I have a good, well paying job. I have a house. A yard. A car. I have lots of clothing and shoes and makeup and books and a phone and a computer and TVs and pretty items. I’m engaged, and planning a wedding. I just went on vacation. I do not have debt. I am attractive. I am not hungry, or cold, or wet, or injured, or ill. I have two of the sweetest pets I could imagine. I have a loving family. I have loving friends. I have money in the bank. I have food in my cupboard. I am intelligent. I have no papers due. I have no upcoming tests. I have free time ahead of me.
I have everything I ever wanted.
And yet, my anxiety and depression hover around my beautiful bubble constantly. Threatening to prick it and shatter everything I hold dear.
I don’t know how it would happen. When it could happen. Why it would happen. If it could happen.
But I still stay in my bed any time I can, huddled deep in my blankets.
My eyes gaze, dead, at nothing. Contemplating how I feel. Not focussed on the abundance in my life. Not of the love that surrounds me. But of the deadness inside of me.
How no matter what I experience, there is that shroud of darkness.
I’m trying to just plunge forward. My feet feel like they’re stuck in deep mud. But I’m still trying.
Sometimes I give up – But I don’t let myself give up for long these days.
I’ve been sick with a flu for a while, and it’s given me too much time to reflect on the darkness. The ugly, dark, heavy coat of anxiety and depression.
I’m trying to remind myself it isn’t real. It isn’t tangible.
But it’s present right now.
And as perfect as my life is, it’s heavy. It’s muddy.
No matter how nice I look, or how together things seem on the outside, there is still a struggle.
I’m not giving into it. Not fully.
But tonight, I am acknowledging it.
If only to tell it “you are next to me, and so, you are not me.”
I keep making promises that I cannot keep – and I apologize for that. I keep saying I’m “so busy but I’ll write soon!” but then I just don’t. My advice is not to have any real expectations when it comes to me and my writing. Sometimes I will write, sometimes I will not.
Pardon my mental illness, but it’s all part of it.
I’m overwhelmed with life. There’s nothing more I can say than that.
When I started my blog, I was on sick leave. I had nothing but time on my hands, and reflection was a big part of my healing. Writing helped that.
Now, I do have enough time to write. I still spend a lot of time napping, watching hours of Netflix and make terrible television program choices, and I read a lot, and I bet I spend more time than anything scrolling through Pinterest, not looking for anything in particular. Not even pinning anything. Just kind of looking at things.
My point is that I have not added anything significant to my life aside from a regular old 9-5 job, which we all have, and which I have had in the past as well without incident.
But after the humiliation I experienced this fall (I can’t believe it was like 6 months ago now…), life has changed a lot for me. I feel like talking about it today because I am home sick, but I am actually well enough to sit up and feel boredom.
You can tell you’re really sick when feelings of boredom don’t arise. You can tell when you’re (hopefully) getting better when you are bored.
I have technically – on paper – put my old job behind me. I made my arguments and made my peace as far as anyone on the outside is concerned, but things have not settled for me in my mind.
It’s something I’m working on ignoring. Not in an unhealthy “swallow it all down and deny” kind of way. Just in a “these feelings will pass, don’t focus on them, don’t think about last year’s incidents constantly” kind of way.
But it is still very present in my mind, and therefore, in my life.
I have some severe scars following my dismissal from my job (read about it here if you have no clue what I’m talking about). The very short version: I was on medical leave for 6 weeks for my anxiety and depression, and on what I was told would be my first day back at work, I was fired instead. This multiplied my anxiety and depression in ways I’d never experienced, but I did find the courage to hire a lawyer, settle out of court, and move on.
The scars have two main branches, I’ve noticed. One involves my new work persona. The other involves being in public.
Don’t Talk To Me
I’ve been at my new job for almost three months now, and despite a couple of very unfortunately-timed bouts of illness (it is nerve-racking to have to call in sick when you’ve only been there a month; aka PLEASEDON’TFIREME), things are going well there. The job is a breeze so far, the people are nice, and my boss is really great too. There’s nothing I can complain about – so why am I so unhappy with it?
I go to work, do my work, actually take my lunch break, and then clock out at precisely 4:00 and head home. I used to work through every single lunch hour, and I never left when I was scheduled to be. There used to be (and still is, I hear) a dust cloud of gossip and stories hovering in the office at all times – I can’t recall a day I went in and didn’t hear some story about someone. Now? I really haven’t even overheard anything. People exchange recipes, ask about vacations, and update one another on their spouses’ medical issues. People certainly aren’t gossiping about me (although right now? I’ve been away sick for more than a week so they may be wondering if I have Ebola or something).
I’ve noticed, though, that I am reserved. I am not funny at work anymore. I am not trying to make friends, and I don’t start conversations. If a few people are sitting in the lunch room, I quickly go in, get my food, and hurry back to my cubical to eat alone. I never ask my group about their home lives or families. I never go out of my way to compliment anyone. I smile when I enter a room, but I don’t say anything or make eye contact. When group events arise, I opt out.
I don’t want to make friends when I don’t actually have control over whether I will ever see them again. I lost nearly everyone (except Work BFF) at my old job – poof, gone. No one reached out, myself included. I know they must know I was fired, and they’re not going to compromise their own jobs by befriending an employee who was fired.
I have thought about connecting with a few of them, but I can’t handle the potential for being ignored. Being ghosted. Being rejected. And now, so much time has passed that it would just be straight up weird to contact someone.
Those people, who I felt were my family, are just lost now. Just a memory. I am trying to come to grips with that, and I am discovering that I am certainly not cultivating friendships at work the way I used to, in all of my past working career.
Now, my job is just a place where I work.
Don’t Look At Me
I now work in the same downtown district as my old work’s offices. We are only about two blocks away from one another. Every time I am near their offices, I can’t ignore the heavy feeling that there is an invisible dome surrounding it that signifies it is Their territory. Not mine.
Now, this is our busy downtown core – the business district, the shopping district, the tourist district. It is an area that belongs not only to this city, but to everyone.
But not me. I walk swiftly, hunched, eyes darting from side to side, head down, just trying to get to my destination as quickly as possible without being seen. I feel like someone in exile, someone who isn’t allowed to be there, and that I’m doing something wrong or dangerous. Like the police could arrest me at any moment and humiliate me for thinking I had any right to come anywhere near this area of downtown. I don’t belong here, it’s Their territory.
