Monday, November 10, 2014

My Very Own Patronus

So, my last couple of blog posts have been pretty intense and I wanted to show a lighter side of my life today. One of the ways I have learned to deal with my super-high alert anxiety and depression comes in the form of my own personal Patronus named Copper.

Copper is my ESA, or Emotional Support Animal. While he has not been specially trained and is not a registered Therapy Animal he is nevertheless a recognized form of therapy.

As stated before I decided to begin my journey with meds and therapy which got me started in a really good direction with just a few bumps along the way. For me it was working pretty well and I was getting to a much better mental place in my head. However, I didn't feel like I was finished. There wasn't anything I could put my finger on but I just knew I needed more. My meds were there to help stabilize, but meds can only do so much. Mental health is something you must work at and constantly monitor and pay attention to when you are in as deep as I was. Mine were a crutch, a support structure if you will and I knew instinctively that I needed more than just meds to keep the depression and anxiety at bay.

 I actually learned about these kinds of therapy animals through Robison Wells. (AWESOME author and all around great guy.) Rob deals with some of the same things I do, but on a much more severe level. He ended up with a beautiful and super sweet dog named Annie. Seriously, she is a doll.

I was willing to put a lot of thought into this direction, knowing it wasn't something I should rush into.  After all, a partnership with an animal (therapy or 'regular') wasn't something to take likely. It's a partnership that would be dependent on my needs as well as the animal's needs. Just because you give an animal a label such as an ESA doesn't automatically mean the animal is going to listen or conform. I had to find one that fit my needs and personality and that I would be able to care for during the 'partnership'. And that's exactly what Copper is to me today: a partner.

I put a LOT of time and thought into this and felt that going in this direction was going to be a really good thing for me. I worked with my therapist and I spent many hours going over the logistics of owning said ESA. An ESA doesn't have to be a dog. There are instances of cats, rabbits, even a miniature horse for crying out loud, but I knew from the beginning that I wanted a dog. I also knew this was going to be a problem as my apartment contract specifically stated 'No Pets'.

I had to do a lot of research concerning mental health rights balanced with landlord rights. Needing an ESA is not a license to go out and do whatever you want regardless of a landlord's wishes. I wanted to keep a good relationship with our apartment owners. I approached them with my prescription for an Emotional Support Animal (That's right. I have an actual prescription for my dog from my psychiatrist) and began a civilized conversation about my needs an wanting to balance it with their homes and properties.

A fully accredited Service Animal has many more rights than an ESA, but more and more people are becoming better acquainted with these animals and they are being seen as just a step below Service Animals. A landlord can say no to an ESA, but it comes off as being incredibly jerky and the person seeking permission for an ESA can appeal to several agencies as requiring any type of service animal can count as a disability.

Luckily my landlord at the time was willing to work with me (As did my current landlord) and we came to an agreement. Now the hard part was out of the way I spent the next couple of weeks busily preparing for the new addition to the apartment while I scoured the Internet and newspapers for Pet Classifieds. (Boy, Petco sure loved me that week.)

The novelty of getting a dog wore off a bit as doubts crept into my mind. Who was I to demand that the landlords allow me to break their rules and let me have a pet when no one else could have one? How could I be so dumb as to think a dog was going to solve all my problems? This was just proof to me that I was making up my mental problems so I could feel special and different. I was a fraud, using a silly excuse in order to get a dog and get around the rules.

This continued on for some time, me thinking I was being stupid and dumb for going to all this trouble when I seemed fine on my meds. The night before I was scheduled to pick up the dog I attended a huge church meeting with many other members my own age. I think there were maybe three hundred young adults in one meeting house, watching a broadcast of our church leaders. It was terribly crowded, but very spiritual and I was gleaning a lot from the speakers which is why I was so surprised to be suddenly overcome by a panic attack.

Panic attacks are weird. Your brain goes all red-alert at the weirdest times and in the strangest places, in this case a quiet and spiritual, yet extremely crowded setting.

My panic attacks tend to land one two extreme sides of the spectrum: They either sneak up and build gradually or hit me all at once without warning. The ones that hit all at once are the hardest to recover from. My first clue was my leg bouncing up and down so fast my notebook was thrown clear off my lap. Tunnel vision followed a sensation of suffocating. I started shaking and knew I had to get out as fast as possible. I remember stumbling over everyone in the row, trying to make a clean getaway, and being able to keep myself together long enough to find my car and get in and lock all the doors before falling apart.

