Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Motivates You?

On my last post, my second drawing lesson, Lola, from "Marine Snow" commented, "I wish I had the motivation to do something like this [the drawing exercises I was explaining], but at the moment am slipping into the staring at the wall type mood." I often get that blank wall, glazed over stare. I seem to spend much of my life in that mode; though I often stare dazed at the big tree outside too. Hugs Lola...I hope it passes quickly.

I have been doing quick sketches of the messes throughout what I call my house (it is actually a disaster zone). Dr. X. asked me to bring in photos of my messy house a few weeks ago, but I am just too embarrassed by how unbelieveably messy my house has become; and often becomes. I love a clean home, but the task of cleaning even a small portion of it is overwhelming and full of intense feelings of failure and shame. Yesterday I decided instead of photos I might bring in sketches of the distaster.

I laughed today as I walked by an 18" x 24" sketch of my computer desk and the pile of crap all over it (numerous books, all in different places, a hydro bill witing to be paid, numerous scraps of paper all, I am sure, containing something important...not sure what though, and they have been there forever, a dirty empty cereal bowl and spoon, an open and empty granola bar wrapper, small sketches on scraps of paper, a large comb, a phone, a short piece of lime green ribbon, a pen, numerous business cards I will never look at, cords for my electronic stuff that needs to hook up to the usb port periodically, an empty torn open envelope, a few paper napkins, a folded piece of paper with someone's e-mail on it, a spray bottle of hair straightening spray (I never hair is straight...duh!), a webcam, an empty pill bottle...and the list goes on.

I began to laugh because the irony was not lost on me that had I spent my energy cleaning up, instead of sketching, the mess, I would have no mess to sketch...hmmm. Why didn't I have the energy, motivation, or willpower to just clean it up instead of closely observing and drawing it? Too strange.

I guess it meant more to me to use the energy I had to draw, than it did to clean up. How do most people manage to do both their chores and their hobbies?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Beginner's Drawing Lesson 2: Paper and Use & Control of Drawing Mediums

I should have began my last lesson with the emphatic statement:

"Anyone can learn to draw!" (you too Sara;>)

It takes practice, and practice, and practice...and patience, and you may not learn the same way as other people, but you can learn. Every class I teach, almost everyone starts by saying "I wish I could draw", or "I can't draw" can.

The other thing I should have mentioned last lesson, under supplies is paper/sketch pads:

1. First one of the best things to buy is a "drawing board". The ones I have are inexpensive ($10-$15CAD), approximately 21" X 30", and come with two bull clips (to hold the paper) and a gigantic, thick elastic band (to hold all your paper when you travel back and forth). It also has a built in handle. This drawing board gives you a smooth surface to draw on and can protect your paper from becoming tattered. I clip a pad of paper to mine.

2. The paper I would suggest for a beginner or student is called cartridge paper. I just looked it up at the art supply store I go to and it is $5.10 CAD for a pad of 40 - 18" x 24" sheets. It is white and is a pretty decent paper for all the drawing mediums we have discussed.

3. Sketch pads: I have three:

a) one is 9" x 12',

b) The other is 11" x 14' . I prefer this larger one. Get one with a spiral's easier to use the whole page to draw on. Also, look for one that contains acid free paper, and has a good surface for pencil, charcoal, graphite and pen. Ask at the art supplies store if you are unsure.

c) The third one I have is a small hardcover sketchbook that fits in my back pocket. I'm usually a jeans and t-shirt gal and carry no purse because I always loose them. These small sketchbooks can be tucked into you back pocket. That and a pencil can be used like a camera to capture images or interesting things you see throughout your day...people on the bus, the tree outside your flat, the flowers in the garden, the rocks on the beach etc.

Learning to Use & control Each Drawing Medium:

This is fun, relaxing, and can empty your mind, relax yourself before beginning drawing and relieve anxiety or any bad thoughts if you are feeling anxious/depressed.

  1. Get a piece of paper and try the following over and over until you feel confident about the feel of each medium and your ability to control the following movements:

a) Pick up your Willow Charcoal:

  • draw lines across the first pressing hard and slowly changing to as soft as you can press and still create a mark on the page,
  • go backwards across the page hard (dark) to soft(light),
  • make the changes more quickly hard-soft, soft to hard etc.
  • Draw spirals that change from light to dark,
  • Draw thin lines to thick lines
  • Draw wiggly lines to straight lines.
  • Make up your own lines.
  • Do with the compressed charcoal,
  • Conte crayons
  • All the pencils (2b. 4b, 6b).
  • Go slow, fast, hard, soft. light dark, thin lines, thick lines until you feel comfortable using the drawing, have fun, relax.

b) "Patterning" Part of drawing is often learning to quickly draw repeating patterns, for example leaves on a tree, or grass in a field or rocks on a beach. I have a fun exercise that I get my students to do, and I also provide them with a blank template for them to create their own patterns. Patterns can be nonsensical and can incorporate some of the usage practices from exercise "a" above.

Handouts for, and examples of, the above to exercises:

Specific Patterns Exercise

Make up Your Own Patterns

Examples of some fun patterns

A Collage I made out of "Patterns" done on a small Pad of paper, then on each paper I tore the edges and glued the patterned paper onto a larger heavy paper.

The exercise really helped me learn to control my pencils

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beginner's Drawing, Lesson 1: Materials for Drawing

Last week Dr. X asked me if I could teach him to draw, but only if I didn't feel it took away from what I wanted to accomplish during my session.

Immediately I felt a sense that something was up? Inside my head I was thinking all week..."why is he switching gears this way? What is the purpose of this request. What is his "ploy".

Despite my "suspiciousness" I pulled together some information, drawing materials and ideas to follow though on his request. I was extremely anxious because I kept thinking, "what if my teaching him, only goes to show I am a crappy teacher?"

I was really worried about that: What if Dr. X would not think I was good enough? It mattered to me more what he thought, than what any of my students have thought...and that is: "It matters a lot", because I also really worry about what my students think.

I left the suspiciousness behind and did it anyways. I taught him a "speed lesson" in 40 minutes. I thought maybe I would share some of it with you in case some people who read are interested in drawing:

1) First and foremost I discourage erasing in all my classes. Some of the great master drawers, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci often worked through and over top of their mistakes. I believe leaving our mistakes allows us to see them so the next time we can work through that error from a different angle.

Mistakes are great lessons and we never want to lose those. This is why I usually begin teaching using charcoal as opposed to pencils for drawing. Charcoal is difficult to erase.

2) Second I always encourage students to sign, date, and write what material/ mediums were used to draw each drawing.
  • It is a really eye opening experience to look at the drawing you did in the beginning and see your improvement.
  • It is also helpful to watch the progress of your ability to use and control each of the materials.
  • Also, by listing the materials/mediums used on different learning projects it will help you latter when deciding which materials you want to use to achieve which effect on a specific piece of art.

Drawing Materials:

Willow Charcoal: Literally burnt "charcoaled" pieces of willow. Very messy, but creates a beautiful range of tonal values right up to a beautiful black. It is what many old drawings were drawn with. My favourite drawing material.

Compressed charcoal: a "man made" version of charcoal; burnt wood or bone mixed and compressed with a gum/glue. The benefits of compressed charcoal are:
  • It is not as messy as willow charcoal (although it is still VERY messy)
  • It comes in different (h) hardnesses, or (b)"blacknesses". A 2b compressed charcoal stick is much harder and less black that a 4b, which is harder still, and less black than a 6b stick
  • I find 4b compressed charcoal to be a good softness/blackness to do most of my compressed charcoal drawings.

Conte Stick/Crayons: Pigment mixed with a harder binding agent than charcoal

  • It is less messy that the above "charcoals"
  • You can draw more detailed drawings with it because it is harder and doesn't fall apart
  • it comes in white, different sepia tones and black. When people began drawing with conte the paper was not white (no bleach) it was brown or even darker, so white was often used to create "highlights" in drawings, where we would not simply leave the white of the paper exposed

Pencils (h=hard, B=black):Pencils are wooden stick with a graphite (not lead) middle.

