Welcome To The Official Blog For Mental Health Project!

This is so awesome! The Blog for Mental Health project has outgrown its place on A Canvas of the Minds and now has its own blog! I encourage everyone to follow it. 🙂

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Vampire

My mother seems to have a special talent for draining all of my energy. She starts talking and I go from feeling alive and motivated to do something and in a relatively pleasant mood to, well … exhausted. overwhelmed. very, very angry. And then it’s harder to do anything.

Over the weekend, it was my aunt and uncle. I thought all three of them, plus my cousin, were draining my energy. Or rather that their 4-way shouting match was overwhelming me. It certainly didn’t help, but I’m pretty convinced my mother was the one actively draining my energy. If nothing else, she’s the one who insisted on talking about the topic that prompted the argument, even though the conversation wasn’t going very well.

Slurp.

Yesterday Fox and I were going about our business getting ready to visit with Banji, who had come back to her parents’ house for the weekend. Mom called to say she was bringing home some soup for me; that sounded delicious so I decided to wait for her so we could enjoy the soup before leaving. When will I learn that “free food from Mom” isn’t free?

She comes in my (part of the) house and starts talking about the wedding celebration we’re planning to have with both my and Fox’s large, noisy, chaotic, wonderful families. I grab a notebook and start making a list in hopes of having some semblance of organization, and so my head won’t explode. She’s concerned about / we need to:

  • find a hotel near the venue that offers complimentary breakfast for out-of-town guests
  • contact the venue about
    • coming to their next food tasting
    • viewing the room where our event will take place
      • including possible layouts
      • and measurements so we can hold our own rehearsal if necessary
    • asking when the buffet will be set up
  • decide what I’m wearing and acquire the necessary items
  • decide on a color and send swatches to members of the bridal party with guidelines
    • guys in black pants and dress shirts, vests of desired color
    • female-bodied individuals who are willing to wear a skirt in dresses of the desired color
  • coordinate transportation and hotel rooms for the bridal party
    • I should spend the night before the event with Banji, Fox with his best man
  • clearly communicate expectations/responsibilities to bridal party
  • contact our photographer
    • negotiate costs including meal, travel, and accommodations (if necessary)
    • what, specifically, we want to photograph
    • written contract
  • music for the procession, dinner, and dancing
    • be sure to include songs she likes
  • officiant

You have to understand, my mother does not give me organized lists. She does not create PowerPoint presentations to separate her ideas into manageable chunks of related information. She does not allow for a Q&A session at the end. She does not give a 15-minute break. She just starts talking, and I have to listen. I have to have answers. I have to follow her as she moves from one topic to another without warning and goes off on tangents. I have to do something to show her that some action will be taken to ease her anxiety about whatever it is.

I made the list to try and salvage my own (and Fox’s) sanity – and so I can show it to her the next time she tries to plan my entire wedding in one conversation. Maybe instead of talking about everything again, we can focus on and accomplish something.

The conversation was actually a lot shorter than I thought, but to look at Fox and me you’d think a small tornado had come through. He said he was very frustrated. He looked exhausted. I felt exhausted. Derailed. And pressured to do something right away, never mind that we’d been in the process of getting ready to go somewhere. Never mind that someone was waiting for us. Someone I care about deeply.

I searched online and found several hotels within 5 miles of the venue, five of which offer some kind of complimentary breakfast. I emailed a list to Mom and told her she’s welcome to contact them with her questions. Why she couldn’t do the search if she was so concerned is beyond me, but it’s done. I’ve thrown her a bone to chew on instead of my sanity.

She’s like a cat who’s been thrown into water clawing her way on top of a flotation device (me). Or a spider with a fly caught in her web. I’m her worry stone, and soon she’s going to wear a hole in me.

I love my mother. Really, I do. I have so much to be grateful to her for. And I truly believe that she loves and cares about me.

Honest.

But I just have enough of my own shit to deal with without her draining all my energy. I’m already on a roller coaster; it’s intense enough without her making the drops taller and the turns sharper and the upside-down loops more nauseating. The last thing I need is for her to disable the safety bar that’s the only thing keeping me from flying off in some random direction, probably to my doom.