Every time I enter an downtown establishment, I search the room – not for my companion, but for Them. Are They here already? Had They had the same idea for lunch today? Is that Them, also here for the movie? Are They also picking up bread at this bakery?
A couple of times, I’ve met up with Work BFF for a coffee or to drop something off. She knows the drill now – I can’t come onto Their property. I can’t meet at a Starbucks on the same block. We have to meet at a spot well out of Their Zone. She asks me where I’d like to meet, and makes sure “it’s okay” with me before we meet up. She knows I can’t be seen, and I love her for understanding.
One time, as we were walking to a coffee house, we saw Them walking ahead of us about a block ahead. I felt like the blood had drained from my body and couldn’t figure out what to do. I stopped momentarily, my eyes wild, and Work BFF calmly told me it was okay, and that we could still go. That They weren’t going to the same shop as we were.
In my mind, I couldn’t take that chance. I wanted to call the whole thing off – not go for coffee after all. It was freezing cold out, but I thought perhaps we should take off in a different direction, add 10 minutes to our walk, and go to a Blenz in a totally opposite direction. BFF gets me, but she also knows how to handle me. She didn’t give me a hard time as we kept our distance, ensured one full block separated us from Them, and let me be sure they were indeed headed into a different shop.
As we sat and drank our coffees, I ensured I could see the entrance to the coffeehouse so I could monitor each person who entered, always watching for Them.
“They don’t ever go to Starbucks – don’t worry. I promise,” Work BFF told me, and she was right. After a while I did see Them – they passed by, just on their way back to their office.
Disaster averted. But panic attack, although low-grade, not averted. It has the best of me. And it’s constant.
What would happen if I ran face to face into Them? Would I die? Would I be injured? Would everyone stop, stare, and listen intently as He yelled at me, telling me what a horrible employee he thought I was? Would everyone agree? Would He shove me aside? Would He give me a dirty look? Would He stare at me? Would He nudge his friend, point, and whisper something about me?
No, probably not.
In fact, he’s a pussy and would likely pretend he didn’t see me, leave if possible, or just get his shit and leave.
But I react as those all those things are possible. I still can’t face Him. Not after what he did to me. What he took from me – what I’ve given up, what I’ve lost, what’s changed.
I am missing a large part of my confidence, my sense of belonging, and my sense of security. I haven’t taught myself how to regain any of that yet.
I am not whole. Despite things turning out in my best interest, all things considered, I still feel like I am the loser in the game I played with Them.
I have an on-again off-again relationship with anti-anxiety meds.
And it’s never been because I am against them, or because they hadn’t worked.
I know anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication (same thing, as far as my Dr. says) is a majorly contentious topic. Even when I was looking up memes to put on this post, I kept seeing a picture of a forest that said “this is an antidepressant” with a picture of a pill beneath it that says “this is shit.” That bothers me a lot, because every person is different, and every person will experience something different when on a drug. They will work for some of us, and they will not work for others. Let’s just respect each other on that one, k?
But I just wanted to discuss the topic. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want!
I was hesitant about disclosing what drug I am on, but I figure it probably isn’t a big deal to tell you that I am on Paxil. Those little pink pills have saved me. It’s been the one drug I have been on the most throughout my life, and I don’t intend to stop taking it any time soon. I am stable (ish) on it, and have way more control over how I go about my life.
I first started taking them in my late teens (see this post). I know a lot of people have experienced too many side effects to bother with them – but for me, they have been worth it. Now, at the age of 33, I am on them again, and still, they are worth the cost (minimal, thanks to my work’s benefits program) and side effects (also very minimal).
Sometimes it can be a real bitch when you’re trying out a new medication. That goes for a lot of meds out there: Even when my doctor prescribed sleeping pills for me, there were a couple that basically made me feel like I had injected caffeine directly into my aorta. Not exactly helpful. Drugs can be finicky. But under the guidance of your medical practitioner, you might be able to find something that works for you.
I can’t remember for sure if the first medication I tried was Paxil. It might be that I tried a couple. I might not have seen any results, or maybe I had too many side effects and tried a couple until I found one that worked well in my system. It’s been a really long time. The thing is, I have tried several different types later on as an adult, so it’s possible that I’m mixed up. It probably doesn’t really matter. All the same, it’s been a bit of a rocky road.
When I was young, I wasn’t that great at taking my medicine. I would forget half of the time, and one time I took six of them in one day because I mistook them for Tylenol 3s. They look nothing alike so to this day I do not know how I made that mistake – I just kept popping them because I still wasn’t getting the pain relief I so desperately needed! Don’t worry, I did call poison control and they said I would be fine, but would probably get pretty sleepy. I ended up napping for like 9 hours straight that day. (Coincidentally, I also have a story about how I took 6 Tylenol 3s – on purpose – since they weren’t kicking in as fast as I needed them to. I would not recommend it unless you like having a hot, itchy head, a frightened coworker, and a very, very deep sleep).
The only major side effect I can remember was that if I did forget to take it, especially for more than one day in a row, I would feel very nauseated. I remember that it would often be so bad that I needed to take them at the exact same time every morning. If it took them even an hour later, I’d feel sick enough to want to vomit. I’d struggle through work, and would even stay home. I was also struggling to take my birth control in a timely manner around that time, so it’s possible that that was the reason for the nausea too. I was very not good at the complexities of timing in those days.
I’m currently on Paxil today, and find that I definitely do not notice that I feel as sick as I used to. I’ve totally forgotten them many times, but never was it so bad that I ever needed to take a sick day because of it. I don’t know if they’ve altered the ingredients over time (I have no clue how things go in the pharmaceutical world), or if my own body chemistry just meshes better with it now. Either way, I don’t care. I’m on them, they work well enough, and I am not sick.
A few years ago, when I had re-started my prescription (after a breakdown – that post is for another day), I was going through a particularly rough patch and wasn’t convinced the drug was doing as good of a job as I’d expected. My doctor had me try a couple of other prescription antidepressants, and fuck. It was horrific.
