Subdued Euphoria

Learning to live with Panic and Anxiety Disorder.

Advocate for Yourself

I did it.

This morning, I woke up and went on pilot mode. It’s the only mode I know when I have an upcoming, stressful event. I can only do as much as the bare minimum; get dressed, wash face, fix hair and maybe eat a granola bar. Anything else is too much to handle.

As much as I wanted that morning coffee, I didn’t. And, man oh man, I sure do miss that first coffee of the day. I digress.

This morning went as I had expected. I took some medication in the car on the way over. I checked into pre-op while fully telling myself “I want to leave now,” the entire time. I filled out paper work and was quickly called back for pre-op tests, pokes and prods.

Then I waited. A long time. I had a beautiful view of the previous night’s snowstorm. However, it didn’t come close to halting my fears. As the time drew closer to 10:00 A.M. the worse I got.

(If only you could see the frantic texts I sent my partner. And, no, I will not be screenshotting that)

The surgery was pushed to 10:30, and then 10:45…

I cried.

The anesthesiologist finally popped in to chat. I told him about my previous experiences with general anesthesia. He gave me the option of general anesthetic or doing local anesthetic but with some general. He said he thought I would do better with the former . I said I respected his opinion but I felt I needed to go with the second option. I know my body, I know how I react and it was worth trying.

Other than some uncontrollable shaking from the spinal block, I managed to get through it and keep calm… well, calm enough. I don’t really remember much either which is also good, I suppose.

While I felt very nervous going against the doctor’s original orders, I’m happy that I found a voice – albeit small.

Even though I really wanted to face my general aesthetic fears today, I think that it was still a win for me.

Surgery: 4 – Candace: 1

When It’s Out Of Control

We are moving again. And, hopefully, this will be the last time for a long while. It’s a far cry from Brooklyn but Colorado Springs should be able to do us well. This move is coming up quickly and that means we have to get our Denver affairs in order before bidding it farewell. This includes a surgery for me.

I’ve not been the healthiest specimen through my life and, while I’ve managed to avoid most serious health issues, I’ve been under the knife several times.

I have zero fear of surgery. I don’t think I’m going to die. I don’t think they are going to make any mistakes. I know my body has needed whatever procedures needed to be done. I do fear one thing though, and that’s general anesthesia.

You see, I absolutely cannot control my panic attacks when waking up from being put under. I can’t prepare myself for it because, well, I’m asleep. I can’t use my coping techniques because I’m so out of it when I wake up that I cannot concentrate. Waking up from anesthesia feels like a thunderstorm. It’s noisy and bright and sort of shocking. Never has it been slow and easy, as much as I wish it would be*.

I try to do everything so can to avoid it. And, unfortunately, I cannot avoid surgery next week.

Here I am, a week away from slice and dice, worrying to death about the massive panic attack I’m going to have to enduring for most of the day. It’s torturous. It’s traumatic. It’s downright MISERY.

I’m pretty good at making plans, figuring out my next steps and deciding out how I should handle whatever is giving me problems. This… this I can’t solve. Is it even possible?

It has to be done. I have to bring myself to the hospital for 5:30 A.M. and I have to walk myself into that O.R. knowing that the other side will cause me great discomfort.

Maybe someone out there has a suggestion because I am stumped. Maybe I’ll have enough brains when I wake up to read this post. Maybe I’ll I just be lucky. One in four, right? One time with no panic attacks out of four?

Here’s to the not so great odds.

* I had a discussion with my anesthesiologist at my last surgery. He assured me that I’d wake up on the better side of things. Well, I didn’t and now I know Valium isn’t helpful.

On Being a Mom.

Imagine being a mom.

Now imagine being a mom with mental health issues.

Welcome to my world.

I’m luckily enough to be the mother of 2 wonderful kids. My son is 2.5 years old and my daughter just turned 1. As you may guess, I am a little overwhelmed with 2 kids who are at the most difficult ages of their young childhoods.

Joyous, am I.

Because of my mental health troubles, I’ve had to work very hard on myself and my coping skills, with the help of therapy and help from family. There have been many nights of me giving myself fairly aggressive bathroom mirror pep talks. I have a journal where I only write down the positive things of the day. I attended group therapy on top of my regular weekly private sessions. Let me tell you, it’s been a journey.

