The Unsettling Feeling of Calm

I wanted to share this because I’m curious to know if anyone else has experienced this. Or if it’s just me and I’m losing it. 

Today on my way to an appointment, I was on the bus and it was about halfway through my trip when I realized that I felt calm. It hit me quite suddenly as I was just looking out the window and thinking. Was I…calm? Was my body…calm? Wait a second, was calm? Really? Are you sure? Me? Calm? That can’t be right. Okay, what’s going on? 

So I scanned my body to look for anything that might be there, a flutter, some tension, anything to tell me that my body was in a state that wasn’t even close to calm. And as I reached my toes and still had not found anything, it started to sink in that I wasn’t really feeling anything at that moment. Say what? I wasn’t feeling anything? 

I thought maybe I was numb then. That made sense. I wasn’t feeling anything in my body because I was numb. But the body scan told me it wasn’t numbness because even when I’m numb I physically feel a certain way. There are still physical sensations that tell me I’m feeling numb. And this time there was nothing. Just…nothing. No anxiety. No tension. Nothing. My breathing was normal and my body was calm. 

What the crap was this?

I scanned my body again, looking for the slightest twinge or tension, thinking I needed to double-check this out because I couldn’t be just calm, could I? And again the scan told me there was nothing. My body was not in a state of anything. Was this what riding the bus with no anxiety looked like? Was this what an anxiety-less body felt like? Was this simply riding the bus? Was this what just taking a bus looks like? Was this what just taking a bus feels like? 

Well I don’t like it. 

Now don’t get me wrong, when I say I was calm I don’t mean that my mind was blank or quiet because it was neither. I don’t mean that by being calm I was not having a swarm of thoughts going through my mind because I did. In fact I was thinking about my life and my emotions when I realized how calm I was. I was not really relaxed, meditative, or even happy because I wasn’t. It was just…calm. 

For whatever reason, I was not tense or anxious or feeling like I would pass out or freak out. I was not worried that I might die or anything. The absence of the chaos I usually carry within me was very unsettling. It wasn’t long before I wondered if I should be freaking out. I mean this was not my usual feeling. This was not my usual state. This was not the way I normally take a bus. This was new, and weird, but suprisingly even when I thought of freaking out my body just stayed calm. For a moment I was unable to even stir myself into feeling anxious. I have no idea how. And I have no idea why. I just was. So this was calm? This was just sitting with myself? This was just being?

Interesting. 

I actually managed to stay calm for the next hour or so, and frankly I’m just stunned. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it happened. I have no idea how I managed to stay calm in my body as my mind pondered life’s questions. But there it was. Me. Calm. 

Alrighty then. Good to know. 

I’ve decided not to analyze this to death because I have a feeling it will never be explained. I have a feeling that it actually doesn’t  matter why it happened. So I am going to accept it for what it was, a feeling of calm while going to an appointment. 

I’d like to say that I was able to stay there, in the calmness, but unfortunately my anxiety about not having anxiety managed to build my anxiety level, and within a couple of hours I was back up to a 7 or 8 on the anxiety level scale, and also had a slight panic attack on my way home from the appointment. 

On the plus side, I was super pleased that I had at least caught a glimpse of what a zero on the anxiety level looks like. It’s nice to know that it can happen, that it is possible, and that I can get there. I’d like to know why or how it had happened so I could harness it for the future but I know that is probably not possible. Some things can’t be harnessed like that. At least, not yet. 

As unsettling as it was to just be calm and not have anxiety and all the baggage that goes with me wherever I go, I’m really glad it happened because maybe it will happen again. And maybe it might even last longer. Or maybe I’ll never see it again. Who knows.  But at least knowing it’s possible is good. 

Has anyone else experienced this? I really hope it’s not just me. 

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There Is Nothing Wrong With Having Mental Health Issues

This past weekend brought up the conversation of mental health issues in a number of ways for me; from hearing about Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna speaking publicly about struggling with anxiety, and not feeling himself, to conversations I’ve had with family and friends. I feel like it needs to be said again, and again, that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues. I’m going to be repeating this often throughout this post, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

I think Roberto Osuna’s decision for opening up about what he is struggling with, which is no doubt much more common in baseball, and sports in general, than is reported, was exceptionally brave. It isn’t easy to open up about something so personal and something that can be subject to judgement, criticism, and misinterpretation.