  • I suggest that 2b, 4b and 6b pencils are really what you need in a drawing kit to draw.
  • If you use H or Hb pencils you run the risk of create "indents on the paper because they are so light in colour that in order to "see" the drawing you will be inclined to push harder on the paper. It is possible to erase the graphite, but the indents will remain and can negatively impact a great drawing
  • The can be sharpened to create a pencil point which can be used to create intricate details in drawings.
  • Generally I suggest using a 2b pencil, very lightly to do initial gesture drawings or studies for a drawing. Then use the 2b to lightly create the contour drawing and the lighter shading, then move to a 4b pencil to introduce darker lines and tone, and finally use a 6b to create the blackest tonal values in the drawing
  • Remember it is much easier to make something darker than it is to make it lighter. Start out being stingy with the shading
  • When pencils are used on their edges they can be used for shading

Graphite Sticks: Sticks of graphite that are similar in shape to compressed charcoal. Basically pencils without the wood around the graphite.

  • Can be sharpened and used to create details
  • Easier to create tone/shading with than pencils
  • Much tidier than charcoal and conte
  • However, you cannot get the black tones with graphite that you can with charcoal and conte

There are many more mediums you can use, for example pens, or pastels. Right now this will be what we use in the first lessons.

I taught Dr. X more than this (we did three lessons in 40 minutes...but that was theories and introductions to materials. This week I will introduce the rest of what I introduced to him, to my fellow bloggers (gesture drawing, blind contour drawing and contour drawing). Next week he and I will practice these techniques together.

I figured out his "ploy" by the end of our session. As I was teaching him I watched him watching my gestures and my positive exuberance. I was conscious of the joyous nature exuding from me while I was showing him what I do.

I felt the lightest I have felt in a long time in one of my sessions. It was a good session. Thanks for the reminder that I do love doing some things.

"This Madness Has Got to Stop"

I left my last session mad at myself for a post I had written the week prior. The post titled "Anxiety" was read by Dr. X, who in turn phoned me to ensure I was okay. I felt like a complete idiot for writing the post; embarrassed that I triggered Dr. X. to worry about me, and stupid that I had not stopped to think about how my posts might affect other people.

Whatever the case I was really mad at myself for not being more thoughtful and careful about what I say, but also afraid that I might need to censor myself if my pdoc was going to read my blog. I had not thought about the possibility of that dynamic when introducing my blog address to Dr. X. and inviting him to read it. Now there is a therapeutic dynamic to consider that hadn't crossed my mind before.

I really love that my pdoc periodically reads my blog. The problematic dynamic happens in part because I am not one to reach out between scheduled sessions. I believe keeping this boundary is very important because I respect that Dr. X has other patients, I am one of many, and it is not fair for me to expect more than what we have agreed upon. So sometimes when maybe I should reach out I express myself on my blog instead.

There is a sense of awkwardness in me now about writing exactly how I am feeling. I can see how for a pdoc it would be awkward territory too. If he reads something, where his patient is clearly thinking suicidal thoughts, it seems the caring and ethical thing to do would be to follow up with the patient and ensure they are okay.

So...I was mad at myself for expressing anxious suicidal thoughts and feeling like my inconsiderate behaviour led Dr. X to worry for me. In our session last week I tried to express how I felt, but I think it came across that I was mad for him calling me. I wasn't. That call was a very kind thing to do on his part. I was mad at me....for creating a situation, where I didn't really leave him a choice, and I was embarrassed for what I wrote. I was angry at me.

Today, I angrily and very expressively(read loudly) was telling Dr. X how perturbed I was about about the outcome of something else this week: a call I made to our government's tax office yesterday. I went on and on.

Here's the ANNOYING scenario:

Me (calling the tax office):"In August I qualified for a disability tax credit for the years 2003 through 2013. For the years 2003 through 2007 I was told to send a request for an adjustment to each of my tax years. I did in late August. It has been months and I have not heard from your gov't department whether or not my taxes have been adjusted and whether my taxes owed each year were lowered. Can you please let me know what is going on?

Tax Guy: You sent in a request for the adjustments the beginning of July, but we did not send you a letter saying you qualified for the adjustment until late August.

Me: That does not make sense, because I brought the letter that said I qualified to my Accountant, asked him to send in the request for an adjustment and then he sent in a request for the adjustment. There is no way I sent in an adjustment request before I received that letter. Why would I if I did not know I qualified.

Tax Guy: It shows here you sent a request for the adjustments the beginning of July, but we did not send you a letter saying you qualified for the adjustment until late August. (repeating verbatim what he said before.

so I try from a different angle...

Me: So you are saying I qualify and that a request for an adjustment sent in a bit earlier than I was sent the letter saying I qualify. However I qualify from 2003-2007 (all years which are in the past) so can you do the requested adjustments for those years because I did, in fact, qualify and a request was sent in?

Tax Guy: It shows here you sent a request for the adjustments the beginning of July, but we did not send you a letter saying you qualified for the adjustment until late August. (once again repeating verbatim what he said before). We cannot process an adjustment request that was sent in before the letter saying you qualify was sent out.

Me: I do not understand why? The adjustment request will say exactly the same thing the original one said. It doesn't make any sense that you cannot process the one you receiver PLUS there is no way you received that adjustment request before I received the letter of qualification...because I DID NOT KNOW I QUALIFIED. I had to bring the letter saying I qualified to my Accountant in order for him to put through the adjustment request.

Tax Guy: Ma'am [that word sets me off] we cannot process the original adjustment request because it was sent before you qualified.

Me: (About to explode inside and blow a gasket at the "Kafkaesqueness" of this entire conversation). "I will call my Accountant and have him resubmit it. Thank you."

Then I looked at my original application and it says "If you think you qualify for the tax credit fill out your income tax forms AS THOUGH YOU QUALIFY" Isn't that like applying for an adjustment BEFORE you qualify???? And you thought Kafka's, "The Trial" and "The Castle" were absurd!!!!!

So I relayed all my anger over this conversation to Dr. X today. I bet the entire waiting room could hear me rant. I was rather boisterous in my anger. After I finished I apologized for "losing it". My anger was excessive, and I was out of line. I get so mad at myself for not being able to control how I feel.

Dr. X. said, "This madness has got to stop". I thought he meant my madness at him and at the tax office, so I explained again I wasn't mad at him, but at me. "I know, I know, I am an angry person. I hate that about myself".

I missed his point altogether.I should have known he was referring to my madness at myself , not my anger towards others. Then I felt like laughing..."Yes indeed, This madness DOES have to stop!"

He told me my anger at the tax office was the energetic, exuberant side of me coming out...maybe not the bubbly/happy version of said energy, but the energy nonetheless. I recognize energy is good, but I do not like how angry I get over small things. I wish I could let things go and instead laugh at the absurdity of some of the bureaucratic rules in this world. Argh!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lost and Need to Find...

Lola, over at "Marine Snow" has written a brilliant post that struck me to the core of my being. I feel so very much like she expresses. She thought of her post at the same time I was writing my last post, so there is an eerie sense of synchronicity for me in what she writes.

My last post makes me cry when I read it. I feel like that little girl, who had so much hope and promise has disappeared. She is forever gone.

This morning I woke up and wanted to write to myself:
  • "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
  • Shut the F$&# up!
  • Get all those words and noises and condemnations and all that self-hatred out of my head!
  • Please stop!
  • Stop thinking! You will never "think" your way out of this mess you have created.
  • What the hell did you do to yourself? How did you become this person?
  • How did you so drastically lose your way?
  • How did you destroy that beautiful and promising little girl?
  • How did you become so worthless, when, as a child, you were so valuable?
  • What have I done to myself?
  • I worked so hard and did so well in school, how did I allow myself to sink so far?
  • Why did that sweet little girl become the waste of space she has become?
  • Why is she so filled with so much self loathing?
  • Was there an exact time I became "worth" less?

I feel so existentially lost and empty. I have absolutely no idea how to survive this life and manage to find something that I am consistently able to do, something I find fulfilling and something I feel contributes, rather than takes away from, society.

