Running for your life.

This week I made myself a list of days I need to do things and what time and stuff I need to remember because while I’m slowly step by agonising step crawling my way back to me, I still have a shocking memory and kept forgetting dates and times.

At the beginning of the week I was sure I was going to rock this, maybe it would be hard but I would definitely complete it and at the end of the week I would look back at my long list of accomplishments and fantastic mum-moments and feel like I actually did something apart from survive. I thought to myself (okay, I mostly lectured AT myself because I’m one of my biggest cheerleaders and also a giant nag) ‘listen, this is like a muscle, you have to WORK at getting stuff done in the beginning and then before you know it, it won’t be so hard anymore’. Kind of like how last week I began weight bearing exercises to rebuild muscles and the next day my thighs hurt like an absolute bitch and then the day after, even though I KEPT doing the exercises, it didn’t hurt so much and now it doesn’t hurt at all even though I’m doing more than I was when I started.

And I think I might be on the right track with that line of thinking, but shit, it’s really hard. Basically every morning my anxiety tells me to go back to bed and make excuses for why I can’t do whatever I had on that day and stubborn me has to dig her heels in and push on through. I hope this time next year I will look back and just be like, “Oh, man, you were so sick then but look how far you’ve come.” But it’s really hard to feel like a warrior when you just keep having your ass kicked by life. And I kind of feel a little resentment that I even have to be a warrior anyway because I don’t feel it is in my nature. I’m the person that would be first to die in a horror movie because I’d run for a bit and then think, “Nah, fuck it. Let’s do this.” And turn around face them knowing I’m probably toast. And sometimes I think I like that part of me more than I would if I was the running and screaming type. The part of me that is just ready to give it up. Not give up life but give up running. The part that turns and stares and just says, “Whatever. Let’s see what happens next.”

I kind of did that in the beginning when I first sort of broke down (I never know what to call what happened, ‘nervous breakdown?’ ‘anxiety attack that lasted for weeks?’) when I would lay outside and just be buffeted by waves of crushing anxiety and nausea from the anxiety. People think anxiety is just worry.

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

People who have never HAD anxiety think that it’s just worry. If you have ever suffered you understand likening anxiety to worry is kind of like telling someone whose leg has been crushed under a bus and the bus is on fire and also it’s on the bottom of the ocean and your drowning that you understand because you once stubbed your toe.

“Just don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m cured.”

Friends, 95% of the time – I don’t even KNOW WHAT I am anxious ABOUT. It’s not that I’m worrying about my power bill or what to wear to a cocktail party. It’s that I can’t get out of my bed to put water in a frigging vase for the flowers my partner bought me to coax me out of the very bed I can’t get out of AND I DON’T KNOW WHY. I just know if I stand up I will either pass out or throw up or cry.

And so during that time I did kind of just turn and face the attacker and be like, “Whatever. Just stab me then.” And it did. But instead of dying I just lay there bleeding until I realised it would keep stabbing and I would keep not dying until I got up and shuffled away. So I do. I move. I run. I walk. Fuck, some days? I just crawl. But I keep moving. And I’m resentful that I am forced to be this warrior when I’m really more of a lazy, accept-my-fate kind of gal.

So this week I have moved. I have put on foot in front of the other and hated the fact it’s so damn hard the whole time. But I did it. This week the attacker didn’t catch me.

See you Monday, bitch.

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Underdog.

Today I was sitting up at 6:30 in the morning reading up on statistics on youth crime and birth rates because I needed to engage in an argument on the Internet. I have no idea why I do this. It’s bizarre. I think it stems from my need to forever be backing the Underdog and someone made a sweeping statement about poor people and I immediately jumped to the defence of poor people everywhere because – Underdog. Anyway, I read her statement and thought it couldn’t be right and it was absolutely poverty shaming but I can’t ever just speak my mind unless I’ve verified it with studies or statistics because on top of this irrational need to engage in arguments where I back the Underdog I also have this irrational love of statistics and studies.

Alright, so I am awake at 6:30 in the morning researching so I can make a backed up argument in defence of those in a low socioeconomic bracket….

I can’t remember where I was going with this story.

Let’s skip ahead.

Okay, so I’m in my therapist’s office and we are discussing this because, you might remember, I had a real issue with my Tolerance Card and this need to research is all part of my Curiosity Card (although in this instance it leached over into my Fairness Card because I felt poor people were being treated unfairly).

Wait!

