OCD Awareness Week

October 10-16th is OCD Awareness Week, so let’s talk about that.

I started showing symptoms during puberty, around 11 years old.  I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19, however, as child psychology was still a bit taboo in the 90s.  It started with Trichotillomania.

For those unaware, Trich is a compulsive hair-pulling syndrome.  I started pulling my hair out in 6th grade.  At first, I didn’t realize I was doing it because I would fall into a sort of a trance, only to come out of it and discover hair everywhere.  My doctor diagnosed me with alopecia, because she and many other medical professionals I encountered over the years had no idea what Trichotillomania even was. 

When I realized I was the one doing it, I researched the crap out of it, as I tend to do when something makes me nervous or scared.  Once I realized what I was dealing with, it took 8 more years and three psychologists before I found one who knew what I was talking about.  I had another flareup when I was 19, so I marched my bandana-covered head into my doctor and said “Listen…this is what I have.”  She agreed.  She knew what I was talking about.  It was instant relief.

And then she diagnosed me with obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Trich is a definite red flag and true cousin to OCD, so there was little surprise.  They asked me questions, such as do you ever have intrusive thoughts that you can’t control?  Um…yes, doesn’t everybody?

Apparently not.

I was never the neat-freak, handwashing kind of OCD, but my compulsions lie in Trich and my obsessions rest in my brain.  It’s a truthful diagnosis, and also my best controlled one.  I deal with my anxiety and depression all day every day, but my OCD is pretty well regulated.  The only thing that still bothers me is the incessant counting…i used to count everything, but these days it’s mostly just my steps.  Mark got me a Fitbit so that I can remind myself there’s no need to count because my watch is doing the work.  It’s helpful…sometimes.  Not all the time.

I don’t think much about my OCD because it is so well-controlled now.  I do however take great offense when folks who have “quirks” claim they have OCD.  Oh, you can’t go to sleep at night with dishes in the sink, so you don’t have to do them in the morning?  How quaint.  Sounds a lot more like a personal preference than something you have to do in order to keep you and your family alive, which is how an OCD brain can think.  OCD is not quirks; it’s patterns of behavior that disrupt your life.

Alas, my life is not disrupted by it at the moment, which makes me happy.  I do worry daily about another Trich relapse, though, and I am extremely particular about my hair since I lost so much of it in the past, and it is much thinner than it once was.  However, I know now that should that happen, I can immediately call my doc and we can figure out a game plan.  That wasn’t a luxury I felt I had in my early 20s.  And even when I count my steps, I remind myself that my Fitbit is on the job, and try to use coping mechanisms to draw my attention away from the counting.  I do the same with the intrusive thoughts.  Truthfully, I am making progress daily.  I hope others our there can say the same some day.

Here are a couple of links to resources about OCD:

International OCD Foundation

Symptoms of OCD

Help for OCD

Trichotillomania Learning Foundation

My Mental Mistresses

I got dumped last week, by my therapist. 

She got a job at the agency I’ve been badmouthing for two years, assuring me that things have changed now that said agency has changed from a zero-tolerance policy to a harm-reduction model for substance use.  That’s why I left.  They were going to put me in the drug program because I smoked a little pot.  They also yanked my Xanax out from under me and when I had a full-on panic attack in my doctor’s office, he slammed the door in my face.  No thanks, I’m out.

Anyway, I found a swell spot after that large Buffalo-based agency that may or may not have a rising sun as their logo and started seeing a woman named Jamie.  My prescribers have rotated a little over the past two years there, but that is to be expected anywhere.  You don’t need to bond with the person giving you your pills; that’s what your counselor is for. 

Jamie was fine.  She was very good at her job, and I liked her very much, but I didn’t feel the “click” I have felt with other counselors in the past.  These are the people you open your mind to, and it is important that you mesh well on every level.  Jamie did a fine job.  But she was no Carissa.

