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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Learning Curve.

I’ve been trying for years to attack my anxiety, instead of it attacking me, without a whole lot of success.

The success I have had is linked to calming myself during a panic attack and not allowing it to completely take over. I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m quite good at keeping things together, but that’s because I’ve had two decades of practice.

When panic starts to boil, I know the things I need to do to not pass out or totally lose my shit. I need to be alone, and I need to breathe. Those are the two main objectives, and they aren’t too overwhelming. I can remember those. They’ve become second nature. I can stamp out attacks before they come full tilt, which is very, very helpful in leading a regular adult life.

So I’m pretty okay when it comes to like 60% of my attacks.

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See? I’m fine.

The remaining 40% of my attacks? I fall victim to them. And since I still have attacks despite medicine and my past therapy sessions, it means I do need to work on myself.

I need to figure my shit out.

In the past, I’ve spent time with more run-of-the-mill, scientific psychologists. They tend to remind me that anxiety is a caveman response, which I do believe. Our minds have not changed as quickly and as drastically as we have – our evolution has not kept up with our discoveries. Nowadays, we are at the top of the food chain and rarely need to run away from hungry predators or defend our homes the way we did thousands of years ago. Back then, we needed that response to escape, say, a hungry bear. Our adrenaline rushed, our heart beat fast, we zeroed in and focussed on the object of our stress, and either ran or fought. Even our digestion slowed because we needed that energy elsewhere. It saved us.

We needed the fight or flight response, we used it, and then when it was over, it disappeared. The danger was gone, and it’s in part because our response did its job. But the society we’ve created and scientific achievements have eliminated a true need for the fight or flight response. Now, it turns into a disorder.

When we feel unsafe, even for stupid present day reasons (like having to meet new people), our fight or flight response is still hardwired into our brains and comes into play. Even though it’s not exactly that useful. That tunnel vision and racing heart aren’t helping us, it’s making us worse. There’s no where for that energy to go, especially when you’re strapped to a desk, or in the grocery store, or anywhere in public. We can’t run and we can’t fight. It’s all in our heads.

But I know all of this. I understand that my reactions are just evolutionary responses. I know my triggers. I know where my anxiety came from. I have all of the answers.

I needed to see someone who could give me a new approach. And I think I’ve found her.

I’ve been seeing a psychologist who is a little more progressive when it comes to dealing with panic and anxiety.  She has her PhD, so I trust her, and she’s not suggesting that I try and deal with my issues with crystals and Himalayan salt lamps.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those avenues, but they just aren’t for me.

But she’s got some really good ways of dealing with my own mind, and that’s by shifting my Ego out of the way. My Ego, I’ve discovered, is taking centre stage and ruining everything. Because I let him do it.

The single most important thing I’ve learned so far is to detach myself from my anxiety. It’s been kind of a game changer for me. Anxiety is not ME. It’s like a really bad accessory to my Self.

Yes, that’s a capital S “Self”. I’m getting into that Buddhist, yoga, meditation-y kinda stuff. But it makes so much sense. And it’s so beautiful.

My Ego and my Self are very different. My Ego is a maniac who thinks everything is black and white. Good or bad. He’s an extremist. He is the one who chatters on and on in my brain about all of the worst case scenarios, and can’t just BE. He is the worst.

My Self is my conscious self. She is my awareness. She just chills and observes and I equate her with love. She is Me.

Think about it for a moment.

Say something in your head. Say “I can’t shut up”. Say those words in your mind.

You ‘heard’ it, didn’t you? That was your Ego. It wasn’t you. You are the one who heard it, so you aren’t the one who said it.

The first step to realizing this stuff is just to listen and become aware of that chattering voice in your head. Your Ego is the one who responds to ev-er-y-thing out there, and makes flip-flopping judgments in regard to pretty much everything. He’s full of opinions and responses. Just listen to him rattle on:

“Okay, John didn’t text me back. He must be angry with him. I know he’s probably just busy, but, no, I mean he looked at me kind of funny yesterday so many he’s pissed. He’s definitely angry. It must have been something I said… what was it, what was it…. Who knows. John is like everyone else in my life. He doesn’t truly love me anyway, so I shouldn’t even care because….”

