61: Tomatoes and Tests with Two Lines.

I wrote the following over a year ago. I have updated the timeline to be current but I have since worked through most of the emotions I am about to discuss. I considered not making this public (it has been published privately for a long time) since I feel like the words are no longer true. However I believe some other person might feel the same as I did a year ago and may find comfort from knowing they are not alone.

It has been almost two years since I last fell pregnant. It has been more than three years since we started trying to get pregnant in the first place. I keep a tally of all the babies we know that have been conceived and born in that time. I also know of multiple miscarriages that multiple women in my life have experienced in that time. I’m not alone. I’m always aware of that.

I had an ultrasound during my second miscarriage. The doctors wanted to check it wasn’t ectopic pregnancy. It was an awful experience. I wish I hadn’t gone through with the ultrasound as the experience was worse than the miscarriage itself. I was uncomfortable and in pain; then I had to get undressed and lay on some towels while I had an internal ultrasound. There wasn’t anything too see. It was too early. My hormones were high, my lining was thick, but it was wasn’t a pregnancy that was meant to progress.

I get worried that none of it was real. I don’t want people to think I had a phantom pregnancy because there wasn’t anything on my ultrasound. My doctor assures me that I was pregnant. It was real.

My logical mindset told me not to cry. I cried silently in the waiting room. A few tears rolled down my cheeks but I didn’t cry loudly. I normally cry loudly. I normally feel every emotion so strongly. In that moment I didn’t feel anything. I knew there was nothing I could do, there was absolutely no way to prevent it, there was no point being upset… in that moment. The next few days I would feel more complex emotions. I expected to feel much more than I did. I was annoyed that I didn’t feel enough. I have known other women who had lost pregnancies and they felt so strongly and we all felt for them. I would stand alongside any woman and support her, but when it was my story, my experience, I was numb.

My dominant feeling throughout the experience, and ever since, is frustration. I’m frustrated that it doesn’t feel real. I’m frustrated that the validity of my pregnancy could be questioned (mostly by myself) by an empty ultrasound. I’m frustrated that I didn’t feel more. I’m frustrated that my mind tells me other people are allowed to feel more than I am. I’m frustrated that after a while of trying to conceive I lost an opportunity to finally achieve my goal. I’m frustrated that I haven’t been able to get pregnant since. I’m frustrated that I can’t control my body or my emotions or my fate. I’m frustrated with not knowing whether or not I will ever have a successful pregnancy. I’m frustrated that I have spent so much time thinking about it and have began doubting myself.

Most of all I’m frustrated that I can’t talk about it because that’s not how the world works. I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. I don’t want to have to explain all the details. I want to respond honestly when people ask me if we want kids or when we are planning on having them. I want to say things like “when I was pregnant I loved tomatoes” because for a only a few weeks in my life I didn’t hate tomatoes!

I kept all my positive pregnancy tests, discoloured and faded, in a ziplock bag. I did it so I can remind myself it was real. Sometimes I feel like I imagined it but those lines are definitely there. I remind myself that I will have another positive test one day in the future but it always seems like a lie.

54: A Glass Half Empty

I often get criticism for being too pessimistic. This really bothers me. I believe my anxiety caused me to become so pessimistic. I feel that if I prepare myself for the negative scenario I will be less disappointed. I’ve lived like this for years. Sure, I can see how this is a sad way to live my life, however, I find myself pleasantly surprised. When things go right I am happy, when things go wrong I can sigh and tell myself I expected it. 

I think of myself as unlucky. Not unlucky in a life and death kind of a way. Unlucky in the kind of way where I run in to things and trip over things more often than some. I never win raffles and if someone at the table is going to find hair in their food then it’s probably going to be me. My car will inevitably get a flat at the most inconvenient time and then it will start raining. The one time I got the courage to perform on stage in a play instead of behind the scenes; I got bronchitis! Things seem to break a lot when I’m around. My wedding day seemed to be one thing after another. I always seem to get lost. I’m just mildly unlucky.