I don’t remember when I had Carissa.  I know it was at that aforementioned agency I went to for ten years, and I know it was at their Hertel branch and I think it was while I still lived in Kenmore.  The thing is, my meds weren’t right at the time, so all of that time period is a mishmash of memory.  When Carissa dumped me for a job in the Southern Tier, I was depressed.  I was devastated.  She was my favorite, and she was gone, and it was over.  It was then that I recognized a peculiar thing: these women have no last names.

My first counselor was named Sarah.  I saw her at D’Youville College because my friends dragged me there one afternoon.  I never knew her last name.  When I moved over to what I refer to as the “Fancy Suburban Drug Dealers” agency, I had three other counselors, whose first names I couldn’t even tell you.  Of course, they pumped me so full of meds based on a misdiagnosis that I was practically a zombie the whole time.  Then, The Rising Sun, where I ended up with Carissa, who left me with no last name and no forwarding information.

Alas!  One day, she found me on Myspace.  I was very happy but I still don’t know her last name.  And now, Myspace is dead and I can’t find her on Facebook without a surname.  After Carissa, came Katie.

Katie and I were together for years, and I actually got to know her last name.  However., The Rising Sun implemented their zero-tolerance policy, and one day she told me they would be tox screening everyone.  “But that’s not a problem for you…” she says.

I tell her, right away, that it is a problem, that not only will I test positive for cannabis but that I believe it is an infringement on my privacy.  She becomes shocked that I have never mentioned cannabis use before and our relationship starts to crumble.  Now, I have only good things to say about Katie, who from what I understand is running some things over there now, and I am hopeful that her experiences with me and other clients has opened her eyes to other possibilities.  The trust between us was broken, though; she felt I had kept something important from our sessions.  I felt it was none of her gotdamn business.

An impasse.  Fortunately, she was promoted up the ladder and I was thrown over to the Orchard Park location, where I met Ashley.

Ashley was great.  She totally agreed that it was nonsense, the whole bit about the cannabis, and did her best to keep me out of the drug program at The Rising Sun, always stating that I wasn’t abusing the substance.  Then she moved to Colorado and oh my heart!  But…I knew her last name.  In fact, we exchanged emails, and after she was settled she got in touch.   We still occasionally email, and yes, there are topics I am more comfortable sending in a letter to her than expressing via speech to my therapist. 

In many ways, she reminds me of the feeling I had with Carissa.

However, after her departure I was moved to a woman named Liz.  She was fine, in the way that Jamie was fine.  But she didn’t fight for me. 

When I became a number at The Rising Sun, I was furious.  They were making me into a statistic…showing me on graphs as someone with mental illness who also had a substance abuse problem.   They insisted I start drug counseling.  I told them to fuck right off.

Which brings me to now.  I found a little place that was like “oh, you smoke pot?  Well, let me put you in touch with a medical marijuana doctor,” and I was sold.  I feel like my doc actually listens to me, which is new in general, and I never feel like a number because it’s a small place.  AND, I’ve had two good counselors so far.  I mean, not great…but good.

Anyway, I’m seeing a new woman named Rachel next week, and I am hopeful.  I hope we “click.”  Jamie thinks we will.  I’m actually going into the office to meet her too, which is something I haven’t done in a year, so that’s kind of exciting.

I wonder, will I know her last name some day?  Will I be gifted that knowledge after a year or two of counseling, when the bond is formed?  Will I look back ten years from now and remember her fondly?

Or will I not remember her at all?

Pep Talk

Sometimes, I will be super hyped to do something and then my brain will be like “haha, no,” and then I end up sitting on the couch eating cereal straight out of the box and watching old episodes of Fringe.  Oh depression, you vicious mistress.

So, I drag myself into the office and check my email and socials and try to prepare myself for the day.  I open a word document to start writing and then suddenly there is a garbage truck outside my door, banging and clanging its way slowly down the street.  No hope for concentration, so I pop over to Submittable to check on my poetry submissions.  No change.  Ho-hum.

