Honesty and humour about mental illness, chronic pain, grief, creativity and love
I am a writer of both fiction and non, an avid reader, a visual artist, a poet, an amature photographer, a feminist, and author of, The Adventures of Trefor the Curling Rock, a children's book about the sport of curling. Check out www.trefor.ca for more information about my book.
I have been coping with chronic pain, severe depression and anxiety, and grief for roughly ten years. These are my private stories and I am making them public because I'm tired of feeling isolated. My hope is by sharing my stories I will start to feel like more of a contributor to society again and perhaps make readers feel less alone with their struggles.
I’m trying something new to spread info & awareness about mental illness.
I’m co-hosting a show called Freakin Mental Monday on the Another Freakin’ Athiest Youtube channel.
Tonight we’re talking depression symptoms & revealing our own struggles with depression.
Join us live at 6pm MDT & you can ask questions & comment in real time or watch it later when you’ve got time…
For the past month or so I’ve been wanting to write multiple blog entries. Ideas swirl round my mind, but like wily minnows, they slip through my fingers as I try to grab hold. I’ve only managed to spit out one or two blogs since my birthday at the beginning of August.
I write down drips and drabs and scribble notes on tiny scraps of paper or in one of a million notebooks and diaries. When I can think clearly it all comes together and my fingers fly across the keyboard and I can see the pattern building, the web I’m going to weave.
I suppose I haven’t really been slacking off too much. My focus has just temporarily changed to something a little less fun. I might have known, as I’m new to web design, “easy to use,” would mean, absolutely not easy to use if you’re a Luddite and the last time you learned web design was in 1998. I’m afraid those skills are just a titch out of date.
Luddite or not, I’m proud to say I’ve been working on a new website for my blog, as you may have noticed. http://www.perkreations.com will eventually also hold tons of easy to access mental health material. In addition, I plan to use the platform to showcase some of my art and offer cards, prints and originals for sale.
I use art, especially, as a coping mechanism when I’m in pain. I believe in pushing through the ugliness of art, that’s how you get to the good stuff. I usually manage to do this with drawing as I do it in a reclined position, on a heating pad.
Having said that, if I’m standing at an easel trying to paint it’s hard to push through anything when pain makes me feel I’ve a mind full of marshmallows, shakey hands, and a yucky sweaty face… these pain symptoms aren’t to be pushed through as the consequences will be incredibly painful and I don’t want to create a full-blown flare-up. In cases like this, I must put down my brush and come back to the easel after some rest.
The trouble with pushing through chronic pain is for many sufferers there is no end, just worse. The symptoms I mentioned, shakey hands, marshmallow mind and a sweaty face are just a few of the indicators I get that I’ve reached the end of my tether. Others may get rashes from the pain, experience swelling, feel cranky, irritable, anxious, depressed, guilty and more. Everyone with chronic pain is different and we all have our ways of coping and signs of overdoing it.
If I go out one day and run an errand, write or work on my site a bit, go about the chores needing to be done to keep the house somewhat clean, then, even though I’m feeling sore and exhausted, I go out for dinner or meet a friend for coffee, I will pay for “pushing through the pain” with even worse pain that renders me useless for several days after.
I suffer from disc problems in my low back, hip issues, nerve pain and arthritis in my left leg, I also get sciatica pain. All of these pains sing to me in different tones or sometimes as a hellish choir. Some pains whisper one moment, then yoddle a moment later. As in, “Oh Fuck, my sciatica is yoddling!”
Sometimes it feels not too bad and is well managed with medication, knowing my limits and stretching. Sometimes the pain increases for no reason at all, sometimes it’s related to stress, and sometimes I overdo it. The trouble is the, “overdo it,” line isn’t always in the same place so it’s confusing as hell to figure out what’s too much and what’s too little. My body continually moves the goalposts on me.
I do not have pain-free days, I do not have pain-free hours. This is just how it is and over the past 12 years I’ve become better at handling the pain as well as anxiety and depression.
One particular thing that holds me back is pain fog. It limits my capacity to concentrate, stay calm, remember things, it’s as though all the different pains are singing a horrible, no good, very bad song in my head and if I have to think or focus on something complex like writing or decision making, I’m useless.
So, my website is coming along, although slower than planned. I am writing, although slower than I’d like. When the pain is bad I turn to my heating pad and create art to eventually have available on my website.