So, here I am sandwiched between these two kiddos in the back of our car. We are driving across country from my parents house in Toronto to our home in Denver. This moment here is what I’ve been preparing for. On one side my son is either repeating everything I am saying, informing me of each truck he sees, grabbing my sweater or kicking me. On the other side, my daughter needs to be bottle fed, she’s grabbing my arms and throwing her toys at me.

This sounds like normal kid behavior, and it is, but for someone like me – this is a CHALLENGE. To say I am triggered is an understatement. But guess what? We are almost at our first hotel. I haven’t had a full of breakdown. I fought off a lingering panic attack, my kids aren’t crying and MAYBE they’ve even learned something along the way.

I know I have. I’m learning that I can do it – one day, one step, one moment at a time.

A New Direction

It’s been awhile, I know.

The TLDR version: We moved back to NYC and a year later we left the east coast. Colorado is now home. Within a month of moving I became pregnant and am now the proud mother of a 12 week old boy.

I could spend an entire novel of a blog entry discussing the past two years of life – the struggles, the loneliness, the changes – but I don’t think a timeline breakdown is necessary.

What is important is that I’m now in a new stage of life, accompanied by my old issues. That means, I’m now a mother. A mother who suffers from panic and anxiety disorder. My life is no longer all about me, but about navigating these murky waters with an innocent (and adorable) baby.

So, welcome to the new me and please enjoy the bumpy ride!

I’ll Fix You

 

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If there was one thing I wish I had been told from the beginning is that there would be no fixing me.

I wish that I had been told that there isn’t an end to the journey.

There would be no passing GO or collecting $200.

This would be me forever.

I’ve spent exhaustive amounts of time wondering when I would be “better” and when I would be “me” again. And, in the end, those were just not valid questions. There would be no “better”. There would be no past “me”. There is only who I am in the present. RIGHT. NOW.

I kind of felt as though others around me were also waiting for the big FIX to happen. That one day, some time in the future, I would suddenly become the person I SHOULD have been had I not had that first panic attack over 27 years ago. I would suddenly become the happy, fearless child I once was – that would be the teenager I should have been – I would wake up as the successful adult I was destined to be.

In elementary school I spent many hours of the day in the secretary office fighting panic attacks and wondering if this would be the last time that I had to suffer so badly. Some days I would be in the little dark room with the cot where the sick kids would rest (this room also had all the office supplies and the xerox machine so it was a little strange).  Other days I’d sit next to the secretary as I made drawings and tried to distract myself from whatever it was that was “wrong” with me. At this time I didn’t even know what was wrong with me, no one knew. I was lectured by the Principal and Vice-Principal – I’m not sure what they hoped would happen. I was always told that eventually I would stop feeling however I was feeling, return to my regularly scheduled childhood, lifehood, and that was that.

That has yet to be true.

I couldn’t find that cure, I couldn’t regain what I was supposed to be, I couldn’t “beat” my illness. So not only did I let myself down because I couldn’t get better, I also felt like I let everyone else down because I didn’t live up to their expectations in my attempts to recover. And to those who didn’t know, I desperately tried to hide my problems so they wouldn’t know how “weird” or “crazy” I was. 

Have you ever sat down to dinner with a group of people, started into a panic attack and then made it all worse because you were convinced you couldn’t excuse yourself or use coping techniques without being judged?

Depression sneaks into the lives of those living with anxiety and panic attacks because they are told that must get better.  They aren’t normal if they feel this way. They are told they WILL get better. They are led to believe that if they put in an exhausting amount of work, therapy and changes, they will beat the demon and be this whole new person.

What I wish I was taught is that even though this will be with you for a very long time, that there is a way to deal. That I would find a way to be happy. That I would still be Candace and nothing would ever change that. I wish I was told that there are going to be hard days… and that there will be many. However, I will learn how to handle those hard moments, those hard hours, those hard days.

I should have been told that that I am Candace. Nothing I could do, be, try, would ever change that. There isn’t a better me out there. The me I am now the best me I can ever be because I am real.

There is no fixing me.

I have never needed to be fixed.

Despite spending decades in search of the non-existent cure, I have survived. I am not cured but I have survived. I am alive, I am successful and I can make it through the darkest of days.

That is the truth.

 

When The Rat Race Becomes An Infestation – You Burn It Down And Run

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It was time to leave.

I’ve spent my entire life living in big cities.

I spent the first 24 years my life in Toronto and the last 9 years keepin’ it real in New York City. I don’t know how many times people have asked me why I decided to move to an even bigger city than Toronto, especially with my level of anxiety and panic. Why would I, someone who has had hundreds of panic attacks on subways, want to live in a city that pretty much relies on subways?  Why would I, as introverted as I am, want to live somewhere where there is no such thing as personal space?  I know where I should live, NYC!