First, I tried Prozac. Not only did I just plain not feel any better (emotionally), but I was always feeling kind of sick and anxious. Not the combo I was looking for. Plus, the goddamn things were gel-caps – those, to me, are horrible. I can’t handle those things for some reason – I feel like they stick to my tongue and they taste disgusting. But since I felt sick for more than a couple of weeks, my doctor said it was unlikely that that feeling would subside, so he wanted to try something else.
I tried Cymbalta.
Cymbalta and I are no longer on speaking terms.
That stuff was the most wicked stuff I’ve ever taken. When you first start taking an antidepressant, you will normally feel a little out of sorts for the first few days, or even for a week or two. That’s normal; your body is adjusting and the symptoms don’t usually last too long. That was somewhat the case with Prozac and me – except the nausea never truly went away. Same goes for Paxil. Sometimes you’ll feel a little loopy – maybe in a bit of a haze. That’s what Cymbalta was for me. But it never went away. And it was intense.
I felt very alert, and very, very woozy on Cymbalta. The whole time.
One thing with prescription drugs is that you should never stop taking them abruptly, or even try to wean yourself off without talking to your doctor first.
Even when you do switch up prescriptions under the direction of a doctor, things can be shitty.
Cymbalta and me were not getting along. Since I felt super loopy and spaced out, after a couple of weeks, I was done. I went into a walk-in clinic (my doctor works there, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see him that day), and begged to go back to my safe, predictable Paxil. The doctor said “sure” and said I could simply switch that same day. I had run out of Cymbalta anyway, but still had lots of Paxil at home, so it would be no big deal.
Except it was such a big fucking deal.
The next day, I started experiencing what I can only describe as hard-core withdrawal. As someone who has never taken recreational drugs to the extent that I have been addicted and, uh, jonesin’ (…what’s the lingo here? Sorry, I am not cool.), I figured my ailment was akin to Joaquin Phoenix’s rehab scenes in Walk the Line.
I was now taking my Paxil, as directed, but simply stopped taking my (rather high) dose of Cymbalta. I felt so sick, so spaced out, and incredibly dizzy. I felt like the entire world moved every time I moved my head an inch. I was sitting at my desk at work, unable to focus on anything. I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror after holding my head in my hands for a good 10 minutes. I was sweating and my pupils were totally dilated. Very pretty.
I then did what any reasonable person would do: I had someone pick me up and take me to the doctor I Googled my symptoms, convinced I could find myself a cure. As it would turn out, a lot of my symptoms were pretty consistent with symptoms of vertigo. I texted a friend who legitimately has vertigo, and further confirmed my self-diagnosis. Now I was on all fours, moving my head around like a weirdo, trying to mimic the Foster Maneuver.
It didn’t work.
I texted my mom and she was horrified that my doctor hadn’t stepped me down off of my medication, and suggested that I visit a pharmacy to see if they could give me 2-3 pills so I could ease myself off the drug slowly. Clearly I needed some of the drug back in my system so I wouldn’t be so dopesick (thanks, Urban Thesaurus). Luckily for me, there was a pharmacy directly below my office. Off I went. Staggered.
I recall feeling very dazed and confused as I waited in line to speak with the pharmacist. I question whether there was even a line to be standing in. I was studying the label of some Cold FX and trying to figure out how to get myself and my car back home in one piece, since I could barely look at the wall without spinning out. I felt like I had to look at that Cold FX package – I was experiencing some tunnel vision and if I lost focus, I would probably pass out. When I finally got to speak with someone, they (surprisingly) would not hand over random prescription drugs to a random girl who looked incredibly strung out and could not form a cohesive sentence.
Dejected, I went back upstairs and proceeded to [who knows? I was way too high and messed up to even remember. Maybe I worked? Or maybe I napped George Costanza-style under my desk. It’s impossible to know].
I never did talk to my doctor about the withdrawal episode I encountered. It did wear off after a couple of days, and a social-anxiety fiend such as myself was more than happy to take a couple of days off in lieu of dealing with my issue in a reasonable manner.
As I mentioned, I did continue to take my tried-and-true Paxil, and do to this day. There have been a couple of times when my doctor suggested trying other drugs (since my panic attacks do not seem to be willing to chill out, even on Paxil), but for me, it’s been better to stop toying with things and just pop an Ativan when things get tough.
You know, coping at its finest.
Paxil isn’t a cure-all. If it was, I would not be in the midst of a 6-week work hiatus as we speak. But it keeps me level enough to make real life decisions and face most days without too many issues. Paxil ain’t broke (well, not overly), so I don’t try to fix it.
And as Marilyn Manson said, “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me” … kind of.
Here are a few things that have thrown me into an ugly panic tornado:
Confronting someone about something I feel passionate about.
When I’m about to text or call someone new in my life.
Calling the pizza guy.
When I’m meeting friends, and have to show up alone.
Waiting for anyone and they are even a tiny bit late.
When I’m misunderstood in regard to my feelings.
When someone disagrees with me.
When I need to present in front of my company and someone asks a follow-up question.
When someone looks at their phone when they’re talking to me.
When I’m laying in bed at night, going over the day’s events.
Recalling an awkward or humiliating event from XX years ago.
When I don’t wear makeup in public.
Shopping alone and everyone is judging me for it.
When someone doesn’t return my text or call or email.
When I do something somewhat embarrassing – like I mispronounce a word.
When I do something really embarrassing – like my skirt flips up in public.
When I think that maybe the facial expression I have had while talking to someone is really ugly or not appropriate and now I need to change my facial expression, but I am not sure how my face is supposed to look.
Making a typo in an email.
When I have no direction when starting a new project (usually work-related).
When I need to talk to an authoritative figure.
When store clerks try to talk to me.
When store clerks ignore me when I need help.
When my alarm goes off and I have to go to work.
There may or may not be other triggers (read: there are definitely other triggers).
I’d say the worst trigger is, well, not a trigger at all. It’s when I’m just hanging out and anxiety creeps in like a shadow.
What is it like for me?
Before I know it, I can feel my chest tightening, and I get a sick feeling in the back of my throat. I start to look for ways out – physical exits. I need privacy and I need to get away from wherever I am. Immediately.
It may or may not turn into a full blown attack. If I am somehow able to get myself under control, then it basically ends there. I still feel that feeling of dread and tightness in my chest, but it doesn’t escalate.
If it does, though, things get really yucky.
