(Trigger warning for anxiety)

mental

My cellphone rang. It was my brother. He rarely calls.

It’s not that we’re estranged or anything. It’s that he has his life and I have mine, and we live far apart. And when we get together, we generally have a good time.

It was good to hear his voice.

“Hey Jamie. How are you doing?”

“Not bad, Wolf. How are you?”

I could never play the polite game with my bro. Plus, I was not a fan of chit chat and making polite noises.

“Honestly – not that good, Jamie. I’ve been having some severe panic attacks. I’ve gone to group therapy for about six weeks, only to find out I was in the wrong group and should have been in the panic disorder group, not the generalized anxiety disorder one.”

Silence. Then: “Man, that must suck.”

“Yeah, it really does.”

Silence again. He was probably trying to figure out what to say.

“I had anxiety  years ago, and it was bad. I didn’t know what was causing it. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and I couldn’t think straight.”

As he listed off his symptoms, my heart began to race. I couldn’t listen to this.

I knew he meant well though, so I let him continue. Silently, I writhed. Listening to him talk about his episode of anxiety was making me feel unsafe and afraid and….I was panicking.

You know, I have to admit: before my panic attacks began, I saw those articles with the words “trigger warning” at the top, and thought it was childish. Who in hell needs to be warned that a story may cause a problem? What are we? Nine years old or something?

As it turns out, I was woefully naive. And as it turns out, very very wrong.

My own brother was making my anxiety worse, and he had no idea. And I was too deep into it to explain it properly, in a way he could understand.

He rambled on and on, describing in vivid detail his brush with anxiety. (And it was indeed a brush, as it only happened to him once, thank God.)

My heart was racing, my head was aching, my stomach was roiling and I was beginning to shake.

I was freaking out.

I stopped my brother in mid-sentence. “Hey Jamie, listen, I’ve got some dinner on the go here, so I think I’ll have to let you go.” There was no dinner.

“Oh okay Wolf. Catch you later then.”

I haven’t been to work in a week.  This shit really messes you up. I look forward to a time when I’ll be able to take my good mental health for granted again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep myself above the ground. It’s hard, but there are lots of places to provide support. My CAMH counselor made sure I knew that in the worst case scenario, I should call 911. And I will. And it may come to that.

I just know I can’t live with this crap. It’s no way to live anyway. It’s enough right now to just survive.

I won’t even go out on my balcony at this point. Because I don’t trust myself or my impulses.

Anxiety sucks.

Pink is Cool

Posted: April 1, 2018 in anxiety, humor, Life, mental health
Tags:
“I want you all to close your eyes. Now. And no peeking.”
 
She waited, as all of us in the anxiety disorder group obeyed her instructions.
 
“Now, for the next 60 seconds I want you all to think of nothing except a pink bunny rabbit.”
 
I knew where this was going. She would shortly tell us to now think of anything *except* a pink bunny rabbit, thereby proving to us that telling anyone to stop thinking about things that make them anxious almost never works.
 
But for now we were in the first part of the exercise, thinking about a pink bunny rabbit.
 
I was bored.
 
So I added some details to my pink bunny rabbit.
 
My pink bunny rabbit was a little bigger than bunny rabbits. Not much, just a little bigger. And it sat there, munching away on something, its nose twitching back and forth (as they do).
pink
Suddenly, a large snake appeared. It slithered toward the pink bunny rabbit, its tongue flickering in and out, testing the air. Smelling the pink bunny rabbit.
 
The pink bunny rabbit appeared to not notice it. It didn’t move, didn’t start in alarm. It just sat there with its nose twitching, always twitching.
 
The snake slithered and stopped. Then it raised up and reared its head back. And just when it was about to shoot forward, the pink bunny rabbit’s jaw opened up, wide, wide WIDE and it lunged at the snake and captured it in its maw, swallowing the entire snake whole.
 
I smiled, pleased and proud at my mind’s juvenile creation.
 
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a difference. The opposite of anxiety, right over here.
 
Happy Easter everyone!

stars

Funny thing about being sick: you tend to think about a lot of stuff, mostly because you’re too miserable to watch TV or run about taking care of business and being busy.

