Aging Greatfully

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.

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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.
  • Chocolate.
  • 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.

K

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The Psych Ward – Let’s Get Into It – Part 2

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.

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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.

K

 

Taking Some Credit

I often struggle when deciding if I should mention my accomplishments. For some reason I’m always concerned I’ll sound like a pompous ass. Lately, the more I consider this the more I realize how flawed my logic is. I don’t judge others to be pompous asses when they celebrate their accomplishments. They must be far more braggadocios, to earn the odious title of pompous ass. Why shouldn’t I have the same standards for myself?

This is a picture of an alcohol ink abstract piece in my new Galexcapes series. I’m still learning about alcohol ink and enjoying the process a great deal. I’m proud of how I’ve been able to find my own style with this medium and the confidence I’ve built up.

I think it’s long past time I took credit for the progress I’ve made. Lately it feels as though my heart and mind are stronger. I still suffer from anxiety and depression, but I feel I’m better equipped to cope now. I’m slowly beginning to see my self worth again and I’m recalling what a joy it is to know that I matter.

Every time I finish a painting, visit a friend, write a blog post, advance my stretching routine, keep up with the house work, lay down for a rest when I need to, or achieve anything positive, I take a moment to remember that those are all things I’ve struggled to do in the past couple years because of my mental illnesses and chronic pain. It’s important for me to acknowledge any progress I’ve made.

I still struggle and my illnesses are unlikely to go away. learning to live differently has been a huge challenge but I’m not fighting it anymore, I’m adapting and learning to love my life as it is – not as I think it should be.

It matters for me to continue improving. It’s not like I’m keeping score though. The point is to celebrate a job well done and ensure I remember my abilities. Even when my accomplishments are small it makes me feel good to give myself credit. Small accomplishments eventually add up to big accomplishments.

For me, a good way to take stock of what I’ve accomplished and show myself I’ve got lots to celebrate, is to occasionally write a list. Here’s my most recent;

Shit I’ve Accomplished Recently

Blog – As of this month I’ve officially been writing my Perkreations blog for 2 years. When I started writing I worried I’d never be able to keep it up, but I have. I’ve written well over 100 posts about mental health, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, suicide, self harm, the psych ward, art, poetry, creativity and feminism, to name just a few topics and I feel like I’ve got lots more fodder kickin’ around upstairs.

Art – I finish art although finishing is the hardest part for me. I’ve learned finishing is the most satisfying part, perhaps because it’s so difficult. It’s not as though I keep track of what I’ve finished, I just enjoy the buzz I feel once I’m in the home stretch and I intuitively able to figure out the best way to add the finishing touches that make all the difference. I believe the finishing touches are what takes a piece from, “meh,” to, “WOW!

Practice – Even on days when I don’t finish something important, like a painting or a blog post, I’m always working to hone my craft. I find practice to be incredibly satisfying. Usually the satisfaction comes from variations of the simple but important work listed below;
**I practice drawing skills in front of the TV. I find trying to focus on two things at once helps distract me from the pain I’m ever fighting to cope with and all that practice adds up to steadily improving skills.
**I scribble down story and character ideas, thumbnails of future art projects and bits of verse all the time. These bits and pieces don’t look like much to start with but often they develop into interesting and original finished projects.
**I study the craft of others for inspiration, I never steal but studying is an important part of my creative process. I do this by reading a wide range of subject matter, both fiction and non. I love looking at other artists work as well. I do this by watching documentaries, checking out Instagram feeds, looking at books and magazines filled with art as well as info about the artists and their methods and philosophies.
**It’s also important for me to draw inspiration from artistic avenues that aren’t my forte. For instance, I will never be a musician as I’m rather tones deaf, but I absolutely couldn’t live without music. Painting without my music feels lonely. Having music on warms my soul and helps me work with greater passion. I also love to check out podcasts, movies, jewelry, cake decorating, dance, and recipes for inspiration.
**The nice part about having a home studio set up is that everything I need is there and ready to go. I don’t have to waste precious energy setting things up. Any time an idea strikes I can stroll into my studio and make it happen. Further, when my pain is outrageous and I’ve no gas in the tank all I do is walk in, mix up a colour, and add a few strokes to something or a layer that needs to dry. Even if I feel I haven’t done a whole lot, it all adds up in the long run and that’s what really counts  –

Organization – Another thing I’ve been working hard on is cleaning and organizing my home. I tend to be decidedly untidy but I’m working to break that habit. Over the past year I’ve organized and sorted my closet and drawers, winter wear, jewelry, linen closets, medicine cabinets, cleaning supply closets, bathrooms, kitchen cupboards and drawers, art studio and vinyl collection. It’s been a slow but steady process and the act of getting rid of excess crap and organizing the rest has been surprisingly satisfying and cathartic.

Cat – Most importantly, a direct result of all the cleaning and organizing done this year is that my husband and I recently adopted a one-year old cat from a nearby shelter. It’s been a little over 2 weeks and Rafe (rhymes with safe) is fitting right in with us and making our lives far more interesting. I’ll be writing more about Rafe soon and the benefits of having a pet when suffering from a mental illness and/or chronic pain in an upcoming post.

