Mental Health

Managing Mental Illness – Will I ever truly be well?

Mental illness is a shit-show. To combat it, one must always be on the look out, watching for signs and symptoms of recurrence. When detected, one must pull out the big guns, as it were – the weapons of learned coping skills , methodologies, medications, and support team – with the constant hope that thusly armed, the event will pass with minimal damage left in its wake.

Grateful as I always am when the event does pass, I am often left wondering. Will I ever truly be well? Or, is this how things will be for the rest of my life?

I’ve been asking this last question for over two decades and counting and, as much as I want to believe that the last event was THE last event, so far, it has not been so.

Mental illness is real. It’s not imagined. It’s not something one can simply will away. I know. I tried – twenty years ago before I took my first antidepressant. The shame I felt then… the defeat… when swallowing that first pill. If someone had told me twenty years ago that I’d be sitting here today, on guard, constantly at-the-ready to fight this ongoing fight, I wonder what I would have said – or done?

I’ve had many ups and downs over the years. I hit rock bottom in 2012 when I came close to suicide. That’s how far and deep I’d fallen. It was the hardest fight of my life, getting out of that hole. But I did it – and I’m grateful every day that I’m still alive to tell about it. And, while seven years have passed since that dark day, I’m still fighting – like today’s seemingly for-no-reason symptoms of anxiety sneaking up on my psyche, ready to pounce.

Out comes the weaponry. I’m always on alert, remember?

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I will battle mental illness until the day I die. I will have to be vigilant. Because, the truth is, wellness ebbs and flows – a recovery/remission/recurrence, as it were. I must practice my skills while I am well so that they are well oiled and ready for battle when the next one comes. As I’m sure it will.

If you are reading this and you need support, please reach out. Get help! Don’t wait to hit rock bottom. Do it now. I’ve provided some links below.

CAMH
Crisis Services Canada
US Suicide Prevention Lifeline
healthyplace.com

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

#Cannabis is legal in Canada P3 – Marrying tried-and-true with the new when managing #mentalillness

In a recent post, I wrote about the adverse side effects I’d had to a pharma-based switch in my medication, prescribed to help with my evolving anxiety – which it did do. To counteract the side effects, my doctor prescribed more pharma meds. I disagreed and went back to my old medication.

My decision to go back to my old meds was a good one as the side effects essentially disappeared. Unfortunately though, the anxiety reappeared, rearing its ugly, pernicious head.

#Cannabis has helped! Indeed, vaping cannabis for breakthrough anxiety (like breakthrough pain but with anxiety) helps (me) a great deal. So, when my trusty vaporizer went on the fritz two weeks ago, away went my ability to self-treat. It was more than a little unsettling.

Immediately, I decided to invest in a backup vaporizer. Cyber-Monday sales helped with this, but the ongoing Canada Post strike meant it would be a few days before I would receive the product. So, I pulled out the proverbial CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) handbook and got busy practicing my coping techniques.

I learned two things. First, using cannabis to manage my breakthrough anxiety works lickety-split! Within minutes of vaping, I’m calm and feeling pleasant. Second, CBT does help (me). It is exhausting, requires a lot of motivation (hard for a chronic depressive like me), and takes time to be effective – depending on the breakthrough anxiety of the moment. Still, it helped me through a few rough patches.

Anxiety and depression are ongoing, (sometimes) lifelong struggles. Use ALL the tools at your disposal; both the tried-and-true (medication, CBT, etc.) and the new (cannabis, etc.). If one of the tools in your toolbox goes on the fritz, reach in and grab another one. As I’ve said in prior posts – when it comes to managing (your) #mentalillness, you gotta do the homework! Know thyself. Participate in your own healing. Nobody else can do it for you.

Anxiety, Mental Health

THE SKY IS FALLING! #AnxietyDisorder is a bitch!

When you don’t notice your anxiety, that’s how you know your anxiety is abating. Does that make sense?

To people with anxiety I’m sure it does. To people wanting to know more about anxiety – it’s like this.

Anxiety disorder is a sneaky bitch and in my experience, comes in three distinct forms.