Mental health is absolutely vital to our well-being. Without it, we are open to literally falling apart. Mental health is just as important to our being able to function and cope as physical health is. In fact, there are a number of situations where mental health may be even more important than physical health.

The dozens of disorders and diagnosis that encompass mental health are never something to be taken lightly, no matter how, where, when, or why, a person finds themselves struggling with them. Whether it’s a disorder that has been a part of your life since childhood, or whether it’s something that pops into your life in later years, it is always, repeat always, something to be taken seriously. And at no time is it ever a reflection on what kind of person you are, nor does it ever mean that something is wrong with you.

Admittedly, you may need treatment, you may even need medication, but that does not mean you are broken, or flawed, or weak, or a bad person. It doesn’t mean you should be treated differently nor does it mean you should be shunned, judged, ostracized, or criticized. It means that you need help and support, encouragement and compassion, and understanding and patience for a difficult situation or period in your life. That’s really all it means, that you need help. And there is nothing, NOTHING, wrong with that.

I can understand that there are people who have not struggled with mental health issues and may not be able to fully grasp what it means but that is no excuse to treat someone with mental health issues any differently than had they been struggling with something physical that can be seen or quantified. People struggling with mental health issues are still people.

You don’t have to have mental health issues to be compassionate.

I think it’s great that the conversation of mental health is fast becoming more mainstream, and less a “closeted” discussion, saved only for professionals. With places like CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), here in Canada, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), also here in Canada, the annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and several sports and television personalities opening up about their own mental health struggles has made a HUGE impact in people starting to realize and understand that mental health is something that can affect anyone, in any capacity, or social standing, and that it is NOT something to be ashamed of.

I firmly believe that places like CAMH and CMHA are leading the fight in bringing awareness to mental health, bringing the discussion to the masses, and especially with bringing help to those in need. Addressing mental health openly has come a long way in starting to lose the stigma that has been attached to it for so long. But there is still more work to do. And it starts with us, talking to someone when we need help, and not feeling ashamed about what we are going through.

I’m not saying that you need to speak about what you might be struggling with to everyone you know and everyone you meet. It may mean only sharing it with one person, it may mean sharing it with a group of strangers at a support group, it may mean sharing it only with a professional. It isn’t about who you choose to share it with, it’s about owning that you are struggling right now with mental health issues, and that is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I’m going to repeat that, “struggling with mental health issues is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Life is hard. Very hard. This is not new information for anyone. Sometimes trying to handle all that life throws at us, and coping with difficult situations, emotions, and difficult people can be more than just a challenge at times. It can be something that permeates your whole being, and for some, it may also mean using more destructive than constructive methods to cope. It can be something that filters down into your relationships, your work, your interests, your family and friends, and even your ability to function at a basic level. Mental illness can grip you like a vise and twist itself around you so that you feel like you can’t breathe. It doesn’t care if you have the time, or the space, or whether you’re ready or not, it can come on without warning and take you over, or take you down. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what you do, where you work etc, you could be someone who finds themselves struggling with mental health issues just as easily as anyone else.

Mental health isn’t selective in who it affects. No exemptions or discrimination here. Mental health is an equal opportunity assailant.

I don’t want to compare mental health to physical health because I don’t think they really can be compared. The each have their own struggles, symptoms, treatments, and perspectives. But I will say that with as many differences that lie between physical/medical issues and mental health issues, there are also a number of similarities between them too. There a lot of physical illnesses or disorders that can often strike at will to whomever, whenever, without warning or cause, and mental health issues can be just as arbitrary and random in who becomes affected too. There are a number of physical/medical issues that cannot be seen just by looking at someone, and that cannot be measured with a blood test or x-ray, just like not being able to tell just by looking that someone is struggling with mental health issues.

Someone struggling with a physical/medical issue is as important to address as someone struggling with a mental health issue. One issue is not necessarily any more urgent to address than the other. Of course I understand that there are some serious medical issues that can be life-threatening and are important to treat as soon as possible, and that there are some mental health issues that are not as urgent in the moment to treat, but they are still important enough to treat, regardless.

Someone struggling with mental health issues may be able to wait a few more days for help than someone requiring urgent medical assistance, but it doesn’t mean that the person struggling with mental health issues should be dismissed or indefinitely delayed in getting treatment.

All issues that can befall us, whether physical, emotional, or mental, each have their own urgencies or not, in how and when they are addressed, but the important thing to remember is that they ALL deserve addressing.

