Archive for the ‘mental health’ Category

Have you ever watched the TV series “Homeland”?

I’m binge-watching Season 7 right now. It’s speaking to me in a way I never expected.

I’m not bi-polar like Carrie, the show’s protagonist. Yet her character speaks to me, particularly now, more than ever.

Claire Danes – the gifted and talented actor who portrays Carrie – is doing an outstanding job showing us what it’s like being manic at times. If she isn’t like that in real life, then she’s done her homework, and perhaps has someone well acquainted with the mental illness coaching her.

The thing is, I’ve felt many of the emotions and thoughts she so painfully paints. Particularly the hopelessness and trapped feeling that shakes Carrie to her core.

Up until now, I’ve been an observer. I know people who are bi-polar, and they have described what it’s like not knowing from one day to the next what’s in store. But I haven’t been able to relate to the frustration they feel until now.

You can probably appreciate what it’s like when you’ve made a decision to be more active, to go the gym regularly and to work hard at improving your overall fitness.

Or maybe you’ve been in great shape all of your life, and you regularly participate in sports, just enjoying the good feeling you get from being able to be mobile and flexible; to be able to run up a set of stairs without getting out of breath at the top.

Yet, there comes a day when you make a misstep on those stairs. Or you get hit by a car. Or twist your ankle, or your shoulder starts to act up and you find one or more of your limbs just won’t do what it’s told. And now you can’t do any of those physical activities. Your injury is a speed bump keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Imagine depending upon your intelligence and logic day after day. You take it for granted, and you’ve appreciated how you’ve been able to plan, to work out logistics and problems and you enjoy the good feeling of having surmounted a seemingly impossible task.

Suddenly one day you find you can’t do any of those things. Instead, your thoughts horrify you. Your stomach clenches up without apparent reason, and you find you can’t even leave your house. You sit in front of your computer, prepared to log into your workplace, only to find your whole body rebelling with fear.

So you push yourself away from the keyboard, frustrated that this is the sixteenth day you’ve been unable to log in.

You don’t know where to turn or what to do. You look outside at your balcony, and you wonder how likely it would be that you would die if you jump. Or would you merely be maimed?

Then you realize what you’re thinking, and you resolve yourselves not to even look, knowing that just doing that might endanger you. You’re aware that it’s possible that curiosity might turn into impulse.

You need to work, you need the money. But you can’t work.

You’re in a trap with no way out. And all of your decisions center around resolving this deadly dichotomy. So you make a series of bad choices, all based upon your catastrophic thinking.

As mentioned in my last blog, my meds are working. Yet, these feelings came back, just for a fleeting second this week.

Somehow, watching Carrie go through her nightmares on Homeland feels cathartic somehow. I’m having trouble articulating just why that is. Maybe it’s that this fictional character is a kindred spirit of sorts.

My meds are working but I’m not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

It’s a funny thing. When you hear the words “mental illness” the first image that pops into your head is someone’s head. Yours, or the stranger on the street, gabbing away incessantly to no one.

Yet, when you experience it yourself, the symptoms often don’t occur in your head. (Or in my case, at all)

It hits you like a cold. You don’t go looking to catch a cold, and you sure AF don’t go looking to become mentally ill either, despite all of the innocent phrases that start with “I must be going out of my mind!”

Mine came right out of the blue. My boss had asked me to take over for him for a week – something I’ve done countless times. The work is easy, even though it’s more high profile and you get the big bosses asking you things. It was what I’ve always done, but at a lower level: boss asks you for something, you go looking to your subordinates to provide answers. The people working for you are the real experts, so you learn to depend upon them, and you promote the hell out of them whenever you can, because you know how valuable they are to pretty much everything.

It’s no different when you’re a higher level boss. Like I said, I’ve done it many times before. There just was no reason for this time to be any different. Yet it was.

I made a comment in a Facebook discussion group about how I was having trouble sleeping because I found it hard to breathe.

One guy, a retired doctor, responded “dude, I’m not going to try and diagnose you here or anything but if I were you, I’d check with my doctor.”

I appreciated his concern but didn’t take it seriously until the following afternoon, when I found I was having trouble breathing during my waking moments. The more I thought about it, the worse it seemed, so I hastened down to the emergency department of the hospital. After a day of testing and prodding and poking and ultrasound, the emergency doctor said “Are you feeling anxious about anything?”

