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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged anxiety

Check out my interview with Wayne Kennedy here!

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Wayne and I sit down (with no notes or prep!) for a solid follow up to our first conversation a few months ago, which you can find here.

We talk about:

  • Wayne’s cool new gig at Long & McQuade
  • Recording his recent live album
  • What’s happening with his new solo album
  • Joining Avem
  • Surviving suicide attempts and living on the bipolar spectrum

We get really honest about the mental health stuff. This conversation is about as real as it gets. If you need crisis support, please phone Four County Crisis at 705-745-6484 or toll-free 1-866-995-9933.

Featured Tunes:

Grow Up Stay Young by The Anti-Queens
Of Flesh & Blood by Jenn Fiorentino
Shut Up, I’m Trying to Sleep (LIVE!) by Wayne Kennedy
…And the Hits Keep Coming by Old Wives

(In the spirit of Wayne, keepin’ it 100% CanCon and 75% local!)

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“I texted my friend to say I wanted to talk with them about something and it made them really anxious and now they want an apology.”

It’s never fun to get those texts or to be the person who genuinely just wants to have a conversation and finds out someone was distressed by their message. We’ve all been there, probably on either side at some point or another. Whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional relationships, our actions affect one another.

If you’re a person with anxiety, you can probably relate even more. Catastrophizing is a thing we do by definition, and “Hey dude, can we talk when you get off work?” can quickly turn into “Hey dude, I think you totally suck and I don’t want to be friends with you anymore ’cause you’re the worst”.

This  fear relies on the concept that things are being done to us, and that means that we have no control over our experience. By giving into this fear (which, yeah, is real and uncomfortable), we allow ourselves to give any power we do have over our reactions away. And then our fear is enforced. It’s also a way we tend to avoid accountability for our uncomfortable feelings. If we can blame someone else instead of taking ownership for ourselves, that’s a lot easier in the short term. This then allows us to justify our feelings, which are often unavoidable within ourselves, rather than just giving ourselves permission to feel them. I wrote about this before when I wrote about escaping and preventing toxic communities:

Escaping and preventing toxic communities comes down to changing our perspectives from “they did this to me and this feels awful” to “this happened and it feels awful because I’m perceiving it as something that was done TO me that I have no control over.”. The reality is that you do have control over what you do with your hurt. Sure, communicating to the person you felt hurt by may be helpful, but what will be really helpful is you changing your perception (and thus, your reality) of the hurtful thing. It’s not about ignoring the hurt or “choosing not to feel it”. I mean, that sounds nice, but we all know it’s not that simple. It’s about feeling it and acknowledging that it probably had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person/people. What is yours is your reaction. When we accept people for where they are at, it makes for far healthier and happier interpersonal relationships. And when we can’t reconcile where someone’s at with the reality we’re choosing to actively build for ourselves, we get to choose the context in which we relate to that person.

This works on a smaller level than just in the context of community-building. It also works in individual relationships. So here are three easy steps for what to do when someone makes you feel bad:

1. Readjust your paradigm.

Did someone make you feel some way? Or are you feeling someway about something what happened?

2. Take back your power.

Once you’ve shifted your paradigm to a place where you’re recognizing that you have control over your reaction rather than simply being a passive recipient of something someone else does to you, you’ll find you have a lot more choice over how you respond. No, this isn’t a magical anxiety cure- but it does help.  A lot. This is the time to make an in-the-moment decision about what’s going to happen for you. Sometimes, (okay, a lot of the time) that reaction is emotional and it’s totally okay to let yourself feel it. But don’t act on it immediately. Take a breath and give yourself a little time and gentleness to feel what you need to feel.

3. Make a decision about how you want to react.

Sometimes people do things that violate our boundaries, which is one of the most common reasons we end up getting in our feels. The good news is that we’re in control of our boundaries and we can shift them as we need to. Although emotions aren’t always negotiable, actions (and reactions) are. And it can feel really empowering to choose who you want in your life and the context that you choose to have them. Sometimes it’s worth the work to communicate about your boundaries and to negotiate your interactions with people, and sometimes it’s not. The cool thing is that it’s your choice.

I’ve mentioned that emotions aren’t always negotiable, especially for people living with anxiety disorders, but I also need to acknowledge that we live in a social world where so much is out of control. The way our disabled bodies operate in a late-capitalist system, the way race affects peoples’ experiences, the way our gender dictates literally how much we will be paid or how likely we are so be raped… We don’t have control over those things. And I want to be very clear that I am not talking about systemic violence in the rest of this post. It’s also well worth noting that people have the choice to use whatever privilege they may have to hold some space for oppressed people’s reactions for being oppressed. That shit is real.

What this post is about is about how we do our best to operate within this world and how we can tangibly go about standing in our power when we do have control over what happens. Because that’s real too. And all of these things can exist simultaneously.

