This or That Challenge

The lovely Elizabeth of The Uncustomary Housewife tagged me in the This or That Challenge. Elizabeth blogs about mental health as well as other fun things like cooking and geekiness. You can find her on her blog and on Twitter.

In turn I am tagging a few great mental health advocates who I’d like to learn some more about.

The Good The Human

Terminally Nice

Jen, Comically Chronic

John, The 3 of ME

Tony, The Mental Health Fog


Question 1: Shower in the morning or evening?

In the evening. I like evening showers best as I like feeling nice and fresh before bed. It is also nice to shower in the evening because I have panic attacks every time I shower, so it is nice knowing Tom is home in case I need his help to de-escalate the panic attack.

Question 2: City centre or close to nature?

Most definitely close to nature. I love trees and water, especially. My ideal is small cities/towns, I have always been partial to them. I used to work in downtown Toronto and I did enjoy the hustle and bustle, but I was glad to not live anywhere near it!

Question 3: Bright colours or neutrals?

Bright colours. I love colour. Neutrals are a bit dull for me.

Question 4: Spring or Autumn?

Autumn. I can’t think of anything I don’t love about autumn, it is my favourite season. I love the cool but comfortable weather, the colourful leaves, apple cider, apple pie, apple everything… you get the gist!

20171021_142952
I snapped this photo last Fall on my honeymoon on L’Île d’Orléans, just across from Québec City.

Question 5: Mint or cinnamon?

I love them both but I have to go with cinnamon. So many things are improved with cinnamon: apple pie, apple cider, apple everything… oops! I think we’ve been here before!

Question 6: Planned or spontaneous?

Planned. Always planned. I have found that especially when I am most anxious I can’t handle spontaneity. I can become hugely overwhelmed even when things deviate ever so slightly from the plan. I live in lists and planning documents. When I go on road trips or vacations I make binders full of information to help me cope and minimize surprises.

Question 7: A movie at home or at the cinema?

At home. This is especially true now with agoraphobia and social phobia keeping me clear out of movie theatres, but even when anxiety didn’t get in the way I have always preferred watching movies at home. Cuddling, better popcorn, comfortable seating, etc. There is something to be said about watching movies on the big screen or catching them before they are released for home viewing, but on the whole watching them at home takes the prize for me.

Question 8: Espresso or latte?

Latte for me – but not with coffee. It’s all chai tea lattes for me!

Question 9: Hugs or kisses?

Hugs. I love a good kiss, but nothing comforts like a hug.

Question 10: Spicy or mild food?

Mild. I am that annoying person who always asks for my Indian food served mild. I like a bit of heat but I am a total wimp when it comes to spicy food.

Question 11: Leather or lace?

I love lace. It is the height of prettiness where I am concerned.

Wedding - 032
Bonus photo for Elizabeth – my wedding dress also had lots of lace!

Question 12: Overdressed or underdressed?

Underdressed. I mean, overdressed for social gatherings and work. But underdressed whenever it’s appropriate. I am happiest and most comfortable when I’m in my pyjamas.

Question 13: Adventure or comfort?

Comfort. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise given how much I have mentioned comfort already in this blog post. I have dreams of travelling around and trying new things, but even in adventures it is still important that I am comfortable.

Question 14: TV series or movie?

Oh, this question is hard. I enjoy both. The acting and overall art of movies tends to far exceed that in TV shows, but I love getting emotionally invested in the character arcs of TV shows. I’d probably give the edge to TV shows, I love binge watching shows and completely absorbing myself in the story. It something like reading a novel, as I spend more and more time in the fictitious stories I become more attached to them.

Question 15: Rock or country music?

Without question, rock. I love rock music and rock concerts. I rarely listen to country – the primary exception being The Dixie Chicks. I do love artists who are country/rock like The Eagles.

P8120028.JPG
Def Leppard and KISS Concert in Toronto, 2014

Question 16: Red or white wine?

Neither – I don’t like wine.

Question 17: Working alone or in a team?

Working alone. I enjoy working in teams but team dynamics change everything for me. I would rather work alone than with a team for which I am not a good fit.

Question 18: Swimming or sunbathing?

Swimming! My mom instilled in me a deep love of being in the water.

Question 19: Fast food or sit-down restaurant?

Sit-down restaurant. I love going out for a nice dinner, it is one of my favourite things to do. Chatting with great people while eating tasty food and not having to clean up afterwards is wonderful.

Question 20: Matched or mismatched socks?

