Archive for mental health

Anxiety

Every day when I wake up, I begin a new battle with a demon that plagues me and taunts me into submission. It cannot be seen or heard, but lives inside of me, struggling to gain control. The clinical term is ‘anxiety,’ but inside my head, it takes on a more mystical, sinister facet, and plays the Moriarty to my Sherlock Holmes. My nemesis is a part of me, and thus preys upon me with the calculated knowledge of a psychopathic genius. The circular logic of self-doubt spirals around my head until I feel drunk and dizzy with the disorienting weight of uncertainty, and this is almost too much to bear.

For most people, anxiety is an obstacle to overcome when faced with a large presentation to make or an event to plan. But for the many who struggle silently with anxiety disorders, it simply becomes a way of life. I can barely remember a day when I woke up without that familiar welling of panic inside my chest. Adapting my way of living to my anxiety disorder has dictated my life, and threatens to similarly control my future.

For me, it is this promise of a better future that fuels my fight to survive. The insidious thing about anxiety is that the more that you seek to evade it, the stronger its hold becomes. Thus, we become warriors, and mundane tasks become a battling ground for a fight between will and emotion. A war waged on mind over matter, if you will.

My mind is in a state of constant warfare and turmoil. On a good day, I celebrate life and anticipate an eventual victory. On a bad day, I sit shackled to the ground and unable to fly. My anxiety manifests itself in a torrent of frantic obsessions, without rhyme or reason, and relentless in their pursuit. I will fixate upon an issue, and analyze and doubt and beat myself senseless with it for hundreds of hours. I will watch movies and carry on conversations, and attend class on autopilot. Entire days will go by where I barely remember what happened in the outside world, because my entire being was focused on the obsession at hand, calculating and determining and puzzling over something that cannot be resolved. I tell myself that I will just think about it for another five minutes, and if I haven’t come up with a solution, then I will give myself a rest. But that rest never comes. I never find a solution that calms me, and I gradually work myself into a frenzy, plagued with self-doubt and perceived signs that the universe is against me.

Sometimes this anxiety seems mystical, and I feel as if I am cursed. Other times I resign myself to the notion that this is my cross to bear, and that I must learn to adapt my life to it. The times when I am strongest and happiest, I am defiant and aggressive. I scream in the face of my oppressor and rage against my prison: My life belongs to me, fuck off! Yes, anger has a place, and when channeled correctly, even a dignified strength that shouts out for justice. Indeed, it is on those days when I cannot be silenced that I feel the most free. But, unfortunately, these days are too few, and are overshadowed by the senseless, cold and aching nights.

Sometimes I will stare into the mirror for hours, picking at my eyes. Oddly enough, this is often the one thing that will calm me. My eyes are often red and irritated: Infected from being touched too much. They itch and they burn, but still I can not stop. Another desperate attempt to find peace of mind. I will also ask for reassurance, over and over, until nobody will listen to me anymore. But the answer is never enough. Are they lying? Are they just being kind? The doubt creeps back in, and I swallow the urge to ask again. Sometimes I feel better for a few precious moments, but then the obsessing starts again. No response is enough to calm my doubts. I am needy, and I know it. I worry about my desperate need for affection, but my attempts to smother it only result in an empty aching. I seek comfort from outside sources, because I can not give it to myself. I reach out desperately, but no amount of hugs and kind words can reach me in the prison of my mind. I am alone, and it is dark.

I sit in the darkness of my room at night, overcome with fears and doubts. I try to stop the constant repeating of my mind. I try breathing exercises, but they make me feel dizzy. Maybe they help a bit. I hum to myself, lullabies and hymns, and try to calm myself. It’s okay baby, I will keep you safe. I think of a therapist I once saw who told me I was addicted to the romance of madness. I think she must have been crazy. In reality, there is nothing poetic about mental illness: It is weight gain and unwashed hair and maggots in the sink. I desperately cling to my old friend Bear: His calm, kindly eyes always listening. My faithful companion, always unassuming and quietly listening. We have grown up together. I rest my head on the yellowed fur of his matted head, and try to slow my breathing. In a few hours the sun will come up. It will be better then.

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Rant on social work

You know, it’s funny how time and experience can really skew our opinions. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have told you that most people go into social work because they want to help, because they have empathy, or just because they are good people. Now I am not so sure. Over my years in the system, I have met some truly truly beautiful people who restored my faith in humanity. In fact, I credit one of them for making me decide that I could really make a difference in the world if I were to become a social worker. She had a huge heart, was encouraging and comforting, and the most beautiful thing was that she truly cared. Although I will always treasure her for the gifts she gave me, I feel like I have become somewhat jaded over the past couple of years. I have seen things that have made me wonder if I even really want to become part of this profession. For the first time, I can see why a lot of kids who grow up in the system end up hating social workers.

