Friday, December 5, 2014

holiday recap

The holidays have been extra special for me this year for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, it's a series of "firsts" without my Aunt Roe - it's the first time in my 30 years that she hasn't existed on this planet with me during this time of year. Her being gone is sometimes difficult to fathom but I am told it takes time. Logically I know this, but it doesn't stop hurting.

It's also special because, at this time a year ago, I was starting to unravel and head towards a complete meltdown. This year, I am working to build things back up. A lot has happened over the past couple of months. I continue therapy and medicine and both help. The bad days happen, but they don't dominant me as much. I handled a major family death, a move to a new house in a new neighborhood,...and so on. Friendships were gained, lost, reestablished, strengthened, etc. Lots of soul searching. Lots of alone time. And slowly, I am coming out of my shell, I think.

I was also dreading the holidays this year. It's been kind of a reclusive year, so socializing and being jovial were scary prospects. Thanksgiving, I am happy to say, exceeded all expectations. I was able to celebrate with both my family and my in-laws and hope to see extended family on both sides in the future, as well as friends.

I am a work in progress. We all are. It's important to remember that, especially during this time of year. It is also good to keep in mind that anxiety suffers have to take special measures to get through holiday events that come easily to those who are less prone to anxiety and depression. Practice kindness and show those around you grace. And have a wonderful holiday everyone!


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Aunt Roe

This past week has been one for the books. My Aunt Roseanne was admitted to the hospital the week before last for complications associated with her diabetes/other health issues. She went home the following Monday (this past Monday) and set up a wellness plan moving forward that included a new diet, occupational therapy and physical therapy, along with her home health care. To provide some background, she had been dealing with heart issues and diabetes for the past decade or so and her health had deteriorated slowly over the course of the past 10 years.

One thing I admittedly struggle with is how hard it was to watch my aunt suffer in the year since we reconnected. I recently reestablished a relationship with my aunt after my immediate family not speaking with our extended family for some time (for reasons none of us can remember anymore). It made me anxious to visit her because it was hard to see her in physical and emotional agony. In the course of the years we hadn't talked, she lost her ability to drive and walk. Also, she lost a major support source in the form of her romantic partner. After not seeing her for over a decade, it also dawned on me upon first gaze that she's aged to look very much like my long-deceased and still-beloved "Nanny." All of this fear and anxiety (notice a common theme on my blog here?) kept me from seeing her more than I would have under normal, "old me" circumstances. But I was still thankful for what we had this past year. It took us too long to get to that point. It should have happened years ago but I'm thankful that it even happened at all.

Roe often confessed that she felt she was following in her mother's footsteps and didn't want to die too soon before her time, but she struggled to find that spark that one needs to go on and fight the good fight. I had the pleasure of visiting her in December before Christmas and again in the Spring before Easter. I emailed and called frequently in between, and she did the same in return. She was legitimately the only person in my circle who understood how it felt to be housebound (her situation due to disability, mine due to my aforementioned breakdown and recovery from anxiety and panic disorders). We talked, laughed and cried a lot. And I tried to say all the things I had in my pep talk arsenal to inspire her and give her a reason for continuing, even stating that I wanted her to be there to meet my future children-kiddos that I'm still not even sure I'll have. I reminded her of her family and friend-based support network and that she was never alone, even if that was often the case physically.

The last time we talked was this past Wednesday night right before the newest episode of SVU. All we did was talk, laugh and smile. She was unusually optimistic and happy. I felt like maybe all of her family's kind words and encouragement/tough love finally seeped through and made a change. It never occurred to me that her optimism could be something ominous or a calm before the storm. Less than 24 hours after my aunt told me how good she felt and how she was looking forward to her physical therapy and baking cookies this Christmas after a long hiatus from her normal annual baking duties, I found out that she died.

On Thursday, she fell down in her house while under the care of her home nurse and physical therapist. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital, 30 minutes from my apartment and 12ish hours after I talked with her. About how Mike and I had plans to bring her homemade fried rice after moving into our house the end of the month; she adhered to a low-potassium diet and this delicacy was surprisingly in adherence to her food restrictions. And we'd even planned to bring our dog to visit , since animals are the best therapy.

We had plans. She set goals for herself and I set some of my own to hold up my end of the deal. We both worked this year to try and get well again in our own ways. Both of our plans involved one another. I've obsessed over what reason there could be behind why she survived numerous heart attacks and hospital visits, but died at home as she took her first step to finally getting better in both body and spirit. There is no logic, I've come to find. It's not ours to understand and I still don't get it.

To say that she was special and an integral part of my formative years is an understatement. She took me on shopping trips, kept me company during my brother's little league games, took me to get my driver's license when I was 17 and scared to drive my parents' stick-shift cars, and even sat with me when I had kidney stones in my freshman year of college and was stuck in the hospital for eight hours. Little did I know that 12 years later, she'd die in the same hospital system where she sat with me and helped me go through the agony of stones, which pale in comparison to the internal battle she dealt with each day to survive and go on.

This year has been one of the most challenging and vulnerable ones of my life. I have never felt so raw, afraid, excited, sad, name it. Mt dear aunt helped me survive. She was one of the many reasons I chose to keep going on during times when I didn't know if it was worth the trouble -depression is a tricky bastard like that, but it's getting better. Grief  hurts. I know it gets better with time, but it hurts like hell. And even more so when you're an adult and you have a keener understanding of death and mortality.

Because of my improving but ongoing social phobias, I am remembering her in my own way in my own home because I know I won't make it through the formal services that have been arranged in her honor. But I know that for this past year, I was there as much as I could be. And she gave as much of herself as she could in return. I will always love her and always miss her.

I will always be jealous of the in peace Aunt Roseanne

Monday, September 29, 2014

it isn't the same anymore...

I think I am only now starting to realize why the last episode of How I Met Your Mother (from here on in referred to as HIMYM) struck a real chord with me. I was emotional when my all-time fave series, "Friends" ended, but I have been ruminating over the "Last Forever" episode of HIMYM stuck with me even months later. And I didn't know why. Initially, I chalked it up to the network airing it during a turbulent period of my depression. Or that I think that whole Ted and Robin ending sucks (it does, but the alternate ending solved all of that hoopla).

I think it's more than that. The characters are roughly close in age to where I am at now. Having gone through a divorce, it was hard to see one of my favorite couples go through what I sounds so silly, but I remember the folks in my life not getting why I was opting for a divorce, or the ones that did understand not really understanding how it feels. Now, as we all get older, more and more peers are starting to "get it" firsthand, unfortunately - it's something I don't wish on anyone. I learned a lot, but that experience left me jaded and scarred and I think only now am I letting myself be vulnerable to that.

I think the friendship stuff got to me the most. Watching the HIMYM gang drift. The girls of Sex & the City managed to make it work. So did the gang at Central Perk. But that wasn't real. The way things unfolded in the HIMYM finale was alarmingly true to life. I talk with Mike a lot about how easy it was to form lasting and deep friendships in high school and college. It was even easy to sustain friendships in those first couple of years after school because a lot of our friends live relatively nearby.

But then people get married. Divorced. Pregnant. Fired. Sick, Jaded. Lost. You name it. Life happens. And it comes at you fast and hard. And those formerly easily-maintained bonds fall by the wayside and it's no one's fault. Sometimes it is, but for the most past we drift naturally. No more bonding over shared academic interests and favorite pubs. No more experiencing the common feeling of living in a residence hall - an experience that I somehow had the emotional fortitude to endure throughout all of my undergrad years - and as an RA!

The drift makes sense and it's a fact of life, but it doesn't stop stinging. And when you're like me and depression and anxiety waves wash over you...and it takes effort to brush your hair and work and even get out of bed, it's hard to gain a realistic perspective or insight. It's also hard to know when not to blame your own mental illness and instead blame someone else for just being plain negligent.

Depression makes you loathe yourself, Guilt washes over you along with the sadness and loneliness. You see the worst case scenario all of the time because you live in a tunnel with all roads out leading to negative outcomes. It's the illness and it's not real, but it feels like it is. Same thing with the evolution of relationships as we grow older. It's nothing personal, but when you feel the loss it doesn't hurt any less.

Growing up is hard. I think all my work in higher education delayed my journey out into true adulthood on some levels...Very emotional these past couple of days. Trying to see the light instead of the dark at the end of the tunnel. Trying to remember that I'm so much farther along in the tunnel than I was in the spring. It''s just hard when your best friends don't live across the street or down the hall of your college dorm. I miss those school bus rides. Or the movie nights in the college rec room. The campus events that I got to attend instead of work at. The late-night shared pizza orders and trips to the crappy basement-esque bar. Half-priced appetizers after work. Always feeling loved, like I was the piece of a larger, really great puzzle. I am thankful for all of my current "puzzles" but miss fitting into more of them in a natural and organic way.

