Holiday Overload

Raise your hand if you’re ready for the holiday break to be over!

ME!!!!!!

Our family has been home together for a record twelve days. Of those twelve days, six of them have been sick days for two out of the four of us. Momma needs her house back. Pronto.

I do love the holidays. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our household, so our holiday season lasts extra long. I love the kids’ excitement, the traditions, and all of that food. I really enjoy entertaining, so cooking for Christmas day at our house is always something fun to look forward to.

I made ALL the cookies.

I made ALL the cookies.

But now? I’m done. I want my quiet mornings back, where Hubby is at work and both kids are in school and I can breathe over a cup of coffee before getting errands and cleaning done. The lack of that routine is starting to wear on my patience and I’m really starting to feel it. My anxiety has been higher than normal the past few days and I’m starting to notice daily headaches creeping up on me.

Can it be Monday morning, please?

I can’t lie. I feel badly when I say I’m overloaded and ready for the break to end. They are my kids and husband; they’re my favorite people in the world. But, man, can they be exhausting….

Truthfully, I don’t handle these long stretches of forced interaction well. I know that I don’t, but I don’t have a good coping mechanism in place to keep it from getting out of hand.

We live in a small twin home, so when the four of us (plus two animals) are home all together, there are very few rooms available to be alone. Even the bathroom isn’t guaranteed to be a no fly zone. Can I get an amen, moms out there? It’s just hard to find quiet, and if you’re an introvert like me, that can end up being sandpaper to your psyche if you’re not careful.

Hubby and I tried to break the pattern this year. We planned an adventure in the middle of our staycation to get the kids out of the house. We trekked to Washington D.C. with the plan being that we’d explore the free museums for two days. Great plan. Sucky timing.

Me, Amelia, and her Little Red Bus. Personal hero...

Me, Amelia, and her Little Red Bus. Personal hero…

Oldest and Hubby both came down with nasty colds while we were away. We made it to two and a half museums that first day and then no one slept. Oh my god…. It was horrific. Woke up the next day and everyone was crabby. No one wanted to do anything except go home. Except we were all sleep deprived. The drive back to PA was truly magical. Not.

I had also failed to factor in how much I really despise crowded museums. Answer? A lot. It was a hard trip all around, but …. we tried. ‘A’ for effort?

I spent some much needed time contemplating quietly this morning and realized that much of the stress from this break came from your’s truly. I look around at my family and they are fine with the mild chaos. I know that I’m not, but I didn’t do a whole hell of a lot to avoid it. It got me thinking… How much ownership do we as anxious people need to take for our own anxiety?

It’s a really hard question to answer. On the one hand, some anxiety is out of our control. The looping thoughts are part and parcel of the mental illness we call our own. Mindfulness can help, but at the heart of anxiety, we all deal with those recurrent thoughts. We try not to let them control us, but we can’t always control them, if you catch my drift.

But what about the rest of what made my holiday stressful? A lot of that was poor planning on my part. I struggle with the need to stay home and chill and the knowledge that my two active kids can’t handle too many days in a row of that kind of inactivity. They go stir crazy, and with good reason.

okay.... maybe not this stir crazy. The poor mom who took this picture. >.<

okay…. maybe not this stir crazy. The poor mom who took this picture. >.<

The holidays provide their own activity on many occasions. Visits to grandma and grandpa’s house, playing with new toys, and visiting with friends help to ease the monotony. But the days where we have no plans can easily melt into each other. When that happens, we easily start to get on each other’s nerves. No matter how close your family is, I bet this happens to you.

I didn’t really plan well for that this year, even though my anxiety has been bad lately. I should have done better with that. I think those kind of things are areas in which I can take charge of my anxiety disorder and get hold of those reins before it gets out of control.

It’s not easy by any means. I always worry that I’m going to over-plan us and wear everyone out. Well, I worry I’ll wear myself out and then I’ll make everyone crazy. It’s a legit worry… When I get overstimulated, I’m a super-bitch.

Of course, under-planning hasn’t exactly worked out for us in the past. I think, maybe, instead of trying to plan a bunch of stuff, I need to plan some quiet time each day of vacation for myself. Even if I need to schedule my freaking showers, I need to make sure my family realizes that those times are mommy time. No one is to come in and talk to me. No can come in to ask where something is. No one can interrupt the silence by screaming until I notice.

