Not a Post About Crochet (Only)

The past few days I have been working on something special.

I was going to log on and write a post about it the other day, but what I ended up with was The Other Things I Am. Needless to say I was exasperated that day… motherhood is really trying sometimes.

One of the things I had meant to say with that post was that, in addition to writing and a bunch of other things, I crochet as well. Like writing, I haven’t crocheted in about a decade, until recently. Working with yarn has a tendency to reduce stress, so I took up knitting and restarted my crochet habit around February time.

I first made one of these special things I mentioned a couple of months back, using a free pattern from one of my favourite magazines. I altered the pattern slightly and used different yarn and a differently sized hook. What it made was a larger, monotone version of the stuffed toy, for which I designed some clothes. Namely, a ballerina costume and little ballet slippers. A picture of it even made its way into my favourite magazine and won me a ball of yarn. Woo!

While I made the toy, I had a friend in mind.

This friend of mine has been trying for four years to adopt. She doesn’t even want to adopt a baby, which are a more popular choice for hopeful parents, but a girl who is older and has been orphaned for some time, of which there are plenty. For a while she was trying to adopt from Russia because, at the time, it was her most promising option. Then her country legalized same-sex marriage. And that was it; all her money wasted (because adoption is not cheap), emotional rollercoaster ride back to square one. (Russia says “NYET” to any country which allows same-sex marriage, regardless of the sexuality of the hopeful parents.) She was devastated.

Now she is trying from another country, as there are no matches for her in her own country, and so far that’s looking promising. I have the highest hopes for her that she will finally have the joy of being a mother (even though it is such a challenge sometimes) and while she was visiting most recently, I gave her the toy I had made.

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The bear has now gone overseas to go live with my friend, and hopefully soon, her new daughter.

Another friend of mine saw the bear before it was given away. The other day she called me and asked if I’d make one for a local charity event whereby the bear will be in a big jar and donations will be raised as people guess the name of the bear to try to win it. Saves counting jelly beans! So I got right on it, and have finally finished the last little ballet slipper today.

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As I was making it, I thought of the first friend again. As I’m sure most of you have heard, the US recently legalised same-sex marriages. While I am pleased for the people who have been waiting a long time for this, and would like to join completely in their joy, I can’t help but think about how many parents-in-waiting are out there, and how many Russian orphans are out there, who have not been able to be matched because of Russia’s rules on adopting to places where same-sex marriage is simply legal.

I should clarify, the ban for adoption to US parents came into effect late 2014, not the other day. I am not sure of the exact reasons for the ban, maybe just a bit of animosity between the two countries who aren’t exactly friends, but as several states had already legalised these types of marriages, it would not be far-fetched to say that Russia didn’t want its children around same-sex marriages. This feels wrong.

It would be easy to say “Well that’s Russia’s problem,” and not be entirely wrong to say that. But there are children not at fault for simply being Russian, and parents meeting every other criteria for adopting from Russia who are not at fault for simply being from a country which has legalised same-sex marriage. The US is a leader in most political trends, and I would bet many countries will now follow in its steps.

I wonder what Russia’s problem is with this subject. But Russia and the adoption fiasco are just one example of divided opinions about who should be allowed to marry. One doesn’t even need to leave the house to see how divided people are about this. And maybe you think I’m going to give a strong opinion one way or the other…

But I don’t know what the correct answer is on this subject. I can see where people are coming from when they say it’s destroying the family unit, not that I agree with their opinion. And I can see where people are coming from who say “love is love,” not that I agree that same-sex marriages should be legalised. I see how people say that heterosexual marriages are not so great themselves, how divorce should not be legal, and I see there are plenty of same-sex couples who have been together longer than hetero couples.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know what exactly children need and how different genders of parents affect their development from a factual scientific perspective. I do know that growing up without a dad sucked. My mom wasn’t gay, but I can’t say whether another woman around would have been harmful, in fact it would probably have been beneficial. I know a lot of gay guys who are excellent around kids. I know a lot of terrible heterosexual males who have failed miserably at the “dad thing.” I know both gay and straight moms who have failed and succeeded in raising good kids. I have had quite a few homosexual friends throughout the years who have been excellent friends, many times even better than the heterosexual ones.

I am also well-versed in the Bible but will probably never attend church again. I still haven’t covered my thoughts on religion and won’t get too far into that today, but I will say this:

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

There are a lot of innocent people who are adversely affected by the legalisation of something which makes so many others so happy, and what I’ve learned throughout my life is not to get caught up in any sensationalism about anything political. Politicians can be tricky, clever bastards.

I do not wish for my homosexual friends to be denied the right to marry. But I feel that marriage these days has too many legal implications to be just about the marital union of a couple. There are other things to consider: Who gets to be the recipient of the life insurance pay-out once one of them has passed? Without the legal recognition of the relationship, insurance companies can keep all those thousands they’ve collected in life insurance premiums. That seems unfair. There are exponentially more roots to this tree that many people, including myself, do not see.