Then, to the blog!  Alas, no topic.  Nothing, because depression ate it, like a hungry teenager raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

I can’t focus my thoughts.  I look at my yellow umbrella that hangs off the bookshelf to my left and think that I should have taken it to the beach with me on Saturday.  I look at the star on the wall that says “One Day at a Time,” and I think gee that’s great, now someone give me a cigarette!  I look at the ceiling.  There are cobwebs in the corner.  Perhaps I should sweep them?

Anything, anything, anything but write.

After this, whatever this is, I am going to attempt to put my chicken-scratch notes on my chappie into type,  Then, put those typed words into an email, and send it to my editor.  Real, actual, needs-to-be-done work.,,but my serotonin levels don’t give a crap.  I also want to work on new submissions since it is August now, but that seems like a faraway chore at the moment. 

Oh, and I want to clean my house, because I had my four kiddos plus G this weekend and the joint is wrecked.

First, I guess, I will drink some coffee.  I will be grateful that the street is now fairly quiet, and I can write and work in peace.  I will sit here in this office chair until all my tasks are done, because while my brain and hormone levels and all that garbage may be telling me one thing, my heart is telling me another: you can do it.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Today is Friday, not Thursday., when I usually update, because I have been living in a fog all week, trying to adapt to my new schedule.  The day got away from me yesterday, and almost did today, as well.  I have a few moments now, though, so here we are.

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  Since we are smack dab in the middle of it, I thought I would take this time to discuss my own personal journey with mental health…but then the illness piece kicked in and blanked out my brain. 

See, I first came down with depression when I was about 9 years old.  Anxiety shortly followed, then trichotillomania, further manifesting into some vicious obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I went untreated until I was eighteen.  Throw a pile of PTSD on that, and you have yourself a whopping case of mental illness.

Since my adolescence, I have also had diabetes.  But I tell you what, I have yet to have someone tell me to “get over” being diabetic, or that if I “think positive,” or “try yoga,” or “get some more sleep,” then my Hemoglobin A1C will go down.  Yet all these things have fallen from the mouths of those who were trying to “help” me with my mental health.  It’s just further proof of the stigma.

So many people hide their mental illness because they are afraid of what others will think of it, and I want you to know that anyone who doesn’t treat your mental health on the same playing field as your physical health is an idiot.  Yes, I can absolutely die from diabetes.  And yes, I can absolutely die from depression, as well.

Every year I walk in the Out of the Darkness walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I do this so I don’t die, guys.  I do this so that every year I can celebrate the fact that I made it ANOTHER YEAR.  It’s not unlike other walks, where you have supporters, those who have lost loved ones, and those who are still fighting.  I am one of those people still fighting, and I’m always going to be, because Major Depressive Disorder is a bitch.

People are a lot more open today then they were 20 years ago when I first started therapy.  At least this much is true, but still I feel that we as a society judge mental illness far more harshly than physical illnesses.  It’s almost like we are blamed for it, as if we have done something to deserve it, or we are seen as “less-than.”  You’ll notice that no one ever feels that way about a cancer patient.  No one says they must’ve brought that cancer on themselves, or it’s in their power to control that cancer.  Listen, if I knew how to control my serotonin levels on my own with some superpower, don’t you think I’d be doing it?

I’ve been depressed this week, because I haven’t been very active since surgery and also, it’s been a little lonely without Mark around…our schedule is still not meshing.  I am, of course, looking for my silver linings, which come in the form of the ability to start hiking again next week with Kevin, and…drumroll…SAHAR IS HERE!!  My nearest and dearest drove up from Ohio to see me and I am thrilled.  In fact, I’m going to wrap this up now because she is on her way over.  But my point here is that despite being depressed, I am finding things to look forward to, thus making myself happier.  It’s one of the many items in the emotional toolbox that I have been constructing for the past 20 years.

Also, break a stigma!  Don’t let anyone tell you you’re lesser because you have a mental illness!  You are a strong and special warrior and you should be treated as such!