Mismatched. I don’t often wear socks, but when I do I don’t have the patience to dig through my sock drawer for matching ones. I only use socks from the same collection, so they all feel the same, but I usually wear mismatched colours.

Question 21: Dancing or singing?

Singing. Singing is everything to me. I love dancing too, but I am not myself if I am not singing. Fun fact – I almost pursued a career in musical theatre. My singing chops are far better (though sadly out of practice these days) than my laughable dancing ability.

Question 22: Phone or the internet?

Internet. I like and use both but most of the time I spend on my phone is spent on the internet anyways. I like the larger screen and easier typing that my laptop provides.


Thanks again to Elizabeth for tagging me in this challenge, it was fun!

Take care,

Fiona

Advertisements

Challenging Assumptions: My Anxiety Triggers

Anxiety is complex. You may not know what it means when I tell you that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder [click the links to learn more]. In short, my anxiety disorders lead me to react with excessive anxiety to triggers that do not always merit an anxious response. Anxiety permeates every aspect of my life, it is far more than a desire stay home and avoid social gatherings. I hope that in sharing my list of anxiety triggers I will help shed some light on how debilitating anxiety can be and hopefully challenge some false assumptions along the way.

The triggers listed below are my own – anxiety triggers differ greatly from person to person. The items on this list vary in their severity and the frequency at which they provoke my anxiety and panic. They are not all things I dislike or am afraid of, in fact many of them are things that I really like. In some cases I have a good understanding of why these triggers cause me distress, in other cases I have no idea. With all that in mind, here is a list of some of the things that trigger my anxiety and panic.


The List

Appointments

Being far from home

Being in the same space as other people

Caffeine

Cars

Changes in plans

Changes in temperature

Clicking publish or send on any form of online communication

Conflict (even if I’m not involved)

Discussing finances

Elevators

Excess stimuli

Feeling as though I can’t escape

Grocery stores

Hospitals

Intense sensations

Lack of sleep

Large groups of people

Leaving the house

Making mistakes

Malls

News (good or bad)

Not having a plan

Open spaces

Parties

Phone calls

Portrayals of suicide in media

Scary fictional stories

Seeing neighbours through the windows

Showering

Small groups of people

Talking in person

The dark

The outdoors

Unexpected noises

Walks


You may now be wondering how it is possible to be so sensitive and easily provoked to panic. I wish I could explain that to you. If you haven’t experienced an anxiety disorder you probably won’t understand what it is like to feel anxious, as though something truly awful might happen, in response to mundane things in your daily life. I have had Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder for many years, Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety Disorder are newer to me. I am still learning to understand my own anxiety and how to best manage it. It makes very little sense to me that I can become dizzy and hot, hyperventilate, have chest pain, feel weakness in my legs, shake, be disoriented and feel as though I am in imminent danger as a result of things as unthreatening as reading positive news articles. Being constantly anxious has had negative impacts on both my physical and mental health. Irritability, weight gain, hair thinning, moodiness, headaches, seclusion and muscle tension are just a few of the negative changes that my anxiety has contributed to. Anxiety has hugely impacted my life and my relationships.

Even if I employ as much planning and as many coping tools as possible, it is inevitable that I will come in contact with my triggers throughout my day and respond with anxiety. I have lived in near-constant anxiety for a couple of years now, because there is always a chance that one of these many triggers is just around the corner. The anticipation of something anxiety-provoking is often just as bad as the thing I am anticipating. Additionally, I still frequently experience increased anxiety or panic attacks without any identifiable trigger. I am slowly learning to tolerate my anxiety and panic, but my anxiety remains exhausting and incapacitating even as my ability to withstand the distress increases.

I write this because anxiety is misunderstood. When most people think of anxiety disorders they likely don’t imagine someone having a panic attack every time they shower without understanding why. You may not know that there are people like me who have been working for years towards goals like going outside for walks. The best way to understand how anxiety disorders affect someone’s life is to ask them about it, anxiety is a deeply personal experience. It can be easy to reduce anxiety disorders to chronic fear or nervousness: emotions that we can all understand. Anxiety is so much more than that, even I don’t fully understand it yet.

Take care,

Fiona

Gaining strength from my husband’s words

Last week I asked my husband Tom a tough question and was touched by his heartfelt and encouraging answer. I thought today I would share his response with you.

First, some context.

I am struggling through a bad low. The respite from my last depressive episode was far too brief. Now that depression has returned, I am trying to counter my feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness by pushing hard to establish my “base.” This basically means maintaining a basic routine and meeting my immediate needs by eating regularly, maintaining a sleeping schedule, getting out of bed, etc. I have learned a lot in my therapy the past couple of years, I am trying to apply what I have learned in order to keep my head above water. More often than not it feels like I am drowning, but I’m resisting as best I can.