Do you experience pain fog? What’s it like for you? If you don’t have chronic pain had you heard of pain fog or brain fog? If you have any questions I’d love to hear from you dear readers.
Recently I’ve noticed my general anxiety level has been steadily rising and I don’t know why. In spite of feeling reasonably good about myself, which is major progress, I seem to have backtracked anxiety wise. I’ve even had several panic attacks in recent weeks that have left me shaking and crying and cuddling my kitty.
My habit of constantly second-guessing myself about every decision I make has come back to haunt me and I’m frustrated as I worked so hard to slaughter that beast. I’ve found some of the fears I had overcome have returned without warning or reason.
When my anxiety was at its worst about 5 years ago I developed a fear, first of taking turns or bends while driving, especially on highways. This fear then morphed into a full-blown fear of highway driving.
A few days ago I drove my new car, this likely added to the anxiety, to a nearby small town with a notoriously steep hill one must descend into town. I found myself growing more and more uncomfortable. The fear bubbled up with each curve on the way there and I couldn’t stop thinking of that steeply curved hill.
By the time the hill came along I was doing my best to breath deeply but wanting to hyperventilate, shaking badly and repeatedly picturing all the different ways I was going to die in a fiery crash or cause deadly accidents for which I’d be arrested and locked up in jail where I’d be beaten and berated as a murderer (yes, my mind is a fucked up place).
This is a great example of how anxiety grows and grows until it either becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or one makes it through to panic another day. I tried all of the anxiety tricks I’ve collected over the years; deep breathing, listening to calming music, singing along with music I know well, leaning back in my seat and forcing myself to feel my body relax, checking my assumptions and reminding myself I’ve gone down this hill many times before and always survived, focusing my attention on rhythmically checking each mirror, my speed, and where the other cars near me are situated.
I think I did a fairly good job coping with the hill so I made sure to pat myself on the back for keeping myself as calm as possible in spite of my urge to either put my hazard lights on and drop my speed to 10km an hour, or abandon my car, walk the rest of the way down and have my car towed home.
I guess the point of this story is that it’s best to have a whole bunch of options to choose from when panicking. I tried a whole bunch of things and then found the final few that worked. Had I only one way of coping with my anxiety that situation in my car might have been a major problem.
So, collect as many tools as you can in order to combat both anxiety and depression. I hope I am able to keep more of these attacks from happening and I can keep my general anxiety at a low grade. I’ll be using many of the tools I mentioned earlier and many others to help me cope.
A number of my other blogs contain information about coping with anxiety, if you search the terms, anxiety and panic attacks they’ll all pop up for your perusal. In the future, I plan to start a page dedicated and frequently updated with ways of coping with anxiety.
*please note I am not a medical professional, I am just a person who’s been struggling with anxiety, depression and chronic pain for 13 years. The ideas for helping with anxiety in this article are just tricks I’ve picked up throughout my battle.
If you’d asked me a year or so ago what I thought my future might look like I’d have stared into the distance, my mouth opening and closing as if to speak, like a fish out of water. Then I’d have begun to cry and looked around for an emergency exit or a way to tunnel out of the situation. I felt I was so useless and defective that I didn’t deserve a future.
Truthfully, my days of being suicidally depressed aren’t far behind me. I still have bad days and good but I no longer wish to be dead rather than alive and for that I am grateful.
On this, the morning of my 39th birthday, I am still unsure of my future but it doesn’t vex me so much as it used to. Instead, there are many things I’m grateful for.
In the name of starting my new age in a positive way, I want to list off that which I’m grateful for. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it in order.
I’m greatful for:
My husband, who makes me laugh and offers love, understanding and a shoulder to cry on when I need it most.
My Dad, for being so gentle, loving, kind and funny as hell.
The 34 years I had with my lovely Mom. I wish we’d had longer together and I miss her every day, but we made the most of the time we did have.
My cat Rafe. He may be new to our little family but he brings us so much joy, laughter and love. It’s hard to imagine how we lived without him.
Feminism, I hope someday it won’t be needed but until then I will keep fighting for equality.
Extended family on both my husband’s side and my side are warm and loving, they make me laugh and offer such kind words of encouragement. I honestly am an incredibly lucky girl to have such a wonderful family.
The existence of both shaken margaritas and vodka martinis with extra olives and my ability to consume one or the other on occasion.