I took those sweet days of my early 20s for granted and while I wouldn't go back to that way of life for good (I enjoy grown-up paychecks, thank you very much) , a day or two would be quite the vacation from all of the intentionality and responsibility.

Dreaming of it right now....


Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's been awhile

...Yes I am aware of the reference to the well-known Staind song in my post title and it was totally intentional, as Aaron Lewis has one of the best voices I've ever heard in my life. But it has been. I was working today (ironically, I write for a living) and realized I hadn't written for myself in a long time. A lot has happened and things have been a whirlwind.

Mike and I are moving to a townhouse at the end of next month. So we have roughly five weeks to finish packing and to purchase the additional things we need to make the house a home. I say this because we are gaining 200 square foot in additional living space. It's a sweet little rental community, close to shopping and highways, but in a small town (well, as "small" as it gets in the Philadelphian urban sprawl). So best of both worlds...10 minutes further from my family, but it's not a permanent thing and not a long addition to travel time in the grand scheme.

We are excited to live in a two-story dwelling - we both grew up in houses with multiple floors and miss the boundaries that can be created from that (e.g. I finally get my office, Mike can watch loud TV when he comes home and not wake me, the dog and cat can coexist peacefully, the cat has a comfortable second-story view from her window sills)...we are also REALLY excited to have our own personal washer/dryer, big windows, warmly painted walls, an extra half-bath and a low-key pet-friendly community. On a personal note, I am excited that the community has a comfy clubhouse with free WiFi, so I can either work from my office or from there. I want so badly some days to have an alternative to our living room sofa (our current "office" is too tiny to serve as a work space), but socially the places in Quakertown are just too crowded and they're like that all of the time - think the large public library, Starbucks...not exactly calming and intimate. Plus, we have a free fitness center on premises so I ca finally avoid making excuses for my sedentary lifestyle and exercise to increase those endorphin levels just in time for the holidays.

I am still socially anxious. And I am depressed. But it's feeling less hopeless and it's getting easier to pinpoint things that exacerbate the condition. And living in a warm, happy, homey space that really feels like "home" will do so much for not only me, but for our family. Mike and I have been miserable living in a poorly maintained apartment complex and even our cat has had what we believe to be anxiety episodes this year. Now, she gets her second story refuge and we get our first real "home" as a family - we've lived in college apartments and cheap rentals for too long. Very thankful for Mike's promotion and my steady stream of business. We finally feel as though we have some good karma going. It's not always peaches, but it's better than it was. Thank God for all of it.


Thursday, August 28, 2014


Coping with the loss of a loved one is hard for anyone, regardless of mental state or whether the beloved was human or animal. This week, my parents' cat Sweetie was hit by a car suddenly. He was a stray that somehow by the grace of God found my mom (no joke...he magically showed up at their doorstep one day asking for food until she caved and bought that first can of Friskies)...and two years later, he went from a wiry-looking, weary little hunter to my mom's smoking buddy and my dad's little grilling companion. He was so happy that he willingly shared his dry cat food with the mouse my parents have been trying to shoo away from their house for months now (no killing traps for the Petrillos, but one would've assumed the cat would do the trick).

Needless to say, it was a shock that our family's "retired" cat was motivated enough to dart out into open traffic to fetch an animal or object, having no idea that he would end his own life. I grieve this week. For my mom and dad's loss and their deep sadness. For the way our poor boy went (without suffering though, thankfully). For my own loss exacerbated by my depression. I find myself seeking out my own beautiful feline, Lucky and hugging her a little tighter. I didn't know that the last time I saw Sweetie would be my last. And you never do really know, I suppose.

I also grieve for many other things that have changed since I came to terms with being clinically depressed and anxious. I don't want to mislead. I am in a MUCH better place than I was at year's start. I actually feel human again. Whether or not you personally believe in medicine for the treatment for mental illness...I don't care. That in itself is a feat, to not value others' input so much. But my medicines have singlehandedly saved me. I still panic and freak out, but I can manage it better than before (not as well as a typical person...but baby steps, my friends). The medicine and the therapy, and the conscious decision to change my lifestyle in a number of ways has saved me. Or at least set me on the path to salvation.

But a lot has happened as a result of all this. I feel that I've been inaccessible at times because of how crippled I felt from the sadness and fear...and as a result, I'm left with a small group of dedicated friends and loved ones that have shown consistent and unconditional support in many ways (visits, cards, emails, online messages, etc)...and I've received support from places where I'd least expect. For that, I am so grateful. But I have also experienced relationship of those "knowing who your true friends are" kind of things when you're at your worst. A valuable lesson, but a hurtful one nonetheless for someone who loves with all she has. I'm learning that relationships that drain and leave you feeling depleted on a regular basis are no good. Better late than never to learn this. No friend or relationship is perfectly supportive. But striving to be your best never hurts anyone. So I continue to. And now, I have come to expect the same in return.

Also, this is the first year since I was five years old (legit) that I am not preparing for the start of an academic year. I literally went from preschool to K-12 to college to graduate school to working in higher education for four years or so. It's a loss, but a welcomed one and a much-needed one. It's nice to be the maker of my own schedule and to be able to take cry breaks. Or PSL breaks (fellow Starbucks fans get me on this). Or to take mental health days (legitimately, for doctor visits and informally when I'm in a bad mood) and not have to gain approval or feel stigmatized. It's definitely weird to not be a part of the buzz of the academic world this fall, though. And maybe someday I'll yearn for it again. But if it continues to feel this good not to be a part of it, then I'm satisfied to applaud my higher ed and teacher friends as they begin their busy seasons. I'll keep my place on the sofa warm as I watch "Different World" reruns and do some editing work on my trusty laptop, PSL in hand.

For now, I'll keep writing away and healing away. And thinking of my beloved Sweetie, lost too soon.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to help

With Robin Williams tragically dying from suicide last week, I think depression is on a lot of folks' minds in the aftermath of it all. Mental illness is one of those things that, while widely de-stigmatized over the past decade (I was very secretive as I sought treatment in high school and in college), is still one of those topics that many fail to understand. Of course, there are a number of exceptions. There are psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, counselors and various other care workers who see this kind of thing regularly. There are also folks that deal with some type of diagnosis themselves - this can range from mild Generalized Anxiety Disorder to the level of anguish that Robin Williams was apparently dealing with - the kind of profound sadness and hopelessness that drives a person to take her/his own life. There are also those dedicated and committed partners, family members and friends that strive to learn more and empathize when they learn a loved one is in anguish.

I used to fail to understand suicide and the thought patterns that led depressed and suffering folks down such a final and irreversible path. I personally never took that path because I did not want my partner, family and friends to have to live with the aftermath. No one can really help it when a person dies of natural causes. But if a loved one commits suicide, you're left wondering a lot of things. What did I do to cause this? Could I have prevented it from happening? Even in my darkest hole of a mood, I  kept in mind that it wasn't my destiny to feel soulless forever, It would get better. It had to.

Not everyone is lucid enough to come to that conclusion in the heat of a manic episode, though. I think I finally get that and it took losing one of the best actors of my lifetime to see that. I understand that suicide can be perceived as selfish because of what it does to those around the deceased. Until you've experienced depression on a level that goes beyond "feeling sad," or you have taken care of someone in this condition on a regular wouldn't understand. Failing to understand fully is acceptable, but it's not OK to judge. As I've come to learn this year, it's rarely ever  "OK" to judge. 

There are a lot of resources out there for folks that want to learn more about depression, anxiety and the like. Folks that suffer can explain it to loved ones in the best way they know how. And what I've learned is that, no matter how much I try to make people in my life "get it," some just don't or refuse to. And that's OK. That's not my burden to carry, nor should they feel guilty for not being able to relate on a firsthand basis. But how does a family member or a close friend help?

Well, there are a number of related Buzzfeed lists and HuffPo articles out there that have been very popular since Robin Williams passed away, so this topic is buzzworthy. These articles tell you what not to do. I can't tell you how many times I've had to bite my tongue when someone says something well-intentioned but unhelpful/offensive to me. You can probably see the teeth marks in my tongue. :) But instead of focusing on what people are doing wrong, I want to provide some perspective regarding ways to potentially help someone dealing with depression or any kind of long-term mental anguish.

Don't pretend like you get it and don't try too hard to. Educate yourself, but don't pretend like what you or your friend Sue is dealing with is the same as what the distressed person in your life is dealing with. Different people have different triggers, thresholds for emotional pain, clinical diagnoses...and the list goes on. Everyone is different. You are not the same as Sue. And Sue is not the same as your friend Harry, so comparing the still-depressed Sue to Harry, who "conquered" his depression using methods A an's doing Sue more harm than good. What you think may serve as motivation can make someone feel as though they're not living up to the world's expectations, or more specifically, yours.