Apparently saying that I’m unlucky out loud to other people makes me a pessimist. I feel like I’ve just learned to accept that sometimes things don’t go the way I want them to. Whenever I get sick I don’t expect to get better right away, this is because multiple times in the past I’ve struggled to shake a cold and then found out it was actually a chest infection. More often than not, I don’t just get over my sickness with some OJ and bed rest. I suppose I should have more hope in these situations. Maybe that’s the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? 

I don’t mean to be so negative. Maybe it’s all just a coping mechanism? I don’t do it to bring down the people around me. My outlook isn’t as cheerful as others but does that make me a bad person? I’ve tried to be more positive in the past but it just feels fake. I struggle not to make it seem like I’m lying to myself. I don’t want to be the lady with the bad attitude. I accept good things when they happen but I don’t trust myself to hold on to hope for too long. I want to. I try to. Is that all part of being depressed? 

I was told that it’s all about my attitude. I need to just decide to be happy. That if I think good things will happen then they will. Life is what you make it. I struggle with this concept because so much is out of our control in this world. A good spirit doesn’t always make things better. Hoping things will run smoothly doesn’t make it so. 
I will admit that it might make situations easier to handle if you believe that there is good in everything. I look around this world and I see so many examples that just seem so unfair and unjust. I wish it was as easy as a smile. I wish good things always happened to people with a positive attitude but that’s not always true. I also don’t think that when bad things happen to people who are all out of hope that it’s their fault for not seeing the silver lining. I will try harder to be positive for the people around me. I suppose at least I can make the people around me feel happy and hopeful and that in itself will be good. 

53: Sitting with my Sadness (and analysing anger.)

I have been in therapy, seeing a psychologist, for years. I have a history of depression and anxiety. I have been trying cognitive behaviour therapies since I was 4 years old. In my late teens I started trying what my psychologist referred to as acceptance commitment therapy. A.C.T. was the most helpful method I have ever encountered. I began to allow myself to have emotions and have thoughts without trying to control and suppress my feelings. This really helped me to relax and be able to really sit with my feelings and experience them. By doing this I have been able to analyse the way I think and why I react to things in certain ways. Instead of trying not to be anxious I am able to find why I am feeling anxious. When I am sad I look at why. Sometimes the answer is that I have a chemical imbalance or a predisposition, but usually I find that something has triggered a thought in my head and then I spiral. It had helped me feel in control. 

One of the things I have struggled with the most during this process is allowing myself to have negative emotions. I feel as though we are told from a very early age to suppress these feelings. Don’t cry. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry. Don’t be angry. Don’t be jealous. Don’t be sad. In this way we don’t learn to look inward at why we feel this way or how we can make ourselves feel more comfortable emotionally. We only learn that we shouldn’t feel these things. We know we will be scolded for reacting negatively to a situation. Instead of learning how to have feelings appropriately.

The problem with suppressing these feelings is that when you can’t hold it in anymore you explode. So many people I know have encountered this, when everything just becomes far too much to handle, you find yourself experiencing all these feelings you have ignored all at once. Without acknowledging your feelings and dealing with them, you can become overwhelmed. Sure, some people never have this problem, but in my experience I have found many more who have.
In some ways I had to learn to “self soothe”, to sit with my fear or my anger or my sadness. I let myself cry it out. I let my emotions dissipate naturally and this occurred much faster than when I tried to force them away. So often I have been told to “move on” or “that’s enough” because “there’s no point getting worked up” or “we have been through this”, instead of letting go in my own time. My feelings make other people uncomfortable. I know this. I know that I am an extrovert and when I feel good I want to share it and when I feel bad I seek the acknowledgement of others. I want to be told that my feelings are valid, because even now I feel I need permission to feel. 
I find myself getting more upset now when my feelings are met with disapproval. Once I accepted this new way of feelings it was harder to let other people dictate how I should have my emotions. I know it’s trendy to dismiss people, especially millennials, for having too many feelings. I know that it comes across as self indulgent to allow myself to stop and listen to my emotions. I know how much it bothers my family to hear me repeating myself out loud as I try to process the thoughts my brain keeps playing on repeat. I am sorry that my feelings are causing an inconvenience to those around me. However, the old way caused much more inconvenience to myself. It disrupted my life because these thoughts and feelings never really went away, I was just ignoring them until they became too loud. I didn’t want to feel anything until I couldn’t function at all because of all my built up fizz, bubbling to the surface, overflowing, drowning me. 

