these are not the droids you’re looking for…

Cami glances to her left. Back to center to the laptop screen in front of her. To her right… all the way over her shoulder. Back to center. It’s morning and outside birds chirp and the sound of morning traffic on the busy thoroughfare is almost a white noise in its consistency. Slowly she sips coffee from her mug which declares in all red cap letters:

MORNINGS ARE FOR COFFEE AND CONTEMPLATION

It’s morning and clearly she is in contemplation.

She leans into the laptop imagining its a camera and whispers, “This was not the mental health issue you were looking for,” before withdrawing into a normal seated position.

Now that the scene is set and you can all see that I’m clearly my playful and painfully dorky self, let’s talk about the state of my mental health. Why? Because I care. Both about my own mental health and about yours. And also the mental health of that person you know and love who struggles with anxiety and/or depression that you totally don’t know how to help.

Because depressed people can be scary. Anxious people can be scary. You never know what they’re going to do. So, you know, maybe it’s just easier not to look. Or to do that thing where you put your hand over your eyes and peek between two fingers at the screen when the grisly part of the horror movie is on?

I get that. I watch anything involving teeth that way. Just so I can close my hand AND my eyes in case anything I don’t think I can handle comes on.

Watching a friend struggling with mental health issues — and yes there are so many more than I just listed — can be grisly. It can also be… So. Incredibly. Boring. Because their feelings, or their lack of feelings, can take up so much space. You may want to shake them and say “KNOCK IT OFF” or not speak to them until they can get their shit together. Or if it’s you, yourself… you may want to not speak to yourself until you get your shit together.

Here’s where we cue Cami storytelling mode…

We’re still in this global pandemic. Things are a mess. It’s been 6 months now and I, the lifelong anxiety sufferer finally admitted the medications I had been on for two years were no longer doing the job they once did. At all. (That happens sometimes. Your neurochemicals are no longer behaving in the way they once did, for better or for worse.)

Wow… look at me trying to detach from this situation by saying they’re your neurochemicals. They’re not. I don’t know what’s up with your neurochemicals. I don’t even know what’s up with my own. But I’m calling myself on that avoidance. So…

My neurochemicals are no longer behaving the way they once did. And I don’t even need the for better or for worse, I can tell you it’s for worse. How can I tell?

Well my home is in a more significant state of disarray than ever. My work has suffered. I’m short with my family. I’ve been avoiding dealing with some of my friends. I’ve been obsessing over things I don’t normally obsess over. I haven’t been taking very good care of my plants. Also, I smell. Like… this is the worst time to be a smelly human. My partner and my offspring are locked up inside a house with me for 6 months and I choose this time to be lax about my hygiene? Bad move. Except it’s not something I chose. It’s just something that fell into place because I didn’t care and I didn’t realize how much I didn’t care.

I’d also been sleeping A LOT and I bring that up because for a lot of people that is a sign that their mental health is in decline or crisis. For me it’s just that I like sleep A LOT.

Back to those neurochemicals. I spent most of my life shouting into the void that I would never be put on anti-anxiety meds. That my brain is my own and that I will just work through it. And then a couple of years ago I got brave and I told my anxiety to shove it and talked to my doctor and asked for help. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done because one part of me was raging against all the other parts of me and all of those systems of self are deeply interwoven. To harm my anxiety with medical intervention instead of just therapy and coping strategy, was to harm all of me. It wasn’t true, but I was convinced that it was.

Okay. Enough background. Fast forward back to the pandemic. To stinky, bumbling, messy, zombie Cami. My anxiety had a tight enough grip on me once again that I was convinced it was my fault that the medications weren’t working. I tried everything I knew to try in my playbook and nothing helped. So I did the super hard thing again and made an appointment to talk to my doctor to admit that this shit that was working no longer works and I am once again an anxious mess who has panic attacks every time I leave the house and yells at people on the street for coming too close to me without a mask. Who is so anxious I can’t think straight. And please can you help me fix this?

And so the cycle of trying on new neurochemicals begins again. And what I’m doing now seems very much to be working. So much so that I am painfully aware that it wasn’t just anxiety.

You see… I’ve always had anxiety. But I’m not depressed. Ever. Except when I am. And I was so entrenched in my own narrative as a person with anxiety disorder and panic disorder that I couldn’t even consider there could be more going on than I thought.

This is where I remind you that I am not a mental health professional. I don’t even play one on TV. I would love to be an advice columnist but that is beside the point. I’m just one of the many suffering from anxiety. And as it turns out, situational depression.