I mean, isn’t that how our minds tend to go when you’re anxious and come to the worst conclusions?

The key to starting on this journey is to just notice it. Don’t do anything, don’t try anything, and don’t think too much into it. Just notice that voice rambling on about everything. You’ll start to notice, like I have, that it’s there. And he just has a stupid opinion on everything. It’s almost never true – it’s almost always a distorted perception. A leap to conclusions based on almost no facts.

I am by no means an expert on this stuff. I am a beginner. But I do strongly believe that this might be a major step in the right direction for me. Maybe it’s the key to getting better, and to handling stress better in the future.

My learning will be ongoing. I don’t think it will ever end. I don’t think I’ll turn into the Dalai Lama any time soon, or ever. But I think I might be able to tap into a few things that just might help me perceive life a little differently.

Hopefully my ENORMOUS fan base won’t mind reading about it from time to time 😉

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Tinfoil.

There is a reason I have tinfoil as my backdrop on my page. It’s not my attempt at conveying my love for 90s kitsch design.

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Fun prank: tell a friend this is a Magic Eye picture and watch them struggle with it for 10 minutes.

Although, forgive me, it is a symbol for something, and that is just as lamenting.

I’ve mentioned that I have a wonderful, compassionate partner in life: Boyfriend. We’re not married (yet – we’ll get around to it one day), but we live together. We’ve built a home and life together and are truly committed to one another. His love for me includes all of my flaws – including my anxiety and depression. He is my best person. 

It wasn’t like I revealed everything about myself on day one of our relationship. I managed to keep my crazy in check for months and months, actually, and it was a long time before I felt comfortable enough to share this side of me with him. Mental health isn’t something people tend to talk about in general. It can take a long time to gauge whether or a person is someone you can trust and rely on. Whether they are wired with that element of sympathy or empathy that’s required of something to be lean-on-able is not always obvious.

Realizing someone has the capacity to be your “rock” doesn’t happen in a snap, either. It is a series of learning, of reading your feelings and emotions in symphony with their actions. You just kind of slowly discover that yes, this person is a good one. You can share your secrets with him or her, and you are safe. This person is a cornerstone. Your counterpart.

When I first explained to him that I had an anxiety disorder (admitting to multiple disorders seems like a lot to swallow, so I like to start with just one), I was able to recite to him a brief canned address that allows most people to understand anxiety on a beginner level. I never expect much of a response, or even many questions. It’s just something for them to digest. He digested it well.

Like most decent people, his response was positive and supportive. It was a good first step to handling the unhinged bag of loose screws I can sometimes be. It provided him a bit of a warning that I could, at any given moment really, have a full fledged panic attack.

Which did eventually happen, of course.

The first time I had a panic attack near him, he was the supportive person I’d hoped he would be. I couldn’t have asked for better. That doesn’t mean he 100% understood what was going on. After I had calmed down, I did my best to guide him through what it really feels like to have a panic attack.

The best way I was able to explain the epicentre of my anxiety attacks is to think of the heart as being made of tinfoil. It keeps you alive by pumping blood through it effortlessly and rhythmically. It is reliable and steadfast. But it needs to be handled with care: in reality, it is vulnerable, delicate, and intricate.

Now imagine that your fragile tinfoil heart is physically being squeezed.

It takes literally no effort to crush that tinfoil into a hard, compact little ball. All of the life is squashed out of it. It cannot function properly in this state. It feels tight and tense and tiny. It hurts.

ball

It feels irreparable.

And the rest of your body is useless when that feeling takes place. Every sense is affected: your vision seemed darkened and blurry, your hearing is muffled. You are shaking and sweating. Your breathing quickens. Your mind is out of control.

The only thing you can really concentrate on is the fact that your heart, once open and light, is now dense and solid. Nothing passes though it with ease. The heart centre you’d thought of as your axis of stability isn’t there. This stupid little crushed ball has taken its place.

That’s what an anxiety attack feels like to me. Like my heart is made of tinfoil, and it’s being crushed. It’s kind of hard to un-crush a ball of tinfoil.

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Nap Time.

Naps are my hobby.

Sleeping in is my homeboy.