I heard a health worker speaking to a mentally ill client today with such venom and hatred in her voice, that it made me want to curl up into the fetal position and cry. Don’t get me wrong, this girl is irritating. In fact, she is possibly one of the most annoying people I have ever met, but she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in childhood and she did not choose to become developmentally disabled. If someone is working in a helping profession and feels visceral hatred for her clients, there is something seriously wrong. I am not naïve, I know that there are people who consider those with physical, mental, emotional handicaps to be inferior. In fact, sometimes I am guilty of this myself; I think that to a certain extent we all are. Even that spark of pity we often feel can be taken in the wrong way, and we can often be patronizing or downright condescending. But outright rudeness and disrespect toward those who are disabled is inexcusable.

Last night, I went to see the documentary Expelled with my friend Isabelle. I found a lot of things in this movie to be downright insulting, but that’s another rant for another day. The movie ended up comparing Darwinism to eugenics and war (which in general I think is ridiculous, but it makes sense here): The evil facet of ‘the survival of the fittest.’ That conversation I overheard today invoked images of social Darwinism, of dangerous attitudes that unbridled can lead to destruction. A poisonous hatred that seems to come from nowhere, yet seethes and lurks under the guise of ‘helping.’

At what point does such ‘helping’ become destructive? Involuntary sterilization, unauthorized medical procedures, institutionalization… it’s a slippery slope, and it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Attitudes lead to actions, and it seems to me that it’s easier to draw lines in the sand before the problem gets out of hand. The point is that we are NOT animals, and one can only hope that we have come to a point where we can transcend the basic carnal instincts of the survival of the fittest. Whatever happened to empathy and kindness, hope, and goodness beyond concern for one’s own survival? When I think about it, these are the things that give our life meaning, they are the true treasures and devastating beauty evident in life.

I’m not saying that everyone has to be empathetic all the time, and I am certainly far from a Saint myself. However, I would certainly hope that if I got to the point where I felt hostility toward my clients, I would know it was time to quit. Organizations that allow their employees to operate as such negate their own existence to a certain extent. The clients may have a roof over their head, but to live under such a roof without basic dignity and respect for their being, what is the point? Part of my problem is that I need to learn to choose my battles. I always feel like I’m on a soapbox and it is my job to reform society. But I do feel strongly about this issue, especially as I am sitting on both sides of the fence right now, as a mentally ill consumer, and as a social work student.

I am not saying I am perfect by any means. I just hope that if I ever end up feeling those feelings of anger and hatred (God forbid!), that I would have the decency and the honor to quit. We are all equal and valuable, and those with disabilities deserve to be respected as such.

*All the lonely people, where do they all come from?*

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Confidence

Last week, I handed in a paper on feminist interpretations of Genesis 1-3. I was nervous because this is my first class at a new school, and every university is a little bit different, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, and there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind telling me that maybe I am just not smart enough to keep up with my classmates. Add to that the fact that there are less than 20 students in the class, and most of them are either in their final year of Religious Studies or in an M.Div. program. I was intimidated. Considering that most of my university education up until this point has been in Math and Chemistry, I felt like I was drowning the first few days. But, I digress. So, when I sat down to write this paper, I wasn’t really sure how to structure the writing, or really even how to start thinking about the paper. I had a minor meltdown and called one of my friends in hysterics, thinking that I just wasn’t smart enough to do this. After a laborious weekend spent pulling my hair out and biting my nails down to the quick, I finally had a finish product that I considered presentable at best. I handed it in, braced myself for a C, and pushed it to the back of my mind.

Yesterday, I got the paper back. I didn’t even want to look at the grade because I figured that it would depress me too much, so I stuffed it into my shoulder bag and left the school. Later, sitting in a coffee shop and trying to do my readings, I decided that I might as well get it over with. I pulled out the paper, flipped to the last page, and there was an ‘A’ staring back at me. I was floored. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I can be a smart Kiwigirl. I know that I am a good writer, and I have always been at the top of my paper-writing classes, but the problem is that I have always been a big fish in a small pond. Now I’m swimming with the big fishies, and I was worried about being eaten alive.

The point to all this is that we so often doubt ourselves. In fact, it seems like society encourages us to doubt ourselves. We’re never good enough to measure up to what we see around us: never thin enough, pretty enough, likeable enough. But, at the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, we rarely take the time out to just sit with ourselves and think about the things that we *are* good at. A little confidence can go a long way, and I find that when I have that spark of self-assurance, I actually perform better. Nobody can do their best work when they are constantly feeling like they are not going to measure up.

That little comment opened up a whole new world for me. There are things I am good at. And, yes, I might be in a bigger pond now, but I am still *me* and I am still capable. It’s easy to become intimidated. I feel it whenever I start something new, whether it’s a job, school, or even spending time with a different group of people. But I beat myself up when I don’t really need to, and I’m coming to realize that it’s unneccessary because it doesn’t really improve anything anyway. And it doesn’t always reflect the truth.

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