Depression was not the mental health concern I was looking for. But there it was.

So why did I write out this long babble of thoughts and feelings and neurochemical ramble? Because I want to make the invisible visible. I want you to know, if you’re suffering, you’re not the only one. I want you to know if your loved one is suffering, you’re not alone and they’re not the only one. And there’s hope.

This morning, after some adjustment to the new medication and tweaking when I take it, I woke up clear headed. I got up and took a shower before starting my workday without really thinking about it. I put in my contact lenses. I put on clean clothes. I felt normal in the best possible way and it took some contemplation to understand how truly special that feeling of normalcy is to me.

***

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, anger or any combination thereof please reach out for help. To a friend, to your family, a doctor, clergy member, or a counselor. In the US you can call 1-877-726-4727 (Monday – Friday 8am to 8pm) for help locating mental health services available to you in your area.

If you feel overwhelmed and like you may harm yourself you can find local resources to help you here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours a day 7 days a week).

***

Note: medication isn’t the answer for everyone. It hasn’t always been the answer for me. It may not always be the answer for me. I hope it isn’t. I’m just sharing my story as it is. Right now.

Featured image by Marty McGuire on Unsplash

secure your mask before helping others…

Yesterday was a hard day. Last week had some hard days too. And the week before that and the week before that. And I keep telling myself that it’s just a hard day or a hard week. That I’m just dealing with all the hard stuff that’s going on in the world and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel bad sometimes. It’s okay to struggle sometimes.

And I checked in with myself and I did the things on my list of things I can do for myself.

  • meditate
  • drink less caffeine and alcohol
  • get more sleep
  • use my planner and journal
  • be realistic and kind to myself
  • care for my plants

Even after all those things I’ve had a string of bad mental health days with high anxiety punctuated here and there with panic attacks.

And yesterday… like I said… yesterday was bad. Walking with my partner down the street suddenly unable to breathe, ripping my mask off my face while hyperventilating while refusing to listen to reason or let the person I trust most in the world help me kind of bad.

Today in talking with a friend she encouraged me to take some time off work. At least a break. Reminded me that mental health in integral to physical health. And to take care of myself before I take care of my people. She told me to put my seatbelt on first.

She knows me. She knows me well. She sees.

So I made a call to my prescriber to make an appointment to have my meds evaluated. Because I should have done that a while ago but… I kept waiting for them to work with me. Kept stressing out that they weren’t helping because, obviously, I’m doing something wrong. And because the world is so broken. Because things are in such a state of chaos. People are sick.

And and those things are all true. The world is broken. Things are in chaos. People are sick. But the only thing I did wrong was not raise the red flag and ask for more help.

So now that my seatbelt is on and I’ve secured my oxygen mask, let me check in with you. How’re you holding up. Are you taking care of yourself? Is your oxygen mask, seatbelt, or life vest on?

If you’re struggling, take a moment to do what needs to be done. Ask for help if you need it. Accept help when it’s offered.

Don’t wait until you’re walking down the street hyperventilating in a panic attack still pushing help away…

featured image by Calle Macarone on Unsplash

a level playing field…

Some of my earliest memories are of being anxious. I even remember once, when I was seven, having a panic attack. I didn’t have a name for either of those feelings when I was little. Anxious was just how I felt. And the panic attack…

Cue wavy flashback visuals and subtle chimes…

I was 7 and it was summer. As on most days I was outside under a giant shrub playing in my fairy garden. The sun was hot but I was laying on my belly propped up on my elbows on the cool dry earth of the shade somewhere between my house and the shrubs that lined it. I was trying to think of an appropriate offering for the fairies when little drips of blood started to spatter the dirt beneath my nose. I wiped the back of my hand across the base of my nose to see how much blood there was. Bloody noses were a common occurrence, a nuisance. They weren’t something to worry about unless the blood flow resembled a stream.

The blood was just a smear so I rolled over onto my back and tilted my head up wiping the blood from the back of my hand onto a leaf on the shrub that sheltered me as I watched the hot summer sun force itself through the dense growth of leaves to dapple the ground with light.

And then I looked back to the leaf on which I’d wiped my blood and my body started to tingle and freeze. The blood flowed out of my face and my breath stopped even as my heart raced. I wanted to scream out for help but I couldn’t. And I thought of the triage scenes from M*A*S*H with the soldiers terribly wounded or going in for an appendectomy or maybe just being too scared of the world and I was certain that I was about to die. The world began to spin and I couldn’t move a muscle as tears streamed down my face. And at some point little white-haired blue-eyed Cami blacked out on the ground under the shrub outside the house.