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When I was a teenager, I used to return from school after a very demanding day of sitting, and would fall asleep in front of the TV before dinner. Since I was a child, they had to physically drag me out of bed in the mornings. Sleep and me were like peas and carrots.

My parents weren’t into me and my preoccupation with my bed. They’d rather I help with dinner or that I do things like homework. They argued passionately that I was lazy, that I could not possibly have had such an exhausting day that I needed a nap to recover from it.

When I tried to argue, I didn’t really have much of a leg to stand on. I wasn’t one of those kids who was in tons of extracurricular activities, clubs, or sports. I relied heavily on hearing that teens just need more sleep than adults, and that parents just don’t understand. I figured I’d grow out of it. And for a long time, I thought it was laziness that turned me into sleeping beauty.

When I became an adult and did not grow out of it, I began to question why.

I then began to assume it was because I had an erratic work schedule. That I didn’t have kids yet, so there was no reason to schedule my sleep. That I stayed out late.

I noticed that childless friends my age who also had erratic work schedules and partied did not, overall, sleep as much as I did.

But really, it wasn’t much of a problem. Since I had few responsibilities aside from getting my ass to work, it didn’t really matter much.

A couple years ago, when anxiety caused me to take a week off from work to re-group, I napped a lot.

A lot, a lot.

I pretty much napped exclusively that week. I’m fairly certain that I woke only to feed myself and check Facebook.

That’s when I began to realize that my bed, and sleeping, has nothing to do with being tired. It is my safety zone. It’s my escape. It’s the only place and state in which the world cannot harm me.

Many would be quick to argue that it’s just a way of hiding from my problems – and I completely agree. But sometimes, when everything is coming at me from every direction and life is just getting too overwhelming, the one thing I can do to hit the STOP button is to go to sleep.

There’s no medication involved, not one gets hurt, I am not making any rash decisions that affect anyone. I get to take a break and check out, even if it’s only for a few hours. I am cozy, safe, and warm. I can relax, I can breathe, and I can be uninterrupted. I am not embarrassed, I am not thinking, and I do not have to think about my next move. I don’t have to think about anything – my mind wanders in and out of dreams and for a little while, and I have achieved what I really want: I have disappeared.

Granted, my problems are still going to be there when I wake up. But for me, naps are a total godsend.

After that nap, those problems sometimes don’t seem like the enormous mountains they were earlier in the day. Sometimes I care just a little less about them. Sometimes the thoughts and panicky feelings have dissipated just enough that they aren’t clouding my judgment. Sometimes I feel like I’m not so out of control anymore. Sometimes I am no longer considering all-or-nothing solutions. Sometimes I feel a bit silly for having felt so strongly about my problems.

Not always, but sometimes.

Sometimes I take sleep to the extreme. When I’m crazy-stressed about something big, and experiencing too many panic attacks, sleep does nothing except turn out the lights for a short while. When I wake up, I am still in the midst of my perceived problems. I nap over and over, day after day, not finding any solace aside from the brief breaks between feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes, sleep is just the only way I can block everything out for a couple of hours, but doesn’t help beyond that. Oftentimes I find myself dreaming about eerily similar situations.

I have recurring dreams about being in high school, not knowing what my class schedule is, and it’s almost time to graduate. But I haven’t been to classes in months – and don’t know where to go, and I can’t find anyone to help me. I’ve dreamed that I’ve actually failed right before graduation.

You don’t need to be some kind of dream guru to note a link between that kind of recurrent dream and life’s stresses. And as you can imagine, this kind of sleep does absolutely nothing for me. There is no healing – just added stress, actually.

Thankfully, I don’t find that these naps happen too often.

Cuz for the most part? I have a nap, dream about random things, and am able to unplug from life for a few hours. I wake with my cat cuddled into me, feeling his purrs reverberate though my own body, and feel a little more okay.

 

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Background Part III.

Ah, meds.

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This has become a very controversial subject according to the interwebMDs.

I am going to share my thoughts on the matter,  because my choice to be medicated is legitimately the difference between being able to participate in the outside world, and developing what I know would have been a pretty decent case of agoraphobia.

In Part II of my story, I shared my inability to do anything alone. I also mentioned that I still struggle with that. But I am no where near as bad as I used to be.