Repeat: THEY ALL DESERVE TO BE ADDRESSED.

I would like to close this by saying to all those struggling with mental health issues, please seek help if you need it, don’t wait. And please don’t be ashamed or feel less than because you need help. Talk to someone. Share with those you trust in your own time. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, nor do you owe anyone an explanation. You are struggling and you need help. Please remember that. You are struggling and you need help.

For those who have a loved one struggling with mental health issues I would encourage and hope that you give as much time and space to your loved one as you can for them to deal with things as they need. Be compassionate and patient. You don’t need to understand someone to be kind to them. You don’t need to have experienced it to have patience for it.

Your loved one may be struggling to live at some point, and this is NOT a weakness, nor is this something to be taken lightly. Anyone feeling like life isn’t worth living anymore should ALWAYS be taken seriously and at their word. They need help. Please do what you can to help them get help.

Most importantly, for all, please remember that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues.

 

Everyday People

When I have to go outside it takes me some time and effort to make my way out. Some days are easy, where I don’t have to prepare myself. I don’t have to work up to anything. I can pretty much just go. And some days are hard, where I need a lot of time to work through the anxiety. When I need to somehow ease the anxious feeling in my stomach and chest. I need to ease my urge to hide and avoid, and often either slow down or soothe a panic attack. Those are the days I may not make it out but I still try because sometimes the tips work.

When I am outside the anxious feeling doesn’t really go away. It stays in varying degrees of intensity from when I leave my home and it doesn’t ease until I’m back home, and even then it doesn’t totally disappear. The time that I am out I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and how long things are taking. I am aware of the people around me and I am aware of the length of time I will be in any given place because I am almost counting the minutes until I can finally go home again.

I have to be very careful about this state though because if it gets pushed too far, and the anxiety overwhelms me, it can push me into a numb, dissociative state. Where I am on automatic pilot and I am sort of aware of my surroundings but it’s a blur and most of the time I can’t recall where I was or how I got there.

When I’m on the bus I watch the people around me. In part I do it to be aware of who is where, what they are doing, and are they posing any threat to me in any way? But sometimes I find myself almost mesmerized by them. I’m mesmerized by their mundane ways of sitting or standing on the bus. I watch them play on their phones, or read a book, or talk to someone they are travelling with, or just staring out the window, and I find myself feeling envious of them.

These people, just normal people, they get on the bus and choose their place to sit or stand and they settle in for their ride. Without a second thought they are just taking the bus and doing whatever they need to do to pass the time on the ride. And they look normal. They look calm. They look bored. They look complacent. And I envy that.

I envy that these people can just walk onto a bus without sizing up the world they’re entering. I envy that they sit down or stand like they own the place and they aren’t thinking of anyone or anything around them let alone if they’re wondering if something is a threat. They aren’t surveying the scene from moment-to-moment. They don’t look like they’re counting anything at all. They look and act so normal. And then I briefly think of how many thoughts I have had in the short time I’ve been on this bus and how many worries and fears I’ve had and I feel jealous that they sit there like normal, everyday people.

I’ve wondered if anyone has looked at me and thought of me as weird, or thought of me as unworthy to take up space on the bus, or any other kind of thought. I’ve wondered if they are judging me or making assumptions about me. Are they thinking I don’t belong here? Are they thinking I shouldn’t be here? Are they thinking I’m a fraud? Are they thinking I look like a bitch? Are they thinking that they hate me?

It makes me feel like a freak. It makes me feel like I’m a nutcase. And it makes me feel alone.

These people go about their day, seemingly without a care, and they work, and live, and function. They go out. They do things. They talk to people. They interact. And I think of my own day that has been filled with anxiety, panic attacks, fear, worry, and shame, and all that races through my mind from the moment I step outside my door to when I step back inside my door and I can’t help but wonder, “how do they do it?”

How do these people leave their homes so easily? How do these people just walk to their bus stops and subway stations like it’s nothing? How do they get on the transit and they’re only concern is if a seat is available and making sure they catch their stop? How do they manage to just take the bus? How do they manage to be around other people as if it’s nothing? How do they sit there and wait for their stop like it’s no big deal? How do they not worry, and wonder if this will be okay? How do they not worry what others are thinking? How do they not care? How do they not feel anxious if they will be okay? How do they not work to hold themselves up enough so that they don’t pass out? How are they able to sit there so complacent and not have a panic attack? How?

