This week is mental health week, and as devastating as things are in the news in Canada right now, it almost seems appropriate for this topic to come up.


Many people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder find that watching the news triggers their anxiety. Generally, I don’t find news to bother me too much. I mean, I can hear a story about some product I use or have used or food I’ve purchased that has a recall or some controversy of some kind and that can get me thinking obsessively about whether or not I’m going to be affected by it in any way.

For the most part, I’m pretty good at pushing those thoughts away with logic.

However, when it does bother me, it’s usually because I have some kind of connection to some part of the story.

News

Right now, Fort McMurray is all over the news because of raging wildfires causing the entire city to be evacuated.

As some of you may know, I lived in Alberta for several years. I lived in northern Alberta for four and a half years during high school. Fort Mac is about a 7.5 hours drive northeast of where I lived. It’s only that long because you have to go south a ways to get there. There’s not much going on up in that part of the province. Everything is far away.

I only ever went to Fort Mac one time, on a band trip in grade 11. We left early to go to Edmonton because there was nothing to do after we finished playing at the festival. So, I don’t have much to say about it as a city, but being a well known city in a province I called home for 14 years, I have a bit of an emotional connection to it. To any city in the province, really. I also know a few people, clients from my former employer, from the public school division in Fort McMurray.

Fear & Anxiety

If it had been anything else, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much but because it’s a fire, it upsets me a fair bit.

I have a very intense fear of fire. I don’t want to say it’s an irrational fear – because, you know, it’s fire, it can be very dangerous and unpredictable, so it isn’t completely irrational – but the severity of it is right up there and may almost qualify it as irrational.

There probably isn’t any actual logical reason why I’m afraid of fire. I have a very similar fear of lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, and sharp objects that can cut off limbs. I have a hard time even being near the gas fireplace in my parents’ house. Even when it’s not turned on. Seeing anything about house fires, forest fires, wildfires, etc. on the news or online scares me.

Intrusive Thoughts

In addition to the “simple” fear of fire, seeing images of things like what is happening in Fort McMurray right now, triggers very vivid, intrusive thoughts.

I used to brush it off as simply having a vivid imagination. That was before I understood what intrusive thoughts were. I don’t even need to be looking at an image of a fire to see, in my head, it raging through a bunch of dry trees and engulfing an entire neighbourhood.

Images on TV shows and movies of people being trapped in fire burning houses and being burned alive have probably contributed significantly to the images I see in my head when I don’t want to.

But that’s the key with intrusive thoughts, they’re unwanted. They are intrusive because they seemingly come out of nowhere. I have kind of figured out what can trigger many of my reoccurring intrusive thoughts, but in most cases it’s everyday things. I can’t avoid these triggers. It’s impossible.

I’ve been living with these intrusive thoughts for so long, that I’ve sort of gotten used to them, but that doesn’t make them any less intense or less unsettling. It’s just something I have to deal with on a daily basis.

Like a huge slap in the face, I suddenly realized this morning that I haven’t actually looked at myself in the mirror in a really long time.

Yeah, I use the mirror for doing my hair and putting on makeup and whatnot, but those are very specific tasks requiring my focus to be zoned in on those areas to perform those tasks.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about depression. Not necessarily in a bad way, just sort of thinking about the concept of it. (I mean, it is mental health week right now too, but it started before that.) I may spend too much time on the internet watching videos and reading articles about other people’s struggles and just general information about depression, but its more of a learning, educational thing. Although, it may be a bit obsessive.

Even though I was in denial about my issues for so long, I always knew something wasn’t right. When I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) I didn’t know, at the time, what anxiety really was, but I knew, more or less, what depression was. Because of that, I had kind of expected a diagnosis of depression.

Even though my doctor at the time didn’t say I wasn’t depressed, I felt like because said I have anxiety and didn’t say I had depression, that that’s all it was. Just anxiety. No depression. Because he didn’t really give me a clear explanation of what an anxiety disorder was, I felt compelled to do my own research to figure out exactly what it is that he says is going on in my head because I totally didn’t get it.

I read that people with GAD tend to have “depressive episodes” even if they don’t have actual depression, meeting diagnostic criteria. So, I wrote off my depression as these “depressive episodes” and left it at that.

Even though I continued doing my own research, and read a lot about the relationship between anxiety disorders and depression, I intentionally – yet subconsciously – stayed away from anything directly talking about depression. I thought, it’s just anxiety, not depression. It explains everything. All these years that I thought I was depressed, I wasn’t.