I need to feel safe and have some stability in my relationships. Is that so much to ask?

What a Wild Week

I couldn’t sleep Wednesday night because I was panicking over my debt and lack of income; I felt like I needed to find a job immediately or the world would end. So instead of sleeping I looked at all the local jobs online; aside from 1 or 2, most of the ones I’m remotely qualified for were unappealing. Still anxious but exhausted, I managed to fall asleep in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

On Thursday I dragged myself to a LGBTQ Safe Space training. I thought it would help me feel more comfortable joining that community and possibly help me get a job I was interested in. I really wish I hadn’t pressured myself to make a good first impression on top of attending the training, because of course it was emotionally intense. I was very anxious just to be there, and just when I was starting to feel safe and accepted by the group we did an activity that ended up being a huge emotional trigger for me. I couldn’t maintain my mask of “sanity” anymore and came out as depressed in front of a potential employer. It was devastating.

But at least I learned about some of the resources that are available to me.

Friday night was game night. The group we were with were mostly older men (age 50+); I was the second-youngest person there and the only biologically-female individual. We played the Game of Thrones board game; I played as Stark trying to defend my snow-covered lands and conquer the lands to the south. Except that I allowed my “ally” next door to talk me out of claiming the nearby territories I needed to have any hope of expansion, and a foe invaded my waters, threatening my homestead! I had to divert resources to defending my lands against possible attack and attempting to reclaim what had once been mine.

But, I found a way to sneak undetected past my “ally’s” lands and waters, to attack a castle that had been claimed by a foolish unsuspecting south-lander! Mwahahaha!!! I took him totally by surprise and won our skirmish quite easily. Shortly afterward, my “ally” finally claimed the castle I’d put off taking as part of our “agreement” and won the game, thus ending it. About time, too – it was after midnight.

As we were packing up the game, the foe whose castle I’d successfully stormed said my move was “sneaky and conniving  – typical of a woman!” I think some flames escaped my nose. (I doubt he would have said my move was typical of anything if he’d perceived me as male.)

“You did NOT just say that!” I replied, my body stiffening in anticipation of a fight.

I could tell everyone was watching us both closely, waiting to see what happened. I had a feeling that anything that did happen would end up being a spectacle for their amusement, possibly to joke about later. I needed to choose my words and actions very carefully.

“I’m going to give you a chance to take that back,” I said.

“It was a very clever move,” he replied, “Well played.”

“Thank you,” I smiled.

The show was over.

Mom and I had intended to leave at 10 am Saturday morning, but were on the road closer to 11:30. She drove through some really nasty weather so we could visit with family members who live about a 4-hour drive away. We got to spend a very pleasant evening with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

Back to the hotel room late, and I still needed to apply for that job. My inner pessimist – or perhaps it’s a realist – kept saying I wasn’t going to get the job anyway, but I stubbornly ignored it. If I listen to it I’ll never apply for any job. The hours ticked by as I struggled to edit my resume on a tablet; oh, how I missed having a keyboard and mouse! It was so frustrating. But I got it done, and even managed to get a meager amount of sleep.

Up at 9 for free-from-the-hotel breakfast. Time to work on my cover letter (instead of swimming). First of all, I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to go into a cover letter. Second of all, I was too tired to think, never mind to write a formal letter advertising myself. I got about 2 sentences written. Wasted time fussing over it that I could have spent playing with my cousin’s baby. Yuck. If I could re-live this past weekend, I would decide not to apply for the job, take care of my body, and fully enjoy every moment with my family. (Especially the baby; by the time I see him again he’ll be walking and talking.)