I knew then that night without a doubt that pursuing the ESA route had been something I'd been prompted to do. I did need more help. In a weird and twisted way the panic attack that night was an answer to a question I really needed closure on. I had a mental illness and getting a dog was not a selfish act. Rather it was a way to further stabilize my life, which I clearly needed that night.

Copper came into my life the very next day and it's been amazing to look and see the difference he's made in my life. I completely lucked out with him. Not only is he incredibly smart, but he's loving, alert, and one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. He was the missing piece in my survival. Having him with me helps stabilize me, and gives me something to focus on when things get bad. He is an incredible blessing in my life. This amazing little dog acts as a constant companion and never ceases to amaze or make me laugh. He accompanies me to work, to voice lessons, to the store, and many other places. He works with me, not for me.

It all may seem a little strange, that such a little thing in life can bring so much joy and stability. It does to me sometimes. I am just glad I was able to find something that worked for me. It's all about finding a combination that works for you and gets YOU into a good place. Mental illness sucks, but it doesn't have to ruin your life.

Stay strong!
Until next time,

Friday, May 2, 2014

No More Apologies

Yes. This post comes to you at 1 a.m., but I couldn't wait until morning. I had to write it right now as I am coming to several conclusions on my own. I have several important things to say and I WILL SAY THEM.

Dealing with depression, PTSD, as well as anxiety can be (and is) overwhelming. It has damaged my emotional, mental, physical, and at times my spiritual health. I not only have to deal with the way it makes me feel, I am constantly aware of how it affects those around me.

And I don't have to apologize to anyone ever again about it.

I do not need to apologize to anyone for my recovery rate.

I do not need to feel pressure to keep up appearances when I am having a bad day. It is ok to acknowledge I might be having a really sucky day.

I can and have the right to remove myself from a setting or situation that triggers me.

I do not need to feel bad for taking care of myself.

I do not need to feel guilt that I want to take some time and focus on myself.

This is not something I am making up to get attention. This is not a 'fun', 'easy' or 'romantic' disease that adds a cute quirk to my personality. While the symptoms are (literally) in my head they affect me physically as well. A small sampling of an anxiety attack can include:

A feeling of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen and that I am in very real danger
A strong sense of fear
The feeling that I am not getting enough oxygen (which brings on even more panic)
Confusion and Depersonalization (Feeling detached from reality)
Dizziness (Lightheadedness, unsteady on my feet)
A fear that I am going crazy
Numbness and tingling in my arms and face (stroke symptoms to my panicking brain)
Chest pain (Again with deathly symptoms like a heart attack)
An urge to hide (usually in a closet or under a desk)

Don't even get me started on PTSD flashbacks or depression. I don't like dwelling on these issues, but I have slowly learned to acknowledge they did happen to me and whether I like it or not, they are a part of my life. These illnesses are my reality, as much as I hate them and I know (at least I do today for now) that I can be stronger than they.

Sitting down and writing this gives me a feeling of empowerment, and a reassurance that living my life is possible. I do not need to bow down to this trial and let it walk all over me. I am more than my trials.

It does get better. I can get better. I will recover.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Part Two: Brain Chemistry

I've recently come to wonder why the term ‘mental illness’ makes most people react with fear and secrecy? One reason I think ‘mental illness’ is an unfair term is that, at least for me, the word illness makes people visualize some sort of contagious disease. (As if you could CATCH being any sort of crazy.) But changing it to something like ‘mentally disturbed’ instead isn't any better in my book.

The way I see it, it really is all about your brain betraying you, making you see the world in a new and usually frightening light. Things that were once so normal, like going to church or the grocery store, are now gigantic mountains to scale. You see and experience things differently than those around you, and sometimes trying to explain it to those around you is easier said than done.  

Even though I struggle with seeing and experiencing the world like everyone else I’m still ME. Nothing much has changed, just that my brain interprets some signals differently, underplaying some and blowing others out of proportion. I’ve been lucky and blessed to have friends and family that still recognize me beneath my insecurities and weird habits.
Some people are able to live just fine with these symptoms, but for those whose symptoms become unbearable  PLEASE know there are many different ways to manage. There’s therapy, medication, meditating, yoga, animals, music, exercise, sports etc. What many people don’t understand is there are OPTIONS. If you feel you need help start checking out your options through research. You may find one option to be more helpful than all of them combined, or that certain combinations work better than any single one alone.