It goes back to my fears of being told it was all in my head. I was making it up. I’m not actually depressed.

That’s only a small piece of the giant load of bull shit that depression was telling me.

It was completely random and by accident that I came across the word “dysthymia” and had to find out what it was. I found out it was an old name for chronic depression, which is a milder but longer lasting form of depression.

As I read more about it, I kept thinking, holy shit! I think I have this.

That of course had me worried that I was self diagnosing and that, again, it was all in my head.

I have since, more or less, been told by both my old and new doctors that I have depression. They never like outright said, “ok, so you have this specific disorder.” I know I should be ok with that, but a big part of my brain wants to put a name on it. I feel like somehow it would be easier to tell people, “yeah, I have this, this, and this,” than it would to be like, “yeah, I have this big huge mess of shit in my brain but I don’t have a specific word to give you for it.” It makes it seem less real somehow.

But it is real.

Today is Wednesday. On Monday, I actually felt pretty good. No particular reason I could think of, but I was just, generally a in a more positive headspace.

I wasn’t like really happy or in a spectacular mood or anything. I certainly wasn’t in a bad mood and I wasn’t “down”. I don’t really have a good way to describe it. I was just somewhere in the middle of not bad but not awesome either.

The thing that was weird is that I was shocked by it. I didn’t feel my regular level of annoyance at certain things. I just generally had a more positive response to daily things and for some reason that surprised me. I was like, whoa, this is weird.

But I didn’t fight it. Not consciously anyway.

Then Tuesday rolled around and it was the complete polar opposite. It was like the little workers that keep my brain functioning were saying, whoa, wait a minute. Somebody fucked up! Someone is going to get fired for this. Now we have to overcompensate and make today the absolute shittiest day for Keira ever!

I was getting annoyed and irritated by everything, and I just wanted the day to be over so I could curl up in bed and stay there forever.

Fast forward to this morning…

When I went to get up, I rolled over to my dog, who was fast asleep beside me. As usual, he stirred a little, while looking slightly annoyed and sleepy. I rubbed his head and his ears, scratched his back and his legs. He adjusted himself to bring his face closer to mine and I kissed him on top of his head and got up. He stretched and jumped off the bed, and stretched again before I opened the bedroom door.

This has been a regular thing since moving back in with my parents. This isn’t what mine and Mosley’s mornings looked like before, as he usually slept in his bed, probably be cause my bed was a bit smaller and I tend to kick in my sleep. Not that there was anything wrong with our old morning routine. I just really like this one better! It usually has me giggling because he’ll roll over weird and look like he doesn’t want to get up and just wants me to rub his belly and give him lots of love, even though he is a super high energy dog and the second I look like I’m getting out of bed, he leaps gleefully off the bed and prances to the door and bounds up the stairs (my room is in the basement) for my dad (who is usually already up) to let him outside for a pee.

I went into the bathroom to get ready to shower. For some reason, it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I looked at myself in the mirror. I mean really looked.

I had no intention of inserting a picture of
Jensen Ackles here, but when I  Googled
for something to use it came up, and it
just felt right. 😉

I stood there, in my plaid pajama pants and too big, weeping angel “don’t blink” T-shirt. (Doctor Who, for those of you who have no idea what that means.) I avoided my face, as I’ve done many times. I looked at my shirt, my body and my un-bra’ed chest, and groaned silently to myself. I hate my body. Always have.

Then, I made a conscious effort to look at my face. My expressionless, tired looking face.

I thought, wow, I look like shit!

I stared for a minute and then tried to make some sort of shape or expression of any kind with my mouth.

This is ridiculous, I thought. I tried to form a smile on my face and it immediately felt completely, utterly stupid and I broke eye contact with myself and stared down at the sink. I couldn’t look up again.

That was kind of my “holy shit” moment telling me, I am not happy.

Its weird. When I was really young, I was always a happy kid. My parents have told me a few times recently (probably mostly due to discussions about my grandpa, since he passed away back in March) about how cute and happy I was as a kid and how I was always smiling.

And I remember being generally a fairly happy kid as I got older. Even as I started developing, what I now know was anxiety (didn’t know at the time) I was happy. Even though I was shy around new people and I would have mental breakdowns at home about homework and other stupid things. Outside of all that, I was happy.

Somewhere along the way, things changed.

Yes, I feel happiness in moments where I should (which is part of why I struggled to admit that something was wrong in the first place). I genuinely laugh and giggle and get excited for things. I can laugh hysterically at jokes and funny stories. Receiving cool gifts and things for Christmas and my birthday and having funny discussions with my family, I do feel genuinely happy, in the moment.

