Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Agoraphobia vs. Social Anxiety



Agoraphobia is a condition that I suffer from, but I don’t speak about it very often. I think because it’s difficult to explain. At times, it can be nearly impossible to separate Agoraphobia from Social Anxiety. I wanted to look into it and determine whether I was confusing the two conditions and whether it was possible to suffer from both.

Agoraphobia is defined as a fear of leaving your home. Many people with Agoraphobia are house-bound, even room-bound. Truth be told, there are days when I don’t  leave our bedroom. Agoraphobia refers to the fear of being in situations or places from which escape would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. We often fear crowds, cars, and even elevators. For me, it has become such a nuisance that I even fear just going to the mailbox in front of our house. If I spend too much time in an elevator, I begin to panic. I start feeling like I can’t breathe.

Both Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety are often referred to as a fear of public places, people with Social Anxiety most often fear places where public scrutiny can occur. The more articles I read, the more it all began to make sense. One article even mentioned that Agoraphobics could feel better with a trusted companion when they’re in public. I find this true for me but only with my husband. It’s not often that you suffer from both conditions, but when it does happen, it’s in women.

I can’t even count how many events or appointments I have missed due to one or both of these conditions. Add to that issues with your weight and self-esteem, and it’s a nightmare. I am constantly dissecting every single flaw that I have, and because I am so critical, I expect that everyone else will be too. All I see when I look in the mirror is an overweight mess. In the last few months, I’ve even avoided having anyone come to our house because of how terrible I think I look. It’s a horrible feeling to be terrified in your own home.

It’s been more than a year since I drove myself anywhere. I was recently gifted a vehicle, and I still haven’t driven it. We let it sit for three weeks, and when we went to start it, the battery was dead. I saw that as just another sign. My husband takes it on little trips to the store now so that we don’t have that problem again, but what can I do about my dead battery? I’ve isolated myself for so long, rarely leaving the house. I don’t know how to fix this. Sitting here right now, I can’t remember the last time I went anywhere. I keep telling myself that the more I avoid any attempt at getting out, the harder it will be to do it once I have something important that I must do.

I’ve been struggling for months, just barely holding myself together. I hide behind sarcasm because I don’t want anyone to see the real truth. I feel a sense of responsibility to the people that have seen my posts on social media or read my book. I’ve told everyone for so long that they can lead a full and happy life despite mental illness, that I’ve forgotten to practice what I preach. At this point, I’m merely existing, not living.

I need to make a change, and I need to do it quickly. I turned 44 last month. It’s time to put my big girl pants on and get back in the game. If it means some kind of therapy, perhaps I just have to accept that. As much as I hate the idea, maybe it would be the best thing for me. I’m stuck, that’s for sure, and the old me didn’t leave any bread crumbs leading back to who I once was.

So, here I am having to contend with not just your run of the mill depression and anxiety, but agoraphobia and social anxiety coupled with a deep seeded hatred of my appearance and very low self-esteem. It almost feels too heavy to ever come out from underneath. My brain tells me that it’s just too much, I can’t do it. My heart tells me that in 20 years I’m going to look back and wish I had done more while I could. I can’t live with that kind of regret; I already carry so much as it is.

I feel like I’m finally at the point where I can make a declaration. I am finally going to start living my life again. I’ll keep working with my doctor to find a depression medication that works, but in the meantime, I’ll be working on myself. Maybe I’ll do online therapy, just until I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Every day, my mantra will be “just do a little more today than you did yesterday.”

If you’re struggling with similar issues, reach out to me! Maybe we can help push each other to make positive changes. It just takes a moment in time to change your life. You just have to be prepared to accept whatever those changes may bring. I think I’m ready. Are you?








Monday, April 3, 2017

Guest Post from Writer and Mental Health Advocate, Ryan Ritchie (Explicit Language)



