My 2018: Loneliness & Finding Purpose

As the year comes to an end, it seems appropriate to reflect on 2018. In comparison to the drastic highs and lows of my 2017, this year has been calm. However, it hasn’t been without its own significance.

In 2017, Tom and I got married. I also spent a lot of time in mental health inpatient wards at local hospitals. We bought a house. I struggled with adjusting to prolonged unemployment and learning to cope with my worsened illnesses. These were the kinds of disjointed highs and lows that marked a very dramatic year. If I had to describe 2017 in two words, they would be: love & hospitals.

2018 has been much more subdued and I’m glad for that. 2017 was hectic, nonstop. 2018 has been, on the whole, slow and steady. There have been no hospitalizations or trips to the emergency room. There have also been no major life events like our wedding or buying our house. I’ve seen both improvements and regressions in my mental health. It’s hard to draw conclusions about 2018, it has been an inconclusive kind of year. However, if I were to once again pick two words to describe my year, this one could be summarized with: loneliness & purpose.


For much of 2018 I have been more secluded than ever. I seldom see anyone other than Tom. This isn’t due to any barriers other than my anxiety and depression. I have many amazing family members and friends who live close by and are eager to see me. I’m dying to see them, but I can’t. My depression causes a lack of motivation and drive to connect with my loved ones. My anxiety disorders cause me to feel sick at the mere notion of seeing others. Working in tandem, my illnesses led me to enter into a cycle of seclusion, which is proving hard to break.

Loneliness has had several impacts. It leaves me with a constant aching to see the people I love. I believe it worsens my depression, particularly my feelings of worthlessness. It also takes a toll on my physical health. Between this loneliness and my continued struggle to leave the house due to my agoraphobia, I’ve had to fight to maintain a sense of hope that my life has any real value. Much like 2017, 2018 has been riddled with long and low lows, high anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

To that end, however, I’ve seen improvement. I’m much more capable of managing my symptoms than I was in 2017. I haven’t needed to be hospitalized. I’ve come quite a long way in reducing my self-harm. I have a plan for when I become depressed. I have strategies that have helped me reduce the amount of panic attacks I have in my day to day life at home. I have skills that contribute to less onerous anxiety. I have strategies to cope with panic attacks when they come, which help them resolve more quickly and less painfully. I have a lot of work left to do, but there has been progress in these areas. I carried a lot of lessons forward from 2017 and these are some of the ones that have stuck. These have perhaps been my most notable achievements this year.


Another achievement that marks this year is finding purpose. In December of last year, during my final hospital stay, my inpatient psychiatrist made a recommendation. The absence of work or studies since my health declined a few years ago has contributed to me feeling worthless and hopeless. With my frequent mental health related appointments in 2017, managing my mental illnesses had become my whole life. His suggestion was that I pursue some sort of volunteering or activity to help give me a sense of purpose.

The question became: What could I do from my own house, with minimal interaction with others, on a flexible schedule, that would fit in with my skill set and give me a sense of purpose?

Eventually, I created a volunteer opportunity that worked for me. I connected online with a young family of five in my neighbourhood. For a few months, I cooked a weekly healthy meal for them. It was perfect, I got to utilize one of my skill sets and interests for the betterment of others. For the first time in a long time, I felt I was making a valuable contribution to someone else. This continued until my depression worsened and I could no longer cook.

Around the same time, I also began volunteering for a political campaign leading up to an election I cared about. I was grateful to be able to place phone calls from home for the campaign. Taking on that responsibility was a significant challenge, as the phone is a source of anxiety for me. However, driven as I was to support the cause, I placed somewhere in the neighbourhood of a hundred phone calls in couple of weeks. On election day, I even pushed myself to leave the house and go to the crowded polling station to place my vote.