I have no sense of purpose, or meaning. I have no sense that I have any value, or any worth. I feel like all I do is take and take. I'm a burden on my family, on the medical system, on the government. I have lost my intrinsic value. I have no idea how to create, or make myself, a useful and valuable human being. I feel really, really lost.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Do You Do: Are You Valuable?

A few days ago I went to the optometrist. A task I have been trying to get myself to do for more than a year now. Fortuitously, or not, my dog tried to eat my husband's glasses and I ended up at a glasses repair shop that had optometrists on site, so I booked an appointment and, because I have an intense sense of responsibility, despite not wanting to go when the time came to show up, I went and saw the optometrist anyways.

That is not the point of this post. Part of the point is WHY I do not want to see any health professionals outside my pdoc. It is because after the greetings, the first question out of their mouths is always, "are you healthy?"

My head always swirls with this first thought always being, "I am desperately unhealthy if you include mental health as part of health. Then, "do they need to know about that?" Then, "well it would be lying to say I was healthy, should I lie?" Then, "but I don't want anyone to know I am WEAK" (argh... i.e. all that fear of discrimination, sense that I am doing this (my depression) to myself. It's my fault. If I wanted to change I would. I am such a loser for being like this." Then finally, "if I tell anyone they will think all these things about me too."

So I falter, and do not know how to answer the question. The Optometrist picks up on this and pushes from another direction, "Are you on any medications?" I feel so stressed out now, because as soon as I tell him my medications he will know I am a complete loser. I become hot, and I can feel my face become red. Embarrassment sets in. I list my medications, "Prozac, Tegretol, Valium, and Dexedrine". It is obvious to him now, that my hidden secret is out: I am mentally unstable. I feel little in the room; an "unperson".

Why? I do not feel this about anyone else with a mental illness. Just me. I don't get how I can be an advocate in so many ways for people with mental illnesses, yet feel as though I am less because of mine. I know that a huge part of it is that I feel devalued. I feel because I am not working I am incurring a huge debt to society. I am less worthy than others. I am, in fact, less than what people expect a person to be. These thoughts are drilled into my head. I can try to get rid of them. I can try to move beyond them by writing like I did in my last post, but they are always nagging me. They never go away.

Last night I thought about this picture. It is me, as a child, feeding the pigeons. I am certain that people found me valuable then. I am 100% sure that a little girl feeding the pigeons, a little girl doing what brought her joy, was a beautiful sight to others. I am sure no one was watching me and thinking, "That little girl should stop all this fun and enjoyment and get onto something more serious in her life". I am sure others would have seen me as valuable despite my not working.

What is it about children that makes the inherently valuable in a way that adults are not? Why would we never ask a child, "WHAT do you do?" Rather we might ask them, "What do you LIKE to do?

Why are adults so readily judged by the question, "what do you do? Why do we judge ourselves that way? Why am I obsessed with getting a job? Why can't I get that a job may follow a period of doing things I love to do, things that create meaning and purpose in my life. Why can't I get that a job is just one important aspect of life. Why can't I learn, or believe that a job CAN be simply a means to an end? Why can't I manage to give less power to the idea that a job is the what creates meaning and purpose for me?

Part of it is societal norms. Almost the first question out of a person's mouth when they first meet you is "What do you do?": As though with that information they will know everything they need to know about you.

When I was a banker I dreaded this question, because saying "I am a banker" elicits all kinds of stereotypes about who I am, and I was not those stereotypes, or if I was those stereotypes were the parts of me that I hated the most. The entire time I was a banker it was as though I was being the opposite of how I saw myself. The opposite of who I wanted to be, who I imagined I would grow into. I dread the question even more now that I am off work.

I have always fancied answering the question, "What do you do?" in another way: "I draw, and paint. I like to dance and listen to music. I love watching quirky crime drama's. I have a pretty good voice and I love to sing. I like the idea of tradition, but believe we need to envelope new ideas to. I write a blog. I absolutely love to read and learn. I volunteer at a mental health arts facility. I love to hang out with my sisters. I love my nieces and my sisters. I enjoy going out for breakfast with a friend, or going for long walks on the beach or in the woods. I love to garden, canoe and go camping. The problem is, for a long time, I have had trouble consistently doing and enjoying any of the things I "enjoy".

Of course, I love my sisters and nieces, but leaving home to visit them is frightening and exhausting. I am always afraid I won't be able to manage being away from home. I no longer garden, or hike, or camp, or canoe...I cannot muster the energy. I cannot seem to read. Yesterday I tried to read a book that I started a month ago. I knew I had read some of it before, but could not remember where I had read to so I began again. I remembered parts of chapter one and then nothing until I came to Chapter 6 (page 63)...I had read all the way to there before and remembered nothing except that I had read a part of chapter one. How is that possible? Anyways, my point being I don't even truly enjoy all the things I enjoy anymore.

I just don't get why, after years, and years, and years of therapy I can't accept my predicament; accept the life I have fallen into; accept that I am a different person and somehow learn that I am still as valuable as I was when I was that little girl feeding the birds.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is Returning to Work an Essential Component of Wellness?

I have haven't slept well the since my last therapy appointment. Something in my session triggered some kind of potentially life changing thinking. I cannot sleep because I keep waking up thinking about how to change, accept and move on. When I wake it seems to take forever to fall back asleep. My mind has been racing with thoughts of how to make the leap, the decision, to change; how to create the will and motivation to change; and finally how to create change for myself despite my lingering and often paralyzing symptoms.

My appointment and meeting with a friend afterwards instilled a sense in me that I have been approaching my mental health "healing" and expectations of what is "well" from the wrong angle. I have been trying to get the old me back, but I suddenly recognize the old me, in many ways, is gone. My job now is not to recreate who I was, but to create a new me. Who I was led to my depression and anxiety. Who I was led to increasingly worsening Major Depressive Episodes)MDE's. Who I was is not a desirable goal to have. I need to be different than who I was in order to heal.

My entire life I expected that I would get meaning and purpose from my job, from working. I never wanted children, so that was not the way I sought meaning or purpose. It has always been through my job, or my schooling. School was extremely meaningful for me. Although I had two MDE's; one first year university and the other a few years later during second year university; both times the episodes were not triggered by lack 0f purpose/drive/interest/or meaning about school. Both were triggered by indecisiveness and fear of failing at something that mattered so much to me; although these may have been symptoms of an already "creeping in" of depression.

Once I came out of my depression in 2nd year I was happy for the next three years of school. I loved school. I loved the challenge. I had a sense of enjoying the moment, being IN the moment, feelings had not had for a long time. While going to school I worked part-time, but for the first time since I began work with babysitting when I was 12 years old, work became secondary to something more important to me. It was a means to and end, a means to do what I really liked to do; which was learn.

Until yesterday I did not realize what I have been doing for the last 7 years of depressive hell, and for the 11 years of my previous career. I have/had been trying to hang onto the job I had because, I thought it was the only way to create meaning and purpose in my life.

It never crossed my mind (even when I was doing the parts of the job that I hated) that my work was not the path to creating meaning and purpose. I just thought maybe I was not on the right work path. I even turned my favourite hobby (gardening) into work, because that is how I understood meaning could be found: through work.

As I left Dr. X's office I thought..."what if my volunteering really is work like he says?" Or what if even a more dramatic shift is taking place and work (volunteer or otherwise) is not my path to happiness?"

The former thought is a bit easier to accept; although I am loathe to concede Dr. X. may have been right all along. Only because I told him his insistence that "I was working" (i.e. volunteering) was really starting to annoy me. However, maybe I am working. Maybe it is important work. Maybe I am helping more people than I am taking from people? Maybe my volunteering balances out the disturbing thought that I am accepting disability money when so many others struggle more than me and deserve the help more than me.

The latter thought, "That maybe work is not my path to happiness" comes with all kinds of emotional baggage. Not the least of which is my fear of avoiding responsibilities, or feeling like I owe it to society to work, to not receive money for nothing; that awful feeling that I am a drag on my countrymen and women for being on disability, that I am shirking my duties and responsibilities; that I am doing something immoral or unethical in deciding work is not healthy for me. These thoughts are hard to manage.

