A Note for Coping with Anxiety

It has been a few months since I have written, but not because I have abandoned this blog. I was having computer problems (solved by getting a lovely new laptop!), went on a month long business trip, and had a lot of other things going on. I’m hoping to get back into more of a schedule, as far as posting here goes.

Have you ever found yourself in a point where your anxiety was so bad that you became non-verbal, yet you absolutely had to run some errands and be able to communicate with people? That’s the situation that I found myself in, today. I want to share how I got through this, because it’s something I think would really help others!

I found myself out of anti-depressants, today. I’ve known all week that I was running low, but I’ve been having a very severe episode with my PTSD/anxiety/depression and couldn’t even leave the apartment for several days. I had a panic attack that lasted over an hour and a half, yesterday, and it left me so physically and emotionally spent that even a good night’s rest wasn’t enough. I am almost entirely non-verbal, today. It’s not that I can’t speak, physically. It’s not that I can’t put together my thoughts into a coherent sentence. I simply can’t make the words come out of my mouth. It takes more of an effort than I can produce, right now. Driving to the store and walking to the pharmacy, though? That’s fairly doable.

I put in my request to refill my prescription online and was trying to figure out how I was going to manage to go into the store to actually pick up the medication when I remembered a friend posting on Facebook about how he had needed to run errands on a day when he was non-verbal and wrote notes ahead of time to give the clerks, regarding what he needed. I decided to give it a try, myself.

Anxiety note

I walked in and headed straight for the pharmacy, nodding a quick acknowledgment of the cashier’s greeting when I entered. The pharmacist met me with a smile and a “How can I help you?” I simply smiled in greeting and handed her my note. She continued to speak to me in a friendly tone, but immediately dispensed with any small talk that would require an answer from me. The one or two questions she had to ask about my prescription (“have you taken this before” and “do you have any questions about this medication?”) were easily answered with a nod of my head. Within a few moments, I was out the door, medication in hand and severe anxiety spike averted.

This isn’t something I intend to rely on every day, as I usually chose to push myself just a bit to not let my anxiety get the better of me. On days like today, though, where I have been non-functional for an entire week and am still struggling, this is a great option. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of coping techniques for anxiety, and recommending it to my friends who also struggle!

 

 

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Welcome to Midnight 2016

One of the mental health support and awareness groups I follow is called To Write Love On Her Arms. Every year for New Year’s Eve, they do a thing called “Welcome to Midnight.” It’s about more than just your typical NYE resolutions. It focuses on truly believing that it is possible the change and turn your life around, and that those changes don’t happen in a moment.

I use Welcome to Midnight as a chance to reflect on the last year – how I have learned and grown and changed, and also how I struggled. I use it to decide what I want to work on and how I want to grow in the coming year. I’ve never publicly shared this before, but this year I decided to do it. I’m fairly late, this year, but better late than never.

Here is what I decided last year that I wanted to work on in 2015.

I want to learn that it’s okay to need help and how to trust enough to ask for that help, even when I am at my most broken. That I am worth the help of my friends. That I am worthy of love and that I deserve to see better days. That better days are coming.
 
I want to continue to grow in the area of living every moment and not just existing and dragging myself through life. I want to continue to grow in terms of not just refusing to let fear hold me back, but in living a life free of the fear and uncertainty I’ve allowed to hold me back for so long. I want to grow in my relationships – in truly knowing my trusted friends and letting them know me. Not just the pretty parts of me, the areas where I seem to have my life together, but the struggles, the pitfalls and the triumphs, as well.

I did so much in the last year, in terms of not letting fear hold me back. In February, I accepted a new job. Within days of accepting that new job, a former colleague of mine posted on Facebook that she needed a new roommate. In a matter of days, I had signed on as her new roommate. I moved on February 28th, a mere ten days after I decided to move, and started my new job two days later. Taking that leap was a terrifying thing to do. I grew up in a home where it was expected that I would live at home until I got married. It’s implied in that teaching that women are somehow unable to live independently, without a man to watch over them and care for them. Despite the fact that I no longer hold to those beliefs, the insidious ideas that were planted by purity culture and my fundamentalist upbringing still linger in more ways than I would like.