What I do think is that for people preaching religious principles, I sure hope they’re respectful with their words at the very least. I think the best way to put people off the message you are trying to convey is to be rude about it. For people who are jumping for joy, I sure hope this is as good as you think it is. And just like all the people who have commented on my posts wherever they’ve been seen, saying that I “just need God,” not knowing one way or another what my relationship with a deity has been throughout my life, I hope people know that being gay is not something church can cure, just like depression and anxiety and PTSD are not cured by a preacher.

How ironic is it that one of the biggest reasons I have PTSD and that a lot of undesirable things have happened in my life is because of a preacher in a church who was married and had a heterosexual family?

What I’m trying to say is, there is no black and white answer to this, or to many other things. But there are innocent children affected by adults everywhere because of their opinions and actions. And I am almost positive that having two parents, or even one parent, regardless of whether they’re heterosexual or not, is better than being stuck in an orphanage somewhere.

This adorable, innocent bear, reminds me of all the kids waiting to have parents. And it reminds me of all the people repeating opinions, regardless of whether they are the genuine beliefs of that person or concocted by the media and politicians, fighting against one another over this. What I see is people fighting one another, innocent children denied parents, and amazing potential mothers and fathers of all sexualities desperate for a chance to show children a loving family experience, denied this opportunity.

I’m really not sure which is worse, or what the solution may be, but just like I hope my friend gets to be a mother soon, I hope everything works out for all the right people and for all the right reasons.

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My Name is Emily

Emily’s Story

“Most people don’t understand anxiety, depression, and PTSD. They don’t understand why you can’t just “get over it” or “just calm down.” It’s basically a lifestyle, but not one that you choose. It’s something you’re born into. Destiny.

There’s nothing extraordinary about my family, really, we were a typical white family living in the middle of nowhere in the US. I didn’t find out until my grandmother died when I was ten that my mother had mental issues. It’s like she was holding back her entire life and then suddenly my grandmother died and the flood gates let loose. She was angry, bitter, and blamed me for everything. She was paranoid, depressed, anxious, and sought an outlet in her high school sweetheart, thinking that he could “save her” from the internal torment. My father didn’t realize, or didn’t care, until it was too late and she kicked us both out. I still don’t talk to my brother.

 

I was twelve, I had my own mental shit going on, and suddenly I was taking care of a full grown, depressed, and angry man who was heartbroken because his wife destroyed him financially and emotionally. He’d tell me that if I hadn’t come to live with him, he would have killed himself by now.
I knew then that I wasn’t happy, but I put all my garbage on the back burner to take care of his needs. He finally met someone, my stepmother, and as she tried to pick up our broken pieces she didn’t know it was too late for me.

 

I saw my own blood more times in those two years than I’d like to count. My grades slipped, I became a loner, I dated the wrong guy, I didn’t sleep, got into an anorexic mindset, and I saw the lines across my forearm as evidence that I was as flawed outside as I was inside.

 

Another student figured me out, and saw my self-inflicted abuse. She reacted by telling the school, who told my dad and step-mom, and they threw me into therapy with a flourish of “we didn’t see this coming, here, take some drugs”. I was on suicide watch. Therapy was irrelevant and pointless, and the drugs just hyped up my anxiety more. The PTSD from my mother being psychotic in the last months that I was living with her kept me up at night with horrific nightmares of faceless things coming for me. I was somewhere between 15-17 years old.

 

I wish my parents had understood that they just needed to love me. I shouldn’t have had to start becoming an adult at 10 years old and taken care of two mentally unstable adults. I was my mothers mental punching bag and my fathers therapist. It wasn’t okay.

 

I wish my friends had thought to do something more than ask if I was okay. I needed help, I needed someone to at least try to understand what I was going through instead of pretending it was typical teen angst. I needed someone to talk to, instead of holding it all in for years.

 

Now, I’m in a stable relationship. I’m happy more times than I’m sad. I write to relieve the pressure of feeling like I’m still not good enough or deserving of love, and to tell parts of my story to other people that might need to hear it. I want to inspire people, and reach out to them so maybe they’ll see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,  and not just more darkness.

 

This poem describes what it looks like in my head now:
You were scared, I knew
because you shook.
You paled in comparison.
You wrote clichés.
You dismissed happiness in a promise
that it was unattainable and futile.
But look. You grew.
Learned.
You went against the waves of oppression
that sucked every ounce of creativity out of you.
Your failures actually made you try again.
You granted love a sixth chance.
Your happiness was illuminated
as your hate faded between the lines
of your next written masterpiece.
Then, you wrote this poem
amidst a time where
“Never again”
slowly seeped into
“Yes I can”.

 

What I wish it would look like:

 
 
 
 
 
 

Silence.
 
Because I hope that someday I’ll stop having to remind myself how far I’ve come,
and how I’m really going to be okay.