My breathing quickens. I may begin to hyperventilate. I break into a cold sweat. My senses dull. I can’t hear properly, and I can’t see properly. Sometimes I get tunnel vision and I begin to black out.
That might be one of the worst symptoms, because you can’t hide tears when you’re in public. And drawing attention when you just want to disappear just makes everything worse.
Not just the feelings, but the anxiety attack itself. It is immediately amplified if I know that people I don’t know or trust can see it happening.
I mean, that’s one of my real triggers – being judged by people. So when I am literally in my most vulnerable state, and people are watching me, things are officially over for me.
I’ve passed out in big crowds because of this. Sometimes I feel like my response is to pass out because then people won’t know it’s a panic attack, and might instead suspect it’s a medical emergency of some sort.
People don’t understand invisible illness, of course. It’s only natural that humans believe that people around them should be experiencing and reacting to situations the same way they are. I don’t even blame them.
I have a wish list when it comes to other people who witness someone having a panic attack:
If you know the person, be there for them. Ask them before assuming they need something. Bring the person a glass of water, a tissue. Depending on your relationship, give them a hug, rub their back, or hold their hand. Say nice things. If the person doesn’t want you there, they will tell you.
If you do not know the person, but they are alone, offer your support. It would get weird if you started stroking their hair, but you can help them not feel so stressed and awkward. See if you can move them to a more private place. Empathize if you can. Don’t overstay your welcome.
If you’re uncomfortable (we get it), don’t watch the person like they’re a side-show. Have some respect. Move your group elsewhere if you can, don’t talk about the person or ask them stupid questions. I’ve seen randos looking at me with this disgusted, judgy face. Exercise a little restraint.
Don’t tell the person to calm down. Fuck off.
Do remind them that this will pass. It’s temporary.
Breathe with them. Help them to catch that rhythm with you. You may not be aware of anxiety-expert-approved breathing exercises, but you can certainly figure out something. A friend of mine once said “let’s do pregnancy breathing!” It was the best thing she could come up with, and it helped a lot.
Above all, just be accepting of what’s happening, and convey that. If you think it’s going on longer than you thing it should, keep your mouth shut. They’re already overwhelmed and very self-aware, and making them feel like they’re abnormal or that you don’t approve is going to ruin any progress they’ve made.
Follow up. If you’re pals, send a text, stop by their office, or give them a call that night. I’ve had friends send me funny memes the next day to show their support. A simple “how are you doing?” can mean the world to someone. If they get sketchy and embarrassed, just smile and leave it at that. They know.
Over the Christmas holidays, I learned that I have a real live angel watching over me.
Remarkably, the story of my so-called legal action against my ex-employer is truly heartwarming. Really. It’s heartwarming.
Years ago, I had my first real experience of anxiety and work getting to know each other. I did not want them to become pals, but they sure as fuck did. It was rough.
And really. Who the fuckwould willingly go from happily doing his or her job to breaking down very publicly in a single bound, and purposefully shred everything they’d built for him/herself for no reason? We can’t all be Charlie Sheen.
The thing is, my employer at the time was so cool about it (I was certainly not working for AssWipes Limited). They got it, they understood, and they respected that I am a human, and like all other humans, I was broken sometimes. They knew that 1. it’s okay to be broken sometimes, and we just need some time to mend, and 2. that it wasn’t exactly legal to deny me of that anyway. Whatever their reason for treating me with kindness and understanding, I could give a shit. I was able to heal, regroup, and reenter the workforce as good as new.
It can be simple, you know.
What I also learned was that I could get through really hard, humiliating stuff. It also didn’t mean I was worth less than anyone else, or that I was less deserving of respect. I’ve been there, and seen it, and experienced it: employers can treat their employees in a humane manner.
I was resolved not only to stand up for what I felt was right, but also to create a happy ending of sorts. Resolve things in a way that did not end with them having laughed their evil laugh and won, while I was left to rue the day I went quietly into the night.
I needed to end things on my terms, or die trying.
After I resolved to pursue some sort of action against my former employer, I had no idea where to start. I actually filled in an online questionnaire to a local law firm (my friend’s dad is a partner there, so I figured it was a good place to start) saying I potentially wanted to commence legal action against my employer. They did not email me back immediately, so I began crafting my own bleeding heart of a letter to my employer myself. I figured I could just handle this myself, not spend money I did not have, and that my beautiful, heart wrenching words would cause Idiot, Idiot & Co. to smile kindly upon me from their tall golden thrones, pay me a sum that would cover 10 years worth of therapy, and sign off on a meaningful hand-written apology letter. In blood.
I texted Boyfriend and my mom the hastily written Evernote letter I drafted. It truly touched their hearts. But my mom in particular thought that I should hold off on emailing anything just yet. She gave me that sage advice, “sleep on it.”
But during our conversation (is it a conversation if one of the participants is blubbering like a toddler?), I remembered something.
I know a lawyer.
Now, lawyers don’t cost $free. Even the ones who are friends of yours, or more like acquaintances. Most lawyers around here charge around $500 per hour. It is very difficult to afford a lawyer when your income is $0, and you’re paying hundreds of dollars per week on various therapies to keep your mind from succumbing to the quicksand it has stumbled into.
But I decided that perhaps he could at least give me some direction. Maybe tell me whether I had a case to bother with. Suggest a lawyer in town who was worth spending all of my pennies on.
Just kidding. Canada doesn’t even have pennies anymore. I’d be using my credit card, obvs.
I was fucking terrified of writing him an email and having to reveal my story. Having to include another human in this already mortifying tale was something that I did not want to do. But I didn’t really feel like I had any other options. And connecting with this man seemed to hold a small glimmer of light.
So before I could talk myself out of it, I emailed him. Asked to meet when he had time.
When I was in my late 20s, I was a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.
Let me rephrase that.
I was single and lived alone with seven cats. Just kidding. Zero cats. But definitely single, definitely living alone.
I partied a lot, obviously, because I was extremely popular. I led a very fulfilling life.
Shit. More lies. I got out, but my outings were limited to drinking at my friends’ homes.
Un-single friends, to be precise. I spent every spare minute with friends who were in devoted relationships. I had no single friends.