Just listen. Agree that what your loved one is dealing with is hard. Thank them for sharing their story with you. Ask what you can do to help. "I hear you, friend...that really sucks that you're dealing with those feelings. Is there anything I can do for you?" Just knowing that there's a support system available that is willing and flexible means the world. At least it has for me. And if the person is dealing with social anxiety in any form, other forms of communication can  take the place of in-person support if the suffer isn't up to visitors or willing to talk it all out on the phone. Emails, cards, social media...the smallest I-love-yous do a world of good. And if someone isn't in a place to respond, give it time. Maybe they're not up for karaoke night, but a nice Hallmark card goes a long way. Or a reaffirming text. It's easy for others to move on with their lives and forget to include folks stuck in manic episodes because those folks aren't up for big, fun adventures and often push loved ones away unintentionally while suffering on the inside.

Understand that a depressed person probably doesn't want to be that way. I would gladly give up a limb (literally) to go back to the week before my breakdown and do it all over again knowing what I know now. Or to be reborn without the predisposition to being depressed and anxious. To be the kind of person that takes it all in stride. Also understand that depression does mean that a person may not have the capacity to be the most social, humorous, optimistic or romantic at this point in time. This may be finite, it may be permanent. It depends on the person. Recovery takes as long as it needs to take and there is no timetable for when a person "needs" to start feeling better so that others around them feel less awkward. 

I got told by a former supervisor once that I didn't "look" anxious etc. and this person was shocked that I'd been suffering. It's often said that when a person breaks like I did, it's from trying to be strong for too long. I'm learning in therapy how to give myself grace and permission to not be the best at everything this year. Do the same for friends and family that may be suffering.  

And take care of yourself. It can be hard to be around a person who is as her/his lowest levels of depression and fear. Learn how to care for yourself and how to be a good supporter through reading, therapy, co-therapy with the sufferer...whatever it takes. Lastly, throw away the practice of being judgmental. There's just no room for it. Unless you've walked a mile in someone's shoes...


Friday, August 1, 2014

I'm getting older, too...

So the good news is I am still thankful, above all else. Thankful for having a support system in Mike, my immediate family, my aunt, my animals and friends both in person and through the wonder of technology. Also thankful for good physical health and an effective change in medicine over the past couple of weeks. I feel like I'm timidly coming out of another "low" in this journey that's lasted all year so far.

It's weird. I would cut off a limb to not be prone to anxiety and depression. To not have to make a conscious effort to think positively and redirect the way I think naturally. To not be so intentional and so emotional and to feel so depleted at the end of each day. My counseling background drives me to support others and hold them up even when I can't hold myself up. While I will never stop being that kind of person - I am PROUD to be that way - it makes for one tired little woman in this apartment at the end of the day. Antidepressant-induced slumber is always welcomed at the end of each night, along with some good animal snuggles.

And yet, while I'd give anything to be a carefree spirit, I'm wondering how I will live my life without my old pals, depression and anxiety. As I start to feel better (thank you again to my therapist, some good literature and my pills for guiding me through that process) I feel a new kind of anxiety. Because I am so used to living with sadness, crying every morning (because it's so intense to face the day and all the unknowns) will be an adventure to live life again without constant fight-or-flight. Freud has a term for this feeling of fearing what will happen when the depression eventually lifts, but it's slipping my mind (thanking the pills yet again, his time for the lovely side effect of memory fogginess)...what if friends and family will care about me and be less interested in me once I appear to be "better"? What if their lives now include traditions and customs that I can't be a part of yet? Or what if they're used to me not being around?

Truth is, folks with anxiety and depression are never cured in my opinion. It's always a cross to bear, it just is heavier during certain seasons of life. So when it's a lighter cross, it doesn't consume you, but you learn how to cope effectively and healthily. But the outside world is still a little scary on this end. Making good progress though due to the aforementioned and to Him.

I heard the Smashing Pumpkins' rendition of this song today, "Landslide." Always loved this song, especially the Fleetwood Mac live version. But hearing it from a depressive's perspective was very real and emotional. For those that are experiencing even a smidge of what I am this year, this is for you.

And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills/Till the landslide brought me down
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?/Can the child within my heart rise above?/Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?/Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I've been afraid of changing 'Cause I've built my life around you/But time makes you bolder
Children get older/And I'm getting older too...


Friday, July 25, 2014

The year so far

It's funny how time can go so slowly and so fast at the same time. I know that sounds weird but the days go so slowly...and before I know it, it's July and 2014 is more than half over. Statistically speaking, my anxiety and panic has been chronic/disabling since November but culminated in a breakdown right before the year began, after the holidays. The last fun and stress free day ie remember is December 26. And the road has been full of twists and turns as I navigate the journey through my head and try to return to a stronger sense of self. 

I've gone from trying to find out WHY this happened to finally accepting that it HAPPENED and there is no one reason why. I hit a will emotionally. I hit my limit. I grew tired of doing things I didn't want to do and being places I didn't want to be when I saw so many people around me (many of them close to me) just doing their thing and living their life without apology. Over the past few years, I've gotten into a bad habit of living my life for other people, self-shaming anytime I created boundaries. and completely neglecting myself. Studies show women are more prone to being like this. But in any case, I still find myself doing it, as old habits tend to die hard.

One of the many beautiful things that came out of this event (of which I believe I am on the other side of, even on the worst days) was the care I received from individuals I didn't expect to receive support from. In spite of my agoraphobia, I "came out" regarding my illness on Facebook and through this blog. I utilized social media to reconnect with old high school, college and post-grad friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, just these folks' kindness and the encouragement helps. Others have shared their own stories of struggle and triumph and hearing those gives me hope that, when the time is right, I'll feel like my "old self." My best friend's husband very eloquently stated that my recovery will happen when it happens/how it's supposed to happen. It's that simple. And slowly, I am steering myself into thinking more positively. Which fatigues my mind and my body when dealing with such intense depression and illogical anxiety. But I'm keepin' on keepin' on. :)

The one thing I find disheartening is that I expected levels of support from sources that I assumed to be one particular person, just in general. Don't get me wrong. Everyone, including me, has their own life to live. I don't expect to be at the center of anyone's universe- I'm not even at the center of my own world. Anxiety and depression are lonely, misunderstood and invisible illnesses. And it's easy for others, when they're happy and life is good, to develop new routines and ways of life that no longer include Lauren. I can't place blame because I don't even know where I fit in my own life sometimes. I'm trying to figure out who I am, what I am comfortable with and what I like because for so long it was on the back burner as I worked to please friends, family members, bosses, you name it. I spent many years celebrating the life choices of others while receiving very little support as I went through some pretty heavy shit, pardon my French. Had I let people in more, it may have been different. It's just hard to feel so intensely for and love others and not have it reciprocated when you need it most. Sometimes we build up walls unintentionally and whoever breaks through and stays with you is worth having around, 

Some people that I least expected have demonstrated great compassion and understanding and I've been humbled by their prayers and inspired to be more spiritual myself. But I wish more people understood the life of someone who suffers from chronic anxiety. I want hugs and love more than ever now, but even taking a shower or getting through my work load can be painful on some days, so it's hard to be around others. But I'm trying. Please be patient, try to understand what I (and so many others) deal with and don't forget about me or give up on me. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Time for a redirect

For anyone that is a Facebook friend of mine, you may have noticed over the last fw days that I am working to make a conscious effort to redirect my ways of thinking. I am wired naturally to be a realist at best and focus on the what-ifs. Those always lead to the play-out of worst-case scenarios in my head, and then the anxiety/depression/panic/you name it soon follows.

I have been making an effort to live in the present - rather than focus on what COULD happen IF, I try to think about what IS happening NOW. This has helped prevent me from going into full-blown panic mode on many occasions, but I am not perfect and give myself the grace to have bad, ugly, panicky days. Because I am human.

While that's all good and true, I also think that throwing too much of a pity party when I'm feeling bad is detrimental. I have been obsessing for months wondering WHAT caused my breakdown. WHY do I panic? WHERE am I most prone to panic? WHEN will this hell end? And I am slowly accepting that those thought processes are leading me nowhere except down the road of old painful experiences and over-thinking scenarios I've already grieved, processed and moved on from. It also causes me to feel anxious about things I used to look forward to (vacations, social outings, buying a house someday, etc,). Needless to say, something's gotta give.

So, I am trying to intentionally focus on the things I do like in my life rather than obsess about all of the bad stuff. I really don't want to live my life as a recluse and want to get better. Positive vibes and a sense of spirituality has to help me - it just has to. Medicine has worked wonders, but I need to do some of the work on my own.

My therapy going forward will focus less on the "talk therapy" and dredging up old hurts and will instead help me learn techniques for how to deal with the bad feelings. The feelings will always be there - but I can sowly learn how to control my reaction to those feelings.