Even if it is just a half hour each day, those quiet times will balance out the noise of the rest of the day. I think that it will go a long way to making sure that I’m not so tapped out at the end of holiday time.

introvert

My fellow sensitive introverts, what do you do to ensure your sanity amidst forced interaction? As much as I love spending time with my crew, I have my limits even when it comes to them. Do you have any tricks to make that time go smoother? I’d be interested to find out what you do and how it works for you. It’d be good to know that I’m not alone in feeling overloaded at this time of year.

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Healing Hard

Running a mental health blog is a dicey prospect, especially when you do it the way I have. I pull no punches here; to me, it seems pointless to write my posts with anything less than total honesty. That said the content can get pretty damn raw. It’s been hard for me to balance the raw truth with my desire to hide behind a mask.

Papa knows what's what.

Papa knows what’s what.

My most recent post scared a lot of people close to me, and for that I’m sorry. It was extra rough and showed a very vulnerable side of me. It’s just the nature of loss, and that is exactly what I am going through. Loss.

I lost a position that I had held for a very long time and that had become part of who I am. It was a sudden, unexpected loss; it felt almost like the loss of a limb.

I’m healing, moving through the stages of grief as it were. With the help of my friends and my husband, I’m even laughing about some of it. Some…. It still stings like a motherfucker.

I don’t regret that last post. I know that for some, it was shockingly bitter. Many people reached out, worried about my mental state and what might have caused such a heartbreakingly honest post. For those who reached out, thank you … from the bottom of my heart. It meant so much to know that you were there.

Let me be very clear: I have a mental illness. I can laugh and joke about it with the best of them, but that is actually a defense mechanism. The hard truth about depression and anxiety is that it isn’t fucking funny. It sucks. It is as draining as that last post made it out to be. When I get down, really down, I’m not funny. I can’t laugh about it. Because it sucks the life out of me. Most people don’t see that side of me because I hide it away.

See? Funny ha ha. That's how I hide... ;)

See? Funny ha ha. That’s how I hide… 😉

Look, I don’t like that vulnerable side of me. It’s so much easier to laugh at the crazy triggers and make a self-deprecating game of all of the self-doubt. But the reality is still there; I live with it every day. My husband lives with it every day, and I know it is no picnic for him. Somehow, he loves me anyway and I’m damn lucky for that. He’s one of the main reasons that despite the pain of the last week-and-a-half I remain self-harm clean. I really couldn’t have done it without him and my friends.

I’m going to get through all of this. It sucks and there are still moments when I’m bogged down in sadness, but I’m going to pull through. I’ll be stronger for having faced it head on. I’ll be steadier for having accepted help and relied on good friends. And I’ll be wiser next time.

word.

word.

Airing Out the Bunker

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I realize that is stating the painfully obvious, but I want to acknowledge my absence. I could blow it off on mundane crap and say that I was too busy, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t make time amid the crap to sit down and write. And I have paid the price.

I sat down yesterday and tried to just breathe. My therapist right now is really into mindfulness exercises, and truly, they work well for stopping a panic attack in its track. That said I suck at doing them on my own. Especially when I look around and it seems like the whole of humanity’s shit is piling up around me. Instead, I girder myself inside a bunker, wait for the shitstorm to pass, and inevitably focus on all of the bad things.

... again.

… again.

There is something broken or in need of fixing in every part of my life. Literally everywhere I look, I see something that needs attention or fixing or healing. When I sat down to do my mindfulness exercise, I minded my way right into a full on panic attack. Go me!

The point of this veritable pity party is that I need to draw a line somewhere. I cannot let this get to me the way it has. I’ve been moping, wrapped up in the thoughts of what is going wrong and where I am failing, unable to see anything positive. There are rays of light, for sure. But for the most part, I haven’t let them touch me. And I am worse for that.

Perhaps the mindfulness exercises are working better than I give them credit for because I can see now that it’s a choice. I’m choosing to wallow in the impossibility of my current situation instead of letting the light shine through. Instead of valuing the things that go right. I may not be able to will myself out of a deep depression, but I can choose to open up a freaking window in my bunker and let in the air.

