Because your brain lies to you and depression sucks
Author: Katherine Sanger
Katherine Sanger was a Jersey Girl before getting smart and moving to Texas. She's been published in various e-zines and print, including Baen's Universe, Black Petals, Star*Line, Anotherealm, Lost in the Dark, Bewildering Stories, Aphelion, and RevolutionSF, and edited From the Asylum, an e-zine of fiction and poetry.
Her poetry has won numerous awards, including First Place in Byline's "Autumn Poem" contest, First Place in "Lucky Thirteen" contest sponsored by Sol Magazine, and Honorable Mention in: The Houston Chapter Award, The Hap Fulgham Prize, and The "Varoom-Varoom" Award.
So as I write about my panic attack last Monday, I’m having another one tonight. Ah, the joys of anxiety.
Before I begin, please understand this.
When I say panic attack and anxiety, I don’t mean a little nervous about something, or even a lot nervous about something. I mean that feeling like your heart is going to explode, and you’re sure that you’re dying, and you need to pace and shake and rattle and roll and you are sure you’re freaking out, and you may be hyperventilating, but it sure *feels* like dying, and you don’t think you’re breathing, but obviously you are if you’re hyperventilating because you can’t do that without breathing, but maybe you’re not breathing, and that just feels like you’re hyperventilating, and your heart is most definitely bursting out of your chest, and maybe you should call the ambulance, but by the time they got there you’d be dead anyway, and why is the room spinning like that?
That’s a panic attack and a moment of anxiety for me.
Except it last a lot longer than a moment. And it’s not always obvious because a lot of the time I just try to sit it out, but others time I have to pace or jiggle my leg or shake my hand or something like that. Whatever works.
But it’s not a lot of fun.
Luckily, my doctor gave me an awesome pill for it. I’m on other meds for depression, which is a whole different thing, but when my anxiety hit that moment, then I take what I’ve nicknamed my chill pill (mostly because I can’t pronounce the damn thing).
Now let me take you back to last Monday.
I like to call this story “How I Almost Didn’t Take My Son Bowling Because I Knew I’d Meet New People There.”
My son loves bowling. Most of the time. More often than not.
Back before the summer began, I bought bowling passes for both of us. It was a great deal – three games each, per day, for a super-low fee.
I made plans to go bowling.
And I made plans to go bowling
And I made plans to go bowling.
And I made…you get the idea.
Then, a friend I kind of know, but know well enough to want to hang out with, suggested that I join in on their group of bowlers. It’s a group of other moms and their kids. It’s a whole bowling league. Except, you know, not really a bowling league. Close enough.
I kept saying I would go, but then something kept me from going. I finally made it two weeks ago, and then it turned out she hadn’t been able to make it, so my son and I bowled, and he had a great time.
Last Monday rolled around.
I’d gotten into a group message on FB about the upcoming bowling. I said I’d be there. I knew my son wanted to be there. I wanted to be there.
About 45 minutes before the appointed time, I sat at my desk, looked at the message, and freaked out.
I wouldn’t know most of the people there. I’d never met them before. I could not do it.
I sat around, freaking out, thinking of how bad a mother I’d be if I didn’t take him.
I took my chill pill.
I would go bowling.
And I did! And it was fun! And the other people were nice!
To be fair, I have no memory of their names. I didn’t talk to them very much. I’m already starting to panic about going back.
But I’m going. I’m pushing through. And maybe this week it’ll be easier. And maybe next week, it’ll be even easier. And maybe, eventually, I won’t need to take a chill pill.
… cleaned up after the dog
… went out to lunch
… stayed awake for 13 hours
… taught a class
… read a book
… did dishes
… did laundry
… took a shower
… brushed my teeth
… ate healthy
… caught up on some TV
… responded to emails
… took my medication
… played with my son
… and came up with the idea for this blog.
To be fair, this is actually what I did yesterday, but I couldn’t sum up everything I did today because by the time I wrote it, it would be tomorrow. So instead I wrote this today about yesterday. But it’s a good list, and while it might not be the list I want it to be, it’s a lot better than I was doing last week.
Last week, this list might have only included some TV and a shower. Last week, when I was driving to the class I’ve been teaching, I was wishing that someone would have a fender bender with me so that I could have an excuse to get out of it Last week, I was sleeping all morning, and then taking naps all afternoon. Last week, I didn’t care if I was awake or asleep. Last week, at the insistence of my husband, I also went to see my psychiatrist, and he decided that it was time to try something new.
I’ve been on it for a week now, and while it has a scary bad side effect of a “potentially deadly rash,” it does seem to be slowly dragging me up and out and about. And hopefully it will keep being successful, and I won’t get that “potentially deadly rash.”
(Well, for those of you not in the know, a “con” is a convention or conference. When I use the term, I’m generally referring to something that deals with genre writing and movies, such as science fiction/fantasy/horror. This past weekend, I spent it at a con, selling crafts and talking on panels.)
So who knew that they weren’t depressing?