 

My name is Emily, and I deserve better than this.”

 

If you would like your story featured on this blog as part of Project: Better Than This, please click here, read the guidelines, and email your story.

What PTSD Means to Me

It’s PTSD Awareness Month, so let’s go over what that means.

I am one of many who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a.k.a. PTSD.

I say this to someone and most of the time they reply, “What?”

It means a trauma happened, and even though it happened it the past, the footprint it left in your mind is so severe that any time conditions appear to be the same as during that trauma, usually described as “when a trigger happens,” your body undergoes extreme stress and expresses that stress in a physical and/or mental reaction. Sometimes even having to recall the events unexpectedly can be all the trigger you need.

The mind is a beautiful, crazy thing.

If you still don’t get it, think of this: Ever spoken about something attached to any kind of strong emotion and felt that same emotion almost exactly as when the event happened? How about remembering how it felt when you tasted straight lemon in your mouth? Men: how about watching another guy get kicked in the groin?

If any of these evoked physical reactions from you as you read about them, such as your mouth watering at the thought of pure lemon in your mouth, or wincing at the thought of a groin injury (sorry, fellas), then you can begin to see how PTSD works. Your brain, in all its splendour, has stored a physical memory of that thing. Everything in life that we do has a physical and/or emotional memory attached to it. If we haven’t done that particular thing before, we are reminded of a time we did something similar. When these memories occur, we can often feel very physical reactions to them.

At this moment, I am typing. I am typing at the rate of about sixty words per minute. I could not do this if the physical memory, muscle memory, of all the practice I’ve had was not in my brain, at the ready. This is an instinctual thing, part of growing up and being human. Similarly, as part of humans adapting to protect ourselves from harm, we involuntarily store memories of dangerous situations for future, protective reference.

So the soldier who has gone to war and seen all kinds of awful things, will often come back “shell-shocked.” It happens more often than you think. There is a really good representation of this that is currently in the process of being created. I found the trailer really interesting. check it out below, or at http://www.burdenoffreedomthemovie.com

As you can see in this trailer, the returned soldier is no longer at war. But the trauma from the experience has left such a lasting impression that they can’t help but feel like they are right back in that situation, again, and again. It can be so tragic, turning people who were once just as normal as the next person, into altered versions of themselves with undesirable reactions to things that don’t seem to be bothering anyone else. I’m not comparing my PTSD to what is shown in the trailer. But regardless of severity, PTSD is PTSD.

What PTSD means to me is that if I’m minding my own business in my house and the phone rings, my heart races, I get sweaty palms, and feel immediately scared and on edge. Of what? Well, there have been times that I have picked up the phone and had abuse hurled at me. I would block the numbers of the people, they’d call from private numbers, I’d pick up the phone and have a nasty surprise. The verbal abuse and associated behaviours of the people that used to do this was so bad, and lasted for so long, I now hate phones. Especially when they’re ringing.

Here’s an example: after losing absolutely everything in 2008, I had bill collectors calling me. I had no money whatsoever. I had lost so much there was no way I could work. I was a wreck. I was only twenty, I didn’t have savings, my family was not rich in the slightest, yet here were these bill collectors calling me and telling me to “grow up” and pay this bill that only resulted because I had forgot to cancel a gym membership for a gym I attended twice. I had nothing, and they were literally calling me all kinds of names and reducing me to tears as I tried to explain to them why I couldn’t even begin to pay them for this. It was really awful and I never want to experience that again, so I avoid the phone and avoid calling anyone unless I absolutely have to.

If I hear someone closing their car door outside, I look around to see what kind of car it was. I peer through my curtains, trying to be invisible, to see if it’s the car of someone I don’t want at my door. Every time. And it’s because I’ve told people in the past not to come to my house, and they still have. I’ve been stalked before by people who have caused a lot of harm in my life, and I live in constant fear that they’ll find my new address and show up at the door. And if they ever do, I’ll probably have to move.

If I see a car that looks like the car of someone I used to know but don’t want around me ever again, I panic. I could be driving and suddenly be very paranoid that the car I’ve spotted might be following me. I continue to panic until I see that the driver is a stranger and not someone I should worry about. For these reasons I memorise licence plates.

Once when I heard a car door outside, and had lately been stalked by my narcissist mother-in-law, I actually passed out. My heart raced, I sort of fainted, and the person who was there at the time actually thought I was dead. I came to suddenly, with an instant feeling like I was burning, confused and disorientated. I heard a popping and fizzing noise in my ears, and my skin was hot all over. Because of this incident, panic attacks are that much more terrifying, as I truly believe I could have gone into cardiac arrest that night and actually died.

If my doorbell rings, or someone knocks, I hush the children and try to pretend no one is home until I can peek through the little peek-hole and see who it is. If it’s a friend who has shown up unannounced, I will still only reluctantly open the door. And even then I’m a bundle of nerves for a few minutes until I can calm myself down and tell myself it’s okay.