Collector’s Edition

When I was a small child, I collected rocks.  I liked all rocks, but ones with pretty colors and shapes were my favorite, and would immediately end up in my pocket to come home to the tin can I kept them in.  I would lay them out on the floor and count and sort them, by color, by size, by type…I liked learning about different rocks.  When we went on vacations or day trips, I would buy precious rocks from stores as souvenirs.  I know I had my collection for a very long time, well into my 20s, but I have no idea now what happened to it…must’ve been lost in a move.

In middle school, I started collecting stickers.  I had a blue and purple photo album that I would stick them in.  I would then spend an hour counting them, and double checking, to see how many I had: which is a big fat OCD red flag.  I remember one in particular that was a bag of Doritos and a scratch-and-sniff, so it smelled like nacho cheese.  I don’t know what happened to them, either.

In high school, I collected cows.  Of course, not actual cows, but figurines and such.  Things with cows on them.  I liked cows-I thought of them as big dogs and they are my favorite farm animal.   People would buy me cow stuff as gifts.  When I went to Girl Scout camp, my mother made me a little cubby out of a crate, and covered it in cow print fabric.  I don’t know how many cows I had, and I am sure I counted them, but over the years many things broke or got lost, and now I have no cows, except a cow kitchen timer I got from my friend Chelsea and the cow-shaped creamer I got for Christmas from…mom?

In my 20s, I collected nothing but bad decisions.  Ha, not really.  Purses-I was big on purses, particularly Kate Spade’s. I couldn’t afford the real thing though, so I had several knockoffs.  One day I gave them away to my friend’s daughter.  I kind of wish I kept one, though, now that she is gone.  Even if it was a knockoff.  (I do have a genuine wallet, though.  That’s gonna stay with me forever.)

In my 30s I got married, and I got this curio cabinet, and had nothing to put in it.  Until one day, I received a wedding gift from my best friend from elementary school. This chick sent me all the crystal in Ireland!  A butter dish, a creamer dish, a sugar bowl, and two sets of glasses-all Irish crystal.  And, better to me than all of that, a Belleek platter.

My mother loves Belleek.  We don’t have a whole lot in common when it comes to style, but we definitely agree on this beautiful Irish china with tiny shamrocks on it.  After I got the platter, she got me a Belleek St. Brigid’s cross ornament for Christmas.  It hangs prominently on the tree every year.  Its only two pieces, but this is no rocks or stickers, mind you.  Can’t just find these for under a buck at the corner store, or under your feet on the way to school.  This is more of a lifetime collection for me, something I intend to add to a little through the years.

On the cheaper side of things, though, I have started collecting Rae Dunn pieces.  She does pottery that I like.  I never really cared about things like that, but one day Mark bought me a mug that said “Feminist” on it, by her, and I loved it.  I loved how simple it was; how imperfect it was.  I only have a few pieces, but at least with this collection I can justify the cost because pretty much everything has a purpose.  My favorite piece I have is below, my boss lady nameplate.  Boss Lady became my nickname when I went on the cruise with my sister, and since I started publishing, I have taken strength from that title.  Also pictured are my newest additions, and let me tell ya, that little honey pot might actually be beating out boss lady for favorite piece now.

Anyway.

It occurred to me the other day that I have always been a collector of things, and if I had the time and money I would collect A LOT more things.  I watch shows like American Pickers and think “now those people have the right idea.”  And yes, I am referring both to the pickers AND the hoarders.

So, I gotta watch myself so I don’t go picking up every rock I see.

It also occurred to me that collecting was a total and terrible sign of OCD for me.  Counting is and was my biggest obstacle with my disorder-I count everything.  Steps, especially, and I even got myself a Fitbit solely so that when I started counting my head, I can tell myself that I don’t have to because my watch is taking care of it.  It works, for a while.  But every time, eventually, I start counting again.  It is the one lingering symptom of my OCD that no pill can seem to fix.

However, it brings me joy.  I mean, I woke this morning and saw that little honey pot and thought “gee, that’s adorable” and it brought a smile to my face.  So, yeah, I’m going to collect things by the artist I like and let them bring me a little happiness.  And on particularly special occasions, I might even add to my Belleek collection. 