The option I began with was medication. What I want to stress most of all is that medication is not for everyone. For me it was. At the time I felt I needed some serious intervention or else I was going to be in a bad place…well, a worse place, sooner rather than later. Now, for some, the idea of taking medication to change the chemistry in the brain is a terrifying idea and there are people who would never ever take it. And you know what? That’s cool. People have a right to decide how they want to treat themselves and I made the decision to begin taking meds.

I remember the doctor and I talking about starting me on anti-anxiety/depression meds and feeling this incredible wave of relief wash over me. Here was someone who actually believed that there was something wrong with me! He actually took all the other tests into consideration rather than insisting we run them all again. I came close to crying in relief as we began discussing my future options.

Now, let me just say, for the record, that meds of ANY kind are not something to mess around with. EVER. While they are designed to help and alleviate symptoms there is still much that is unknown about the brain, so there’s a reason to be careful. One reason to be careful is because of side effects. The side effects for the initial meds I was taking were fairly light. My doctor encouraged me to just keep pushing through the nastier ones and see what happens.

That is one thing about anxiety/depression meds I didn’t know about when I started. You have to be patient and just keep trying. Most drugs can take up to two, sometimes even three weeks before the take effect. Again, meds are not the “magic pill” that fix every problem as soon as you take them. It takes time to readjust your brain chemicals and it’s got to be done slowly and with professional help. (You also should not ever these meds quit cold turkey by the way. That leads to other problems.)

My doctor also stressed that I should come right back in if there were any more dizzy or weak spells because then it might point to a more serious brain problem (tumor, lesions etc), only he said it in more clinical terms. (Cue the anxiety coming in waves almost immediately.)

All was well, and I was waiting for the first week to finish up. The side effects for me included nausea all the dang time as well as dry mouth. It was unpleasant, but I was willing to push through in order to see if this would work for me and give me some relief. For me my brain was broken and I needed the help. I was handling the side effects pretty well until one morning I woke up and I kid you not, I was stoned out of my mind. I was so confused and disoriented. I stumbled into the bathroom, my mind racing, my heart pounding in my chest, and got a good look at my face. My eyes were empty, my skin super pale. I hardly recognized myself. Like I said, stoned. 

Luckily a small part of my brain realized I was in no condition to drive to work or anywhere. I sat in the bathroom, trying to form some sort of coherent thought on what to do next. It was so strange. I've never had my brain stop working like that. It took me forever to decide whether or not to go back to bed because in my mind it was morning and I was already up. Going back to bed seemed pointless. But the thought of eating made me gag and I wasn't even sure how to dress myself. I eventually came to the conclusion that maybe if I went back to bed I could sleep this off. 

I went back to bed but sleep never came. All I could do was toss and turn as my mind raced from one implausible scenario to the next. I spent the next few hours absolutely freaking out about how I was going to have to quit my job and move back home because I could no longer take care of myself. I mean, I couldn’t even get dressed! This of course got my anxiety going nice and strong, just bursts of fear and dread shooting through my head and chest. There were even certain points where I was convinced that I would be ending up in the hospital before the day was over. 

It’s a really scary thing when your brain can’t tell reality from anxiety-driven thoughts. This is one of the harder things for me to deal with and accept about my anxiety. I will just have one thought in my brain over and over and over and while it is happening it is so difficult to realize what is going on in the moment. Once the general freak-out has passed it is easy for me to look back and be all, “Huh. Well of course that isn’t true.”

It was several hours later before I calmed down enough to take steps to get an appointment with my doctor for that day and he immediately switched me to a new medicine. It took some more some trial and error with different doses, but so far my meds are doing their job and have helped to lower my anxiety and depression levels by a considerable amount.

I would encourage those of you who are going through a particularly rough or dark patch to explore your options. You might hit your right combination right off the bat or you may have to be patient for a while. I had to be observant in my moods, my thoughts, and my physical well-being while we got things figured out. I'm still on alert, but making sure everything is running smoothly. One thing is certain and that is YOU need to be involved in the process. Ask questions when you have them. Read REPUTABLE sources (Believe me, there is crazy, and then there is CRAZY crazy). Pray (if that's your thing) for direction on how to proceed. I am learning to be more vocal concerning my needs. Things were going well for a while after I switched meds, then I sunk right back down in a deep depression. I had to let someone know so it could be adjusted. You have a right to be involved in your own treatment. 