So here’s what’s going on in my brain, while I keep busy scrambling for the Kleenex box to catch all the consequences of my stupid illness.  Maybe you can relate to some of it (my only reason for sharing).

So much of what I do involves consumption. Besides the obvious necessary ones  (food, water, sleep) there are optional areas of consumption. Like, for example,  a new TV, a better computer, a night out at the movies, a meal at a nice restaurant.

There’s nothing wrong with any of it. But the common thing these things share is that there is no contribution going on. There’s no creativity. Just consumption.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide what it is I want to do. Do I want to write, or act, or create musical pieces on my piano? Do I want to sing? Do I want to dance? These questions have been a source of confusion because they all involve effort, time, and dedication to be good at any of them.

I’m already good at a few of them, but they are all equally compelling, so it’s been hard to figure out which one to focus on. So instead, I’ve let my subconscious try (and fail) at figuring it out, while I continue to do what I do best: consume.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to focus on consuming anymore.

My TV is old and out of date. It’s not a smart TV, and the resolution is so dated that no one talks about it anymore. But I don’t actually *need* to do anything about it. Same goes for my 6 year old computer.

Both still work, so why spend time researching replacements? It’s wasted energy.

I want to create. And the realization now is that I don’t have to decide on just one: there’s no reason I can’t do them all.

So that’s my late October resolution. To spend more time creating than I do consuming.

I can tell that this epiphany is already informing some of my decisions. When I sit at the computer and see a political post that rubs me the wrong way, I generally go looking for references to bolster my objection, prior to airing it.  Now when that’s happening and I start to open up another browser tab, the thought occurs: “Wait. This is consumption.” And so I stop.

I mean it’s a start but this can’t just be about stopping, it has to be about creating and moving forward with momentum.

Help me out here.

Have you every thought about how much time you’re using up and how you’re using it? Have you found certain consumptions habits that are hard to break?

How have you achieved focus to let that stuff drop away so you can concentrate on the creative stuff that matters?

 

Bratty Brain

Posted: May 29, 2017 in ADHD, anxiety, Life, mental health
Tags: , , ,

“Well, I can confirm that you have ADHD.”

The feeling of relief was palpable and intense. After all these years, to finally hear a psychiatrist proclaim what I’d long suspected. It was overwhelming.

“Also, the testing you took also shows that you have anxiety disorder.”

Anxiety-cartoon

Wait. What?

Anxiety? Pfft. I’ve managed to deal with stress all of my life. Sure there were times when the stress got to be too much and I had to take measures to lessen it. But it wasn’t a disorder. It was just normal stress. Everyone has stress at one time or another.

I dismissed it. Didn’t give it another thought. That was seven years ago.

And the years went by.

A few weeks ago I found myself tossing and turning in bed. Normally, when I crash, it takes all of two minutes for me to drop into a deep sleep.

Not this time. As I turned over yet again, I realized what was preventing sleep: I was having trouble breathing.

I got up and watched a couple of hours of TV. That made me drowsy enough to finally fall fast asleep.

Unfortunately it meant I only got a couple of hours of shut-eye, and then I had to get up for work.

The next night it was the same. And then, during the following day during my waking  hours I found myself struggling for breath.

“That’s it”, I thought. “Something’s wrong.” And so off to the ER I went.

They triaged me, and decided my symptoms were serious enough to take me right away and run some tests.

Seven hours later, the doctor finally finished doing her final ultrasound test. She said “well your tests all show that you’re okay physically. Are you worried about something? Your symptoms would indicate that you’re suffering from anxiety.”

I frowned. “I don’t think I’m stressed out about anything. Thanks doc. I’ll think about it.”

The only thing that came to mind was the fact I had agreed to act as manager for a week. After acknowledging that, my symptoms seemed to lessen. I was pretty sure that was it. Every time I felt the heaviness in my chest, I just thought about my acting manager job, and the stress seemed to go away. Acknowledgement was the cure.

A few days later I had a conference call with my team. My ADHD was in full effect: I would be talking about a subject, but then these wayward thoughts would find their way to the forefront and interrupt me.