Before that, when my friends were single too, it was awesome. People wanted to stay out late and drink lots. We went to bars and lounges. I could crash in a male friend’s bed without it getting weird. I could go out with a girlfriend and not face the inevitable disappointment of having to unexpectedly be third wheel. Wait a second, you say. Inevitable + unexpected in one sentence…? Yup. Learning lessons is not one of my strong suits. And you’re right on another point: this is also another mediocre example of me incorporating a little foreshadowing into my post for ya.
It’s not like my life was shitty. And to be honest, my anxiety level at that point in my life was actually relatively low (although, I would later attribute my singledom to being too anxious to reveal any emotion to dudes). But there was a problem with my lifestyle. I was the single girl who hung out with couples, who all only knew couples, and who didn’t care to venture past their doorsteps. I never met guys anymore, and the couples physically clung to one another like two-way stage 5 clingers.
That meant there was no physical human interaction for me anymore.
And kids, I am not even talking about the dirty deed. I am talking about good clean fun. I’m talking about hugs.
Just that natural resource of human touch!
I didn’t realize it until one day when I found myself really, really craving a yoga class. Which is ridiculous because I have an exercise sensitivity. Like gluten, except with like, push-ups.
My yoga teacher always ended every class by massaging our temples during savasana. It was a simple thing, but I noticed after a while that it was the only physical human interaction I experienced like, ever. I started really looking forward to those 3 seconds where my meditation was sort of enhanced and the scent of lemongrass wafted through the air.
Sidebar: Please, seriously – be cool. Don’t ruin it by thinking for even a moment that there was any sexual element to my enjoyment of this whatsoever. There was not.
It was just those moments of human touch that touched my heart. Here was the woman who I knew on a very limited basis, who placed her fingertips on my temples after my workout, giving that to me. You’d think that there would be nothing to it. But for me, it was really important. I’ve often thought about emailing her anonymously to let her know this. But of course, I don’t want her to panic and (understandably) be concerned that she has a lunatic stalker on her hands. Ahem.
If you look into it, the human touch is actually pretty much vital to our being able to thrive. And even to our survival – I read an article that suggested that when babies aren’t hugged, even if they have all the nutrition in the world – they stop growing and can even die. You guys. Not to be super dark on Christmas – but orphan babies are dying because they aren’t hugged. Many large North-American cities have baby hugging programs where you can sign up to hug babies. YOU CAN VOLUNTEER TO HUG BABIES SO THEY DON’T DIE. They do not, regrettably, have this program in my smaller city. I checked.
Sorry, my ovaries took over for a minute there and *digressed.
There are studies that have found that human touch reduces anxiety. It slows down our heart rates. We feel protected, cared for, empathized with. We become calm.
And when we don’t get that key human contact? We can become pretty pessimistic, unhappy, unwell, and of course, alone. It’s a recipe for depression and anxiety.
Those few moments between me and my yoga instructor were helping bridging the gap between me and happiness, when you think about it. That’s because touch triggers a release of oxytocin – which is the neurotransmitting hormone that helps oversees positive social interactions. It’s essentially what is responsible for allowing us to create relationships.
Sorry, that was more science than I typically want to subject you to.
Personally, I have always been in the hugs > kisses camp. Because hugs can comfortably be longer, not sloppy, and they’re toasty warm. I’m obviously a hugger. I hug my best friends when I see them, even if I saw them yesterday. I hug Boyfriend when he gets home from work. I hug my very reluctant cats. It doesn’t have the same effect, but I hug my pillow at night.
Hugs are pretty much imperative to my recovering from a panic attack.
And that’s why I invented the Two-Minute Hug.
All it is is a hug that lasts about two minutes. It is not complicated. You hug someone, and they hug you back, and then you just keep hugging for two minutes. It does not need to be exactly two minutes. Oftentimes it only takes 20 seconds or so for the effects to kick in. I call it ‘two-minutes’ because by accepting it, Boyfriend commits himself to two minutes and cannot wriggle free beforehand if I don’t want him to.
I can go from crying, hyperventilating, and hurting badly on the inside to experiencing feelings of warmth, calm, and love within a matter of seconds. It’s like washing anxiety away. A hug just makes everything bad run down the drain.
Anytime I’m feeling even somewhat nervous, I yell/whine/blubber “TWO-MINUTE HUG” to Boyfriend, and he immediately opens his arms to me and holds me. It always works.
I recommend that everyone indulges in the Two-Minute Hug every single day. Take multiple doses. The more the better, actually. It’s addictive but in a super healthy way and your mother won’t judge you for it.
It doesn’t need to be from a boyfriend or girlfriend. You can hug your mom or dad, friend or sibling. Anyone who is willing (i.e. Do not hug your boss or young children you don’t know). I think hugging a pet totally works, too, although I would urge you to choose a pet that enjoys being hugged. Maybe a tree would work for you — I have no idea. The only requirement is that you need to feel the love.
Honestly, just go hug someone. They might be the one who needs it. You might be the one who needs it. But the lovely thing is that you both win.
So, it’s Christmas Eve. Get off the goddamn computer, and go hug your great-aunt Ida.
PS!! I was awarded the very, very prestigious Liebster Award by the beautiful blogger Pages of Paige.
I love Paige because she reads my blog, apparently, which is something that astounds me every day, and because she has a prima facie appreciation for puns. Also, because her blog is deliciously hilarious and I feel like we’d be BFFs in real life. I need to pass this award on to a few other amazing blogs – and I already know who I’m thinking of – but Christmastime = zero time for such endeavours. I mean, this post alone took me 2 weeks to write and I don’t even have a job. But I will do it, I promise, because I am so, so thrilled to have received a blogger award and I want to share that feeling.
So thank you, Paige. If you are ever in Canada, you can crash on my couch (or sleep in the guestroom if you’re fancy), and I’ll take you to see a cactus so you’ll feel right at home. Truly. Canada does have cactuses. And by Canada I mean any of Canada. My place is close to all of it. That’s how Canada works.
This also feels like a good opportunity to thank Damn Girl, Get Your Shit Together for featuring me on her blog this month. Lady, your advocacy for pumping other female bloggers’ tires is fucking wicked, and I thank you from the bottom of my black heart for choosing me, and for the new followers you sent my way, and I apologize to those followers for not having the answers to curing anxiety you undoubtedly followed me for. Although, in retrospect, I wish I’d provided DGGYST a link icon that said “FREE PORN HERE” or something, because I think it would have generated tons more traffic and I could have ended the year as a internet millionaire. Feel free to update my branding for the remaining few days of December. Also, you are also welcome on my couch/bed. We can both try maple syrup for the first time together.
