It would not be fair of me to extol the benefits of mindfulness without adding a dash of realism into it.
Mindfulness is damn hard sometimes.
Like right now. I’m going through a depressive episode and I feel the tug between the Darkness that wants to pull me under into the murky depths of Lake Misery and that Mindful Voice telling me that this is temporary and that the Darkness is a Liar, Darkness always has been a liar and it will always be a liar.
It’s not fun when you have a fight going on in your head.
This latest bout happened when someone who was supposed to be helping me said something that set back all the progress I’ve made.
But first, there is something that you need to understand about anxiety disorders and panic disorders. Anxiety isn’t just worrying or being nervous. In my case, it’s worrying and being nervous and being fearful of something, and those feelings are so severe, it affects the quality of my life.
My anxiety disorder/panic disorder was triggered by a nervous breakdown I had due to work-related stress. The breakdown was bad enough for me to take eight weeks of medical leave before I was even close to going back to work. During this time, as I waited for the medications to take effect, I was afraid to leave my house. For most of that eight weeks, I was terrified of going near the building where I worked because the thought of being near that place caused panic attacks. I had to work up to driving past the building to see what would happen when I got near it.
I have not worked outside of my home since September of 2011, when I lost another job because I had a panic attack and could not go back to the building. Something someone said was what triggered that one. It also didn’t help that I had to go off of the meds that were working because our new insurance wouldn’t cover them.
Over the years, finding out what, exactly, is wrong with me, has been a frustrating process of trial and error. I believe in my gut there is more going on, mental healthwise, than just what I’ve been diagnosed with. Whenever I bring this up, I’m dismissed by therapists and doctors as being a hypochondriac who wants to get on disability and not work.
No. I want to know exactly what the hell is wrong with me so I can treat it properly. I do not like having an anxiety/panic disorder and anyone who would suggest such a thing has no clue what they are talking about.
When I think I finally have a handle on things, something triggers a setback bad enough to cause a depressive episode like the one I’m going through now and like the one I had last November. It can be frustration due to not being heard, or it could be something that someone else says and doesn’t realize that what they think is helpful is actually harmful.
At the core of every panic disorder is living in fear of having another panic attack and being in a place, like a store or some other public place, where you cannot leave and/or you have this panic attack in front of everyone.
In order for me to get better, I have to be mindful and tell the Darkness that, first, it’s full of shit and second, I can do this without having a panic attack.
I’ve made no secret of wanting to go back to school. A couple of weeks ago, I sat in the office of my vocational rehab case worker who doesn’t seem to understand anxiety or much less how to deal with someone who has a panic disorder.
The State of South Dakota has deemed my anxiety enough of a disability, that I qualify for vocational rehab.
“I want to go back to school,” I informed her. “And I’m going to do it whether voc rehab pays for it or not.”
“What makes you think that you won’t have a panic attack going to school?” my case worker asked me.
Now this may seem like a fair question to ask, but it is the absolute worst thing you can ever say to someone trying to manage an anxiety disorder.
It may seem like I’m telling myself that things won’t happen that could happen and I’m being all sunshine, gumdrops and rainbow-farting unicorns, but here’s the thing: if I am “realistic” and think, “well, yeah, it’s possible I’ll have a panic attack”, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I will have a panic attack.
It will be so bad that I will have to give up whatever it was I was doing when it happened.
It will probably be so bad that I will not be able to go near the place where it happened for years.
When someone else says this, it triggers a bout of anxiety and depression. I begin questioning myself and my abilities and if I’m doing the right thing. I start to doubt myself. Then I get frustrated because just as it seemed I was making progress, I get knocked backwards so far that it’s going to take longer to get back to the point I was at when I was knocked back than it did to originally get there.
Doubt leads to wanting to give up. I should write more and I know I should actively look for writing work, but Darkness says, “Why? You’re just going to fuck it up again?”
Doubt tells me that it’s not worth my time to try and bring in some income opening an Etsy store to sell my hand knits. Doubt tells me it’s not worth my time to pursue writing, art and school. Doubt tells me it’s all a waste of time. Doubt then leads to frustration.
My frustration leads to depression and to me wanting to give up. In my head, the Darkness is telling me I shouldn’t bother because next time is going to end up turning out like this time…and the time before that.
I’m also very stubborn and determined and I think that’s what has saved me from actually committing suicide. That stubbornness is what gives me the dose of tough love I need to get up, dust off, and start over again.
Right now, honestly, it’s difficult to remember that mindfulness is the antidote to the distorted thought processes that go hand in hand with mental illness. I just want to quit and say “fuck it”. Fuck everything.
If we go broke, fuck it.
If we get evicted, fuck it.
Just fuck it.
I’m tired of not being heard. It’s now gotten to the point where when I go in for my next meds check, I’m bringing my husband with me so that he can tell the doctor what he sees and then maybe, just maybe, the doctor will stop looking at me like a fucking hypochondriac and take me seriously and re-evaluate all of my diagnoses.
I’m so sick and fucking tired of going through this cycle when some well-intentioned, but woefully ignorant person says something that triggers panic and sets me back. It feels sometimes like I’m on a treadmill. I move, but I don’t actually go anywhere.
The main obstacle between me getting even a part-time job is this panic disorder. One of the contributing factors to the work-related stress that led to my nervous breakdown was the inability for me to shift the load I carried around to a more manageable burden. That load became too heavy and I broke under its weight.
Since then, I cannot handle large crowds. I do not go shopping on Saturdays. Since Costco opened, I’ve managed to avoid Walmart because it’s so crowded and busy that both the amount of people and the overstimulation of my senses triggers panic.
So getting a job in retail or fast food is out of the question.
It’s not the work, it’s the environment. I must have the time to take care of myself. If I can take care of myself, then everything else works itself out.
Vocational rehab is probably not going to help me right now. It may in the future, but not right now.
I will get past this. I usually do. The method will depend on the severity of my depression and anxiety.
There is another thing you need to know about panic disorders: the panic attacks are not instantaneous. It is normal for things to build up or to have a delayed reaction to the trigger. This always happens to me.
When my caseworker made the remark to me that she did, I was slowly getting to a point where I was beginning to think about looking for a job and where I could picture myself in a job without having heart palpitations or worrying about panic. I was feeling confident that I could find a job, but also handle that job.
And it was those fateful words, the “how do you know you won’t have a panic attack doing this” that triggered things for me.
Ironically, I don’t think this caseworker realizes that if I were to go through voc rehab and get a job, there’s no guarantee that I won’t have a panic attack doing that, either.
If you want to be helpful to someone like me, realism is not the way to go. We need to hear that we can do this and we need to keep hearing this until the confidence that we build up is strong enough to push away that lingering, ever-present fear that we’re going to have another panic attack and fail.
Because once I or someone else like me feels that confidence, then we become bigger and greater than our anxiety.
We aren’t going to get that confidence from people who are “just being realistic”.
“Just being a realist”, I’ve come to learn is code for, “I have a bad attitude and because I feel bad, I’m going to bring you down with me.”
I do have a relapse plan and it involves having people to talk to instead of keeping it bottled up and letting the doubt and darkness and anxiety fester. Having a plan is a part of being mindful. Having someone or something to help get back on track is being mindful.
Eventually, I will get to a point where I am stronger and I can push the Darkness back and put it in its place. It’s just not right now.
I have a Pinterest Board I call “Moods”. These are visual representations meant to convey what something feels like to me. Current moods: the dark ones.