. The email responses leading up to my final day were more and more uncertain. For once, my anxiety disorders were right. Why hadn’t I just quit while the ball was still in my court? How could I have been so stupid?

We all routinely look at signs and overreact, don’t we? Especially the anxious. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to tell myself not to jump to conclusions. Hundreds of times any given worst case scenario that I so often felt so strongly was imminent had never even happened, in the end. Like a teenager who drives like a daredevil, I began to feel immune to anything bad actually happening to me. It was always just in my head.

My headspace has never been a safe haven. Although tragedy never really struck, so many impending situations played out so catastrophically in my mind over the years that it almost didn’t matter whether something bad actually happened to me. I still go through the trauma all the time. If I were to meet someone at a bar, for instance, I’d still go through the very real experience of my friend not showing up, strangers turning and laughing at me, telling me to leave, that I didn’t belong. I’d experience it all while I sat waiting in my car, twenty minutes before I was due to walk through the doors. That’s kind of what anxiety is. It’s a bad reaction to an experience that isn’t even happening.

And so, I grew to experience that worst case scenario, but never have to live with the actual consequences. But now I know that living in the reality after the bomb goes off is just so much harder than I ever thought it could be. I’m left picking up shards of my life without a plan. I don’t know how to deal with this. What do you do when the nightmare comes true?

bomb
Pictured: The outcome to every situation I’ve contemplated, ever.

The thing is, looking at perceived signs and overreacting is an anxiety- and depression-prisoner’s worst downfall. In therapy, one of my monster challenges was rewiring my brain to essentially not jump to a horrifying ending every time a difficult situation arose. While that is a positive thing that I still know I need to work on, and still believe in, it really didn’t help things this time around. It kind of worked against me.

I spent so much time over the past couple of months reassuring myself that the disastrous consequences I’d invented in my mind were not real possibilities. That they couldn’t possibly come to pass. I mean it when I say that I did not, for one minute, believe that I could lose my job after taking medical leave. I’d just worked far too hard training myself to be rational about it. And it left me completely unprepared for this. I’ve found myself suddenly climbing Everest wearing a pair of Chucks.

I can’t help but feel angry with myself for not listening to anxiety back at the end of September. It was telling me all of the right things, trying to protect me, and direct me toward the safest pathway. But I didn’t listen. Now I’m left doubting my ability to read the signs and act appropriately. I’ve realized that I don’t know anything.

So the last couple of weeks have been hard. Really, really hard.

A real live actual worst case scenario is so hard to deal with, because it crosses over into your physical experience. It’s so much more than simply contemplating an outcome and living it in your mind. Simply put, not only do I have to deal with the emotional issues, but now I have to deal with the physical ones. I don’t feel capable of showering, let alone accomplishing anything that would make any normal human stressed. I need to do scary things like job hunt, to appear intelligent, groomed and put-together, and capable of doing the professional job I am trained to do. And I need to accomplish small things. Today, I burst into tears while I waited in line at the post office to buy a single stamp. I’m failing badly so far.

For me, this stuff feels insurmountable.

I know it’s not healthy, but I hold so much resentment toward my ex-boss right now. Let’s face it; I have zero control over my thoughts these days. Usually, I try to take responsibility for my emotions. But I just don’t feel like I brought this on this time. I was good at my job, and acted reasonably in an effort to mend myself. I didn’t fire myself. It was all him. The humiliation and indignity he’s caused me… it just hurts so badly. I relive the meeting every single day. I can see my supervisor, eyes downcast, and hear him say “we are terminating your employment” all of the time.

Every time I go out of the house, I feel terrified that I will see him or someone from the office. I’m frightened about my future, and how I might react if things start to get intense for me again at another job. I was trusting and was so wrong once, so how can I be sure that it won’t happen again? I can’t fathom taking risks anymore.

I want to live in a different city, in a different country, and I never want to have a boss ever again. Depression and anxiety are ruling over me right now.

I just want to disappear.

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