Thursday, June 27, 2013

Naked Blogging - Continued


In my last entry I wrote about The Bloggess and the idea of Naked Blogging. If you've not read it I recommend you do - especially as I've provided such a handy link for you to follow. As soon as you're done come back and read this one.

Right, so this is my Naked Blog entry. This is the story of how and why I came to write Wise At Any Age, which you can buy by following this link:

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

A person's life is not made up of sequential incidents and experiences. All of our stories overlap and within that overlap there are tangents and offshoots and different trouser legs. You can go back along your life and try to figure out where something started and eventually you get to the point where you were born and you realise you won't know the end until you die. And then you'll be dead and you can't write it down. 

For that reason I've decided to start where I am now by sharing just a small selection of things I have come to learn through my experience (There are a lot more included in Wise at Any Age).

1. Life really is what you make it, and other cliches - When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That means when life gives you something sour and potentially unpleasant you can either whinge or you can take it and make a delicious refreshing drink. You don't have to make lemonade. You could make lemon meringue pie; you could make lemon tarts; you could make lemon chicken. Your choice. 

2. There is nothing wrong with feeling emotions: It's O.K. to be scared. It's O.K. to get angry. It's O.K. to feel sad. It's O.K. to grieve. It's normal, actually. If you didn't have these feelings I'd be worried. What's not O.K. is ignoring them or reacting to them mindlessly. And no one is happy 100% of the time. 

3. There are no rules. Life is messy and accidental and there is no single 'right' way to go about living yours. 

4. I don't know who said it - the interweb is notorious for mis-labelling quotes - but I couldn't put it better: Don't worry so much about what other people think. Those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter. 

5. It's O.K. to ask for help! Asking for help doesn't automatically mean you lack competency or that you're incapable or needy. It means you accept that you can't always do everything on your own. 

And here's a big one:

6. You deserve your own love, compassion and respect more than anyone else on the planet. 

Disclaimer: My story is not unique in that a lot of people have had the experiences I've had. But the way I experienced it is mine but what I learned from it is universally beneficial. It's also not over so I know I will continue to learn a great many things as I continue to have a great many experiences. This is something I demonstrated with an animation I did in 2012 called '27 Things'. You can go watch it on my website. 

I was a really happy, well-adjusted kid. I was born and raised in the same house, I have loving parents and a loving brother. I grew up in a great neighbourhood with some brilliant friends, some of whom I am lucky enough to still have in my life. 

When I entered Junior High I could be what one might describe as 'naive'. My upbringing hadn't been sheltered, exactly, but it was safe from a lot of the realities of the world. To be honest, I love my parents for that more than they could possibly know. 

As it was, my naiveté left me ill-prepared for the cruelty of junior high (Middle school for the Americans and ages 13-15 for UK readers) and the relentless verbal bullying for which girls seem to have such a great talent. My coping skills weren't great and I experienced my first bouts of depression. 

I am a born survivor; We all are. I'm stubborn and solution focused. It took a year and a half but I realised that the girls who tormented me were cowards. It was really, really difficult, but facing up to them by asking them why they were calling me names stopped them in their tracks. 

Standing up to them was a challenge but it helped a lot. The bullying lessened considerably and I gained back some confidence. It didn't, however, remove my need to control my feelings. I turned to self harm when I felt unable to cope. 

High school was a grand improvement. Most of my high school career was at the Alternative High School in Calgary. This was classroom structure self-directed learning and I was really good at it. So good that I was one of two graduates who never went onto the Step Program. The Step Program, or simply "Step", was a corrective program for students who fell behind with their studies.

More of that stubbornness, really. I made up my mind not to get on Step, to take control of my learning and to graduate on time with the highest marks I could manage. I was very focused. Unfortunately one day there was a paperwork mix-up when a student with a similar name to mine was put on Step. For a few days I thought I was on Step because of this miscommunication. There was a lot of confusing back and forth but eventually it was resolved.

Despite this I woke up the morning after it was resolved and my heart felt like it was sitting in my throat. My chest was tight and my breathing shallow. I felt like my pulse was racing, even though it wasn't when I checked. My appetite - which is usually really, really good - was gone because I had constant butterflies in my stomach. 

I had developed Panic Disorder. A disorder is when something is misfiring. In my case my brain was reacting to perceived triggers: It was signalling to my body that I should be in fight or flight all the time, even when there was nothing to warrant it. 

