Anxiety in love.

whateveroursouls

Well, it’s been quiet here for a few weeks. Two weeks ago, I got engaged and it was a pretty incredible experience. I’m pretty afraid of the coming planning details that comes with getting married, but I am so grateful to have such an incredible partner to stand beside me for all of it. We got engaged in an incredibly special place for me – the White Rock Pier in Vancouver, which holds so many memories of my late dear grandfather. I’ve always felt at peace near the ocean. It amazes me that something so powerful and expansive can be so tranquil and peaceful. I’ve always found it calming to stare out and watch for the ever-changing patterns of the waves, wondering what must be happening in the world below. I’m also in love with The Little Mermaid, so let’s be real here, there’s some daydreaming of mermaids.

In the time that I’ve had to reflect and think about where we have come since our first date over 7 years ago, I’ve been able to see how much of an impact he has on my life. Since my ‘formal diagnosis’, Jeff has stood beside me, encouraging me through all the trials and treatments, and reassuring me that I’m still me, just a little more anxious. He has not wavered from me, and I really believe that we’ve become a much stronger couple working through everything since. We have learned how to really communicate. It got me thinking about how we got to this point since anxiety has been lurking around, and I’ve come with a list of what worked for us. Every relationship is different, but these things really helped us avoid some frustrating fights.

1. Determine a set of ‘code words’ or signals to communicate how you are doing. When I’m mid-panic attack, sometimes it’s all I can do to remember to keep breathing, even if it feels like there’s no air getting into my lungs. Sometimes it helps to have someone talk me through it, hug, or hold my hand, but there are other times when that feels suffocating as well. Often when I can’t handle another person, having my dog, Loki, helps bring me back into the moment right away. We have a simple “you” or “Loki” one-word signal that immediately lets him know what I need in that moment. This kind of communication helps me to think about what I need in the moment, but it also helps Jeff to not feel like he’s making the wrong decision when I’m losing my mind.

2. Figure out what helps to ‘recharge’ you. This took some time to figure out, but it’s important to communicate what you need to your significant other, especially if they have never experienced anxiety themselves. If you are the type of person that is energized by being alone, and would rather have an hour to yourself after a hard day – let your partner know this. I learned that I became extremely introverted the more anxious I was, and I eventually moved my laptop downstairs to the kitchen table (we don’t have cable, so much of our ‘entertainment/quiet time’ at home is online). At first, Jeff was offended that I didn’t want to spend time with him. I learned that I needed to communicate that it wasn’t a reflection on him, I still loved him, but I needed time by myself in order to recharge, especially after being around other people.

3. No, he’s not always angry with you, I promise. I’m still working on this one. My anxiety likes to tell me that I’m constantly doing things to upset him, make him angry or disappointed in me. I’ve had a really bad habit of needing the reassurance that I haven’t done anything wrong, even if I’ve done something that he isn’t too thrilled with (like that last makeup haul… heh). This goes for the anxiety around “am I being too cold lately? He knows I love him, right? Wait, I’m being too clingy now”. Sometimes it’s helpful to ask them what they need. It is perfectly okay to ask your significant other if they need space from you as well, and if that answer is yes, to understand that it is okay. Usually when he wants to have a gaming night with a friend or do his own thing, I find a good show to binge on Netflix, grab some popcorn and some puppies to cuddle. Have you seen Suits, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or Supernatural? No? Go enjoy your binge session.

4. Keep working on you. This is something that I have really kept in mind throughout this whole experience. I know that the days that I try as hard as I possibly can, those are the days that Jeff is most proud of me. When I am able to tell him that I went out to the grocery store, or maybe the terrifying mall, and I was okay at the end of the day? He is extremely happy with me. Even if I tried and I had a panic attack, or I think that I had failed, he is still so proud that I made the effort. So far I’ve been in a spring class and I’ve made it to every class… the look on his face when I said that I went to class again is worth the panic and anxiety I have going – even better if I told him I spoke in class.

Remember that your significant other loves you and wants to see you succeed. I think where we start fights with each other boils down to a lack in communication and understanding about what we need – and what they need as well. It’s okay to have boundaries, but it’s also okay for them to have boundaries with us as well. You’re not a burden, just every now and then we need to recharge on our own.

On grief and finding the light.

tattooforblog

I lost my best friend from junior high at the end of September this past year. I can’t describe the pain of losing her, nor the guilt and anger at myself that accompanied because we lost touch. There was so much joy, camaraderie, and growth in our relationship, but a lot of hurt and pain as well. I shouldn’t, but I hate myself every day for giving up on our relationship, allowing the frustration of being blown off and the focus on my own life get in the way of our incredible bond.

She was taken from us suddenly. I had seen her just in May, but I let my anxiety and panic cut the visit short. I was still trying to figure out how to live with my new mental illness friends and I left her sister’s wedding early because I didn’t know how to be okay. I would have never left had I known it was the last time that I would see her.

