One Day at a Time, Part I

In March I wrote about the fact that I was taking a program – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression. This was the second mental health therapy program I’ve taken since I was released from the hospital. It has been a challenge, to say the least.

I’ve been writing about metamorphosis lately and that’s where I believe I am now. I had a meeting with one of the case workers at the hospital who ran the CBT program and I had to tell her What I Learned and How I’ve Changed. So, being me, a writer, I wrote about it.  I’ll break this down into a few posts over the week because it’s lengthy. I will start here with the background to fill in some of the blanks.

June 23, 2015

The past two years has been a tumultuous journey for me. It has also been a time of many epiphanies. To say ‘it hasn’t been easy,’ is an understatement.

I believe I have always suffered from depression since I was teenager. I was diagnosed when I was 40. I was put on medication (Prozac). I weaned off (with my Doctor’s permission) hoping that I would be able to manage without it, but found myself in that dark abyss of depression again, so agreed to go back on the medication. I was on it for almost 20 years.

Despite the medication I have always suffered some symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and extreme anxiety. After Bob died (June 8, 2013) I started a slow decent, fueled by intense grief and (I learned later) the medication no longer working. Instead it was making me more depressed and I became suicidal. My anxiety was out of control. The slightest little issue sent me into a frenzy. I couldn’t think straight. I felt immobilized by fright.

I was hospitalized in October 2014 after an attempted suicide. Doctors quickly diagnosed the biggest issue,  the medication no longer working and, ironically, this meant it was making me even more depressed. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward and my medication changed under the care of a psychiatrist. I attended classes and through the learning was able to label my anxiety issues. My low self-esteem was also at an all-time high (no pun intended).

I was released from hospital approximately a week later and began an outpatient group therapy– Track to Wellness. This program gave me tools to deal with my depression and anxiety and an overview of other group therapies available at the hospital. I requested and was accepted into CBT for Depression.

After a four-week three-hour activation sessions, followed by eight week, three-hour CBT group therapy sessions, including homework every night detailing everything from how I felt on a scale of 1 to 10 about every single thing I was doing to noting what made me laugh, positive events and many other details, I emerged in a very different place than when I started.

Looking back, I do wonder if part of this is be due to the two-year mark after Bob died. Maybe the worst of my grief passed by calendar days. But it’s more likely a combination of many things, the biggest lesson being to “live in the moment” and exactly what that means. I leave that for my next post.

 

Up …Down… Up

I am trying to write from the heart but my words keep getting tripped up by my mind.

Roller Coaster DarkLife keeps us on a rollercoaster. When we go up it’s exhilarating. Then swoosh down…  down… down… We are scared. We feel trapped.

“Will it go up again? Can it go up again? But then it will go down!” Our mind moves ahead, worrying.

At my lowest point of …down… I was sliding across the gravel. My hands and knees were bruised and bleeding as I skated across with nothing to hold onto. I couldn’t stand up on my own. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stand again.

Along the way I learned lessons. How to see light in the darkness. How to laugh. How to live. How to breathe. Yes, I had forgotten how to breathe.

I want to give you hope that everything will be alright. But the truth is that life’s rollercoaster won’t stop.

Today I am reminded of this. I reached out to someone who is sliding on the gravel. I tried to give comfort. I felt helpless, but I hope I helped. I wanted to go back there to feel my pain so I could speak in a genuine way, but I can’t go back. I shouldn’t. Sometimes I still wrestle with this.

My journey continues. I fought the hardest fight of my life. How did I get through that? Am I through it?

Yes, I am here, now. Yes, I am different. Am I Phoenix rising? (cliché, but feels appropriate because I did crash and burn). No, I don’t want to go back again.

I fight with this back and forth and back again.

I am trying to write from the heart but my words keep getting tripped up by my mind. If I feel too much will I have to go down… down… down again?

Roller Coaster Bright
I have learned there is hope. That down is short lived. That up is around the corner. That I am here, now. That I breathe in each moment, and breathe out another. What comes will pass.