Confession: With the exception of one friend who has known me long enough to be allowed to surprise me at my door, showing up unannounced is almost like a black mark next to someone’s name in the book. Once is an accident. I’ll probably try to hint that showing up unannounced isn’t the best idea when dealing with me. If they do it again, we’re probably not going to stay friends. They could be perfectly wonderful in every other regard, but I can’t have people showing up at my door without notice. It can cause a panic attack and all the feelings associated with the nasty people who used to do it in the past are then associated to these unsuspecting people, and when I think of them in the future I begin to feel bad feelings toward them.

One of the first things I remember occurring due to PTSD, was when I was about ten years old and was on a trip with a group of kids. I had fallen into a hot tub, and had bruised my leg so badly there was a huge lump on it. I could hardly walk. Because we were there for a competition and I was in so much pain, the male chaperone tried to give me a children’s Tylenol. (This is a chewable acetaminophen (paracetamol) with a strawberry flavour.) I lost my mind over it. I was hysterically crying, refusing… they could not have prised my mouth open to give me this thing. Finally the guy shouted at me “Quit bitchin’!” and I was so intimidated I finally took it.

To them I was just throwing a fit for no reason. But I was not the kind of child who used to throw fits for anything. And I didn’t know at the time why I reacted this way. But years later when I began to have certain flashbacks, I finally understood…

I had been in a daycare that was run by an evil family parading as children’s pastors. The wife would give us “vitamins” that were children’s chewable Benadryl, strawberry flavour. This is an antihistamine with a drowsy effect. It would put us to sleep and the husband would abuse us. They would show us movies where people were being maimed and said that if we ever told, our mom would suffer a similar fate. I was almost three years old at the time, but this period of time has affected me throughout life, most specifically when being around men or pressured by men. And to this day I will not let medicines touch my tongue. I put water in first, then pill, then swallow with more water.

PTSD means to me that when I am unexpectedly asked to recall events from the past that were traumatic, I am filled with sorrow. I cry in public a lot. I blame part of this on my American-ness, because apparently Americans express emotion a lot more freely than the British, but a lot of it is Post Traumatic Stress. Having to recall events suddenly can put me in a funk and I will stay in that funk for days, which brings me to perhaps the most important point of this article:

The reason(s) why anyone is suffering PTSD is none of your business. Don’t suddenly ask them about it.

I mentioned in Why I Chose to Speak Out that I am not working at the moment. This means that I occasionally have to go for a review so they can deem whether I’m ‘disabled’ enough to qualify for benefit. During my latest meeting at the JobCentre, the woman assessing my case was asking me all kinds of questions. Keep in mind, my doctor has told me not to work right now. Several other support agencies have told me not to work right now. I have been through a lot in the past year alone that is enough to deal with, now compound that with a lifetime briefly described in the article cited in this paragraph.

The woman asked me what I’d been diagnosed with. I told her PTSD, anxiety, depression. She said, “And what do you think the PTSD stems from?” I was shocked.

A bit bewildered, all I could begin to say was, “Uh… my life?”

I had to sit there, in this office full of people waiting on chairs, people behind desks, people everywhere, my youngest son at my side, and find a way to answer this woman. I strongly felt that she had no business asking this question, but she was sitting there typing away on her computer into the system holding the records of my life and the power over my keys to living it, and so I tried to answer her. I immediately burst into tears.

After fumbling an answer (which was really a list, because it was no one thing but several and I was otherwise lost for words) she eventually agreed that I shouldn’t be working right now. But I can’t shake the feeling that was a bit of a sadistic thing to do. Either she likes to make people suffer and watch their reaction, or she didn’t understand at all what PTSD implicates.

PTSD means to me that if someone tells me that’s been their diagnosis, I say “I’m really sorry” and I do NOT say “That must be hard” (because we don’t need to be reminded or told how to feel), or “What do you think that stems from?”

If I have a friend with PTSD, I ask “What do I need to know about this?” and let them tell me what to avoid when interacting with them.

You would not serve your vegetarian friend a rare steak. So don’t ask someone with PTSD to tell you why they’ve got it.

To ask them to explain why they’ve got it is to ask them to recall the incident that caused it. That is most certainly a trigger. Like serving a vegetarian a bleeding piece of meat and forcing them to eat it, this is cruelty for someone with PTSD.

Their reactions could be so much more than just crying or getting sweaty palms. You could find yourself in a dangerous situation very quickly if they suddenly suffer a dissociative episode (black out) and go into survival mode.

If not danger for yourself, it could be dangerous for the other person. This stuff is no joke. Panic attacks are not fun, feeling out of control of your reactions is not fun. (Yes panic attacks are real, no they are not made up, and it could happen to absolutely anyone.)