I’ve never had it happen that way before. The thoughts were so strong and insistent that they demanded attention. Picture a toddler screaming at you while you’re on the phone with a friend. That’s how it was with me.

toddler

The thoughts were so strong I had to stop, mid-sentence. “Sorry guys, it’s not that English isn’t my mother tongue; it’s that ADHD is my dominant language right now, and it’s having a field day.

My team laughed in understanding.

I tried again, and it happened again. It was bizarre. I’ve had ADHD symptoms all of my life but this….THIS was out of control, and embarrassing.

A few weeks later I found myself once again having trouble breathing. This time I walked around as much as I could, then sat down near a Starbucks, set a timer for 10 minutes, closed my eyes and attempted to meditate by concentrating on my breathing.

I was a model of meditation actually: I observed the little aches and pains and thoughts, let them wash through me, and kept thinking about my breathing.

meditate

It didn’t work. My thoughts betrayed me, and I kept falling out of meditation time and again. And each time I did, I struggled to get back to just thinking about breathing.

Finally, I called my boss. “Listen, I’m not handling things very well. I think my anxiety is back.”

Honest to God, if you have to work for someone, you couldn’t find a better boss than this guy. He understood immediately, and he talked me down.

We discussed the trigger at my job, and he lifted that burden from me. He honestly didn’t think it belonged with my group anyway. (I won’t go into details, as that would be a blog in itself).

Then he said “what you need to do now is take some time off. Stop thinking about this place. Get some help. Talk with your doctor. And then, come back to work only when you feel better. You’re no good to me, to your team or yourself when you’re not at your optimum.”

He was right. I took his advice.

It’s been years since I had therapy. Tonight’s the night I have my first session with a psychologist.

A Bull in Search of a China Shop

Posted: January 20, 2017 in Life, politics
Tags: , ,

bull_in_a_china_shop

If I had to sum it all up, the word I’d use would be “fear”.

I won’t speak for anyone else, but I come by my fear honestly.

I grew up under the brooding anger of a drunken narcissist.

My father always drank, and he was always angry. And it was always about him.

So, as a tiny youngster, and then as a scrawny adolescent and teen, I learned how to interact with him. I guess, in my innocence, I thought I was “managing” him, by not doing anything to make him angry.

He was a monster, really. A massive, sweaty, angry shirtless man of over 350 pounds who stomped around the house looking for a reason to justify his anger.

He was brutal. He hit my mom in the stomach when she was pregnant. He hit her on her head when she had migraines. He bellowed a lot. Most of his sentences contained one word only. He eschewed the use of adjectives, and sometimes even verbs.

“Would you please pass the salt” came out as an angry one-word demand. “SALT!”

I’ve written about my father before. This is not about him.

There’s another narcissist making the news today. He’s being sworn in as President of the United States.

This narcissist doesn’t drink. Presumably, he doesn’t do any drugs either. Those are strong points in his favour.

However, he is a narcissist with a delicate ego. Already we’re watching as his “enemies” (his word for anyone who doesn’t explicitly support him) are scrambling around trying to get in his good graces. They have to work with him, after all.

And like my father, he holds nothing but contempt for them. I think he holds contempt even for many of his friends.

A lot of my friends are conservative, and they wonder why there is so much fear coming from those who don’t support him. They seem to think it’s all about partisanship. They seem assured that since Trump is not a Democrat, his opposers believe he’s evil.

It’s not that.

It’s that he’s a narcissist and reactionary. It’s not that he can’t control his reactions to perceived slights; it’s that he has no interest in doing so.

When it comes to reporters and celebrities, there’s no real harm in him reacting in anger on Twitter to what they say.

The fear is about how this translates to the political and diplomatic life.

As much as his “enemies” are trying to find ways to placate him, his followers – his “true believers” – have a much harder job. They too have to find ways to manage him so that they don’t set him off. They have to bow to him, and “yes sir” him around the clock. They have to advise him on what to do, without looking like they’re telling him what to do.

They have a difficult job. But….it’s their job. Many of them will end up contradicting him one way or another, and they’ll be fired. It’s what he does. And he does it a lot. We saw him fire advisers during his campaign.

America’s enemies have no such urgent need to keep them sensitive to his sensibilities. They don’t have to “manage” him at all. Neither the Syrian nor Russian presidents will stay awake, tossing and turning as they think about how to placate him. They too are narcissists and are only concerned with maintaining their power over their people.