My friends for being such kind, loving and loyal pals. I may not have a huge group of friends but I wouldn’t trade the friends I have for anything. They challenge my mind, they open my heart, they value my opinion, they encourage me and remind me of my strengths and self-worth.
Having fucked up more than a few times and still made it through – to what, I don’t know, but making it, “through,” surely speaks to my resilience
Making visual art, as it has opened up a whole new world for creative expression. I feel joyful and excited just thinking of future artistic possibilities and how much I love the act of making the art I’m making right now.
Wine, especially buttery chardonnay and old vine California Zinfandel. Yum!
The people I’ve met through my pursuit of increasing my art skills. Theresa Grasby of Grasby Art Studios has become such an incredible friend and mentor. I also cherish the fun relationship I have with the Grasby family members who also work at the studio, the other instructors and other painters. Everyone has such inspiring, energetic, humorous and kind spirits. They all inspire me to paint more and to keep pushing myself.
Having the luxury of not having to worry about having basic needs like food and shelter met.
Now being able to say melodramatically, “I’m cusping on 40!”
Having access to universal health care (thank you Tommy Douglas). Our system isn’t perfect but what we have is so much better than many have access too.
Coffee, as it’s a substance I adore. I like it black, just like my soul.
This blog and the catharsis and sense of purpose it has brought me.
Having additional health insurance which has helped me find access to many different Dr’s and other medical professionals for help with my injuries, my struggle with mental illness and my chronic pain journey. I continue to be granted most of the care I need and for that I am grateful.
The word, “fuck,” and speaking it as often as I can, cuz it’s fun to say and it’s one of those miracle words one can use to jazz up any sentence in need of jazz or it handily provides satisfying emphatic emphasis in a way no other word can.
Having so much love in my heart I wish to spread around and having the opportunity to do so.
What are you most grateful for? Do you enjoy celebrating your birthday or, like me, are you a little apprehensive about aging? I’d love to hear from you dear readers.
Going to the hospital is never pleasant, whether you walk or wheel through the front doors or come via ambulance, the experience can be down right scary as there are so many unknowns. In my opinion there are even more, seeming, unknowns when it comes to going to the hospital for mental health reasons as we’ve only just begun breaking down the stigma surrounding psychological medicine.
Allow me to tell a few truths;
-You may not be admitted to the psychiatric ward or you may only stay a day or two, some folks stay much longer. My longest stay of the two was 2.5 months and that’s hardly a record. It takes as long as it takes to get back on your feet and ready to face the world and stay safe and alive.
-Ideally the medical staff want to see patients out in the world rather than cooped up on a ward. If you go to the hospital because of suicidal thoughts, delusions, anxiety… whatever, you will be assessed by someone from the psych team as well as one of the ER docs. During the assessment be as honest as possible. If you feel safe leaving and can come up with a plan for continuing care on an outpatient basis along with the psych team you may not have to be admitted. If you are scared about your mental health don’t be afraid to seek help. Nobody wants to lock you up and throw away the key.
-It has been my experience that most patients seeking psych help or being brought in involuntarily are nervous. Not only is the turmoil of coming through emergency triage in crisis frightening, the prospect and act of perhaps spending time in the stark ER beds guarded by Peace Officers and closely monitored via video camera and visual checks is also nerve wracking. The rooms are usually void of any equipment or much at all aside from a non-adjustable bed, as the rooms are meant to be free of anything one might use to harm themselves or others. Patients brought in under arrest or from jails may also occupy rooms in this area. It can all be rather overwhelming, exhausting, and unsettling.
-it’s likely you might feel resentment or guilt at the prospect of being admitted either voluntarily or involuntarily. You might feel scared of what to expect. Perhaps you don’t feel “crazy enough” for the psych ward. Rest assured you have rights as a patient and you will be able to tell the Dr and psych team your perspective, the job of the hospital is to heal not to harm. It’s best to be a patient patient;) and assume you will be treated fairly and respectfully and to keep an open mind. Having said that, don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re not getting the help you need or if you feel unheard, shamed or abused.