That is the goal. More to come at a later date. For anyone else suffering through this too, I feel for you, I really do. I am truly sorry for anyone that has to feel like a prisoner in their own mind.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

...and one step back

The hallmark of having generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia (in my experience anyway) is that I take two steps forward in my recovery progress, and when I experience a perceived setback in my recovery. it hits hard. Even though I know I'm not back at Square One (i.e. January and being afraid to leave the house and speak to anyone), setback rattle my core in a way I can't articulate and perhaps it's something that only an anxiety sufferer will fully understand. Note: experiencing moderate levels of stress, even for an extended time period, is not the same thing as having a chronic anxiety and panic disorder. It doesn't define me as a person, but it's always been there in the background in one way or another since high school. For those that never read before..long story short is that I experienced a nervous breakdown shortly after Christmas. No one factor that led to it - just a lot of stress and change over the course of a three-year period. Heavy stuff. So for a while, I couldn't handle any stimuli, good or bad. Lost the butterfly feeling for things I once loved (good food, double dates with friends, family visits, etc). Still struggling with that to this day. But I found a job that is flexible enough to complement my recovery and I have an amazing support system and some very effective medicine that I do believe saved me. So functioning again, just experiencing the highs and lows that come with perceived victories and setbacks.

So last week, I had a great therapy appointment. I also spent 20 minutes on the phone setting up a life insurance policy for myself (ah, the joys of self-employment). Being that I was petrified of the phone and most human contact in January, huge victories. But I have a nasty habit of pushing myself just too far when I am on an upswing. So after getting off the phone with Metlife, I took a trip to Target (a store I finally felt comfortable in again with Mike) to buy some shopping list items, none of which were super essential. I knew going into the store that I was overwhelmed, but I couldn't just listen to my body and mind. I pushed myself. And set myself up to fail. And the past few days have been wracked with guilt over that. And guilt over not seeing my family or friends as much because I am just not ready. I went out this weekend and even set foot in the very Target store where my near-attack occurred. Victorious to the outside world. But I can't shake the fear that the breakdown I had and the setbacks that happen have ultimately changed me as a person.

No external factor is to blame for these feelings of self-loathing and guilt; I need to learn how to have self-compassion. But how does one do that? How do I give myself the grace I talked about in my last post? I am really all ears and open to suggestions, because this level of vulnerability is something I m very unaccustomed to. I firmly believe there's beauty in the breakdown (yep, a song lyric from Frou Frou's "Let Go," featured in the movie "Garden State") but the breakdown in itself and the subsequent recovery...well it's very hard. I find incredible difficulty in getting motivated to exercise, meditate and do the things that I know may help along with the medicine and therapy. And it's lonely. I miss my loved ones. I'm just not ready to be all "out there" yet like the Myers-Briggs ESTJ I used to be.

And I wish I knew how to love myself. Hopefully, all in good time.


Friday, June 20, 2014


In therapy this week (an event that still elicits the usual pre-appointment anxiety, but I greatly benefit from it), we talked a lot about grace. How it's important to grant myself grace in an effort to end the cycle of guilt that so many anxiety suffers get trapped in. Guilt for how my anxiety impacts those around me and over the mistakes I've made in my life.

For example, I feel guilt when relationships in my life lose the level of closeness or the prevalence they once had in another season of my life. So I am giving myself and the people I've grown a little distant with the grace to be able to be there for one another no matter how our lives ebb and flow. Most distancing, I've come to learn, happens without intention-life just kind of happens. I've felt very lonely ever since I stopped being a full time student. It's hard to go from being a full time student since the age of five (built in socializing and big fish/small pond) to entering the professional world with a mountain of student debt. But I am giving myself permission to work through the loneliness and come out on the other side a less anxious person. And I am making efforts to slowly reconnect in spite of my recently developed social phobias. I am light years ahead of where I was at the start of the year, so that in itself is a victory.

I am also giving myself the grace to let go of the baggage that comes with being a divorcee. It's a part of my history, but it's not who I am and it doesn't define me. It is OK to work through the baggage, but I can't be weighed down any longer. I need help carrying it all. And thankfully I have a strong and able partner.

Which brings me to my next point. I am giving others grace and have become a great deal more humble since my breakdown. Rather than reacting to others with emotion, I am putting forth  effort towards demonstrating empathy and living in their shoes when possible. Seeing a situation from another's perspective can do wonders. I deserve grace. And so do the people in my life. 

It's like that episode of HIMYM where Ted deals with the baggage of being left at the altar. I think I'm finally ready to let someone help me carry my suitcases and to unpack some things to make the load a little lighter. 

You can blame the rambling nature of this post on my meds-they sure do work, but I can be a bit loopy. ;)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Sometimes you feel like a nut...

So the good news is that I survived being on my own for Mike's first of two conferences this month. It was just me and my beautiful feline child Lucky. I got a lot of work done, cleaned house like no other and read The Pioneer Woman's autobiography. Also crossed off many Pinterest projects from my to-do list. All in all, a success as perceived by the outside world. But I was scared that I regressed back to January me because I didn't have the strength to leave the house alone. Some would say I had the strength to know my own boundaries, but often we are our own worst critic.

I wasn't ready to face the outside world while one of my support pillars was five hours away. Kinda knew that would happen, but I set myself up to fail, by expecting to somehow cure myself while he was gone. I also wasn't ready to see close friends alone again. Anxiety is a lonely illness; it's such a contradiction that I am lonesome, yet scared to be alone around people that I would normally consider good friends and pleasant company. I have worked up to social events including Mike in-house (Parks and Rec Netflix binges, anyone?) and shopping/task-based outings close to the apartment...but there is still a lot of "scary" stuff out there.

It's so difficult to redirect my thought processes to be positive and self-supporting when I am  frustrated that my recovery process is going slower than expected. Before I broke down, I was go-go-go...perhaps part of the problem that led to the breakdown in the first place! But nonetheless, I thrived on being goal oriented, task focused and social. Now I am a whole new me and I don't yet know what is best for the new me. Trying to figure that out is easy on some days; on others it feels like learning how to walk and talk again. 

While I feel the waves of support from friends and family, this illness causes a loneliness and feeling of grief over the loss of my old self that is a heavy cross to bear. While I averwhwlmingly thankful for and do recognize all of the good in my life, I'm still really devastated and learning how to walk through life again. During these times when my partner in crime is physically gone for work, the "bad thoughts" rear their ugly head and I am predisposed to focus more on those thoughts than the real, balanced and often positive affirming thoughts. 

Still trying though. Every day. And whatever you're dealing with (we're all dealing with our own crosses, after all), I encourage you all to do the same. Don't let yourself be too lonely. And don't be afraid to pray and have faith in the way that suits you best. <3


Sunday, May 18, 2014


So the past couple of weeks have been good ones, in my book. Therapy has slowly but surely become more of a helpful resource than a source of fear. I had my first hour-long full session in-office since the new year began and it felt good to open up. I've also really put myself out there socially, trying to encourage myself to engage in small friendly interactions with store clerks, librarians, customer service personnel for the cable company, etc. It's not always easy and it's definitely not effortless, but my worst fear is living like a hermit.

The past few months have been lonely because friends and family have tread lightly and provided space for me to heal, and I am forever grateful. But I do miss them terribly. It's too painful to be so isolated all of the time. By far one of the worst things about being agoraphobic is that folks don't understand what it is. A couple of weeks ago, I was conversing with a phone rep for one of my student loan companies. At the time, phone conversations were just a little more difficult to ensure than they are nowadays. I explained this to the representative on the other line and he actually took the time to ask what agoraphobia is, which was above and beyond the line of customer service duty. Kudos to him! But it's true - no one knows what it really means. I've even had to do some reading to really "get it." Agoraphobes are thought of as reclusive and not wanting to leave their houses. ALL I want to do is leave the house - I just get scared to for fear that I'll suffer a public, humiliating panic episode. The fear has lessened a lot, but I still struggle. I dream of the day when I can go back to making a Target run without putting too much premeditated thought into the process.

Another common misconception is that agoraphobes don't want to be around people or, on the opposite end, are scared to be alone. Neither is fully true. My biggest fear leaving home is that I will lose control and panic and others will witness the perceived weakness. I also get scared to be along for long periods because I miss the comfort of a hug or a kind word when things are feeling a bit low. But as a Myers-Briggs ESTJ by nature, I miss good company. I miss happy hours with friends or workplace camaraderie with colleagues. I miss hugs and physical affection, which is hard to obtain regularly when your life partner works second shift and you are too scared to  join in on your friends' adventures.

Working from home has been the best thing for me in this season of life - I have been working freelance as a resume writer for some time now and started doing it on a very limited basis when I was in the worst stages of my breakdown. Helping provide monetarily for my family and myself is a HUGE self-esteem thing for me. God knew this and provided me with an opportunity to preserve some of my dignity at a time when I didn't know what the future held  in regards to returning to the full-time position I was in from June until I got sick. But I miss the good stuff...the fun conversations, the professional development opportunities, access to good reads and other valuable resources, etc.