I am spending longer times on the up and less on the down…

I just need to harness my heart and keep living, and writing.

For a thousand years

I have been at a loss for words for months.  But as I approach the second anniversary of Bob’s passing, June 8th, I cry more often, sleep less, feel desperately lonely.

After this length of time people drift away. They assume you’re okay. Yes, I am better than I was, but I still struggle every day.

Today I was looking for the lyrics for a song I liked and I found the “official video.” It was written for the Twilight Saga, so there’s pictures of the wedding between the two main characters nestled in with the singer, Christina Perri, but it’s the song I love. The words and melody are beautiful . I began singing along. By the end of the song I was in tears.

The tears were short lived. I’m okay. But the memories and the pain never go away. You always remember. And, I believe, that you should never forget.

I consider myself lucky to have loved, and have been loved, unconditionally. I just wish it had been for a thousand years, or more.

Metamorphosis – gently climbing out of the cocoon

My fingers get caught on the strings, my hands and legs are tangled, words stuck in my throat make it hard to breath. I am entering the metamorphosis of my new life.

Cocoon FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something has changed for me, or about me, or around me, or maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s the weather. March 20th heralded the first day of spring (a date I always remember because it was Bob’s birthday). Though it’s not spring-like temperatures there is hope of warmer days and more sunshine. Maybe I’m just starting to feel better and this is the next phase in my new life without Bob. Maybe I’ve come to realize that if I am to go on with my life – something I had a hard time believing after Bob died – then I have to start moving ahead. Life can’t look like what it did when he was with me. This is another life I have to create without him. Just saying that seems almost unfathomable. I could never see a life without him before.

So what about my fingers, hands, legs and words caught in my throat? It’s all about moving in a new direction, I think. One thing I decided was to learn to play the guitar. I’ve had guitar hanging around collecting dust for years. I bought it for our daughter, but it never panned out for her, piano was her main musical interest so she left the guitar with me. I kept saying I was going to take lessons but never did. Now I’m about six weeks into my lessons.

My fingers are getting stronger but strumming is frustrating. Trying to change chords quickly ends up sounding like a sick chicken when I don’t press down hard enough on the strings. I repeat the sequence of chords and strums over and over and over again, hoping that it will eventually kick in. I’m not going to give up. I love music and just being able to play a few songs and sing to myself is enough to make me happy. No one will judge me and it fills my time with something I enjoy. So I will keep strumming and repeating the chord progressions until it sounds more natural. Hopefully that will happen soon.

My body aches from little exercise. I walk most weekday mornings with a couple of friends but I haven’t been working out and, truth be told, I don’t really enjoy it. I do love swimming but it’s easy to talk yourself out of going to do some laps when it’s cold outside. As a freelance writer my schedule it’s 9 to 5 so it’s also easy to tell myself I will have to miss a fitness class rather than leave my desk. But last week that changed.

Three days a week I make a concerted effort to attend two Aqua Zumba classes and a Pilates class. I’m uncoordinated but no one can see if my left foot and my right arm are moving when it should be my right foot and my left arm because we’re all jumping and splashing in the water. I move constantly for an hour. It’s invigorating and my clumsiness has me laughing.

Pilates is a huge challenge. I got into it years ago but now I’m out of practice and out of shape. The class is advanced but I persevere. I have a couple of Pilates DVDs so today I watched them and did the workouts following the instructions. Hopefully the week I’ll do better, and the week after progress more, baby steps.

My fingers get caught on the strings and my hands and legs tangled, but what about the words stuck in my throat?

My grief journey path has included acknowledging my depression and anxiety and getting both under control. As well as adjusting my medication I’m taking part in group therapies. The most recent is Behavioural Cognitive Therapy (CBT) for Depression. According to the Canadian Association of Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies, “CBT is based in the science of thought, behaviour, emotion and physiology.