Content: mental illness, mood disorders, mania, depression, anxiety, smoking, cannabis, xanax, blood, suicide attempt, suicide threat, hospitalization, self harm, parent death, friendship

 

For years before we met, people told me I would love you. So many of our mutual friends used to tell me about how similar we were, with so many mutual interests and mutual mental health issues. And when we finally met, we connected instantly. I remember sitting on the bed in the spare bedroom of my apartment, window wide open, chain-smoking cigarettes and exchanging stories about the fucked up things that had happened to us, fucked up things we had done, and weird shit we experienced. You intermittently popped Xanex, while I packed bong bowl after bong bowl of Indica strains. We had some overlapping clinical diagnoses, and some similar but different ones too. I could see myself in you, like a mirror image. After twenty-something years of feeling isolated and loved by my other friends, but never really seen, you saw me.

We both lived with mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders. We were tattooed smokers, self-harmers, daughters of long-dead mothers. We both loved sex and the occasional drug binge. We both had wonderful, long-term, committed partners. We both longed to be well while simutanteously accepting that mental illness was a permanent part of our lives that we couldn’t help but romanticize and struggle with and commit to in our own ways.

I remember asking you what to do when you inevitably became manic. We made safety plans. I remember you asking me what to do when I inevitably self-harmed. We made crisis plans. I remember discussing how much we should discuss our weight and our eating habits. We made resource lists.

And then the time came when I looked into your eyes and it wasn’t you, it was this live wire, electric version of you. You started lying to me about things like if you were using or if you were hanging out with people who you knew I knew used. And then you told me about things and acted in ways that weren’t in line with the way I knew you wanted to be and I fought my way in to advocate for you as well as I could while trying to keep you relatively safe.

And then a time came where I was so depressed and had been texting you about it that you broke into my apartment early in the morning, nearly in tears, to find that I was still alive after all.

And then there were all those times I drove you to the hospital, or offered to drive you to the hospital because that was the only way you felt you could be okay.

And then there was the time where I told you about that really bizarre recurring experience I have that 99% of people don’t know I have that only you can even begin to understand. Because you’ve been through it too.

And then there was that time where you told me that you hated me and wanted to kill me. You told me I was faking my mood disorder and that if I saw you on the street, I’d better run, because you were going to kill me. But the moment I looked you in the eye, I knew it wasn’t you. It was that live wire version of you again.

And there were times where we both told each other that we couldn’t be there for each other all the time, that we needed to focus more exclusively on taking care of ourselves.

And then there was that time that your partner called me to tell me I needed to come over because our worst fear had come true and I made it around the corner just in time to watch as the paramedics wheeled your seizing body on a stretcher from your apartment into the ambulance. And I stayed back while your partner spoke to the cops and cleaned up the bloody vomit on the kitchen wall and went with your partner to the hospital where they told us they needed to take you to a bigger hospital. And then, when your stepmom called me at work the next day to tell me to come say goodbye, I raced to the hospital from work to slip my hand in your limp hand and and sang you Bad Religion songs.

“There will be sorrow no more”.

That last thing nearly ruined our friendship. But it didn’t. It took time and space. It took me adjusting my expectations and you forgiving yourself. And I am so beyond grateful that you lived. And even though we both know that we will both continue to struggle from time to time, the history of our own lives and of our friendship proves that no state is permanent. It will always end. There will always be another time for us to sit on the bed, drinking tea, and smoking, and laughing way too loudly. Because we see each other. And we’re learning to navigate what it means to be a mentally ill person with a mentally ill best friend. And that’s a pretty magical kind of friendship.

I strive never to sit
To create something still
I crave movement
It’s gotta do something ’cause
I’m permanently restless
I’m self-loathing when I
Rest
I’m exhausted though still
Spinning
Depleted and dancing
Short on breath
Restricted airways
From all those times
I’ve skipped through
Agony
Darkness
Lines across my arms
From all those times
I’ve struggled out of the grasp of
December’s long, ragged claws
The ones so
Carefully polished
Wondering if this winter
Will finally bring
The ultimate stillness
Where maybe,
For the first time
Since I can
Remember
I feel held.

Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.

CW: homelessness, PTSD, depression, anxiety, Christmas, chronic pain, eviction, mentions of rape, rejection, MMJ, gaslighting

For the first time in ten years, I wasn’t literally going crazy around Christmas. Usually around this time of year, everything makes me feel beyond sad and so anxious I feel like I’m dying constantly. Last year, this mental health crisis began in November and lasted until about September. Almost an entire year of crazy.

