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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

Invaluable Blogger Award

I have been nominated by The Good The Human for the Invaluable Blogger Award. I am so grateful to this lovely blogger for her continued support of me and my blog. The Good The Human is an invaluable blog about mental health and wellbeing. It is no surprise that she was one of the first people nominated for this accurately named award. A fantastic example of her positive approach to mental health blogging is her blog post “Break Your Negative Thought Cycle”. If you haven’t followed her already I highly encourage it.

The Invaluable Blogger Award was created by another one of my favourite bloggers, Nicole from Navigating Darkness. Creating this award is a typical example of Nicole’s thoughtfulness. I love that she chose to focus on kindness, support, creativity, advocacy and dedication for this award – they are all wonderful traits.

I am certainly in good company with these two fantastic advocates. I love what this blogger award stands for and hope to see it spread far.

Award Information

The following was taken from Nicole’s original blog post about the awards which also contains further details about them.

The Invaluable Blogger Award is an award that recognizes bloggers for their kindness, support, creativity, advocacy, and dedication. These traits and values make them truly invaluable to the blogging community and it is important that they are recognized, appreciated, and encouraged.

Awarding your peers with the Invaluable Blogger Award is a great way to your show support and appreciation for them and their work. The blogging community will thrive and be a much better place if we see each other as friends and colleagues as opposed to enemies or competition. We each have our own voices and stories, and there is enough success in the world for all of us.

“Bloggers who are nominated for the Invaluable Blogger Award should create a blog post, like my own, to acknowledge their award. The post should include the following:

  1. Award image
  2. Award acknowledgement
  3. Award information
  4. Answers to the questions given to you
  5. Your 3 nominations for the Invaluable Blogger Award

Questions from The Good Human

  1. What inspired you to start your blog?

    I answered this in depth recently in my blog post response to the Sunshine Blogger Award, you can head on over there if you’d like to see all the details of how I started this journey. In summary, I was inspired to start this blog as a result of being open on social media during my hospitalizations in early 2017. In a way, those social media posts were my early blogs. They received a great deal of support and positive feedback from my family and friends who encouraged me to continue being open about my experiences.

  2. How do you motivate yourself to keep your blog up and running?

    I am motivated to keep my blog up and running due to the positive comments and feedback I have received. Writing the blog is cathartic for me, but more importantly it helps me feel that I have value. I have been so supported by the mental health community, with many people telling me that my pieces have helped them in some way. I have always wanted to write, to communicate through writing something that others would find worthy of reading. I feel lucky to have found a medium through which I can do that.

  3. How much time do you spend blogging?

    In truth, this varies greatly. I am struggling every day with my depression and anxiety disorders right now; these struggles are impacting my ability to be consistent with the blog. I would love to be able to get blog posts out on a semi-consistent schedule, but at the moment the best I can do is write when I have the energy and motivation to do so. Most of my blog posts take several hours to write, but before writing I usually work out the idea for quite some time. I have a long list of blog post ideas that I am constantly editing and adding to, and always have several drafts on the go.

  4. What are your strengths that really helped you in your blogging journey?

    I always feel like I come across as boastful when I write about my strengths. That aside, a strength of mine that helps with blogging is good writing skills. I have always loved to write, it comes easily to me. I know some people who struggle to put things in to words, which is not the case for me. I am also honest and willing to be vulnerable which I hope gives my blog a sense of authenticity.

  5. Who has impacted you the most in blogging and how?

    My family and friends are those who have most impacted my blogging. In order to narrow that down a bit I will give you my mom as a prime example. My mom has been supportive of my blog since the beginning. She reads nearly all of my posts and often shares them with her network along with incredibly supportive messages. Perhaps the way she has most impacted me has been in a conversation I had with her a couple of months ago. At the time we were talking about the success of a recent blog post and she told me that she was proud of me because I was having a big impact on people despite my circumstances. I should probably have told her at that time how much that means to me– mom, that meant the world. For now, I am unable to leave the house due to the intensity of my agoraphobia and social anxiety. Since my conditions worsened a couple of years ago my life has shrunk considerably. I am not able to work, I rarely get to see my family and friends and I struggle with the most basic of things. It is hard to feel like I have worth and value from within the four walls of my house and when my depression and anxiety are so acute. Hearing from my mom that she thought I was helping others, having an impact even, was so important to me. Her words helped motivate me to try pushing myself even harder.