When I wrote that I couldn’t go to the mall alone, I mean it. It’s not that I’d be there and something happened so that I never returned. Nothing bad ever happened that prevented me from wanting to return. It was the thought of going out on my own that cloaked me in so much fear, that it just wasn’t something I could do.

I avoided it completely. It was not an option for me.

It was a flashback scenario. PTSD-style. Being seen alone brought me back to the times I had to spend alone in front of my entire high school every single day for months.

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Fun Fact: Public toilets don’t tend to have lids.

Remember this scene from the movie Mean Girls? This was me for a while in high school. For most people, it’s kind of entertaining. But for someone who lived that – it hits the nail on the fucking head. I make an awkward scrunched-up face during this scene.

I spent nearly every lunch hour alone, hiding in an aisle in the school library. I would pretend to do homework, but since I had more than enough time to complete that stuff, I’d actually just be reading Sweet Valley High books.

But our library forbade food and drink, so I always needed to eat my lunch before going in there. A bathroom stall was the natural choice. It was the only place that offered any sort of privacy.

The underlying reason for all of this was not simply that I had nothing to do during my spare time. My goal was to disappear. I would consistently bump into old friends who knew I was on my own, and it was humiliating to be seen. This flooded past just the ones I knew closely. For me, every single person at that school knew I was a loner and a total loser for it.

This intense feeling followed me. I did eventually make new friends, but things were never quite the same for me. Instead of being the outgoing one with all of the ideas, I became reclusive. I hung back. I went along with everyone else’s suggestions. I hoped simply to be invited along for the ride. It meant I just had someone to stand with at school.

It is nearly impossible to go about daily life successfully as an adult if you are in that world. We routinely need to go to the bank, go to job interviews, buy groceries, attend doctor’s appointments. My issues with doing things alone didn’t truly fuck up my life until I was an adult with responsibilities.

There was no thought process behind my inability to do stuff. I never thought to myself “I cannot go shopping, because I am very anxious, and my anxiety is preventing me from doing it!” It was moreso that if no one was available to go with me, it just was not a consideration to go at all. I wasn’t going to go someplace I’d be judged and watched. Would you walk into a flaming building? No. You don’t make that decision though a step-by-step, well thought-out process. Your knee-jerk reaction is “fire. Hot,” and you stay away naturally. You don’t need to think about anything except the results.

For me, going to the mall was like going into a flaming building. It was just obvious that I could not do that.

Anxiety rarely presents itself as anxiety, especially when you have just begun dealing with it. It is just your reality. It’s just how things are.

When I began university, I also began taking anti-anxiety medication. I quickly graduated to the highest dosage allowable, and it was then that I discovered I was capable of doing things.

Just doing things.

It did not happen overnight. It took a while to adjust to the medication. I got over a woozy feeling it gave me that lasted a few days, and recognized quickly that forgetting to take it on time would make me feel nauseous. But aside from that, I was lucky that I have never encountered many side-effects on this particular drug.

Side Note: I have tried several other drugs over the years, all of which I did not continue using because of the intense side-effects I experienced. For anyone considering trying an anti-anxiety med, you can’t expect the first one to be The One. I’m not even 100% sure that the first one I tried is the one that worked for me long-term. But I do consider myself very lucky that I was able to find a drug that does not make me sick or loopy or more anxious than before. It is a tricky business.

The magic that did occur, however, was that over time, I realized that I was doing things the way a normal adult would. I had started, for instance, going to the mall alone, and without even realizing it. My mind no longer considered the mall to be a dangerous burning building. It was just a regular place. My reality had changed.

For me, medication stopped those feelings of being overwhelmed. It wasn’t that there was a medication that went BOOM and I was brave and thought “I know what I’m gonna do today! I’m gonna go to the mall! I am not anxious about it!” It was simply an absence of the feelings that would have prevented me from even considering it in the past.

Anxiety meds taught me that with their help, I can do normal, everyday activities, and that nothing bad happens. That’s all – I can just do stuff.

Stuff like going back to school, building a career that I’m proud of, talking to a cute dude, and creating a life for myself. I did those things.

DOING STUFF IS AMAZING.

🙂

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Panic at the Workplace.

I can confidently say that 90% of my anxiety these days is associated with the workplace.