-While the Psych Ward can be wacky and wild place at times, it’s also a place full of strength and wisdom and creativity. I’ve met some of the most talented, intelligent, creative, loving and passionate people ever in the psych ward and in psych groups. From concert pianists to artists to writers to engineers to Drs to athletes to rappers. “Crazy” is not a diagnosis. Everyone is different and your type of different is no more or less important than another person’s type of different. Mental illness is blind to religion, race and wealth
– I used to worry constantly I was taking up space needed by someone else and that I shouldn’t be admitted for treatment because of that. The truth is, if you’re not in need of treatment you won’t be admitted. Trust the Dr’s and nurses to know how best to care for your condition. Do make sure to fully express how dire you feel your condition has become. If you feel absolutely unsafe leaving make that incredibly clear to the psych team.
– As I’ve mentioned before the psych ward, in my experience, takes a little getting used to at first. People are patients for a variety of reasons and this can be disconcerting as many patients may behave strangely socially, perhaps manic or deeply depressed, or have delusions, hallucinations, be catatonic or any other myriad of conditions. Keep in mind you’re seeing patients in acute distress.
Patients conditions will improve as their treatment moves along, just as yours will if you let your psychiatrist and the supporting staff do their jobs and help you with changes to your routine, a calm environment, possible med changes and more.
– For everyone there are good days and bad days and the bad days are far more trying than the good but overall improvement comes in waves until the raging ocean in each of us becomes a little more placid and it’s felt a patient is ready to transition to outpatient programs.
Just remember every patient is fighting a different storm and it’s tricky business lulling some oceans out of crashing and raging.
Please don’t let fear of the Psychiatric Unit deter you from seeking help. Think of it the same as if you needed to be on the cardiac ward. The psych ward is a ward like any other and nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about.
If you need treatment it’s imperative you get to the hospital, call an ambulance, speak to your Dr immediately or contact your provincial Health Link for direction to the best course of action. Do whatever you need to do to save your life or trust your loved ones have your best interest at heart if they’re insisting you be admitted.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts and questions as always. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.
Some might call me a flake. Yes, I’m that girl. I reschedule. I cancel last minute. I’m fucking unreliable, and I it makes me feel useless, inadequate like I’m letting the whole world down! (Yes, I’m that dramatic)
I’d be cocking up this blog job royally if I were actually being paid for it. I try to publish at least weekly but sometimes it’s more like a bi-monthly thing.
I’ve never managed to stick to the golden blogging rule of releasing on one particular day of the week. I’m woefully inconsistent at best.
This weekend I agreed to go to an event a friend invited me to at the last minute as she had an extra ticket. Her father had kindly, offered to drive me.
At first, I said yes, desperate to be part of such a thing, but I began adding up the amount of time I’d be out for and at 4 hrs minimum I could see by the by the time I reached home I’d be pain’s bitch for the foreseeable future.
I tossed and turned all night trying to decide and I woke up in so much pain I ended up in tears and calling to cancel. So predictable, so boring.
My unreliability makes me crazy. I always showed up and I always met deadlines before this disability garbage. I may not be a journalist anymore but that is where a great deal of my educational training lies. Writers must meet deadlines. That is the game. I would fire me.
Before all this crap started 10 years ago I remember thinking nothing would ever stop me. I recall resenting my Mom’s chronic knee pain. Why couldn’t the Dr just fix it? Why couldn’t she stop being so dramatic? How could her pain possibly be perpetual?
My Mom wasn’t always easy to be around when she was in pain. Her temper could be tempestuous, calm one moment and a storm of anger the next. Her constant random grunts and winces annoyed me. As a teen, I resentfully stomped down the stairs to the freezer in order to save her knee the grief when she asked.
I was a fucking monster. Maybe not, but I sure as hell know chronic pain now and it’s a motherfucker.
Chronic pain is so hard to understand, there are so many facets, so many inconsistent variables, and when you’re a kid like I was, it’s hard to understand when a parent, friend, or other loved one suddenly can’t do the things you once loved doing together.
Just as my Mom wanted her mobility back, wanted to be as she’d been, not deal with pain on a daily basis, I wanted her to be that way again and instead of resenting the disease I resented her sometimes. It’s just mind over matter right?
FUCK THAT NOISE!
If only I knew then what I know now. Chronic pain doesn’t fall into the mind over matter category, it falls into the, I can only do what I can do category.
For instance, as I mentioned, Saturday I had to cancel at the last minute on a friend because I was in so much pain. On Sunday I had a pretty good day and felt I accomplished a lot. On Monday I had a better day and got even more done. Today, I am sore but still kickin’.