Sometimes, when we are out fishing, I will find a particularly cool rock.  I will pick it up and put it in my pocket.  Often, it disappears, but sometimes I reach into that pocket a few days later, and feel the little stone in my hand, and smile.

Also, some stickers lol.

Hibernation

Hi!

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been out for a week and a half.  Usually when I miss a day in my blog it’s because I am in the hospital, but this was not the case this week.  I was home, and my stomach was calm.  My brain was not.  It’s still not great.  It’s kind of like when you have the flu, and you start to feel a little better each day.  I’m on day three of feeling a little bit better. 

I was kicking myself this time last week, mad that I hadn’t updated the previous Monday and had nothing to write about then.  I gave myself that Monday “off,” because I felt pretty down, and I wanted to take some time for myself.  So I watched some movies and made soup for lunch and snuggled with my blanket on the couch.  I thought I would feel better Tuesday.  I didn’t.

So last Thursday, I came back to the blog, feeling even lower, because it had been four days and I hadn’t written A THING.  Not my blog, not my WIP, not a poem.  Not so much as a sentence.

I felt slightly better while the kids were here this past weekend, but that all fell apart again Monday morning.  I felt worse than I had the previous Monday.  Blogging was out of the question.

So for the past week and a half, I have pretty much been hibernating in my living room, watching Pretty Little Liars and eating cereal.

I don’t know what my problem was.  It felt almost like I wasn’t taking my meds, even though I was.  And it left as quickly as it came, too.  I told my therapist and she told me not to worry about it unless it happens again, so I won’t.  But I always try to solve the little puzzles and figure out why my brain does what it does, so I tried to solve this mystery.  The best I can come up with is stress.  I handle stress so poorly…it just builds up and then drowns me.  I have been very stressed the past few weeks, and it is compounded stress; months of worries toppling down on me.  I wasn’t taking care of my stress levels like I’m supposed to, and I think it caused me to spiral a little.

After a week or so of self-care, I feel better.  I feel normal.  Maybe even positive, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  What I need to remember is to take the time for self-care regularly, and not have my stress get so bad that I implode.

Anyway, I’m here and I’m alive and well.  I still haven’t gotten to my WIP, but I just updated my blog, so that’s something.

The Love Remains

I’ve only really personally known one person that killed themselves.

(That’s a harsh way to start a post, huh?)

I’m not going to share his name, because we were only friends for a short time and because of that I somehow feel that his death is not really mine to mourn.  Still, when I logged onto Facebook one day and saw all our mutuals posting tributes on his wall, I cried.  I thought, as I’m sure everyone did, that if he had just reached out…maybe I could have done something.  But we weren’t close.  We worked together for a while, and I was his Secret Santa one year.  Hung out a couple times.  What could I have possibly done, except point him to a suicide hotline?  But maybe that would have been enough.  Who knows? 

(That was, completely coincidentally, the year I started doing the AFSP Out of Darkness Walk.  They read a list of names, and his was on it…I felt my heart drop to my shoe.) 

Last summer, I saw a guy in a crowd that looked like him.  For a second, I thought it was a ghost, that’s how close the resemblance was.  I remembered how I felt when he died…that I lost someone I once called “friend,” and felt powerless.  I don’t feel as powerless now.  I do the walk every year and raise funds to save lives, lives like his.  Lives like mine. 

That helps.

Anyway, after I saw this ghost it got me thinking of people in my life that I have lost contact with.  It’s a lot.  Like…a hell of a lot.  And it is all depression’s fault.  It went and convinced me these people didn’t really care about me in the way I cared about them and kept me from reaching out to maintain friendships that were important to me.  I thought to myself, that if one of these people committed suicide, I would be heartbroken.  I wanted people to know that despite my mental health keeping me from being present, the people I love will always be with me, and can always call on me when they need to.  So, I started sending messages.  About one a month, to people I loved and missed.  When I would see a meme or something that reminded me of someone, instead of just thinking “Gee, I miss so-and-so,” I would send it to them with a message. 

