Overthinking: Case Study #01

My first thought is always the worst one. And if it’s not, then I quickly find it from there.

Like that fire we saw on our early morning walk. We could see black smoke billowing in the distance and wondered aloud to my husband if we should call the fire brigade. His first thought is like the exact opposite of mine, which borders on guileless denial.

H: Someone’s just burning off.

Me: Now? It’s barely dawn!

H: It’s very still. Maybe conditions are optimal.

Me: I think we should call someone-

As soon as I’d said it, we could hear sirens. Then we started to hear the odd bang as combustibles caught alight.

Me: Oh! I think it’s a house.

H: You can’t possibly know that from here.

Me: But what if it is? What if it was arson? What if the person who started the fire had driven past us and our conversation had prevented us from noticing them and then they went on to commit another crime?

Not that I said that last bit aloud. He would have given me that face.

Meanwhile. I’m memorising car plates.

 

Feeding the Wolf

I hate personifying depression and anxiety. Calling it a wolf, or the ‘black dog of depression’. My mum calls it the ‘monkey on her back’. I hate doing it, but it does help.

It offers a degree of detachment. It somehow helps you to confront it, and if not stare it down then at least find a level of understanding. This is not defeatest-type thinking, it’s recognising your irrational feelings do not represent you. It’s allowing your poorly balanced brain chemistry to do its thing without berating yourself for it.

It’s starving the wolf.

This post and the one preceeding have been three months in the making. It originally began with the phrase, “I’m okay at the moment” and while that is not untrue, I’ve been better.

I took myself off my medication very gradually and managed to minimise the withdrawal. Three weeks after I ceased the meds completely, I had my first anxiety pang. It didn’t linger.

Some weeks later, I had a significant anxiety attack. It was triggered by a stressful event at work and has returned in waves ever since. It’s taken near two months for them to abate.

And while it has abated, it’s beginning to linger.

This is me right now.

And I’m fighting it.

20170120_173854c

I’m trying to ‘art’ more. This is Anxiety sketched in charcoal.

Waking the Wolf

Darkness can be hard to recognise.

It creeps up on you and slides across your shoulders like the arm of a bully. The hand squeezes your shoulder. It tells you not to dob. You dismiss it at first, maybe you try to shrug it off.  You tell yourself it’s normal. You’re functioning. You believe you’re okay.

But the hand is heavy.

It pushes down. It holds you back. Moves you towards a fog.

Sometimes, all at once.

You find it hard to get motivated, you achieve less, you’re angry at yourself for not achieving more. You berate yourself for feeling sad knowing the life around you is wonderful. You feed your self-loathing with more self-loathing.

This is depression. More specifically – my depression. While there are commonalities, everyone’s journey is different.

For me, it grew from an anxiety disorder where worry is a constant background noise. It peaks at certain times as though you’ve just lost your child at the supermarket, but you haven’t. You’ve ordered flowers for a friend. Or you considered buying something. Or you had to meet someone at a place you’d never been before on a two-minute deviation from your normal path. Often the triggers are mundane, often illogical. Which is why it’s a disorder and not simply anxiety.

In my family, anxiety disorder is hereditary. The weird thing is, anxiety can present itself in peculiar ways. For me, it’s nausea, but at its peak, my back, arms, lips and tongue tingle which for a while caused me more anxiety – I thought I had multiple sclerosis. I didn’t. Anxiety is a fiend that feeds on itself.

I began some anti-anxiety medication two years ago and for the first time for as long as I could remember I experienced life without anxiety.  Anxiety was such a strong force in my life, it truly felt absent instead of simply normal.

Normal was wonderful.

Two months ago, after speaking with my doctor, I decided to wean myself of it.

You may even wonder why I would want to de-medicate and I can assure you, it was not a decision I took lightly. I’d been putting it off for months. I’d do it after the work event, or Soandso’s birthday party, or wait for summer.

But, I needed to know. I hoped. Perhaps my brain needed a break, perhaps it had re-learned, perhaps it didn’t need to be on medication any more. I needed to know this. Aside the fact that long-term use of some drugs can be damaging to your liver and/or kidneys – no one wants to be on medication if they don’t need to be. No one.

My doctor, as lovely as she is, didn’t understand my hesitation. She shrugged, “If you start feeling anxious, go back on it again.” She wasn’t intentionally being apathetic. It’s the kind of well-meaning thing someone says when they’ve never experienced the emotional roller coaster that anxiety and depression bring. It was a risk for me. I risked two weeks of drug-withdrawal, and maybe a few weeks of anxiety ‘pangs’ before the return of more severe anxiety attacks. Even if I restarted the medication right then, I would suffer another couple of weeks of anxiety and drug side-effects before I actually started feeling better. On top of that, knowing my own family’s experience, it is likely after this ‘break’ I’d need a stronger dose.

Which feels more a step backwards than forwards.