Sometimes my happy reactions to things may feel a bit over the top, and I tend to realize it half way through it happening, which makes me wonder how much I’m faking without realizing I’m doing it. Sometimes I won’t have as strong of a happy reaction as I expect to have in a given situation, but many times the happiness is truly genuine.

It’s the moments where I’m alone in my head, or nothing is going on around me to distract me where I just kind of don’t feel anything. Or everything all at once. It’s not always even that I’m feeling down, although, sometimes that is the case. It’s just kind of nothing. Everything. Nothing in particular. Everything .

Usually, there are thoughts running through my head about various things and I might get panicked or upset by them, but they never make me feel happy. And sometimes its like my emotions are just blank. My brain doesn’t know what to feel, so it just feels nothing.

And that’s what I saw when I looked in the mirror this morning. Nothing.

Its how I felt last night sitting in my room watching TV. Nothing.

There were some moments of irritation mixed in there due to things happening in the house, but while that wasn’t happening… Nothing.

I think there is a part if me that is ok with life being this way, and for a long time, that part was a majority.

I realized this morning that that part of me is getting smaller and the part of me that wants to feel that child-like happiness again is getting bigger.

I don’t want to look in the mirror and see nothing.

As I mentioned previously, I have a new doctor now, since I moved. And so far, even though I’ve only met him twice, I am really happy with him.

My previous doctor

I did actually like my old doctor. He was funny and always had good answers for things. Physical things, anyway.

I found that when I met with him the first time, about my mental health, he wasn’t giving me the full attention I needed. He was running almost an hour behind that day, but I was in a really rough place and I really needed help, and I didn’t feel like I got 100% of what I needed.

He said that was I was describing was “classic anxiety disorder” which, when you Google it, isn’t even a thing. Could be that it was renamed (I’ve done a fair amount of research into this area and have found that the DSM has renamed several conditions over the years) to generalized anxiety disorder, however, it would have been easier for me to understand if he had told me what it was. I had to research it myself because I did not understand at all what an anxiety disorder was to begin with.

In our discussion, he did clearly try to assess whether or not I was depressed, but I don’t think he went deep enough with it, because it took me coming back a second time, a couple months later with very little improvement in symptoms for him to now say that I have “depressive tendencies”. Whatever that means.

During that first appointment, he asked me if I had ever self-harmed, but that was something I wasn’t really prepared to talk about at the time.

Because I was sort of caught off guard, even though I wasn’t actually surprised that he asked (weird, I know) I tried to avoid answering while also answering at the same time. It wasn’t a conscious thing, its just how it came out.

Verbally, I tried to say that I tend to pick at scabs and stuff really bad, while physically, I found myself pulling my sleeve up as I said it (wasn’t even thinking about it, just did it), like I was trying to show him, but not say it.

Here’s the thing….. I’ve never done any like really bad stuff to myself. I used to try to punch or hit walls and things, hoping to injure my hand or arm or kicking things to injure my foot or leg but was always too scared of causing damage to what I was hitting and having to explain that. An injury is easy enough to explain away than a hole in the wall of my parents’ house.

I did actually kick a hole in my bedroom door once, but it was more out of anger than an attempt at self harm. Probably like 20% self harm, 50% anger at my parents (don’t remember why, now) and 30% anger at the fact that the door wouldn’t slam hard enough to my satisfaction.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started, sort of, cutting. I didn’t really have anything handy that was sharp enough to really cut with, so it was more like scratching with whatever sharp-ish object was nearby, like scissors.

It started out small. Later it became a way to distract myself from whatever was going on, because I could focus on that tiny little thing, and I had full control over it. Except for the fact that it wasn’t cutting deep enough. I went over each scratch many times until I was distracted enough from the thing that was bothering me that I could go to bed or do something else.

So I do have some scars, but they aren’t completely obvious, unless you’re looking.

I’ll talk a bit more on something semi-related to this in a later post, because it isn’t entirely relevant right now.

Anyway, I think I was hoping he would see the scars, even though they really don’t stand out, so I wouldn’t need to say it. But all I could get out was picking obsessively at scabs and scratches and stuff and he cut me off saying, “that’s not self-harm” and moved on to something else.

In addition to that, I feel like he was just throwing meds at the problem without really trying to help me. He did mention cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and said it would be a good idea, but didn’t really make it easy. In addition to the three doctors that were based out of that office, they had a councillor two days a week (she worked at different offices in town on other days) and he suggested that I meet with her.

I met with her a few days later, and we had a good conversation, and she did say that it sounded like I was a worrier. She gave me a ton of papers with information and ideas for things to manage my anxiety, but she didn’t tell me that I should come back to see her again.

I kind of felt like I was left to fend for myself, which wasn’t much better than it was before I went to see my doctor in the first place. That’s partly why I ended up doing so much research on my own. I mean, getting a diagnosis (sort of) did kind of lift a huge weight off my shoulders, but after the first week or so, it all came crashing back down again.

My new doctor

My new doctor, is in an office that is basically a whole health centre. They have about 10 doctors, several nurse practitioners, a mental health team, and they run several different programs for various things. It is actually kind of cool.

Although we haven’t talked about the whole self harm thing, we have talked in detail about my anxiety and depression, and he gave me a referral to see one of their mental health workers.

My doctor has seemed genuinely invested in making sure that I get better. I’ve met with him twice now. He asks me lots of questions and has really seems like he’s trying to help me find the right solution.

One big thing he said, that I really hadn’t thought about or realized for myself, is that my depression and suicidal thoughts aren’t so much feeling hopeless and alone, its more that I feel overwhelmed. Figuring that out, he said he actually feels better about me getting better, because of that.

He did still feel that he should give me the local crisis number, just in case I needed it. That’s something neither my previous doctor or that councillor did.

But I realized, this is why I get stressed so easily and why my suicidal thoughts tend to come more when I’m stressed than anything else. They tend to be more along the lines of, it would be so much easier if I could just die, then I wouldn’t have to deal with all this shit anymore.

When we were talking about my past suicidal thoughts, he asked if I had ever attempted suicide or had a plan for it. It has never gotten that far because I always over think it (or at least that’s how I used to describe it, but I now know this was anxiety related) and end up thinking about if it doesn’t work, then people will find out and I have to explain it to them, and that scared the shit out of me. His response was, “you anxioused yourself out of it.” I laughed, because it is kind of funny, but it is totally accurate!

I also think that’s why I’ve always felt like people would say I wasn’t actually depressed, because I didn’t fit into the typical hopelessness type of depression. I also still, usually, feel joy and happiness in many things. Its just when there’s too many things going on I get very overwhelmed and that causes me to get super stressed out.

I’ve started CBT with someone on the mental health team at my new doctor’s office. The first appointment was just for him to get to know me and see what’s going on. Then we had a second appointment where we had our my first CBT session. I’m still a bit nervous about the whole thing. We joked a couple times about how it would be so much nicer if they made an “easy button” (like the old Staples ads) but its not. Its more like school. I always hated school. I have to work at it all the time, until it becomes second nature.

Light at the end of the tunnel

I feel like having these resources readily available to me now has given me a new perspective on things. I have a doctor who actually cares about what I’m going through and wants to help me get better. And the resources are available to me through my doctor’s office to help me work at getting better. That is so important, and I think everyone should have that!

I am still struggling. I’m not afraid to admit that.

I have good days and bad days.

I have good hours and bad hours.

Good minutes and bad minutes.

But I actually finally feel like I have a chance.

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It’s Mental Health Week! #GETLOUD
Find out more here: mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca
And also, here: getloud.mentalhealthweek.ca

Last week I had a follow up appointment with my doctor. As he had planned, since I had already stopped taking my old anti-depressant, he increased my new anti-depressant from 50mg to 100mg. Doubling the 50s to finish them off, and have a new prescription for the 100mg capsules.

Had some of the same side effects as I did when I increased the old one. Mostly stomach issues. That has mostly gone away, but I am finding that if I don’t eat right around the time I take my pills my stomach tends to be a little more upset throughout the day. Since I’ve always kind of had stomach issues, its hard to say whether or not it is being caused by the medication or some other factors (food, etc.). This one does say it should be taken with food and the old one didn’t. It may be due to the fact that the old one was in time release capsules, but the new one is in those capsules that are like two pieces that you could pull apart (usually contain medication in powder form).

Its a little too early still to say whether or not the increased dose it having any effect or not. I really didn’t feel any change when we increased the dose last time, which ultimately is why I felt changing medication altogether was ok.

—–

It’s Mental Health Week! #GETLOUD
Find out more here: mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca
And also, here: getloud.mentalhealthweek.ca

I plan to try and write a few more posts this week, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on my self lately, and that is not good. I’m not going to try and force it, I’ll just let it happen.

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P.S. #MayThe4thBeWithYou