It's taken me a long time to be able to even think about writing this post. Life for me has changed drastically since last April and I've had to make several changes along the way in order to progress. Before I go into any details, I would like to state a few things.
1. This will be the one and only post about this topic. The journey is difficult and private, but I felt I should explain my absence to my blog-friends. A few of you have emailed me privately and gotten the run down already, so this will be old news along with new news.
2. This will be the only post that's made on a non-Sunday this year. More on that is a bit.
3. For the animal lovers here, Pollux and Artie are still doing well. They've been joined by a sweet little calico named Pixel. I'll get to her further down.
Many of you know that I live with a few physical medical conditions. They make my life a little harder in some ways, and easier in others. I take them in stride. However I've never really talked about living with anxiety disorders. It's not something I enjoying talking about randomly and honestly for a long time they were under control. I live with GAD [Generalized Anxiety Disorder] and a mild (if one can call it that) form of PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder]. Without going into too many personal details, I will say that I was abused as a child. The resulting anxiety was made worse by being on the lower rung of the pecking order in school and being bullied constantly.
Years of therapy when I was younger made all the difference in the world for me. Back then the medications for anxiety were in their infancy and not covered by insurance. They also had some interesting complications for individuals going through puberty. And back then it was decided I didn't need them. I wasn't as stressed and therapy alone taught me wonderful ways to combat my fears and actually live every day.
(Now of course the medication available for mental illness are a
godsend. They can help take away the brunt of the pain and anguish,
leaving therapy and personal determination to deal with the rest. I
will state that not everyone with a mental illness has access to either
therapy or medications, which I believe is a crying shame. But that's
not what this post is about.)
Anxiety is a funny thing. It can creep up on you and sinuously wind deeper and deeper into your heart and mind. It can be so subtle, the changes are unnoticeable even to those closest to you. It can also hit you like a freight train loaded with bricks. The panic, the chest pains, the sudden fear in seeing that your world is going to absolute hell around you. The horrifying dreams in which you relived your abuses and cannot take control of the dream, no matter what you try. It can be a mix of the two, creating an emotional roller coaster of fear.
Stress plays a huge part in controlled anxiety getting out of control. And so I found myself loosing control of the beast, existing in a fog of fear and doubt, and having more and more external stresses heaped upon me. More stress than someone without anxiety issues would want to handle: Friends severely ill, some passing away; my father's health declining; worrying about my mother's health as she takes on more of a parental role to her husband; money troubles from all the past veterinary bills; missing my lost critters more and more every day; FH's stress levels from working too hard for too long without a break; needing to find the time to finish projects, including the Panda Nursery and completely overhaul the Guild's webpage. All this and more.
As time went on, even the little every-day things became major stressors. Getting the laundry washed, dried, AND put away before the shirts wrinkled. Remembering to get Pollux's medications refilled on time, not to mention getting him to not vomit up said medications. Artie's energy level and desire to play making him into more of a bully than a companion to Pollux. Physically going to the grocery stores and dealing with the crowds of people. Picking up a needle to stitch when the trash needed going out, but it was pouring down rain and I'd left my raincoat in FH's car. Trying to get the workroom organized so I could use it because I'd seen a neat how-to on another blog and wanted to play, but I was needed down south for several days.
In July I had a nervous breakdown.
It was all just too much. And I couldn't handle it all on my own. I also knew I couldn't make FH carry the weight alone. He's my partner, not my doctor. And I wanted my life back. Simply existing through a day wasn't enough. I wanted to live.
So I talked to our doctor and was given a short-term medication. It's highly addictive and not meant to be taken for more than a few months straight or as a "rescue" during times of intense anxiety. But it bought me time and gave me relief enough to do some research into other medications. And to find a secular therapist in this area who specializes in my type of illness and who works with our insurance. **As an aside, I won't be mentioning the specific medications, as every person's body chemistry is different. What works for me may not work for someone else.
