I’ve been living with a severe anxiety disorder on a daily basis for more than six years now (yup old news, I know) and I’m pretty certain by now that it’s something I will live with for the rest of my days. But I also suffer with a panic disorder and although I don’t experience panic attacks quite so often, they seem to be happening more and more frequently lately.
Many people think that anxiety and panic attacks are one in the same, but they are not. They often exhibit some similarities when it comes to symptoms (i.e: heart palpitations, chest pain, numbness or tingling sensations, shortness of breath and nausea), but unlike many of those regular symptoms that seem to follow me around on a daily basis, a panic attack will come on much stronger, often very suddenly and involve intense and overwhelming fear (panic).
The other day I wrote a blog describing a panic attack that I had experienced the night before (https://youareenough712.wordpress.com/2021/01/09/today-is-a-new-day) but what I left out was that I have not just been experiencing them more frequently, I have actually been experiencing them EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for the past week or so, and last night was no exception.
As I lay in bed feeling anxious last night (surprise, surprise) my thoughts quickly intensified and without any further warning a feeling of panic and impending doom set in and before I knew it I was in the depths of a full blown panic attack, fearing that something very, very bad was about to happen.
Rich lay helplessly beside me, holding my hand as tears ran down my cheek. I was hyperventilating and felt like I wanted to pull my hair out and jump out of my skin. The next thing I remember happening was Maggie laying on my chest licking my face. I truly believe that dogs can sense their human’s emotions and body language. They just seem to know when the right time is to snuggle up beside you or even help to wipe away your tears. It’s so much more than just a sixth sense and I’m really grateful to have this added layer of protection in my life when I need it the most.
Today I feel like I’m toast, burnt toast to be exact.
Some days I can pull myself together long enough to eat the damn piece of toast, some days I need to smother it with a thick layer of strawberry jam in order to cover up my pain and overwhelm, some days I try really hard to scrape away the black charcoal on my toast with a butter knife to show the world my true self and then there are days like today when all I want to do is throw away the piece of burnt toast in the waste bin because if truth be told, it feels too hopeless to even try and salvage it.
Taking a selfie these days seems to be one of the biggest growing phenomenons since the creation of the Smartphone itself and statistics show that women between the ages of 16 and 25 are spending (on average) five hours per week taking them.
Although the average age for taking selfies may be women between 16 and 25 years old, they are certainly not alone. Selfies have become a form of self-expression and a great way to present one”self” to the world, no matter what your age or gender is.
We choose to take selfies most often for a feeling of instant gratification, to make personal connections with others, to boost our self-esteem, to gain positive feedback and to express one’s own creativity.
Over the last many years I have shied away from having my picture taken as much as humanly possible (I much prefer to be the photographer if you haven’t noticed!), so the thought of me taking a selfie is like next to nil!
But today is one of those very rare occasions where I decided to try and step outside my comfort zone (way out) and try for even just one moment to feel the “positive side of a selfie” and embrace what the world sees in me in order to show you my new sweatshirt I made.
The words I chose to use are a deep and meaningful reminder to me as I continue to try and fight this battle and it’s a true expression of hope to the many women everywhere who are also struggling on their own journey right now or who have fought their way through one; whether it be physical or mental.
I created this shirt in recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week and I chose the colour pink in honour of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Throughout the Pandemic I have followed all the necessary precautions set out by the Government, by Science and by our Health Officials and although it may come as a big surprise to many of you but for the most part the Pandemic itself has not intensified my symptoms of Depression and Anxiety; infact in some ways it’s done just the opposite (I will save that for a later blog).
My steady decline in my Mental Health over the last while has truly had very little to do with the Pandemic itself and much more to do with many other personal factors that were already there long before Covid-19 was ever a thing.
And although I have not allowed all the fear mongering or blatant disrespect, intolerance and judgment towards one another that I see every time I open up my Social Media feeds control my emotions I have grown more and more anxious lately wondering if life will ever feel “normal” again.
As I look back on the last 6 plus months I feel as though the Pandemic has taken us through many different stages, and when I examine those stages closely I can see that they are the same 5 stages a person will often go through when grieving a loss and for months now we have all been grieving the loss of life in some form or another.
The 5 stages of grief which can easily be transferred to life during a Pandemic are as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness & Depression and Acceptance.