PTSD means to me that because a trigger could happen anywhere, at any time, I don’t go out much. I don’t socialise much, and if I do, I have to put on a brave face and force myself to do things. Because people in everyday life don’t understand, and can easily label sufferers of PTSD “crazy,” the best option for many is to shut themselves away. The lack of understanding of this condition, the same as with most mental health issues, is ultimately delivering a death sentence to those of us who have these conditions.

We are being forced into cages, we who were once just as normal as the next guy, because of luck of the draw, because of ignorance, because of the stigmatization of something that could strike any one of you suddenly and without warning (though I really hope it doesn’t, because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone). In these cages we cope day by day until we cease to exist. Is that really living?

PTSD is like a mental scar from an occurrence that caused a mental wound. In order to reduce its similarity to a death sentence, it would be wonderful if everyone took some time to educate themselves on the condition. Especially those who might come in contact with people affected by this. If not, I hope this article from one person’s perspective has given enough of an introduction to the subject, with a few key points to consider.


Video clip used with permission of Burden of Freedom.

It’s Still Self-Harm

I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, depression, and PTSD, that I know of. As much as these diagnoses say “mental illness” or “mental health issues,” for me they are also very physically related. Not only do I feel like I’m being zapped with volts upon volts of electricity as I shake, sweat profusely and get clammy palms at the thought of confrontation, but I am constantly worried about my body. And not in a way most people would think.

When I started doing these blog posts and looking through my hard drives for photos I thought would be appropriate, I saw my body in the various sizes it has been in the past five years. In 2010 I weighed about sixteen and a half stone. By the end of 2011 I was ten stone. That’s about ninety pounds’ difference, over forty kilos. Since that time I’ve put on ten pounds here, twenty pounds there, then freaked out and made resolutions and worked it back off again. When I see the pictures of how big I was, I feel disgusted that I could’ve let myself get that big. When I see the ones of me smaller, I think how good I looked, how I wish I could be that size again, but also how I remember still feeling huge and disgusting at the time. Over the past six months I’ve put on weight at a rate so much higher than ever before, and am now a good thirty pounds heavier than a weight I’m comfortable being. Except I’m only comfortable with being any weight in hindsight, because no matter what size I may be, I still feel uncomfortable. This got me thinking… what is my problem?

I see these people running around outside in their spandex and neon shoes and even when they’re three hundred pounds heavy, I envy them. I envy that they have the courage to get out there and sweat, running around alone in public, because I would hate for people to be looking at me doing that, regardless of size. I hear of consistent runners and exercise-doers and I am in admiration of how these people can keep these routines in place. I envy myself when I look at my pictures, for being able to get in shape all those times. Sometimes I have no idea where that discipline came from, but I want to find it again.

When I moan about my weight to those I know, thinking how annoying I must sound that I’m even talking about it, I hear generally encouraging things. Some people tell me I’m not too big at all, that I still look great, but thanks to anxiety I don’t accept this as truth. I’m not fishing for compliments from them, but in my head they’re looking at me and seeing all the things I see when I look at me, which is this bulge and that ripple and that flappy bit and this crease, and I feel the need to excuse myself for how I am. I feel they hate me for whining about it, but I can’t stop. They waste their words reassuring me about something which will only stop being an issue when I stop using it to hurt myself.

As I went through another bout of deep depression and started gaining a little bit of weight this year, I felt not only angry with myself for getting carried away with my eating habits, but a masochistic sense of relief and a compulsion to keep getting bigger. I stopped caring about how much butter I put in this, or how much sugar was in that, and completely threw out my own philosophies on eating properly. I was beating myself up constantly that I was only compounding my own problem and making more work for myself. I knew that if I didn’t hold back the portions, my clothes would no longer fit and I’d have to buy more, which I couldn’t afford. But then I’d buy another tub of ice cream, and go to the scale and feel worthless and stupid for gaining another three pounds in one week.

After thinking heavily about it, I’ve come to understand why I do this. I don’t harm myself in the traditional sorts of ways most people would think of when they hear “self-harm” but this is a cycle of anguish that never seems to end. It’s still self-harm even though there’s no blood or bruises.

When I’m feeling better and more motivated, I can look in the mirror and appreciate my stretch marks as “mommy stripes” and my returned layers of fat as “womanly curves” and “proof I’m eating,” which is good in a way because I’ve experienced loss of appetite for weeks at a time and starvation due to poverty alike. But within a matter of days or even minutes I’m saying all kinds of mean things to myself and going to the cupboards to find something high in fat, salt and carbs. It doesn’t feel the same as “emotional eating” where people binge when they’re either happy or sad. It is deliberate sabotage of what I know in my conscious self to be healthy and good for me.