Falling in love is scary. I think we can all agree that, no matter how old we are, giving our heart to somebody can be frightening. We’re unsure if it’ll work out or if your love and trust will be betrayed by the very person you’re freely giving it to but, despite this minefield of ‘what ifs’, we pursue what our heart thinks is right.
When people say ‘you’re crazy – it’ll never work out’ or ‘you’ll only get hurt’: do we listen? Of course, not. Why? Because any glimmer of hope is enough for us to cling onto with dear life and commit to. We want to make it work – even with the odds against us – we understand that love could be forever.
We understand that love… True love, is rare and, to couple this with anxiety, it can:
MAKE YOU PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY SINGLE, LITTLE DETAIL.
Overthinking is our thing. We worry, we stress, we over exert ourselves to please somebody else: to put somebody else’s happiness before our own. We spend so much time pre-empting what may happen: instead of enjoying or reacting to what’s happening right now.
A slight change in the number of kisses you receive in a text could trigger a string of ‘is everything okay?’ replies. We believe that one less ‘x’ at the end of a message could suggest that something is changing but, the reality is, the kisses you don’t receive over the phone, are compensated for when you’re together.
We spend our time analysing changes in facial expressions and tone of voice that we often forget to enjoy the moments of pure, raw emotion. We overlook the greater picture and instead focus on the pieces needed to create the perfect masterpiece: even if those pieces aren’t missing in the first place.
Being in love is hard but, being in love when you have anxiety, is so much harder.
WE FORGET THAT OTHER PEOPLE HAVE BAD DAYS, TOO.
I’m guilty for this and I wish I could change it. I believe that because I’m dealing with my own mental battles daily that I’m the only person that matters: like I expect people to grant me a ‘free pass’ for being a dick because I’m having a bad day.
But, when you’re in a relationship, this just doesn’t fly. You simply cannot trample over somebody else’s feelings and believe they will continue to accept this forever.
Everybody has a limit and, one day, you’ll push too hard and ruin something incredible.
The brutally ironic part is: I already overthink everything so I kind of know I’m breaking the very heart I crave and adore but, I can’t do anything about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m holding my head underwater – my lungs are burning; my body takes over and tries to save me but my beautifully destructive mind would prefer to see me drown than to let my body do its fucking job.
The heart simply cannot defeat the brain if you continue to feed it’s (your) self-obsession. You must understand that, as a partner or as a best friend, you need to learn to let go of the very thing which will eventually kill you.
FUCK THIS, I GIVE UP.
Considering how powerful and persuasive my mind is, on its own terms, it is seemingly very fragile and non-responsive when I really need that extra push to get through a difficult time in my relationship.
‘Oh, you had a bad argument about pretty much nothing? Here, let me just go to sleep whilst you deal with that.’ Says my brain, always. Fucking… always.
It sucks and it hurts, not just me, but the person who I would give my life to… No, scratch that: it hurts the person who I want to give my life to. I just don’t know how.
I’d much rather walk away from a relationship than to see myself suffer any longer than I already do. Having an argument is like feeding time in a lion den when you have anxiety. Even if the person opposite you is screaming out ‘I don’t want to lose you, I want you to stay’ – your mind hears ‘Get out, leave whilst you can, if I can hurt you now – don’t give me the chance to do it again’.
It’s an exhausting game of tug-of-war between my heart and mind. I’m scared that both will become weak and they won’t work again.
BEING UNCERTAIN MAKES ME ANGRY.
You’ll know (or maybe you don’t) but people who suffer with anxiety have this feeling of eternal impending doom looming over their heads 90% of the time. It’s like constantly walking on a tight-rope from a skyscraper, with no harness on a very windy day.
So, if you feel as if somebody is falling out of love with you, even if they aren’t, you fall into this state of ‘I need constant reassurance that everything is going to be fine…’ and, if this isn’t given to you in a way which you see suitable, your fear of the future can manifest itself into quite the unpredictable temper.
I feel angry because I can’t feel what they feel, I can’t see the good which they see… I’m more scared of them not loving me anymore than I am of anything else.
I’m like that spider your parents try to tell you about ‘He’s more scared of you, than you are of it’. When I’m in love with somebody, that’s how I feel. I’m terrified of them breaking my heart and leaving me in the unstable, incapable mess in which they found me and, because of that, my body’s defense mechanism is to use anger as a substitute for seeing truth.
I can’t be weak and I’m foolish enough to think that, anger, makes me seem stronger.
That’s what my mind thinks and, unfortunately, I’m strapped in to this ride forever. There’s no getting off, there’s no ‘please slow down’: it’s a swell of different emotions that I’m involuntarily throwing myself into to see if I’ll drown or whether I’ll come back up for air.
Because, well, I want to be in love with somebody and, despite the countless reasons why somebody could not love me, I want to feel like I can be loved, too.
I don’t want to feel lost in my own thoughts – I want to share them with somebody and for them to just understand. That’s all I want. I don’t need pity or to be made to feel different: all I want to feel is loved and understood. I suppose that’s paramount in any normal relationship.
It’s just, if you fall in love with me, you don’t get ‘normal’ and that’s what scares me. I hope weird is enough for you… Because, with you, the feeling of love is all I need to get better.
The road to recovery takes time and I have plenty of it. I hope that you can take the time to get to know me and realize that, my illness does not define how I truly feel.
I’ll be honest with you and I’ll love you more than anybody else dares to… if you give me the chance.
@NoMoreGremlins

