The Hospital

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I have gone to the hospital for mental health-related issues more than once, but I want to share one of the times I went.  I was sent home that night, a few hours after getting there, so this post is more about the emotions I went through than any kinds of treatment.

This story starts with me in my residence room.  I was sitting on the floor with all of the pills I had in my room, as well as a bottle of gin (or maybe it was vodka), in front of me.  I wanted to stop feeling so fucking miserable all the time.  I didn’t really care whether I lived or died, so it was fine with me if dying was what it took to stop hurting so much.  I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to swallow all the pills, and then chug the alcohol, to end my life.

As I pondered what to do, I used a knife to cut into my calf.  I watched myself bleed, and then the thought of dying became very real to me.  For a split second, I really did not want to die.  I mean, I didn’t really want to live.  But I didn’t want to die.  I don’t know how to really describe that feeling, but you would know if you’ve ever felt it.  I decided not to try to end my life.  Instead, I texted a friend.  After talking to her, I decided to go to the hospital.  She told me that she was proud of me for being so strong.

Everyone who was staying in my residence that weekend was drinking that night, so I drove myself to the ER.  I don’t remember when I started crying, but I was definitely crying at this point.  My vision kept getting blurred by my tears, so I really had to focus on the road.  When I got to the hospital, I got into the line of patients waiting to see a nurse so they could wait to see a doctor.

When I saw my nurse, I told her that I wanted to kill myself.  I told her that I didn’t want to die, but I was worried that I would end my life if I didn’t get help.  She brought me to a room with nothing but a bed.  There were three solid walls, and one wall that was glass with a sliding door.

When I was left alone, I started bawling.  One of the nurses kept offering me water, but I declined.  She told me that if I needed anything, I should let her know.  While I was waiting to see a doctor, the friend who had encouraged me to go to the hospital kept apologizing for not being able to come be with me that night because she was in a different city and had no way to get there.  She told me that she wanted nothing more than to be with me that night.  Since she couldn’t, she made me promise that I would keep texting her to keep her updated.  She also made me promise to ask someone who was in the same city as me if they would stay with me that night.

I texted a friend who lived on campus and wasn’t drinking that night.  I asked him if he would come stay the night with me when I left the hospital.  I told him that I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I was left alone.  He said that he wouldn’t and told me to ask someone else.  I told him that if the positions were reversed, there was no way in hell that I would let him be alone.

My doctor came in, and after telling him about how I felt, he said that I seemed like a smart girl who was just on the wrong path.  I was sent home, but I was told that I had to go to my mom’s house.

When I went outside, it was pouring.  I walked to my car in the rain, getting soaked.  I started the drive to my mom’s house, but by the time I got to the highway it was clear that it wasn’t safe to drive.  My eyes were extremely puffy from crying, tears were fogging up my vision, and my windshield wipers weren’t able to keep up with the rain.  I couldn’t see anything.  I was also so frazzled that I got lost going to my own house.  It was clear to me that if I tried to get home, trying to not kill myself would be a complete waste.  If I tried to get home, I would have gotten into a car accident.  I pulled over, and I texted the same friend that I had already asked to come over.  He said that he would come over if I really couldn’t get home.

I called my mom to let her know that I wasn’t coming over that night, but that I would come over first thing in the morning.  At this point, she didn’t know what was going on.  She kept asking if I was okay, and I told her that I’d tell her everything when I saw her in person.  I was still bawling my eyes out, and I was occasionally hyperventilating.

I started my car again, and I drove back to my residence.  I walked from the parking lot to the building in the rain, but I was already soaking wet.  It didn’t matter anymore.  I went back into residence.  Everyone was yelling, and it was really loud.  Nobody noticed me come in and go to my room.

When I got to my room, I set up my extra mattress for my friend who was coming over.  He didn’t come in the end, but I’m not getting into anything about him right now.  That’s not what this story is about.

When I found out that I would be alone for the night, I put on a movie to distract myself.  I don’t remember what movie it was, and I didn’t really watch it.  I just kept cutting into my calf until I was too tired to stay up any longer and went to sleep.