I can also confidently say that I spend about 90% of my waking hours at the workplace.

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It’s funny because it’s true.

If only this meme weren’t so fucking accurate for so many people. Workplace anxiety is something I obviously have strong feelings about.

Something that’s been bothering me lately is the lack of mental health support at my workplace. It’s been hitting very close to home, since that’s why I’m at home for the next 6 weeks (if I can handle being home that long – I am only on day 6 and I am feeling very unsettled and restless). Coincidentally, my company’s director/shareholders recently revealed that taking on the title of one of “Canada’s Best Employers” (or something similar) is high on their list of goals.

To me, providing a mental health program would be an enormous step in the right direction for them.

My boyfriend’s workplace, for example, provides better extended benefits in terms of psychotherapy than mine. But they take it a couple of steps further and will pay for a number of psychiatrist appointments outright. They also top up their staff’s pay if they do have to take sick leave. I feel that just knowing this support is there would make a big difference for me. But to be honest, it’s not something I inquired of my company when I took the job.

There is a bit of a catch 22 when you accept a position with any company. Do you ask about mental health benefits specifically so you know what your options might be? Or do you avoid drawing attention to yourself, and risk it? How do you learn the work place’s policy on mental illness without outing yourself?

There is obviously still stigma attached to mental illness – any “invisible” illness, actually. People might have some form of it themselves, but it won’t necessarily stop them from hiring someone they know is prone to some kind of issue. I mean honestly… what’s the better choice: someone who might have an emotional breakdown and leave? Or someone who’s stable and can power through stressful times unaffected? Hiring someone without mental illness is the easier choice. It’s the safe route. It’s less complicated.

I recently read a news article that suggests that 60% of Canadian employers do not have any sort of mental health plan for their employees. That sucks. The odds are that if you are working, you don’t have a resource.

Mental health support is fucking expensive. Seeing a psychologist in my city is anywhere from $150-$200 per hour. Prescription drug costs of course vary, but I know they are prohibitively expensive if you don’t have extended benefits. And the cost of being away from work due to mental health? Oh lord. Depending on your situation, that can literally put you on the street.

My current situation is not the worst, but that’s only because a few well-dealt cards. I’m just lucky. I cannot fathom how difficult it must be for single people, or for those who don’t have a higher income, or those who don’t get paid sick days.

I may not be getting paid right now, but I was granted a free week off a few months back (in addition to my vacation days). My employer doesn’t seem to have a limit on sick days, so I’ve always been paid when I left early or took a day off. I also make a decent-enough living that I will have maxed out employment insurance and will get the maximum amount available. My country also has free healthcare – I wouldn’t have visited the doctor as many times as I’ve been able to (at least once a month) if I lived in a country that didn’t have that.

But despite these advantages I have, it’s still not easy. I’ve made a psychotherapy appointment for Thursday that I cannot afford. It is $168 per hour. This is why I have held off on seeing one for so long. My current extended benefits plan only covers up to $300 of counselling – so that’s less than two appointments.

If you know anything about therapy, you know that two sessions is far from adequate. $300 towards therapy is a slap in the face. It’s insulting. Honestly, employers? Don’t bother.

So how am I paying for this? I’m going to run out my benefits, and then my spouse is going to pay for it for me. I’m also trying to get onto his work’s benefits plan, which might add a little more to my $300 cap.

Dude, that is fucked up. That is not fair. That is not fair to me, not to my partner, and not to the community of people who need help. It’s also not fair to my country.

There is no doubt in my mind that if I had the option to go to counselling months ago, somewhat preventatively and before things got as bad as they currently are, I would not be on medical leave right now.

I would be at work, I would be contributing to society, and I would not be accessing social assistance. Feeling like a societal hindrance is something that’s adding considerably to my unease these days. I feel like a lazy piece of shit, to put it bluntly. It’s a confusing feeling. No, I am not a lazy piece of shit, despite my love for naps. And a percentage of my income has been paid into the insurance program for about 15 years, so I cannot consider myself a leech. And this is temporary.

But that feeling of being some kind of freeloader usurps all those rational responses. I still feel very, very guilty right now.

I’m trying really hard to be rational, know that my anxiety is what’s making this harder, and trying not to blame my workplace’s lack of options and resources for what’s happening to me now.