All that to say that last weekend at this time I was ruminating about my life and what was to come of it. What was going to happen to me? Would I get back to how I used to be a few years ago or would I die soon? What was most likely? Not for the first time, I decided to turn my questions to Tom. Not for the first time, he answered with exactly what I needed to hear.

Here is what he said:

I definitely don’t think on either one extreme. I don’t think you’re going to be dead in the next couple of years or anything like that. And I don’t think you are going to find a magic miracle pill that all of a sudden makes everything peachy. But, I think that right now you’ve got a really great set up with Dr.___, who I think understands you a lot better than when we first started seeing her. I think she’s a really good doctor and she’s really helping.

You’ve also learned a lot of really good coping skills quite recently. I think right now you use them but they’re going to become a lot more so second-nature [with time and practice]. As more of those become more second-nature you’re going to struggle through the day to day a lot less. If you’re struggling through the day to day a lot less then all of the sudden it opens things up and you can be doing things like go out with me or go see a friend or you know, all these other things… Do a chore around the house kind of thing… That’ll really mean that all the sudden your lifestyle will improve a lot just with minor amounts of improvement to building your base. I think with the base right now we’re just locking it down and I think we’re going to get it locked down. And then the next time if you’re ever in a spot where you don’t have that locked down, you’ll know you can do it. You’ll know and it’s going to be easier, you’re going to be more confident and it’s not going to be so scary. Right now, it’s obviously really scary.

I think we’re going to continue to find more things like the click and collect groceries where for a long time we were worried, “we’ve got to find a way to get these groceries done.” It was really tough for you but we found a way to do the groceries.

[Me: Yeah, adaptations that suit our lifestyle. I think we’re getting to a point where we’re realizing that that’s okay.]

Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with it – it’s awesome. Click and collect groceries is growing like mad. I think we’ll find a couple more things like that and you get that base built so that on the days when you’re pushing, you’re pushing to do something like a little more. It’s going to bring the whole quality of life/lifestyle way up there. Just a small improvement is going to make a massive change to the lifestyle and the day-to-day. I really believe that.

There are so many things I love about his answer. I love that every bit of it shows just how much he understands what I am going through and my goals. He lives this with me every day, after all. I love that he acknowledged that I was thinking in extremes without mocking me for it; instead gently helping me recognize it for myself. I also love that the emphasis in his answer is that I have gained and continue to gain information and tools from therapy, the impacts of which are beginning to be established and will grow with time. He is right, if I am able to get to a point in which the beginning of depressive episodes don’t completely wipe out any semblance of my routine and my most basic of self-care practices, I will feel a lot better. That’s within my grasp. His answer places power on my shoulders, the belief that I have the ability to advance to a better situation by continuing my hard work.

21034740_10154693710561817_4770370889284573647_n
My rock.

Had Tom told me he thought I would fully recover, I wouldn’t have believed him. He wouldn’t have believed himself either. It might sound strange, but that is incredibly validating to me. We both awaited my return to “normal” for a long time. However, as time has gone on it has been clearer that we have to adjust what our perceptions of my normal are. This has been a challenge, but is bringing on some good changes for us. We have begun to embrace adaptations that work for us, like his example of ordering groceries online. This allows me to contribute in a manageable way – I make the list, I place the order and Tom goes to pick it up. I hope he is right that we will continue to find more adaptations that suit our needs.

I have found firmer footing and new motivation from Tom’s answer. What he explained makes sense and it helps me feel like progress is attainable. It reinforces my purpose with my short-term goal: strengthen my base, that alone should help make other improvements easier to achieve. Tom doesn’t think I am a lost cause, he sees me applying what I have learned and believes more improvements will come of it. That bit of hope is enough for now. It has helped me find the strength to keep trying.

Take care,

Fiona

P.S. Many thanks to Tom for not only being unfailingly sweet, honest and encouraging but also for patiently repeating his whole answer so that I could record him and write about it.

The Stories We Cannot Tell

This is for anyone who has stories they cannot tell.

I share a lot on this blog. I try to be open and honest, as transparent and authentic as possible. But the truth is, there are stories I cannot tell. Parts of my story, parts of what make me, have to remain silent. There are certain topics that I can’t approach because I would risk hurting or embarrassing people I care about. There are pieces of myself that are regularly invalidated, but are nonetheless true.