Well, I somehow managed. At least for a little while. I kept busy with school and relationships. For the record, school is a good way to experience NYC and not be trapped in the rat race of trying to make enough green to survive. After school ended, that was the official start of my race. And it was tiring.

This past year my husband and I were given an opportunity to leave NYC. It was the most exciting thing to hear. Our original plan was to head west immediately, but we decided to make a stop in Connecticut for a year. The place is located in a lovely beach town off of the Long Island Sound. The house is surrounded by trees and trails. I saw a deer scamper off yesterday and just now, as I walked the dog, I could hear the owls hooting away. For a few moments, I turned off the flashlight and stared up at the stars. There are so many. They are so dull in the city. It was great to know they still shine bright.

Everything is beautiful.

It’s quiet. It’s empty. It’s a breath of fresh air.

In one day I cycled 15km along the beach and hiked two trails – once on my own and once with my 9 month old puppy. I didn’t have to think about how I was going to manage taking the subway. I didn’t have to worry about what kind of horrible thing some guy would say to me while I was out minding my own business. I didn’t have to think about what I would do “this time” if I ran into someones ex, or my own. Instead, I found a quaint bookstore that was ridiculously amazing. Nothing overwhelming or stressful about that. Today was me, the ocean, my bicycle, the dogs and a store full of books.

I’ve only been here for 5 days and I should have done this years ago.

I know my panic attacks and anxiety aren’t solely caused by my choice of city to live. But I can’t help but think that by changing the pace of my immediate surroundings that it may just help influence how I’ve been pacing myself.

It’s time to stop spending all my energy on what’s happening outside and it’s time to take care of what’s inside.

 

 

Help? What’s a Help?

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Learning to ask for help is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned (and still learning) to do. Kids seem to be asking for help all the time and here I am, a grown adult, refusing to ask. I can tell you that it hasn’t made my life any easier. It has resulted in me taking on absolutely everyone’s responsibilities on top of my own without saying a word to anyone. Except myself. Very unkind words to myself. Needless to say, I had been in a pretty negative headspace for a few months.

It needed a change.

Over the past month or so I’ve been extremely lucky and have had the opportunity to take a little time off from working. I haven’t stopped working but I’m logging in less work hours and dedicating those saved hours to not stressing out. For the record, as I write this out, I am realizing how ridiculous that sounds and I could have avoided the whole thing had I written it out first. I digress.

I decided, after about a year of trying to justify it to myself, that I was spending so much time outside of work worrying about work that I wasn’t allowing myself any time to… not stress. I decided that if I was working less, I wouldn’t have to worry about work outside of work as much thus giving me some sort of mental break.

Those who know me well know that getting me to ask for any sort of help is pretty much like herding cats. Ferrel cats. Deaf and blind ferrel cats. Deaf, blind and legless ferrel cats (Now I just feel sad…) This is also different than asking for the kind of help where you tell your husband you want pizza, but not any pizza. Pizza from Grimaldi’s, pizza. But since they don’t deliver you need to rent a Zip Car and drive there to pick it up and since I don’t have a license I need a chauffeur…

Anyway, after mustering up the courage to tell my husband, “I NEED A BREAK CAN WE FINANCIALLY DO THIS” and “WILL YOU HATE ME IF YOU CARRY US FOR A LITTLE WHILE?” we crunched numbers and decided that I could totally take this break.

It took another several weeks after that day for me to actually stop working as much. I immediately cut my schedule in half but I kept taking on extra work because I couldn’t say “no”. It turns out that on top of learning how to ask for help, I also needed to learn how to say no.

Apparently this break idea was starting to turn into something more than just a break. It has become more of a learning period. Learning to listen to my body and listen to my mind. Learning to not always think I’m over-exaggerating and learning to believe myself when I’m feeling run-down and worn out. Learning to say no and learning to not think twice about it.

At first I second guessed myself when I decided I wanted a break.

Now I’m learning that it was way overdue.

6 Things Anxiety Made Unbearable For Me

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I’ve written about how difficult it is to go day-to-day with an anxiety and panic disorder. I mean, I couldn’t even get a hair cut without feeling as though I was ready to eject from my own skin while sitting in the salon chair. I’d love to say that the hair salon is the only thing that has really been affected since I was diagnosed, but that is simply not true. Panic attacks have thrown my life curve ball after curve ball.