So, that is what I’m doing. Airing out the bunker a bit. Things may in fact be fucked up all around me. There may be more to fix than I am humanly capable of handling at this point, but that doesn’t mean that I am without hope. It doesn’t mean that I have to sit in a cold room wrapped in the thoughts of what is wrong. I can take my own advice and let small victories lift me up.

 

So … Good news: My mom, who had major surgery on Monday is now home and resting comfortably. Though she’s going to need more PT and recovery time than we anticipated, the surgery itself was a success. She’s in less pain now and on her way to recovering fully.

More good news: I opened an Etsy shop offering cross stitch patterns and hand stitched items just in time for the holidays. It allowed me to take something that was just a little hobby and make a bit of money from it. And since it’s my shop, I can be as irreverent as I want to be. For instance, I can sell bookmarks that are lacy and delicate and read “bookwhore.” Because I want to and I think even lacy, delicate people should be allowed to love the dirty words. You feel me, I know you do.

Even more good news: I was nominated for a blog award! Despite my absence! I will be adding a post on Monday describing the blog award and nominating some other blogs that I would recommend to my followers.

It feels fresher and brighter in here already. Little bit of air, little bit of sunshine … it clears the bunker right up, doesn’t it? When I’m in a rough patch, I often find it very difficult to breathe and accept any good. It’s so much easier to focus on the negative and let that stack of bad grow to monstrous proportions. I’m not negating the bad stuff. I’m not saying I should just blithely ignore the problems. But I do need to work on ways to refocus myself. I have friends and a therapist who can help me with that, but honestly? This is something I need to work on for myself. I’m not always going to have someone around who can refocus me and help me breathe.

What do you do when the bad stacks up and looms over you like the big, bad wolf threatening to blow down the walls of your safe space? Does meditation work for you or do you prefer heavy metal blaring in your headphones while you work out? I often prefer the latter, but have lately been unable to work out due to some health issues. It sucks. But, in keeping with allowing in the light, I’m also getting a great chance to heal. <~~~ Look at me all Zen and shit.

and that shit has just GOT to stop.

and that shit has just GOT to stop.

If you’d like to share your secrets, please feel free to share them in the comments. I think this is a problem many who suffer from mental illness face on a regular basis. I’d love to have a conversation about what we can do individually to combat the problem. I will see you soon with my next blog post. Feel free to poke and prod me if I leave you hanging for too long. The bunker can sometimes suck you back in if you’re not careful.

Reaching Out and Being the Light

So someone you love has a mental health diagnosis. They are struggling. They may or may not have reached out to you for help. You want to help. Now what?

This honestly was my favorite part about Eeyore and the 100 acre wood gang. They accepted all of Eeyore and loved him totally.

This honestly was my favorite part about Eeyore and the 100 acre wood gang. They accepted all of Eeyore and loved him totally.

I think one of the most important things that family and friends of those with mental illness need to do is be honest with themselves. Dealing with a mental illness is hard; no one knows this more than those who suffer with it. Being the “go to” person for someone who suffers can be just as draining as dealing with the actual disease. That is why it is so important to be honest with yourself and your loved one about what you can handle.

Support can come in many forms: an ear to listen without judgment, a shoulder to cry on, the extra push someone needs to attend therapy, tough love when it comes to taking meds… We need all of that at different stages in our illness. But dealing with all of that can be exhausting and overwhelming and you might need to take a step back for your own mental health. How you step back can make or break your loved one, so I’m going to talk a little bit about that here.

When someone you love is in the midst of a crisis, obviously you want to be at your best. Completely on top of your game and there for them 24/7. The reality of crisis is that it doesn’t know timetables. My crisis might come at the same time that your youngest starts teething, your dog starts vomiting, and your car gets rear-ended. You’re stretched to the limits, but I need you. What do you do?

Your first instinct might be to hide all of the other shit and try to be on for me. It’s a noble act. But it can’t last, can it? We are not made of elastic and we can break if we try to stretch ourselves too thin. The best you can sometimes do for a friend in need is to tell them the truth: this is my life right now. These are my challenges. Tell me what you need most and I will do my best to cover that need.