I am one of the lucky ones. I am able to speak about my mental illness. There remains a wealth of individuals who we could be learning from, who could benefit from sharing, who are silenced. People whose stories are rich, complex and diverse. People who fear being stigmatized and ostracized. People who try to speak up but are quieted. People who wish they could speak up but are barred from doing so. People whose lives go unwitnessed. Whose stories go untold.

I see you, I hear you. Even as one of the privileged few who can be open about their illnesses and their stories, I know something of how it feels to have to conceal part of yourself. So, to the person who sees calls to speak up and feels heartbroken that you can’t, you are not alone. To the person who isn’t yet comfortable seeking treatment even though you know you need it, you are not alone. To the person who has decided to swallow trauma in order to avoid unpleasantness with people you care about, you are not alone. To the person who is silenced, you are not alone. No one is alone. I hope you have one person who you can trust to confide in without fear of judgement. Even a whisper can break the silence.

Untold stories are no less real.

Take care,

Fiona

maybe someday…

I find myself repeating “maybe someday” an awful lot recently. My mental illnesses are currently making it difficult or even impossible to do things I wish I was able to do. Will I ever be able to go for a walk on my own again? Maybe someday. Will I ever work again? Maybe someday. Will I ever perform in community theatre productions again? Maybe someday. Will I ever be able to see my friends and family without discomfort? Maybe someday.

“Maybe somedays” are hopes, dreams, goals, aspirations. Sometimes maybe somedays are desperate answers to prying questions (i.e. “are you working again yet?”) that highlight things I can’t do that I feel sensitive about.

The hard part comes when I have to accept that despite my best efforts my “someday” hasn’t arrived yet. Last week I had to cancel my trip with my husband to Stratford, Ontario for next month. Stratford is my place. If you dissected me and turned my contents in to a city, it would be Stratford. Theatre (musicals! Shakespeare!), music, art, cute shops, restaurants, friendly people, parks, water, mature trees, etc. Whenever I go to Stratford, I feel like I am connecting with something that is truly a part of myself. I used to go every year. I haven’t been able to go since 2015, since my depression and anxiety worsened. I dared to dream I could manage the trip this year. There are no words to convey how sad I am that I can’t.

Maybe someday. Maybe someday I will return to Stratford.

I digress.

Maybe somedays can be uplifting or heartbreaking, it all depends on perspective and circumstance. Maybe someday means that there is hope, but not immediately. I know I’m not alone here, I know that many people with illnesses of all forms are torn between hope and desperation over the things they are currently unable to do.

I try goal setting, I try to gradually work towards being able to accomplish what seems so out of reach. This too can be either motivating or discouraging. I can see myself making progress and rejoice in small victories. “I left the house! Take that agoraphobia, that’s what progress looks like!” I can also see how very inconsequential my progress is, fixate on how many more small steps there are before I reach my goal and how these steps continue to be so draining. “So what if I left the house? Most people leave the house every day and most of them can do it alone without panicking.” Don’t even get me started on how it feels when I compare my current goals to the ones I had a few years back when I was unknowingly blessed with decent health. Comparison is fuel to the fires of depression and anxiety, and those fires are already burning me too much.

Lately I feel like I am being suffocated by my maybe somedays. They seem unachievable, completely out of reach. I’m not blind to my progress over the past couple of years, but there is far more ground ahead of me than what has been covered.

I could fill thousands of pages with my maybe somedays. I cower under the magnitude of the things I can’t do but wish I could. My maybe somedays range from things as seemingly small as, “maybe someday I will be able to do the groceries” to, “maybe someday I will be healthy and stable enough to be a mother”. They can be both things that others take for granted and things that are a challenge for anyone. It can be incredibly tempting to just stop trying. My husband has heard me more than once contemplate whether I would be happier if I just gave in and lived like a hermit, if I just accepted my limitations and stopped trying to overcome them. In my more rational moments, I recognize that I can’t expect myself to do everything and that balance is important. In my less rational moments I wonder whether there is even a point of being alive with so many road blocks ahead of me. Is the amount of progress I need to make to be a functional human even attainable?

I don’t have answers. I think maybe the best thing is to try to focus on what I am able to do and try to build mastery of things, one at a time. Perhaps trying to quiet the looming thoughts about the bigger more heartbreaking maybe somedays would help me focus on more achievable short-term goals. All I can tell you with certainty is that I have been working tirelessly to improve my mental health for over two years now and as time goes on it feels like I am accumulating more maybe somedays than I am accomplishing.

Will I ever lead a full life unencumbered by illness? I don’t know, maybe someday.

Take care,

Fiona