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

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