The most significant new source of purpose I have gained was in finding Letters Against Depression. I intend to write a dedicated post about this organization soon, so stay tuned for that. In short, Letters Against Depression offers a way for individuals who are suffering to receive encouraging and positive hand-written letters from volunteers. I began volunteering as soon as I learned about them, and I’m so glad I did. Writing these letters has given me an opportunity to help others, while also reminding me of all the things I have learned. Much like this blog, it is a way of taking this mental health nightmare I’ve been living for the past several years, and actually making some good come from it.

Of course, this blog cannot be forgotten. Since launching in late 2017, I’ve grown to understand that I have a voice and that there are people who want me to use it. Having always wanted to be a writer in some capacity, this has been amazing for me. This blog and my associated Twitter account are also responsible for a significant buffer to the loneliness I spoke of earlier. I have met some truly incredible people who inspire me, motivate me and make me feel I have something to contribute. I have written some pieces that I am very proud of, and have been moved by the positive feedback I’ve received as a result. I continue to learn and grow through the work I put in here. I continue to be grateful for it. In this blog, I’ve found a great deal of purpose.

I take comfort in knowing that despite the positives and negatives this year has brought, it was much more level than the year that came before it. Likewise, I’m comforted in things that have not changed, like supportive and loving relationships with my husband, family and friends. In 2019, I hope to continue my journey towards further stability. I want to learn more, do more things for others and write more. I hope to spend more time with people I love, and reconnect with things that anxiety and depression have stolen from me. In an ideal world, I’d like the opportunity to feel better too.

I’m wishing you all a warm end to 2018 and a 2019 that surpasses your wishes.

Take care,



Sincerely, Your Friend with Social Anxiety Disorder

Hi there,

It’s me, your friend with social anxiety disorder. I wanted to write to let you know that you matter to me. I’m sorry that I haven’t been in touch enough lately. I know it isn’t easy for you, and I’m trying to do better.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to see you. Sometimes I have to cancel plans or decline invitations. Sometimes I can’t pick up the phone when you call. Sometimes those ‘sometimes’ turn in to ‘all the time’. I know that’s hard for you. Please don’t take it to mean that I don’t care. I’m working hard to manage the symptoms of my disorder so that I can shower you with love and attention. Our friendship is important to me. You are important to me.

It’s okay if you don’t understand why I can’t always handle social situations and interactions. I have a hard time understanding it too. Thank you for being patient with me.


Your friend with social anxiety disorder

The Christmas Tag

I’ve been in a writing funk lately, but two of my favourite bloggers both tagged me in this fun holiday tag. With just a couple of weeks before Christmas, I thought I would give this a go! Some of you will know that I am quite anxious and can feel low at Christmas. Nevertheless, I do love this holiday!

Many thanks to Peter and Lindsay for each tagging me in The Christmas Tag created by Nicole. I welcome this opportunity to focus on the things I enjoy about my favourite holiday.

Now for the questions.

1. Do you prefer giving or receiving gifts?

I enjoy both, but I would give the edge to giving gifts. I love seeing a friend or family member’s face light up when they open up a gift that I’ve chosen for them. Choosing the right gift is something I put a lot of effort in to, out of joy rather than pressure. My loved ones are incredible and I love having the opportunity to spoil them. That said, my family and friends would also be the first to point out that I am quite the enthusiastic recipient of gifts too!

2. Do you make and stick to New Year’s resolutions?

No, I don’t. I think goal setting and self-improvement are meaningful, but I don’t like the added pressure of New Year’s resolutions.

3. Have you ever made a snowman?

Many times! I’ve never been very good at it though; my brothers have always made much better snowmen than me.

4. Is your Christmas tree real or fake, and what theme do you prefer?

I always get a real Christmas tree, but my parents all use artificial trees now. This year our tree is an oddball, it’s uneven and a bit strange looking. I think I might like it all the more for its quirks though! We don’t have a theme, though we enjoy getting fun ornaments. Last year we found a set of Harry Potter ornaments with Harry, Ron and Hermione, this year I’m adding Belle from Beauty and the Beast to the tree too.

