I shouldn’t watch Hoarders. It’s one of those reality shows that preys on people with issues, and I know that. But I also feel like I connect with them. I’ve watched enough episodes, I know that I’m not actually a hoarder, but I definitely share their mindset.
“I can’t get rid of this because I’m going to use it…” “I can’t get rid of this because I’m going to use it…” “I can’t get rid of this because I’m going to use it…”
And there’s no answer. They don’t know when they’re going to use it, but someday…
I’m with them. I have too many things for a someday that hasn’t come, and so I’ve started clearing some stuff out. That’s a good thing, right?
Until I saw the episode with Elvis.
It wasn’t actually Elvis, of course. He’s in hiding.
No, it was an Elvis impersonator who had begun hoarding when his career took a bit of a dive. He’d lost his job as a PE teacher, and his impersonation days had gone from big shows that got media coverage to working bars and private events, earning just enough money to get by.
His family appeared in their little talking to the screen segment: they called him lazy. They said that he was a loser because he hadn’t gotten his Master’s degree on time, which is why he’d lost his teaching job. They said that all his problems were his all fault.
The show continued, and Elvis appeared.
He was freaking out. He paced back and forth in front of his non-working refrigerator. He literally wrung his hands. “I haven’t done anything this morning. I haven’t done enough. I haven’t accomplished anything. They’re going to be so disappointed. Why didn’t I do more? They’re going to judge me. I just…I just can’t decide. What should I do? I can’t make any decisions.”
I freaked out.
I had been there. I got his feels like I was with him. I yelled at the TV – “Get him help! He needs help! It’s depression! Where the hell is the psychologist? Where the hell are his meds?”
He was obviously too far gone to get help on his own. He was paralyzed by his depression; he couldn’t clear his place; he couldn’t function.
I was shaking. I had to stop putting together the bookcase with my husband and get up and pace.
Elvis needed some serious outpatient care or some good inpatient care. He needed, and deserved, better than to be paraded on TV as a source or entertainment. He didn’t need his family to call him lazy, to trash-talk him, to put him down. He needed them to get him help, and maybe even get him committed, until he learned how to function again.
I stopped the episode, probably further in than I should have, and calmed myself down.
That night, I had a nightmare about being committed against my will and not being able to get out. I jumped through hoops to prove that I could leave, but each time, when I’d get close to leaving, I’d be mistaken for someone else or “they” would decide that I had problems I didn’t think I had, and I’d be signed back in.
Now, if I was the type to analyze my dreams (which I am), I’d say that was my acknowledgment that, no matter what, I’ll never be free from depression or anxiety. And while I might manage my symptoms through therapy and drugs, I’ll always have a little Elvis in me.
Okay, so if you read my blog, you know I’m crazy. I’m not telling you anything new. But this is one of my truly crazy things.
And I blame my mother.
I know, mothers (and fathers) get a horrible rep when it comes to causing problems with their kids. But in this case, it’s totally legit.
See, when I was younger, any time I had a headache that was bad, which was often since I get migraines, my mother’s first response was to worry that it was meningitis.
“Oh my god,” she would say in a realistic yet dramatic way. “What if it’s meningitis? Is your neck sore?”
And, of course, the minute she asked, my neck would be sore. Within minutes, I’d be convinced that I did, indeed, have meningitis, and I was, indeed, dying.
Obviously, it hasn’t been meningitis yet. And I’m still alive.
But now, it doesn’t matter that I know that not every headache is meningitis. (In fact, very very few headaches are meningitis.) Every time I have a headache, I am convinced it’s meningitis.
The problem is that this morning, I woke up with a headache.
It was not my typical migraine. With a migraine, one side or the other hurts like someone has shoved a spike through my eye.
This morning, it felt like someone had put a vise on my head. There was pressure coming from seemingly everywhere, and I didn’t want to move because it made me want to throw up (which is like having a migraine).
I’ve probably had a pressure headache like that before, but I couldn’t remember when.
So it happened.
Oh. My. God.
I have meningitis.
Except I’m pretty sure I don’t. I’m up and moving around. I created PowerPoints for two classes I’m going to teach. I’ve been responding to emails. I even worked on booking a craft show. And the headache is getting better (thanks to a bunch of OTC pain meds and a lot of coffee).