Butterfly freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of arkorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In my case it isn’t an issue of getting out of bed each day and functioning as a ‘normal person.’ Mine is about controlling my thought patterns. I do a lot of negative self-talk, suffer from low self-esteem (no amount of awards or kudos seems to make me believe otherwise) and exhibit constant self-­sabotaging behaviour. I’m learning about the harm negative self talk can do to self-esteem and the mantra “would you say that to someone else?” needs to be ingrained in my psyche. Change generally doesn’t happen overnight but I hope this is truly the beginning of my metamorphosis and not just a temporary high. I know I will have good days and not­-so-­great days, but I’m hoping I can hold onto more positive than negative.

I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made and those who have stuck with me through my journey.

May you too begin to see a metamorphosis, even just something small, as
spring arrives.

Alone and Lonely

The last post I wrote was when I was in crisis. I am through that portion of the journey, with lots of help. I have been in group therapy and continue this route. I am not crazy, but I am more aware of my mental health issues – a propensity toward depression and anxiety. I understand the signs. I have been good in my healing. But I am still alone and lonely.

I haven’t written much since I fell apart. The main problem was that my antidepressants weren’t working. That means that they were actually triggering massive depression. Over the course of a week when I was in hospital they changed my medications and I was given some unique insight into depression and anxiety and how I fit the mold, and how to break the mold, if I want to.

I have good friends and a stable life, but I have dual personas. One is the ‘normal’ person that most people know. I get up and attend to my ‘to do’ list in life. I feed the cats. I do work that’s presented to me. Even when I don’t feel happy, I try my best to feel happy. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle against anxiety and depression and still the grief; that lingering, ever-present grief.

March 10, 2013 Bob called me to say he was going into emergency. Last year at this time I was re-living every moment. This year I’ve been spared the moment-by-moment memories, but there are always reminders.

It’s time to file taxes and as I go through my past year’s files I am struck by the fact that last year was the last year anyone would file taxes for you, Bob. When I see your name on all the documents I felt sick. I’m not sure why. Am I still in denial? Sometimes, like in the first months following your death, I think this is just a dream and I’ll wake up…

Yesterday was the first day of spring. It would have been your 66th birthday. This year I will be 60. We would have celebrated this milestone together. But I just want to stay in bed when that day comes.

IMG_0309My cats – Cassie and Joey – are my blessing. They keep me focused on the need to get out of my bed, even when I want to stay buried under the covers. I get up and feed them. I laugh at their antics. I live each day as it comes. But it still isn’t the way I wanted it to be.

My time in the hospital changed how I view the world and how it views me. It brought my family together, and created small tears in other places. It brought me new friends, and others drifted away.

I seek answers and have found them in other worldly ways, through mediums who speak with those on the other side. Whether you believe in it or not, it has brought me some comfort, and the messages are the same, no matter the medium, no pun intended (but that says a lot, at least to me, about the validity of the messengers and the messages).

I start a new therapy this week. I cried my way into the acceptance phase asking, “Do I have to be depressed to write the best I can? I need to find out.” Maybe I will, or maybe I won’t. Maybe writing needs to be fueled by that single glass of wine on a lonely Saturday night with two cats in the dark because I’ve been writing this and haven’t turned on the lights in the house.

I am lonely, Bob. I have been told you come and brush your hands along my hair and brush your fingers gently across my face, that you say you never told me “I love you” enough. It’s true we weren’t gregarious in our affections. I am told that you are always with me, but I don’t see you and I don’t really feel you…maybe it’s not rational thinking, but I hope you are somewhere safe and happy.

I keep saying, this isn’t the life I chose, it chose me. I don’t know where it will take me. And I’m not sure that anyone cares but me. I miss you. And I’ll say it now, “I’m lonely.”

Down the Rabbit Hole: Finding my way out

My first message to friends and family from the hospital

October 28, 2014

I have thought about writing but honestly haven’t had time and I’m not sure I can put this into words. I just want to give you a small window into what happened and what is going on.

This has nothing to do with anyone but me. Technology played a huge part in helping me. I reached out in that way not because no one was calling me but because I suffer from depression complicated by grief and choosing a combination of healthy and, in desperate times, unhealthy coping skills to deal with what I’ve been going through just wasn’t working – especially the unhealthy part. I thought about calling people; a crisis line because I was in crisis.  But the mind doesn’t work clearly when it is in a state of desperation.