They’re going to piss him off at some point. And he will react, because that’s what he does. Diplomacy and strategy won’t factor into anything once his dander his up.

So now there’s this sense of impending danger. I know the feeling. I’ve grown up with it.

A thing a therapist once told me about my dad: “you do know, right, that there was nothing you could do to prevent your dad from getting angry. It didn’t matter how careful you thought you were being, he was going to make the choice to be angry.”

I remember being surprised by that.

The American president is the same. A bull in search of a china shop.

Eight Years

Posted: August 15, 2016 in Life
Tags: ,

I wrote this on August 15, 2008.

As today is the anniversary, it seemed appropriate to share it with you. 

—————————————

 

The day I came home to find that the lock on my door had been smashed open, the first thing I did was look for the sisters.

Princess was hiding out beneath my TV set, behind the closed doors of its cabinet.  But where was Muffin?

Stepping over the flotsam of my belongings, the strewn clothing and clothes hangers and paper, I made my way to the bathroom.  And there she was.  She wasn’t trembling or anything – she was a little too much of a cool customer to ever admit to fear – she stared back at me with bright eyes, ears all forward and paying attention.  “Mrowr?” she asked.

I smiled.  “You’re ok then?”

They say that 55% of any communication is done through body language.  With her it was more like 90% – and right now she was communicating at me HARD.

“Pick me up.  Pet me.  Are the bad men gone?  They were scary.  But I’m tough.”

All I heard was “pet me”.  So I did.  She didn’t purr though – it was much too soon for that.

Funny thing about that bathtub: it’s where she goes now whenever there’s a thunderstorm.   I think she thinks she gets to keep her dignity.  I haven’t given her reason to think otherwise.

You could say that we got along well.

We had a routine too.  Muffin would perform a daily function as my furry alarm clock, promptly waking me in time to get up for work each day.  And she came into the bathroom only after she heard the shower shut off, and she would meow, letting me know that I wasn’t paying quite enough attention to her yet.

For my part, I made sure to take the time to scoop her up in my arms (only after drying off of course; we’re not allowed to get her fur wet.  Ever.)  and hold her and pet her for a while.  When she had enough I was supposed to put her down so that she could go back out and get some food.

Funny thing.  She hardly ever let me know she needed food.  Maybe because I made sure the bowl was full all of the time.   When she meowed, it was generally because she wanted up in my lap for a while.  Oh yes – that’s another thing:  we generally watched TV together, with her comfortably ensconced on my lap.  I’d absently pet her until she put her head down and went to sleep.  Often, she’d snuggle her head into my stomach (maybe because it was warmer there, or because she could hear the low grumble when I was hungry, the jury hasn’t decided what it was).

When I pet her, sometimes she would reach out with both paws and grab my hand so she could rub her face up against it properly.   I liked to think she was showing me how to pet her right.

There was never such a thing as an overdose of love when it came to petting her.  We never did find that high water mark, her and I.

Over the past few months I noticed that she had become a little obsessive about her water bowl.  She’d stand next to it and look up at me, meowing.  Though I was a little obtuse with cat communication I eventually got the message:  the water must not be stagnant; it must be fresh.  So I got to keeping a jug of water in the fridge where it could remain cold.  She seemed happy about that, and cheerfully lapped it up when I refreshed her drink.

About three days ago, I saw her walk toward me, and she staggered a bit.  I frowned, a little worried.   Then, when she tried to jump up on my lap, she didn’t quite make it and she slid to the ground.  She recovered nicely, looking like she intended to do that.  I thought to myself “well, she is fifteen years old.  It was bound to happen.”   And so after that I made sure to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to jump – I didn’t want her to hurt herself.

Two days ago she made her way to my chair.  I didn’t see her until she tried to jump up on my lap.  This time when she fell she didn’t recover.  She laid on the floor, splayed out and looking at me.

She loves wet cat food.  Generally I only feed her dry food so when she hears the can opening, she goes nuts for it.  A couple of days ago I opened up a can, and got her attention fast.  She came over to the bowl and looked at it.  Then walked away.

That was it.  I made an appointment with the vet.