Yesterday I just tried to take a Utilitarian approach to the idea of not working. I tried to imagine how my not working might be helpful, not only to myself, but to the greater good of society.

Perhaps, if I did not work, did not think of how to get working, did not try to find ways to work I would become well. Perhaps all that energy I spend negating and berating and hating myself for not working would go into constructive enterprises, painting, drawing etc.

Maybe, if I became well, Dr. X could help another person. Maybe, if I stopped worrying about work and focused on the things that bring meaning and purpose to my life: things like art, or music, or building and maintaining friendships, I would have more energy and the means to spread the joy to others who need more joy in there lives.

A tiny part of my mind is willing to concede that "work" as I define it is not healthy for me. Unfortunately, the largest part of my mind is preoccupied with what others will think, what is the right thing to do morally and ethically (for my community's greater good). It always appears that the point of wellness, (according to most mental and physical health providers), seems to be defined by an ability to return to work. If that is so, then how can the counter intuitive idea, that not working may help me become well and stay well, be correct?

Am I supposed to decide to not work? And if I decide that and become well, will a return to work make me unwell again? Am I forever unemployable, yet able to help others while helping myself? I cannot understand what it is I am supposed to be doing; what it is that will KEEP me well if I manage to get there?

Am I misunderstanding what Dr. X is trying to express to me?

Friday, November 14, 2008

"[R]ound [s]he throws [her] baleful eyes"

May trigger...(Please click here before reading if you are thinking of suicide)

In my blog I want to be able to write EXACTLY how I am feeling. I do not want to worry about what how I write things will affect others (although I try to be conscious that others who are struggling may read what I write, and I try to ensure others are supported and cared for in my writing), but I do not want to censor myself and my thoughts. This is me. The (unfortunately) sad me.

I need the freedom to use my blog as I used to use my journal. It means that at times I NEED to write things that are difficult, or may be scary for others to read. Without that freedom my blog becomes less effective for me.

In my last post perhapsI should have prefaced it with "these are just thoughts". The problem is, when I was writing them they felt like more than thoughts. It felt like if I hung myself the feeling would be the same, but the thoughts would finally end.

Over the past few days I have been having increasing thoughts of suicide again. It's strange because on some level I feel like my mood is better than before, but on another it feels just as bad, only different. I feel nihilistic now. Like nothing is real. As though the entire structure of my belief system is crumbling beneath me. Like everything I thought my whole life is a lie.

It's a lie that I will get better.

Feeling desperately anxious and sad last night I typed "CPA (Canadian Psychiatric Association), Treatment Resistant Depression" in google search. One of the papers that came up was so harsh towards those of up struggling to find a way to get well.

The position was basically, ... (my interpretation): "people with TRD take up to much of a psychiatrist's time, that time could be better spent on helping people whose mood disorders were fixable, psychiatrists should try to end therapy with these patients and have them taken care of by a GP, and the principles of care should be that as a patient with TRD you have to understand your problems are psychosocial, not chemical/biological in origins, therefore we can't help you unless you are willing to change your life. Go see your GP.

I have suspected I won't get well for some time now, but telling me to go see my GP when I feel like this? Saying that patients need to reduce their expectations of recovery? When all I want is some symptom relief?

Am I supposed to simply tell myself..."its a fact of life, you will have suicidal thoughts, often obsessive and violent thoughts, for the rest of your life. Learn to accept that. You want to work? Learn to accept you will always be depressed, have memory and cognitive problems, be on medication that maybe, sort of, kind of helps some things.

Why don't you just tell me to kill myself and have it over with?

That's where the suicidal thoughts come in...the belief I will never see me or my old self again. Even beyond that, the old me is a state too which I cannot return. That that part of my life is over and unobtainable again. Not only is it unobtainable it is undesirable given how much stress I was under. I sense my life has been minimized. I have become less valuable, less desirable. I have become an outcast. Heaven on earth, or maybe even just a life worth living, is unobtainable.

That meaning and purpose are a bad joke, do not exist, they are an illusion that only proves to make me desire them more.

I feel stuck with the belief that my depression has made me become like the depraved and soul starved Satan miserable in his Hell in Milton's "Paradise Lost", when God kicked him and his miscreant, and treasonous army out of glorious heaven, and into the depths, and fiery darkness of Hell. "Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to Arms" forever lost to God and his previously shared Angel's heavenly home above:

"...Him the Almighty Power Hurl'd headlong flaming from th' Ethereal Sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to Arms.
Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night
To mortal men, hee with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rolling in the fiery Gulf
Confounded, though immortal; But his doom
Reserv'd him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him;
round he throws his baleful eyes
That witness'd huge affliction and dismay
Mixt with obdurate pride and steadfast hate:
At once as far as Angel's ken
he views
The dismal stuation waste and wild,
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv'd only to discover sights of Woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepar'd
For those rebellious, here thir Prison ordained
In utter darkness, thir portion set
As far remov'd from God and light of Heav'n
As from the Centre thrice, to th' utmost Pole."

(Paradise Lost, John Milton, 1674
(Book I, Lines 44-74)
(Note: I have highlighted the bold and blue section)

Like Milton's Satan, I feel "unjustly" sent to Hell, although I know full well actions in my life that I take, and cannot seem to manage to take are/were complicit in sending me here. That is what my treatment resistant, chronic MDD, my anxiety, and my mood cycling feels like. It feels like I will never return from where I came. I am lost forever. I especially feel like the part that is made bold and my world has become this blackness with no light, like in the darkness all I can see is woe and sorrow.

I have thoughts of suicide still. I used to have them all the time. I have them less now, but they are still there. They come at me almost everytime I cross the bridge. I envision my self stopping the car and jumping of the bridge deck. I look for back packs and coats of those who have jumped before me. The thoughts come at me when I see strong solid trees or giant wooden beams; beams and trees that I could throw a rope over and end it all. They come at me on the ferry, where I try so hard to make myself step into the dark water and disappear. They come at me often, but less than before.

I write about them because getting them out of my head and onto the page seems to alleviate some of the power behind them.

I am sorry if I concerned anyone with my previous post. If I AM suicidal (vs. thoughts, images, and fantasies) I probably would call Dr. X. I lived 7 years, and a few more, in Hell. I am sure I can last a bit longer. They are thoughts. Bad thoughts, anxious thoughts, thoughts that are plans for relief. Sometimes the thoughts themselves ARE the relief. I know, I always know, there is a way out if I cannot keep trying. I have it within my power to decide enough is enough. There is relief in knowing I am never completely without choices.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Caution, may trigger:

Anxiety, ANXIETY, anxiety!!! I can't breathe, I'm suffocating, AnXiEtY. I'm doing nothing, yet I can't breathe. Anxiety, I am thinking of nothing except being able to breathe. How can it be that I cannot breathe? Nothing set it off. It's being happening off and on ALL day. My lungs will not fill with air. I cannot breathe. There is a giant sitting on top of my chest. My lungs are being crushed so hard I cannot get air into them.

My shoulders are tight and raised to my ears. My tongue is pushing hard against the backs of my teeth. My teeth are clenched tight, shut, closed. My hands are tight with the fingers stiffly closed. I want to run, but I have nowhere to go. ANXIETY!!!!

I have chest pains., I am hot. My face is red. I smell sweaty. I am sweating. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I visualize someone strangling me, me placing a rope around my neck, anxiety, anxiety, anxiety. I want to place rope around my neck. I want it to end, the rope will truly suffocate me. The rope is drawn tighter and tighter and tighter. It feels the same as anxiety. It will be over if I do this. It feels like my anxiety and depression will never end unless I end it.