We should all me allowed to feel things. I don’t expect anyone else to “fix” my negative feelings. I will find a way to resolve. First I need to know the cause. I need to sit with my body and my mind. I need to look within. I need to hold my feelings like a glowing crystal ball. I need to turn it over in my hands and take in every angle. I need to run my fingers along it, to feel the textures, the warmth or the cold, the smooth or the rough. I need to breathe in and out and take my time, and as I do the ball will get smaller and smaller, and it will become easier to hold. It won’t disappear but it will get smaller. The next time that ball expands and I have to deal with it again it won’t take as long, I will recognise it, remember the details, I can recall how it shrunk away and have faith that it will do so again. 

My feelings are more familiar now. I can soothe myself. I tell myself my feelings are justified because I know why it is I am feeling them. I know myself better now. I trust myself. I still have to remind myself to take time to listen to my inner self. Ignoring my feelings means I am not being honest to myself. I have to remember that I am important. I’ve been told it’s a waste of time dwelling on feelings but life is full of feelings and ignoring the negative is only experiencing half of life.

Chapter 25: Mental Dominoes.

I never intended this to become a blog where I write all about my mental health. However I thought I would write a follow up to my last blog describing in greater detail what it feels like when I get anxious. It’s so hard to explain the way the thoughts in my head can make me feel. I’ve talked about my mental health a lot; my fear of dying, my inability to sleep, my social anxieties, and my worries surrounding medication. Sometimes I hear or read about other people’s experiences with anxiety and I feel as though my experiences have been similar, other times I find myself unable to relate. These are my experiences.

When I remember that one day I will die. A chain of thoughts is triggered, often by something I am watching or reading, sometimes at random. I’ll will be watching something set in the past and think to myself “all those people are dead now” and then “one day so will I” I think about how those people didn’t know that I would ever exist and how one day there will be a generation of people who don’t know I ever existed. I think about those few people who live on in our minds and hearts, names we all know and won’t easily forget. Authors, artists, politicians, and loved ones. I think about what it would be like to die, if you know you are dying or if you know you are dead. I think about how my concept of self, my identity, is so wrapped up in my thoughts and feelings. I worry that if those thoughts and feelings stopped existing if that would in turn mean that I too would stop existing. I come to the realisation that I probably won’t even know that I am dead and that my knowledge of my own life will die too. I notice how all these thoughts will stop too as if they never happened. All of these thoughts happen in an instant.

I blink and all these thoughts flood into my mind. I am taken off guard. I am frightened. It’s the feeling of missing a step, falling in your sleep, a cold wind down your back, or a voice you didn’t expect to hear. It takes my breath away for a moment and I am drowning in the emotions triggered by these thoughts. In those seconds it feels as though I will never escape these thoughts and feelings. Those seconds sometimes pass. Most times they linger for minutes to hours. I gasp for air, calmly, years of therapy has taught me to do so very calmly. I have been trained to recite one of several mantras to myself, “I am having the thought that…..”. It feels ridiculous most of the time. “I am having the thought that one day I will die”, it’s supposed to separate me from my thoughts so I don’t feel overwhelmed. I struggle not to feel like I am dismissing my own emotions. For some thoughts this works easily “I am having the thought that I am unattractive” or “I am having the thought that everybody hates me”; it works because I am telling myself that these things are not true, they are just thoughts I am having, my mind plays tricks on me. When I have these thoughts of death swirling around in my mind it becomes a lot harder. In the end I can’t change these thoughts because I can’t change the truth that my demise is inevitable. If I manage to breath and I push these thoughts from my mind then I have managed to keep a panic attack at bay.

If I can’t banish these thoughts then I feel the panic creep under my skin. It spreads across my chest. It becomes harder to remind my lungs to expand. I can’t focus my eyes on anything, it feels like being at a carnival and I’m being overstimulated by all the lights, music, and people. But there is no carnival, there is only my body trapping me inside with all my fears and my senses don’t know where to focus. It feels like my ribs are a corset and my throat is too tight to swallow. I cry because I am sad. I cry because I am lost. I cry because there is nothing else I can do. By this point I’m lucky if anyone has even noticed what I am going through. Usually I can’t reply to questions of concern because my mind is too foggy. Juggling thoughts is like spinning plates and I can’t stop to tell you how to help because then they will all break and I will break. Even if I can reply most of the time I don’t even know what I need.