She was dehydrated.  Her kidneys had failed.  He wanted to keep her for a few days and try giving her fluids through an I.V. and to run some blood and urine tests.

I agreed, and asked him “so what do you think, doc?”  Unspoken was the real question.  He heard it anyway though.  “Well, if she can perk up with the fluids we’re giving her, we might be able to have you manage her diet at home.  It’ll mean a different food, and perhaps you’ll have to inject water under skin for a while.”  He scratched his head.  “But if she doesn’t do well with the intravenous then it’ll make your decision a little easier.”

We both knew what he meant.

So I waited until they got her hooked up to the I.V. and then pet her a little bit and spoke to her.  “It’s Ok baby.  You just rest, OK?”  She was awake, barely, but was too tired to look at me.  I think she understood though.

Before leaving, the doctor said “well, I’ll call you in the morning to give you an update on her progress.  And you can come visit her if you like.”

I smiled.  “Yes, I’d like to do that.  Talk to you tomorrow, doctor.”

This morning I had just finished breakfast when the phone rang.

“Hi.  Is this Doug?”

I looked at the display.  It was the vet.   “Hi doc.  Yes, it’s me.”  It was his early morning progress report.

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you this but Muffin passed away at 2:00 a.m. ”

I stared at the living room drapes.   My throat closed.

The doctor continued.  “I checked on her at 1:00 a.m. and noticed that even with all of the fluids, she just wasn’t responding well.  And her blood tests showed that she was anaemic as well.”

“I see.”  It was supposed to rain today but I could tell through the window that it was sunny out.  I wondered what that was all about.

“But we had to try. It was worth it to see if she could get better.”

She was kind of my side-kick.  The one who had been there when all of the verbal end-of-marriage sparring was going on.  The one who was the first to come up to my lap when I had a migraine or was otherwise sick.  She seemed to know.    Maybe it’ll rain later on today.

I looked at my watch.  I should make sure and return the rental car.

The doctor had said something.  I responded.  “Thanks for letting me know, doc.  I’ll come by later this morning to settle up and get the cat carrier.”

“At least she went peacefully” he repeated.

“Yes, and I’m glad we tried.  No regrets doctor.”  My voice chose that time to falter, just a bit.

He heard it.  “Yes, I know.  It really sucks.”

The phone had become too much of a burden.  I needed to put it down.

“Well thanks again, doc.  I’ll see you later this morning.”

“Ok.  Talk to you later.”

I know that the pain will diminish.   It will.   Right now it just doesn’t feel like it will.   I know that many of you have lost your dearest friends in a variation of this story.  I know you’ll want to respond so that I can know I’m not alone, and because it’s good to remember our friends.  For that reason, I’ve left the comments turned on.  You’ll understand though that my responses, this one time, will be few.

Rest in peace, little sweetheart.

Muffin 2008.png

It’s late on a Thursday night, and I should have known better. Too late. A generous amount of Ravenswood Chardonnay has completed its magic, and my head is doing that bob-bobbing thing it likes to do, as the bus trundles along on its merry way home.

I allow one foot to precariously follow the other as I weave my half-snapped way to an empty seat. There’s an attractive woman there, and she’s thoughtfully moved closer to the window, all the better to help me avoid having to climb over her to the only vacant spot left.

I plunk myself down in relief and prepare to slumber my way toward the final few miles to my home bus stop.

Only…. My nose twitches. And twitches again. Something is seriously amiss.

I look over at the woman next to me, who at this point is now obstinately staring face-forward. Desperate. Afraid. Anxious.

No. It can’t be.

But it is.

A more heinous ambience can’t be imagined.

This veritable tulip, this rose of the fairer sex has emitted a soulful and delicate silent backfire, no doubt hoping against hope for the gain of anonymity.

Yet it was not to be. For I, the seeker of lost passions and artifacts of renown, have found her out. She is but a ghost to most, but is to me she is as the stop sign to eternity’s perfume.

Still, gallant man that I am, I labour to keep her dread secret, if only to preserve my status as gentleman and appreciator of all that is good and right in the world. My nose has other ideas. My nose is offended.

I open my drunken mouth, and hesitate.

Then, “ew.”

oops_sorry