How to Create World Peace

I am too burnt out right now to talk about my existential struggles, so instead I have decided, once and for all to resolve the problem of "World Peace":

Aqua's 10 Steps that would lead to World Peace:

1) Either a) Get rid of all religions, OR b)Everyone agree that all religions pretty much preach the same thing...Love and care for people, animals, all beings the way they need to be love. If "b" everyone accept that others have different ways of achieving the same goal. And in the religions that have a God, or Higher Being, understand that NO higher being wants to see their humans killing and maiming each other, or any of the other beings on earth...after all the Higher Being created these beings. Why the hell would they want to see them hurt or killed?

2) Everyone, everywhere, drop your guns and lay down your bombs (gently), and go have a long dinner with the person you were about to shoot, maim, or kill.

3) Everyone who is at war, invite your enemies to stay at your house for a few days, then go stay at your enemies house for a few days. Meet their children, their wives, their husbands, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Talk with them until late into the night. Sleep in their bed, under their roof. Wake up in the morning and have breakfast with them

4) Exchange kids with your enemy for a week. Get to know their kids. Hold their children when they feel scared and lonely. Put bandaids on their cuts when they scrape their knees. Sing to them and tell them stories before you tuck them in at night. Hug and kiss them goodnight.

5) Have a block party where a hundred enemies come together, sit down and talk, sing and dance late into the night. Meet your enemy's neighbours, their religious leaders, their postmen, and doctors, their university students, their politicians and their artists. Get to know your enemy's community.

6) Build a big campfire with your enemy, pull out a guitar, pull up some chairs, sing campfire songs and make smores together.

7) Everyone who is fighting, everywhere in the world, get your swimsuits on and go for a nice long swim together. Play water polo with each other. Snorkel together, or if you are near the north or south poles have a gigantic polar bear swim, then race to a sauna and hang out together.

8) Make it a rule, that before you kill someone, you must first meet their wives, husbands and children for at least one hour. You must listen to what they fear the most, you must tell them the same. You must also tell each other who you love and why.

9) Get rid of all the cars and start walking every where. Greet every single person you meet with a smile and a handshake. Introduce yourself. Learn their names. Learn about their lives. Have an open door policy so anyone can stop by and visit if they are in your neighbourhood. Feel comfortable stopping by others places to visit. Have no expectations that yours, or their house will be clean or tidy. You are going to see them, not their house. After you have met them 10 times hug them when you say goodbye.

10) Have compassion for everyone you come across in your life. Try to see the world from their perspective. Try to walk in their shoes. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Know that all people want to get through life safely and happily and take care of their friends and family.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stigma and Discrimination

I'm going to disappoint Lola at "Marine Snow", because I won't solve world peace, or the existential crisis problem in this post... I promise I will discuss my ongoing existential crisis and how it affects my wellness and resilience maybe tomorrow or the next day.

This post is a public apology to a fellow blogger, whose anononimity I would like to protect, but also whose situation is so similar to others I hear from that the story is an important one to write. The post is also a post about my feelings about how the mentally ill (vs. the physically ill) are treated. Yesterday, I sent a ranting e-mail yesterday to a blogger I very much admire and I am sorry if it was too forward, or preachy.

I sent it while I was in the throes of feeling passionately angry about both your situation, and my own experiences and fears. I did not mean to place the injustices of our mental health systems onto your shoulders. If I were brave I would take it on myself, but, like you, I am afraid.

The premise for the e-mail I sent was inspired by someone else, and I honestly cannot remember who. I thought it was another blogger, but now I think it was someone from the Art Clubhouse. If you are the dear reader are the person who first broached the "Stigma" vs. "Discrimination" differentiation observation thank you for the idea for this post.

This person had mentioned that when we see people being turned down for jobs, or promotions because of physical health issues, or illnesses that are physical we call it "discrimination". However, when we, as people with mental illnesses are being discriminated against we call it "stigma".

I thought about my old job and how they also made it clear that concessions would be made, not only for physical health problem, but also for religious purposes. For example, if a person was Jewish and needed to not work Saturdays for Shabbat, or a Christian person felt strongly about not working on Sunday, due to it being their Sabbath.

At my place of employment I saw concessions made for women who had children to take care of: single moms, new moms, all kinds of moms. I also saw the workplace dramatically altered to assist people who had physical disabilities. For example, flexible work weeks were easily obtained by new moms. Ramps, and handicapped washrooms and elevators were built for a person in a wheelchair. I saw extremely expensive software purchased for an employee who was blind, so they could "read" the computer screen with a voice, rather than their eyes. I saw bells that signalled incoming work replaced by lights for some hearing impaired people.

I also heard the derision in people's voices when someone went off on "stress leave"; a passive aggressive code word for "mental health leave". I heard the snickers, and the jokes about theses peoples' "inability to cope", about their "weak characters", and how they "were bucking the system". I watched as people ridiculed a person who obviously was having a mental breakdown. I tried to speak up, but I was one voice among many and no one listened. The person was blackballed in the workplace for the rest of their career.

I listened in manager's meetings as the managers discussed "problem employees". Many of these employees I knew personally and knew had mental health issues. I listened as the managers tried to find convenient ways to let these people go, to fire them. They did not believe depression was incapacitating, and even if it was there were medicines to make them better. These "depressed" people were simply finding a way to work less and get time off.

I did all this while at the same time listening to the vice president and managers ask me to create and run workshops to help inform managers and employees about how well the organization managed to create a welcoming environment, an environment without barriers, for employees with disabilities. My duty was to rah, rah the troops, to make them aware of how concessions were to be made, all barriers removed, when it came to hiring and retaining people with disabilities.

I watched as they requested I remove "schizophrenia" as a disability in the workshop, because "it might scare people". Anyways, someone with schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder couldn't work in a place like this. It wasn't a suitable workplace for those kinds of people.

I cringed at the words "those kinds of people". I knew I was one of them. I told a few people I trusted, but I never managed to fight the good fight and "out myself" to all in the workplace who challenged mental illness as an illness.

I should have, and I should now. I have a powerful voice and as a person with a mental illness I should let my voice be heard loud and clear...but I am scared.

I am scared of the "stigma", the discrimination. I am afraid to be labelled, laughed at, and punished. I am afraid if I bring too much of my power to the forefront, the powers that exist, the insurance companies, my company, the government; all who support me financially in some way, will begin spying on me, watching my every move, finding any way they can to shut me up.

I am afraid old friends will hear my voice and know it is me, that old coworkers will finally have the proof that what they suspected all along was true, that people who know me will feel I am a disgrace to my country, my employer, to myself.

I was walking in the mall one day a few years ago and I ran into an old co-worker. Her first words to me were, "it must be nice to have all this time off". Inside my head I felt like crying. I felt so misunderstood and so guilty. I realized people thought I was someone who "got a good deal" by being sick, that I was the person people were talking about, that people thought I was using the system. Inside my head I felt like saying, "yes, it is just wonderful wanting to kill myself everyday".

I didn't say that. Instead I said I have been sick. They walked away and I could tell, nothing about my being sick was a reality to them; to them I was a person who got a break and did not have to work, but still got paid to do nothing.

Back to my original apology. I have no right to ask anyone to rally against an unfair system, because I myself have not done the same. I actually really and truly believe that there should be no distinction between a "mental", and a "physical" illness.

Mental illnesses are physical events; chemical mix-ups in the brain, neurons firing the wrong way, neural pathways developing a certain way because of abuse, or neglect, or an environment that did not nurture healthy neural pathways.

I wish we would just call "mental illnesses", an illness, like heart disease in an illness, or diabetes, or gall stones, or cancer. Environment and genetics play a part in mental illnesses, yet they also do in heart disease and diabetes, even gall stones and definitely cancer.

Why then do we differentiate mental illnesses from the above physical illnesses? Genetics plays a part, as does environment, along with physical changes in the brain. Is it because society somehow finds us, the mentally ill, complicit in our becoming ill? Do we, more than the person who has heart disease, somehow cause our illnesses?

Stigma does not begin to describe how differently many people view and treat a person with a mental illness; and I include many doctors, psychiatrists and other mental health staff amongst those people who are inclined to see the mentally ill as an "other". Discrimination is a more apt term. The mentally ill are not simply stigmatized, we are discriminated against; in the workplace, on the streets, in terms of finding available and affordable housing, in terms of being treated as equal human beings with an illness that while different than heart disease and diabetes, is no less an illness.