Here are some of the things in life that anxiety decided to annoyingly make unbearable for me.

Silence
There is probably nothing that is much worse for a person with anxiety than silence. It’s not because things are boring. It’s because our brains become so loud it can be unbearable. The last thing I need as an anxious person is to hear my brain yelling at me and reminding me so clearly about all the things I should be worried about. When I am at home I always have the television on. I’m usually not watching it, but I need the talk stimulation. It helps keep my anxiety quieter and allows me to be focused on the task at hand. Right now as I write to you Survivor is on in the background.  I had no idea what is going on… but I’m sure it’s something like the last 15 years of Survivor. Get off the island. Is there a metaphor somewhere in there for anxiety?

Sleep
Sleep is slightly similar to silence for me. I sleep with the television or radio on sleep-mode so at least it will turn off by the time I am (hopefully) down for the count. As a child, when my panic attacks began to manifest, they used to really hit hard a night time when I was in bed. It took many years to be able to be able to go to bed without fearing another panic attack. They used to hit me as soon as I reached that state between being asleep and being awake. It hit me like a train and I’d be suddenly awake trying to fight off a terrifying panic attack. I saw 3:00 AM far more than any child should. Some nights I was just too frightened to sleep at all. Childhood sleepovers were out of the question. I’ve come a long way in 25 years and I have a fairly decent sleep pattern going now. Occasionally I may wake up with a minor attack but that is leaps and bounds better than eight-year-old me reading books under her blanket at all hours of the night.

Exercise
I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. I’ve always been a naturally slim person. I really do enjoy trying to keep in moderate shape. I’ve tried many different types of fitness and have had panic attacks during all of them. I attribute the issue to a few things. The main issue is that my heart rate is raised and I feel over heated as I exercise. Not only does that trigger fight or flight, I also start to feel trapped where ever I am. In the end I end up giving up and trying to find a new kind of exercise that may or may not work for me. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to start having a panic attack while in a quiet hot yoga class? If you’re like me, then you also get to experience what I call “stomach death”.  I’ll let you imagine that one.

Throwing Up
I’ll give you all this one. Throwing up sucks. No one likes it. It doesn’t feel good. But for some reason, slight nausea would send me on a one-way trip to Anxious Town before making a stop at Panic Attack City. The kicker to all of this: Nausea gives me panic attacks and panic attacks make me feel nauseous. See how much fun that is? I went 23 years refusing to be sick. I even beat the historical record set by Seinfeld. It wasn’t a black and white cookie that ended my streak but a good case of the stomach flu. Since then I’ve been doing much better with dealing with nausea. In fact, my fear has lessened and I worry about it less and less every day. If you are dealing with this same issue, I don’t actually recommend getting the stomach flu but there may be some faint silver (more of a shiny-grey) lining if you do.

Restaurants
I love food. It took me awhile to get there seeing as being scared of throwing up can make eating an issue, but I really love food. The only issue is that I have been known to have panic attacks in restaurants while with groups of people. I know that the issue isn’t SOLELY the restaurant but a combination of eating too much, a group of people and feeling trapped, but the idea of going out to eat at a restaurant sets my nerves up several notches. I’ve had to get up and leave meals with friends and I’m sure that it will happen again. I’m not going to stop going out to eat because I REALLY LOVE FOOD. However, I will spend the hour before hand wondering whether I should go or not. I’ll be thinking about canceling and rescheduling. I try to find a way to get take-out instead. In the future if we are out to eat together, be not offended if I suddenly get up and say, “I’m sorry I have to go immediately”. I have lost friends when this has happened. It doesn’t feel good but I am who I am! Great, now I’m hungry. Anyone for take-out?

Taxis
I don’t like the idea of being in a car with a person I don’t know. I don’t like feeling like I don’t have control of where the driver is going. Which sounds odd because a taxi is there to pick you up and take you to your destination – you know, the one YOU CHOSE. For some reason, on many occasions, I’ve had cabs turn back and take me home. I’ve also had cabs just drop me off in the middle of the trip. Being dropped off in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge can be a little difficult, no matter how much I demand (I had to wait until we got to the other side). I always tell the cab drivers the same thing, “Oh, my meeting has been canceled. Let’s turn around and go back.” I’m not sure why I decided saying I have a meeting needed to be said (most likely so I didn’t look crazy), nor do I know why I decided that I needed to give the driver a REASON for turning around. If I could walk everywhere I would. Don’t get me started on airplanes…

Am I alone? Well, if I’ve learned anything over the past many years is that I’m not. I’m sure that many of you will totally connect with me and know exactly what I’m talking about. That makes me feel comforted because there was a time when I felt like I was the only one and no one would ever understand. Now I know there is at least ONE person out there who does.