*Every blog says “I digress”at one point. I promise I won’t do it again.
But financially, it’s becoming a real problem. I don’t understand why rap stars don’t write about it more often. Throw your bills in the air like you just don’t care. So much more relatable.
I’m a relatively financially responsible person. Boyfriend and I have a strict budget and each month we sacrifice allocate money toward various savings accounts. We don’t spend a lot of money eating out or in bars or lounges anymore; our careers leave us far too exhausted to want to recuperate from hangovers these days. Also, I am old as balls so staying home is my jam.
I am a credit card points whore, but usually pay off my card balance each month. I am not, aside from that, the best saver, so I rely on automatic withdrawals from my paycheques to retirement savings plan accounts to save for the future. If I don’t see the money in the first place, I am not going to miss it.
But overall, I’m used to indulging my desires. If I want some new article of clothing, I buy it – but I’m a sale junkie. I take up J Crew’s 40% off sale items offers, and scour places like Marshalls for last season’s discounted (or grey market?) Kate Spade. I also like my Starbucks and my pho. I imagine that the majority of my frivolous spending is on lunches, actually.
At Christmastime, I blow through my budget faster than Trump blows through administrative staff.Buying my loved ones the perfect gift is my favourite. It brings me so much freaking joy. Boyfriend in particular lights up like a little child when he opens gifts from me, and I live for that look on his face. I have a picture of him on our first Christmas together, and it makes my heart smile.
But I’ve been on government assistance, for the first time in my life, since October. It’s a pittance, being less than half my salary. Since Boyfriend is footing the bills right now, I’m not immediately responsible for much. But my therapy bills swallow up about half of that paltry sum, and I’m still paying for things like my cell phone. And, I have an ever-mounting debt to him, which I will be paying back to him when I can.
And so, I essentially have no money right now. I’ve depleted my savings, and am afraid to look at my credit card bill because I’ve only been able to manage $100 payments per month.
I can’t spend money on anything, and Christmas is only weeks away. There are several family birthdays this month, too. I was abashed when my mom emailed me telling me not to buy her anything for Christmas this year, since she knows my situation. It’s humiliating that Boyfriend has had to foot every single bill for the last two-and-a-half months. I dropped an eyeliner into my shopping cart a couple of weeks ago, and felt immediate guilt that he was paying for it.
I’m stressed out because I’ve completely depleted my insurance resources. Realistically, I can’t actually afford my $160 therapy bills.
But the other day, I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about mental health taking its financial toll on him and his family. Check it out here. As I read about his experience, and those of other people’s experiences in the comments, I felt somewhat ashamed for having anything to complain about.
I am lucky.
I am lucky that I have Boyfriend, who’s still employed, financially sound and who pays our mortgage and grocery bills.
I am lucky that he has extended health insurance through his work that I have been added to. Not only does it pay for extended benefits (things like psychologist visits, physiotherapy appointments, and medication cost top-up), but it also pays for my mandatory provincial healthcare premium. It’s allowed me to recoup the costs of my therapy, and has also cut my monthly bills by about $75.
Finally, I am so incredibly to live in Canada.
Canada has amazing health care.
If I didn’t make a decent salary, my health insurance would be free. My prescriptions would be free. I’ve had this since I was born. There’s no such thing as co-pays (I’m not even 100% sure what that is, to be honest), or being aware of what prescription drugs actually cost, or pre-existing conditions. Signing newcomers up for health insurance is something I did at my old job; our governments don’t seem care if you come to Canada with a brain injury. You’re covered. In fact, in the province of Alberta, you’re covered as soon as you step off the airplane, which I found especially wonderful.
In Canada, I can walk into the doctor’s office every day of the year and never pay a cent. I have never paid more than about $10 for prescription drugs, and that was only a few times when I was uninsured through work. If I get hit by a car tomorrow and spend a week in the hospital, my bank account will be none the wiser. If I am diagnosed with cancer, my family will not have to pool together funds to keep me alive. If I get pregnant tomorrow, I will not have to make decisions based on whether or not I’m okay with applying for a second mortgage.
Canada is a wonderful, wonderful place. It is magical. It is a dream.
Yes. Being off work has its drawbacks. But my necessities are covered. I am clothed, warm, and fed. I do not live in fear that my family will ever lose everything to medical bills.
I need to remember that so, so many people do not have this luxury. That this is a luxury.
It pains me to think of how many people are not as fortunate. Do I wish that my government paid for all of my therapy? Sure. Do I wish my old paycheque were still being deposited into my bank account? Yes! Of course I do!
But if I’m honest, most of that money that I’d be saving would be going toward things I don’t have to have. I don’t need a manicure, or new shoes, or a dinner out.
I need the basics. I need my family to be healthy and happy.
This is Part II in my little I Got Fired + Swearwords story. Here is Part I.
Quick catchup: We left off when my supervisor and the company owner had just handed me my the proverbial pink slip.
Between hyperventilating breaths, I told my bosses that I couldn’t believe they were firing me because I’d been on medical leave. Amid a hurried exchange of glances, both of them quickly claimed it had nothing to do with my leave of absence. Nothing. They shook their heads determinedly, like two kindergarteners lying to the teacher about eating paste.
Of course, I think they are full of shit. And I am pretty certain that my facial expression at the time let on just as much. But I also knew there was no point in arguing. They’d certainly rehearsed what they’d planned to say to me if I questioned them anyway. There was no point in standing my ground.
Mostly, I just didn’t have that vitality left in me. I was depleted of any energy I had mustered for the day, like a burnt out light bulb hanging in the room, completely useless. Here I was, experiencing a collaborated effort to squash me run its course successfully. My soul felt crushed, and the somber cloak of dejection wrapped itself around my hunched shoulders. I knew depression was present. I’d never felt it come on so rapidly, so surely. It owned me.
In a room that was now so unwelcoming to me, so uncertain, depression felt so safe. Depression understood. It was there for me, and it was all I could rely on. In the preceding moments, I’d so swiftly been taught that I couldn’t rely on my bosses treating me with compassion. I couldn’t rely on a tacit respect of the law or even of human decency. None of that was within my grasp. I let depression stroke my head and tell me everything would be okay. I could rely on its presence.