I don’t know how long I was there in that state. I don’t know how I pulled myself out of it. I just know sometime later I realized I wasn’t dead. My body aching with tension I plucked off the leaf that had been smeared with blood and took it to the trash. I went inside to see blood crusted beneath my nose and cleaned it up. I changed out of the little shorts I’d been wearing because they were covered in the dry dusty earth. And then I went to the kitchen to slake my thirst.

Cue wavy flashback end sequence…

Thinking you’re dying takes a lot out of a kid. I imagine I probably treated myself to a Capri Sun.

Growing up, my anxiety was something that made me different. But not in a good way. Also, I didn’t realize it was the thing that made me different. I didn’t ever stop to think at that young age if others experienced the world in the same way I did. They didn’t

Now I know that everyone experiences the world in their own way. There are people who experience it in what would be described as a typical way and then there’s everyone else.

My life-long experience with anxiety and with panic has given me some gifts.

  • I have the uncanny ability to seek out and find the bright side in almost any situation. Which is as much a gift as a curse and something I’m working really hard to tamp down right now.
  • I’m nearly always prepared for the worst. Sometimes I cope with anxiety by asking myself what the worst thing that could happen is. And then I prepare for it just in case I’m right. It’s not so much the being prepared that helps my mental state as it is that having something TO DO to FIX THE THING helps me cope.

But now, I’m not alone in my anxiety. I’m in the majority. Pretty much the super majority. Right now, anxious seems to be the status quo. People who’ve blissfully wandered through life without feeling trapped, without what-iffing every scenario. Without panicking at the thought of getting out of bed or walking out the front door are suddenly over here in my field feeling that deep sense of anxious dread with me.

Hi. Welcome. This is what it’s like. This. This is living with anxiety. And it’s not fun. And it’s sometimes hard to cope. And if you’re one of those newly struggling with anxiety, I’m glad you’re here. And I’m confident that we’ll get through this together. But at least 10 yards apart.

new meds. who dis?

Let’s kick this post off by stating the obvious. Shit is weird right now. Real weird. Not like oh look at this is exciting fun new world weird. Weird. Unsettling. Scary. People who I’ve known for years who have never shown a hint of anxiety or depression are in the thick of one or the other. For some it’s both.

We don’t know what we don’t know and that continues to be more true every day.

But still, as people do when we can, we carry on. And with that in mind, there has been some fine tuning of my anxiety medication. Not because it wasn’t working before, but because things change and plans must sometime be altered. And altered again.

So after 10 days of the new medication, during a med check-in with my doctor, she asked if the new “booster” meds were working for me and I said “I’m sleeping at night, so yes” and she, thank all the things in the universe, told me that sleeping wasn’t enough because they’re supposed to be helping during the day too. And we adjusted them again.

I would like to say that saying “yes” to a new medication was the hardest part. But I’d be a lying liar. New meds are hard. There are all sorts of little pockets of ugh that come along with them.

Side effects, thinking you’re having side effects when you’re not, having your partner read all of the documentation for new meds so they know what side effects to look out for because if you read them you’ll think you have them all because you’re already anxious, exhaustion, confusion, the need to sleep several extra hours a day, the moment you thought they were working but realize that they’re not actually working, the moment you realize they’re working and that’s why you’re sleeping all the time, the moment you realize they’re not supposed to make you sleep all the time and that’s a side effect and you have to get through that to see if they’re working. The possibility that they’re not working. The crying. Also the couple of times during adjustment that your hand just couldn’t hold on to a water bottle and the bottle fell from your hand and your partner had to ask if you were having hand tremors and you realize that was one of the side effects he’s been looking out for and you just don’t know anything because you’re tired. Damnit.

It was nearly a month ago when this adventure with additional medications began. I’ve had to make some adjustments. I’ve had to remind myself to be patient. I’ve had the super vivid, weird-as-they-get dreams that come with new brain meds.

Now I’m a person who has to take meds twice a day instead of just once. I’m still a mess but slightly less of a mess. And this is still a huge ongoing process. But at least I’m not having anxiety about my anxiety meds.

I’m reminded more than ever though of the differences between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. How they are inextricably linked for some. And how they can thrive in their own pockets of space and time. Which is to say this new medication is fixing the thing it’s supposed to be fixing. That my steady flow of anxiety that was once again with me all through the day, nipping at my every thought and energizing my body so all I could do was worry has backed off significantly. But the moments of heightened anxiety that lead to a panic are still lurking. So things aren’t quite okay.