Part of having a mental illness makes you feel like this is it and there's no reason to go on and there's no hope for recovery, that you will always feel this way no matter what. THAT my friends is a big fat LIE. You might think that you will always feel this way and that there is no hope, but believe me, there are people out there who know what you are going though and there are ways to feel happy and hopeful again. Your brain might be a little off right now, but you don’t have to feel like that forever. There is hope. 

Go forward and survive. 
Until next time friends,

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I'm Not Firing on All Cylinders. So What?

Ah, my friends! It is really is so good to ‘see’ you again. Thank you so much for not giving up on me!

This past year has been pretty crummy health-wise. I’ve had a brain MRI, a spinal tap, a blood patch to FIX a leak from said spinal tap, emergency gallbladder removal, a spinal MRI, nerve tests, many blood tests, many OTHER tests that I can’t even remember the names of, and I’m writing this as I’m recovering from a nasty bout of the flu.

The reason for most of these tests has to do with symptoms I’ve been experiencing for the past few years.  I gradually began to notice that I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded much of the time, so much so that I was in constant fear of passing out. Strange thoughts began to take over my life such as the firm belief that I was going insane and would need to be hospitalized, or that my heart was going to suddenly stop or explode.

The feeling that I was going to pass out got so bad that I began going to many different doctors to try and figure out what was wrong with me. (General practitioners, neurologist, etc) This started a myriad of tests for diabetes, MS, cancer, kidney and liver failure etc. (Everything was fine).  Was I anemic? (No.) Did I have some kind of ear infection? (Gross, but no.) My heart and blood pressure were both fantastic. Yet I was still shaky on my legs and feeling like I was watching my life from outside my body.

It began taking a real toll on my emotional health as well. One doctor would tell me I was fine but I should be drinking lots of Gatorade to balance electrolytes. Another told me to eat more protein. Another told me that I must be dehydrated. I tried each suggestion but the same thing happened after each office visit where I complained of brain fog, dizziness, and weakness. ALL of my labs would come back normal! I just KNEW something was wrong, but somehow I wasn't explaining it correctly. I needed someone to believe me. I was so stressed about it because it was really, REALLY worrying me. I just knew that I was going to pass out while I was driving, or at the grocery store, or in the middle of a meeting. It absolutely consumed my thoughts. I hated the feeling that I was losing all control in my life.

It was a vicious, vicious cycle. I would notice the dizziness or shortness of breath creep in, then begin to really panic, which would in turn make my symptoms get worse, which only made me more and more worried. I was slowly losing the ability to function outside my apartment. I was having panic attacks in the grocery store, at work, at church, and slowly I began to have them at my apartment. For me, they were this awful, crushing weight on my soul, a feeling that at any moment I was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it. Other symptoms were a feeling of impending doom, a belief that I was crazy etc. I remember sitting at work one day last December, glancing out the window, realizing it was snowing and that I would have to drive in said snow and right then my lungs stopped working. I was frozen for what seemed an eternity in absolute terror, a deer in the headlights, just in the grip of some unspeakable horror. Once I remembered how to breathe I realized right then that this was not normal, and it was not going to just go away on its own, and that it was time I asked for help.

This started me on yet another journey into the workings of my body and my brain. We were finally able to determine that these symptoms had nothing to do with a malfunctioning kidney or liver, but rather my brain. These symptoms of despair, panic, doom, fear, worry etc stemmed from a rather traumatic car accident several years back that left me with latent PTSD and from there gradually morphed into severe anxiety and depression. 

The feelings of depression were fairly easy to recognize, although it sure did take me a while to figure out what this black hole of despair actually was-After all, I assured myself, it must be hormones, it must be the weather, it must just be an off day…week…month…ok, wow. MONTHS. The symptoms of anxiety were a little more difficult to pin down, but once I was made aware of it and began taking steps to control it the severity of these attacks has decreased somewhat. In fact, that was the whole reason I wrote this post tonight. I was sitting in my apartment thinking, Wow. I sure am a heckuvalot happier than I was a year ago.