Now that freelancing is my only gig,  I am thankful for the positive experience, the fact that I have a job directly related to my B.A. and somewhat related to my M.Ed., and to have found an unexpected outlet for my writing abilities and interest. I am also thankful to not have to deal with the other side of the coin that comes with working in an environment outside of the home - having to explain my disorder to others who may not know or understand. Being in control of my own destiny is exciting and I am  grateful to have the flexibility of being my own boss. I can rest on a "bad day"  and not have to be ashamed to explain to others why I am going home early.

In my experience over the past decade or so, the working public has used the term "mental health day"  as a joking term used when one is weary, sick of work and wants to justify taking a day off. Folks suffering from actual mental and emotional illnesses legitimately need those days in addition to physical sickness days. Those "bad days" are just as bad as sick days are for folks that suffer from a cold or flu. And it's harder to explain or rationalize because the symptoms are invisible. I can't tell you how many people have told me since the signs pf my breakdown began to come on in November that they had no idea that I have GAD, panic disorder and agoraphobia because I held it together so well for so long. It makes me feel good to know I am a great actress (perhaps a future career possibility?) but it doesn't feel good or nice to hear that others think less of GAD's severity  because it doesn't always come with a physical symptom, i.e.  fever and a sinus infection. It also doesn't come with a cure-all antibiotic, which makes it all the more challenging to treat. And I have had plenty of irritable belly episodes, heart palpitations and episodes of depersonalization, so trust me the physical side is no picnic.

No matter how accepting others may be of anxiety disorders, I've come to learn that there is a lot of   misunderstanding associated with them. Granted, it's light years ahead of what it used to be like in high school and college (I felt alone and scared many times in those days), but society has a long way to go in working to understand and empathize with sufferers. Anxiety disorders  affect a surprisingly large number of the world's population and that's no small thing to ignore.

Sometimes love is all you need and it's the best medicine possible. I am thankful for all the doses of love that have come my way these past few months. So practice loving, understanding and compassion - you never know what your friend or loved one may be going through privately. And you don't know just how impactful a hug, kind word or continued check-in can be for someone.

Until next time <3

Friday, May 2, 2014


If there's one thing that a humbling experience such as recovering from a major anxiety/depressive episode teaches a person, it's the ability to be compassionate. Throughout all of this, I have received kind words, support and standing offers to visit when I'm well enough from both expected and unexpected sources. For all of the negativity that's out there, I have experienced more love than rejection or lack of understanding. That's been incredibly humbling and I am ever grateful. It's also renewed my faith in Him, as I've been talking to God through both the good and bad times and actually have some of my therapy sessions in the chapel that is on the facility premises.

One place where I see the largest and most disheartening lack of compassion is in the celebrity/pop culture world. I'm guilty of this too. It is so easy to pass judgment on people you don't know or haven't met in real life. It's even easier to join in when others have already started the activity and you get to serve as merely a follower. And it's SUPER easy when Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms exist. This gives us what I like to refer to as "cyber muscles." They work a lot like beer muscles do - you say things you wouldn't normally because you feel empowered by having an audience to hear you (and for the cowardly, you have a computer screen to hide where that same audience can't find you and confront you on your actions.

I never really thought about changing how I perceive or criticize celebs, but the humbling experiences in my life including my breakdown have certainly diminished how judgmental I am of others in the past few years. My heart's been softened and I am overwhelmed with compassion. Don't confuse this with being a wet noodle, though - I am tenacious when need be and I serve as nobody's punching bag. But I digress, back to this celebrity compassion thing...

In the past few months, my TV viewing time has increased significantly - shocking, right? One of the advantages to being a self-employed freelance writer. Anyway, there have been a few TV reality show moments where my heart bled when I least expected it. I had an episode of "Keeping up with the Kardashians" on in the background on day (or I was watching it, don't judge!). In this particular episode, the girls' brother Rob was looking into laser tattoo removal. At one point in this segment of the episode, Rob began to cry and went into a back room of the laser tech guy's office, refusing to allow the cameras to film him because of his weight. Since the show began, he has gained a significant and unhealthy amount of weight, which is an affliction that the majority of our country deals with.

His shame over his body image showed me that no matter how infamous one's family is, or how wealthy someone is...there are some things that can;t be easily fixed. Confidence is one of them. Both Rob and I struggle with this - in different ways, but depression and lack of confidence is what it is. It's so easy to point out all of the negative aspects of this family and their show, but people are people at the end of the day and no one is higher or mightier than anyone else. And my heart breaks for anyone who is that heartbroken or whose family worries for their health that urgently.

Another instance was my watching the new reality series "True Tori" dealing with how Tori Spelling is managing with the aftermath of her husband's infidelity. And let me tell may just be really good editing, but the woman is clearly struggling to keep it all together. And she is, in fact, keeping it all seemingly together. I saw reports online that said Tori deserved this because both she and her husband, Dean, were married, had extramarital affairs and divorced their spouses to be together as they are now. Though I am a believer in karma to some extent, no one deserves to lose their best friend and their support system in that way. Again, we are all people - even those who used to act on their dad's primetime soaps.

Lastly, I am unabashedly addicted to TLC shows. Not the ones that promote angry and antagonistic behaviors, but the ones that show different kinds of families and the power of love. I recently found out that MANY of TLC's shows are on Netflix, among them "19 Kids and Counting" starring the uber-religious Duggar family. While I do not share in many of their conservative belief systems (I consider myself progressively Christian/Unitarian), I have reflected a lot on how I pray and how I live through watching the family's show and reading the accompanying books that have been published. I recently watched "A Duggar Loss" that dealt with Michelle's miscarriage of the 20th child they were expecting. These folks are both held in high regard and blasted in the media for their convictions (depending on the media outlet you follow), and regardless of which side of the spectrum you're on ...loss is loss and watching this is something that touched me profoundly and made me grateful for the ones that are with me now and the ones that were once with me.

My point in all of this seemingly aimless rambling about celebs you probably don't like is that nobody - not me, not you, not anyone- has the right to judge. Even though it's in our nature to do so, I encourage you all to reflect on life every now and then and to demonstrate some humility...think about walking a mile in someone else's shoes before thinking or saying that mean thing. Food for though. We're not all perfect, but it doesn't hurt to open your heart and let a little love in. <3


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter weekend

So Easter weekend went so much better than I would've expected. Which is funny in a someone with an anxiety disorder, it isn't naturally-occurring for me to anticipate positive outcomes. But I had a lovely three-day weekend with my partner in crime and a visit with my immediate family that was panic-free.

I even ate in front of them. When my anxiety is in its spiral-y, terrible stages, it affects my eating habits greatly...which is unfortunate given my innate, stereotypically Italian love of food. Ham, macaroni and cheese, cornbread...the whole nine. Best idea ever to have dinner catered by Boston Market. As a recovering agoraphobic, I worry about enough! So food wasn't a worry on Sunday. We laughed, talked and enjoyed one another's presence.

In the two days leading up to Easter, I also went out in public to a number of places on a holiday weekend and didn't pass out or die. Target, Jenny's Kuali restaurant (best Good Friday meatless dinner ever), Redner's, a friend's apartment to cat-sit and many other locales were visited. I still have setbacks or times of panic, but it's not as life-altering as it used to be. And that's the goal.

The anxiety and panic is essentially part of my makeup. I am never going to be one of those cool cats that listens to Steve Miller Band and wears patchouli. I am neurotic and anxious and I always have to plan ahead. I fret and anticipate and think a lot about my past, present AND future. I think a lot, period. But it doesn't kill me. And I'm feeling OK right now. And that, my friends, is a victory in itself.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Some useful tips

There have been a number of things that have helped me start to feel more "normal" as I learn to deal with my anxiety and panic long-term. In addition to the therapy and medicines that I really feel have worked wonders for me, I also swear by a few other things:

  • Magnesium-I have been taking a daily supplement, as well as eating foods rich in magnesium. I read somewhere that performers will eat a banana before going onstage because it helps provide a calming effect. It's not exactly the same as a benzo pill, but I have seen a difference.
  • St. John's Wort- I drink a bedtime tea with this as a component and it really is a good soother. It's also available in capsule form (which I own, but don't take at this point in time) and many have reported it to be effective.
  • Lavender-I swear by this and have been using lavender aromatherapy for years. Lotions, bubble baths, essential oils and even lavender scented items...necklace pendant and eye mask to be exact. 
  • Chamomile-I start some mornings with a lavender chamomile tea and it is a good nerve soother as well as a tummy soother. Lovin' it!
  • Animal therapy-as much as they drive my nutso, I don't know what I would do without their love.
  • Yoga-I have slowly started incorporating yoga poses and gentle stretching into my day, as well as longer dog walks and other soft exercise. I hope to get more vigorous the better I feel and hopefully start going to yoga classes. 
  • Exposure therapy-it's hard, but I have slowly been getting back out into the world. I hope to get better slowly but surely by taking baby steps. For those of you that I haven't seen in months, thank you for your patience and willingness to work with me.
  • Spirituality-without getting preachy (this is a very private thing for me and I am very cognizant of others' beliefs as well) I do believe that God has been by my side and I have guardian angels without a doubt. 
Are there any other things out there that work for folks? I am all ears and love sharing ideas! I have heard that acupuncture, massage, and craaniosacral therapy have been miraculous for some, so feel free to share your ideas and experiences! 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A taste of normal

I am more thankful than I can articulate into words, but I am going to try my darndest! I summoned up a TON of courage to get to my 15-minute monthly psychiatric appointment. I was panicky at first, but the Dr. is a wizard at keeping me in check and I made it through my THIRD psych visit without a hitch.