I feel blessed to have a pdoc who respects me as a person, who recognizes it is the illness and not me that causes me to behave and feel the way I do. Many people are not so lucky. Many are so ill they should not be working, but their needs to remove the level of stress from their lives are not supported by either their employers, or the their mental health professionals, or the governments in terms of offering both moral and financial support for an ill person.

It makes me sad to see people talk of being on the verge of killing themselves because they cannot manage the stress and responsibility of work, and to see that it is sometimes doctors these people are afraid to approach for help, for fear of being discriminated against.

My dear blogging friend, I did not mean to sound like you should take matters into your hands and make the world change its approach to people with mental illnesses. I am very worried for you and was feeling very frustrated by your situation. With my frustration my contempt for those not helping you, those blocking your path towards taking care of yourself, grew. I may have been too quick to rant in my e-mail to you. I pray you will become well, and everything will work out for you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How Well is Well Enough?

Today's post was a toss-up between two topics:
  • Existentialist ideas in psychotherapy and their role in my becoming well
  • Medication and wellness

I'm going to write about Medication and wellness first, because it seems to play a big role in my becoming well.

Contrary to what some of my readers may think, or I suspect my pdoc sometimes thinks, and I know my husband and family think, I do not believe medication is the end all, be all for my becoming well. I recognize there are numerous factors that need to come together for me to achieve anything close to wellness.

In fact, the first thing I recognize is that for me (...I am only talking about me and my experiences in this post), for me I likely will have some symptoms throughout my life. I think even if Dr. X and I find the best combination of medications for my mood is such that there will always be underlying cycles that require medication changes, increases, decreases etc. Also, my symptoms seem to fluctuate..from extreme depression, through to anxiety, anger and sometimes rage.

I am beginning to see that these fluctuations of symptoms may, in part, be why my depression is hard to treat. Sort of like that old cliche: "You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you can please some of the people some of the time". Exchange the words "mood states" for "people" in the sentence and you pretty much can see where the difficulty lays.

Part of my theory is that anxiety is on one end of the spectrum and depression on the other. Given that almost consistently I have both mood states at the same time it makes sense that my mood is hard to treat.

With the depression ALWAYS comes fatigue...a huge and cumbersome symptom. The problem is if I take any dose of a stimulant, or stimulating medication, that is strong enough to help with my fatigue, it increase my anxiety. If I take a high enough dose of an anti-anxiety medication to treat my anxiety, it always increases my fatigue. On top of that it seems every antidepressant I have tried has increased my fatigue. The only one that I can think that didn't (Moclobemide) made me intensely agitated.

So, what are my realistic expectation for medications, which symptoms are the most important for me to address, and which symptoms might I need to accept, and learn to live with?

My Realistic Expectations for Medications (vs. Psychotherapy and my motivation/actions to change):

  1. A decrease in mood cycling by 50% (which I think would decrease anger/rage and mood fluctuations
  2. An increase in mood by 50%
  3. A decrease in anxiety so I have NO anxiety attacks

The Most Important for Me to Address:

  1. I would like my mood, at the very least, to be such that I am not severely depressed most of the time (say 75%). I believe some of my depression will not be addressed by medication, but by my becoming a more active participant in my therapy. I'd say approximately 50% of my depression is caused by my inability to become the person I want to be. (an existential struggle...more on that in another post)
  2. I would like to stop having suicidal thoughts. Especially the violent imagery of stabbing, shooting and hanging myself. I would like to WANT to not just stop having suicidal thoughts, but also I would like to stop wishing I would die. (although some of these may need to be addressed by my working harder in therapy to create a life I believe is worth living)
  3. I would like to have enough energy to work at least the equivalent of 4 full-time days a week.
  4. A reduction in my feelings of guilt would be good. I suspect working again would remove a large part of my feelings of guilt, but some of that is either genetic, learned, or biochemical.
  5. I would like to be less apathetic/amotivated to do my own art, my housekeeping, and work a job. It would be nice to have the energy to do other things like exercise and garden, but I am willing to have some inability to do some things.
  6. I would like to stop having anxiety/panic attacks. I am willing to put up with all the worrying I have done my whole life. To me that is normal, but I cannot manage the not being able to breathe, the chest pains, the fear and discomfort of the actual anxiety attacks.
  7. The huge mood cycles...where I go from high and unstoppable and crash into suicidal depression.
  8. I'd like to have at least a bit better memory/cognitive functioning....enough to both be able to read a book and to be able to remember it.

Symptoms I Need to Accept:

  1. Some fatigue...I am getting older and it has pretty much been 10 years since I really felt well. A decade can add to a person's fatigue. I think I need to accept that I may have some fatigue (say needing an hour nap a day).
  2. Some depression...25%...I lived with that before. I can live with it again. As long as most of the time I want to live, and feel my life is worth living, I can put up with some really bad days.
  3. Worries/OCD stuff (except my obsessive suicidal thoughts), but things like like checking my doors to see if they are locked over and over, or freaking out that I left the iron on, washing my hands many times a day etc. I have been like that most of my life.
  4. Insomnia...I have never slept well. I have almost always had a pattern of waking in the middle of the night and having difficulty getting back to sleep due to excessive worry, anxiety etc. I survived until now without sleeping that well. I can live with not sleeping that well.
  5. Some mood cycling. Maybe the cycling can be addressed by increasing/decreasing Tegretol/Antidepressant/Stimulant based on the cycling? (i.e. Decrease or Increase doses based on my cycling?)
  6. Some anger/irritation. I think part of this is attached to a hyperthymic temperament(genetic), and/or is learned behaviour. Both my Dad and my paternal Grandma had high expectations of those around them, and for themselves. They had go, go, go personalities. I see most of my Dad's relatives have the same kind of "frustration intolerant" personalities.
  7. Some memory problems/cognitive functioning problems....I need to learn ways AROUND this (e.g. day timer, notes to self, set alarm etc.

Basically I would like to go back to at the minimum, the functioning level I had before this MDE started. Which is probably a "Worry filled Dysthymia". I'd accept that.

I know medication will not help me reach that goal 100%. I have to work harder and do the work I talk about in my therapy sessions. I have to somehow get on track, stay on track and build up my abilities to do more and more.

This means:

  1. Continuing to teaching classes at the Art Clubhouse I teach at, despite my really wanting to stop
  2. Eating more balanced meals, taking vitamins, and eating way more vegetables than I do
  3. Cleaning the house EVEN when I feel tired and unable to
  4. Taking the dog for at least one LONG walk EVERYDAY (at least an hour) and two smaller walks everyday too.
  5. Taking on MORE, not less responsibilities, maybe by volunteering to teach somewhere else (after school programs, or seniors programs etc.)
  6. Going off Valium and staying off it
  7. Stop drinking alcohol...period.
  8. Do the things I say I will do in therapy.
  9. Work on my art EVERYDAY for at least 1 hour.
  10. Become more social, and increase my social activities.

Getting "better", (more resilient, achieving at least my minimal requirements for a life worth living) will take more action than I have taken these past 7 years. Approaching my life with a more active role in my destiny is partly a medication finding struggle, but more than that it is an existential struggle. I need to somehow create the will, the desire, the ability to become the person I want to become. To do that I need to define that person, and begin taking steps towards implementing changes in my life to become that person.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Loving Kindness Meditation

I don't know why I sometimes get so much anxiety before my pdoc appointments . I always look forward to meeting with Dr. X. I love sitting in the chair across from him. Generally, within a few minutes of sitting in his office, even if I am really stressed out, I feel a calming effect coming from him and his side of the room. That happened on Thursday.

My appointment began with me feeling intensely stressed, but I soon became aware of what was happening (that I was anxious), and that awareness helped me refocus. I'm not sure what helped me become aware.

Maybe it was Dr. X wittingly, or unwittingly, wrapping me in calmness. In a way, it feels like a Buddhist "Loving Kindness meditation" taken to the next level, the level of practice, when I sit across from him.