Ryan Ritchie

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guest Post from Fellow Advocate and Survivor - Jenna White

My name is Jenna White and I am 23 years old. I have been a drug addict, a human punching bag for ex boyfriends and family, criminal, homeless, a step mother, a student and a suicidal mess.

My story starts in Timmins Ontario, a small northeastern Ontario town that claims to have "The heart of gold". At age 13 I began feeling systems of bipolar disorder and started to self mutilate and smoke weed. My family life was a very negative atmosphere and did not help with getting me healthy. They often insulted and undermined me and it made my depression depend to extreme levels.

I began to do hard chemicals to stay happy. Speed, Coke, Ecstasy, Ritalin, and Valium. I was also dating a very abusive guy in high school and my need to escape life rose. At age 15 was the first time a boyfriend laid a beating to me. I tried to lay charges but in the small town where a family name is respected the charges were dropped.

This is where my criminal life started. I did almost $5000 worth of damage to my ex's car and was charged with mischief under 5000. Funny enough my parents didn't scold me for breaking the law. Throughout the years until I was 18 I was charged with theft under 5000 and assault.

I moved out of my parents house at 16 and stayed in school, 2 hockey teams and a part time job. I was still smoking weed but I quit the hard stuff. I wanted to show the non believers that I could make it on my own. And I did.

Just before the ending of high school I was back on hard drugs. It would last 5 long years of speed addiction and be the most chaotic time of my life. I was hosting a 24/7 party at my house. Drugs, drinking and many, many roommates. It was a mess and I still to this day can't believe I lived in that for years and survived. The amount of speed I took I am surprised I am not a vegetable.

On my 19th birthday I was walking home from from work after night shift and I was on a long bender. I collapsed in the road and woke up in the hospital. I had collapsed from the drugs and exhaustion. But that night I popped some pills and went to a bar to celebrate with friends.  It was around this point in my life I started to feel the affects of the years of drugs and lack of sleep. I knew I would end up a junkie probably on the streets and I would not live like that so I moved to Toronto with a new boyfriend and his child.

I began college and my new life as a step mother to a 3 year old. I changed from a junkie to mother in a matter of months. It was harder on me than I care to admit but the challenge was welcomed. I tried my very best but my bipolar came on me like a thunder storm and began to self mutilate, drink and smoke my Ativan. I was falling into the same darkness as before and I landed in the mental hospital for the first time. I was in there for 2 weeks and that is the beginning of the string of medications that lasted until today. 

The relationship was falling apart and he began very emotionally abusive, it drove me deeper into depression, self mutilation and self medicating. I landed inside the hospital on a forum 1 (suicide watch). Soon after my release would mark the second time I fell victim to physical abuse from a lovers hands. I had almost lost my left eye sight from the swelling and a fractured left cheekbone.

22 years old, a badly bruised face and homeless in Toronto. I had no family in Toronto so I couch hopped for a good month until my college and family members put me up in Residence. I cannot tell you how it felt to walk around campus with half of my face bruised. It was the most embarrassing, shaming, terrifying and uplifting time of my life. I lost friends after it happened but it showed me who had a good heart. I was scared that he would come after me after I called the cops but people were there to calm me. I had lost myself again but I was on the mend.

After residence I had to move back with my parents and got a full time job. I traveled back and forth to Toronto for school and did placement in Stratford Ontario. I was working hard towards the end of my diploma and I was in a good place. All except one thing, the negative atmosphere of my family home was building. A year after the incident my dad and I almost had a physical altercation and he kicked me out. I was homeless again and in a new town. I went to a homeless shelter and saved up money until I finished placement and could move away.

My story stops here (for now), in Belleville Ontario. I am on my last course to finish college and I am working a full time job. I own a dog and looking forward to make something special of my life. 

Keep up with Jenna at www.brandnewbipolar.com

Don't miss Jenna Saturday, February 18, 2017 on our podcast, Voices for Change 2.0 at 11:00 am EST. 