It’s not a lengthy or exhaustive list but the projects mentioned are highlights for me. In spite of my logic earlier, I still find this sort of thing tough to accept. Part of me is screaming that I’m becoming a pompous ass and I shouldn’t dare post this. In the interest of progress, I’m going to press post and take a big step towards appreciating my abilities and accomplishments and loving myself a little more.

If any readers have stories about learning how to give yourself a pat on the back when you deserve one I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to hear about your recent accomplishments.

As I mentioned, I’ll soon be writing more about acquiring our cat, the benefits as well as tricky spots. Should you have any advice about training therapeutic, service animals or general stories about how animals have been helpful in your life, I’d love to hear all about it.

Feel free to write in the comment section on Facebook or on WordPress. If you’d like to be anonymous when commenting you can do this by going directly through the WordPress site as a guest. You can also email me directly at kim@trefor.ca

K

Social Anxiety- A Self-Portrait in Texts

Me: Holy cow! I’m freakin’ vibrating from caffine overload! Lol!

Me: I am so sorry. I think I talked too much this morning and didn’t pay enough attention to you, your baby or (other friend). I was behaving selfishly and I’m really sorry.

Friend: Stop that! We enjoyed your visit. I didn’t respond to your message sooner because we are at ikea.

Me: No I wasn’t talking about u not responding, it didn’t take long anyway. I just keep playing the visit over in my head and realized how annoying I was being. Ahhh I hate anxiety. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have mentioned this. I’ve been really nervous lately and it’s fucking with my head. I’m sorry for being a freak and sorry for being sorry. Ok I need to chill out. Not sure why I’m not hitting delete rather than send.

It was really nice being there with you three. Just when I think I’m past ruminating and beating myself up it comes back and reminds me I still have a mental illness. Frustrating. I suppose I should appreciate that it happens with less frequency now. Thank you for understanding my crazy weirdness💜

Friend: Lol, all good my lovely. We were saying how nice it was to have you there this morning and how much we enjoyed your visit. So don’t worry at all. Never stop being you.

This is a text conversation I had after visiting with a friend, her baby and another friend from out of town. I think it’s a pretty good example of how social anxiety affects my life.

Fortunately the friend I was texting with has known me for more than 20 years and is familiar with my anxieties and pretty adept at helping me to dismiss unnecessary, repeating thoughts.

Here’s a little bit more about how this situation came to be:

I’m heading home after a nice visit with a huge smile on my face. There had been laughter and many old, inside jokes and stories, lots of catching up on each other’s lives, witty banter, genuine affection amongst ourselves, and a sense of ease together that only comes with long-standing, well-nourished, mutually appreciated relationships. It was an especially nice visit I’m thinking as I pull into my driveway.

I begin playing parts of the conversation from the morning back and I realize I forgot to ask about ongoing issue one of my friends was having at work. At first I’m starting to rationalize this oversight as we hadn’t seen each other in a while and there was a lot to catch up on. I’m able to tell myself I’ll be sure to ask about it next time we visit.

Next I realize how long I spent prattling on about some story about my husband. My friends were probably bored to tears. At this point my ability to rationalize away my subpar social skills begins to fizzle and I feel the familiar, but never comfortable, sensation of panic flip-flopping like a slippery fish in my belly.

Soon I am obsessively going over the entire visit with a fine toothed comb and analysing stupid jokes I made, things I now think I shouldn’t have said, other things I should have asked about and on and on and on.

I even begin to assess my mannerisms and actions; did I hug too hard or too long? did I gesticulate too wildly? was I warm enough or too familiar? did I stay too long or not long enough? Was I over-dressed or under-dressed? and on and on and on.

I consider possible consequences; they won’t invite me to visit again, I’ll lose two good friends, they’ll talk about what a crazy, selfish bitch I am, they must be mad at me, and on and on and on.

These thoughts and questions swirl round my mind and I’m rapping my knuckles against my temple to make it fucking stop. It doesn’t stop. I try distracting myself by painting but the thoughts keep interrupting.

I try reframing the situation and using my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) skills. I classify my thoughts; Mind-Reading-As in, I cannot predict if the others noticed my missteps or if they would even categorize them as such. Fortune Telling-As in, I’m predicting outcomes when I cannot know the future. Catastrophizing-As in, I’m making something small into a much bigger problem than it is.

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to make CBT work for me no matter how many times I write down my feelings, categorize and rate them. I know this type of therapy works for many but I’ve been trying to make it work for the past 10+ years and it’s yet to actually help.

Finally I decide to text my friend. Impractical as it is, this is what usually helps. I confront the situation and apologize for what I think I did wrong. As I mentioned before, my friend is familiar with my anxiety, sees it for what it is and easily calms my mind.

The frustrating part is, in other situations I can’t always go back and apologize, I generally haven’t done anything wrong anyway and I already apologize far too much as it is (I have anxiety about over-apologizing too. Lol!). Sometimes I just think things to death until it either goes away on it’s own for a while or until I’m having a full-blown panic attack and have to take medication.

If this is familiar behaviour to anyone out there I am truly sorry as nonsense like this is a waste of time and energy. Even if I actually had done something I needed to apologize for there’s no need to punish myself in this manner. Making the apology and meaning it is enough.

This is just one facet of how my social anxiety manifests but I thought it was a good example. If you’d like to share a comment, similar story or if you’ve got a coping technique that works for you I’d love to hear about it.

K