The two men left the room, awkwardly aware that there was nothing left to say, and closed the door behind me. And I sat there, feeling like a fool. How had this happened?
Immediately after everything went down, I realized how painfully obvious it all should have been to me in the days leading up to doomsday. There we so many God damn signs: My boss was keeping me at arm’s length. No one from the management team contacted me to ask how I was doing. The email responses leading up to my final day were more and more uncertain. For once, my anxiety disorders were right. Why hadn’t I just quit while the ball was still in my court? How could I have been so stupid?
We all routinely look at signs and overreact, don’t we? Especially the anxious. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to tell myself not to jump to conclusions. Hundreds of times any given worst case scenario that I so often felt so strongly was imminent had never even happened, in the end. Like a teenager who drives like a daredevil, I began to feel immune to anything bad actually happening to me. It was always just in my head.
My headspace has never been a safe haven. Although tragedy never really struck, so many impending situations played out so catastrophically in my mind over the years that it almost didn’t matter whether something bad actually happened to me. I still go through the trauma all the time. If I were to meet someone at a bar, for instance, I’d still go through the very real experience of my friend not showing up, strangers turning and laughing at me, telling me to leave, that I didn’t belong. I’d experience it all while I sat waiting in my car, twenty minutes before I was due to walk through the doors. That’s kind of what anxiety is. It’s a bad reaction to an experience that isn’t even happening.
And so, I grew to experience that worst case scenario, but never have to live with the actual consequences. But now I know that living in the reality after the bomb goes off is just so much harder than I ever thought it could be. I’m left picking up shards of my life without a plan. I don’t know how to deal with this. What do you do when the nightmare comes true?
The thing is, looking at perceived signs and overreacting is an anxiety- and depression-prisoner’s worst downfall. In therapy, one of my monster challenges was rewiring my brain to essentially not jump to a horrifying ending every time a difficult situation arose. While that is a positive thing that I still know I need to work on, and still believe in, it really didn’t help things this time around. It kind of worked against me.
I spent so much time over the past couple of months reassuring myself that the disastrous consequences I’d invented in my mind were not real possibilities. That they couldn’t possibly come to pass. I mean it when I say that I did not, for one minute, believe that I could lose my job after taking medical leave. I’d just worked far too hard training myself to be rational about it. And it left me completely unprepared for this. I’ve found myself suddenly climbing Everest wearing a pair of Chucks.
I can’t help but feel angry with myself for not listening to anxiety back at the end of September. It was telling me all of the right things, trying to protect me, and direct me toward the safest pathway. But I didn’t listen. Now I’m left doubting my ability to read the signs and act appropriately. I’ve realized that I don’t know anything.
So the last couple of weeks have been hard. Really, really hard.
A real live actual worst case scenario is so hard to deal with, because it crosses over into your physical experience. It’s so much more than simply contemplating an outcome and living it in your mind. Simply put, not only do I have to deal with the emotional issues, but now I have to deal with the physical ones. I don’t feel capable of showering, let alone accomplishing anything that would make any normal human stressed. I need to do scary things like job hunt, to appear intelligent, groomed and put-together, and capable of doing the professional job I am trained to do. And I need to accomplish small things. Today, I burst into tears while I waited in line at the post office to buy a single stamp. I’m failing badly so far.
For me, this stuff feels insurmountable.
I know it’s not healthy, but I hold so much resentment toward my ex-boss right now. Let’s face it; I have zero control over my thoughts these days. Usually, I try to take responsibility for my emotions. But I just don’t feel like I brought this on this time. I was good at my job, and acted reasonably in an effort to mend myself. I didn’t fire myself. It was all him. The humiliation and indignity he’s caused me… it just hurts so badly. I relive the meeting every single day. I can see my supervisor, eyes downcast, and hear him say “we are terminating your employment” all of the time.
Every time I go out of the house, I feel terrified that I will see him or someone from the office. I’m frightened about my future, and how I might react if things start to get intense for me again at another job. I was trusting and was so wrong once, so how can I be sure that it won’t happen again? I can’t fathom taking risks anymore.
I want to live in a different city, in a different country, and I never want to have a boss ever again. Depression and anxiety are ruling over me right now.
This will serve as Part I in How I Lost my Fucking Job, I guess.
My mind has settled, relatively speaking (major disclaimer there), although I am extremely susceptible to panic attacks right now. I have had several every day, all lasting a really long fucking time. Today I was trying to do the whole “5 senses” routine, but couldn’t remember what the senses are, aside from seeing. Which is the easy one. Suffice to say, it didn’t work out. And the depression? Good lord, I will write about that another day. Anyone who’s looking to fester in a pool of misery, stay tuned for that.
But tonight, I’m feeling a little feisty and a little angsty in a non-teenage way. For no good reason; I have received no good news, had not had any revelations, or experienced any profound mindful meditation sessions that have eased my tension. I’m still fucked up. But I’m in a writing mood, lucky for you.
A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my boss. I scribbled his words down as he explained to me what my position would look like when I returned to work. I had asked him how hiring a second “me” would change things.
there will be changes – nothing drastic – won’t be switching my job – nothing huge
If you’ve been reading my blog, you might recall that I’d seen a job posting for my own position online part-way into my medical leave. Naturally, I panicked immensely, doused the underside of my tongue with a hit of Ativan, and connected with Work BFF to get more details about the posting. She assured me that they couldn’t possibly be replacing me; that they must be adding to my understaffed department.
I calmed down (to the best of my ability), and eventually scheduled that call with my boss. He assured me that they were only adding another member to my department – just as Work BFF said.
But my boss ex-boss is not, as it turns out, a forthright fellow. At least, not in the strictest sense.
The thing I’m having the hardest time reconciling is how blatantly he lied to me about things. Both over the phone, and over an email. Both times, he assured me they were adding to the team. That there would be no changes to my position. I believed him.
I mean it. I really truly believed him. Like, in the way a 15-year-old believes her 17-year-old boyfriend.
It made sense, especially from a legal standpoint. Because, math. I’m no mathemagician, but adding is not replacing, as far as I know. And everyone in my life – Boyfriend, family, friends, even my therapist – agreed. I guess, though, that lying over an email and even over the phone isn’t out of the realm of possibility for an executive, is it?