When I woke up, I had several voicemails from my mom.  She wanted to know what was going on and if I was okay.  I sat on the floor and called her, and I told her I would be home in an hour.  A little over an hour later, my mom called.  She wanted to know where I was.  I had been sitting on the floor, feeling completely drained and weak, so I asked if she would come get me.  When she arrived, I went to let her into the building.  She cleaned up my room, packed some clothes for me to wear, got me to get dressed, and then she took me home.  If she hadn’t come, I don’t think I would have gotten up off of the floor that day.  I don’t know if I would have gotten up off the floor that week.

I spent the whole morning thinking about how I could still end my life.  The only reason that I didn’t was because I didn’t want my mom to be the one to find me.  I felt hungover because I was so dehydrated, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t care that yesterday’s makeup was now a smeared, black mess all over my face.  I didn’t care that my room was a complete disaster.  I didn’t care that I was alone the night before.  Nothing mattered to me that morning except that I wouldn’t let my mom find me dead.  She did find me broken when she came to pick me up, but I wouldn’t let her be the one to find me dead.  If I were to end my life, someone else would have to be the one to find me.  It wouldn’t be my mom.  That would be too hard for her.

For a while after this happened, I felt as though I had died.  I felt numb, and I didn’t care about anything at all.  I lost a lot of weight because I didn’t really bother with making myself food, and I stopped reaching out to people for help.  That night made me feel like it was too much trouble for other people to have to worry about me, so I didn’t tell anyone what was going on.  I had been told by a “friend” that night that my issues were making them unhappy, and I decided that I wouldn’t put my issues on anyone’s shoulders again.  That night was the turning point in my illness where things just kept spiralling downwards.

In retrospect, I should have seen how much my one friend truly cared about me.  Even though she couldn’t be with me in person, she did her best to make sure that I wouldn’t be alone.  I should have seen how much my mom loved me when she came to my residence to try and put me back together.  I also had another friend who I confided in, and she was determined that I would not stay in bed all day every day.  She told me how bad she felt that she hadn’t been in residence that weekend, and she said that she wished she could have been with me.  But in the frame of mind that I was in, all I saw was the bad.  I felt alone despite the love others had shown for me.  One of the things that really keeps me going now is thinking back to how wrong I was then.  I was wrong to think that I was nothing but a burden to people, and now I keep holding on to that knowledge to keep myself strong.

This post is dedicated to Jenessa Murray and Erin Brookes for being such great friends.

Panic Disorder: The Demon

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I have panic disorder.

It is a type of anxiety disorder.  Along with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and a few others.

Having panic disorder basically means that I have recurring panic attacks.

When I’m not having panic attacks, I worry about when the next time I am going to have a panic attack will be.

I can physically feel that worry.  It controls me.  It possesses me.  It weakens me.  I am a prisoner within my own body.

Anxiety is like a demon.  It’s like one of those evil spirits that takes possession of people in horror movies.  I need an exorcism of sorts to free me from it.

I feel it straining my back, my shoulders, my chest, and my neck.  It’s not tension.  It’s not pain.  I don’t know how to describe it, but it has taken away my freedom.

I’m constantly fighting it.  I try to use logic to reason with it.

“Nothing bad is going to happen,” I repeat to myself.  I know this is logically true, but I still have trouble really believing it.

I’m fighting an uphill battle, and I’m not sure that I can win the fight.  I try different tactics.

I resort to violence.  Maybe if I cut myself open, I will reach the demon.  Maybe he’ll escape through the opening in my skin.

I try to starve him out.  If I waste away, maybe he’ll waste away with me.

I try to work him off.  I hit the gym, hoping that I’ll sweat him out.

I use medications to try and kill him, but they only stun him a little.  He might be passed out for a while, but he comes back as the pills wear off.

I listen to Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out,” and I hope that one epic night will make everything better.  I hope that friends, sex, alcohol, and dancing are enough to make the demon leave.

But he stays.  He is a parasite.  He grows stronger as I grow weaker.

I want to keep fighting, and I will fight right to the end.  I’m strong enough to keep fighting.  I just don’t know if I’m strong enough to win that fight.