When I’m bigger that means I’ve also stopped doing any kind of real exercise which equates to weaker muscles. When my core is weak I can have excruciating and debilitating back spasms. When I have that extra layer I experience the cutting off of circulation and numb limbs when I’m on the floor playing with the kids. I’m slower. I have less energy. I increase my risk of developing diabetes, which runs in my family. I stop going out of the house. I stop seeing friends. I feel ashamed when I see people who knew me when I was smaller and this can trigger panic attacks. I create more pain of the physical, emotional, and psychological varieties. I tell myself I’d be so much healthier and happier if only I were smaller like I used to be, while simultaneously feeling fear of being that size again.

The fear of being healthier is attached to the incidences in the past in which I was sexually and non-sexually harassed or assaulted by others. When I’m smaller I get a lot more attention for the way I look while loathing the ‘lookers’ for being so shallow. In addition to more serious incidences of abuse, there have been times in the past when I’ve been followed through town at 5:30am by a large man making kissy noises at me, been touched inappropriately in the workplace, been disregarded as an intellectual based on stereotypes of pretty girls (so much wrong with that), been asked to flirt to earn the company free work, been whistled at, hollered at, objectified and singled out for being attractive. I’ve faced competitive attitudes from co-workers, hatred, animosity, and bullying from other women, threats to my well-being, and general negativity.

But those things are in the past, and it’s the anxiety and PTSD telling me to be afraid of what I should be doing for the sake of my health because if I do it, I might get hurt. It’s nonsense, but that’s the difference between one who suffers from these conditions and one who doesn’t; the privilege of rational thinking.

I know that if I exercise and eat appropriately I’ll slim down and my nicer clothes will fit, my release of endorphins will increase, I’ll feel more confident, have more energy, a more consistent heart rate, possibly a reduced rate of panic attacks, and so many more benefits. I know that if I just put my workout clothes and shoes on, turn on my fitness DVD (because there is no way on this earth you’ll find me jiggling, panting and sweating in front of strangers), I will be done in about thirty minutes and feel really accomplished. I know this, but in the straightjacket of depression I can hardly bring myself to do what is needed to get it done.

These are three invisible illnesses among many. Their ability to manifest in a physical form can include literally preventing a person from doing or saying something they know they should, and compelling them to say or do something they know they shouldn’t. It hurts to know these things have any power over me, despite all my stubbornness and shows of determination and willpower in my former years. And it hurts even more that even though I accomplished so many amazing things before, I can be prevented from doing a few silly crunches and lunges.

So as I’ve been writing about strength and putting one foot in front of another, I thought it time that I get back up and try again to take my own advice… and I’ve done two workouts in three days. It’s no big deal on paper but any victory over self-harm for someone battling it feels like a gold medal.

…and if this sounds like you, reader, you’re not alone.

Get back up off the floor and keep going, keep fighting.

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Photo and design of papercut: credit Lucy Jerwood http://www.facebook.com/twinklecuts?refid=12 (Thank you Lucy!) Artwork created for the Always Keep Fighting Campaign (see here).

A Letter of Regret From Your Anxious and Depressed Friend

Dear Friend,

I was not always this way.

I did not always hide away from the general public for months or weeks at a time. Once I was quite confident. I occasionally felt happy. I had a full time job and I could face customers with no concern. I would chat to people over the phone, make an effort to see friends, be interested in daily life. I could cope with negativity. Overcome it, even. I wouldn’t let anything bring me down because I had something inside me that made me keep going out there, into the world, facing it all.

But sometimes, Friend, things happen. Sometimes just one thing. Sometimes many things. The courage to face these things is strong at first, at least stronger than now. But depending on luck, or coincidence, or fate, or opportunity, eventually the voice of that courage for some people is quieter. Weaker. And sometimes, silenced completely.

It is not your fault these things happened. And if you hear the tales of what they were, you will likely hold an opinion in your head of what could have been done or said as a result to resolve the issue. But your experience in this life is not the same as mine, Friend. No matter what we have in common, we can never share the exact same perception. Please make sure not to confuse your perception with mine. We are different.

Sometimes I need a break from people. Usually the people who I don’t yet know completely, but like, and with whom I want to hold some kind of friendship. I’m already tired of feeling anxious and sad and don’t want you to grow tired of me feeling anxious and sad. I’m sure you care and would be happy for me to confide in you, but I’ve confided in friends before and been burned and heartbroken in return. I can’t bring myself to take that kind of risk again.

I’m afraid I won’t be good company. I’m afraid I’ll burden you with my emotions which I don’t feel would be fair on you. I have heard of your struggles too, Friend, and would like to help you, but I can’t. I take all struggles as if they were my own and my load is already far too heavy. Sometimes my whole world is devoid of any good news, and any conversation we could have would be very quiet on my behalf. All I can really do is listen, because if I speak I might burst into tears. But I don’t feel strong enough to pretend to be holding myself together right now, so I’d just rather not.

I’m sorry you feel I’ve been avoiding you. You see me comment on social media but I ignore your messages. This is because commenting on social media is usually not personal. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to have adult conversation without the spotlight being on me. I can do it in my pyjamas without having done my face to look like I’m prettier than I feel on the inside. I don’t run much risk of having to answer the question “How are you?”