I’ve struggled tremendously through my battle with depression and anxiety. I love the people who walk by my side, but I have never expected them to go down with my sinking ship. I would much rather honesty from them than to watch them slowly burn out as they try to be my everything.

So what else can you do? Your friend is cutting. You notice they’re not sleeping. Or you notice sleeping is all they do. What can you do?

Leave it to Hyperbole and a Half to sum up what NOT to say. Don't be this chick, mmmmkay?

Leave it to Hyperbole and a Half to sum up what NOT to say. Don’t be this chick, mmmmkay?

Ask.

They’ll probably lie.

Ask again.

And again.

I do not mean bombard them with a Spanish Inquisition style interrogation. I mean remind them of your love and of your acceptance. And ask them what they need. Ask what they are missing. Ask how you can love them better.

It might not happen right away. It might not happen in a week. But if you can prove to your friend that you will not judge them, the gift of trust is immeasurable.

depression_helpfriend

Below are some resources for talking to a loved one about mental health issues. If you truly believe that someone you love is suicidal however, the time for gentle prodding is over. Call the suicide prevention hotline listed below and talk to one of the counselors immediately. They can give you the words you need to give your friend help. They can help you save a life.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/)

How to talk to a friend who is depressed: http://www.wikihow.com/Help-a-Friend-with-Depression

Talking with a friend or family member: https://www.lundbeck.com/upload/ie/files/pdf/leaflets/How_to_say-lean_on_me.pdf

Specifically for younger readers: http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/help-someone-you-know/supporting-a-friend

Shining a Light on My Truth

This is a special week: Mental Illness Awareness Week. While I have some issues with including “Illness” in the name instead of “Health,” I think this is one truly important week. And I am honoring this week with daily blog posts, guest writers, and lots of real talk. It’s time to speak the truth, my truth, and not be afraid of the stigma. I hope you join me.

stephen_fry_on_mental_illness___by_rationalhub-d5ebmuz

Today as we kick off the week, I want to answer a really important question: What IS Mental Illness. It’s not an easy question, and so I’m going to start with defining what is NOT Mental Illness.

  • Mental Illness is not the result of personal weakness.
  • It is not the product of poor character or dodgy upbringing.
  • Mental Illness is not a bad day or even a bad week.
  • It is not crying for no reason once in a while.
  • It is not an isolation sentence.
  • It is definitely not a death sentence.

Those “nots”? Those are characteristic of the stigma that surrounds Mental Illness. Those of us who suffer from invisible illnesses, like Mental Illness, bear the burden of that stigma daily. It’s why we are often silent. It’s why we shy away from telling people we see a therapist, or take medicine, or cut, or have suicidal thoughts. People hear those things and assume SO MUCH. Giving up on assuming is the first step in truly helping your friend or lover with their struggles.

Mental Illness is unique for every sufferer. There are endless combinations of diagnoses that someone can hold and every diagnosis manifests itself somewhat differently for each person. I can only talk about my own illness, but for once I am going to be painfully honest. Here goes nothing.

I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Syndrome with Acute Panic Disorder and mild Agoraphobia. And I am a cutter. Big words, those. Basically, I struggle daily with every blasted thing I need to do. It’s hard to get up sometimes. It’s really hard to be in a crowd. It’s hard to settle my own mind and stop it from racing. It’s just hard. And sometimes, when I can’t take it anymore, I physically hurt myself in a twisted attempt to make the invisible pain stop.

surviving

Outside factors absolutely weigh on my mental health issues. When my kids are sick, when I argue with anyone, when things don’t go as planned…. I suffer. These are issues that medicine helps, but cannot control completely. We all want a magic pill that we swallow and become normal. It’s a pipe dream and it is discouraging to know that we can’t have that.

A depressive episode or a panic attack is not something I can snap out of at will. Adding pressure to act normal only exacerbates the issues in someone who is suffering. When I am told to get over it, to fake it till I make it, to just deal…. Immediately I’m filled with a sense of overwhelming disgrace. I’ve let someone I care about down. I’ve burdened them. I need to try harder.