I had to wrack my brain. It took me a while to figure out it was the upcoming acting manager gig that triggered the anxiety. Which frankly, I thought was stupid. There really wasn’t anything to worry about. But there we were, and that’s when it all started, last summer.

The last time I wrote about anxiety (Looking for Sunrise), I hadn’t yet started any meds. I went about six weeks suffering multiple panic attacks, as the meds took their time kicking in. The days were so dark, I was afraid of everything. I was housebound, and even within my apartment I refused to open my balcony door. I knew if I did, there was a good chance I would look over the railing, and thought would become action.

There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t know how to handle it. I prayed for death and at times thought about how to do it.

The first med I tried – Zoloft – only made things much worse. The second one was better but it took about six weeks – all of which was spent away from work – before it finally began working.

My team noticed immediately. “Wolf, you’re sounding like you’re back to your regular self. Do you feel better?”  I said “Yeah, I really do.” And I did.

Gone was the darkness. Gone were the suicidal thoughts. I was back to normal, with one important difference: I knew this was because of the meds.

Also, I didn’t realize how resilient I’d considered myself to be, until this all happened. And now that confident sense of resilience is gone. I’m aware of how fragile I am.

So there you have it: my mental illness showed up as an inability to breathe properly and as a very warm hollow feeling in my stomach. There was no cerebral symptoms at all. The mental illness showed up everywhere except in my head. Weird.

There’s a lifetime of valleys and drama and death that I know have contributed to this newfound fragility. I have to address them, which is why I’m now seeing a psychologist. And it’s why I’m now looking hard at retiring as soon as I possibly can.

One other thing. You know how all of those commercials and PSA announcements about mental health involve telling sufferers to reach out to various people, phone lines and the like – all in an effort to avoid suicide?

Yeah, that doesn’t work. People like me who suffer from this stuff have zero ability to reach out to anyone. All we’re looking for is a way to get the darkness to stop as quickly as possible.

The thing that worked for me was that my loved ones reached out to me. They could do that. I couldn’t do the opposite. I couldn’t reach out to them. My brain just wasn’t in a place to allow me to do that.

Instead, all I could do was turn inward and curl up mentally, buffeted by the winds of my nightmare.

fetal

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!

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.

The alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m.

I live alone but still shouted “I’m up I’m up!” – like the stupid thing would shut off if it heard my voice.

fiveam

Reality slowly wound itself into my consciousness.  Today was the day. I was due in court for 9:00 a.m. to do my civic duty.

I was going for jury duty.

There was both curious anticipation and a heightened sense of anxiety warring for attention when I faced the day.

I wondered about the process, and whether or not I’d actually make it to the jury level.  There’s a requirement – if you’re picked – to face the accused and answer any of the questions the lawyers submit.

“Are you aware of this case? Have you already made up your mind about what should happen to the defendant?” These are the questions I’d imagine being asked.

Having ADHD all of my life, I was deathly afraid of showing up late. (Being late once in a while is embarrassing. Being late all the time provokes a social indictment; one becomes known for being a failure)

Thus the early alarm. And thus the plan to get out the door no later than  7:30 a.m.

I even worked it out the night before. Google Maps told me the trip would take forty-five minutes. I took no chances and planned for ninety.

As it turned out, I left only fifteen minutes later than planned.

After double-locking the door, I got part way to the bus stop when I remembered that I had forgotten my bus pass. That sucker is worth $120 so it was worth it to go back through my double-locked door to get it. There’s always something I’d forgotten so there was no way I was going to start my journey with the planned ninety minutes anyway.

The plan worked! When I got out of the subway I discovered I was a half an hour early.

The short walk through sticky humid air did nothing to dampen my excitement. I looked around at the crowd of commuters, all resigned to their fate on their painful march to whatever jobs and appointments awaited their grumpy faces. Maybe the grey sky had something to do with it. There were no smiles or even half smiles or smirks.  Torontonians take their seriousness seriously.

Security guards greeted me at the front door of the court building. There was no lineup, so I got to empty my pockets and place my briefcase on the small conveyor right away while one of them did his wand thing.

“There’s something in your back pocket sir.”

I reached and pulled out my keys.  “Sorry”

“No worries. Please go ahead.”

I retrieved everything and made my way to the courtroom.

The doors were locked, which……..made sense as I was still about twenty minutes early. It seemed odd that I was the only one in the hallway though. Four empty chairs sat silently, all desperately hugging each other. I pulled one of them free from the rest before settling my butt down onto it.

I waited impatiently; way too keyed up to read anything on my iPad.

