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

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