Every day I have an epiphany and I’m sure this isn’t the whole story, but I spent the last 16 months researching grief and trying to get help. I knew I was making some positive progress but in the last few weeks I hit a brick wall. I reached out for help through grief therapy, my GP, counselling therapy…the list is endless.  I was in a state of panic but kept trying to hold it together. In times of crisis the mind doesn’t think rationally. We don’t understand what is going on. We just hurt and try to drive away the pain. This wasn’t the first time this happened in the past few months. I’ve been monitored by my doctor but if I don’t know what is going on how can I articulate it?

To complicate things, like many of you, I am a high functioning person but in my case it’s a high functioning depressed person. I have been on meds that helped me cope but I lost my anchor, the man who knew me best and who could calm me down when I felt overwhelmed.

When I came here, to the hospital emergency, a doctor came in and assessed my situation immediately. “First, I don’t think the medication you’re on is working anymore. This is complicated by grief and all that you’ve been through since then. I’d like to suggest we change your meds and, if you can hold on, we will get a bed for you and have an entire team working with you.”

I am confused by exhaustion and depression but didn’t miss the last part of that statement. A team? But I turned to my daughter and asked her “what do you think?” I needed to be sure I was making the right decision, though who really knows what the “right decision” is. She is sympathetic and analytic. “Mom, you’ve been looking for help. I think you should do this.” I agree. I spend two nights and almost two days in emergency, first in quarantined confinement, then am moved out of the high-risk area.

I am tired and starving – I can’t eat the food they give me and, as a result, my brain becomes strained and doesn’t function as it should. Finally, on Monday, I am told a bed is ready for me. I am admitted to the mental health ward. I am not scared, but confused. I do feel safe but I don’t know what’s going on. Add anxiety to my list of issues. It was on high alert.

After a few days I fall into the routine. A nurse in the morning, a new one on night shift. I meet with my psychiatrist. He is amazing. He agrees with the doctor in emergency.  “We need to change your meds. They worked for you before but they aren’t helping now.” Having been diagnosed with depression over two decades ago it’s not hard to believe that the original medications have stopped doing the work they used to. It happens. “Y

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but I do know that I need to change my cognitive beliefs  and between medication and one on one therapy and people who are trained to help me do this I am cautiously optimistic. Do I know what my purpose is in life yet? No. Will I start to live with hope and positive beliefs? I’m trying to learn how. Many will say “You have to want to and you need to start thinking positively” but it’s not that black and white.

I feel like I’m in a safe place where people get it. We are all here to fight our demons and we want to get better. The care is exemplary. I have given my medical team cart blanche to allow and restrict me where they  see fit but I also see that, as a high functioning person who has always been adept at hiding feelings, my medical team is giving me more liberal treatment. I have day passes now but I must promise every day that I will be sure to be safe. So I need to be cognizant of my feelings and keep asking myself “do I feel safe?” And right now I do.

I now realize in this,  one of my most rational moments over the last 16 months, that my actions could cause pain to others and that they will not ‘get over it’ and won’t be ‘better off without me.’ My biggest wake-up call came when I saw my daughter walk into my house that night with tears in her eyes. I knew I had to try and figure this out. So I will work hard. I will falter. I will pray for strength.

Please know I thank  you all for your caring and love. I don’t check email regularly right now so I apologize for not replying earlier and I won’t be checking often for a while.  Please just know that I appreciate my PWAC family helping me and continuing to support me. If I can ask one thing, please send me strength and clarity.

Down the Rabbit Hole: In and Out of Sanity

If you feel upset reading this feel free to stop. It is my journey, not yours…

Saturday October 18 2014

tears 2 I had tried it all – psychotherapy, grief therapy, grief groups, alternative therapies…the list goes on and on ad nausium. I knew I was in trouble. I needed help. I saw my therapist that day. I probably didn’t articulate what I thought because my mind was muddled. She drew me pictures of life as we would like it to be: line from bottom to right going gradually up. Then reality: twists turns and circles as you climb up, sometimes a dip down along the way. I’d seen it before. I knew this. But I knew something wasn’t clicking. What I didn’t realize then is that somewhere inside the twists and turns I had been spiraling rapidly downward – down the rabbit hole.