Sometimes I need a hug; to feel protected and grounded, so I won’t fly away lifted by dark helium balloons filled with my despair. Sometimes I need space; to feel like I am free and not being crushed by my own consciousness. Sometimes I need words of reassurance; to feel like I am not alone, I am not irrational, I am alive and being perceived by another human being. Most of the time I need to process whatever has made me feel so overwhelmed. It’s not always death although that is my most powerful trigger. Whatever it is, I need to feel validated. I tell myself I am not crazy. I tell myself my feelings are justified. That doesn’t always help. I have come to the conclusion that sometimes nothing will help. I go about my day and I do my best. It’s hard not to fear my own thoughts and feelings, to avoid anything that might cause me to cry and panic. I’m a very verbal person and I use this to process everything in my life. Talking helps. Writing helps. Being heard helps even more.

Chapter 24: My Strange Brain.

[NOTE: It is very hard to talk so openly about mental health. I am very aware that there is a stigma surrounding mental health. I worry that people will judge me for my decisions regarding how I treat my mental health. I also worry that people will feel the need to force their help or opinion on me about treatment. I am extremely aware of my problems and any changes to my mental health. I have a very reliable support system in place including my doctor. I do not seek advice nor judgement nor pity. I am not here to educate. I am not a doctor or a psychologist. My experiences may not be the same as everyone else’s and should not be taken as an example of the norm. As always I am just conveying my experiences.]

At the very end of May last year my doctor in conjunction with my regular psychologist and a psychiatrist weaned me off of the medication I had been taking for two years. I have suffered from anxiety my whole life. I am a natural worrier. I stress about everything and everyone in my life until I am wound so tight I make myself sick. I have become a tiny bit better at managing this aspect of my personality over the years but it’s hard when I have always been this way. Sometimes it becomes unmanageable. Sometimes it goes beyond being just a quirky part of my personality and becomes seriously harmful and disruptive.

As early as I can remember I can remember having panic attacks and seeing counsellors. It really began when I started primary school at about four years old but I had some mild symptoms even before then. I vividly remember going to our family doctor often and discussing the traumatic nightmares I was having. This was when I was first taught some simple cognitive therapy methods. I was told to lock my nightmares into a box in my head. I would visualise a filing cabinet and a little man filing away all my distressing thoughts and feelings. Over the years this became a problem for me as I started to box up all my negative feelings and once triggered, all the boxes would open up one after the other like dominoes. However at the time it worked to ease my panic in regards to my nightmares.

For a few years in high-school I managed to get by without counselling. I had friends and I managed the stress of studying the best I could. When I was in my final year of high-school things changed. The social aspect of school was always a slightly turbulent experience for me, I struggled to make friends and was often picked on, but I still had some friends. Halfway through year 12 I had a falling out with most of my closest friends. I felt isolated and exposed. I felt so judged walking into that school. Most of the negativity occurred on social media where people felt they could say whatever they liked and I felt I couldn’t defend myself. I felt very unsafe and I couldn’t escape that feeling. I went back to seeing a counsellor.

I made it to the end of high-school with a lot of help and support from my counsellor and my extremely understanding teachers. I only attended my classes and spent a lot of my free periods at my then boyfriend’s house (technically his parents’) because they lived only a couple of blocks from the school. I felt as though my boyfriend at the time was the only friend I had left. I had all these adults around me supporting me but it felt as though all my peers had turned their backs on me. A couple of months after graduation we broke up and I broke down. Like with most break ups I felt so betrayed and when I discovered that he had been unfaithful my self esteem plummeted. I already felt so vulnerable having lost my friends. I began seeing a psychologist which was very different from the counsellors I had visited in the past. During this time I discovered who my true friends were and most of these gems are people who are still in my life today.