5. Most memorable holiday moment?

One of my many favourites would be my first Christmas living with Tom. We were renting an apartment and didn’t have space for a big tree, but it was still important to us to have a Christmas tree. We found these real mini trees at our grocery store. The one we picked out was only about 2 feet tall. Starting the Christmas tradition of decorating our tree together was special, and still is.

6. What holiday traditions are you looking forward to this year?

I’m not sure to what extent I’ll get to celebrate the holidays this year. For the sake of this question I’ll take an optimistic view of things. Every year I look forward to dinner at my dad’s house, taking our annual picture at my mom’s house and playing games with my in-laws.

At my dad’s house we gather together in the evening. We exchange gifts and then have the best of all the Christmas meals. My dad is a fantastic cook and pulls out all the stops with his traditional Quebecois recipes. Sometimes after dinner we will play a round of Monopoly. My eldest brother and I enjoy teaming up against my sister-in-law, who is far too skilled at Monopoly.

At my mom’s house we typically have a dinner and sleep over for our Christmas eve, then wake up the next morning to open gifts and eat my mom’s famous oatmeal pancakes. My favourite part at my mom’s house is that my mom and stepdad always take a photo on Christmas morning of my siblings and I. It’s loads of fun flipping through Christmas photos from past years and seeing how much we have all changed. We’re all much groggier on Christmas morning as adults!

I love Christmas at my in-laws’ house too. There is always freshly baked bread at dinner and our gift exchange is a blast, especially with our dog running around trying to steal all the wrapping paper. But my favourite part of celebrating with my in-laws is definitely that we always play tons of board games over Christmas. Some years we also get to join in on Christmas celebrations with the extended family too, it’s always a load of fun seeing Tom’s grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids.

7. What is the best Christmas present you have ever received?

I can’t choose! Each Christmas present is the best because they are given with care from people I love.

8. What are your favourite holiday foods?

I am a food person, so this is another hard question to answer! I love my dad’s tarte au sucre (and doughnuts, sucre à la crème, etc.), my mom’s pancakes, my mother-in-law’s homemade bread, President’s Choice brand candy cane ice cream and the Irish soda bread that Tom makes. I like to cook a lot during the holidays too, last year I made a vegetarian mushroom-walnut roast with gravy and cranberry sauce, which was out of this world. I’ll have to make it again this year.

9. What is your favourite Christmas film?

I have two favourites, Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version) and The Muppet Christmas Carol. Tom and I started watching Christmas movies a few weeks back, we have a whole binder full and like to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas watching as many of them as we can!

10. What is your favourite Christmas song?

I have a lot of favourites. The one that’s stuck in my head right now is, “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” from The Muppet Christmas Carol. What I’m saying is, you must watch The Muppet Christmas Carol! Michael Cane as a singing Scrooge, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit… It’s simply the best! If you haven’t seen this classic yet then you are missing out.

11. What is your favourite thing about Christmas?

Spending time with the people I love. I’m not a religious person, so the meaning of Christmas to me has always been being present with the people who matter most to me.

12. What would be your dream place to visit at Christmas time?

At Christmas time, there’s no place like home. (Tom cracked a joke that,”of course it is, you’re agoraphobic!”)

13. Who do you spend Christmas with?

Tom and I have several families to visit, so we have several Christmases. We have one celebration with his parents and his brother. We have one Christmas with my dad, my two older brothers and my sisters-in-law. And another Christmas with my mom, stepdad, step brother and step sister, and one of my older brothers, as well as all my siblings’ partners. Every year who we spend the 25th with changes. Each Christmas has its own traditions and is special in its own way.

14. When do you start getting excited about Christmas?

Probably in mid-November! Excitement and anxiety, battling it out until the holidays are past.

15. You have one Christmas wish – what will it be?

That all my family and friends have a healthy and happy 2019.

I’m tagging…

I’m not sure who celebrates Christmas and whether any of you have already been tagged, but I’m tagging Elizabeth, Joan, Khadra and Nicole. Happy Holidays!

Take care and Happy Holidays!