My meds seem to finally be in a good place. I have an anti-anxiety medicine that FINALLY seems to make me feel human and normal, and I'm only taking half of the dose my Dr. initially recommended. I won't name names with what I'm taking, but if you're ever interested, I am more than happy to disclose in a less public forum. I have also found an increase in magnesium to be incredibly beneficial, both through making an effort to eat magnesium rich foods and through taking a daily supplement.

I've gone out a little bit this week - just little things like Target, Subway, Giant, Trader Joes, etc. I wasn't always able to make it into the store (TJs can be really intimidating given that it's overcrowded 24/7) but just being in the parking lot felt enough for me during those times.

And I am making some strides in therapy and on my own. I am hoping to see people soon (when the time is right and I am ready) an ESTJ Myers-Briggs, the saddest part of this whole period of my life has been the loneliness/fear. I miss you all - tell me how you're doing. I love hearing what's going on in others' lives.

But we are talking victories here. And for the ones I've had, I am incredibly thankful to my support system and to God. Busy and productive week - lots of cooking, cleaning, Pinterest ideas coming to life to save us some money and we just signed on to live in our current apartment for six more months. The lease expired in June, but we wanted to give me more recoup time and us more time to find a really nice next home that we will love.

Good weather this week too....good weather=good vibes and thoughts. I'll take it.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

finding some strength

Oy. So, the setback I experienced a couple of weekends ago has been very difficult to snap back from. The lack of confidence I have in myself when it comes to achieving positive things is alarming. Yet I can always count on myself to be self-sabotaging or self-loathing. Fabulous recipe for recovery.

So a rough few days, but did manage to force myself out for the usual dog walking and a couple of trips to local stores. Have been keeping myself busy with cooking, cleaning, organizing and the like. I try to take care of myself with regards to appearance, but it sadly comes in last place these days. Exercise rears its head now and then, but not nearly as much as it should. Supposedly, exercise would do wonders for me (if I wasn't so tired from the constant worry and obsessing) so it's something I need to commit to. And I've researched some nutrients and foods that may help calm nerves so we will see what happens.

I talked to God throughout the past few bad days and he didn't steer me wrong. I successfully survived a highly-anticipated psychiatry appointment and trips to Target and Chick-Fil-A that followed. I will count these as victories given that a couple of weeks ago I was in the fetal position in my living room embarrassed because I had a panic attack in my own parents' home.

Therapy continues in home this week, along with some good reading (I researched a couple of self-help books that came widely recommended based on reader reviews)...I also need to stop the "bad" reading i.e. the stories of sufferers that are not helpful and are only harmful (there is a mess of crap out there in the internet world, I'll tell ya.)

Hoping everyone's first week of Spring has been good - I feel as though today gets this week off to a positive start :)


Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I'm gonna try a different approach tonight. As you may have gathered, my past week and a half as been ROUGH. I feel as though I am at square one in some regards....back to my post-Christmas mess. In other ways though, I am much better off. I've overcome hurdles, received support from both unexpected and anticipated sources, started a medicinal regimen that may finally be a winner, and I am able to snap out of severe panic attacks faster than I used to in the past. Trying not to focus on the heartbreak of the accompanying agoraphobia and the frequency of my attacks.

But I am tired of being so gloomy all of the time. I have been struggling to get myself out of this negative mindset because I don't think it helps the recovery process when setbacks occur. So I am going to try gratitude for a change.

I am grateful that I was able to earn two academic degrees (both above a 3.5 final GPA) before the age of 30. I am grateful for my family. I am grateful that I finally found a partner that is worthy of all the fuss I bestow upon him. I am grateful that no one in my support network has made me feel guilty for what I've endured (yes, there are folks out there who are from the "just get over it" school of thought - sometimes I am guilty of that negative self-talk myself). I am grateful that no matter how bad the panic attack, the feeling is finite. I am grateful for in-house animal therapy thanks to our two wonderful furry companions. As a side note, don't underestimate the power of animal therapy. My cat, Lucky, was around for my last (not as) severe breakdown and I am fully convinced I wouldn't have made it through had it not been for her love.

I am grateful that I've been able to maintain good relationships with many friends that have come in and out of my life, even if life drags us farther apart emotionally and/or physically. I am grateful that I have the privilege of being able to pick and choose foods that aid in my recovery process. I am grateful that I know what I am suffering from and can acknowledge that deep down, I'm not crazy.

I am grateful. Scared, sometimes sad, but grateful. Let's keep that vibe going.


Friday, March 14, 2014

My old life

Going through a severe and debilitating episode of Generalized Anxiety Disorder/Panic Disorder/Agoraphobia has been a grief process of sorts in many ways for me. As I've said before, I was severely depressed in the year leading up until all of this. Apparently, I was a champ in putting on a good front - my parents, coworkers and friends pretty much had no idea and thought my breakdown came out of the blue. Only Mike and a couple of close confidants really knew the depth of it all, and even they didn't really know until now. To an outsider, things in my life were pretty good - working in the field of my choice, making enough money to live comfortably, two years into a committed and faithful partnership with a genuinely nice and good guy....good physical health. And my mental state could have been salvaged with therapy sooner had I known it would be this bad. And now I grieve the loss of that life - the one I picked apart all of the time because I was depressed and had no idea.

Last year was a big one. Switched jobs, lived in three different apartments (all dreadful in their own right), health issues with both pets, reunited with an estranged and very important family member and mended fences with some important relationships that had long been neglected for silly reasons. All good stuff right? Yet I didn't appreciate it. I was angry all of the time in the year before my breakdown. I was angry at myself for "letting myself go" and gaining weight - back in college, I could eat anything and my metabolism took care of it. I was angry at myself for financial decisions I made and wishing I knew then what I know now.

Others were on the receiving end too, but most didn't know it. I was angry with my partner because we hadn't yet figured out an effective way to communicate with one another and it was really hard to do so due to working opposite work shifts. I was angry at my family and they had no idea. Angry at my mom for being a smoker. I worry that I will lose her every day. Angry at my dad for not keeping up with routine physical appointments. Jealous of my brother as he went through his growth process from college student to working professional - he lives at home with my parents and also did so in his years at community college and as an intern before graduation. I spent my twenties doing everything in my power to distance myself from my seemingly boring hometown and the dead-end it was in regards to professional opportunities. Now I yearn for those years back and for more time with my family and loved ones as the reality of human mortality finally hit me. For the past two years, I secretly would fear each time I left my family's home that it would be the last time I saw them.

More and more, I see Facebook blow up with separations and divorces (including my own, for which I was still angry at myself and my ex-spouse for), family deaths and other hardships. Reminders of all the bad stuff, and seeing the marriages and babies that I don't have...nothing good comes of Facebook except an increased awareness of current events and the ability to communicate with those that are far away.

So, I grieve for many things. The life I had where I was able to push away my anxiety and still function normally. Maybe long-term it wasn't a good coping method, but I felt self-sufficient. I grieve that I can't get the time back with my parents that I could have had when I wasn't plagued with agoraphobia. I grieve the loss of my youth in a sense. I'm not especially vain and don't care about turning 30, but I will never get those movie nights at Cinema 6 with my high school friends or the $2 You-Call-It Wednesday night drinks at Shorty's Bar in Kutztown with my RA group again. I have never been able to live in the moment, to soak it in and enjoy it. To relish in it and not worry about what I did/will do wrong.

I hope that through this whole recovery process, I learn the art of mindfulness and truly can start to appreciate it all before it's too late.


Monday, March 10, 2014

A constant struggle

The past few days have been very, very difficult. Perhaps it's when I set high expectations for the days to come, and they don't go as anticipated....maybe that's when I start to feel unraveled and defeated.

This weekend, I pushed myself to go with Mike to my parents house for a nice Saturday lunch, complete with my favorite Chinese takeout from my hometown and my mom's homemade chocolate chip cookies. The morning was surprisingly good. Had a breakfast drink (I have myself in a routine of drinking Carnation Breakfast Essentials because it's good to have something in the AM, even if my appetite isn't raging.). Took a Xanax and kept the morning free of anything stressful. Even made some of my chamomile lavender tea for the road (I swear by it... it makes for a very serene morning). Packed my purse with my panic attack pack, so to speak - a soothing hot water bottle, lavender aromatherapy salve and my iPad loaded with Kindle library books. The first hour of the ride was difficult, but I understood why. For those that weren't aware of this, I hadn't been 10 minutes outside of Quakertown since Christmas. So seeing the big outside world for the first time in over two months was big.