The fact of the matter is this: I can only hide for so long. I can only fake it for so long before I burn out and crash even harder than before. It’s at those times that I am most at risk of cutting. It’s really not easy to admit that I do this. SO many people look at cutting like an emo fad. That people who cut are just looking for attention. Time for a little bit of honesty. Are you ready?

So fucking what if that teenage girl with cuts all up and down her arm is doing it to get attention? Imagine the deficit of attention she must be feeling in order to slice her own skin to get you to notice her pain. When you hurt so bad that you take a razor, or a needle, or your own nails to yourself in order to escape the pain, you are in terrible shape. The last thing you need is judgment. But that is so often what we receive. Harsh judgment. Derisive laughter. Painful sarcasm. Easy answers that mean nothing. And people who think you’re going to kill yourself.

I don’t cut because I want to die. I cut because I hurt so bad that I need an escape. It is twisted to a normal brain, but the reality is that cutting helps diffuse the inner turmoil for just a second. And then the guilt piles on and it is even worse than before. But for a moment, the cutting helps. It is an attempt to care for myself in the most unnatural way possible. And I have scars on my body now that remind me daily of that pain. Harsh reminders of why I need therapy and good friends and a daily cocktail of meds to keep me stable.

rough days

I haven’t cut in four months. I’m damn proud of that, but it has been really hard. There are days when every moment requires concentration NOT to scratch at my own skin. I’ll finger my scars. I’ll text my friends. I’ll keep my hands busy with cross stitch. ANYTHING to keep from allowing myself the opportunity to slip up. With counseling and a lot of vigilance from a good friend, I remain self-harm free. For now.

But the monster is always there waiting. And frankly, it’s terrifying.

Tomorrow, I’ll explore ways friends and family can support those with mental health issues in a healthy way. If there are any topics you feel should be touched on, please let me know here or privately via email. I’ll do my best.

Writing Out my Demons

I told you that the beginning of school years were a bitch. The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of deadlines, doctors’ appointments, paperwork, and obligations. Balancing all of that crap has been overwhelming and for a while, I didn’t know if I could juggle it all. I can and I feel as though I’m headed toward an even keel. I’ve decided to celebrate by writing, my favorite thing to do!

image (8)

One of my four tatts. Maybe someday soon I’ll share all of my ink on here….

I have a tattoo on my left arm of a feathered pen. Around my wrist are the words “Writing out my demons.” I got that tattoo when I finished my first book (unpublished and likely to stay that way. It’s a great story, but it’s not saleable. I’ve made my peace with that and there will be other books). Those words sum up my experience with writing and depression. At times, I need someone standing over top of me, holding my head in place and forcing me to write each word until I’m in a better place.

Starting this blog was a huge step for me. While I adore writing, my forte is in making up stories. I spin tales of fantasy and horror that emerge from the ether of my subconscious, spawn characters from the depths of my dreams. And I’m not going to lie; a lot of that comes from the pain of depression and anxiety. Many of my stories were born from a panic attack or a night terror. It’s therapeutic to write about fantastical horror to ease the real horror of suffering from these illnesses.

It’s not as easy to hold a mirror up to myself, take a snapshot, and then show the world. This has been hard. Posting things that I usually only share with my closest friends and knowing that anyone who wants to can access them has been …. well, it’s been a bit surreal. At first, I panicked every time I posted, afraid that I would be judged, that people would look at me different or treat me different.

I still have moments like that. When things get bad, as they did over the past two weeks, I can grind myself into complete inaction. I was unable to write a single word without worrying what the world might think.

The experience of sharing my stories, though, has been completely positive. So many people, people that I never would have told about my struggles, have told me that the blog has helped them. Hearing that they both understand and can relate has been extremely beneficial for me. And realizing that they don’t judge me for my demons? Well, that has been eye-opening as well.

hiding

I think all of us who suffer with depression and anxiety worry that people will judge us for our illnesses. I know that for myself, I worry that people will only see the illness and miss the rest of me. I work very hard at that mask I put on for the world. Though it hides me and gives me the comfort of putting up a wall between myself and the rest of the world, it really isn’t designed for my comfort. The mask is designed to protect those around me from what I go through every day.