My excursions are plagued by any number of worries, thoughts, anxieties, and emotions, and sometimes it’s bad enough that I can’t even leave the house. But these everyday people, they seem to have none of that. They live and function normally. But how? How are they able to function without a thought? How do they function without anxiety? How do they get up and go about their day without worrying about everything?

I wish I could be an everyday person. I wish I could just go about my day and that’s it.

Sudden Panic Attack

I realize this is actually an oxymoron or whatever they’re called because panic attacks rarely give much warning.

I was minding my own business, writing up my next post, when suddenly I felt the need to run. Run far. Run fast. Now. I felt like everyone in the library was watching me and judging me. That they knew what I was thinking and they thought I was an idiot. I felt like everyone was judging me. Watching my thoughts and thinking “my god this girl is awful”. When I looked around people’s eyes were lowered or distracted by computers or books but it felt like they only just averted their gaze and the minute I looked away they would stare at me again.

I felt my heart pounding and I wondered for a moment if I stood up right now would I pass out. Oh god no. Please don’t let that happen. I couldn’t handle people seeing me hit the floor. And then the librarians will probably call an ambulance. And I’ll have to be taken to the nearest hospital to be checked and I know they will find nothing. Because that’s how this goes. That’s how this will play out. I know it. I’ve been there. And I will feel like an ass having taken up people’s time and the city’s resources. And for what?

I look around me to see if I can leave with the minimal amount of people seeing me but no. I can’t. Because where I am and where the exit is, is right in front of everyone.

Oh god. Everyone…

I know this is a panic attack. And I need to remember that.

Remember that. 

Oh, and breathe. 

I seem to forget how to breathe when this happens. I don’t know what I’m holding my breath for but I feel the need to hold it. Like it will protect me from harm. If I hold my breath then the world will not move until I say so and let my breath out. I know this is nonsense but I believe it nonetheless. The worst part is the holding of my breath makes me far more susceptible to actually passing out than a panic attack would. But I hold it anyway.

I want to go hide in a hole with cakes and donuts to sustain me.

Time to go.

Residual Effects of a Panic Attack

I’d like to say that whenever I am struck by a panic attack that once it subsides I am good to go but I would be lying if I said that.

I don’t know if it’s just me but whenever I have a panic attack, particularly a big one, it may be over in minutes but the after effects last hours and even sometimes a day or two. At first when this happened I thought maybe I was having panic attacks all day, over and over again, and a couple of times when it was bad that was probably true, but in actuality I discovered it was the residual effects of the original panic attack.

The slight edginess in my body that left me feeling like I could be knocked over by a feather, I was that anxious. My breaths periodically speeding up or the holding of my breath, just keeping me wondering enough if another attack was coming. And the headache. I feel tired and somewhat numb after a panic attack.

I’m not sure if this is some kind of defence mechanism by my body but I find it highly intrusive. It’s bad enough that I suffered the attack in the first place but now I have to deal with the residual crap too?

Is it just me? Do others experience this too?

It feels a little bit like I’ve been wounded and the following day the bandages have been taken off. So I’m good to keep going but things remain tender, exposed, and vulnerable.

All day today I just felt slightly on the brink of something, most likely bad, and exposed. Thankfully I didn’t have another panic attack but I definitely feel like I could crash.

I hope it’s not just me.

*TW* Old Faithful

Today I had reached a breaking point. I couldn’t hold out any longer. So I went for my usual. Cake. I had been thinking about it all day. For several days in fact. Just imagining how good it would be. Imagining how great it would taste. Imagining how it would make me forget everything but the cake. Imagining how it would numb me out. Imagining every little piece right down to the last bit of it, the last detail, and the last bite. I even tried to placate the urge with several substitutions. I tried donuts. And I have to laugh at this attempt because in no universe is a donut as good as a cake. And not just any cake. But a Sobeys cake. A creamy, soft, sweet Sobeys cake with their icing that tastes like whipped cream. (For those of you who are vanilla cake fans I highly recommend their cakes and cupcakes.) And I had tried to trick myself with donuts. Idiot. Unless they are Sobeys cake in the shape of a donut with Sobeys creamy icing on top then it’s a sad effort, although that would be a great donut. Donuts for cake? Please. Don’t even try.

I looked at the bakery shelves again. Nothing. It wasn’t there. None of them were. There was nothing. And something inside me not only panicked but cried.