Halfway through the ride, Mike craved an energy drink (God bless my partner for making the morning drive after working 4pm-midnight beforehand) and my thimble bladder couldn't take it. So we stop at a familiar service station off I-380N. Big mistake. Crowded bathroom=me twitching and hyperventilating until we were back on the road. Turns out that in the throes of fight-or-flight, ol' thimble bladder has a bigger capacity than I ever imagined. And this all set the tone for the visit.

I missed my parents so much up until this point (they're about two hours from where I live), and I spent most of the visit on the sofa laying with my water bottle and hating myself. I was too scared to move, scared that the panic wouldn't subside, not wanting to ruin the day or worry my family. Starving but so amped up that I could barely swallow my own saliva let alone the delicious food they arranged for me. Dreading the ride home and wishing immensely that we lived closer to my parents. Being so scared that even my own hometown doesn't feel "home" enough for me to feel safe.

A massive amount of guilt comes along with having an anxiety and panic disorder. Saturday and the days that have followed since have been one big self-hatred fest. Everyone around of me has been so proud that I got out and did what did. But all I can see sometimes is the failure, the loss of normalcy...remembering that at one point in my life, I was brave enough to graduate college and then go on to earn an M.Ed. Brave enough to be an "extreme couponer" of sorts and spend an entire day shopping for our household in search of the best deals. Brave enough to present to groups of 10-100 people and to enjoy it. Brave enough to enjoy my food without worrying how it will affect me. Brave period. I now hide in our small apartment and lean on Mike both physically and emotionally on my excursions out. Victories. Two steps forward.  Followed by a false sense of defeating the disorder, then setback, guilt, another step back...and so it goes. And so it goes.

I firmly believe I was depressed for about a year or more leading up to my breakdown, but to change this much as a person seemingly overnight? I have never felt the rug be pulled out from under my already-unsteady feet that much in all my life. I am grieving the death of who I thought I was and he grief process is not neat or tidy in any way,

Is this negative self-talk toxic to my recovery? Absolutely. Do I know that I'll have an upswing and come out of this dark period to a less dark place? Yes, but it won't be what it was before my breakdown. I have a lot of work to do to get there. I hate that. Even on my "good" days I'm not good.

Two steps forward and one back, or is it the other way around? Not sure tonight.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

it's about to get real food journey

I have experienced panic attacks since high school. Very infrequently for the most part until the last year of college. I didn't know what they were until then. One way my anxiety has manifested itself, both in the past and now, is through my eating habits. Not as an eating disorder per se, but as a means of me trying to gain control in times where I feel I am spiraling out. For anyone that has ever felt that out of control, you know that I mean.

In my last year of college, I had a lot to think about and a major chapter was ending - lots to think about! Also happening simultaneously was the national news coverage of stories about various food items being recalled because they were contaminated with salmonella, name it. This was jarring to me - I thought raw meats were something to avoid, not things like peanut butter (a favorite) and bagged spinach. I need to take action. I needed control.

It started with me swearing off those potentially contaminated items and slowly, my food safety window became smaller and smaller. By the second semester of my final year, I was not only applying to grad school and seeking out employment options for that summer and following academic year - I was also obsessing over how to prevent myself from getting food poisoning or being contaminated in any way. The school cafeteria became a very scary place...though it was already given the "mystery meat" and other goodies that the then-food service company tried to pass off to us overpaying students as "food."

Eventually, as I neared graduation, I was eating maybe 10-15 designated "safe" foods that I felt were OK to eat because they posed a low contamination risk. I was also eating many of my supermarket-purchased frozen meals in my res hall room or from the local mostly-vegetarian restaurant in town. So this was both costly and embarrassing for me, yet I managed to conceal my issues. The only noticeable symptom was my weight drop from a healthy 105-110lb to 96lbs. Folks in my life were concerned, but I blamed it all on high metabolism and no one questioned it.

It wasn't until halfway through my first semester of grad school (and many, many panic attacks later) that I sought out some good quality therapy (that thankfully came to me at no cost thanks to the university's Counseling Center) that I returned to gradual food normalcy. When things are stable (no major life changes, strong sense of security) and I am managing my anxiety and panic effectively with the aid of therapy (as of today, I am officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia), I am cautious and mindful about what I consume, but it doesn't consume me. It's annoying, but manageable.

Over the past 2-3 years or so, I underwent a great number of big life changes. And never allowed myself to process and tried to be strong and push it all aside to power through. I've been what I believe to be clinically depressed/anxious for the past year and this time I used food as a crutch. I weighed more in my late 20s than I ever did in my life. And then my breakdown happened - it all came to a head. Going through so many panic attacks in such a short time period is hardly an appetite stimulant. But thanks to therapy, an appetite-stimulating antidepressant and a positive support network, it hasn't been as much of an issue as it could have been.

I had a great Monday this past week with a successful doctor visit and three trips to the outside world (my beloved Target, to-go lunch at a pizza parlor with my love and a trip to grab groceries ALL BY MYSELF), but the rest of the week has been difficult with adjusting to new medicine and pushing my limits too much following my victory early in the week. When in the throes of my bad times, the last thing I want is a snack. But when things are good and I focus on the good thoughts that I trust, I am learning to use food in moderation as a comfort source. I have been cooking to help give me purpose and feel accomplished. A good nourishing meal gives me something to look forward to. And the meals I've eaten this week have been among the most healing and soothing ones I've experienced in some time.

This great big thing won't be cured overnight - but I am learning to accept the lows and enjoy the good times. And one of these days, the good times will outnumber the bad. I continue to thank all that read this for their prayers and support. I am eternally grateful.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

finding peace in the dark

Don't let the post title fool you - dark is meant literally and is not a metaphor for where I am at emotionally.

When I am at my most panicky (anticipating an outing or thinking about a stressor), it's hard to prevent myself from spiraling into a panic attack. One of the things I am learning in therapy is how to listen to the voices in my head that I trust and to give the voices I don't trust less stage time. So I'll share with you some of the things that I trust in today:

  • I trust that my partner loves me wholly and will be there in sickness and in health.
  • I trust that my family and good friends love me and will be there for me through this journey and afterwards when I come out on the other side. 
  • I trust that the things I used to do before my breakdown (that never caused me stress or pain before) are safe and that I will re-learn how to do these things with ease little by little. 
  • I trust that I can overcome this and that it will take some time. 

When reminding myself of all these things doesn't work, I have medicine to help. Or, the smell of lavender in a dark room is calming. I am actually typing this from the comfort of my pitch-black living room lit only by the TV. Being in the dark is soothing - it makes the world seem a little bit smaller and allows me to recuperate from the day's events. Also, having a hot water bottle or heat pad nearby can be very soothing to muscles that ache from being tense all day.

So I keep on getting out there and working on my recovery-but it's nice to know I have this sanctuary to retreat to at the end of a tiring day.


Monday, February 17, 2014

battling those bad thoughts

In spite of having a difficult past few days, I think I am very slowly realizing how toxic it is to worry about things in the future that I can do nothing about today. I have always been a "planner" and try my best to make sure I am as prepared as possible for anything that may pop up in the future. While in many workplaces and in the mindsets of the more scatterbrained, this may be looked upon as a positive attribute, I think it's also one of my flaws.

Worrying about what a mess I'll be in my next therapy visit doesn't help me five days before the visit. Worrying about my parents' health and aging now doesn't help them to be any healthier and it's not something I can control. The negative "what-ifs" have become poison to my recovery and I am working very hard to re-route my ways of thinking and to be kinder to myself.

I write this today from a clear mindset, but I know that in battling my disorder all of this may not be easily remembered while in the throes of a panic attack. Hopefully if things are darker at any point in the near future, I'll have the sense to look back at this entry to remind myself of this revelation.

I am working to get better because I miss walks outside. I miss being able to go shopping with ease. I miss seeing friends and family. These things may not come back to me easily or overnight, but I am determined to learn how to manage and live with the negativity (and not bottle it inside) so that I am able to get back to the good stuff  =)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A hard few days

So the past few days have been very difficult.

I had two doctor appointments lined up. My psychiatrist canceled at the last minute. The weather and other factors have caused a few of my scheduled appointments to be canceled, which is a real toughie in my world. I have to psych myself up to go to these appointments because they make me apprehensive.

So now I'm in a setback of sorts, panicking 24/7 ans scared of the outside world/missing my old life. But there is some hope. I am working with my therapist to have some home visits to help ease me into therapy. And I am modifying my medicines under doctor care to see if it helps any. I pray that this all helps - I'm tired of intense panic and fear and being scared to do EVERYTHING.