Moving out went smoothly, and I will forever be grateful for my friends who helped me with moving my things. My new roommate, Maggie, and I got along from the beginning, and being out of my mother’s house meant that I no longer had to conceal the way that my beliefs had changed. As welcome as the change was, it was difficult to adjust to at first. I often found myself missing home, though I knew I didn’t miss how afraid I often felt, at my mother’s house. And it was hard to learn to relax and feel safe in my new home. I found myself feeling afraid that Maggie wouldn’t like having me as a roommate, or that I would be a nuisance to her. It was quite the opposite, though, and she told me not long after I moved in that I was the best roommate she’d had since her sister moved out.

Emelee and B both helped to ease the transition quite a bit. B supported me and comforted me from afar, while Emelee frequently came over after we got off work and kept me company. It took a few months, but I gradually grew accustomed to the apartment and and it began to feel safe and to feel like home. Maggie and I become better and better friends, and I began to trust her and feel comfortable in confiding my struggles in her, too. She’s been extremely supportive during the struggles I’ve been facing with my mental illnesses, even when it has had an impact on her. I’ve learned to trust both her and Emelee, and to reach out to them when I need help. Especially as the symptoms of my PTSD worsened and I was officially diagnosed with it, I’ve had a lot of new opportunities to share about my struggles as part of my ongoing commitment to raising awareness about mental illness by being open about my own struggles.

Once I had begun to settle in a bit more, I decided to do something that I had always been loathe to do – I joined OkCupid. While I lived at home, I was afraid that Mom would want to watch over my shoulder and pre-screen any matches, in keeping with the purity culture traditions I was raised with, but no longer believed. I’ve already chronicled my adventures on OkCupid in some of my earlier posts, but this really was a huge step towards my goal of not letting fear and uncertainty to hold me back. The relationship I developed with A gave me an opportunity to work on growing in my relationships. We’ve taken time in letting our relationship develop, but there is very little I wouldn’t share with him, at this point.

I think this year was definitely a huge success, in terms of what I set out to accomplish, last year. I accomplished my goals and did things that I never imagined would be possible, at this point in my life. I have lived so much and done so many things that I would have previously allowed fear to hold me back from. I’m very proud of myself, all that I have done, and how far I have come.

So, what do I want to work on, this year? How do I want to welcome midnight, this year?

This year, I want to learn that it’s okay to give myself a break and to accept the limitations that the PTSD places on what I can do, while also challenging and pushing those limits. I want to continue to build a better life for myself. There are many more better days ahead of me. I know this, now.

I want to continue to grow in my relationships and the openness that I have been learning. It is a truly wonderful thing to be open with someone and to know that they accept me for who I really am and not hide behind the mask I so often put up when I am in public. I want to continue to work on not letting fear and uncertainty hold me back. Both of these things are ongoing projects for me, and will likely be something I work on for several years.

 

 

 

 

 

A New Diagnosis

I haven’t been around much for the last month, largely because I have been fighting to keep my head above water.

Let me make this story short. I hit a major trigger regarding the sexual abuse that took place when I was a kid. I started having flashbacks, anxiety, and nightmares, all of which just kept getting worse and worse. After I spent several hours, curled up in a ball on the couch and unable to move because my anxiety and distress were so severe, I called my therapist.

She confirmed what I had begun to suspect: I have PTSD. She couldn’t give me an official diagnosis, since therapists can’t diagnose. But we looked at the criteria for a diagnosis and I every last one of them, and exhibit all of the symptoms except one (outbursts of anger or irritability). At this point, my doctor has confirmed this and diagnosed me with PTSD. We’ve changed my antidepressant and I also have a med for my anxiety, now.

I have mixed feelings about my diagnosis. It’s a relief to know what is wrong. Being able to give a name to what I have been experiencing for the last year somehow makes it less scary. And now that we know what is wrong, we can start treating it. I can get better. I mean, I already lived through anorexia, which has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. If I can beat that, I can do this, too, right?