But this year, so far, I was managing a lot better. I was doing things to take care of my mental health. I was a few moths into therapy, and I quit a job that was infringing on my mental health. Christmas one week away, ten years without mom two weeks away, my twenty-sixth birthday two and a half weeks away. Nine year rapeiversarry less than a month away. Nine year suicide attempt anniversary less than two months away. But I was holding up. Even though I had been fired from a job I’d really wanted, rejected from multiple others, rejected from a writing fellowship, rejected from grad school, and was feeling a little undervalued in my many volunteering attempts (all in the last couple months), I was actively working on myself and making an effort to do things that felt good. Healing.

And then my landlord delivered an N5 to my door. Three complaints, all within the last month, from the neighbour upstairs about my dog barking when we weren’t home. This neighbour had a history of complaining about anything and everything in the building, and had lived there even longer than the three years we had lived there. For the last couple of months, everything in the building had been quiet, and, as far as I was aware, there had been no drama whatsoever.

Our names were spelled wrong on the forms, which automatically voids them. But it was still an unnecessary stress that, honestly, infringed on MY enjoyment of MY space. We had seven days to correct the problem, or we would be taken to the Landlord Tenant Board. My landlord told me to get a shock collar to leave on my dog when she was unsupervised, which I told him I was uncomfortable with, he suggested I locked my dog in the one bedroom with a small window she couldn’t see out of, and he told me not to be upset. He was delivering me with a Notice to End my Tenancy a week before Christmas in a town with a 1% vacancy rate.

One of the time periods where the neighbour claimed Luna was barking, my partner had been home. During another documented complaint, the neighbour had contacted my landlord five minutes after I had messaged her back telling her I was leaving where I was to come home, as she had texted me informing me that Luna was barking. She didn’t even give me a chance.

We’d been in communication about this brand new issue my five-year-old dog was apparently suddenly having in a building she had lived in for three years. I had communicated to the neighbour the efforts I was taking to address the issue: working with my dog when I was home on making no sound at all, ever (she only ever barked when someone knocked on the door or when the dog across the hall went out), blocking off the one room where she could see out the window, and working from home 90% of the time.

That was something that was starting to be a little triggering. For about a month, half the time I would leave my apartment (which was barely ever, thanks to a lovely combo of chronic pain and chronic anxiety and depression), the neighbour would text me to say “Luna is on a barking spree”. I would thank her for letting me know, and let her know that I would get home as soon as possible. Whenever I was out for a reason aside from work, I left what I was doing and immediately came home to my silent dog.

I started to do some tests, in the hope of better understanding the issue. I would walk up the stairs, loudly, to see if that was enough to trigger Luna to bark. It wasn’t. I knew that ringing the buzzer or knocking on the door would trigger barking (because she’s a dog), but the barking never went on for more than a couple minutes, at most. I stood out back and had a smoke and called a friend on the phone. No barking. On this form, it claims that she was barking continuously for spans of 90 minutes or more. I asked another neighbour, directly across the hall, if it was an issue, and she said that it wasn’t. As far as I was aware, this had never been an issue before, and I was actively working on it (under the assumption that it was true). My landlord himself had spoken to me once, about three weeks ago, about receiving a call out of concern (not a complaint) because Luna was barking, which was so unusual for her.

But apparently it was a big enough issue this past weekend that it was ground to threaten eviction.

Before we lived in this apartment, we had spent three months homeless living out of backpacks in a generous and awesome couple of friends’ spare bedroom after having a falling out with a friend who had told us we could rent a spare room in the house he owned while we got on our feet after moving to Northumberland County. For three months, I learned that there is nothing more scary than feeling fucked up and having nowhere that was safe or yours to go to feel those fucked up feelings and cope with them.

We weren’t bad tenants. I openly utilize (legally prescribed) medical cannabis to treat my health issues, and I have a (sweet, loving, obedient) dog who is selectively aggressive with other dogs and apparently sometimes barks (!?). So I keep my dog on a leash and work actively with her and invite people to contact me regularly if there is anything we are doing that inconvenienced them in any way. I’ve lost track of how many times I have given my phone number to all of my neighbours. I really tried to go out of my way to have a good relationship with my neighbours in the building.

I was almost always home. I was trying to work on some freelance art and writing and other creative projects while doing a lot of work with a local charity that is important to me. And I was trying to manage my (both physical and mental) health. And now I’m sitting in my living room at 4:55 a.m. having an anxiety attack because this home I am building is threatened (even abstractly) and I’ve been rejected yet again in a huge way from this place where my partner and I so desperately want to build a life.

And mom’s still dead, and someone violated my body without my consent a really long time ago, and I still want to die sometimes, and no one believed in me enough to hire me, and no school believes in me enough to accept me, and I’m still in pain every day, and everyone is still singing the same bullshit Christmas songs and watching bullshit Christmas movies.

I’m still here.

Writing instead of losing my fucking mind. One foot in front of the other. Hoping I have a community behind me.