I really do miss pieces of my old life - being able to socialize with friends, not being afraid to leave the house on my own, feeling more self-sufficient. But the little bit of me that remains optimistic holds on to hope that I can regain pieces of my old self back. In addition, I hope I can do away with the things that led to this meltdown and rebuild myself to be healthier and more resilient.

I know there is hope. I don't always have it, but I know there has to be a light at the end of this tunnel. There just has to be!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Setbacks when recovering from anxiety...apparently they're inevitable

Today's been a bad day. I'm not gonna lie. Over the past couple of days, I feel as though I've taken the "one step back" in my philosophy that me recovering from this means I'll take two steps forward, one step back as I go. The good news is that means I am always moving forward. But lemme tell you, those back-steps are agonizing.

I had a really awful panic attack at home today. I had hoped to go out alone today as I had yesterday (small trip to Target all by myself and I didn't die=small victory), but the memory of how scared I was in Target made me all the more apprehensive to get back out there today without company. And I have two doctor's appointments this week that I am very afraid of panicking at.

I know in the long run I need these doctors to help me get better, but it doesn't make overcoming the hurdles any less scary. Or experiencing the setbacks any less heartbreaking. It's infuriating and very scary to not be able to operate at full capacity like I once was (or thought I was) before this all came to a head.

I gotta say though, the way things were before did me no good - just going through the motions, putting on a happy face and not telling my loved ones how overwhelmed I felt. So that is improvement in itself.  Through all of this, I am really discovering what I want out of life  and that is a good thing.

Please keep the good vibes, prayers and encouragement coming - I really need it and continue to thank you all each night I pray and thank God for my support system. I have received support from some of the most unlikely sources and it's been truly humbling. And I pray for you all as well.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Focusing on the important things

Since late December, I've been spending a LOT of time in our apartment thinking. Some of my thinking, as a product of my depression, is irrational and heartbreaking. But when logic rears it's much-desired head and I'm able to think clearly as "me" I've been thinking about what's really important to me.

It's literally been years since I focused on what's really important in life. I've been so busy shopping, making to-do lists, focusing on my five-year plan, obsessing about my career...and ignoring the signs that I was very unhappy and scared. And ignoring the things that matter the most.

One thing I value more now than I ever have is time with family. This past holiday season (pre-breakdown, of course) was wonderful in that I got to spend time with my family and Mike's family in abundance. The weeks leading up to my breakdown were great with regards to my personal life because of all the family/friend togetherness. I think of that as I slowly push myself to re-enter the world.

One of the saddest aspects of depression/anxiety is that it can be a very lonely and isolating illness. My agoraphobic tendencies as of recently have made it so that I haven't seen much of my family and friends. When folks find out you're ailing, they check in on you regularly. Since progress overcoming depression and anxiety can be slow and shaky, their lives inevitably go on at a speed that's faster than your recovery. This is no one's fault and it just makes me want to try harder to get better and to rejoin society.

Hoping that the warmer weather comes soon so that I have one more reason to come out from the dark.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Trying to make sense of my anxiety

I think one of the most frustrating parts of coping with depression and anxiety/panic is that I continually try to make sense of it all. I try to figure out what situations, which people, which circumstances serve as triggers and them avoid them. Though as time goes on, my world becomes smaller and smaller and before I know it the illness consumes me. And the symptoms of my anxiety are sometimes very standard, but other times are abnormal and not as common. Cue more panic.

This is no way to live. And I know that. It doesn't make the recovery process any easier to partake in, but it does make the process more essential. So I push myself to do what I need to do in order to get on the road to being my new and improved self. And I allow myself to relinquish control when it's necessary, rather than worrying about and trying to control every little thing. And I allow myself to fail. And celebrate the small victories (today's being a trip to the Post Office).

I also have to remind myself that what I can control I need to develop confidence in. For example, if I know I turned off the stove, I need to have confidence in knowing that rather than checking 20 times to verify what I already know to be true.

This journey is teaching me that I really am safe and competent - a big aspect of suffering through anxiety and panic attacks is that one does not feel safe or in control of her environment. That feeling of being out of control is terrifying. I am learning what I can control and what I can't (the thoughts and actions of others, the environment, etc.) This doesn't mean I've mastered what I can control but it does provide me with a starting point for what I need to work on.

It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm slowly learning to let a little bit of sun in.


Monday, February 3, 2014

The Blog for Mental Health 2014 Pledge

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

art by Piper Macenzie

As difficult as it is for me to "come out" with regards to what I'm dealing with, I hope that this blog helps provide folks dealing with anxiety disorders some relief in knowing that others out in the world suffer from the same affliction and symptoms. I use the term relief loosely, as I know firsthand how pervasive and all-encompassing it can be to live with an anxiety disorder. Some of what I've been dealing with since my breakdown has been downright debilitating (panic attacks, hard to breathe, agoraphobic symptoms). It's hard to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel when this illness prevents the sufferer from working, socializing and going about a normal daily life. I will say that since I started using my current antidepressant, I have slowly found myself able to return to some normal activities. But it's still an uphill battle - I know in my heart of hearts that it will all be OK at some point and it does get better. I know it's entirely possible that in three months, I'll be in much better shape. Still, it's a constant battle with the anxiety/negativity in my head. And that definitely wears on even the strongest person.

Even so, I will continue my trend of reflecting on the positives that have come from my battle with anxiety and panic. I have suffered from some form of this illness for years (my memories of having OCD tendencies date as far back as third grade). It's typically just a mild part of my life that I thought I was able to manage well, but I have experienced moderate episodes in my past that typically happened around stressful periods or times of massive change (graduation from high school, graduation from college, start of grad school coinciding with the end of my longest-term relationship to date, etc.) This is the worst episode I've experienced yet, and why I believe it happened will be detailed in a later post, most likely after continued therapy.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Minimalism and lack of vanity in the face of anxiety

One of the hardest things for me to do is focus on the positive things that have come from the state of distress I've been in lately.

I have experienced small victories throughout all of this. Being able to go out in public bravely, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, maintaining contact with those close to me...all victories when you're feeling panic/anxiousness/agoraphobia, believe it or not.

I experience the "two steps forward, one step back" phenomenon. Which is positive because it means I'm moving forward, but the steps back are crushing blows when all you want is to feel better and to feel "normal."

But I will say this: my breakdown has shown me that vanity is not a feeling I want to have any more. Prior to this, I was hating on myself for being the heaviest I've ever been, always had to do my hair before I left the house (and it had to be perfect), and felt the need to have certain brands/styles of clothing in order to feel pretty/accepted by society. No more of that. I have grown to appreciate what I do have in terms of material items, I've stopped caring what others think of me looks-wise (I just need to start caring a little more than the total apathy that's present lately), and I have been working to minimize some of my personal belongings.

While it's been easy to do an early Spring Cleaning in the physical world, the cleaning that my mind needs to undergo is not as simple.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Coping with my major depressive episode

For those that don't know me well or those I've lost regular contact with, it's important that I preface all future blog posts with the following information:

Starting right after the 2013 holiday season, I began to suffer through what I consider to be a nervous breakdown/major depressive episode. The best way for me to describe what I went through and continue to go through is to compare it to having the rug physically taken out from under you. My breakdown is basically that, but more all-encompassing - a constant wave of shame, fear, guilt, anguish and vulnerability.

Some good has come from this. I plan to discuss that in future posts. But since December 27th, 2013, I have been out of the house rarely, except for a few grocery store visits or rides to pick up takeout meals. Most of those short excursions have been with my partner in crime and in life, my Michael. He has been my caretaker, my therapy and my complete support. I am eternally grateful to him for all that he has done to prove that he is here for me in sickness and in health.

Aside from Mike and my parents (and random folks I see in grocery stores and restaurants), I have not seen anyone except for medical professionals and my neighbors in passing. It's a vicious cycle because I know that being around others will make me feel better, yet I am scared to be around people - my mind automatically flashes to Fat Bastard in the "Austin Powers" movies when he states that, "I eat because I am unhappy, and I am unhappy because I eat." I am thankful that I have some shreds of humor left in my system through all of this.

The good news is I think I am slowly getting better. I am using a series of different tools to help me through this, but the bad news is there's no quick fix or easy cure. Generalized anxiety, panic attacks, depression and OCD symptoms are something I've always dealt with on and off throughout my life. This episode is merely a culmination of the lack of care I provided myself with when things were bearable. My mind and body are tired of pretending everything is OK.

I am tired of lying to people about this major part of who I am and the life I live. From this point forward, it's almost as if I have to re-learn how to do so many of the things that used to be second nature. It's daunting - I have plenty of crying fits, panic attacks, mornings where I don't want to wake up and so on. But weirdly enough, it's brought a lot of good things to the forefront. For that, I am and will continue to be thankful. There are so many blogs and stories out in the internet universe from anxiety/depression survivors that focus on the negative and I think that focusing on the bad hasn't been doing me any good. So even on the bad days, I'll make a point of it to look at the positive effects of this fragile time in my life.