Panic Attacks for Dummies

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So, I’ve already made a post about panic attacks, but I’ve decided to write another one.  I don’t really like talking about my panic attacks.  I’m pretty open about explaining everything else I have dealt with regarding mental illness, but my panic attacks are more difficult for me to talk about.  It’s not that I don’t want people to know what they’re like.  In fact, I wish that more people knew because I often feel like a lot of people just don’t understand what a panic attack is.  It’s just hard for me to talk about them because they are so terrifying for me.  Having a panic attack is the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced.  I don’t like to talk about having them because I don’t want to think about them too much.  However, it is something that I feel is important to share.  Hopefully, if people who have experienced panic attacks continue to share their stories, the general public will know a lot more about them.

I’ve been asked many times about what triggers my panic attacks.  I’ve been asked about the triggers way more than I have been asked about the panic attacks themselves.  The truth is, I don’t always know what triggers them.  Sometimes there is a clear trigger.  It could have been a conversation, a loud and crowded room, or something else identifiable.  But a lot of the time, there is no identifiable trigger.  Sometimes the panic attacks just happen for no apparent reason.

I find that a lot of people don’t really understand how the panic attacks can just happen out of the blue.  I’ll be asked, “But what happened beforehand?  Something must have upset you.”  That isn’t always the case, though.  Sometimes I’ll go from being in a perfectly good mood to thinking that I’m going to die or that something bad is going to happen.  I don’t understand it either, so it makes it really hard for me to answer all the “But why?” questions.  Sometimes those questions actually make me feel anxious because I don’t know what causes my panic attacks, and I start to wonder what the hell is wrong with me.  I start to think that I must be crazy if I start freaking out for no discernible reason.  Maybe I am crazy.

Whether I’m crazy or not, the panic attacks still happen.  I can usually feel them coming on, but there isn’t really anything I can do to stop them.  I feel very uncomfortable right before my panic attacks.  My muscles tense up, and I start to feel restless.  I feel like if I sit still I will explode, so I keep moving.  Then I start to shake, just a little at first.  I start to feel dizzy, and I get tunnel vision.  I feel like I can only see the air right in front of me.  My surroundings, the faces of people around me, are all blurred.  My hearing gets fuzzy too.  It sounds like I am underwater, and I can only hear a little bit of what is going on above the surface.  My mind starts to travel from thought to thought, but none of the thoughts really make sense.

“I’m in danger.”

“I need to get out of here.”

“I need to escape.”

“Something bad is going to happen.”

“I’m going to explode.”

“I’m going to die.”

“Everyone I love is dead.”

“I’m going completely crazy.”

“GET OUT OF HERE!”

Sometimes I make it out of whatever situation I’m in, but not always.  Wherever I am, I start to shake even more.  I am having my full-blown panic attack now.  I start to hyperventilate.  I am breathing so fast, and my chest hurts.  My heart is racing.  I feel weak.  My breathing starts to slow down a little, but then it speeds right back up again.  I’m breathing even faster than before.  All of my energy is focused on my breathing as I try to slow it down.  I’m still having thoughts about how something awful is going to happen, but I try to rationalize my way through them.

“This is just a panic attack.  I’ve had them before.  This will not kill me.  I am in no real danger.”

But I still can’t focus, I still can’t stop shaking, and I can’t control my breathing.  Until, all of a sudden, my breathing starts to slow down.  Once I’m breathing at a regular pace again, my heart stops beating to fast.  My chest doesn’t hurt quite so much anymore.  My vision comes back into focus, and I can hear normally again.  The shaking doesn’t stop right away, though.  Neither do my thoughts of impending doom.  I don’t really believe that the panic attack is over.  It’s too good to be true.

I try to focus on the present, and my mind calms down a little.  I start to think more rationally, but I’m still shaking.  I still don’t feel like I’m capable of supporting myself, so that’s what I focus on.  I focus on sitting or standing up.  I focus on remaining upright until the shaking starts to slow down.  It can take a while.  It takes longer if I’m alone.  Once the shaking stops, it’s over.  I still feel a little weak, and I often make stupid decisions at this point in time.