I just remembered where I was taking this story. Right. So while I was thinking about the Underdog and poverty I was remembering a journal entry I wrote ages ago about how poverty is paralysing. It seemed really poignant and I thought I might be able to cheat and use some of it to blog because I’ve been struck by the worst case of writer’s block of all time. So I was trawling through my old journal trying to find it and slipped down the rabbit hole into my own brain space a year ago and was like Ho-ly Shiiiiit. Because – damn if I wasn’t depressed a year ago and also – my god, have I come a long way. Even when I was good I was still pretty bad. I was blaming a lot of outside forces for my mental decline because see, I’m so sensitive and delicate. I just can’t take much of a pummelling. And, you guys, I was totally having my ass kicked. But that’s not the outside forces fault, they were just being themselves. It was me who couldn’t take the whipping. (So you know what? If you have found this blog and you know who you are, fuck it, I forgive you, okay? You were a world class bitch but hot damn if you weren’t good at it).

Anyway, back to it. Or back to where we skipped ahead. I’m in my therapists office and she thinks I’ve made outstanding progress on my Curiosity and Tolerance Cards. So we begin to work on Gratitude.

And I’m like, “Why are we working on strengths? I mean, aren’t they already strengths? Shouldn’t we be working on the stack of cards I didn’t choose?”

And she responds with, “Sometimes there are little flaws in the strengths. You don’t realise it at first but if you try to build with them and there is a tiny crack the whole structure comes down. First we explore the strengths and then we get to the part where we add in strengths you didn’t know you had.”

That seemed like fairly solid advice. So this week for homework I need to think about Gratitude. This one is easy. Just while I’ve been writing this I’ve had the opportunity to be grateful for a smashing sunset, for the black cat curled by my feet, for the smell of woodsmoke, for my son’s chatter inside. I am grateful for the fact I am getting well. I am so grateful for not quitting. But then again it’s unsurprising I backed myself.

I always did like the Underdog.

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Cheerleader.

In the morning or evening when everyone is inside I sit under the sky and I write. I do it on my phone, on the laptop, sometimes I scrawl it along pages in a worn notebook. The more I write, the more I see a theme emerging. The more I write, the more I see that my words are me attempting to cheerlead myself on. I’m standing outside myself looking at a crumpled me on the floor and shaking my own shoulders, whispering words of encouragement into my own ear, spooning bits of hope into my own mouth and hoping I will stand up again. I pull out memories of the past and show them to myself, offering them up like jewels and wait to see which one will spark determination in my eyes.

This hopeful me, she is like a mother – fierce and gentle at once. She refuses to give up and let me rot away in defeat. Her words are gifts to me. I am equally shocked by how broken I am as by how determined I am to fix myself. I am awed by the part of myself that diligently drives to therapy every week and walks through my fears while my eyes follow the lights on the EMDR machine. That pushes to eat another mouthful. That says, “Get up. What else are you going to do?” That opens the door and steps out. At first I was horrified and ashamed by my own fragility. More and more I am aware of my own strength and bravery. And every time I write, every bit of hope I swallow down, I get to know her better.

This last week was a good one for me. For the last three months I had been waking hours before sunrise, nauseated with anxiety, trying to gag down a banana (I could tolerate very few foods) and reading to try to put my mind anywhere but in my own body. My brain wouldn’t shut down, it felt like an old Rolodex flicking through thoughts rapidly, never settling on a single thing. Sometimes I would physically be sick. By the time four hours had passed, the sun had risen and I had pulled myself together enough to wake the children and get them ready for school, faking the morning until I dropped them off and could retreat back to my room and my books until I needed to fake the pick up. I felt physically and emotionally fragile. I never really understood that word until that time, when I had absolutely no mental strength at all. I went no where. I mean – NO where. I literally went only to the school for pick ups and drop offs and therapy. I didn’t go to shops or see family or even for a walk around the block. Nothing.

Last week, after hours of therapy it was like I suddenly woke up. I got up one morning and said, “I’m going to clean the car.” I drove several suburbs away and vacuumed and shampooed the carpets. I went to the shops and bought new mats. The next day I drove 400kms to drop off the kids to their dads. The next day I took my second eldest daughter to lunch. The day after that I took the teenagers to the plant nursery and we bought herbs and house plants. I visited with my grandparents the day after that. I ate food sometimes without even thinking about what I was eating. One night I looked down and realised I had finished my entire dinner. I got seconds. I challenged myself to eat ‘trigger foods’. “Eat the ice cream, it’s therapy, just do it.”

I woke up one morning happy and realised I hadn’t actually been happy in months. It was as though all those months of cheerleading myself on had finally come to fruition.

Part of me is terrified of relapse. I worry I will wake up and find I have flicked the switch back to survival mode. I know there will probably be steps back sometimes, that it’s expected. But this little glimpse through the looking glass of what recovery feels like is so amazing in it’s brilliance that I’m hoping I can carry it’s light through the darkness if the sun goes behind a cloud.