We took a vacation in August to Copper Harbor, Michigan. An actual vacation, the first in seven years, which was both good and bad for me. Good because I could relax seeing FH relax and because life's about living. Bad because I was worried about Pollux and Artie, and the house, and my parents, and because we were camping. There was dirt. Lots of dirt. My dislike of dirt being anywhere near my bed was a difficult aspect of the trip. However the scenery helped to make up for it. That and the location was so remote, FH would have to drive up a mountain to call into work. Needless to say, that only happened once so he could tell them there wasn't cell signal. He relaxed a lot, which helped me relax. Also our best friend was with us. There were walks along beaches, toasted marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate mint cookies, and blueberry cobbler in the dutchy. Also it let FH go and do things with someone when I just wanted to sit under a tree and read. But we had some wonderful adventures on the trip, including getting pictures of Lambeau Field on our way up. Happily our route took us right through Green Bay, WI.
When came home, fate had a surprise for me. We'd been talking about getting another kitten to keep Artie company (and relieve pressure on Pollux) for a few weeks prior, but knew we should wait until after we got home from Michigan. Besides, the pet sitter didn't need to deal with a kitten who wasn't sure of it's new environment on top of dealing with Artie who hates strangers and Pollux who hates being medicated. A couple of weeks after we came home, I received a text message from a friend. Her daughter had found a kitten trying to get warm under the hood of a car. A calico whose markings reminded my friend of Confetti's. After she sent me a picture, FH knew the deal was made. I drove 100 miles the next morning to get her and have her tested for FIV and leukemia. The tests were negative and I brought her home. She didn't have a name until later that night when we came up with Pixel. She's been an important ray of sunlight and hope for me since then.
Shortly thereafter we (our doctor and I) started playing with new medications. Firstly I had to wean off of the short-term drug. The got interesting with nightmares, bursts of anxiety, and just not feeling well. The first long-term medication we tried actually made me depressed as a side effect. I didn't notice quite what was happening, because the anxiety wasn't there, and that's what we wanted. However I wasn't making anything. My doctor knew there was a problem when she walked into the exam room and I was playing solitaire on my phone instead of stitching. We switched to another medicine that night and suddenly I felt like myself again. It was like flipping a switch. I could go to bed when FH did and get up before noon, I wanted to work on projects again, and the anxiety was more of a faded echo in the back of my head. That was at the beginning of December.
It's important to remember that anxiety doesn't just affect you either. It's something that everyone you love and who loves you has to deal with. Dearest FH knew about my past before we even started dating. He dealt with the fears, the night terrors, the few and far between days when I just couldn't stand the thought of being alone. Now he's dealing with them more often. Happily for both of us I am getting better. He's watched me become the person I was all over again and be happy again.
I've had to make several changes in the way I do things. I've had to remember how to say, "No, I can't do ____ right now." I've had to make conscious efforts to use the almost forgotten techniques I learned in therapy all those years ago to calm myself down when the world starts to close in on me. Things I used to do all the time, but over time got out of the habit of doing because I didn't have time. And honestly, I'd pushed the past out of my head because I didn't want it to own me. That's part of where I went wrong for myself. What I needed to do was grasp it with both hands, dig my nails into it, and own it instead. It doesn't need to define me for me to own it either. I just can't let myself forget that controlling it means owning it.
I know I will have good days and bad days. Everyone does. It's just that my bad days can be worse than the average person's in some ways. The goals here is to make the bad days fewer and farther between and to not let the bad control me.
This post isn't just about all the ups and downs. It's also about my goals for this year. They are as follows:
1. Keep getting better. Notice there is no timetable here. It will happen as it happens, no sooner. But every day I'll be working toward a positive direction.
2. Once a week I will finish some type of creative project, big or small it matters not. It can be a single miniature, a roombox, a section of a dollhouse, a cross stitch, a quilt, playing with a new technique... you get the idea. It doesn't matter what it is, what matters is a completed project and with it, a feeling of gratification.
IF I happen to finish more than one project in a week, good for me. But that doesn't mean the counter isn't reset on Sunday. I will have to finish another one the following week. It's time for a little tough love on myself. I'm ready for it.
3. Every Sunday this year I will blog about the above mentioned project(s) that was finished during the week. I will only be posting on Sundays as to limit the amount of pressure on myself to take pictures and write. I'm hoping that by next year I'll be able to post more often, but for now once a week will be enough. There will also be the occasional photo of my feline helpers of course. One cannot work without snoop-ervision.
I just want to thank people for reading this wall of text. It hasn't been easy to write. Tomorrow I'll be starting my weekly Sunday post with a some gorgeous things I've finished this first week of January.
And to thank you again for putting up with the wall of text, here are a few pictures of Miss Pixel Pea.