I mean, I did. Mostly. Sort of.
There were plenty of times that I’d leave a con feeling jazzed and inspired and ready to write and take on the world.
But mostly I’d feel unhappy and defeated and frustrated.
And even if I’d begun the con feeling happy, by the time it was over, my anxiety and depression would have crept in and brought me down. The moments of “I know what to do!” would be replaced by “I can never do this,” and I’d be sinking and spiraling, feeling that I’d always be an outsider, always be on the edges, never be successful.
But at this con, with my new medication and my coping strategies, even with a friend telling me that she bought one of my books but that it was so bad and so boring that she had to stop a few pages in (thanks, friend!), I still haven’t begun that spiral.
Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t trying.
My purpose was two-fold: to sell my stuff, and to speak on panels.
I was selling my jewelry and my books in the “gallery.” Gallery is apparently code-speak for “no one knows you’re there, and you might as well be on the street corner because you’ll get as much in tips there as you will in sales here.” Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad. But it wasn’t very good, either. But I can blame the issues on outside influences: no one knew it was there, I was behind a pole, and the lights above me were out. If you need a trifecta for lowering sales, that’s it. Most people who bothered to stop either bought something or took a card. So success?
Speaking on panels is always challenging for me. I feel like I need to be well-prepared enough, and I either over-prepare or under-prepare. Either way, I tend to feel like I’ve messed it up. Did I sound like an idiot when I was talking about movies? Was I okay when talking about Lovecraft? I ran out of questions on the horror location panel – did everyone think I had messed it up?
I don’t know if I did well or if I did badly. And if I did badly, what level was it? Was it spectacularly bad, leading to fire, flood, and famine? Or was it only mostly bad, leading to blood, barf, and broken bones?
I look at it this way (for now): no one threw anything at me. No one refused to talk to me after a panel. And I did earn the cost of my table back. So, overall, it could have gone a lot worse.
I’m actually happy with my way of thinking about it. I’m not just blaming myself, and I’m not telling myself that I messed up the entire weekend. Yes, I can think of ways to improve, but I’m not stuck in the spiral thinking that I can’t do anything. In fact, even now, a full day after the con ended, I’m still thinking about working on some pieces I hadn’t quite finished yet, and I might even work with someone else on a new anthology. I even friended people that I met (and that I’d even met before but never friended), and they friended me back! Success!
So I’m pretty much trapped at home today thanks to the joy of anxiety. Not that I had a lot of stuff to do outside the house today, but right now, I don’t feel like I can leave the house. I’m not necessarily scared to leave, but I feel off-balance, off-center, and just plain old off.
I’d blame it on my cold, saying that my congestion is what’s messing with my head, but I don’t think that’s it because when I don’t think about it, I feel better.
It’s like my brain is messing with me again. It’s telling me to worry. It’s telling me that I’ve over-extended myself. It’s telling me that I’m going to mess up the convention I’m going to this weekend. It’s telling me I have no friend. I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no abilities.
I know it’s lying.
I printed a bunch of stuff on my 3d printer this morning to sell at the conference this weekend.
I posted up a FAQ for a special needs kids Easter egg hunt.
I got the car’s oil changed.
I did 3 loads of laundry.
I made myself lunch.
I packaged up a return and a birthday present.
I wrote three letters for LetterMo.
I wrote this blog.
Getting stuff done, then, isn’t the problem. It’s accepting that I’m getting stuff done and keeping on getting stuff done until I feel like I’ve achieved a goal.
I’m fighting off the feelings by using two tricks – one is not really a trick, but it’s helpful: meditation. I put on some calm music and sat down with my hands in my lap and tried to just breathe. I ignored thoughts that raced by, and I tried to stop thinking about anything except my breath going in and out. That was semi-successful. The second one is challenging thoughts.
When I first heard of challenging thoughts, I thought it meant having challenging thoughts – like challenging yourself to do things. Seemed logical.
But then I learned what it was really was: challenging the thoughts you have.
Instead of agreeing with your brain when it tells you that you’re not getting anything done, you stop and consider what you know that might challenge that thought.
My thought that I didn’t do anything today and that I can’t do anything I can challenge by making a list of what I actually did get done. When I think that it isn’t a very impressive list, I have to tell myself that it doesn’t have to be impressive. I didn’t say I had to do an impressive number of things today – I had to do things is all.
Both of those tricks might sound simple, but they aren’t that easy to do when your anxiety is creeping up and growing. I’d guess my level of anxiety is at a solid 5 today, which is much higher than I would prefer it be. But instead of giving in to it and sitting around in bed, I’m up, I’m moving, and I’m doing things. And I feel better for it.
College classes started on Tuesday of this past week. I had signed up for two of them – one I had taken before but loved and wanted to keep working on (jewelry and metal arts) and then drawing II to help my drawing skills before taking a class like painting. I went to the first day of painting, and the teacher didn’t show up. At all. Someone from the art department came over, printed out and distributed the supply list and the syllabus, and had us all sign in. No one could reach him. Which kind of sucked, but sitting there and waiting to see if he’d be there, I realized I was feeling anxious about school starting again.