But I am also afraid. Terrified, really. My eating disorder swallowed up five years of my life. It came closer to claiming my life than I like to admit. I don’t know if I can go through that much of a struggle, again. What if this one actually does claim my life? I feel so very broken. And the worse the depression and the anxiety get, the harder it becomes to continue to eat. The eating disorder always starts whispering in my ear again when I’m already struggling. It’s so hard not to relapse, sometimes. If I do, I honestly don’t think I will have the strength to climb back out of that black pit a second time.

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my friends. I lost three with my eating disorder. Close friends. One of whom I had grown up with and who was like a sister. I don’t know if I can cope with losing any more to mental illness.

I’m afraid I’m going to hurt my family. I finally told my mother about the abuse and how bad my mental health is, right now. And I know it’s hurting her to see me hurting so much. She’s even helping me pay for therapy, which is good, since I can’t afford it. But that’s money out of her budget. And she already spent how many thousands of dollars on treatment for my eating disorder? It’s not right. It’s not fair to her. I wish I could just be a normal daughter.

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job. I’ve already earned a verbal warning for “attendance issues” due to have to leave work a few times. A verbal warning doesn’t bear any consequences, but continued absences will. My manager is being as understanding as he can be, and I’ve even been approved to have some extra 5 minute breaks throughout the day to help with my anxiety. But it’s still a business. They can’t let me miss work constantly, not without FMLA. And I’m not eligible for that until March.

I know everyone will tell me it will be okay, I can get through this. But, right now, I’m so exhausted and depressed and afraid that I can barely move. And switching antidepressants is making it all worse. The mood swings in particular are killing me. I know this is necessary, and I know that I will start to feel better in a few weeks, but the transition between meds feels like a living hell.

I feel frightened. I feel alone. And I feel so very, very broken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Dating Sites, Part 2

I’m not sure what surprised me more, the number of messages I got in a matter of hours, or the variety of the message content and senders. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I started sifting through messages. I won’t bore you with the content of each message, but I’ll give you the highlights (and lowlights, so to speak) of the messages I’ve received, so far.

  • “How r u”. I can’t begin to count how many messages I’ve received that are like this. Every single one makes me cringe. It’s not just the lack of interesting content, the lack of punctuation and use of real words is enough to make my eyeballs bleed. Any and all messages of this nature get deleted without a second glance.
  • Apprently, men on dating sites interpret “bisexual” to mean “promiscuous” and as an invitation for lewd comments. One guy tried to impress me by telling me he can “suck his own cock” for his opening message. My response? “Well then, you clearly don’t need a lady. #blocked”
  • Then there is Cheater. I thought his profile said he was in an open marriage and I liked him quite a bit. It took me two days to realize my mistake and clarify with him. When he admitted that his wife had no idea he was looking for a side chick, that put an end to that.
  • Did I mention that I got messaged by two swingers and one polyamorous gentleman within my first 24 hours on this site?! I think I can safely say that swinging isn’t my thing. I would consider polyamory with the right person, but the poly gentleman was definitely not the right one.
  • There have been several couples who take “bisexual” as an invitation to ask me to join them for a threesome, despite my profile saying I’m only looking for other singles. Flattering though their invitations may be, they don’t get much farther than Cheater.
  • Even better than the couples looking for a threesome are the guys who are answered the site’s questions about if homosexuality is a sin as “yes,” or if marriage equality should be legal with “no.” Clearly, they didn’t take time to read my profile. I usually point out to these guys that they should read profiles more carefully, as bi women aren’t likely to even give them the time of day.