So many of us are compassionate and loving beings. Unfortunately, to often, for me anyways, my depression, anxiety, mood swings and frustration with not becoming well, or remaining ill take over my compassion and I become anxious or angry.

A good example is how I sometimes become filled with road rage at small indignities done (of course from my perspective TO ME), by other drivers. The driver who races to the front of the left lane and then butts in right at the front, while all of us other driver's patiently wait our turn, or the driver that cuts me off, or races past me at mach speed. I become angry sitting in my car and the anger begins to turn into anxiety.

Why do I do this? I have been really trying to let go of this rage, and accept that others may have good reasons for doing what they do, or there may be a reason I do not know that makes them need to get somewhere faster than everyone else. I have no idea what is happening in the person's life to make them need to get to the front of the line faster than anyone else.

I remember a story from when my mom was dying. She was visiting me and suddenly began going into shock. We dialed 911 and the ambulance took her to the hospital. At the hospital the Dr. told us that they believed she had sepsis(?), that she had infection raging through her body and she was going to die that night.

I called my sister's to come over. My one sister had to fly from the island. She had 10 minutes to get to the airport or she would miss the last plane. She lives in the country and was racing down the road when she came upon her neighbours car in front of her. She tried to pass him, but he kept driving into the middle of the road to stop her passing. He also slowed to a speed well below the speed limit to physically force her to slow her down. She began honking and flashing her lights to no avail. Finally she managed to pass him despite his efforts to "keep her in line". She was mad as hell, but she made the plane, and managed to see my Mom, who pulled through for another month.

What if she had missed the plane because this man tried to aggressively stop her from passing him. What if she had missed the plane and my Mom had died before she was able to say goodbye? He may be right in that the speed limit was lower than she needed to go, but he had no idea how important her race down the road was. I try now to let go and to understand that I only see the behaviour, I don't see WHY people are behaving the way they do. I try to be more compassionate.

Dr. X. just seems to live and breathe compassion. I do not think I have ever heard him say anything negative about anyone. My Mom was like that to. The only other person I met like that was my grade 12 English teacher. He was a Buddhist and he was calm in the face of daily interaction with a bunch of riotous teenagers. It always amazed me.

On Thursday, part way through my session I felt my body relax, my hands stop twirling my hair and tapping my eyebrow (this is a strange habit I picked up over the past few years when I'm really stressed. Either that or I did it before and was unaware of it), my shoulders and arms became relaxed, and I leaned back in the chair. I suddenly felt calm. It felt like the presence of Dr. X was making me calm. It reminded me of the power of a Buddhist "Loving Kindness" meditation. He seems like loving kindness personified.

A Loving Kindness meditation is meant to fill your heart with compassion and love for yourself and then extend it towards all other beings.

  • In the loving kindness meditation I know you begin by imagining yourself wrapping yourself in warm white light. You say to yourself, "may I be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy , well and happy.
  • You then think of someone who is a mentor or leader to you, and you take the warm white light that is wrapped around you and you extend it to surround them, and you say out loud, or in your head, e.g. "May Dr X. be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • Then you extend the white light to wrap around yourself, your mentor and someone you love, and repeat the mantra, "May (my loved person) be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • You then think of someone you are having difficulty with and you then extend that radiant warm white light around the person you are having difficulty with and say, may (the person you are having troubles with) be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • then wrap the light around all the beings in your family and repeat: may all beings in my family be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"

Then you continue to increase the size and magnitude of the warm white light and wrap it around:

  • All beings in the house: "May all beings in this house be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • All the beings/people in the building: "May all beings in this building be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • All the beings on the block:" May all beings on my block be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • All the beings in your city: "May all beings in my town or city be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • All the beings in your country: "May all beings in my country be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • All the beings on the continent: "May all beings on this continent be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • All the beings in the world: "May all beings in this world be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"
  • and finally out into space: "May all beings in the universe be filled with loving kindness, and be healthy, well and happy"

Note the meditation is embracing all "beings", not just people. I would suggest beings in my version of the meditation includes all life; plants and animals, the ocean, the lakes and rivers, and also all the earth, space, planets and universe. The meditation is a means for a person to embrace all beings lovingly and compassionately in their mind. It feels really good to do.

The more I do this meditation the more compassionate I feel. When I do it my anger towards others subsides and I begin to recognize that we all struggle, we all want health and love and wellness, and we all deserve love and compassion.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Visualization Exercises for Anxiety or Insomnia

As I am practicing my deep breathing exercise I remember that yesterday I forgot to tell Dr. K I have been having massive chest pains...I think it is anxiety, because it isn't " is sharp, piercing pains, that have been appearing off and on over the last week. The pain is at time excruciatingly painful when I try to breathe. It comes and goes. I have had really bad indigestion all week too, so maybe that is part of it. I have had these pains before and lived through them.

The deep breathing isn't working. It is making me more and more anxious. So I am going to try something else.

Visualization. Dr. X taught me this, but I used top do a similar exercise. The one he taught me became much more three dimensional because I set out an entire relaxing "deserted island" that was full of everything I needed. I planned all the smells, the sights, sounds, even the way things would feel. Below are the original "plans" for my island. It was a great exercise to think of all the things I wanted on my island. I have made it more and more perfect over time.

If you click on the images I think you can read my lists ...if you can read my writing!

My island is surrounded by warm turquoise water full of all kinds of fish and sea life. (There are no sharks, or nothing that can hurt me in the water. In fact I can breathe under water in this world. I spend hours swimming underwater and the feeling of the temperate water washing across my skin as I glide through the water is euphoric. Every hair on my body feels the smooth water as it rushes across me. The rush of water across me fills me with life and joy.

Around the perimeter of my island there is fine warm sand. The temperature outside is a constant 25 degrees C (82 degrees F), not humid; a clean warm air. There is a slight breeze and like the feeling of the water rushing over me when I am in the ocean, here, on land, the breeze floats across my body, allowing me to remain perfectly warm, yet not hot. It mostly sunny during the day, but when it rains it is a quick burst of rain, a warm downpour that clears the air and soaks me and the island in warm water.

The sound of the water hitting the ocean is intoxicating. When it rains the smell of the island's inland soil soaking up the sudden rain is heavenly. Past the sand is a forest and the rain wakes with sounds of all kinds of animals, birds and insects. There is a path into the forest, and paths throughout the forest. There is nothing for me to fear on this island, but there are thousands of types of plants, animals, amphibians, insects, and birds.

When I am not in the water I am in the forest exploring. I am always awestruck by something I see in the nature on the island. Every time I go for a walk I see something worth remembering. I am well on this island: perfectly healthy mentally and physically.

Anyways, it goes on like that. It is relaxing, rewarding and exciting, yet safe. I kayak and windsurf and surf and swim and canoe, and explore caves, swim in the lake in the middle of the island, swim in the ocean, eat all kinds of fresh fruit found on the island.

The point of this exercise is to visualize myself doing a very detailed and specific task, or a particular area of exploration on the island. I am to imagine in infinite details the smells, sounds, sights, tastes, all the sensations I come across as I go on a hike, or a swim, or kayak etc. Usually if I really focus on this my anxiety attacks dissipate. Often when I do this I fall asleep .(definitely not recommended as something to do while you are driving.)

The point is to create an environment that has no stressors, only stress relievers; to walk yourself an extremely detailed and relaxing visualization exercise.

It's also fascinating frivolous fun fantasizing about the items that create, expand and initiate your sensory experiences too.

I kept my visualization clean for you, but let your imagination go wild. Release your inner self, let go, be free. It's your island. It can be anything you want it to be.

Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Yesterday, when I got into my car to go to my pdoc appointment I began having an anxiety attack that lasted most of the way there. It disappeared only to breed another right before my appointment began.

The night before my appt I woke up around 1:15 having an anxiety attack; that feeling like I can't breathe, like someone huge is sitting on my chest and only little bits of oxygen are getting through. These anxiety attacks seem to last forever. What I do not understand is how, if I know they are not real, if I know they are psychological, why, when I know this, can's I get the damn attack to stop?