9:00 a.m. came and the door remained closed.

Maybe I was in the wrong place.  I opened up my briefcase and took out the summons again.

“6th floor”.  Yup. That’s where I was.  “Courtroom 6-1”. I looked up at the sign on the wall.  Courtroom 6-1

I was definitely in the right place.

I thought “maybe they’re a little relaxed on their schedule.”

I looked at the summons again.  Then I looked at the date.

Today was August 18.

The summons said September 18.

I rolled my eyes and then sat there laughing quietly to myself.

I quickly did a sprint around in my head, processing all that I needed to now do.

I had to inform not only my boss but my team and colleagues about my gaffe.

Plus I had to re-do the paperwork for the acting assignment for the guy who was supposed to replace me.

We all make mistakes from time to time but it’s rare that we get the opportunity to broadcast our mistakes to everyone we know.

Which is one reason I wrote this blog to follow-up the one from yesterday.  I figured I may as well go for broke and announce it to the world.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

The other reason is that it seems like a good idea to write a series of blogs about the symptoms of ADHD.  Many non-ADHDers are under the assumption there’s only one or two. Say the term “ADHD” and some will think “someone who can’t sit still” or “someone who gets distracted easily”.

Did you know that according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are 18 symptoms of ADHD?

Anyway, let’s file this one under Symptom Number 1:

Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.

The first part of this blog is here:  Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean (Part 1)

He enjoyed his solitude.  An existence of peace that he had only experienced as fleeting moments while driving in his car.

Or in the occasional evenings when he pretended to be working on a late-night project.  A fiction he’d told his wife so that he could take advantage of an angst-free and clean hotel room.  An oasis of sanity in a desert of whirling incessant drama.

His journey to self-awareness was a gradual thing.  It began with the helpful doctor-therapist he had been seeing, as she merely reflected his journey back at him.

His life took on a patina of gratefulness, as his mental chaos slowly subsided.

He grew to appreciate his now mostly-permanent peaceful home.  It began to be a place of joy, where he could still his racing heart.

For many years, he grew to enjoy his bachelor existence.  To be sure,  he liked being with people too.  But the prospect of that solitary nest always beckoned him at the end of the day, as a target – one that promised a whisper of studied silence, settledness wrapped in a certainty of cushioned peace.

He still experienced moments of panic.  Often, when he stayed out late he became aware of an unreasoning anxiety.  He hadn’t called anyone to let them know he would be late.

Then he realized: there was no one to call; no one to whom he need be accountable.  He was on his own.  His time was his own.  He found himself laughing out loud at the absurdity of his thoughts.

It would be a number of years before he truly grokked what his freedom entailed.

His life took on an examination of the variables that had put him in a position where he had almost committed suicide.

Religion played one of the largest factors.  Rules and dogmas to which he’d adhered; demands which had enslaved him to a life of torturous upset.  He couldn’t blame the preachers or his friends and companions of the religious fog.  He had walked into the scene, willingly, with his eyes wide open, as he knew many people do.

His ultimate rejection of religion was therefore singular.  He decided that he didn’t want to make it a grand thing. He wasn’t interested in loud proclamations of the futility of following man-made religious laws.  He only knew that he had to make peace with the fact he was walking away from it.

Though not from God.  His belief in the divine was too real.  But it was also much less defined than he had at first thought.

His solitude became routine.  Routine became boredom.  Boredom provoked dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction provoked realization.

Having divested himself of the limits of marriage, and of the laws of religion, he realized that he was bereft of a ton of limits.

Were there any, beyond the limits of the laws?

Not much, he found.

There were the limits of his character, and of his morals, of course.  Those he held as precious necessities.

Beyond those though, there wasn’t much in the way of limits.

He was subject to the whims of others.  His job was his, only as long as his employer required him.

His house and home was subject to the limits of his employment.

His health was subject to his behaviours (which he could change), to his genes as exhibited by his parents and ancestors (over which he had no control), and to the vagaries of fate (he could be hit by a bus at any time).

Ultimately, he realized, there were no guarantees and for all practical purposes, no limits on him.

This understanding was both negative, and positive.   The negative was obvious.

The positive, though.  That was new.

Put simply, there was nothing he could not do.  If he had a mind to do something, and the determination to do so, there really was nothing to stop him.

One day, not so long ago, he realized this.  Not just understood it conceptually.  He knew this.

He could do anything.

The only thing stopping him was…..himself.

He knew what that meant.

Routine, boredom and habits were no longer his friends, crutches on which he could depend.

