How to Handle Discussions About Mental Illness and Paranoia
- It should always be this simple.
- My friend: I think I'm crazy.
- Me: I love you either way.
I’ve been having a rough go of life lately, and my anxiety has wreaked havoc on my life and relationships. Although things with the Lovely Man are a lot better (and getting even better slowly and steadily), we still have a long way to go. After the past two challenging days, I feel that we will definitely get there.
Something changed between us starting last Saturday, and I had the same feeling about our time together last night and today. We just enjoyed each other and didn’t discuss and analyze “us” to death. And when I think about all of the best times we had together, it was much the same.
There is a time and place for analysis, and I think we’ve done enough of it lately. I just want to get through the holidays and through some of January before we have another meta discussion unless it’s absolutely necessary. Some of my anxiety is definitely linked to the holiday season, and I need to wait until it is over to have any more serious conversations about anything.
I won’t get to see my Dad this holiday season for what might be the first time in my 35 years of life, and I think it’s having a significant effect on my moods. Being away from him for the holidays is depressing, and it’s starting to take its toll on me already, but the real problem is that it’s spilling over into things with the Lovely Man. I’ll have to make a conscious effort to keep that from happening again. *sigh*
The last two weeks have been a blur. I got, and accepted, an extremely generous job offer, my 14 year old cat lost a canine tooth, I re-joined Weight Watchers, and I parted ways with a lovely man. I’m exhausted, I need sleep, and I need to relax.
I’m happy about a lot of things despite what you’d believe. I’m happy about the new job and that it is less than 5 miles from home. I’m happy that Tiggy is healing well and will no longer be in pain. I’m happy that I decided to go back to Weight Watchers and focus on my health again. But most of all, I’m happy that the lovely man I’m blessed to have met is going to work on his own baggage, so that he can be happier, and that I am not responsible for us being put on hold.
And of course I’m hopeful. I believe this new job will make me a better writer, and the additional income will help me clean up some debts. I hope Tiggy will be happier and be with me for a long time to come. I hope that I can lose weight to feel better about myself and be healthier. And most importantly I hope that once that lovely man gets his personal life in balance and mends emotionally that we can get a fresh, healthy start if he would give me the honor of being with him again. Next time we will make sure our baggage is checked and we have no carry-ons.
After 4pm today when I turn in my badge to my current employer, I’m going to treat it as the closing of a chapter of my life. Monday starts a new job. I am still communicating with the lovely man, and will support him in any way he allows me to. Tomorrow is as good as any other day for a new beginning.
I spend way too much time on the internet every year on 9/11. I end up on cnn.com watching a bunch of video, and reading a bunch of sad stuff. I spend too much time surfing in general, and run across way too many 9/11 posts. Then I turn on the TV, and end up watching 9/11 footage that I just can’t seem to turn off.
I’m not doing it this year.
I’m not going to turn on the news or surf news sites. I’m not going to flip through my dash, because I know it will be riddled with 9/11 posts. I’m not going to turn on the nightly news when I get home this evening.
Ignorance is bliss.
I’m going to ride out the end of my annual 9/11-induced depression without giving it anything to feed on.
So, I had a pretty intense panic attack yesterday, and today I’m still feeling the effects. For those of you who have never had a panic attack, you need to understand that it can take a while for a person’s body to recover from that shock.
Yesterday, my chest and upper back were sore for at least 5-6 hours after the panic subsided. Obviously, the soreness in my chest was from the violent, rapid heart rate. While I was having the panic attack, muscles all over my body became tense, and there were also some muscle spasms. This, of course, affected my injured right rotator cuff, and it proceeded to throb until I broke down and took Advil several hours later.
This morning I woke up to muscle soreness throughout my core, sore thighs, and tender biceps. I fully expected my abdomen and lower back to be sore, but the thighs and biceps were a surprise. I guess my body was working extra hard to help me keep the car on the road since the attack came on while I was driving, and all of this soreness is a result of that.
I still feel off. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s almost a hollow feeling. I’m physically and mentally exhausted, but I managed to make it to work early, and I don’t know how I pulled that off. I kinda feel like I’m moving in slow motion, and I feel kinda washed out.