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…)
I had been on upped medications due to thoughts of suicide and high anxiety. It had been three days of taking the new dosages, and they tended to make me sleepy. (For example, when we went to my son’s Special Olympics bowling tournament, I actually went into the bowling alley’s bar, laid down on the couch, and took a twenty minute nap…the couch was surprisingly comfy.)
My husband was stuck in a meeting in the city.
We had made reservations for this awesome event called “Caring Santa” for my autistic son back on November 2. It was the only way to guarantee we could get in to see him.
And now it was December 6.
The “Caring Santa” was at a mall. A mall about an hour’s drive away. I hadn’t driven that far since I’d been on the higher level of meds in case I got tired.
There was no way I wasn’t going to try to take him.
My neighbor’s daughter (who can drive, even if she’s not wildly fond of highway driving) agreed to come with because, well, it was a mall! And she said she would help and even drive, if absolutely necessary.
So off we went.
We got to the mall a little early, and rather than let my son potentially melt down too much over the wait, and because he had totally fallen asleep in the backseat, I drove in circles around the mall for about 10 minutes, then decided it was close enough.
Plenty of spots in the parking lot since the mall wasn’t even open yet – that’s one of the perks of “Caring Santa.” It happens before the mall is open, and it’s by appointment only. You don’t have to wait in a line, and the mall is much quieter than it would be during normal hours. (If you have a child with special needs, I highly recommend you check and see if there is one in your area you can sign up for next year!)
I noted the “neighborhood” we parked in. The mall is so big that it has neighborhoods. You have to know where you went in to figure out where to go out. It’s massive. It’s huge. It’s awe-inspiring. And it’s very, very easy to get lost and die of dysentery.
The beginning of the trip went great. My son got to see Santa, even if he did freeze up like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story’ and nod and agree that he wanted video games (which he never plays). But he loved seeing Santa. Then my neighbor’s daughter grabbed breakfast from the food court while I took my son on the merry go round.
So far, so good.
We went shopping. I bought a few small gifts for people, stocking-stuffer level items, and we looked at a lot of things we couldn’t afford but were pretty.
Then we decided to leave.
And that’s when we started on the Oregon Trail.
I swore we came in at neighborhood six. My teenage companion demanded that was wrong – we did *not* come in there. She didn’t remember it as being where we entered. And I began questioning myself. Maybe I was just so used to coming in through six that I was imaging it.
All I remembered was that we had come in, turned right, saw a huge sign pointing to Santa, and walked to Santa in a few minutes.
Now I couldn’t find that sign at all.
Had they taken it down? Moved it? Perhaps it had caught fire and burned to a crisp while we were in another part of the mall? (It could happen!)
We began walking. We passed neighborhood eight. Then one. Then two. Then three. All of it looked familiar because we had gone past it before when we walked the mall.
The teen insisted that we had come in near Hot Topic because that was the first store she’d gone into. I pointed out that was only because it had been one of the first stores to open, and she’d gone into it while we were waiting for Santa to be ready.
I kept thinking things were familiar, but then we’d get to the exit, and it would look wrong. We must have passed neighborhood six three times. Every time I thought we were finding our exit, we’d come up on Santa again. Since Santa was not at our entrance, we were wrong.
I began freaking out.
We were trapped in the mall.
We’d never get out.
We would die there.
Dysentery would set in.
We’d be found huddled in the food court, or maybe in one of those short little hallways that led to the entrances and exits used by mall workers.
We’d be desiccated corpses.
The mall would be the death of us.
But we pushed on, bravely, I thought.
Apparently, though, my cracks were showing.
My anxiety had gone sky-high, and I was literally freaking out, convinced that we would never find the right exit. We would never find the car. We’d have to go to the police. They would think I was hopped up on drugs, and next thing I’d know, I’d be under arrest for something, and my son and the teenager would be waiting on someone to pick them up while I got processed at some station where I had to pee in public and have someone do a cavity search on me.
I turned to the teen. She had been texting.
“Who are you talking to?”
“You’re scaring me.”
I was scaring her.
“I’m not scaring you,” I told her. “I’m just getting a little anxious is all.”
She raised an eyebrow at me and kept her hand in her phone.
“Look, I told you I was anxious, right? Well, I’m just a little more anxious now because I can’t find our way out, and we’re going to die in the mall.”
Okay, maybe I was scaring her.
“Why don’t we just try every exit?” she suggested.
Bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea. My son was not good with changes in schedule. If we started going out every door, he was going to be very unhappy when we didn’t go to the car and leave. He was tired from all the walking. I was tired from all the walking. And my hip – which flared up with what I’m hoping is not arthritis – hurt like crazy, adding to my anxiety.
But I didn’t know what else to do.
“Sure,” I said.
What else could go wrong?
We went out at neighborhood five. I pressed the panic button on the car, even though the exit didn’t look at all familiar.
“Let’s go back in,” I said.
The teenager’s shoulders’ slumped. “Oh, I thought this was it.”
My son had a minor meltdown. He thought we were leaving, but suddenly we were back in the mall.
“That’s it,” I said. “I swear it’s neighborhood six, so I don’t care what you think, we are bloody well going out at it.”
And we walked to neighborhood six.
I turned in a circle at neighborhood six. There it was, the sign for Santa.
We went down the little hallway, and – shazaam! – the car was out there waiting for us!
I wound up with a very tired son, a very sore hip, and a crying teenager who thought she had hindered more than helped.
On the plus side, we survived the Oregon Trail, and we had cute Santa pictures to show for our travels. On the negative side, I have learned that anxiety at a mall really, really sucks when you don’t know where you’re going.
Surprise, Dad! And step-mother! And whoever else is foolishly reading this blog.
I went out to lunch with my father, my step-mother, and a friend. My father noticed – possibly not for the first time – the semi-colon I have tattooed on my middle finger. (It seems appropriate to me to have it there). He asked me about it, and I told him the story of the semi-colon and why I have it: how I want to put a semi-colon there and keep going instead of putting a period there and stopping it.
He laughed at first. Told me that I had gotten it from my mother.
And I said, yes, I did. And I told him that I applied for disability because I haven’t been able to function.
And I explained to him what it’s been like.
My brain is broken. Seriously broken. I take medication. Not because I want to, but because I have to. Because without it, I can’t function. Even with my medication, I have problems functioning.
I spent over a week trying to convince myself that death is not actually better than life. I’m still not convinced, but I know that if my medication is working, I would probably feel that life is worth living, so I’m working on it.
I went to see my psych because I knew there was a problem – and because my husband convinced me that there was a problem – and he jumped up both my medications (depression and anxiety) as soon as I told him how I felt.
When I explained that I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t get any work done because the minute I saw I had work to do, it overwhelmed me, and then I’d want to just get back into bed, and then I’d notice that there was even more work to do, which then overwhelms me worse, and then I’d get depressed because I hadn’t done anything, which then made me want to go back to bed and not work…well, you get the idea. It’s a fun cycle that refuses to stop itself.
I’m in a jewelry making class. We had two projects to do. Neither of mine are finished.
I’m also in a marketing class. My projects have all been due for a while now. I still have one that I haven’t finished, and I don’t know that I will finish it.
I told all this to my psych, and he decided to increase my medications. So I went out to my car and cried because I was crazy.
Because I know I’m crazy. Because I know I’m anxious over everything and depressed about anything.
I had a half-hour panic attack because I had to take a new medication for some hip pain. It’s a simple anti-inflammatory. A NSAID. But after I took it, I freaked out and thought I was dying.
I ate a salad. Found something crunchy in it. Decided I had eaten glass and was going to die. So much fun.
I love Christmas. Normally. The minute it hits Thanksgiving, I’m all about decorating for outside. I’m all about not being able to wait to put up the tree. I love Christmas.
I still haven’t been able to do any of it. I just can’t get myself to care about it.
I’ve been on new doses of my meds yesterday and today. The increased dosage made me sleep. A lot. I slept until 10 a.m. Got up long enough to take more medication and eat breakfast, and then I went back to bed. Woke up at 2:30, took a shower, made sure my son got off the school bus and got some juice and a snack, ate my lunch and took my other medication, and wound up falling asleep again. I finally actually got up around 8 p.m. But I’m tired already.
I know my drugs will eventually work. They will kick in. I will not spend all my time thinking about ways in which death is better than life. I will not consider methods of suicides and rank them by their likelihood to success versus the amount of pain suffered. I will stop sleeping all the time. I will feel better. I will be able to do things. I will be excited about Christmas. I will decorate. I will bake cookies. I will read. I will write. I will see people. I will make jewelry. I will make blank books. I will be happy.
Until my drugs stop working again. And then this will all start over again. But I can hope it doesn’t, once I feel better.