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beware of Self Care?

I’ve been going over and over again in my head, trying to figure out why I feel so damn guilty every time I attempt to practice self-care. I advise others to do it, but when it comes to me, I’m almost entirely overwhelmed by the idea. So overwhelmed in fact, that the only thing I can do is lie down and take a rest.

As much as I love and adore my mom and the person that she was, she used to get very pissed off at all of us in the house. If she was going around dusting or vacuuming, she would just pitch a fit about how it must be so nice to lie around all day. Meaning, me, my dad, and my brothers. If we were in our rooms watching TV, we were just a waste of space.

The last few months have been incredibly rough for me, but the winter months usually are. After a leak in our house left us living in a hotel for a month, we then had to come home and put everything back together. Both the bathroom and the dining room had to be remodeled, the bathroom being much worse than the dining room.

We had no dining room for Thanksgiving. We ordered carry out turkey meals and ate them sitting on our bed. I know it sounds weird, but it wasn’t that bad. No family drama, just us hanging out, watching movies and relaxing. The only downside was that neither of us saw our families. We were concerned we would be spending Christmas in the hotel as well, but luckily we got out just in time. It was December 23rd when we returned, and we were barely able to throw some tissue paper into gift bags for Christmas gifts.

I left the hotel room once the entire time we were there. I was too afraid the staff would come in and let one of our cats out, nevermind the agoraphobia and social anxiety. I went to the laundry room. My heart was racing the entire time, and I dissolved into tears when I got back to the room.

Now that I’m home, I’m virtually chained to my bed. January is always rough with the anniversary of my mother’s death. I expect to struggle then, but all of the other days? There are some days where I don’t even go to the lower level of my house. That’s embarrassing for me to admit, but it’s true. If I can’t even make it down the stairs, how the hell am I going to make it out in public?

For the last few months, the ups and downs have been never-ending. One day, I may get good news about something, then the next day I’ll get bad news about ten other things.

And trusting people? Let’s just say, that concept has been thrown out the window. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to trust anyone again. Two people in our lives that we needed to be able to rely on turned their backs on us. Then, instead of accepting their part in the argument, just blamed it all on me being a heartless bitch that “sucks people dry until I can’t get anything else from them, and then I throw them away.” That is the farthest thing from what I am. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the epic betrayal I feel.

I wake up every single day with a headache. If I have night terrors or a very active dream, the headache will wake me up it hurts so bad. Instead of screaming in terror over my dream, I’m screaming because it feels as if someone just hit me in the head with a sledgehammer. My mom had high blood pressure, and so does my dad. My mom also had a stroke around my age and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My sister was just diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I’m starting to see a pattern. My dad was kind enough to buy me a blood pressure monitor, and I’ve been using it every day. It’s nearly always high, but we’re working on it.

I’m taking nine different medications now for depression and anxiety and seven different supplements to make me feel better. You would think I would feel well enough to leave my bed. All I can think about it getting that one thing done that I need to complete, then taking a nap.

How do you stop feeling guilty about taking care of yourself?
At what point does self-care become an excuse? I read the articles and the posts about taking care of yourself, but at this point, it feels like a crutch. I don’t know how to stop, and I start sobbing at the thought of it. Am I just lazy?

I know I’m depressed and in 2 weeks when I see my doctor, I’m going to see about switching medications, but until then what do I do? Is this just a lack of motivation or a major depressive episode? Do I even care? I don’t know what to do next or how to feel. I’m just lost in an abyss of darkness.

At this point, I don’t know which way is up. I’ve lost all faith in myself and in my instincts.  I don’t feel like I can trust anyone and the panic attacks are killing me. I always try to end on a positive note, but I don’t know how to do that today because I don’t have any of the answers.

Everything I’ve tried to make myself feel like a productive member of society has failed. All of my hopes and dreams have been decimated, and I feel so lost. I know there are others out there that feel this way. I guess that’s what is keeping me going despite myself. I’ve spent so much time telling people that I’m a survivor and that they can’t give up. It’s looking like I’m going to have to start telling myself that. I can’t just give up and make it look like it’s OK.


I’m just going to keep trying little by little to make it through. Keeping my fingers crossed the whole time that nothing else in our lives falls apart because I can’t handle that right now. I’m just going to keep one foot in front of the other and try to shrug off the feelings of guilt on the days when all I am capable of is just simply breathing.