…because I don’t want to lie to you. That would make me feel anxious when I’m already feeling anxious. I don’t believe in lying to people, especially people I care about. I don’t want to fake a smile, tell you I’m fine, and divert your questions while screaming inside how I’m anything but fine.

You may see me posting an update about a group I went to, or am going to go to. Maybe inviting someone along. But I still haven’t answered your messages. This does not mean I’m feeling better and have purposely skipped you. This doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. My doctor told me to do things in the community so I don’t completely shut myself off. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get myself back into the habit of being seen in public for something other than to run a quick errand. I’m trying to quell the self-talk in my head that tells me everyone hates me and thinks I’m weird. Sometimes when I meet new people and they smile at me, I think that perhaps I’m not all that strange. “I can do this… I can do this…” I say to myself.

You see, Friend, with a head full of thoughts like mine, there is no invisible ticket machine. In a perfect world I would answer all messages and requests in order, and you’d be able to know when I’m going to call your number. But that’s not how this works. There is no ticket, no number, and if I can’t shut off the feelings inside me, I might never get to you. Or I could respond to you tomorrow. I really have no way of knowing.

To expect that I give you attention specifically is just unrealistic, and I’m sorry. I regret that the nature of this beast is not one where I can gain complete control whenever I want to, and give all the people all the attention they want or deserve. You may be lonely too, and I’m sorry. But I’m training myself to take care of myself and my needs, and to give myself all the attention I deserve, because that’s what is supposed to help me recover, or at least cope.

Part of the reason I got into this mess is because I put everyone else’s needs before mine. And they took, and took, and took some more until there was nothing left, because I was so willing to give. I regret being so naïve. I love to see people happy, but I forget that I need to be happy first. You might not be one of those people of whom I speak, but that’s unfortunately irrelevant. I can’t handle any of it yet.

Maybe we struck a friendship during a time when socialising wasn’t so daunting. Maybe you think it’s totally uncharacteristic of me to be silent and surely you must have caused offense. But Friend, understand that this condition is unpredictable and the best thing you can do is just wait.

There is no forcing a friendship with me. I need time. I’m grieving that part of me that no longer exists and that bright future I thought I was going to have.

As part of my anxious predicament I’m regretting so many things. Things that are long since dead and buried, things that happened yesterday… The way I reacted to something, the person I shouldn’t have trusted but did, the thing I said that surely must’ve made me look like an idiot. The fact that I feel this way in the first place. The fact that I can’t make it stop. The fact that I’m hurting my friends by accident by apparently turning my back on them. The fact that I don’t have the strength to be what my loved ones need any more. The fact that I can’t talk to you about this in person because it’s too hard. The fact that I can’t have friends because I can’t talk to my friends and therefore none of them can begin to understand why it’s hard for me to keep friends. The fact that I am so alone I don’t know when I’ll ever be less alone. The fact that there are people depending on me that deserve better than for me to be so afraid of so many things that I can hardly function.

I’m trying, Friend, and I’m so sorry if you’re hurt by me. If you want to walk away I understand, but please do not convey to me the disappointment that I’m not what you want me to be, because I’ve got enough disappointment in myself for the both of us. Just send me positive thoughts as much as you can spare in the hopes that maybe, one day, I’ll be on the other side of this, and I’ll be so grateful that you were so patient and understanding. When that day comes I will be able to call you a ‘Great Friend.’

Sincerely,

A Nervous Wreck


Read Why I Chose to Speak Out.

For more understanding on anxiety attacks from my own personal story, click here.

Read about The “Mental” Stigma here. 

Read Where I’m Going With This here.

Help end ignorance. Help make this world one of greater understanding and compassion.

Being Grounded

Have you ever found yourself within the grip of a panic attack?

Have you ever wondered what your friend might mean when they say they’ve suffered one, or what to do to stop one when it’s happening?

Let me take you through an example of a panic/anxiety attack from the only experience I know: my own.

So there I was… Land line phone ringing. Looking at the letter in my hand saying my payment’s behind and a bailiff might soon come to my door to recover goods to cover the cost that is owed. Land line still ringing. Head going through my recent incomings and outgoings wondering how the hell am I going to have the money to prevent the bailiffs from showing up. Kids asking me questions. Can they have milk. Wondering if the milk goes if I’ll be able to buy more milk. If I buy more milk the bailiffs would be that much closer to coming to essentially rob me because I don’t have anything to give them to stop them from coming. I’m feeling violated already and they haven’t even been here! Phone still ringing. Who could be on the phone? The school to say my kid’s been in trouble? The bill collector to say they want money? Or THAT WOMAN I told to stop calling me. I told her twenty times, she still calls. She wants to harass me because I’m not doing what she thinks I should be doing and she’s projecting her fears onto me. I can’t talk to her. I want her to leave me alone. Why won’t she leave me alone?