My aunt and uncle have all sorts of crazy health issues and she thinks his purpose for living is to take care of her with no regard for his own needs. I think my aunt feels very threatened by my uncle’s plans to receive double knee replacement surgery because she won’t be able to rely on him as much as she’s used to. (No one’s asking her to help him, just to be less demanding of him.) Mom spent an inordinate amount of time lecturing them both on what he’ll need and what he can realistically expect during recovery. (She didn’t mean to lecture, but that’s how it came across. She’s very concerned about her brother, and so am I.) By the time we left Sunday evening, the “conversation” had degraded into a shouting match and I had a splitting headache.

In the car, Mom couldn’t let it go. She kept repeating the same stuff they’d already been talking about to me. I calmly explained that I was very tired and needed to stop talking about their issues and even got to express some of my own feelings on the matter, and then we dropped it. I spent a good deal of the ride asleep, which was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it was kind of nice to get to rest, but on the other I feel guilty about leaving Mom to drive alone.

Home. Finished the cover letter with a lot of support from Fox. Sent cover letter and resume as PDFs at 1 am.

I basically spent all day Monday sleeping and making not-so-wise food choices. Mom called and said she had been vomiting.

On Tuesday I woke up at 8:30 am feeling queasy and needing to go to the bathroom. About a minute later I was very grateful that I’d run to the bathroom and thought to bring a garbage bag with me. I was also regretting several of my food choices from the day before.

The rest of the day was a lot of sleeping, running to the bathroom, regretting the one time I didn’t run to the bathroom, and being grateful to Fox for buying me some Gatorade. That stuff is amazing.

Yesterday I had a fever, but I was able to eat adult-sized portions of plain pasta without ill effect. I spent a lot of time sleeping and reading. At some point I woke up after a long nap to find my fever had broken. Fox and I were even able to cuddle for a while and watch Voyager. I ended the day by continuing to play a video game I hadn’t touched since early November.

Today I dragged myself out of bed and freshened up a bit in preparation for a Skype session with Wakana that never happened. She returned my call, saying she had overslept and asking if we could reschedule for this evening. I agreed, but I’m disappointed and a little hurt. There’s been a lot of stuff going on that I need to process and this time of year tends to be difficult for me. I need her support, and I need it to be reliable.

My Introduction to Mindfulness

I really needed this reminder to just accept what is (including potentially harmful thoughts) and stay in the here-and-now. Thank you so much for posting this, Cat.

My Travels with Depression

ImageThe survival and development of humans was dependent on an ability to think – to plan and reason.

It seems that this remarkable ability to think can also be the cause of our emotional distress.  We regret and we stress over a continual internal dialogue, comparing ourselves to others, while harbouring a general discontent over who we are and what we have.

Mindfulness teaches that this desire for more and better, with persistent judgements of others and ourselves, influences how we feel emotionally and physically.  Is it any surprise that life can feel so difficult?

I joined the Introduction to Mindfulness class on Tuesday, mainly to control my habit of obsessive thinking.  My mind never stops.  The stressful rumination can make me feel ill on a daily basis, both emotionally and physically.

The first class went well.  There are two Trainers and eight participants.  Everyone was nervous and rather quiet.  We have a…

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Blog for Mental Health 2014

When I learned of the Blog for Mental Health pledge last year, I thought, “Perfect! This is exactly what I intended my blog to be!” I’m so excited that I get to take the pledge again; it seems like an awesome way to begin 2014.

So, without further ado:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge acanvasoftheminds.com art by Piper Macenzie

the Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge
from acanvasoftheminds.com
art by Piper Macenzie

I’ve been writing about my experiences with mental health – particularly coping with anxious depression – all year. The biggest trend I’ve noticed is a movement away from viewing my mental illness as something separate from myself that I must fight against, and toward accepting it as part of who I am.

This isn’t to say that I allow myself to be defined by my anxious depression and give up on my goals, relationships, and responsibilities – though I will admit it is sometimes tempting to do so. Rather, it allows me to have a more consistent experience of reality, despite fluctuations in the severity of my symptoms. These fluctuations can be drastic over a short period of time and completely change my perception of my abilities, situation, interpersonal relationships, etc.