And so, I talked to my college buddies.  I had coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for three years.  I reconnected with one of my besties from high school.  At Christmas, I sent messages to people I did Xmas shows with when I was in my teens.  I just so happened to message my middle school best friend the night before she got engaged.  Yesterday, I messaged a friend I haven’t seen in at least a decade AND my former therapist.  My point is that I tried to reach out, and good things came of it.

And…

I hope these people know.  I hope all the people I have ever met in my life know…that I am here.  If I loved you before, I have not stopped.  I wrote a play once, and the premise was that love, in all its forms, does not dissipate.  Take a relationship…you may break up, it may be awful, but you loved them once, and that love lives on in your subconscious whether you acknowledge it or not.  Or, someone you’ve had a falling out with…for instance, there is a woman that I’m pretty sure doesn’t like me.  And that’s fine.  She doesn’t have to.  We had a falling out many years ago, and I personally don’t think she’s ever forgiven me.  Again, that’s fine, it’s her prerogative.  Still, if she called me in a panic, I’d summon the part of me that used to be friends with her and run to her aid.  It’s just the kind of person I am, and why I believe that the love remains.

I do not give up on people.  It may seem that way at times, because I fall into depressive episodes that can last anywhere from an hour to five years.  I hate losing my people, be it to distance, time, or circumstance.  I will always, always be here.  Do not hesitate.  I don’t want to hear them read your name at the suicide walk, guys.

And also…maybe I just miss you.

My point is to reconnect.  To try to do something to maintain the relationships that mattered to you, even though the world seems to have gotten in the way.  And if you’re in a really dark place, all the more reason to reach out.  And if you need me, I’m here.

Good Days and Bad Days

Yesterday, I was on the phone with my therapist and she was commending me on how well I deal with my illness.  Every time I’m in the ER, she gets an email, so she has been worried about me these past few weeks.  I told her that the way I see it, I have good days and bad days.  And because I have so many bad days, I strive to make those good days into very good days, which is helping fight my depression in turn.  She was quite proud of this, and told me I was doing great work with my coping skills.

Afterwards, I hung out with Bernie, then Kevin showed up and we made brownies and watched drone footage of abandoned asylums.  After Mark got home, I made pizza and we hung out for a while and watched TV.  I took a nice long shower and went to sleep.  It was a good day.  Maybe even a very good one.

Today I woke up with a stomachache and immediately went full panic attack.  This caused me to throw up, which caused me to panic more.  It’s a vicious cycle.  I took my Xanax and my Zofran and wrapped up in my blanket and begged God for just one more good day.

I fell asleep sitting on the couch, and when I woke up again, I still felt crappy, but I wasn’t vomiting.  I took Mark to work.  I took a drive to the reservation.  I drank a cup of coffee, and when that didn’t come back up, I thanked God for one more good day.

Very good day has yet to be seen.  I still feel a little under the weather, and will likely just stick around the house and do some writing.  Still, a very good day is possible…I will likely work on my outline for NaNo, and maybe my final proof for my chapbook will arrive so I can look that over.  I can send out a few submissions, or if inspiration strikes, write a new poem.

I can open the door to my office, finally, blessedly, and let the sunshine in.  I can play my music as loud as I want because my downstairs neighbors are out for the day.  I can light my new candle, and maybe watch something on tv if I get bored.

Every day that I can do these simple things is a win.  So many days of my life are spent in a hospital, or recovering in my bed.  Sometimes it feels like those bad days outnumber the good ones, and that is, at times, unbearable.  But I don’t have a choice, see.  If I’m going to quit something, I have to be pushed to my absolute limit…but there is no limit on your life.  It can go anywhere, so you can’t quit, because what if something great is around the next corner?  And I will tell you, oh so many times in my life, there has been a great thing waiting. 