After a few sleepless nights I went to my doctor and he sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with Panic Disorder and, the common cold of mental illness, Depression. He suggested medication but I had watched plenty of friends go down that route and I didn't want to experience the same sluggishness and flattening of my personality. I knew it was all in my head and I figured it would eventually go away. At the time I was seventeen. 

My anxiety remained with me, 24/7 for the next three years. Sometimes it would turn into a full blown anxiety attack but mostly it was just there, softly, under my skin and in my head and fluttering in my heart. I accepted it as part of who I was.

Two years later several major things happened in my life:

1. I decided to set up a not-for-profit oranisation that would provide sustainable safe spaces for queer, transgendered/sexual and questioning youth.

2. I planned a trip to Australia - my first holiday completely paid for and planned by myself.

3. I got my first tattoo, of a bull, as a reminder of my strength an as a promise to never self harm again.

4. I started dating someone.

Items 1 to 3 were all very empowering and significant. I was making adult decisions in a way I hadn't done before. I was growing up. I was doing things for me.

One day my anxiety wasn't there. The constant 24/7 anxiety had gone away and the feeling of relief it gave me was absolutely incredible.

I attributed this change to number 4. I did not see the empowering decisions I was making as influencing my emotions and ability to cope. It was not something I put up to my personal growth but something I assumed was because of someone new in my life with whom I felt a special connection.

Despite this budding relationship I still went off to Australia on my own, where I had a brilliant time, met a lot of amazing people and found a huge amount of energy to bring back and apply to the development of the not-for-profit organisation.

My anxiety was not gone but it had lessened significantly. I was feeling really good. I was finding an amazing community of people, I was in a seemingly loving relationship and I was confident in my independence because I'd been to Australia and back on my own.

It doesn't matter how sensible or rational or together you might be, toxic people aren't always easy to spot at first glance. When I felt anxious I attributed the anxiety to my inability to make and keep my partner happy. I felt, if they were happy, then my anxiety would go away. When my anxiety increased I worked harder to make them happier. I also stopped writing. I painted occasionally but not very much and only to make things for my partner. I didn't travel. I hardly read.

It never occurred to me that my anxiety might be a tool - a compounding of fear that had turned into a boiling frothy nest of anxiousness - trying to tell me to PAY ATTENTION. I did everything I could to make it go away, except for actually listening to it.

I also started self harming again - something I'd not done since I was a teenager. At twenty-two a stressful situation would turn me into an angst ridden ball of anxiety and it was only getting worse.

I was isolated. My friends and family had little time or patience for me. They found me whiney, obnoxiously negative and quite bitter. I didn't like being with myself and I honestly couldn't blame anyone else for not wanting to be either. was whiney, negative and bitter.

In the week between Christmas 2007 and New Year 2008 the cold weather had set in and cabin fever was taking its toll. I was confined to the house as I was on holiday from work. My constant anxiety became crippling. I couldn't eat anything: even liquids wouldn't stay down. I couldn't sleep. The nights, which were long anyway because of the time of year, stretched on and on like some sort of torturous time chamber.

I tried all my usual stuff - taking baths, drinking hot lemon drinks for colds, taking muscle relaxants and other drowsy-making meds, making a bed on the floor in the hall or in the living room, watching TV, listening to music - nothing worked. The anxiety reached a point of no distraction and after four sleepless nights I took the decision to be hospitalised.

For the first time in my life I was given medication for the anxiety I was experiencing. I was given 2mg of Lorazepam and finally it began to recede.

I continued to take 1 to 2mgs of Lorazepam every night for the next six months. It was the only thing between me and oblivion but it's considered a highly addictive drug. When I'd been at the hospital they made it very clear that I would need to see my doctor about long term treatment options and it was probably a really good idea for me to see a psychologist.

My mum found me a psychologist and told me that she would cover the costs as often and for as long as I needed. This was one time when I was not going to refuse her offer of help. I agreed to it because I wanted a solution - I did not want to rely on medication for the rest of my life and I knew that what I was suffering from was not a biological misfiring but a cognitive pattern of negativity.

Before I continue I want to make is perfectly clear that medication has a valid place and that it's so important to be properly diagnosed and treated for any mental illness. In my case I'd had all my levels checked and the only thing that popped up was a vitamin D deficiency, which really wasn't an explanation for the severity of the chronic anxiety I was suffering.