I often to self-destructive things after a panic attack, like call someone I’m not supposed to call, self-harm, or isolate myself for a day or two.  Even though I went from 0 to 100 in just a couple of minutes, it takes a long time for me to get back down to 0.  It takes a long time to get back to even a 50.  The panic attack has gone away, but it hasn’t taken all of the panic with it.  I still worry that I’m going crazy, and I feel hopeless of ever getting better.  It can take a few days for me to feel back to normal again.  It’s kind of like a panic attack hangover.

Anyway, that’s what my panic attacks are like.  They’re probably similar to some people’s, but very different from others.  This is what I experience.  Sometimes it happens only once a month, but sometimes a few times a week.  It varies.  I hope this post helps people who have never experienced a panic attack before understand what it’s like, and I hope that it has made people who have had panic attacks feel a little less alone.

The Bad Days

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Just like any other person, I have good days and bad days.  The good days are the days where I am able to get out of bed, shower, and go about my plans.  The bad days always have me worrying that I am going to relapse back into a serious depression.

On a bad day, I will wake up with no motivation to get out of bed.  I never really want to get out of bed on my good days either.  I’m not a morning person, and my bed is always so warm!  But it’s different on the bad days.  On a bad day, I can be starving or freezing but I won’t want to move to take care of myself.  I don’t feel like it’s worth it to get out of bed and try to make myself feel better because I just feel so bad.

These are days where I don’t shower, I don’t get dressed, and I don’t eat.  I’m often wearing the previous day’s makeup too.  Bad days often follow bad nights where I don’t bother to wash my face.  I am a mess on these days, and I worry about someone knocking on the door when I’m the only one home.  I don’t want anyone to see me like this.

There are a few things that can cause these bad days.  Sometimes if I feel really anxious when I go to sleep, I will wake up feeling depressed.  Sometimes I’ll be really tired from overworking myself the day before.  But often, there is no identifiable cause.  I just feel bad. I have no motivation whatsoever.

I don’t have too many of these days anymore, but I used to have a lot of them.  On these days, I usually just end up spending the entire day watching tv or YouTube.  I also engage in destructive behaviours.  I am self-sabotaging when I am in a bad place.  Because I give up on ever getting better on my bad days, I start to prepare for that.  I distance myself from people who care about me, which isn’t too much of a problem when it’s just one bad day because I can just talk to them when I’m feeling better.  It only becomes a problem when I have many bad days in a row.  After you ignore certain people for a stretch of time, they start to stop reaching out to you.  It’s reasonable.  If one of my friends was ignoring everything that I said to them, I would assume that they didn’t want to talk to them.  Out of all my avoidance behaviours, avoiding people is the worst.

Not only do I avoid people, but sometimes I straight up tell people to get out of life when I really don’t want that at all.  I feel as though I am bringing these people down by being around them, and I don’t want to take anyone down with me.  Instead of letting them be supportive of me, I push them away aggressively.  I think I’m saving them from the downward spiral that I sometimes feel like I am in.

Bad days also used to be days where I would get drunk by myself, self-harm, give up on projects that are important to me, etc.  Thankfully, I haven’t been engaging in these behaviours recently.  I occasionally avoid people, but I have been far less destructive in the past few months than I have been before.  These behaviours make it much more difficult to start having good days again.  It’s hard to bring yourself out of a bad place when you’ve pushed your friends and family away, you have a hangover, your wrist is in pain, and you’ve gotten behind in all of the work you should have been doing.

I know it seems like fixing this is simple.  I should just stop behaving destructively.  When my mind is in a good place, I can rationalize myself into performing healthy behaviours.  When my mind is in a bad place, that’s a lot harder.  When my mind is in a bad place, those unhealthy behaviours make so much more sense than doing something healthy instead.  I don’t feel worthy of friends or success on my bad days, and that reflects in what I do.

Nowadays, my bad days aren’t quite so bad as they used to be.  I haven’t been behaving so destructively, and I usually only have one bad day at a time.  I don’t have clusters of bad days with the occasional good day anymore.  Instead, I have clusters of good days with the occasional bad day.  I am hopeful that this will continue to improve, and I’ll keep you guys updated.  🙂

Feeling the Stigma

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I knew that some people would treat me differently when I decided to be open about my mental illness.  I decided to be open anyway because I was pretty sure that I could handle it.  But I didn’t really feel the effect of my “coming out” as mentally ill until yesterday.  And I didn’t really handle it that well.  I had a panic attack.