Way way back at the end of 2019 the world watched and listened to what was unfolding in China and for several months prior to it reaching the rest of the Globe, if we can all be honest here for just one second, how many of us actually watched in “denial” while clinging to a false, “preferable reality” that this virus wasn’t really going to affect our lives.
And even as it crept closer and closer to us, we were still very much in “denial” as to the kind of impact it was going to have on our lives, but boy oh boy, it didn’t take long before our “denial” turned to “anger”.
We quickly (and rightfully so) became very frustrated and began to put blame on anyone and everyone we could. We angrily wondered how the fuck this could have happened to us and who would of let this happen to us all the while as we sat at home in self-isolation.
Then, as more and more information from the Government, Science and Health Officials came to light we entered into the “bargaining” stage of grief and started our negotiations with the experts. “So you’re telling me that if I stay home or stay 6 feet apart from anyone outside of my bubble or I wear a mask when social distancing is problematic or I use hand sanitizer and wash my hands constantly then after 14 days in quarantine our life can go back to normal, right?”
Well we all know now that it’s alot more complex than that and our “bargaining” and negotiation skills have fallen short, which after months of trying to make the best of this very shitty situation our denial, our anger and our bargaining skills have turned into a deep “sadness” or “depression” for many people around the Globe.
Many of us have lost so much during this Pandemic and many of us have reached a point where their sadness or depression makes them feel as though this is a losing battle, that all our efforts are hopeless. It’s also made us question an inevitable future and our own mortality too.
But there is still one final stage of grief and it’s probably the most important one of all. If we are to find the strength to move forward and learn how to navigate life in our new “normal” then we must first learn “acceptance” of it. Collectively we need to figure out ways to proceed both cautiously and safely because “acceptance” will give us the power to control whatever lies ahead.
We all cope with grief in our own way and in our own time. We may not all go through each of the 5 stages, and maybe none of them at all but no matter your process we all need to remember that we are all in this together.
For many of us September symbolizes new beginnings, refocusing of our energy and lots of change. With a new school year set to resume and a new season upon us very soon, this September also brings with it a whole lot of added fear of the unknown and so much uncertainty.
September is “National Self-Care Awareness Month” and during a time in our lives that is driven by a whole lot of added fear of the unknown and so much uncertainty, self-care and self-awareness are super important (more than ever before) to our wellbeing.
As most of you know by now my life has been on a pretty steady downward spiral over the last several weeks and I am still having a very difficult time right now just trying to get through another day. And even though I know how essential self-care is for our wellbeing I have to keep reminding myself of this daily.
We often neglect our own wellbeing by putting the needs of others first and we often forget that setting healthy boundaries can be extremely beneficial to us as well. Practicing self-care and being self-aware is not selfish, it is simply enabling you to pay attention to your own feelings and to be able to relay your needs to others; without guilt.
Self-care isn’t just for a person or persons who may be feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable, nor should it be something you reward yourself with just for achieving a goal; self-care is important for everyone and is an ongoing process. It could even be as simple as taking a nap, reading a steamy novel, listening to your favourite song or eating a bowl of ice cream for supper.
What are some of your favourite self-care practices? Do you think you could come up with a list of 30 ways that you can practice self-care in the month of September? (one for each day of the month)
I’m sure most of you reading this have probably seen or read the news lately and whenever there is any kind of distraction from the Global Pandemic or finding out what the President of the United States (a term I use loosely) has said or done now, we welcome this much needed distraction with open arms. I of course particularly love the distractions that come from Hollywood or Reality TV because (I’ll be honest), those are two of my biggest obsessions in life, but what has been playing out in Hollywood/Reality TV over the past week or so in regards to the Kardashian and West family is truly heartbreaking.
Yes the Kardashians in particular have undoubtedly chosen to be in the public eye and have allowed us into their homes for over ten years now but when the cameras are turned off, the world still watches them in judgment, waiting for the next piece of Tabloid News to hit the stands. At the end of the day they are human which means that they make mistakes, they bleed, they hurt and they are not immune to disease or death either. This also means that no matter what or how they choose to live their lives, it can’t be easy always having the world watching your every move.
It’s been no secret for several years now that Kanye suffers with Bipolar Disorder which is a very complex Mental Disorder. Bipolar Disorder “causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration and the ability to carry out day to day tasks.” A person with a Bipolar Disorder will go through periods of extremely “up, elated, irritable or energized behavior to very down, sad, indifferent or hopeless.”