When I accept my mental illness as part of who I am, I can treat myself with compassion and do what I need to take care of myself – whatever that means in the moment. Sometimes it means remembering that yesterday I was viewing the world through “depression goggles” (and/or “anxiety goggles”) and choosing to celebrate what I was able to do, instead of criticizing myself for having difficulties. Sometimes it means allowing myself to fully feel difficult emotions and express them, even though I can’t explain why I’m feeling them. Often it means reaching out to loved ones for help, support, and hugs.

Taking care of myself has recently meant reminding my inner critic that I appreciate its company, but need it to use nicer words and a gentler tone to help me learn from my mistakes. Occasionally it means clinging to the knowledge that the severity of my symptoms fluctuates and the hope that tomorrow will be better, just to get through today. And on good days – those wonderful, rare, precious good days – it means being fully present and soaking in every glorious moment to make the best possible memories.

I’m trying to move toward using relatively good days to set up some kind of support structure that will make the not-so-good days easier – not just to get through, but to live within. If I can accept my mental illness as part of myself, then I can use my strengths on the days when I have the most access to them, to create accommodations for myself to use on the days when I feel the weakest.

Please visit the original Blog for Mental Health 2014 post for more information about the campaign and instructions for taking the pledge. I hope to see you on the official blogroll!!!

Welcome 2014

Before today I felt like I was on an upswing and I wanted to make the most of it.  In the past I’ve thought it was the depression going away completely and wanted to move forward as though the depressive episode had never happened. I’ve learned the hard way that such an attitude only makes it harder to cope when the more severe symptoms come back.

It’s hard to say whether this is a remission of symptoms due to natural course of the illness or perhaps interventions … or just a temporary improvement because of the holidays. Banji was staying at her parents house, which enabled us to spend a good amount of quality time together.  Fox and I have spent most of the past couple weeks socializing with loved ones. We had two holiday parties with friends, the first of which was a successful reunion of my closest friends from undergrad. It was so wonderful to relax and have fun with them. I felt fully myself, like the depression was gone.

That thought process is quite interesting actually because to my knowledge I’ve never been free from depression, so how can the depression being gone mean I’m more myself? If anything I’d be less myself! Whether I like it or not, my psychiatric disorder influences my thoughts, emotions, and perceptions; it helps shape my experiences and how I respond to them – arguably even my personality. If I didn’t have anxious depression, I would be a different person entirely.

What I really mean to say is that I had a refreshing reprieve from the symptoms; this allowed me to express myself, experience what was going on around me, and act unhindered by the impairments I’ve become accustomed to since my symptoms have been more severe. It reminded me of other times when my symptoms have been less severe; of course I want those times to be the norm, the “real” me!

The truth is, whether I’m currently struggling with depression and anxiety symptoms or not, I’m always the real me. As tempting as it may be to turn my back on 2013 and move forward as though it never happened, deciding to do so wouldn’t make the events, my responses, or the effects they had on me any less real. If I can own them, then I can learn from them, living in the present to influence the future to be more like what I want it to be.

I’ve been very sad today because Banji went home, so I have to cope with the reality that we can’t hang out whenever we want (we have to plan ahead and drive 5 hours each way) and we’ve both changed since undergrad. It’s been making it harder for me to be hopeful for the future and feel like there’s any point to trying to be healthy, apply for jobs, declutter, etc.

Today I cuddled with Fox, watched The Muppet Christmas Carol and Star Trek: Voyager, and tracked what I ate on Sparkpeople. Tomorrow I need to go out and deal with bureaucracy so my legal name change can actually occur.

My goals for this week are to update my resume, apply for at least one job (there’s a good one on campus that I’m qualified for), and exercise for at least 10 minutes on 3 of the 7 days. I’d also like to spend several hours of at least one day with a friend or two – because I’ve learned that I feel a lot happier and healthier when I do so.

Having these goals doesn’t mean I won’t experience symptoms that make it harder to accomplish them. If I struggle with those symptoms, I’ll still be the same person with the same goals. This illness may be part of me, but it’s not the only thing that defines me. Remembering this is the resolution I’m going to make for 2014.