So why am I sharing all of this? I am about to take a road trip on the very highway that claimed her. I am about to travel to the place that I last saw her healthy and the embodiment of everything that was my best friend. The thought of being in the same places is so very haunting. Setting aside all of the anxiety I have of travelling in a car on the same highway (which, let me tell you, is almost consuming me if not for my grief), I needed to find a way to be okay with this.

I’m excited for the trip. It is the yearly trip I take to the coast with my boyfriend and his father for Free Comic Book Day, the newest Marvel movie, and quality time with his little sister. I look forward to it every year, except this year. Not because I don’t like comics, not because I don’t like Marvel movies, or spending time with the other half’s family – because each one of those things are activities that make me very happy.

I am so grateful for my boyfriend’s father, who brought up the idea of taking a moment on our trip to set flowers down. He was right and ignoring it was not the way to feel okay with everything that had happened. I’ve been trying to let go and be grateful for the chance to know her, but even after all these months, she still has such a strong grip on me. I plan to write a note to stay with the flowers. I plan to tell her everything that I’ve needed to say since before she was gone; to tell her how much I love her and how much I cherish our moments growing up together.

This post has been a little sad for me. It doesn’t involve any suggestions or advice for how to deal with what may be going on in your mind… but it lets you in on mine. I have my tattoo of my Goose to remind me that I’m okay, so I will be. I’ll always have our shared nickname to make me feel connected to her and I am so very grateful. I’ve been stuck in this sad place, finding more light as time goes on, but still slipping when the waves of grief hit without warning. I’ve struggled with feeling wrong for still grieving 7 months later, but there isn’t a set timeline for this. I loved her deeply and that is going to take a while to be okay with what happened.

In the words of Winnie the Pooh – how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Thank you to Yvonne @ Ascending Koi Tattoo & Apparel for the beautiful artwork for my tattoo.

Taking the step to volunteer before trying to work again.

workforacause

Throughout the year, I’ve been volunteering with the Mental Health Awareness Club at the University of Calgary. I haven’t really been able to juggle school very well this year, but volunteering has been a incredible way for me to feel like I’ve still been contributing to my community in some way. I specifically chose this club for its inclusive attitude and understanding when it comes to mental health. After the first meeting, I knew that I wanted to get involved on a deeper level than just a general member.

I’ve been volunteering as a junior executive and it’s been an incredible experience. I have had the opportunity to have my voice heard when discussing mental health issues on campus and I feel like I have contributed to the awareness about mental health, especially as it relates to students. There have been some milestones this year that I have reached in my advocacy for mental health and they really started with my involvement in this club.

I first reached out as a personal experience panelist at one of the events put on by the MHA Club. The event surrounded stigma and even at that time, I was still so far in my own self-stigma that it was hard to even speak during the event. But – I did it! I answered questions that the audience members had and sat right next to two of our city’s child psychiatrists that we were lucky to have in attendance. It was a growing experience for me because at that point, even most of my family did not know about my panic disorder or that I had a depressive episode and that was the reason why I quit school for a year. After the event finished, I began to really take my mental health advocacy seriously.

I participated in an initiative put on by the club called Scribe Videos. My story is right on their Facebook page, it is on YouTube, and it is 100% public. Holy hell that is scary. But, I know that if what I said in those videos helps even one other person to know about the resources that are available, it will have been so very worth it. (Check out part one and part two here!)

At the time of recording, I was feeling really good about my mental health. Things were starting to get into place where they should be. Listening to it now, I can hear how confident I sounded and how happy I was to hopefully be making a difference. Though things happened later in the year that really set me back, I feel like I’m getting back on that path and it’s such a good feeling.

The club members have been so understanding for the days that it’s hard to make meetings or events, and there’s really no judgment there. I can call in because I can’t leave my house and they understand – I don’t have to hide the reason or pretend to be physically ill like I would if I had a job. The environment is so very important to my success this year and I’m not sure I would be in the same place I am now – even writing this blog if it weren’t for the supportive community of the Mental Health Awareness Club.

If you’re in the same situation I’m in, where you want to have a schedule and a reason to leave your house during the day, even get out of bed… I strongly suggest that you consider volunteering in an environment that will be just as accepting. Not only does it -ahem- look awesome on your resume, but it’s a great step before getting back into the workplace that gives you a commitment, but is also flexible.

As always, if you’re on campus at the University of Calgary – check out the Mental Health Awareness Club and consider joining for Fall 2016 to have your voice heard in advocacy for mental health awareness on campus.

Balancing anxiety and school.

donthavetobeperfect

I am currently working on my application for a bachelor’s program in social work. I applied last year, and due to a reference problem and average grades that couldn’t compete in the program I was declined. I had to tell myself that I had been finally diagnosed that year and I had significant difficulties adjusting – especially with medications. It was okay to try again. I am trying again this year with some boosted grades, fantastic references from some wonderful people and more volunteer experience. My application certainly looks a lot better.

So the question here is – why am I approaching this like I have already failed? I have put off my essay requirements of my application, even though I’ve already done the hard work of asking for references and volunteering with a club on campus that promotes mental health awareness (if you’re on campus, check out their events or consider volunteering! MHA UCalgary). I’ve done the part that requires me to hang up my anxiety for a little while, take a step and ask for what I want or interact with others about mental health, which at first was extremely emotional and difficult to do. And yet, I still discredit my work and knowledge and start the snowball of anxiety every time I sit down to finish the last piece of the application. I had given myself a deadline for the first week of February, and look at where we are now.