Photo by Toni Cuenca on Unsplash

Coping with Agoraphobia During the Holidays

This post is a part of Nicole Carman’s mental health-related holiday post series, “Taking Care of your Mental Health during the Holiday Season.” To see the post line-up for the previous and remaining posts in this series, please visit this page on Nicole’s blog, Navigating Darkness. If you enjoy this post, please comment and consider sharing it on social media!

Holiday outings, gatherings and travel can all be stressful sources of anxiety and panic for individuals living with agoraphobia. There are, however, steps we can take to help mitigate the anxiety of the holiday season and increase our chances of finding joy in the festivities as this year comes to a close. With that in mind, I’m sharing some practical tips to help you cope with agoraphobia during the holidays. I hope these suggestions will help you keep the holiday spirit alive!

Set yourself up for success

During the holidays, you may find yourself being repeatedly invited in to situations that trigger your agoraphobia. The demands can be high with shopping, travelling, celebrations, religious services, outdoor activities, and more. The holidays are a time of togetherness and tradition, which can lead us to feel pressured to ensure we don’t miss out on a thing. It’s okay, and it’s healthy, to prioritize your needs during the holidays.

In advance of the holidays, formulate a plan that you are comfortable with. Make sure your schedule is manageable and that you aren’t going to exert yourself to a point of excessive distress. That might mean that you can’t do everything you would like to do or that is expected of you. Or perhaps you need to make accommodations to fit your needs. Be realistic with yourself and find a balance that will help you feel safe this holiday season. Managing your expectations ahead of time can help you feel more in control. Likewise, making realistic plans can lessen your disappointment or feelings of guilt over things you can’t participate in. The holidays are hard enough without blaming yourself for the things you can’t do.

Here are a few examples of accommodations you can make in order to minimize the toll of agoraphobia at this time of year:

  • Conduct your holiday shopping online.
  • Schedule breaks away from your triggers.
  • Offer to host an event at home.
  • Reduce your number of social engagements.
  • Limit your travel.
  • Plan to attend social engagements for a limited period of time.


Photo by Walid Amghar on Unsplash

Start exposure early

You will likely be familiar with the concept of exposure therapy. For people with agoraphobia, avoidance can create a vicious cycle. There are few things more terrifying in my life than heading in to the holidays after months of seclusion. Personally, I know that it wouldn’t be healthy for me to jump in to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season without exposing myself to similar situations and settings in advance. Nor, however, would I be satisfied with avoiding the holidays all together. Even if you are not currently trapped in a cycle of avoidance, exposing yourself to situations that mirror those you will be faced with during the holidays might be a good plan and help you feel prepared.

Think of what your plans are for this holiday season and take note of the challenges they present for you. As someone with agoraphobia I struggle to leave the house, be in crowded spaces or open spaces and spend time in the car. Ideally, this December I would like to be able to attend family gatherings at my parents’ homes, go to a Christmas market, take a small road trip to visit my in-laws, and maybe even build a snow man or two. This list is daunting, so I am beginning to prepare myself.

Let’s say you are also planning a road trip to see family in December. A good idea would be to start preparing now. How comfortable are you in a car? If you are currently comfortable spending 5 minutes in the car in your neighbourhood, that could be your starting point. Make a schedule of when you will practice your car exposure. Ideally, you will increase the time you spend in the car each time you practice. Is highway driving more frightening to you than driving in rural areas? If so, build yourself up to being on the highway in short increments. Don’t forget to use your coping tools here. If music helps you feel safer, play music in the car! If you are the passenger and using distraction is effective, bring something in the car that you can distract yourself with! Celebrate your successes and don’t despair in the times when your anxiety gets the best of you, this is hard work. While graded exposure is exhausting, with practice, the situations that provoke your anxiety may begin to feel less threatening. Hopefully by the holidays you will be able to get in the car with a higher level of comfort.

Consult with any mental health professionals you see regarding your pre-holiday exposure. Their advice may be invaluable in helping you set achievable goals and develop coping strategies to help manage your anxiety during anxiety-provoking situations.


Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

Plan for difficult situations

Inevitably, we will find ourselves in situations that make us uneasy during the holidays. Making accommodations for ourselves and practicing exposure can help, but those measures won’t remove all potential for distress. It’s important to have a plan in place for when you become anxious or panicked. Here are a few suggestions based on how I am preparing for any difficulties that arise from my agoraphobia this holiday season:

  • Address anxiety as it arises. Whenever possible, don’t allow it the chance to escalate.
  • Ask someone you trust to accompany you for your anxiety-provoking plans.
  • Assemble a crisis kit. My crisis kit is a collection of items that help me manage feelings of anxiety, panic and distress in order to keep me calm and limit the need to use maladaptive coping tools. A crisis kit should include items that work best for you. This might include items that engage your senses (which I have found to be a powerful distress tolerance skill), a list of your top coping tools, personal mementos that calm you, etc. When I feel my emotions spiralling out of my control, I reach for my crisis kit to find comfort, calm, and practical tools to address my distress.
  • Establish a safe place where you can retreat during outings. This might be the bathroom at a restaurant, the basement at your friend’s house or an indoor space adjacent to outdoor activities. You can use this space for planned breaks or as needed. Knowing there is somewhere safe to go can make a difficult situation feel more tolerable.
  • Keep anti-anxiety medications on hand. There is no shame in taking medication to help manage your anxiety. If you take an anti-anxiety medication on a ‘take-as-needed’ basis, it may be helpful to make sure your prescription is filled and you carry it with you during the holidays.
  • Have someone to call if you need it. Whether this is a loved one, your mental health professional or a local crisis line – ensure that you have someone to turn to for help. You don’t have to manage the holidays alone, there are people out there who care and will want to support you.

Maintain a routine

While this is can be a significant challenge at this time of year, maintaining a routine can help you feel more comfortable, safe and calm. I suggest that you try to maintain a sleep schedule, or at least ensure you are consistently allowing yourself a full night’s sleep. Eat healthily throughout the day and maintain your exercise routine. Try not to let your hygiene routine slip either – prioritizing showering or bathing, brushing your teeth and combing your hair can all help you feel more in control. Self-care practices can (and probably should) also be a part of your routine. If you need to stray from your routine, ensure your basic needs are still being met. The anxiety and panic of agoraphobia are often exacerbated when we are tired, hungry or don’t feel like ourselves. Maintaining a routine can also help you navigate your way more smoothly through the transitions into and out of the holidays.


Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Be kind to yourself

I know all too well how harshly we, as people with agoraphobia, can beat ourselves up when we feel we have let ourselves or others down. This year, you may not make it to every party you’ve been invited to. You may find the holidays to be a chore rather than a celebration. You might not be able to travel with your family. You may not build a snow man. Agoraphobia is hard, harder than I can generally express. It can rob of us our most joyous celebrations and traditions, which makes it a most unwelcome guest during the holidays. Please, show yourself some compassion. I understand the frustration or disappointment you may feel in yourself, but I’m confident that you are doing your best. Fixating on your perceived mistakes will only make you feel worse, and may well make next year’s holidays feel like an even greater challenge. Be proud of the things you manage to do, celebrate any moments of joy, and dispense of the rest. It’s the season of giving, let this be your gift to yourself.

I hope that these tips and suggestions have helped you feel prepared to face challenges that come your way this holiday season. The above are recommendations based on what I have been taught by mental health professionals and strategies that have been most effective for me. This isn’t meant to be a substitute for the guidance of your trusted mental health professional. Sharing a diagnosis doesn’t erase our individuality – we will each respond best to different strategies. If something I’ve advised isn’t the right fit for you, forget it! You know yourself best. I hope you will let me know in the comments section below if this post has been helpful to you and if you would like me to share more practical suggestions like this in the future.