Even through all the negative experiences with messages, I did find a few guys who could hold my attention and carry out a thoughtful conversation.So far, most of these seem to revolve around shared fandoms, like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Firefly, etc. It still feels a bit odd to be chatting extensively with men, even over something as innocent as our shared geekiness. Private communication with guys was heavily discouraged by the purity culture books I grew up reading and would have never been allowed when I was younger and living at home. Such communication promotes loss of “emotional purity,” according to the teachings of these books. Even though I no longer believe this, or that this thing called “emotional purity” actually exists, the habit of avoiding long conversations with the opposite sex continues to try to wiggle its way back in.

Conversations with women, on the other hand, have been delightful, electrifying and quite natural. I initiated conversations with several ladies one night on a whim. Waiting to see if any of them would respond had me sitting in pins and needles. I’ve had very little interaction with the LGBT community, and putting myself out there into the dating side of it was more than a little intimidating. Every one of the ladies I messaged responded, though, and we’ve had some wonderful conversations! A large number of them have revolved around our shared fandoms, love of books or horses. I have to say that they really have been among my favorite conversations, so far. It feels wonderful to finally stop ignoring the fact that I am attracted to women and embrace my bisexuality. I have yet to get up the nerve to ask any of these ladies if they would like to meet yet, but I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’ve been asked by two different gentlemen. Well, one of them has turned out to be undeserving of the title of “gentleman,” but that’s a discussion for the next post.

Adventures in Dating Sites, Part 1

For years, I have resisted the urges of friends and family alike to join a dating site. “I am happy with being single,” I would object whenever someone raised the topic. “And I believe that God can bring someone into my life without me needing to go out and look.” This was my unfailing mantra when someone suggested eHarmony, Match.com or any of the other sites out there that belong to the ever-growing group of dating sites.

I think that part of me knew I simply wasn’t ready for any kind of a relationship. I was not in a very unhealthy place, in terms of my mental health. Any relationship I entered into during that time would probably have been just as unhealthy. So I continued on, content in my singleness and unwavering (read: stubborn) in my refusal to seek out a significant other.

About two months after I moved out of my mother’s house and started making a new life for myself in a cozy apartment that I share with a roommate, two cats and a ferret, the notion that perhaps I should consider one of these sites started bouncing around in my head. I had already dipped my toe into the waters of dating just a bit by going out with W, one of my writer friends, when I was visiting DC in January. It was just a casual date, but it still took a lot of courage on my part to ask him to go out to dinner with me while I was in town. We both had a great time, with good conversation, lots of laughs, and some very tasty barbecue, and I broke at least eight different purity culture rules in the process (not to mention that I was raised with the expectation that I would court, rather than date). H, one of my new coworkers, asked me out when she found out I had never been asked out, before. We went downtown on a beautiful Spring evening and dined on sushi, swapped stories, and got to know each other better. Her boyfriend joined us and added his own flare to the evening, and we all had fun. I think he particularly enjoyed the oddness of the fact that his girlfriend was taking me out on a date, while he was simultaneously taking her out.

Through those two very laid-back, non-committal dates, I learned that maybe, just maybe, this whole dating thing wouldn’t be so bad. I asked a few of my friends about it. H, in particular, was enthusiastic about the idea, as she met her boyfriend on a dating site. Still, I was dragging my feet, delaying actually making any decision. The fact that I am nearing 30, essentially have no dating experience, and grew up in an environment where I wasn’t around others who dated when I was growing up left me feeling out of the loop and intimidated.

After a long day’s work, last week, I decided that I was going to stop thinking about it and just take the plunge. After a bit of research, I settled on OkCupid for my first foray into the world of internet dating. I had hardly even finished setting up my account when I got my first message from an interested gentleman. Without even thinking to check his profile, I started chatting with him as I worked to set up my profile and trying to figure out what to put that might draw someone in to message me. In the course of the conversation, I learned that he was 44 and had one child, a 13 year old with high functioning autism. Despite the fact that I’m not interested in having children, I found myself continuing to chat with him for quite some time. The fact that he was such an involved father who clearly cared a great deal for his son held my interest. When I finally signed off for the night, I felt a combination of excitement for my new adventure and trepidation over venturing into such unknown territory.

In the morning, I was shocked to wake to messages from no fewer than 6 gentlemen.