Now, if I were to try and explain everything about my journey and choices right here in this one blog post you’d be sitting in front of your computer, tablet, or Smartphone for a LONG time reading through everything.  So I’m breaking my journey up into bite-sized portions. Oh and believe me. There will be more. :) I'm writing these posts to share my side of the story, not to fish for sympathy. If you suffer from any sort of mental illness just know that there are many others who share your struggles and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I guess what I really want to say in this specific blog post is thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for your love, kindness, and understanding. This struggle, this illness has taken its toll, and the one I am most sad about is the social aspect of my life. If you feel that I’ve pulled away from you, you’re right. I have. I don’t like it and I wish it would just go away and I could be instantaneously back to ‘normal’. So I apologize for withdrawing here on the Internet (and to my friends in real life). Social interaction is just reeeeeeally hard and not as fun as it used to be for me. But know that you are all very special in my life. I love hearing from you, even if takes me a while to respond. I am slowly working on (if not overcoming, at least managing) living with anxiety and depression. 

Until next time friends!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

You're Still Here and I Love You For It!

Wow! Seriously! Y'all are STILL following my blog? I am amazed and VERY impressed! But most of all thankful! Thank you for sticking around while I get my act together! I LOVE YOU ALL!
For reals.
Things have been a whirlwind! I can't wait to catch everyone up.
Wait...what WAS my last blog entry? Hold on while I catch myself up...
It's been a while.
The quick and dirty:
I moved out of my parent's basement and into a FABULOUS little apartment with a FABULOUS roommate that I can't wait to introduce y'all to! (Don't know where all the "y'alls" are coming from but I regret nothing.)
Got a "promotion" at work that is keeping me run off my feet (I'm the Accounts Receivable gal at Froghair-Check us out at
Got my computer fixed
Got my camera fixed
I've been called as a Relief Society teacher and I love, Love, LOVE IT!
Went on an incredible trip to Boston (Pictures coming soon!)
Rediscovered my Pinterest addiction. (Seriously. It's a problem. :)
PAINTED said new FABULOUS apartment (Pictures also coming soon!)
Joined a writing group and let people actually read my writing. SCARIEST THING EVER! Yeah, I'm working on a novel. Say what? I'll fill you in on it more in the future. For now I'm working on the hardest part: the rough draft. And then the next step gets even harder! Editing!
And just been having all kinds of crazy adventures that make me realize how hard life is and that it isn't going to get any easier the older I get so let's do this thing!
Thanks again for not giving up on me. I don't make any promises about updating daily or weekly but I will keep writing. I'm constantly amazed at how BUSY my life is. And I don't say that to brag either. I'm seriously a busy lady with callings and activities and other responsibilities.
Hope you're all doing well! I can't wait to share more!
Love, Love, Love to you!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Findings August 17, 2012

Hello lovelies! It's FRIDAY! LOVE this day! I am excited to share my findings with you today and today's finding features the wonderfully talented Lindsey Stirling! She's the only hip-hop violinist I know of anyway! Her speciality is song covers. I found her a while back on YouTube and became a fan that way. Then a few months ago she sent out a call for extras in a music video she was shooting at a nearby town and I said, "What the heck." and went.
Here it is in all its glory. It was an intense night of shooting and I was just an extra in the crowd! I can't imagine the kind of energy it takes to perform live for hours at a time!
P.S. If you liked it you might want to check out her Zelda medley as well!
Enjoy your Friday!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Findings August 10, 2012

Random post today but today's Friday Finding is BANGS! Mine, to be precise. And they work too! At least I like 'em.
Yes. They happened. 
Having curly hair you would think this wouldn't work. And I thought that too, but I took the plunge and just did it. (I'm currently experiencing a season or three of changes. Oh boy. More on that to come in a REAL blog post. Seriously. One day...soon?)
So, why do YOU care that I got bangs? Well, you don't have to. I'm not fishing for comments on my new hairdo. I'm just saying...when's the last time you discovered something new about yourself? If you're like me you think you've got yourself all figured out and then, just like clockwork, BOY are you ever proven wrong. So why wait? Go out and try something this weekend you've always wanted to, or maybe something you've sworn never to do just to shake things up. (For me it was sushi. Don't like it, but I tried it and I lived.)
Go head. Take the plunge and find something new about yourself today!