I’ve spoken before about letting go of the outcome. In practice, it is a great deal more difficult to accomplish, I understand. If you’re stuck on the outcome like I am right now, here are a few things to remember before you give up.

1. Take a break from it for a little while, but don’t avoid it. Make a cup of tea, watch ONE episode of something you enjoy on Netflix (Downton Abbey, anyone?), take a walk with a furry friend or cuddle them for a little while, write it down in a blog or a journal and get your feelings out in a healthy way, or check out some positive blogs/vlogs that encourage you to keep going. I really feel a lot better after I’ve read something from The Mighty as it encompasses people who are trying as hard as I am – and in a lot of cases, even harder. Other times I’ll watch some beauty gurus like Kathleen LightsJaclyn Hill, or Glam & Gore, who are all talented and beautiful ladies who are open about the importance of mental health, being good to yourself and reminding you how beautiful of a person you are.

2. Make yourself a list of what you have to accomplish, but also include what you have accomplished. Some days, getting out of bed is the best accomplishment that I can award myself, and being a gold star person, you bet your ass I’m going to be giving myself a gold star for that. Remember that any indication that you are trying is going to be a huge step over the days where you can’t try anything.

3. Talk to someone, even if it’s in an anonymous situation. R/Anxiety is a tool I even used last night and woke up to a response this morning of a total stranger reminding me that it is okay and that I need to breathe, remember that if I don’t get in and have to find a job – interviews are hard for everyone, and interviewers totally understand that. This isn’t the end of my life, just a bump in the road. Do you still feel like you have no one? You’re reading this blog right now, send me a message. I’ll be your person.

4. Take care of yourself. If you’re stressed, you’re likely going to forget to eat, drink, and shower. Or maybe you will overeat, drink more wine than you initially set out to, and still forget to shower. Set down whatever is stressing you and grab yourself a shower. I always feel like a whole new person when I get out of the shower, and I spend a lot of time thinking in the shower – but calmly. Being around water seems to really help me and I hope that you will find it helps you too.

This advice may seem similar to what I’ve posted about before, but it’s important to keep repeating it – especially for myself when I feel like I should just give up. At the end of the day, remember that if you give your best, that is all anyone can ask. But you have to be honest with yourself about what your best really is. I know that right now, this empty word document is not my best, and today is a new day, right now is a new moment, and I am strong enough to finish it. Now that my break is done, I hope that you will join me in mustering up some courage to finish this paper off, know that I did my best with it and let go any anxiety about what they will think or if they will accept me because I know that I have given it my all.

Finally having a ‘normal’ sleep.

4amknowsall

My anxiety visits me without fail every night. I enter the battle of snowballing about things I have to do, things I didn’t do, things I should have said or things I should not have said. I am often unable to fall asleep before 3am, and even more often it’s 6 or 7am before I am finally able to fall asleep. Unfortunately, I also crash pretty hard when I finally sleep, so I end up missing the majority of my day. This often results in missed classes, appointments and other social things. I usually wake up in the late afternoon, guilting myself for missing everything I should have accomplished that day and feeling frustrated that I slept through 5 or 6 alarms.

Last night I was able to sleep before 11pm. I wasn’t sure what came over me, but I was actually tired at night. I got ready for bed before my boyfriend had even gone to bed, which is a feat in itself because he usually tries to go to bed early as he works early. I managed to fall asleep fairly quickly and even though I woke up a few times during the night, I was able to fall back asleep instead of waking up and staying awake for hours. I woke up at 9am today and I don’t remember the last time I saw 9am from this side of the day.

If you’re reading this and you cannot relate with my troubles sleeping, I don’t think I can put into words how amazing it was to fall asleep at a ‘normal’ time and wake up at a reasonable hour. I opened my eyes to see the light shining through my window as usual, but when I looked at my phone to see the time – it was still in single digits. I felt a rush of relief wash over me because I had the whole day ahead of me to do whatever – even if I just took the day to read and cuddle with my dogs, I had the whole day.

After I reveled in the time of day with the hallelujah chorus playing in my mind, I frantically tried to remember everything I did last night to make myself fall asleep quickly so I can try to replicate tonight. That’s my experience with sleep. It’s often such a battle to quiet my mind so that I can fall asleep, so when I do have a good sleep, I need to remember everything that I possible can about what I did so that I can try my best to do it again. I’ve always had troubles sleeping and I’ve always envied those who can hit the pillow and fall asleep. Especially if they can wake up with only one or two snoozes of the alarm in the morning and still attend things before 11am.

In taking the advice of my recent post – I’m going to celebrate the crap out of this day. No matter what happens today that may stand in my way, at least I was awake to experience it. It may seem like a small feat, but I can’t begin to express how proud of myself I am right now. I don’t have to make an excuse for why I can’t meet up before 3pm if I have days like this.