It’s one thing when the media shows mental illness as a bad thing, but it’s different when the people in your real life think that way.  I feel like some people are tip-toeing around me, like I’m some sort of emotional bomb that could go off at any moment.  I also feel like some people think that I’m a big joke.  I’m just the crazy girl.  Then, there are also the people who are so overly nice to me because they don’t know how to handle me.  You wouldn’t want to upset me too much because I’ll just fly off the handle!

The worst part about it is that I have trouble disagreeing with people who see me that way.  I feel like my panic attacks are emotional bombs, and I do get set off by little things.  I had a panic attack the other day because I felt like the ending of the most recent New Girl episode didn’t provide enough closure.  Looking back on it, I think that’s ridiculous.  In the moment, however, it made perfect sense.  My thought process went from that episode to my real life in a second.

“That ending didn’t tell us anything.  If there is no closure in a fictional story, how can I expect real life to have closure?  I’m never going to have closure with any of the problems in my life right now.  I’m not going to recover, and I will not get better.”

I know that, rationally, this does not make any sense.  But panic attacks aren’t rational.  If they were, people wouldn’t have them.  It’s because of this irrationality that I find it hard to feel confident that I’m not crazy.  Maybe I am an emotional bomb that could go off at any moment.  Maybe I am a big joke.

These thoughts are discouraging.  It’s hard to fight for your sanity when you aren’t really sure that you have any sanity left to fight for.  It’s easy to get caught up in all this negativity, but it’s also important to look at the positivity.  There is a lot of it to look at too.  There are a whole bunch of ways that people could feel about mental illness.  You can place people on a spectrum with regards to how they feel.  One end of the spectrum is where people who discriminate would fit, but the other end has a whole bunch of people who support those who are dealing with mental health issues.

It is easy to forget about the mob of people on your side when you are faced with one person who isn’t.  When I was feeling some discrimination yesterday, I momentarily forgot about the number of people who have told me how proud they are of me.  So many people have told me that they think it’s great that I have been so open.  They have told me that they think my cause is so important.  They have told me how brave I have been.  They have told me how strong I have been.  They have told me how much they admire me.

As much as I appreciate the kind words of those people (and I really do), their opinions aren’t even the most important.  The only person who I should be relying on for my self-esteem is me.  I’m proud of myself for what I’m doing, and that’s all that should matter.  I believe in my cause, I believe in being honest and open, and I believe in raising awareness about mental health.  I’m going to try and ignore the negative, even though I know it’s easier said than done.  I’ll just be constantly reminding myself about my own values and the large number of people who have the same values.

Where Am I Now?

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So, I’ve written about some of the challenges that come along with mental illness.  Today, I want to put a bit of a bright side on that.  I am doing really well in my recovery, and I want to share some of that with you.

Since leaving the hospital, I have been doing great!  My mood has improved so much that I can hardly believe it.  I feel happy.  Not just occasionally, but overall.  Before being hospitalized, I didn’t really know what that felt like.  I was starting to think that happiness was a myth that everyone strives for, but nobody could really achieve it.  I thought that the people who considered themselves happy were kidding themselves.  Now I know that’s not true.  I was wrong about that myth.  Happiness is real, and I am starting to feel it.

I have also been able to deal with my anxiety in more productive ways.  Before going into the hospital, I avoided situations that I thought would trigger panic attacks.  And honestly, I thought that was healthy.  I thought that it was better for me to avoid the situations that triggered my panic because if I wasn’t in those situations, I wouldn’t feel anxious.

In the hospital, I learned that avoidance behaviour is not healthy.  I know that should seem obvious.  I learned that by avoiding the situations that cause anxiety, I was actually making my panic disorder get worse.  When you don’t learn to deal with anxiety in stressful situations, your anxiety surrounding those situations will continue to worsen.  It’s kind of like the whole “get back up on the horse” thing.  If something scares you, the only way to overcome that fear is to face it.  I was actually able to go out to a bar with a lot of people on Thursday.