The Physicality Of It All

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Over the years I seemed to have put the physical side effects of anxiety aside, as well as the side effects of medication.  I think that I’ve been solely concentration on the emotional and mental aspects of panic and anxiety that I forgot it can cause some serious effects on my physical self.

I’ve always been aware of what I feel when I’m in the midst of a panic attack – the nausea, the sweating, the palpitations – but I’ve neglected what happens to my body outside of an actual attack, between attacks, the toll it can take on yourself.  I’m currently dealing with a good example of this issue.

Last week when I took my newest dosage I had a plethora of physical and emotional side effects within a few hours of taking it.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on and why I was so sick within a small amount of time. I thought my body was used to the chemicals in my body and I could just up the dose and continue about my business.

I was wrong.

The next day, after my last entry, I was advised to take them on a full stomach.  Of course! How could I have forgotten such a basic rule? But, uh oh… I am never hungry in the mornings. Now that I switched to taking my medication in the morning instead of at night (um, hello insomnia?) I am currently experiencing heightened anxiety in the morning.  And now you want me to eat? Oh boy.

That eased some of the bad effects but now I’m really dreading having to force feed myself enough food every morning in order to take these pills.  If I could get away with just a piece of toast I think I’d be alright, but that is definitely not enough to pad my stomach.

As I write, I’m taking in a spoonful of oatmeal per paragraph.

Since the change I’ve become hypersensitive to every change in how I feel. Is it from the medication?  Did I eat something bad? Am I just tired? Should I have eaten more? Did I feel this way before and just didn’t notice? Am I getting better yet?

I suppose my next step is to accept that I’m going to feel different, and it too shall pass.

Maybe I’ll have to work hard at… not working hard. But what does that look like? What does that feel like? How will I know?

The cycle continues.

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It Has Been 25 Years

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This month marks 25 years since I experienced my first panic attack.  It has been 25 years since life as I knew it was going to be – seeing as I was only a seven year old and only had dreams of what life as a teenager and adult would be – would turn out completely different.

This marks a little over one year since my most recent relapse. One year that I’ve gone back to basics and had found myself struggling with the daily tasks that most of us take for granted.

What have I actively worked on in the past year? Well, I’ve worked very hard to get myself from a place of crying constantly and randomly in odd places to being mostly calm and collected at all appropriate times.  I’ve managed to be able to work, although difficult at times, and be fairly consistent all my tasks.  I’ve managed to be able to get hair cuts again.  I’ve managed to be able to take the subway with much less anxiety.  I have had a little help along the way to be able to execute these tasks and I also fully committed myself to talk therapy.

So, where does that leave me now?

Well, I’m now at a new bump in the road.

After taking some time to figure out how far I have come and where I am now, I realized that it was time to make changes about where I want to go from here.

You see, although I’ve managed to regain some sense of my life, it wasn’t enough.  Just being able to do all these “normal” tasks was great and all but I’ve been missing something.  And what I’ve been missing was enjoyment.

You see, I’ve been trying very hard to do all the things that I actually enjoy doing however I was just doing them in order to get through them.  No enjoyment. That realization indicated that I needed to make some more serious changes.  Who wants to do things they used to love doing only because they were just trying to get through them? I miss those happy, cuddly feelings after going to an amazing restaurant or buying that cute shirt.  I miss wanting to slow down time while I play with dogs in the dog park or having a night out with friends.  Instead I find myself looking at the time to see how long is long enough before I can go home.

Therefore I took a new step. And the new step involved my medications.  After years of being determined to get off of them.  I have moved to a higher dose.  Because it’s what I need.

After two weeks and two dosage movements I’m finding myself many steps backward.  I feel strong physically illness all the time, my anxiety is heightened and I found myself in tears this morning.  I can’t help but feel that this isn’t going to work. But I’m still going to keep going.  I’m still going to wake up tomorrow and keep trying. Even if that means I need to take some time off.  Right now I’m sad and feeling defeated – again – but there is no going backward.

I want that life my seven year old self dreamed about.

I think it’s about time.

Happy 25th Anniversary Panic Disorder, there is no way that you’d let me forget.