My point is, even on a good day the pain is there roaring like a beast in the background and on a bad day, and sadly there are more bad days than good right now, the beast devours me and leaves my putrid and pathetic bod in bed for days.
Fortunately, before my Mom died I apologized to her profusely for not understanding her pain, for not helping her more with it. She was gracious of course and she also helped me all she could when I fell victim to chronic pain.
For everyone out there who knows one of us chronic pain copers please be better than I was as a teen;
Try to understand the nature of chronic pain as a constant that only gets softer or louder but never shuts off, and empathize, but please don’t advise.
Be understanding about cancellations. Believe me, none of us wants to cancel on a loved one.
Be attentive to your friend’s energy levels. Sometimes I get excited to be out and stay out too long then end up in utter agony for days. I police myself but it’s nice if a loved one knows energy with chronic pain is far from boundless and reminds me to take a break now and then.
Remember we’re the same people we were before the pain we just have a little added baggage now. This doesn’t mean we love you any less or don’t want to spend time with you. Chronic pain leads to all sorts of scheduling and emotional conundrums, please just be patient, believe me, patience and love mean the world.
I’d love to hear what helps you with loved ones when explaining chronic pain or how you interact with those with chronic pain. Please leave your comments below and take good care until next time.
Admittedly I’ve had a difficult time coping with Mothers Day since my Mom died 4 years ago. There are other reasons I feel a deep ache on Mother’s Day but I don’t feel like delving into that again. I’ve covered much of my angst in past posts.
The best place to be! Cozied up with Mamma and a good book. Circa 1981💟
This year I want to laugh. I want to recall a couple of Mother’s Day memories that never fail to make me smile. I hope these two slices of life on the day of The Mom bring on a snort of laughter and a happy crinkle about the eyes for you😁
Bridget Jones’ Diary Debacle
Back in the early 2000’s I bought my Mom a paper-back copy of the super-popular book, Brigette Jones’ Diary. She was intrigued as the movie was soon to come out and it’s always nice to read the book first.
A few weeks later when I was visiting I noticed the book was looking buckled and bent and rather well loved. I smiled at my Mom and asked if she was enjoying it.
She rolled her eyes over a glass of white wine.
“I’m waiting for it to finish drying.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Your father was desperate for a book one night and grabbed it before heading into the tub with a beer.”
“Uh huh,” I said, brow now furrowed.
“Eventually I decided to see what he was up to as I’d heard the tub drain a while back and he was being very, very quiet.
I walked into the bedroom and there he was, huddled by the lamp, carefully placing sheets of toilet paper in between the sopping wet pages, maybe hoping I wouldn’t notice.
Would you believe he feel asleep in the tub and dropped the book in?”
“And you hadn’t had a chance to read it? What the hell Dad?!”
My father shrugged, puppy dogging his eyes, “it was an accident. I’m sorry.”
“Well I hope you enjoyed it Dad. What did you think?”
“Meh. Not really my cup of tea.”
“I know. That’s why I bought it for Mom!”
I should have bought my Mom a replacement copy to give her on Father’s Day as my Dad’s gift. Lol!
One Last Gift
It amuses me to no end to know the last Mother’s Day gift to my Mom was a copy of the hottest dirty book on the market at the time, 50 Shades of Grey.
I’m not sure what possessed me to buy it for her. We’d never been in the habit of exchanging smutty books. I just saw the stacks of it and decided she needed to know what the buzz and hullabaloo was all about.
I recall asking if she’d enjoyed it and telling her I was reading the 2nd in the trilogy – It shouldn’t have been a trilogy btw. Ug, the next two books read like they’d been edited by a drunk monkey! But I digress.
She said she’d liked it. Then, in a low, almost nervous voice breathed, “is the 2nd one as, as erotic as the first?”
It was an odd conversation to have with my Mom but also highly amusing. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the 2nd book blew goats… and not in a remotely erotic way.
Like a good daughter I let her buy the next book so I’d have someone to bitch with about the dreadful prose and the plot with holes big enough to drive a Mac Truck through😂
Happy Mother’s day to all my pseudo moms and all my friends and relatives who are moms. You’re all incredible women, phenomenal women and I admire each and every one of you for so many wonderful reasons. Much love💟
What’s the best or most amusing gift you ever gave your Mom? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.