Just a few weeks after my hospitalisation I began to see my psychologist, who I continue to see to this day. Her support has been invaluable and the support of my family and friends has also attributed to my recovery. And what a recovery it has been! 

In the initial stages after my breakdown in January 2008, my recovery was slow and steady. I was building a foundation for change which was tested in June of 2008 when my relationship ended abruptly and unpleasantly. The experience of heartbreak is nearly impossible to explain. At the time I didn't recognise how unhealthy my relationship had been so my initial devastation was quite intense. My anxiety went through the roof and for three days I barely ate, hardly slept and was either crying or catatonic.

But something else was going on. Something really, truly amazing. For the first time in my life I was experiencing something really bad and I was just going with it. I didn't want to harm myself.

This was  huge.  (As you can see by my choice of text size and format)

I couldn't sleep or eat but I knew it wouldn't last forever. I was still reliant on medication (At this point I was taking Lorazepam and an anti-depressant in an attempt to wean me from one to the other.) but I didn't feel like it was the only thing helping me function.

It was largely my faith in my own resilience, the trust I had that nothing was permanent - good bad or otherwise - and that I wasn't and never would be alone. I had lots of support but I also had the shared experience of everyone who had ever had their heart broken.

I also realised that the only person you should ever be willing to do absolutely anything for is yourself. 

And I was willing to do anything for myself.

I began to like myself again. I began doing the things I enjoyed. I wrote, I painted, I drew and I booked a trip to Palm Springs. I began planning to move to London for six months. I remembered how to value myself - something I'd been really good at until I was thirteen.

By the end of July 2008 I was no longer taking antidepressants OR Lorazepam. I went three months without Lorazepam and even then, I only took it as and when I needed it. I also gained a lot of weight - which had been a constant struggle for me because anxiety often killed my appetite. I went from 102lbs (7st) to 135lbs (9.6st) in about six weeks.

I still had difficult moments - really bad anxiety, really rough sleepless nights - but I wasn't afraid of them any more and I wasn't afraid of myself and what I might do. I had learned how to love myself. I learned that loving yourself is about loving everything - your talents, habits, experiences, and thoughts - no matter how you might define or classify them.

I'm still learning a lot. I'm always growing and changing and discovering. I am not perfect and I am not always capable but I have faith in my ability.

In 2013 I am celebrating a huge accomplishment. I have gone two years without taking Lorazepam.

I have come so far since my breakdown in 2008, including experiencing long periods of time where I am so content with my life that I can honestly think, if I were to die right now, that would be O.K. because I am living a life I love and loving it - even the difficult bits - simply because life is worth it.

A lot of people ask me if I wish things had been different. 

I love myself. I have an incredibly supportive family and wonderful, genuine friends. I have fantastic life living in London. I travel a lot. I am working as a designer, a job I absolutely love and enjoy doing every single day. I draw, paint, sculpt, and animate.  I'm studying Psychology. I write regularly and I've just published my first book, a dream from the age of five which is now a reality.

So no, I don't wish anything in my life had been different because if it was then I wouldn't be who I am today

Thank you. I realise this was a very long entry and I appreciate that you have taken the time to read it all.

Get your copy of Wise at Any Age

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.




7 comments:

  1. Amazing post. Thank you. My wife has anxiety and I realise, even more reading your story, that I am not only not as supportive as I should be but perhaps even a source of the problem. That part where you talk about trying to make your partner happy at the expense of yourself is something I had never really considered before. Thank you for giving me something to really go away and think about.

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    1. Anxiety is such a prickly beast. I think the most important thing I learned was that it does not define me. I am not an anxious person. I am a person, and like most people, I experience anxiety. Like many of those people, the anxiety I experience can become near impossible to manage.

      It's about having awareness and compassion. No one can say that they don't know what it feels like to be anxious. We've all felt it, to greater or lesser degrees. The triggers may be different but the experience is the same.

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  2. A beautiful and brave post - well done doesn't cover it, but well done anyway.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. That does mean a lot.

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  3. I'm glad your story has a happy ending, Wise One.
    Best of luck with the next chapters!

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  4. I'm glad your story has a happy ending, Wise One.
    Best of luck with the next chapters!

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