It’s the first really nice day here in Buffalo.  This Saturday is supposed to be gorgeous, and part of my plan for today is choosing a hiking spot for me and Hubs to hit up this weekend.  I am sitting in my office pecking out this blog, but I am distracted, because I want to be outside.  I think I will clean up the porch and maybe pull a few weeds.  Those are the kind of chores that make me happy, so I will do them as one of those coping mechanisms that my therapist appreciates so much.  The little tasks I give myself keep the depression at bay, and make my day feel worthwhile.  I appreciate each good day, and I strive to make them all into very good days, so I try to accomplish as much as I can, write as much as I can, and love as much as I can.

Someday, all I will have are good days.

That will be the best day of them all.

Dancing in the Dark

Last night, as I was dancing with depression, she said that I had no blog topic for today and that I should just take the day off and stay in bed.  She said a lot of things yesterday, and they all sounded pretty good.  By the end, I found myself huddled under a blanket doing worst-case-scenarios and having a literal screaming match in my head between Sane Brain and Crazy Brain.  After about an hour or so, I took my sleeping pills.  Sane Brain was getting quieter, and tired.  Crazy Brain was raring to go, and needed medical intervention.

When I woke up, I felt a lot better.  I sat down to write, and briefly considered ignoring last night’s darkness, until I realized that it is Mental Health Month.  Two years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about breaking the stigma of mental health, using one of my diagnoses as a jumping off point each week.  I received some lovely feedback from family and friends.  I hope I broke a couple of stigmas for someone.  One can dream.

Anyway, it’s two years later and I write about my mental health all the time, and not just in my blog anymore.  I have had three articles published at Mental Health Crisis Angels, which is a peer support group, mental health blog, and all-around stigma bashing organization.  The first was about my struggles with Severe Anxiety Disorder.  The second, about tips to deal with anxieties, big and small.  And the last was about Trichotillomania, which I developed when I was eleven. 

And then there is my chapbook.  The whole thing is about chronic illness and, by default, depression.  Now, I have had symptoms of depression since I was around 8 years old, but it didn’t go full-blown until I was sixteen and diagnosed with diabetes, which is where my chapbook begins.  Some of the poems in it are new.  Some I wrote 15-20 years ago.  All of them are about battling the depression caused by illness and trauma. 

Then my blog, where I write about mental health on a personal basis.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared to share my experiences because of what other people would think of me.  I’ve had people call me a liar.  I’ve had people tell me I’m making up symptoms.  I’ve lost friends because I’m “too complicated.”  I’ve had to regain the trust of people I love.  I’ve worried about employers not wanting to hire me.  It seemed for a while that telling people about my illness made me lose them, so why share?

But then one day, about fifteen years ago, I posted something about Trichotillomania.  Just a logo or something from the TLC Learning Center, which was the only resource for TTM at the time.  A friend emailed me: she saw the logo, and decided to take the leap and tell me that she, too, had Trich.  I had known her for years, and had no clue.  She asked me not to tell anyone, as we had many mutual friends, and she was embarrassed.  I understood.  I, too, had been so ashamed of it, once.  However, it was that day that I realized we should not be ashamed-how much easier would my life have been, had I been able to confide in her?  How much less lonely would she have felt, knowing there was not only another person who was going though this, but someone who was already a friend?  Youth could have been a little different for us.  A little less lonely, at least.

Anyway, from that point on, I started sharing my experiences, opinions be damned.  I didn’t want to feel how I felt anymore.  I didn’t want to feel how my friend felt.  I wanted to stand up: for her, for myself, for everyone that was too scared. 

The stigma of mental health is, thankfully, changing rapidly.  Especially in our current climate, when people are getting whacked in the face with anxiety and depression on levels they have never known.  I still find solace in my professional-cynic status; I was anxious and depressed way before this whole shebang.  I will be when it’s over.  Right now, I’m kind of doing well because as I’ve said before, to me, the world has always been on fire.

So happy Mental Health Month to all of you.  It isn’t just those of us who live with mental illness that need to be celebrated and lifted up right now.  It’s all of us, because we are having a worldwide mental health crisis, whether we acknowledge it or not.   

Please please please, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy.

Plexiglas Panic

I mean, I was doing okay.  I was doing really good, all things considered.  Until last Friday when I went out.