Opening up and letting all of my readers see inside has been difficult, not just because my wall is gone but also because there are now so many people on the inside. So many people look at me after reading these blogs and know that I’m struggling. I worry constantly that they are going to feel like they need to take care of me. Or treat me differently. Or stay away. I struggle with that constantly.

It’s been nice, though, to know that reality is so much different from my worst fears. People in my life who are now reading the blog are learning so much about depression and anxiety. And in learning, they are not distancing themselves from me or treating me any different. For the most part, people have been truly excited to learn. A surprising number have also come forward and said, “me too.”

I started this blog on a whim, realizing after Robin Williams’ death that I had a lot to say about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. I never expected it to be “big,” nor did I expect that I would want it to be “big.” The truth is, it hapurposes become extremely important to me and I do want that. I like reaching new people and knowing that my words have touched them. I like knowing that my struggle means something, in a bigger way than just getting through the day. I like helping people. And if I’m able to do that with my words, with writing which brings me so much pleasure, all the better.

Thank you for taking this journey with me and holding my virtual hand as I take these first shaky steps at opening up. It’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you and I hope that we can continue to open up together.

This Overload

I have a confession to make: while I absolutely love humanity, I really don’t like people very much.

people

That probably makes me sound like a bitch. The truth is that I find people really exhausting most of the time. They expect so much from you. They expect a smile and small talk. I don’t always feel like smiling and small talk makes me want to gouge my eyes out. It’s not people, really, I guess. It’s the social expectations that go along with being in a group of people.

That said, I’ll take a lazy day with my people any day. Give me quiet on a sunny day with one or two of my best friends and we’ll dissect the world together. Or make inappropriate jokes all day long. It could go either way and that’s just fine by me.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t really allow you to walk around in a bubble of only the people you choose. Well, I guess you can if you’re a hermit or you invest in one of those bubble soccer get-ups (Seriously, have you seen those? They are amaze-balls and I totally need to play that game. Anyway….). For the rest of us, you can’t cocoon yourself away from the world and still function.

Bubble Soccer. AMAZING, right?

I’m facing a few weeks of having to be “on” a lot. Like, a lot a lot. My youngest just started kindergarten, my oldest is in third grade and a social butterfly, and this is the week of back to school activities. Or as I like to call it, Introvert Parent Hell. There’s the Kindergarten meet and greet where they have fun activities for the kids and the parents get to schmooze (read: small talk). There’s back to school night where you walk around a crowded school and cram into children’s desks with thirty other parents to listen to the teacher talk and schmooze some more. And then the week is capped off with the back to school picnic. More schmoozing.

It’s not so much that I don’t want to be involved in my children’s school life. I do. I just wish I could do so from my house without all of that schmoozing. There’s no way to be in a big group of people without having to small talk your way around. Unless, of course, you sit in a corner and just stare at people. Believe me when I say this: it is tempting.

Being “on” for me means smiling and faking small talk with a bunch of random strangers. The truth is, I enjoy learning about people’s lives and talking to them about meaningful subjects. I love exploring what makes people tick. But how often do you get past the weather and how picky an eater your child is when you’re in a group of four or more people? Rarely, if ever.

There’s nothing I can really do to change this. Interactions with strangers will always be superficial at best. Even if I run into a like-minded individual, it’s rare that we get past the pleasantries. See, most people like me are also hesitant to push too much because so many people find our probing questions intrusive and weird. It takes time to get to the level where we’re comfortable and large groups don’t provide that kind of time.

So I’ll be spending the week outside of my comfort zone. That can go one of two ways for me. If I’m smart,social hangover I’ll take time for myself to decompress before and after each event. And I won’t get so overwhelmed that the week’s events pile on top of me like a herd of angry elephants. If I’m not smart, well … angry elephants are assholes.

I’m already thinking of ways that I can decompress somehow. Time with a friend in the middle of week, maybe. Or coffee and writing by myself one morning. Just something to balance out all of those people with all of their demands. I’ll get through it. Won’t be the first or last time, I can assure of that. What are your strategies for getting through rough patches? Do you have coping methods that work for you? I’d love to hear what you do to get through.