I analyzed;  looked for triggers. Knowing the pain of grief would come unexpectedly, expecting it to abate eventually. Sometimes I think I am ok. Other times I know I’m not. I had been spiraling downward into the vortex of what I believed to be grief, but it was so much more than that.

That night the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t see the light. I could end the pain but if I was gone who would look after the cats? Sounds crazy, I know. I have family and friends but this kind of pain takes away all rational thought. You just want it to end. But the cats were with me, looking at me. I haven’t had them for long. We had just started to bond. In fact, in less than a year everything that lived and breathed in my house was gone. I couldn’t think of getting more living creatures. The story began March 1, 2013. That was the day we had to put one of our cats down.

*****
I was trying everything I could do to keep him alive. I knew he was suffering. We can IMG_0012put animals out of their suffering. We do everything in our power to prolong the suffering of people. The irony isn’t lost on me. But cat number one was very, very sick. And though I try to ease his pain and hide his rapid decline, Bob saw what was happening and said that it was time. He was right. I was beside myself with loss already.

We took him to the vet. He was a beautiful cat, so loving, and so happy until he became so sick. I held him in my arms; wrapped in one of my daughter’s old but still soft baby blankets. They asked if I was ready. Who is ever ready for this? I swallowed hard and nodded, buried my face into his fur and whispered in his ear “I am here. I love you. You will be oknow. You won’t suffer anymore.” He took a deep sigh as the injection went into his veins and he was gone.

I cried long and hard. This is not my first loss, but it the first in less than 12 months of three great losses. That same month Bob got sick – March 11, 2013. Our journey is chronicled here in my blog. On June 8, 2013 he was in critical care where he died – gone, forever.

Cat number two couldn’t seem to cope. His world that has been rocked beyond anything familiar. On February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day (the irony isn’t lost on me), I must do it again. A friend comes with me. I go through the exact same thing like the first cat, except for the most important thing, Bob isn’t with me. I wrap the little guy in the blanket and whisper that I love him in his ear, then he is gone.

I feel alright after my friend and I part. I go home, then break down, laying on the ground kicking and screaming and crying, “What did I do that made me so bad that nothing that breathed the same air that I did was no longer with me? Why? Why? Why? But no answers come. I pick myself up and think I’ll go on with life, but life isn’t what I want it to be.

*****

Down the Rabbit hole

Someone has to take care of the cats. I posted it on Facebook. I was counting pills. I knew others would be sad but my muddled mind said “They will get through it. They will go on with their lives. God knows I’ve tried but I can’t keep doing this. It’s been 16 months and I hate being alone, lonely.” The wine heightens my depression. I have hit the bottom of the rabbit hole.

IMG_0573My post, intending to find someone to look after the cats, becomes a cry for help. From Montreal to Winnipeg to to my hometown, people call each other, then call me. I try to ignore it but eventually a good friend calls and I answer. I am crying and incoherent. I scream for people to leave me alone. She hangs up and calls someone closer to where I live. He comes over and calls another friend who arrives. Each time someone walks in I tell them I’m o.k. and scream “please go!” But they tell me they can’t; that they care too much. Texting, phone calls, social media goes into action. Friends leave as family arrives.

Then my daughter walks in the door after driving from out of town. Tears in her eyes, she hugs me and I cry. More family arrives. I am told they won’t leave me, that they are here to help me. My daughter leads me up the stairs and helps me pack a bag, speaking gently. An ambulance arrives. I am more coherent. I answer their questions but keep saying “Please don’t make me go.”

What I don’t realize is that help has come. What I needed is there. And if I just reach out my hands I will get what I need; what I have been looking for as I spiral down the rabbit hole. A new chapter in my journey has begun…