A few years later I had another break down. I cried a lot. I had always had anxiety but this was different. I was sad. Every day was hard. My self esteem was very low again. I was going through a lot of different personal matters. Things that were small or unrelated piled up and became so overwhelming. I wasn’t coping with life. I went back to seeing my doctor every two weeks and a psychologist on the alternating weeks. After a few months my self esteem was still pretty low, I was drained and unmotivated, and I avoided leaving the house. There was some discussion of medication but I was still pretty determined to avoid it. Eventually I gave in.

The push came when I got so tired of crying myself to exhaustion at night. I have always been very curious and concerned with my own death but there came a point when I was so fixated on these thoughts that I was losing sleep. I was triggering my own panic attacks with these thoughts of my mortality. This happened when I was a child but I managed to find consolation in my parents or in prayer. Now, however, I found myself unconsolable and exhausted.

When I tell people about my fear of death they usually assume that I mean that I am afraid I will die right now. They often assume I am losing sleep because I am worried I won’t wake up. This isn’t the case. When I am afraid of death it comes from a much deeper existential place. I fear the knowledge of my own existence and the knowledge that one day my life will end. It terrifies me and the worst part is that I can’t stop it. It’s not irrational because it’s guaranteed. I have been told we can’t fear death because we haven’t experienced it and therefore do not know what there is to be afraid of but that’s kind of the whole problem. It is genuinely both exhausting and horrific and I have never been so scared in my life as when I remember that one day I will die.

When I started on medication I cried for over an hour. As the first pill passed my lips I feared that somehow this would change me. I had spent my whole life feeling the way I do and being so afraid. I was worried that I would be numb from then on. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be afraid any more and that perhaps I should be, as though I was interfering with my natural fight or flight response. I can’t remember the active ingredient of what I was taking but I started on 25 mg once a day. By the time I finished two years later I was taking 200 mg over the course of a day.

The medication stopped the panic attacks. It stopped those awful gut wrenching feelings I had when I would remember my fate. It helped me to sleep and breathe and eat. But it made me frustrated. It stopped me crying and getting so excited that I wanted to scream and laugh. I still felt things but not in the same way I was accustomed to from decades of vivid, and sometimes intimidatingly extreme, emotions. The medication helped me go through with getting genetic testing and finding out I didn’t have Huntington’s Disease. However it did not help with my depression and I was consistently told that this was very weird as the medication I was on is primarily used as an antidepressant even though I was on it to help control my panic attacks.

The main side effect I experienced from my medication was feeling uncontrollably hot. All the time. I would walk around my house in my underwear in winter and still feel too hot. I had to sleep with a fan on or I couldn’t sleep. This made me irritable and was one of the main reasons I pushed to stop taking the pills. Another contributing factor was how much progress I was making in therapy. My psychologist had decided that those cognitive therapies, that I had been taught by every counsellor I had ever visited over the last two decades, wasn’t working for me. We began acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) and it made a huge difference. I was told I am impressively self aware. I felt like I was treated like an intelligent adult because this and am so grateful for it. I believe this helped me to make more progress than ever before.

The past nine months have been fine. It’s been slightly difficult to adjust to controlling my own emotions again. In the end though I have felt relieved to be myself again and to not be numb or hot. I have managed to use my skills acquired in therapy to calm myself down just shy of a panic attack every time so far. I have had a few close calls and before Christmas my psychologist moved away. It has been a rough few months adjusting but I’ve managed so far. Until this past week.

I feel as though I am going through an existential crisis as my extreme fear of death has returned. I am exhausted from a lack of sleep and from persistently fighting off a panic attack. The thoughts have been becoming more frequent and I find it more and more difficult to distract myself. I try watching videos, some of them suggest ways to combat anxiety, one of which recently compared death to falling asleep but then that just made me even more resistant to sleep. I have been considering talking to my doctor about going back onto medication. Obviously it would have to be a different type of medication in order to avoid those side effects I experienced last time. It’s very intimidating starting a new medication and I have all the same fears as I did last time. I don’t want to lose myself. I want to feel and even fear. But I am just so terrified and so exhausted I just have to give in to getting help. I know it will be alright this time round just as it was last time.

Read more about my trouble sleeping here.