In my recent post entitled Anxiety Sufferers – Know Thyself, I wrote about my journey with anxiety as it pertains to the come out of nowhere kind of anxiety. This is when your fight-or-flight brain chemistry kicks in for no damned good reason and you’re left panting and sweating and breathing hard and essentially scared out of your wits.

The second kind is somewhat like the first type. You are in a constant state of unease – like waiting for the shoe to drop when there’s nothing really going on. You can’t relax. You’re angst-y and agitated but you don’t know why.

The third kind is trigger-based. Easier to understand as it is associated with something that happens. Everybody has this but, for anxiety disorder sufferers it is very pronounced.

Normal person: Crap! I can’t believe that happened.
Me: THE SKY IS FALLING!!

My recent struggles have been with these last two. Bouts of the sky is falling with general unease as the baseline. This, of course, is NOT okay and so, following my adage of know thyself, I sought medical attention. And, there’s no overnight remedy to this. These symptoms worsen over time and so, it takes time to encourage them to abate.

My doctor: So, how’s your anxiety?
Me: I haven’t noticed it!
My doctor and me together: THAT’S FANTASTIC!

This time, it’s taken seven months (from the tipping point) of doctor’s visits, therapy sessions, repeated exposure to positivity, (lots of) rest, and two drug modification to achieve this plateau. I’m grateful! And yet, the journey continues. Like I said, anxiety disorder is a bitch.

Anxiety

Anxiety Never Forgets

I had my first anxiety attack when I was around ten years of age. I didn’t know that was it was at the time. I woke very early in the morning out of a dead sleep. It was summer, the sun was up but it was still only 5:30-ish in the morning. I wondered why I couldn’t fall back to sleep, since I had never had a problem with that before. My heart began to race and I became inexplicably… scared! I remember going upstairs, opening the front door and sitting on the front step where I proceeded to calm myself. I distinctly remember the warm, morning sun on my face… paired with utter confusion as to what had just happened to me.

By Stuart Miles, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com
By Stuart Miles, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com

It wasn’t until years later and several hundred anxiety attacks later, that I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder.

I’m 49 years old and am happy to say that I haven’t had a full blown anxiety attack for about eight years.

But the truth is that, anxiety never forgets. It never really leaves you alone.

This week, I traveled to Malta (small island in the Mediterranean) to visit my sister who lives here. It takes anywhere from 13 to 18 hours to get from Ontario, Canada to Malta but I’ve made the trip a few times before. We lived in Malta when I was little (between the ages 6 and 9), went again in 2007, 2011 and in January 2014. My point, I suppose, is that I was used to the trip, the jet lag, the fatigue and the excitement. What I wasn’t prepared for was the anxiety attack I had a few hours after I arrived.

My anxiety attacks have presented themselves in several different forms throughout my life. More recently (8-ish years ago), my anxiety presented itself as a burning fire beginning deep inside me and traveling throughout my body to the very tips of my fingers and toes.

Standing in my sister’s guest bathroom, organizing my toiletries, I felt the familiar and most unwelcome fire in my core. My heart began to race, my breathing quickened. I knew exactly what was happening but couldn’t fathom why! I had to remind myself that anxiety never forgets. I had to dig deep to find some of the coping skills that I’d happily buried over the years that I’ve been anxiety attack free.

The attack passed within a few minutes, blessedly. But, since that first attack, I’ve had a few smaller attacks. It this the start of another phase of my anxiety? While I know it is related to brain chemistry (fight or flight chemicals), I still have to wonder, why?

Why, after all these years, did my brain chemistry misfire?

Who bloody well knows?

I’ve said it several times during this blog. Anxiety never forgets. Anxiety may sit dormant, as it did for me. But what is most important, what I learned about myself, is that the coping skills never go away. I remembered them. I recognized the anxiety as it was starting and was able to kick start my coping skills right away.

Some of these anxiety coping skills are:

  • Breathe; slow and deep. Do not hyperventilate.
  • Positive self-talk; remember this is an illness. Brain chemistry can misfire at any time.
  • Stay calm; there is a thin line between anxiety and panic. Try to distract yourself.

I still have ten days on the island of Malta. I’ve had one major and two minor anxiety attacks. While I hope this isn’t the start of several anxiety-riddled years, I know that I can cope, no matter what.

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