I need to go get the babysitter. I need to go to work. The customers yelled at me last night because the place was packed and the kitchen was handling the party upstairs so their food orders had to wait. I panicked after some time and ended up crying in the cellar. What if that happens again? I can’t go to work and cry. Phone still ringing. Kids want milk. Why can’t I just answer the phone and make her stop calling me? What if the bailiffs come next week? What will they take? What does everyone want from me? Why am I an adult and don’t know what to do? Why am I failing at this? What should I have done instead? If only I’d made that other decision when I was a teenager I’d be in a different place by now, right? I don’t even know.

My chest gets tight. What if I have a heart attack? I’m too young to have a heart attack! Breathing is getting heavier and faster. I can’t slow it down. I can’t stop it. Why can’t I stop it? My eldest asks me if I’m okay. I’m not okay. I might have a heart attack right before his eyes. I don’t want him to see me so fragile. My vision is getting blurry. I can’t see straight. Am I going to pass out? I try again to slow my breathing but now I’m making strange noises that make me sound like an owl because I’m starting to sob at the same time and the combination of these is making a “hooooo” noise. He’s asking me what’s wrong. I can’t answer you because I’m uncontrollably hooting! Tears come streaming down my face. I just did my makeup in preparation for going to work in front of all those people and now I’ve ruined it. I can’t go to work with streaks down my face, they’ll all ask me what’s wrong! How am I even going to drive when I could start hooting again at any minute?

The panic doesn’t stop. It carries on. My son gets me a bag to breathe into but I seem to recall hearing that’s the wrong thing to do. So which is it? Bag or no bag?

THIS is the moment my counsellor’s talking about. The panic attack. Or anxiety attack, if you prefer. I’d prefer they didn’t exist, if I’m honest, who gives a **** what you call it?

She says imagine it’s like a television with a lot of different channels going at once. Close your eyes. Grab an invisible remote. Press pause. Stop. Loosen every muscle. Become floppy like a rag doll. Open your eyes. Look around the room and start naming things. Shelf. Cupboard. Fish tank. Couch. Shoe. Table. Simultaneously, breathe in and count to five, then breathe out and take it from five to ten. One two three four five, six seven eight nine ten.

This brings you back in the moment and grounds you. Roots you to the present. Keeps the pendulum of the mind in the centre instead of swinging wildly from past to future. Because when your mind is swinging wildly from “what if” to “if only” it can’t focus on what’s actually happening right now. You can’t undo the past. You can’t control the future. In current reality those places aren’t real. They’re memories and projections. They’re essentially just figments of your imagination.

But they can easily grip you right where it hurts. They can have you in their invisible trap and have you feeling like you’re going to die, and like you’re worthless because you can’t stop it.

I have tried to tell people about anxiety and panic attacks. I still have a sense that they’re not quite understanding what I am talking about. I don’t know what they think but I know that their perspective is not what I want it to be. Occasionally I meet someone that might say “Oh yes. I’ve had one of those. Those are the worst.” Now imagine you have scenarios like this playing out nearly every day, suddenly and without warning, just to trip you up. They don’t care if you need to go to work or not, what would you do?

Try to remember that in the midst of that storm that pendulum is swinging, and that naming things in the room and counting to ten while taking deep breaths is a good thing to do.

Pharaoh's Fury

Pharaoh’s Fury

It reminds me of that Pharaoh’s Fury ride as a kid. That big boat that swung from extreme to extreme. When it swung forward I thought I would fall out back first, when it swung backward I would fall out face first. I wasn’t actually going to fall out either way, but try telling that to my churning stomach and crying eyes at the time.

If you have a friend who is telling you they’re having panic attacks, please think of this and try to imagine how that feels. These people are not silly. It really isn’t something they are doing wrong. It is an instinctual response resulting from the “fight or flight” reaction to a crisis. It is still a crisis even though it’s not a bear attacking, because it may as well be, for all the brain cares. In that moment we can neither fight nor flee, so what happens is we suffer from a sort of short circuit where everything goes haywire. It is utterly confusing and soul-destroying.

Be kind. Be kind to yourself if this is describing you, be kind to your friend or loved one if this is describing them. We need support. We need to be told we’re doing all we can do and that we can only cross these bridges when we get to them. There is no sense in revisiting the past, no, but we’ll likely do it anyway because it’s hard to not do that.

Be gentle. If you can’t go to the thing because you’re going to be putting yourself at risk, call and say you’re not going. Give that little bit of understanding to yourself and trust your instincts. Don’t drive after having just had a panic attack. Don’t push yourself over that edge. Consider your needs and start putting them first for once.

Be forgiving. Forgive yourself, forgive your friend. Adding to the “I’m disappointed in you” dialogue is not necessary. Or helpful.

Before panic attacks I would say that being “grounded” would be a bad thing. Now, that’s all I want to be.


Image courtesy of: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Pharaoh%27s_Fury.jpg