Relapse away

I am having a relapse.

I’m just going to write here, since I haven’t written in two months, and most of it will be terrible, I expect; I need to talk.

This is real, this is not a drill. This is anxiety, GAD, knocking down my door with a jackhammer. Oh hi, want some tea, I’ll just- *steamrolled over* Right, well, um, just make yourself comfortable. I’ll clean up your mess later, I guess.

Patrick was away for 6 weeks. That was very lonely, especially as my roommates were mostly gone, my students were on holiday, and my supervisor was away too. But he’s back now, and things were going really well until about 2-3 weeks ago.

I started getting upset at little things. Dropping things, rushing a lot. Forgetting more. Pushing Patrick away frequently, when just the week before I couldn’t be with him enough. Then I started having panic feelings – terror at forgetting items or being late, heart beating in my chest, frequently having to try to calm my breathing, acting jittery…Then Patrick forgot to bring home asparagus. And I shut down. I couldn’t make dinner without the asparagus. At all. We had a twenty minute discussion about whether dinner was ruined forever. Now my nightmares are back. I watched something with an alien in it, and now I’m awake at night, envisioning its carapace leaping down on me from the ceiling and sucking my face off with its lamprey face.

I’m not sleeping. I can’t focus on anything – I can’t even play a video game. I just start throwing the mouse around in fury. And today it’s my dad’s birthday, and I want to be a cheerful happy daughter, today of all days, but mostly I just want to call him and cry.

I keep circling around the question of ‘why’. I stalk ‘why now’ like a tireless jaguar. I chase my triggers through brush forest, catching glimpses of ‘causes’ in hunter’s eyes. But I am weak, and they are fast. I have learned nothing. ‘Reasons’ haunt my thoughts, teasing me with a litany of environmental factors – I’m trying to squeeze extra daylight, sugary foods, overworked, financial stress, moving house, lack of exercise, and fear of failure into a monster sized multivariable spreadsheet, as if the only thing I lack right now is sufficient analytical capacity.

Anxiety is making me repeat old mistakes. ‘Why now’ is irrelevant. ‘Causes’ are fleeting. ‘Reasons’ are simply yearnings not to be at fault. Even if I could determine exactly why I was suddenly so anxious that I’m fantasizing about knives and skin, the reasons would not be simple, easily solved, or few in number. All the reasons are interconnected, and influence my feelings in different ways at different times. (Secretly I still am largely convinced spring has something to do with it. Spring is an evil time for mood disorders).

I have to accept that it’s simply here. I just have to ride it out, basically. The more wiling I am to let it happen, the less it will affect me. The more I worry about it and try to control it, the more it will control me.

It makes me wonder where the anxiety was all this time. I keep thinking that once I’m officially ‘better’, this will not happen anymore. That’s a total fallacy, of course. But I still feel as though the anxiety was simply gone for a while, absent. On holiday.

A small problem with ‘Live in the moment’

Many people have told me to try to live more ‘in the moment’. I’ve been told that general anxiety tends to prevent you from living in the moment because it makes you focus on the future, on the possibles, on the worries. But there’s an unforeseen consequence of trying to live more in the moment. Maybe it’s just me – maybe no one else ends up with the same issue. But the more I try to be ‘in the moment’, the more I have this problem.

You see, living in the current moment implies the lack of future moments. It implies that you only have now, and that you will never have more. No wonder the corollary statement to ‘Live in the moment’ is frequently, ‘Live each moment as if it’s your last.’ This is seriously problematic for anyone with any anxiety, because it forces you to act as though you only have one chance.

I don’t know about you, but if I only have right now, I am sure as hell going to be desperately clinging to every little thing I want to do with my life. Like a chicken with its head cut off, I’m going to be trying to do everything I deem necessary at once: be with my family, be with my partner, make an impact on the world, finish each responsibility to others, and more. I’m going to feel bad about every little thing that I miss: traveling, every task not yet done, every missed opportunity – just, everything.

Sure, they say that living in the moment is supposed to mean you don’t think about regrets. I have news for you – they do not have to be part of the same package. It is downright easy to spend all your time regretting and fretting and worrying and simultaneously be crashing through every moment like it’s a rusty old door, guarding long lost treasure.

The absolute worst part is that it means I can’t and won’t take any time off. I haven’t taken a day off in two months. 52 days or so. If I take time off, I am betting on a potential future, one that I have no guarantee exists. If I take time off, I am not living each moment as my last, not at all. I am wasting time. I have things to do. Don’t you know today is my last day?

I realize there are a lot of problems with my brain’s interpretation of ‘Live in the moment’. I certainly do not equate it with mindfulness, which I think of as more like a conscious deliberateness of experience. But give my brain an inch, and it will take a mile. This maxim has become a clarion call for self-punishment and stubbornness. It is not a solution to anxiety so much as an anxiety-inducing madness.

‘Mental health’ vs. ‘Mental illness’

I’ve written a new piece on Mind Your You can see it here.

As a researcher who records people having conversations, I hear people say a lot of wacky things. But one thing that I hear, in the news, in blogs, from people’s mouths, really makes me cringe. I hate it when people say that someone has ‘mental health’ or ‘mental health problems’.