Bipolar Disorder is a treatable illness and although it can be managed with medication, therapy and other treatments it is also a lifelong illness that normally needs a lifetime of monitoring in order for someone suffering to have a good quality of life. The last thing anyone, famous or not, needs while experiencing a manic or depressive episode of Bipolar is to be met with criticism or abandonment and when it’s being played out so publicly the way it has been with Kanye is sadly being met exactly this way.
My only hope is that Kanye gets the help he so desperately needs right now and that he can begin to use his platform for good (even though he’s got my vote for President. Oh right, I can’t vote!) and let his many fans around the world understand that sickness does not translate into weakness and that sometimes in life we fall down but that it’s okay to ask for help when you need help getting back up again.
We need to learn how to lift each other up with kindness and empathy because no one is immune to Mental Illness.
*I just thought I’d preface this Blog by letting you know that it has been a particularly hard one to write.*
I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve needed a break lately because my mental health has been on a downward spiral. Since I began sharing my journey with you I have done so with the utmost honestly that which has always included open conversations about many of the most intimate and raw moments in my life. But there is still so much I don’t share with you or won’t share for that matter and lately it’s just been so difficult to share much at all (good or bad).
Right now I feel as though both my body and mind are tangled together in one gigantic ball of knots which feels like it’s getting harder and harder to undo each day. I do have moments where I manage to unravel some of the knots or at least loosen them up but before I can catch my breath again they just tighten back up, somedays even more than before.
If I can quote myself here for a brief moment from a Blog I wrote last week titled: Give Me A Break where I said “Everyone has varying degrees of stress that they deal with but when battling with daily symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations at the same time can make it particularly difficult to manage.”; and sometimes when this is happening we feel the need to turn to a place of comfort to help us heal and unfortunately that can sometimes include old habits, which is exactly where I found myself at about a week ago.
I hate myself more than ever right now for writing this or for even thinking it out loud, but last week I bought my first pack of cigarettes in almost six months. This week I should be celebrating that I haven’t had a cigarette in six months but instead I am sitting here in shame (and with tears in my eyes) telling you a very different story.
To think that I had made it almost six months without lighting up a cigarette even though I’ve wanted to many, many, MANY times makes me just want to throw up. I feel like an even bigger failure, I mean who wouldn’t, right?
When I made the decision to quit smoking on January 14th while still recovering from a concussion that had occurred on the morning of January 2nd no one could have ever imagined what lay ahead. 2020 has pretty much sucked for most of the world but the Pandemic alone is not what led me to go buy that pack of cigarettes seeing as most of what is going on in my life presently began way before the Pandemic ever did.
Has the Pandemic amplified the urgency of certain issues, 1000 percent it has and smoking had always been there for me in the past to help calm me and although I have reaped the many benefits from the nicotine withdrawal itself, the actual habit of smoking a cigarette has always been on my mind.
Research shows that it can actually take an average smoker 30 attempts before they quit. The good news is that I’m not really enjoying smoking like I did in the past, nor am I smoking nearly what I used to so my plan this time around is to take it slowly and try a different approach, one which allows me to unravel one knot at a time before I even attempt to try and loosen up another one.
We are barely 2 weeks into summer now and so far it certainly feels like it’s gearing up to be a very hot and humid one. For most of the last couple of weeks it has felt like we are living in the desert but I’m definitely not complaining one bit because I would much rather feel like I just walked through the desert carrying a camel on my back than have icicles forming on my eye lashes in the frigid cold, dead of winter any day. The thing is though that when it’s this hot and humid outside everyday it can become a bit more challenging to plan for some of our #summerofrich adventures and especially (this year) when so many of the places on this summer’s itinerary are still closed or need to be reserved in advance.
As much as I feel the necessity to plan everything (probably to a fault) I also have a very difficult time doing so in advance of the day because of my illness. Any sort of planning I do in advance will often make my head spin in a million different directions and the pressure I put on myself to ensure that my plan is perfectly executed can become extremely overwhelming especially if things don’t go as I had hoped. It can quickly and very easily turn a simple idea into me feeling like I have once again failed in the self-control department.
So today I didn’t plan, and instead Rich filled up the pool in the backyard because today felt like a perfect day to just lounge by the pool reading a good book, picking some cherries off our cherry tree, taking a quick dip to cool off and enjoy a refreshing cocktail. I’m pretty sure these are some of Rich’s favorite #summerofrich days.