How could there be none? How could they be all gone? How could there not be one cake here for me? Not one cupcake? And don’t even try to pawn off those custard or raspberry or rich hazelnut cakes on me. As far as I’m concerned they aren’t cakes to begin with. So as far as I was concerned Sobeys had no cakes out. But that can’t be? There had to be some somewhere, right? In the back, maybe? But no. They couldn’t be out of cakes? I asked. And they said, what they had out was it and it was gone.

No.No, no, no, no. It can’t be. None? What do I do? Okay, what do I do? I’m a little unsettled. I look around wildly, trying to figure out my next move but I’m lost. What do I do? What can I do? I’m stuck.

I feel my heart racing and my cheeks are starting to get warm. What do I do? I feel close to tears by now because I really am lost. I really don’t know what to do. I hadn’t considered this. I didn’t have a ‘plan b’.

Some people might call that a sign. They might say that that is the universe’s way of telling me that I shouldn’t binge. Pfft. I call it poor planning on the part of the Baked Goods department manager. If I were feeling in a more optimistic, philosophical place I might agree but I’m not. As far as I am concerned the universe is telling me that he sucks at his job. That’s what I’m getting from the universe.

Baked Goods Department Manager has one job. And he failed. And now I am stuck. I felt a fear creep over me because I felt so lost. I hadn’t made any backup plan. It hadn’t once occurred to me that they would be sold out. Every other time I was there they had cakes. Even the cupcakes were good enough to suffice but they were all gone too. There was nothing.

I looked around at the people nonchalantly shopping and tried to at least look calm. But inside I was freaking out. I wanted to grab the girl behind the bakery counter and shake her, find me a cake woman! Go bake it right now if you have to, I’ll wait. Ooh fresh Sobeys cake. Sigh. But I couldn’t do that anyway because I already knew from past visits that they don’t bake their goods on site. What kind of a bakery does this?

You’re telling me out of this whole store you don’t have one oven? I looked around again at the other shoppers and the bakery girl trying not to lose it. It wasn’t her fault. Well it kind of was. She sold them. Her and the Bakery Department manager. Together they had thrown a big wrench into my plans.

I started to roam the store like I was looking around and shopping but I registered none of it. I didn’t even realize how far I had wandered trying to figure out my next step until I found myself three aisles over in the frozen foods. Oh look, frozen pies.

I knew I should just leave and try to figure something else out. How far was it to another Sobeys? I calculated where I was and how I would get to the other location but it wasn’t close, and would require a few transit transfers. And somehow I felt stupid to go all that way, and out of my way, just for cake. But this isn’t normal cake. It’s Sobeys delicious, soft, and creamy, make-everything-better cake.

I found myself circling the store and ended up back at the bakery again staring down the empty spots where the cakes and cupcakes had been, willing a package or a small cake to suddenly materialize. Hoping against hope that maybe they would get a fresh shipment in and I would get my cake. But no. Nothing.

Now what? I knew I had to leave, and soon, because I was starting to feel the panic really grip me, and it would only be so long where I could hide it from other people. And the only thing worse for me than no cakes or cupcakes was passing out in the grocery store because there were no cakes or cupcakes. Sure they wouldn’t know but I would. And I couldn’t live with that. I had passed out or collapsed or freaked out because there was no vanilla cakes or cupcakes? No thank you. That really would be a new low for me. And frankly I was already low enough.

In the end I numbly walked from the store to the nearest bus stop and somehow made my way home, although I don’t remember any of it. I know I tried to think of what other baked good I could substitute in the meantime but nothing measured up to what the cake was going to give me. I actually felt disinterested in all my other go-to goods that I finally went home empty-handed.

I felt so lost and alone and disappointed. I felt like crying. I felt like I had lost my armour and my safety net. I tried to talk myself into taking it slower and trying to work through the pain of being exposed and vulnerable but it just left me more anxious.

It was then that I turned to my other outlet, and I self-harmed. It was the only thing I knew would work. It was the only way I felt I could cope. No cake? Then it’s time to self-harm. I couldn’t help it. It was a bad night. I wish I could have made it through somehow without resorting to self-destruction but I just couldn’t do it.

I feel ashamed and like a giant failure. I am learning skills that should help me with this and yet my mind blanked and all I could see was the cake and then the self-harm. I’m hoping that the next time, and there will be a next time, I will be able to draw on the skills, even if only for a moment, and try to get through it without hurting myself.