My Nominees

  1. Nicole from Navigating Darkness

    Nicole is the creator of this award and as such it is possible that she won’t get this recognition herself. That would be a great oversight since Nicole wonderfully exemplifies all the qualities she set out to acknowledge in other bloggers. I appreciate most about Nicole that she is devoted to building up the blogging community, frequently creating opportunities for building friendships amongst bloggers. Her blog Navigating Darkness is largely mental health focussed and I am appreciative of her advocacy in this area.

https://www.navigatingdarkness.com/

https://twitter.com/ItsNicoleCarman

  1. April from 5 Alive

April is the first blogger who came to mind when I read the specific criteria for this award. She is a frequent supporter and encourager of others on Twitter, showing the depths of her kindness and support. Her blog 5 Alive is filled with creative writing expressing her life with Dissociative Identity Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as Cancer. If her poems aren’t creative, I don’t know what is. One of my favourite blog entries of hers is “Blurbs of Words”. She is a fierce advocate, particularly within the Sick Not Weak network. She shows dedication not only to her blog but to others. I would be remiss if I didn’t include April on this list.

http://idisassociate.blogspot.com/

https://twitter.com/AFR365

  1. Jody from JodyB2016

Jody is perhaps the strongest person I have encountered online. Her blog is a powerful account of her life with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression and Suicidal Ideation. She advocates suicide prevention, her blog post “I Want You To Want To Live” is one of the most touching things I have ever read. Her very personal blog posts offer a depth of detail seldom found, she uses her words in a way that helps me both understand and feel understood. She is a survivor and an advocate, through and through.

https://jodyb2016.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/onelastkick71

Questions for my nominees

  1. What motivates you to write about your experiences with mental illness?
  2. Which of your blog posts are you most proud of?
  3. Do you think you have grown as a writer and/or advocate since you began blogging? If so, in what ways?
  4. Which of the 5 traits associated with this blogger award (kindness, support, creativity, advocacy and dedication) is most important to you? Why?
  5. What is your favourite quote and why?

I hope you will all go check out the wonderful bloggers I have included in this post. Thanks again to The Good The Human for sharing this with me.

Take care,

Fiona

Using a Checklist to Manage My Depression

In early July I had a difficult appointment with my psychiatrist. I had missed my two previous appointments with her because my anxiety and depression were so strong that I felt I couldn’t make it. Finally pushing myself to attend an appointment, I broke down and told her that I was back in a depressive episode. I described how all too suddenly the wave of depression had come back and everything I had built up in my life (my routine, volunteering, etc.) had washed away with it. I was spending my days in bed, barely eating and my sleeping was all over the place. She tasked me with some clear-cut homework: wake up at the same time every day, eat all three meals and get out of bed. For now, she told me, the rest was “gravy”. She asked me to track every day how well I was accomplishing those goals.

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So, I did. I created a checklist that I filled out every day for the two weeks until my following appointment. I tracked my eating, sleeping and whether I got out of bed, as well as some other things like hygiene practices and whether I went outside or talked to anyone. I have tried filling out other similar checklists before and never found it helped much, making my own personalized one has been much more effective. I’ve found the list helps hold me accountable. In my next appointment my psychiatrist was able to look over my checklists to get a better idea of how I was doing and help me set new goals.

It’s often said that when we are in a depression the basics are the first things to go. Depression feels all-encompassing, it feels like nothing else matters, motivation and energy are depleted, and self-worth lowers to the extent that I feel like taking care of myself is pointless. The fog of depression makes even the simplest most routine things seem unimportant or impossible to me. It’s common for people like me to stop showering, neglect eating properly, etc. Filling out my checklist helped keep me accountable to these basic things. It didn’t lift my mood much, but working towards these goals helped me feel more in control.

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I saw a big difference in just a couple of weeks!

The effects of depression create a vicious cycle. When my depression causes me to under-eat I feel weaker. When I feel weaker I am less able to make myself eat. When my depression causes me to miss sleep I feel more tired. When I am more tired I nap during the day which impacts my sleep schedule. When my depression causes me to stay in bed all day I feel less capable and more secluded. When I feel less capable and more secluded it becomes even harder to get out of bed. These things all compound depression. It is vital to break that cycle. Eating three meals a day, having consistently good sleeps and getting out of bed doesn’t pull me out of depression, but it does make it seem less catastrophic. Filling out this daily checklist helped me break my downward spiral.

After my following appointment with my psychiatrist I didn’t print off more checklists, until this morning. Honestly, I just thought printing out more checklists and tracking these tasks was a nuisance, especially now that I was more of my basic self-care. This morning, however, I printed out a fresh batch. As I begun checking items off for today I realized how much improvement I have made in taking care of myself. I am still in the depths of this depressive episode, but I am doing what I can to manage it. Acknowledging my hard work and small victories is so helpful when I am depressed and feeling completely useless. Memory is another thing that depression impacts – checking my list helped remind me of important things I had completely forgotten. Looking back at the checklist made me realize that since I stopped filling these in I haven’t been taking my vitamins and my water intake has been minimal.

I will always have better days and worse days. Some days I am still unable to get myself out of bed and I miss meals. That’s okay, it happens – depression is debilitating. With this checklist on hand those days have become the exception, not the rule.

Take care,

Fiona

If you would like to use my checklist as a jumping off point for your own, feel free to download it by clicking here: Depression Checklist

Photo by TeroVesalainen on Pixabay

Depression Checklist

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