And then there is the guilt. I feel guilty for texting my friend and telling my coworker. Both of them have other stresses in their lives, and I feel like a burden to them.
The friend I texted remained cool under fire, because that’s just how he’s wired. He didn’t panic, or give me any unsolicited advice (until after it was long over), and most importantly, he didn’t feed my fears and allow things to escalate. He’s also up early, so I knew he’d see my message hours before anyone else would. I feel bad for involving him, and I feel bad for making him worry, but he reacted the right way, and that’s why I chose to message him.
So that’s what it’s like. It’s a shock to your system, and it hits you on the physical, mental, and emotional levels, all at the same time. The after-effects can last for hours, or days, depending on how bad the panic was. And those of us who suffer panic attacks usually feel guilty for subjecting our loved ones to it. It’s a thoroughly awful thing.
So I had my fourth full-blown panic attack since February this morning. It started sometime after 4:30am, and I only know that, because I texted a close friend (that I trust completely) shortly after I realized what was going on. I woke up after it already started, and to be honest, initially it didn’t feel like it was going to turn into a full attack. I felt like someone was standing on my rib cage, and both of my arms were tingling. Every heartbeat felt like someone was beating a tympani inside my chest, and I could feel it all the way in my ears and toes.
I managed to get another hour of sleep, and woke up to a concerned text from my friend (and to his credit, he manages to show concern without getting nervous or flailing or reacting in a way that can make my panic attacks worse, which is one of the reasons I reach out to him). This was a few minutes after 6:00am. At this point, my heart rhythm and beat intensity were both normal, and my arms were a little tingly, but I felt like the panic had subsided.
I got ready for work, hopped in the whip, and was driving into downtown Raleigh, when I was suddenly gripped by a full-fledged panic attack while merging onto Capital Boulevard. My heart rate probably hit about 150 for a few moments, but slowed slightly as the panic settled in and gripped me. The entire episode lasted about five minutes, and was accompanied by tingling arms, sweating, and shortness of breath. Luckily, my adrenaline kicked in, and I didn’t get woozy or disoriented, because that would’ve been bad whilst driving.
About a block away from the parking deck, my heart rate and rhythm dropped back to normal. It’s been about 2 hours since the attack ended, and the rest of the symptoms are still fading away. I am physically exhausted, and I feel like I ran five miles and dead-lifted 200lbs.
So that’s what a panic attack is like for me. I feel like someone is standing on my chest, and I can’t take in a full breath. Sometimes just my arms start to tingle, but if the attack is intense enough or lasts long enough, my legs can go tingly too. My heart rate goes from resting to rates that I’d expect if I were doing high-intensity cardio training (140-160bpm). Sometimes my heart misses beats, and my pulse can get thready. I am instantly covered in sweat from head-to-toe, and I can also get dizzy. Sounds like a blast, right? Well that’s not the worst of it.
The worst part is that I feel like a burden. When attacks happen around family and friends, I know I’m a burden on them. I get babied and coddled, and I get concerned looks for days afterwards. Sometimes their reaction to my panic attack makes the episode physically worse for me. If I’m alone, I usually try to reach out to one of my friends to let them know what’s going on, which is the responsible thing to do just in case something worse happens. But then I become a burden to the person on the receiving end of the text or phone call. I used to let my parents know when I had panic attacks, but I don’t anymore after my dad’s major illness last year, because they have enough to worry about. If it is a particularly bad attack (I had one that lasted over 90 minutes), I usually end up missing work, which makes me a burden to my coworkers.
So at the end of it all, you feel emotionally and physically drained, and a burden to your loved ones. It’s a wretched thing, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
So it’s no secret that I’ve had some pretty bad battles with depression and anxiety, the most recent of which started in December of last year. I managed to fight my way through it and come out on largely unscathed, but I think it’s important to remember what I went through to get where I am now. I kept a journal through the worst of it, and I’ll be posting bits of it here.