This morning, I emailed a local women’s shelter and offered my time. Giving back may be the only way I can perceive balance and justify taking from the limited funding.

I’m also going to put my nose to the grindstone when it comes to my counselling. Therapy, as I touched on in my last post, is not magical and is a two-way street. I need to do the work to see the results and get better. I’m going to make sure that the investment into my mental health that my partner is making is going to be worth it.

There is a lot of change needed in our society (I’m talking North America, since that’s all I really know) when it comes to mental health. And I can point fingers in the direction of employers and governments that can make a difference. And I believe I am right in doing so.

But I’m also slowly learning that I also have a responsibility. And that responsibility is to take the advantages that I do have, and make the best of things.

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Background Part I.

Today I am going to guide you down my panicky memory lane. It will be so fun!

somethings off

When I was a child, I was untouchable in terms of being affected by other children. I took no precautions when I played. My toys, my friends, my imagination – they were all instruments of pure, untainted fun. There were no boundaries.

I would spend hours in the forest behind my house making believe, building forts, and climbing trees. When I played house with friends, I said exactly what I wanted to, when I wanted to, without considering whether my storyline was the most popular option. It never mattered. Whoever made the rules made the rules. I felt wild and free, and I was. There were no reasons for inhibitions. No embarrassment.

I was very shy at school, confounded by the realization that teachers held a lot of power. But with my friends and family, I remained unrestrained on every level.

But as I graduated from grade to grade, I became more and more aware that other people’s opinions had weight. It became harder to access that carefree, untroubled way of life. No longer was I able to prance around like a unicorn in the schoolyard without being painfully aware that judgment lurked in every corner.

I began to play out my fantasies with a more guarded approach, quieting my voice when certain kids came nearby. I did not relish openly in my love for make-believe and talking to inanimate objects and insects. I was aware that mini-human society did not approve of the connection I had to joy.

I recall feeling thwarted that I could not just be free.

It was of course a simple realization that kids are cruel at times, and that you can point and laugh at someone and become popular and strong in doing it. Generally quiet, skinny, short, and unathletic, I was a natural target. But over time, I became more and more aware of how that dose of reality really affected me.

I find that as you grow older, that awareness takes flight and folds itself into pretty much every experience you can have. It becomes a fucking beast and is what the medical community refers to as anxiety. Awareness is really the root of anxiety if you think about it.

I dealt with my situation by turning inward. I had bouts of coming in and out of my shell, but overall I was still considered shy. My shyness expanded, though. I was no longer afraid primarily of adult authority. Now I was terrified of other kids.

The beginning stages of my anxiety disorders were a bit of a whirlwind. I had always been prone to temper tantrums as a child, but as I grew up they turned into something I could not control. I actually began to enjoy them in a really fucked up way. My family learned to tune me out until I calmed down (I don’t blame them). I would thrash around my bedroom and break everything in sight.

Ironically, destruction was the only thing I did have control of. I thought of myself as a powerful tornado, commanding authority from the items in my room and getting the respect I craved.

It felt exhilarating. I apologize to my family for this. But it did. I felt unencumbered by the outside world and the harsh, swift verdicts it imposed on me. I could blow out all of my stifled anger and frustration like a storm, smashing everything I came into contact with. I could scream at the top of my lungs. I could cry superlatively. Aside from not being allowed glass things in my room anymore, there wasn’t really a consequence to this. I was wild and free again.

As time went on, my jackass tornado character became less and less accepted by my family. Plus, time out and being grounded wasn’t really something a real tornado had to endure and I recognized that I was not actually superhuman. My tantrums didn’t cease by any means, but it did take a little more to instigate one. I would not necessarily fly off the handle when I didn’t get my way. I still didn’t give a fuck about how I acted (at home), but I chose my battles a little more carefully.

The problem was that I was acting out, but I had no real idea why. I didn’t even think it was abnormal. To me, there were calm, reasonable kids, and there were kids like me – those who unleashed fury whenever life was not predictable. I wish I had known that emotional outbursts can have mood disorder origins.

I still did not have a handle on things when I entered high school. And high school itself supplemented far more catastrophic consequences to me and my fleeting grasp of how to get through life.

beware

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