So.

How did I go?

See Part 2.

Buying our World

Occasionally, you read things that resonate.

Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want – Anna Lappé

I feel like I’m at school again, and I’m staring at this quote on a large piece of paper with only one word after it.

Discuss.

Okay, so I’m crap at essays. I’ll skip that, but really, how does this make you feel? How are you buying into the world?  Is it a healthy choice?

The first thing I feel is denial. Denial and guilt. Guilt and denial. Denial and guilt.

Shut up.

Not you.

Never mind.

Denial is a form of optimism. I’ve discussed this self-preservation mechanism before but at times we’re in denial to save ourselves from our choices. Like how catching a plane is bad for the environment,  but it’s okay because when you booked your ticket you clicked a button to plant a tree. Or you convince yourself you don’t travel much because Soandso travels much more. Or soon there will be fusion energy so what you do now is irrelevant.

I exaggerate somewhat. I have ‘planted a tree’ to counter my air-travel and while that is better than nothing, I have no way of verifying that said planting took place. It’s a guilt button for travellers to make us feel better about our choices.

I buy sushi for lunch sometimes and it comes in a crinkly plastic container. I look at this packaging and feel guilty everytime. I’d bring my own container but I’m told that in the unlikely event of food poisoning, the business could argue it was my container and not their food that made me sick.

So really, I should take my own lunch to work to avoid all this. I DO sometimes but otherwise I have no excuse – I’m just lazy.

Take away coffee cups are another poor choice I make. I believe I don’t have the time to wash a KeepCup but I really should try harder. Make time.

What world do you buy?

Dear School Children

[Bear with me. I’ve just visited Alvan’s blog and I began to leave a very long comment before I realised I could actually write it here. I hope it makes sense before I fall asleep on the keys.]

Alvan’s post talks about PSLE scores, or Primary School Leaving examination scores – I had to look the acronym up. While I know nothing about the systems in Singapore, school children everywhere are subjected to a nationwide scoring system which allegedly determines their further education or career opportunities. Australia is no different.

I understand why we need this and I understand why it’s useless.

They have to create a comparative measure – a measure that judges you against your peers and judges schools against schools. Hopefully, it makes the schools and their students work harder and be better. Maybe this works sometimes. Unfortunately too (and YAY!), everyone is different. Exams aren’t necessarily the best way to determines a person’s capabilities. Some people are better at showing than explaining. Some people are better at drawing than writing. Some people are better at dot-points than essays. We don’t fit neatly into a one-size-fits-all education system but this is what we’re offered.

During my time as a teacher, often my biggest challenge was to differentiate between those who didn’t understand and those who simply couldn’t express themselves. During university, a section of my psychology exam was multiple choice because a recent study had determined it was a better way to convey understanding. I hated it. The choices were so similar they only served to confuse me and it annoyed me that students who hadn’t bothered to study still had a 1/5 chance of getting it right.

Sometimes we receive our education before we’re really ready for it. My husband, for example, wished he’d paid more attention during metalwork class. He took that class twenty years ago – the thing is, he’s only interested in it now.

The further you travel through life the more pointless these systems feel. Unfortunately, when you’re in the them, living them – they feel like failure or success.

Recently, I read through a résumé and while I believed they were qualified for the job I wondered if they were actually nice. This thought was probably my mother’s fault who always said she wanted two things from her children, to be our best and be good people. Mum valued the latter more.

I was one of those kids who wore myself out being my better-best. This was mostly because I wanted to be as intelligent as my brother. He told me years later he wished he had my practicality and people skills. I went through university only to find work in a totally different field. My husband dropped out of university and took on vocational training to (economically at least) get a better job than me. This is fact, not failure.

Success would be better if it were measured in kindness but the is the system is more analytical. Numbers on paper. Crosses and ticks.

All you can do is be your best, work hard for what you want and be a good person.

You’ll be okay.

 

Reality Anonymous

The me you read here, is the real me.

While this is my anonymous space, I’m sure that if someone from my real world found this blog, they would recognise me.

I have a friend (also happens to be my cousin), who knows I’m here. My online friends know I’m here.

That’s it.

Sometimes I’m more me here as I share my struggles with anxiety disorder, my thoughts, quaint anecdotes, hopes and fears.

Sometimes I’m less me here as I have to contain those conversations to keep my reality anonymous.

I want to write about events in my life. I toy with changing names but still it feels too close to my heart. It feels so transparent that anyone could deduce who I spoke of. So I keep quiet. Remain vague. Deflect certain topics. Stay hidden.

Then I wonder if I’m protecting myself from strangers or people who know my reality.

Still. That’s a whole other tangent. And it’s not to imply I’d start to speak ill of people if I dropped my guard, only that sometimes I envy those who show themselves wholly with grace, kindness and confidence.

Sometimes I wish that could be me.


nanopoblano1

Day #25