First, I was in the hospital a few times last week, and saw the day to day changes they were making.  One day, there were suddenly tents outside.  Another, there was a fever checkpoint station and they gave me a mask to wear.  Then, there was tape on the floor and I had to stand six feet from the reception desk.  Then, one day, came the Plexiglas.

It was a huge barrier blocking reception.  Fine.  Ok.  Makes sense.  There was another one blocking triage.  Again, I get it, I guess, even though she was back and forth taking my temperature and blood pressure.  But when it really got bad was at the grocery store.

I have been going to the store without a problem…I have been obeying the tape on the floor telling me where to stand.  I wore a scarf last week to cover my face.  But Friday, I went a step further.  Mark got me some masks, because he is frankly terrified that I will get this thing, and had insisted I wear a mask whenever I am out.  Knowing he was probably right, I took a mask and a pair of latex gloves to the store.  The first problem was that it was hard to regulate my breathing with the mask.  The second problem was that it fogged up my glasses, making it impossible for me to see.  The third problem was that my brain was so focused on these two problems that the grocery list went out the window.

By the time I made it to the end I was gasping for air with a cart full of stuff I just grabbed and tossed in without thinking too much.  That’s when I saw it: Plexiglas.  One big slab of Plexiglas keeping the cashier safe.  From me.

It was a trigger, I guess.  Suddenly I was back in the hospital: I was sick, I was in pain.

As I paid, I was screaming in my head about how fast my heart was beating.  As I bagged my groceries, I started sweating.  I started getting paranoid that I would pass out, and someone would think I had the virus.  By the time I was loading the bags into the car, I was crying.  When I finally got in the car and shut the door, I started to scream.  I couldn’t stop.  I called Mark, screaming at him, needing him to help calm me down, but he thought I was angry or something and started screaming back.  After some confusion, he realized what was happening and tried to calm me down enough to the point of sobs, which was decidedly better than screaming.  Screaming in your car in a parking lot gets the cops called.  Sobbing only gets you weird looks. 

When the sobs subsided, and I was able to drive, I had to go to the pharmacy.  The store was empty, and I had given up on wearing the mask, so I was a little better, until I saw the Plexiglas at the counter.  It all started again.  I paid quickly and ran out the door and into the car.  Perhaps a cup of coffee would make me feel better?  Tim Hortons drive-thru is still open, so I headed over there and ordered my usual.  I pulled up to the window, where a blue gloved hand reached from below a newly installed Plexiglas shield to take my money.  I felt myself start to cry.  I held it together and got my coffee, and drove home, and collapsed in Mark’s arms, in tears.

I mean, I was doing okay.

My life hasn’t changed a whole lot:  I didn’t lose a job, my husband didn’t lose a job, I get to see my parents every day, and I run errands like I always did.  But I am missing things:  my people.   Friends, family, etc.  I am missing taking the kids places, like the playground especially.  I am missing going into a store for something other than groceries.  I am missing the hospital being a “safe” place. 

That last one is the root of all problems. 

I would walk into the hospital in the past and feel relief, before they gave me meds, before I even saw a doctor.  I would be relieved because I knew real relief was coming, and I was safe.  Any terrible things I was imagining, I was now protected from by the fortress of Mercy Hospital and the warrior-staff therein.  But now, I sense their fear, and it scares me in turn.  That’s what the Plexiglas is, more than protection from the virus-protection from the fear of contraction.

I told Sahar about the Plexiglas: she thought it was nuts.  Then, two days later she sent me a photo of her grocery store in Kentucky that had just installed it. 

It’s been a week now, and I am no longer having panic attacks, but I was facing some roadblocks, mask-wise.  Yesterday, Gov. Cuomo said that we have to start wearing masks in public.  Panicked, I messaged my aunt Mel who recently posted a photo of a mask she made and asked for help.  In less than 24 hours, I had my very own Wonder Woman mask.  It’s a good fabric, it fits, doesn’t fog up my glasses, and I haven’t panicked yet.

I mean, I was doing okay.  And I will again.  We all will.