I spent the following days thinking and writing a lot about trusting in myself. I reminded myself that when Fear is here, I need to observe it and let it pass. Recognize that it doesn’t know the truth, and focus instead on the fact that I trust myself. Love, belonging, safety.
But this time, Fear was right. And everything I, foolhardy, had so carefully built, came crumbling down the other morning when my boss and supervisor told me my position no longer existed.
So here’s what happened, in case anyone cares (or in case I’m ever in the mood to relive a nightmare and, as usual, Netflix doesn’t have any good horror flicks on rotation).
My two superiors got straight to business when the three of us sat down at the table that morning, It was me, my supervisor, and my boss.
I noted that my supervisor looked like shit. He looked like he’d been up all night with a sobbing infant or like he’d just been dumped before prom, neither of which scenario was probable. But I honestly didn’t think much of it. It was kind of an awkward time, and he was likely worried that perhaps I’d be standoffish or have a panic attack during the meeting. And, sometimes he just looks like shit.
My boss (the CEO) looked like a dead fish: grey colouring and big dumb eyes that moved spastically. They darted from me, to my supervisor, to the table, unsure of themselves, looking for some kind of an auxiliary in anything they focused on.
He started sputtering out a few token buzz words and business idioms. He is one of those guys who tries really hard to sound like he knows what the fuck he’s talking about by saying things like “paradigm shift” and “synergy,” and is especially prone to using those words in the wrong context. And words that don’t even actually exist. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad to watch.
Enough about what a dum-dum he is.
After explaining that they were doing the usual “checks and balances” (a turn of phrase I hadn’t heard since 1993), he told me that they’d hired another supervisor and that my role was no longer available.
In that moment, my brain worked more quickly than it typically does in that type of setting. I stumbled over my words, interjecting, “wait – are you guys firing me?”
Fish-eyes fixated on my supervisor, who immediately filled in the gap and did the dirty work for him like an ever-loyal henchman.
“We are terminating your employment.”
For a nanosecond, it felt like someone sped up the track like in one of those dub-step songs right before the beat drops (*I do not recommend relying on my understanding of musical vernacular). I know that sounds contradictory. But for that fraction of a moment, my mind raced around every corner of itself like a pinball, searching for some way to truly cipher what had just occurred. Somewhere in there, my Ego was shouting “No no no no no” all the while, just in case I thought this was a positive situation. Was this even real?
This was supposed to be my first day back in the office. Not my last.
But then the beat did drop. My supervisor slid a manilla envelope across the table like a tiny bald mob boss, which I grasped with trembling fingers. I felt all of the blood drain from my body and my beating heart somehow maneuver itself up and into my throat as I clumsily opened the envelope. All I saw on the letter was a dollar figure, which I immediately recognized as severance pay.
And suddenly, I was Taylor Swift at the Grammys (you know the one).
It’s been a couple days since I was terminated. During that time I’ve cried a lot, medicated, and hidden in my bed. My brain is not currently a place I want to be in. I have felt a multitude of feelings and emotions in the past day. Feel free to choose any synonym for “sad” and I can assure you I have felt it. But in the end, all I feel is numb. Losing my job has put me right back into the deepest crevice my depression has to offer me. I’ve never felt it this badly before. The despair, the guilt, the shame, the fear – none of it can hold a candle to the nothingness. The emptiness. I’m afraid of my own heart right now.
I tried to overcome it today, I really did. I told myself that I was in charge of my own emotions. That I could choose to be okay with the way things panned out. So I went to the grocery store. I made dinner. I laughed while watching The Office. But as soon as it was over, I was right back in the middle of my head again. It’s not somewhere I want to be. I want to turn out the light, and just stop feeling. I want these feelings to stop. I feel like depression is a disease tattooed all over my body and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. It’s spreading. I has already enveloped everything I know. Every thought, every feeling, every idea I have.
That first night as I lay in my bed and told myself not to take another sleeping pill, I just gave in. My depression gets to win, at least tonight.
I never, ever thought this would be me. But is that even the truth? I should have seen it coming, shouldn’t I?
Letting people go is something my organization has done many times. It’s somewhat habitual, actually. The words “termination” are words I’ve personally written in many letters to unsuspecting employees during my career there. I always felt sick doing it. Did my employer ever think about how easily they choose to fire people? How it affects these people? What is it about them that makes them come to the conclusion that severing ties with a living, breathing human being is a better idea than trying to work it out, give warnings or second chances? Work on the person rather than replacing him or her? Or is my employer’s quest for gold just too intoxicating? The prospect of walking down that path they’ve cleared for themselves must be much easier than walking up a mountain road to fix a problem. Do they know that the organization is known as the company “where [redacted job title]s go to die”? You can insert three or four specific job titles in there. Mine too, I guess.
And while I’ve now lumped myself into that group of those who were doomed, I can’t help but take a disparate view and say to myself that “I am different than all of them.”
Because I never fucked up on the job. I had glowing reviews. They gave me raises when I requested them. They praised my work, and even flaunted their achievements to their rivals while giving me due credit. More than once, they told me that certain projects were in the best shape they’d ever seen.
But they fired me anyway. I went on an anxiety- and depression-induced medical leave of absence, and the day they told me was my first day back in the office, they fired me. They replaced me. They lied to me when we discussed my return to work plan. They had a minion lie to me, too.
Aside from how abject my mind is, and how wronged I feel, I feel sorry for them. If there is one emotion I feel from the bottom of what’s left of my heart’s ability to feel, it’s pity.
My boss is a kid. His dad created this company, not him. He never had to work from the ground up. He was given opportunities to succeed that millions of people would never have been given. Deep down, I know he knows his privilege and advantage in life.
The next day, when I came to pick up my things, I noticed that he avoided eye contact. He shot the shit with a random dude and excused himself to make a “conference call.” But I know his game. And I feel bad for him. Because he’s playing the “fake it till you make it” game. And it’s not working. He hasn’t enough experience to face things and man up.
The worst part is that he is playing that game with peoples’ lives. He has taught me nothing but the fact that mental health stigma is still very real, and that people who try to get better are going to end up fucked over.
That’s the golden rule in action, isn’t it.
This post is a mess. I’m sorry. But my mind is a mess, too.