And I spend a great deal of my time, at work and with my friends and family, reminding people that it’s okay not to be okay right now. That the present is a time for kindness. To oneself and to others. That we’re all doing something new. That the world is different. And it’s scary. And we may need to take a break.

And when we move forward, when we’re ready to move forward. That we move forward with intentionality and kindness. With purpose and, if we can muster it, with passion.

That now is not a time to fake it until you make it. Now is a time to forgive yourself your faults and flaws and take the time you need to grieve, to process, and when you’re ready… To heal.

Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

medication iteration…

When I finally gave in nearly two years ago and asked my doctor for help with my anxiety, being medicated was the most terrifying thing in the world to me. I didn’t want to do it but I could no longer continue with the status quo I’d been living.

I wanted my anxiety to abate, but I also didn’t know how much it would change me as a person to have that part of me dulled or cut out. If you believe, as I do, that your entire lifetime of experiences make you who are are at any specific moment. Both the good and the bad. Then you might understand why, as a person who loved much of her life, I would be terrified to change something the size of a mountain.

Also anxiety has a funny way of preserving itself. It feeds lies. It feeds panic. It does everything it can to keep itself safe within you so it can live and grow and thrive. Like a parasite eating away at the rest of you.

The hardest time was the first few weeks when my new medications weren’t yet taking hold and every morning taking a pill that was making me tired, stupid, and dizzy seemed like the worst idea ever. When my anxiety told me I was killing something good with every swallow.

I don’t want to drone on about things I’ve already said but…

I will repeat, that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and also Panic Disorder. And it’s no walk in the park. I’ve heard anxiety scoffed at as the socially acceptable hip version of depression. I’ve heard people with anxiety and panic mocked for as just being too tightly wound. Or chided for not being able to get their shit together. I assure you, it’s none of that.

So, as is probably no surprise to anyone, my anxiety has risen to a new level during the recent global pandemic (starting in the months leading up to it). Not just because of the Coronavirus situation itself, but because of how humanity in general is responding. Or not responding in many cases.

It started as a low whisper, grew to a constant white noise, and before I knew it I was back in the wind tunnel of full blown anxiety. My anxiety meds not really keeping anything at bay. My body tingling with stress and fear from the moment I opened my eyes, if I was lucky enough to sleep. My panic attacks coming in clusters more and more often.

And so I told myself it would be fine. It will get better soon. I’ll get used to this new normal. I’ll adjust. I’ll adapt. I’ll cope.

And I started using my coping methods more and more frequently. I started taking my panic medication more frequently. My tells started to show more and more. And then last week some sauce packets we didn’t need or want were delivered with our takeout. And instead of tossing them, which yes I know is wasteful, I dug through a cabinet looking for an empty canister to store them in. You know, in case we need them. For later.

I was a sauce packet hoarder my entire life. Because I was afraid to throw them out. Because we might need them. For something. Someday. But we never used them. Ever. Never ever.

With that in mind, and with the knowledge that I had once again started exhibiting other tells, and also knowing that my panic prescription was almost out I called my doctor and once again did the really hard work of saying “Help me.”

Are my meds losing efficacy for me? Did I adjust? Or is the world just too much to bear right now? I’m not sure, but I was sure I was backsliding. I could feel the soft sucking quicksand of my illness sucking me back in.

So for the first time in a while I’m in the midst of making some changes to my meds. I feel exhausted. I feel dizzy. I feel like thoughts are trying to work their way out of my head as though they’re moving through cooled pudding.

This time I want to take them. My meds. I want to get back to what was my new normal 6 months ago. But my anxiety still has other ideas.

Featured photo by am JD on Unsplash

***

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, anger or any combination thereof please reach out for help. To a friend, to your family, a doctor, clergy member, or a counselor. You can call 1-877-726-4727 (Monday – Friday 8am to 8pm) for help locating mental health services available to you in your area.

If you feel overwhelmed and like you may harm yourself you can find local resources to help you here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours a day 7 days a week).

***

Note: medication isn’t the answer for everyone. It hasn’t always been the answer for me. It may not always be the answer for me. I hope it isn’t. I’m just sharing my story as it is. Right now.

anxiety contagion factor…

When other little girls were dreaming up their perfect weddings or playing MASH I was coming up with elaborate plans for apocalypse survival. Since there were any number of possible apocalypse scenarios, there were, of course, any number of apocalypse causes. Therefore, I needed a number of plans to ensure I would not only survive, but thrive. To some this may seem morose, but it’s one of the coping mechanisms that helped me through some of the most challenging times in my life.

It also made me a natural planner.