I send many thanks and holiday well-wishes to Nicole who organized this Holiday Post Series. I hope anyone reading will go read the contributions from the other wonderful bloggers who are participating in the series. I’m grateful to take part in this initiative alongside such fantastic writers, advocates and friends.

I’m wishing you all well and hoping your holidays are full of family, friendship, laughter and joy.

Take care,


The Medication Gamble

Medications offer a chance of improvement, but as most anyone who has tried a psychiatric medication can likely attest: it can be hard to find the right one for you. The process can take years and be disheartening at times. Taking medications is a gamble. We risk disappointment and side effects ranging from minor to severe in order to potentially reap the rewards that medication can offer. Medication is a critical tool in the management of mental illness for many people. However, the process of finding the right medication and complications that can arise from taking medications deter some of us from trying.

This morning I took my first dose of a new (to me) medication. I have tried over 15 psychiatric medications, among which very few have had the desired result without unbearable side effects. To say that this morning’s pill was a hard one to swallow, would be painfully accurate. I’m anxious. I’m trying my best not to read in to every little thing I’m perceiving in my body and mind. You know that feeling when someone says they have lice and you start itching your scalp? Reading the list of potential side effects of a medication can cause a similar sensation. In an effort to calm down, I’m trying to remember why I’m taking this risk, and I thought I’d share that with you.

Early this summer I stopped taking all of the daily medications I had been previously prescribed. I decided to reduce the dose of each of them, one at a time, in order to see if I felt any difference with or without them. The result seemed to be that none of the medications I was taking were having any positive effect on my mood. In one case, reducing and then eliminating one of my medications from my regimen seemed to pull me out of my brutal two-year-long depression. I had been prescribed all of the medications I was taking over a short period of time, so I hadn’t been able to isolate the impact of each medication. Starting back up from zero felt like the right decision. Once I was free from daily medications, I was faced with a choice: start trying a new medication or take a break. I took a break.

The break has been wonderful. It has given me the opportunity to rest my body – free from the side effects of medications and symptoms of beginning and ending medications. For two years I had felt like a guinea pig – constantly trialing something new and coming off of something else. Trying 15 medications in two years was taxing on my body and mind. I tend to be sensitive to changes in psychiatric medication, experiencing headaches, stomach upset, brain zaps, nausea and negative mood changes, among other side effects. In a couple of cases I have had to immediately stop taking a medication because of potentially severe side effects (a rash with Lamotrigine & a dramatic increase in suicidal ideation with Mirtazapine). I’ve had to stop taking Venlafaxine, Desvenlafaxine and Clonazepam, leading to horrible withdrawals. In all of this I’ve found one medication that works for me without any major side effects, the afore mentioned Clonazepam. While I’ve had to stop taking it daily due to concerns around dependency, I continue to use it infrequently on an as-needed basis to help manage my anxiety and panic. One medication, out of at least 15, has been helpful in a lasting way. Taking a break from trying new medications has given me the chance to escape from the pressures of trying medications, and the disappointment when the gamble doesn’t pay off.

I knew, of course, that I would have to make the choice between continuing to manage my illnesses without daily medication or trialing new medications again. Would I continue to avoid new medications and eliminate the possibility of finding a medication that helps? Or keep trying medications in spite of my terror of putting my body and mind through uncertain changes again? Ultimately, I know I don’t want to cut out the chance of finding a method of treatment that could make the weight of these illnesses easier to bear. Yesterday, when my psychiatrist again suggested I try Moclobemide, I agreed. She first suggested this medication to me months ago, and I’ve been giving one reason or another (with the prevailing reason being my anxiety about beginning medication trials again) for why I didn’t want to start taking it yet ever since. Now, in the beginning phases of a depressive episode, after months of rest, I decided it was time.

Moclobemide is an antidepressant in a different medication class than any I have taken to date. It tends to be weight-neutral (a major plus for me as I struggle with weight gain), low on side-effects and has been seen to improve social anxiety for some individuals who take it. I took my first pill this morning. It’s time to hold my breath and hope this gamble pays off.

Take care,


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash