The Toughest One Yet

This will be my most vulnerable post yet, one I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. And now, I think, the time is right. But first, I want to say that mental illness is very personal. My hope is that in time more and more people will open up about it. The more we talk it about the more we learn and the more all those false stigmas will, hopefully, die. But it can be incredibly difficult to talk about. Stigmas are still there and people can judge. It took me years before I felt comfortable sharing my experiences. And it has taken me months to feel comfortable sharing this new one. But I truly hope it is enlightening, educational and gives hope to others.

One night back in March I made a half-attempt at my life. I say half-attempt because I took some pills—enough that I knew it would probably hurt me, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t enough to actually kill me. I felt worthless and like the world and everyone in it would be better off without me. I wanted to die, but didn’t completely have the courage, if that’s the right word, to make sure I’d taken enough pills to end my life.

My husband wasn’t home and couldn’t get home until the next morning, but being worried about me he let some trusted people know. Those trusted people called the police, who showed up at my door around midnight. I had to go out and talk to them, tell them what I’d done, what pills I’d taken, why I had taken them. Standing out there in the cold, being told I had to go to the hospital, was one of the worst days of my life. My daughters were in bed, unaware of anything going on. I worried about them waking up in the morning for school with no parent home. I felt worthless, utterly incompetent, stupid, ashamed, horrible and like I was a bad, bad person.

I was taken in the back of a police car to a local hospital where I don’t feel I got the help I really needed. Everyone there acted like I was inconveniencing them. Once they were sure the pills I had taken weren’t actually going to kill me they basically pressured me into leaving. They told me I had to find someone who could come pick me up and take me home. I was embarrassed, very, very drowsy from the pills I had taken and was in one of the darkest places I’d ever been—I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I tried telling them that if I could just wait until morning my husband could probably pick me up, but they wouldn’t let me wait. I called some people, but it was the middle of the night. No one answered. I told the people at the hospital this. “You mentioned something about an ex-husband,” one of them said. “Can you call him?” Sure, my ex and I may have a mostly amicable relationship, but I did not want to call him. However, they continued pressuring me, so I called and miracle of all miracles he actually answered and said he could come pick me up. It was sort of like adding insult to injury. It was absolutely humiliating that I had to be picked up from the hospital and taken home by my ex-husband. I again felt embarrassed, stupid, incompetent and horrible.

The trauma of that night and the things that led me to do what I did stuck with me. It gave me PTSD which manifested through seeing police cars and police officers. The police officers that night were actually really wonderful. They treated me with respect and actually seemed to care about what happened to me. But for whatever reason seeing police cars and police officers is what triggered my PTSD. Living with PTSD was absolutely horrible—one of the most horrible things I’ve ever gone through. Luckily, EMDR helped heal me. I no longer have panic attacks or even get nervous when seeing them. But there has been a lot more to work through. Having an amazing therapist has truly been life-changing. I know I wouldn’t have recovered or progressed the way I have without her.

One reason why I want to share this story is so people understand that suicide ideation, attempted suicide and actual suicide is not some far-off thing that only happens to other people. Being aware of this and educated in it can only help.

 I also want people to understand that suicide doesn’t mean a person is crazy or even unstable. I had to take a few days off work because the pills I took did some horrible things to my stomach, but the next week I was back at work. I continued my duties as a mom, a wife, a neighbor and a member of my church congregation. It was hard, but I did it because that is my life. And I haven’t attempted or even thought about suicide since then. There can be moments of severe depression that leads someone to suicide or attempted suicide. It doesn’t mean they are selfish or horrible or incompetent or unstable. It may just mean they are dealing with the horrors of life. It may mean they need help. It may mean they need a little extra love and understanding.

Even as I write this I debate with myself about whether to share it or not. Are people going to look at me differently? Are they going to treat me differently? Am I going to be someone who is whispered about and shunned? If so, I still want to share. I dream of creating a safe place for others to share their struggles too. Because we all struggle. We are not alone in our struggles—even those who hurt so badly we want to end our lives. I dream of a world where we can all talk openly about tough subjects like mental illness and suicide. If anyone wants to talk about it, I’ll talk about it. If anyone needs a listening ear, I’ll be the listening ear. If I can make even one small crack in the armor of stigmas and stereotypes and the consensus that we shouldn’t talk about these things I know my vulnerability is worth it.

What Exactly is Anxiety?

I’ve been encouraged to keep writing from people who say they have learned. So I’m going to keep writing and keep attempting to teach because I believe strongly in education and especially in educating about mental illness.

Today I write about Generalized Anxiety Disorder—an actual diagnosable condition, just like COVID-19. So what is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines it as being “characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things”. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it also describes how sometimes with GAD “just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.” The Mayo Clinic adds that GAD is “difficult to control and (can) interfere with day-to-day activities”. It also describes how disabling GAD can be. It can:

  • Impair your ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently because you have trouble concentrating
  • Take your time and focus from other activities
  • Sap your energy
  • Increase your risk of depression

GAD can also lead to or worsen physical conditions, as well, such as:

  • Digestive or bowel problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Heart-health issues

GAD is bad. It is hard. It can be crippling. I have experienced it. I don’t have anxiety all the time, but it is with me all the time. Often, it is triggered or worsened by certain things. It’s important to keep in mind that those triggers are different for everyone, but I’m going to share some of mine.

waiting-410328_1280First, time. Time is a huge trigger for me. Everyone I know who has GAD is triggered by being late. Most people with GAD are pretty punctual because even just the thought of being late triggers anxiety. Waiting goes along with this. If I have to wait too long past a scheduled meeting or appointment, I become anxious. Even if I see someone else having to wait, my anxiety kicks in.

Social gatherings, such as church or work parties, are a big one. I get claustrophobic staying in my house, so I do enjoying getting out, but there have been so many times I’ve nearly canceled meeting a friend for dinner or a hike or other such get together because of anxiety. Sometimes I can push through. Other times, however, I have canceled. Sometimes I’ve skipped those parties or going to church because my anxiety won. And I know—I know—it has nothing to do with me being weak or not good enough or strong enough or having enough faith, but everything to do with my diagnosed GAD.

Calling people on the phone is something else that gives me very bad anxiety. I know several other people with GAD who get triggered by making phone calls or even thinking of making a call. That’s why I love and prefer texting. “What’s the difference?” one may ask. The difference is that one triggers my anxiety and a slew of worries in my head while the other doesn’t.

There are plenty of other things that trigger my anxiety or worries I have that are always in my head, but the last one I’m going to share is having something cover my face. Most of my adult life, as far as I can remember I’ve hated, feared and panicked at having anything covering my face or part of my face. Recently, my fiance and I were playing around and he threw something over my head and I started freaking out. I think he remembered and helped me get it off. He seemed to feel bad, but I knew he didn’t mean anything, so I didn’t say anything, and we moved on. So imagine now being told that I have to wear something all the time that covers my face. I’ve had several panic attacks while wearing, or even attempting, to wear a mask. Just the thought of it makes it harder for me to breathe. So when I go out in public without a mask on, it’s not because I’m being selfish, it’s not because I don’t care about others, and it’s certainly not because I think my freedom is being taken away. It’s because I’m trying to prevent a panic attack. GAD is already crippling enough without having a panic attack every time I leave my home. Next post I’ll write about panic attacks.

I truly hope what I have written helps others learn more about anxiety and what it is, as well as things that can trigger it. And, as always, I hope what I write helps someone out there to know they’re not alone.

Anxiety VS Nervousness

I’ve been thinking about anxiety a lot. Probably because mine has been bad lately and partly from conversations I’ve had with others.

So what exactly is anxiety? According to anxiety.org it is “the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event.” It doesn’t sound that bad, but real, actual anxiety disorder can be debilitating.

Anxiety isn’t just being nervous. I get nervous when I play my flute in front of people. I get that tickle in my stomach, I get a little shaky, but it doesn’t trigger my anxiety.

praying-25596_1280Saying prayers at church or in front of people—that triggers my anxiety. I had to pray at church this past Sunday. I started feeling sick to my stomach before even getting to church. Then sitting there, waiting for church to begin, singing the opening hymn, I felt like I was going to throw up. I could barely breathe. It felt like someone had stacked weights on top of my chest, and I started shaking. But I said the prayer. It was nice and short, because that’s just what I do. Then I sat down and continued to shake—wanted to cry—but held on until the panic finally, eventually passed and I was mildly okay again.

I think it’s important to recognize the difference between anxiety and nervousness so as not to minimize what people with anxiety disorder actually go through.

Now, does that mean I should avoid all anxiety-inducing activities? No. That would be impossible. There have been times my anxiety has been so bad, so overwhelming, that I physically couldn’t bring myself to do something like go to church, engage in conversation at a party or make a phone call. But I’m grateful for the times I can push through and do something despite my anxiety because it shows me that I can have this terrible illness and still live in the world—as hard as it is sometimes. I can do hard things. You can do hard things.

My OCD Triggered

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Life definitely isn’t consistent. It can be for awhile, but the bumps and potholes and twists and turns inevitably return. My OCD, which had been completely absent for quite some time, was triggered again, and I’m really struggling with it. The hard part is that it was triggered by someone I thought was a friend, someone I greatly valued. Turns out she was the fair-weather kind, or maybe never one at all. Maybe the facade was always there, and I chose not to see it because of how much the person I thought she was meant to me.

After my last post this friend unfriended me on Facebook and messaged me telling me how much it hurt her, that she couldn’t be my friend and how she was really doing it for me, or for my benefit. Indeed, she was one of several people who prompted me to write what I did. I saw dozens of her own brazen posts, and each one felt like a punch to the gut. Whether she meant it or not, they all left me feeling like I was stupid, uncaring and pathetic. I did unfollow her because I knew it was best for me, just like I unfollowed several other people, some of which I share the same point of view with. Their posts left me feeling just as sick. I, however, didn’t stoop to unfriending her because, as I’ve stated, I cared about her and valued her friendship so much. I also, in part, understood where she was coming from because I was her once, many years ago. And the reason I changed was because I saw how it was driving away people who meant something to me.

I even have a recent example. Since getting back on Facebook about a year ago I have tried to stay away from controversial topics that will insight anger and hurt. But I recently reposted something of a friend’s that I thought was funny. It was political, and I posted it light-heartedly because it made me laugh, and I thought it was true. A good friend called me out on it, though. She read it as being mean and intolerant. Even though that was the furthest thing from my intention, and not what I meant or felt at all, I deleted the post because her friendship was more important to me than some stupid post on stupid Facebook.

Now, going back to my other friend, as soon as she saw one single post of mine that she didn’t like she told me she couldn’t be my friend anymore. (Sounds ridiculously Jr. Highish, right?!) Her cause was more important to her than a friendship that had lasted almost twenty years. And it hurt. It hurt so much to know that politics was more important to her than a person, than a friend who had been very loyal to her for almost twenty years.

I think the thing that really triggered my OCD, though, was her statement of saying she was doing it for me—like I’m some poor little girl who’s too incompetent to possibly know for myself what’s best for me. I’ve had other friends, family members and an ex-boyfriend who used those same words/tactics on me. It brought all of those past experiences rushing to the surface, and I can’t stop thinking about them. I can’t stop thinking about whether I replied to her the right way. I keep going over and over and over what I wish I could tell her, make her see. And then I keep wondering if maybe they’re all right. Am I stupid? Am I pathetic? Am I incompetent? Deep down, I know I’m not. I have been through so much the last year, and I have learned and grown and accomplished so much. I have had amazing support and help along the way from family, friends and neighbors who truly do care about me. But it’s also because I am strong, because I am capable, because I am smart and I do care. Because I am competent, and no one knows what’s best for me better than I do myself. Yet the thoughts circle. The hurt persists. I had made such strides, and now I feel like I’m back to step one again. Well, maybe not that far, but close.

Luckily, the difference between now and when I really was at step one is that I know I can move forward. My anxiety at driving a car again after my accident evaporated after that very first drive. Now I have no problem driving. Easy-peasy, as my kids would say! I think dealing with the OCD will take a little longer, but I’m not going to let someone who devalues others so much stamp out all of the progress I have made, and any of you out there dealing with the same thing shouldn’t either. I will rise up, and I will recover, even if it takes a little time. You can rise up and recover, even if it takes time.