Firstly, just saying that I have ‘mental health’ is ridiculous. We all have mental health – it isn’t a negative thing to have, it’s simply a thing that everyone has, just like everyone has ‘regular’ health. Frankly, we all have mental health problems. I don’t like the way ‘mental health’ separates the mental from the physical, as if they were a divisible topic without relation (I should note that the positive use of ‘mental health’, as in “Check in with your mental health” or “Be healthy, mentally and physically” are perfectly acceptable).

But secondly, ‘mental health problems’ implies that there is a problem with the person that is impacting their otherwise normal mental health. It suggests that the person is at fault. It suggests that there is a normal, ‘healthy’ state of ‘mental’ that is being derailed by the person having ‘problems’. There are not enough ‘quote’ marks to effectively simulate my derisive tone to this terminology.

A mental ‘illness’ allows the problems to be attributed to the illness, not the person. A mental ‘illness’ implies that there is a real, factual symptom and/or syndrome at play. A mental ‘illness’ characterizes the issue as separable from the person – and it also suggests that healing is possible.

The downside of the term ‘mental illness’ is that it implies a perfectly definable, bounded set of symptoms – it does not allow for variation. It also demonizes any symptom, suggesting all symptoms are bad, and must be treated and fixed, whereas that may be against the person’s wishes.

Overall I think ‘mental illness’ is a better term for emphasizing the negative side of psychological issues, whereas ‘mental health’ should be reserved for positive frames of speech.

Taking a chill pill

Although I had (still have, actually) a bottle of Lorazepam for when I had panic attacks, I very rarely used it. I was against medication, and usually my panic attacks happened at home. Or Patrick was there. So I let him deal with it (sorry, Patrick. Let me reiterate: you are the BEST).

But then, one day, it happened on the way to work. And after crying madly on public transit and honestly freaking out everyone around me (yet another thank god for Patrick – he helped fend off many questioning and irritating people), I gave in and took one on the way to work.

I remember the effects, or rather, feeling like there weren’t very many effects. I stopped crying, but I was already stopping crying. The cycle of my attacks usually involved a quieter stage after the enormous crisis, and when I was at home it usually meant I curled up and went to sleep, peacefully. But I didn’t notice that the pill was having an effect until one of my clients came up to me and said “We don’t have all the tables we’re supposed to have in the lobby. We need them now.” Instead of freaking out and taking it as a criticism I said, “Sure.” I sent someone to get tables. My thoughts were “Meh, I don’t care.”

I cannot emphasize enough how uncharacteristic that attitude is for me.

So when I saw this comic from Robot Hugs, I wanted to share it. Thank you, Robot Hugs, for so perfectly demonstrating the difference between how one thinks drugs are affecting you, and how it so often appears they are affecting you.

P.S. Patrick thought this comic was amazing too, since for once it showed his perspective on the experience. Awesome, Robot Hugs. Just awesome.

Spring. The son of a bitch.

What cruel God created a world in which you are tossed into the depths of depression by seemingly everlasting winter, dark days, cold, wind, rain, greyness, no holidays, no colour, no festivities – and then very suddenly throws SPRING at you like some kind of diabolical taunting game. In the UK, it feels like spring sunlight arrives with the speed of a supersonic jet. Honestly, last week it was dark at 4:30pm, and now it’s light until 5:30-6pm, and there are birds singing all the time.

All the non-depressed people are wandering around, happy happy happy, oblivious to anything but the bizarre weather, and the charming prospects of flowers and mating and fresh fruit. Hurray for spring! they cry, insensible to the cynical glowering of the seasonally affected. Fucking groundhog, we mutter. Curse you.

Why? After months of darkness, of cyclical, ruminating, existential angst, of slipping on ice and of arriving to work soaked with winter rain, you are filled with despair. Nothing can ever be well again. Nothing is worth the bother. You are exhausted. You are so, so done. But just at the point when you have accepted this, the sun arrives, mocking and cold. Vitamin D starts to seep into your pores, and long lost energy starts to bubble up in your belly.

Now tell me, if you were so depressed, what would you do with this sudden burst of energy, this sudden drive to commit the acts that you had never managed before?


If I had time, I would research for you all whether there is a spike in risky and dangerous behaviour in spring around the more polar areas of the world, and whether that spike disappears towards the equator.

Spring fuels my demons, and gives wings to the voices that inspire me to do dangerous and harmful things to myself. So I continue to hate spring, the evil son of a bitch, in all its fabled glory.

One of the most reprehensible things I have ever heard of, as a student with mental health concerns

This. This is disgusting. This happened at a university I have not attended. But responses have been showing up, including one saying that the same thing happened at one of my previous institutions.

This is the most disgusting, immoral, blatantly reprehensible ‘policies’ that I have ever come across.

I am so sorry to anyone who has been affected by this. We must make this stop. This is beyond adjectives. This is hateful. This is despicable. This is, I might add, in Canada, completely unconstitutional and illegal. I want to vomit.

This erases any perceived progress in mental health on campus. We’re back at square one. We have been deceived. We are being systematically oppressed. This is unacceptable, and must, and will change.