It seems the longer I have struggled with anxiety the more triggers for anxiety I have. To the point where I most often cannot explain what sets off my having an attack. Much of the time it seems the anxiety comes out of nowhere, for no reason. I have them when I am driving, but not always, sometimes when I am watching t.v, or when I am sitting in the waiting room chair before I see Dr. X, in the mall, at the grocery store, and basically in any place where there are lots of people, or where the space is large or looming.

All those things are not activities I don't want to do. I like to drive, I enjoy relaxing in front of the television, and I always look forward to seeing Dr. X, I used to love to shop, so I am not sure why those are common times for me to have anxiety.

I am having another right now, the third one today. The muscles in my shoulders and chest are tight. I have to consciously "talk" my shoulders down from their reaching towards my ears. I stretch my chest open by pulling my shoulder blades together, hoping more air will enter my lungs. I place my hands at chest level on the edge of the hall doorway and "walk through" until I feel my chest opening up. The attacks feel like my body is somehow suffocating itself. It is all for nought. My lungs feel like they are only able to fill part way.

I try to draw air down towards my belly through my nose. It's called Deep Breathing:

I work slowly to fill my lungs from the bottom up. I place my hands on my belly, the belly that women try to hide and no woman wants to make bigger than what's already there. If my belly becomes larger as I draw air into it I know I am doing the exercise right.

I visualize the air entering there first, at the bottom of my lungs, that area that rarely seems to receive the oxygen it begs to receive. I slowly breathe in past the top of my lungs, towards below my belly button. My already chubby belly extends as the air fills it. Like a balloon filling from the bottom up the air forces itself from the bottom region of my lungs into the upper regions.

When my lungs are full I hold the air in for a couple seconds and then slowly, through my mouth, I allow the air to escape in a reverse manner; air out of the top of my lungs first and leaving the bottom of my lungs last.

I wait a moment and start the process of deep breathing againg. I repeat 10-15 times. I breathe into my belly, again, and breathe out slowly, breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth.

It sometimes helps to calm my anxiety and stop my anxiety attacks from continuing. I have become so good at it I can do it sitting up. In my car as I drive, in my chair as I watch t.v., in the seat I wait in before my appointment with Dr. K.

I recommend you learn by laying down on a semi-hard flat surface. Often it works. It does however, sometimes increase my being conscious of my breathing even more than when I was having the original anxiety attack, which makes me more conscious of the trouble I am having breathing.

That's when I usually have a martini! (just kidding)

...sort of;>) ...cheers!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Am So Tired of Trying to Get Better.

(All photos by Aqua, November, 2008) These first two are the strangest mushrooms I have ever seen. At first glance I thought it was dog poop plopped on top of a stick, until I looked at it from ground level at the side (don't ask WHY I would do that if I thought it was poo!!!). When I looked at it from "mushroom level" it looked like something out of "Lord of the Rings"

I wanted to go into my appointment today and focus on all the things I DID do this week. I wanted to try to shift my appointments away from my morose and markedly anxious and depressed mood. Last week Dr. X. said we do not have to talk about my symptoms, or my depression in our sessions. We could have appointments where we just discuss other things and have a conversation about whatever I want.

At first that seemed weird. Why would I see a psychiatrist and not talk about my psychiatric problems. As the week wore on I began to think maybe that would be a good idea. Maybe if I focus on the things I enjoy, rather than the thing I least enjoy I would eventually forget I'm depressed (hey....I seem to forget everything else!).

I tried really hard this week to find pleasure in simple things. The most enjoyable moments were spent with my puppy, in the forest taking pictures of mushrooms.

Mushrooms? You may be REALLY worried for my mental health now,.but I cannot get over the diversity of these little things. I also cannot believe I never noticed all this variety of fungi sitting right in front of me my whole life. It is strange how when you start to look for something it is as though a magician has placed it everywhere in front of you .

Perhaps I should begin looking for, and recording, enjoyable moments. Maybe they would become as prolific and diverse as all the mushrooms I have been finding. Maybe eventually the damp, dark forest that is my mind would eventually create joy as abundantly and easily as the real forest breeds mushrooms.
Maybe each enjoyable moment would create a path in my brain, and finally all those paths would become happiness, or at the very least, the absence of depression.

Probably not. More and more and more and more and more etc. I sense this depression is never going away. I sense my Mom was right: I need to accept my depression and move on WITH it. Maybe some of us just never get better. Maybe some of us are destined to be depressed with only fleeting moments of feeling okay, or experiencing joy, insight, or happiness. Can I accept that as a life worth living?

Some may say I should feel blessed that at least I have moments of levity. Some people do not even get those moments.

I don't feel that way. Those ethereal moments almost feed my depression. I say this because the joy makes the sadness even more evident and profound. Every time the joy, the laughter, or the connection I feel with someone, or something, ends I feel even more depressed. Those short experiences of a lift in mood seem to be there only to show me what I am missing. While photographing these mushrooms I felt a sense that they had more of a meaningful and purposeful existence than me.

I am sorry that some people have no moments of joy, but I am losing patience with having no mood stability. I want the old me back, the working me, the proud me, the ideas me, the fun loving me, the free me, the gregarious and mischevious and loveable me. That said, I am pretty certain the old me is gone and this is the new me. If that is the case, I really would like would like this life to end ASAP. I'm not cut out for this anymore.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Uhhh...You Know, That Thing.

Argh! my memory/word finding/cognitive function or whatever the hell it is, is driving me insane...well MORE insane than I already am. Yesterday and Monday in my classes it was intensely bad. At home, the same thing. I am not sure what "encourages" the memory loss...but it is bad. Here are just a few examples of my declining cognitive function:

1) In my Youth class...teaching how to stretch a canvas:
  • I am talking about the canvas and how we are to tear it, rather than cut it, because the cloth has a "insert unfound word here" that will ensure the line tears in a completely straight line. So I revert to explaining the long way that by tearing rather than cutting the line will be straighter.
  • It takes me at least 30 seconds to remember the name of the wooden slats that make up the frame of the canvas ("stretcher bars")
  • I pull out the "tool that stretches the canvas tight over the stretcher bar frame". God knows what the hell they are called. I used to know. I am actually not even certain today, but I believe they are stretcher pliers...At the very least I should have been able to remember the word "pliers"
  • I absolutely cannot remember any one's names, even though last week I remember doing well at this task. I am getting everyone mixed up despite this being the 7th class with the group.
  • I look at my Assistant...and I can't even remember her name for what seems like forever. It sits on the tips of my tongue, and I'm starring at her trying to pull her name out of my head. Finally, I remember because a song finally pops into my head with her name in it (I had "attached" her name to the song when I first met her).
  • I look at the O.T., who I have known for at least a year. Her name has escaped me. When it finally comes to me I call her by her formal, full name, rather than the name she goes by in the studio...I feel like an idiot.

2) Then yesterday in my Drawing class:

  • I am showing someone where supplies are kept and I am saying to her "those things, you know...I begin gesturing with my right hand twisting clockwise, and my left counter clockwise..."you know the...." (still not there). "I 'm sorry, I am having trouble with..." (I can't even remember or find the word "words" to complete the sentence. We laugh. It is agonizing for me to feel this inarticulate. She begins guessing the word I mean...finally she says "pencil sharpeners". "Yes, yes I reply. That's it. They are kept here".
  • I cannot think of the word "hairspray" (We use it as a fixative for charcoal drawings)
  • I cannot remember what a studio orientation is supposed to include...even though I have been involved in several orientations.

3) I forget to call a friend I have made an agreement with to call at 10:00am everyday (despite my e-mailing her at approximately the time I am supposed to call).

These are just a few example. It is actually ironic that I can remember them!! I know there were more problems, but I cannot recall the other things...ha, ha. Sort of. All week it is has been as though the memory centre in my brain has been on vacation. Frustrating.

4) I am setting off to rooms in my house, entering them, and completely forgetting why I am there. Sometimes if I stand there and really really think hard it comes after a minute or so. Sometimes the reason I am there escapes me completely.