I know, I know – they’re ART classes. As long as you show up, you’re bound to get at least a B, right? And an A isn’t unheard of; so far, I’ve gotten As in all my art classes. But still, they’re classes. By that I mean they’re on a regular scheduled basis, and I’m supposed to actually be there when they are. That means I had committed to spending four morning a week, from 9:30 to 12:20 each day, in a classroom, working on art.
I like the idea of working on art. What I don’t like is the idea of having to be somewhere at a particular time for an entire semester. It’s stressful. It’s difficult. It’s anxiety-producing.
How can I say it produces anxiety? Well, I spent Tuesday night having a panic attack, freaking out and convinced I was going to die because I knew that I had two more days of classes. Because I kept thinking about the upcoming semester and worrying. Because I worried that I’d miss too many classes or somehow do something wrong and fail my classes. Because I’m good like that.
So on Wednesday morning, I went to the college, and I dropped both my classes. Completely withdrew from this semester. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to. It wouldn’t work for me to be there.
The advisor asked me why I was dropping. I told him it was for mental health and wellness. He nodded. “Yup,” he said. “School is important, but so is your health.” I didn’t bother telling him that school itself wasn’t that important to me – I had enough degrees that I wasn’t worried about getting another one (although ironically, the whole reason I was dropping was because I was worried about the schooling itself). Instead I just agreed with him and waited for him to sign my paperwork.
And that was it.
I was done.
This semester will be a re-grouping for me. I’m going to try to pull my brain back together, and I’m going to work on my jewelry and my drawing outside of the classroom, and I’m going to hope that I’m back to school this fall.
(And starting with the next blog, I’ll be going back to tales of the asylum…)
Before I go any further, let me explain why this current series of posts has the title that it does.
When I got committed (committed myself? Take your pick…), a bunch of people asked what they could do to help. My husband, the smart man that he is, told them all that what I would need was coffee and chocolate once I got out.
Now I’ve been out of the hospital for three, and I still have a few pieces of chocolate left, and there is enough for one more drink on my Starbucks card. Not too bad.
So, back to the story…
I got to the psych ward.
It was up in Houston, and I’ll even include the name: Bellaire. The reason I’m telling you what it was called is because I found it hysterically funny to say that I was the fresh princess of Bellaire, and most of the women there were much younger than me, so they just looked at me funny when I said it. Ah well. What can you expect from crazy people?
Anyway, so I got there, and I had to get checked in. Easy, right?
The guy who checked me in was nice and funny, and he suggested I get my bloodwork done and checked for thyroid issues because I said that I was depressed and over-eating, and he said that most people who are depressed don’t eat.
We chatted a bit, and I don’t remember how it came up, but I had to get in a smart ass comment (of course), and I wound up telling him that I might be crazy, but at least I wasn’t a Trump supporter. And he replied, “Well, we can’t commit people for that. Yet.”
While he walked me back to the ward, we joked around, and he told me that his mother was a Trump supporter. I told him my father was, and we empathized with each other about how some of the people who should seek help don’t.
And then I was locked up.
It was that simple.
I lost everything I had with me.
They took my computer. They took my phone. They took all my pens and pencils and notebooks. They took my clothes, leaving me in a set of blue paper scrubs.
All of the stuff I had with me to keep what remained of my sanity was locked up, and I signed off that I would get it back. Eventually.
In the meantime, they showed me to the room that I’d be sharing with another patient. The room wasn’t too bad – two beds, two bookcases, two small tables, two “trash cans.” (The trash cans weren’t. They were paper bags. Everything was a paper bag. They were apparently massive afraid of what would happen if we had access to plastic trash bins.) There was a window, but it was mostly covered with film, and it was tall and thin. I couldn’t really see out of it. The bathroom was attached, and it was okay, but the only issues were that the door didn’t have a lock – or a top or bottom – and the shower curtain was held on with Velcro straps. I’m sure the idea of Velcro straps sounded good; it would be safer. But it was also a massive pain in the ass because they would come undone, and they were so high up that it was impossible to re-do them yourself, leading to an open shower in a somewhat open room in a somewhat cold place. Ugh.
I didn’t get to find that out about the shower yet, though. I didn’t have anything with me, remember? I asked at the front for shower stuff, and I went back to my room and laid down for a while. I don’t remember if I ate dinner or what it was. I wasn’t that hungry, and I really just wanted to sleep and try to get used to hanging out in this crazy place.
My paper scrubs were starting to bug me by then. They were too big, and the pathetic drawstring on them had gotten too tight in a knot and wouldn’t open or close anymore. Because of that, I was stuck with them being a bit too loose, and they wanted to fall down. Plus the pants were way too long, and so I basically anywhere I had to walk meant hiking up and then holding up my pants. Fun!
At that point, I still hadn’t met my roommate. That came next. And it was possibly the most interesting part of being there.