Actually, what was so great about Thursday was that I was feeling very anxious beforehand.  I was shaking, and I felt nauseated.  Although, the nausea could have had to do with the raw potato I ate for an eating contest.  It’s hard to say.  Anyway, I was terrified of going to this bar, but I did it anyway.  Not only did I go, but I had a really great time!  I ate some food, had a few drinks, and danced.  Whenever I felt anxious, I just told myself, “Nothing bad is going to happen.”

I’m also looking for ways to keep myself busy.  I have applied for a volunteer position at the local humane society, and I am also applying for a job at the library.  I don’t think it’s that likely that I will get the volunteer position because they are fully staffed, but I do think I have a pretty good shot at getting the job.  We’ll see.

Another thing that I’m doing on my own is trying to collect clothes for hospitals, women’s shelters, etc. in the area.  I haven’t totally figured out how it’s going to work yet.  I’ve just been in contact with the hospital I stayed in.  I’m planning on researching places in the area that may need clothes, and then I’ll make calls, find a venue for the clothing drive, and put all the details together.

I got the idea from my own stay in the hospital.  While I had family to bring me clothes, there were some patients who didn’t.  Some of the patients only had the clothes they were wearing when they were brought into the unit.  I decided to do something about it.  I’ll keep you guys posted with how this goes.

In summary, I am doing really well.  However, things aren’t perfect.  It would be unrealistic to expect perfection.  I still have trouble motivating myself to get out of bed some mornings.  I still feel anxious in loud groups of people.  I still occasionally dwell on things that happened a long, long time ago.  What I have learned, though, is that happiness is not about everything being good.  Happiness is about taking the bad with the good.

I know this post wasn’t very exciting, but I just wanted to share a little bit of the positive that has been going on in my life.  I find myself smiling when there isn’t really much to smile about.  I’m just happy, and I wanted to share that.  🙂

I Miss Our Little Talks

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Take a line from a song that you love or connect with. Now forget the song, and turn that line into the title or inspiration for your post.

Since the last post was so dark, here’s something a little lighter to bring the mood back up!

I sometimes wonder how much babies really understand about what’s going around them.  Do they understand what we say to them?  Do they have a way to communicate with each other?  Is there a universal, instinctual baby language?  Do babies have “little talks” that adults can’t understand?

I know people can do studies to try to see how much babies understand, but no adult really knows what it’s like to be a baby because we can’t remember it.  Of course, there have been movies and tv shows that show babies communicating in ways that their parents can’t understand, but they aren’t very realistic.  I want to know exactly what babies would talk about.

Now, in order to make any guess, we’d have to know how much babies understand about their surroundings.  Do they know what it means when their parents rock them to sleep, singing?  Or do they just feel temporarily soothed?  Do babies know that the mobiles above them are just decorations?  Or do they think it’s the sky?  Do they even recognize that it’s there?  Are they grossed out by having to wear their dirty diapers until someone changes them?

I think a cool movie would be one where an adult goes back to baby state, but then they remember what happened when they finally resume adulthood.  Actually, you know what?  I don’t even think that would make a very good movie.  I just kind of want to experience it.  Or at least have someone else experience it and share it with the world.

You see, I think a baby’s mind would be so peaceful.  I imagine that a baby’s thoughts would mostly contain rainbows, clouds, sunshine, puppies, and any other cheesy things you can think of.  I think the darkest thought a baby would have is, “I’m hungry.”

I also think about the moms who have play-dates with their babies.  I think it’s mostly for the moms to have a chance to socialize without having to leave their babies alone.  But do the babies get something out of it too?  Do the two babies recognize each other’s presence?  Do the slurred noises they make count as conversation?  What would babies even talk about?

“This new formula I have to drink is not nearly as good as breastfeeding.”

“That’s rough, dude.  My mom brought up formula the other day to my dad.  I hope she doesn’t decide to switch.  How’s the teething going?”

I’m just really curious about this.  I don’t want to be a baby forever or anything.  I just wonder about these things.