This is what I want to tell myself if that happens, I’m going to write it here so I can read it if I need to:

Recovery exists. Magic exists. Happiness is real. You have worked so damn hard for this and you can feel ‘well’. You are brave and you are strong even if you feel fragile. Underneath that delicate exterior you are a fighter. Don’t listen to the lies your fears tell you. They’re not real. I am real. And I am telling you – you got this.

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Foundation.

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Anxiety is the most debilitating thing that has every happened to me.  To be fair, I have led a fairly healthy life with most of my health issues only ever arising in pregnancy (HG, SPD, GD – a little alphabet soup that spelled uncomfortable and unpleasant but in most cases not deadly).  I have been depressed before.  The kind of depressed where I lay on the floor because sitting upright felt like I was committing too much to life.  But during my worst anxiety I felt like even that numbness would have been a relief because the anxiety made me feel everything.  It was overstimulation of the highest order.

It effects everyone differently, of course. For me, this is what happens…my palms sweat, my heart races, I clench my jaw, I shudder violently, I can’t sleep and the nausea…the persistent, severe nausea that was unrelieved by even the strongest of anti-emetics.  During this period at the worst of it, I would be physically ill.  And I was frustrated because I knew it was my brain making my body sick.  I wanted to get up…I couldn’t get up.  I wanted to be able to eat something…I couldn’t eat anything.  I was scared I would die…I was terrified I wouldn’t and this would be my life, day after day stretching out before me for years.  I was angry and bitter about the circumstances that led me here.  I was furious with myself for allowing them to do so.  I was guilty because I wasn’t being the best ‘me’ for my kids.  I was guilty over the patience of my lover who would watch me cry big, ugly sobs and stroke my hair and bring me flowers to attempt to coax me out of bed.  God.  I was a fucking wreck.

He drove me to the psychologists on the day after my worst day.  I wanted to go in alone but when I got in there I could barely concentrate enough to fill out the forms.  I went and hid in the toilet for ten minutes before my appointment and cried because I had just gotten my period and in my anxiety riddled state I had forgotten it was due and packed nothing in my handbag for it’s arrival.  I finally found a rogue tampon in the very depths of my bag, dusted off the wrapper and sent off a silent prayer of thanks.

When I emerged from the bathroom, she led me to a tiny room filled with toys, clearly used more frequently for small children.  It had a sandbox in the corner.  She asked me why I was there and I had to confess I was having an anxiety attack right at that minute.  This would be the first time in a long list where I would be forced to just ‘come clean’.  It makes you very vulnerable to tell people because you are already so fragile that the smallest criticism or judgement can reopen healing wounds.  Sometimes I would just tell people, “I’ve been sick lately,” and they would glance at the anti-nausea bands on my wrists and accept it.  Other times I would just come out with it.  Amazingly, people are kind.  What brought me to this place was the opposite of that, you see.  It was cruelty and senselessness.  So I didn’t really trust anyone anymore.  But when I would tell people, “I’m not in a very good emotional place right now,” or maybe I would give them the diagnosis my psychologist handed me that first day and say, “I have PTSD, I’m working on it,” people for the most part sent me support and love and understanding.  And this made me cry all over again because I felt so undeserving of this.

That day, my psychologist immediately placed tiny vibrating paddles into my hands and when I said, “I can’t talk about what I’m anxious about right now.  I can email you though,” she didn’t push me.  She walked me through breathing exercises and gave me homework and – bless her – said she thought she could fix me.  At that point I didn’t even care if she couldn’t.  She gave me hope.

I am not well.  I am still a work in progress.  I am still delicate but there is a strength in me too.  When I began my homework I would imagine myself as a landscape.  Here are the woods and here stands a house.  Or what was left of a house because it had been burnt to ashes.  I would walk through this landscape and pick at the wreckage, charred and broken. Therapy was me clearing the debris.  Therapy was me uncovering the solid foundation beneath.  It was tempting to immediately begin construction but I needed to ensure I was building on solid ground.  I would picture me sweeping off a stone floor.  Examining crack and holes.  Carefully reconstructing and renovating just the foundation.  I would make it as strong as I could.  I would not rush any part of my rebirth.

For weeks I rose hours before dawn and while my house slept I would watch the sun rise and complete breathing exercises and power affirmations and eventually worked my way to bi-lateral brain stimulation to gather energy for my day ahead.  I looked like I was doing nothing but lying there.  Inside I was healing as best as I could.  I was fighting for my life.

I am not well.  Not yet.  But I am healing.

~

For more information about anxiety please head to Beyond Blue.  Always reach out, people are kinder than you realise.

Apps that my psychologist recommended and have helped me are Breathe2Relax, ACT coach and Anxiety Release based on EMDR (this one appears to not have an iPad version but you can get it on your phone).