My drive to evaluate the worst case scenario—and be both emotionally and tangibly prepared for it—has made me a force to be reckoned with in both scheduled happenings and unscheduled emergencies. It has also, admittedly, driven some of my dearest humans a bit nuts as they watched me spiral into any number of dark scenarios and listened to me talk for days on end about the same topic until I had exhausted all possibilities and then repeated a few.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s frantic. And to some it may seem nonsensical. But it’s who I am and have always been. And this was, for whatever reason, one of the things I most feared losing when I started taking anti-anxiety meds two years ago. I was afraid that my anxiety contributed so heavily to anything that made me special. Made me unique. Who I am. That made me, me.

Enter the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Respectful pause.

I’m not going to talk much about COVID-19 except to say that my rational mind sees that this is something that needs to be seriously gauged and considered. That we should do all that we reasonably can to stem the tide of infection. With more than 119,000 confirmed cases worldwide and no way to know what un-identified infection numbers are like this is nothing to be taken lightly.

My emotional mind isn’t in a panic, but it is in apocalypse preparation mode. No, I’m not one of those folx who gutted the stores of water, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. But I did add a few necessary items to our emergency kit and stocked up on frozen vegetables, fresh fruit with a long shelf life, dried beans, coffee, protein, and grains. And some candy because sometimes you just need chocolate. (Apocalypse be damned!) Plus cat food (because they can’t be expected to fend on their own), medications, tampons, acetaminophen, and shit. Well, not technically “shit.” But proverbially shit. Because those all go great with chocolate. I mean, wait. Shit doesn’t got well with chocolate.

Oh shit. You know what I mean.

My daughter would like never to hear about coronavirus, contagion, or event cancellations ever ever again. My partner is most assuredly hoping I stop asking him if there’s anything he’d like me to pick up in case we need it and can’t go get it. My browser is certainly prepared to crash if I refresh the global infection map one more time today.

From that one time I had pneumonia and bronchitis and was sick for more than a month and the doctors asked me to wear a mask so I didn’t get other people sick.
Seriously cover your mouth when you cough. Because my ear is permanently fucked now.

But the more I read and the more I know the less I feel that I’m acting from a place of panic and the more I feel I am finally approaching things with a level head. You see, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder aren’t the only things wrong with me. In addition to those super fun issues I have Hypertension. Which means that, although I am no more likely to contract novel coronavirus, I am in a group more likely to suffer complications (you know, like death) if I am infected.

She’s overreacting – you say

Maybe. Maybe a little. But I’ve helped multiple organizers on multiple contents cancel multiple events over the last month. I’ve watched as cities, counties, states, and countries declare themselves in a state of emergency. I’ve sat tense reading along as Italy places the entire country on lockdown. Cancelling weddings. Cancelling funerals. Cancelling little kids’ birthday parties. And movies. NO MOVIE THEATER MOVIES.

So right now my biggest anxiety is trying to figure out if my need to have my home and family ready for a COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic is smart or crazy. And more importantly, am I doing anything to increase anxiety in others or just annoyingly babbling at my loved ones in a harmless way?

Either way… I hope I have enough chocolate and bourbon.

Featured image by Dale Nibbe on Unsplash

knows no reason…

This morning I got up early because my brain was buzzing when I woke up at 5am. Buzzing with all the things I didn’t have time for yesterday, all of the things I’m afraid I won’t have time for today. And the anticipation of social interaction later.

Which I will enjoy, but find draining.

I started working early. Making lists. Completing tasks. Checking calendars.

I ate breakfast and chatted with friends. I packed up my bag and hopped in the shower. Got dressed. Put on a favorite pair of earrings. My bracelets. My rings. Threw on blush, mascara, and lip balm. Put on my shoes. Picked up a grocery bag full of solo cups and headed out the door.

Suddenly what started as a brain buzz this morning had traveled deep into my stomach and chest. Tight. Tension. Stiffness. Something in my throat. That familiar fight or flight moment inching into my personal space.

It occurred to me as I stepped onto the train that I wouldn’t have this level of anxiety if I were stepping on a plane to fly across the country. Or across an ocean. Where was this coming from? Why was taking a train into an office I’m familiar with cause me want to run for it. Or more accurately to take off my shoes and pants and climb into bed with a cup of tea?

Anxiety doesn’t make sense. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It just does as it will and has its way with us.

I’ve been on medication for my anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) for nearly two years. Life is different now. It’s better. But this ghost never really goes away. Just tags along in silence waiting to show it’s shadowy figure and turn me inside out.