I wrote this on 1/30/2012:
One of the worst parts of depression is that your mind plays tricks on you. You convince yourself that you’re ugly, stupid, immature, annoying, and a host of other fucking things. You make bad decisions. You overcompensate and underachieve. You push the people you love away and latch onto assholes. You do things for the wrong reasons. You seek negative attention, but you can’t take a compliment. The best part is when half a dozen of these things are going on at the same time, and you don’t really know up from down anymore.
This is just some of what I’ve been been through. Everyone has a different experience, so if your battles with depression are not the same flavor as mine, it doesn’t mean you’re not depressed, so get out of your fucking head and don’t try to convince yourself otherwise.
Right now I’m fighting to get out of my own head. In the past week I’ve convinced myself that people hate me, convinced myself that people are lying to me with no proof, and convinced myself that people are talking about me behind my back. This list could go on forever, but you get the point. Your rational mind goes on vacation leaving a loony tune that looks an awful lot like you to run the show. That’s where I am, and I’m not winning at this moment, but I don’t intend to lose.
I think that’s one of the lessons that everyone with depression has to learn. Don’t admit defeat. The moment you decide that you can’t win, or that you don’t want to fight anymore, that’s when depression turns into fucking despair. That’s when the bad thoughts become morbid ones. That’s when you go from thinking you are useless to thinking that you don’t deserve to live. I’ve turned that corner a couple of times in my life, but I always find my way back, even if I have to ask for help.
If you need help, you need to get out of your fucking head and ask for it.
I am so far removed from this state of mind right now that I can hardly remember how I felt when I wrote this. Just from reading it anyone can ascertain that I was an anxious tangle of emotions, but I can’t imagine being in that particular headspace, which is a very good thing.
It’s tough to associate creativity with mental illness because obviously if you’re very ill, it gets in the way. … But one of the theories now is that the terrible swings of the mental illness – of bipolar depression – you get these manic highs, these euphorias, where the ideas just pour out of you. And you need to write them down. That’s followed by this dismal low period when maybe you’re a better editor. Maybe it’s easier for you to focus and refine those epiphanies into a perfect form. … The thinking is maybe the correlation exists because the swings of mental illness echo the natural swings of the creative process.
Absolutely! Sometimes the words come in waves, and sometimes they won’t come at all, and it cycles with your state (mental and emotional). I don’t think you have to suffer any form of depression to experience this. I think it’s just life as a writer (or any creative type), but it’s more pronounced in people with depression or bipolar disorder.
Genetics and unfortunate incidents in life lead to depression and anxiety. That’s what happens to people. Fighting back, taking control, and becoming the best version of me.. that’s what I choose.
“Depression is humiliating. It turns intelligent, kind people into zombies who can’t wash a dish or change their socks. It affects the ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your children, your lifelong passions, your relative good fortune. It scoops out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable sludge that finds no pleasure, no delight, no point in anything outside of bed. You alienate your friends because you can’t comport yourself socially, you risk your job because you can’t concentrate, you live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. You become pathetic and you know it. And you have no capacity to stop the downward plunge. You have no perspective, no emotional reserves, no faith that it will get better. So you feel guilty and ashamed of your inability to deal with life like a regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation. Depression is humiliating. If you’ve never been depressed, thank your lucky stars and back off the folks who take a pill so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over an averagely turbulent normal life. It’s not an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. At all. If you and your loved ones have been spared, every blessing to you. If depression has taken root in you or your loved ones, every blessing to you, too. Depression is humiliating. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It runs in families, it ruins families. You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a dentist appointment, to pay bills, to walk your dog, to return library books on time, to keep enough toilet paper on hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself. Depression is real. Just because you’ve never had it doesn’t make it imaginary. Compassion is also real. And a depressed person may cling desperately to it until they are out of the woods and they may remember your compassion for the rest of their lives as a force greater than their depression. Have a heart. Judge not lest ye be judged.”
After a nightmarish 2011 when I almost lost my father and my cat, and a rubbish start to 2012 in which I got off of antidepressants completely, it amazes me to say that right now at this moment I am not depressed.
Sometimes my highs are too high, and some of my lows are a bit too low, but things are good. I’m getting my life back in order, and I’m about 75% there. The closer I get, the easier things get for me, but it’s been a long hard struggle to dig myself out of the dark place.