That enlightenment blew him away.

Suddenly, he could  see the changing horizon, a distant place of shifting colours, full of the promise of possibility, absent of definition and finality.

He was undone.

The realization came so slowly.   Like a particularly vivid LSD trip, the awareness of the truth threatened to overwhelm him.  A visual so all-encompassing he couldn’t see the sides of it.

As a small child, he was aware of his limits.  Though he wasn’t conscious of it,  those limits made him feel safe.  He would always have food, always have a place to sleep.  He had parents who saw to his every need.  He expected them to look after him.  It was his right.  He knew nothing else.  That’s just the way it was.

About ten years later, he began to realize how precarious his existence was.  His mother, filled with fear and foreboding, simply had to tell someone, so she told him.  Their home might be repossessed.  They had received a Sheriff’s letter, stating as much.

In the week dark hours of the late night/early morning, his mother had stared out of their large living room window, frowning.  He had been there to see the worry.  The glowing golden ember at the end of her cigarette provided the only illumination in the living room, as she confessed her fears.

They would lose the house.  Maybe their large family would have to be split up.  She didn’t know where they would get the money, as her husband (his dad) had squandered it all away on booze and the racetrack.

Somehow, a few months later, he learned that they had retreated from their fiscal cliff, somehow.  Maybe an angel had intervened, he didn’t know.

He just knew that somehow, despite his bad credit, his father had secured a second mortgage.  They would have to move, this time to an older house.  The difference in equity would bring a small measure of relief.

A number of years later, the boy had finally grown up.   He found a girl, got engaged, got a job at  a factory, and had finally moved out of his fear-ridden home.

The pursuit of that elusive safety he craved looked like it was coming to an end.  The factory paid well, and he could afford to get a modest apartment with his young bride.

He remembered a hand-drawn sign he had seen during the first week of his job at the factory. It read “ya wanna eat, ya gotta work”.

That thought had stayed with him during his years working at the factory.  Its truth was depressing, mostly because of how he interpreted it:  “you have to live in hell, if you want to live at all.”    At the time, he had no awareness that work could be something about which he could feel passion.  No one gets passionate about working at a factory.  Especially not a factory that was as oppressive, demanding and as soul-killing as this one.

The search for safety took on a different hue.  Years of marriage to someone with whom he could not relate began to poison him.  Toward the end of that relationship, he had begun researching methods for committing suicide.  He didn’t think he could go through with it for the same reason he couldn’t separate from his wife:  his religion forbade it.  He knew that tension would end somewhere: it was impossible to keep pulling at both sides without something popping.

One night, on a dark road, he drove towards his home.  The small highway was empty, with nothing on either side of the road to see except trees.  For just a moment, he had a visual of turning the steering wheel abruptly and crashing into one of them.  Everything would be over.  It could happen so fast, and he’d find relief.  He thought “I could do it.  I could just do it now.”   The thought was so compelling he found himself frightened.  He knew he really could do it.

The next day he saw his doctor and told her about it.  After first checking him to see if the impulse was still there, she referred him to another GP – one who specialized in cognitive therapy.

Talking really helped.  He was always cheerful with his therapy doctor, seemingly bright and unconcerned about anything.  She wasn’t fooled though.  She kept asking leading questions.

One day he arrived at her office, anything but cheerful.  This was the moment she had waited for.  He finally opened up, revealing the torturous angst he had harboured for so long.

“What’s it like when you arrive home from work?” she asked.

“It’s like a living hell” he replied, honestly.

“So” she said, “you realize what you’re doing, right?”

He looked at her.  “What?”

“Every time you go home to that living hell, you’re making a choice to go home to a living hell.”

At first, he was confused, then slightly offended.  Then he realized the truth about what she said.

She was right.  There was no safety at home.  There was only hell.  And no one was holding a gun to his head.  That hell wasn’t being enforced on him.  He was making a choice to go into it, every day.

He turned that truth over in his head, several times.  He looked at all angles of it, tested it for accuracy.  It was deadly accurate, and his ignorance of it had almost killed him.

It took a while but then he decided that he need to start making other, better decisions.

So he did.  They did.  His wife agreed that they shouldn’t be together anymore.

When he picked up the keys to his bachelor apartment, he felt a measure of excitement.   Then, when he opened the door and looked around the small one-bedroom place with the shag carpeting, he breathed in the peace of it.

He was surprised by his own tears.

(end of part 1) (part 2 is here at Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean – Part 2)