Mental health

I've been putting off writing an update for so long that I barely know where to begin. This will necessarily be rife with omissions... And just FYI I finally crunched the data on the healthcare experiences survey I had posted (it's now closed to new entries). Thanks so much to everyone who responded! I had some interesting results and am looking forward to sharing them soon! 

It's been a weird summer - things have been pretty apocalyptic. Plagues (bad chronic illness flares for me, plus Bruno and I both had a bad cold/flu virus a few weeks ago - fevers and snot galore), locusts (we keep getting explosions of maggots in our compost bin because of the heat, and they got into our garage), crazy weather (namely the incessant heatwave, though we've finally got a little break from that, but also the couple days of thick forest fire smoke)... It's been one thing after another.

Anyway, let's get to it.

You've got what it takes and it will take everything you've got

I have SO much to update you all on, but I'm still working through how/what to tell you... But in the meantime, I've had some more pretty awful experiences lately with doctors, and it led me to wanting to hear more from all of you about your experiences. So I put together this anonymous survey, and I really hope you'll fill it in and share it with any of your friends who are chronically ill, mentally ill, or disabled.

Thanks folks!

Update: The survey is now closed, thanks to all who responded!

I don't want to write this post, but I'm going to anyway, because yesterday led to me completely losing my shit at a medical appointment. I left uncontrollably sobbing, shaking...and not even from the extremely painful medical test I had, but from how much lack of compassion and actual caring there was around providing me the recommended treatment. 

I've been keeping most of my medical traumas private for a while now (aside from what I put in issue 2 of my zine), after being shamed and judged by several people for talking about my health related experiences. But I'm working on overcoming the feeling that I need to keep quiet about these experiences, because I feel it's an important part of demystifying chronic illness and advocating for better understanding and care, for me and others who are sick or disabled. I don't want to let the judgment and shaming of a few people silence me, so I have to keep telling my story.

This post is part 3 in a 3-part series on my quest for a calmer mind. Part 1 on social media is here, and part 2 on healing and boundaries is here.

droplets on lily leaves

Before I dive into the next part of my quest for a calmer mind series, two other things to report from November. First, an update on how the month-long social media fast went! In short, it was glorious. It was far, far easier than the first time I did this back in the spring, but it also felt a lot more positive all around. The impact of the fast was more significant, I had hardly any withdrawal pangs (especially compared to the fast I did in the spring), and I found I adapted easily to not having it in my life.

Bruno decided to join me, and it led to a pretty interesting month for both of us - we both did a bit more reading than usual, worked on our personal projects more, and spent more "quality time" together, just hanging out, cooking, and yes...I'll admit we may have watched a little extra Netflix. I certainly lost my compulsion to pick up and check my phone all the time, and it didn't actually lead to much sense of increased social isolation. Between the increased connection with Bruno, and actually spending more time either writing (mostly via email or text message) back and forth with friends, and occasionally socializing in person, I actually felt very connected. Though the number of people I interacted with may have dropped, the actual quality of the interactions was stronger.

Finally, a quick note on one of the things Bruno and I did during the last month. He built me a virtual bookshelf here on my site, and I filled it with my favourite books on life, health, and creativity! I'll be adding more as I come across books that I fall in love with and want to recommend, but if you're looking for something to read, go have a look!

This post is Part 2 in a 3-part series on my quest for a calmer mind. Part 1 on social media is here, and part 3 on meditation and mindfulness is here.

Before I get to the topic of today, I'm happy to report the first half of my Facebook and Twitter fast has gone well! I've certainly had a few little pangs of withdrawal, but overall, it's been having the desired effect: fewer racing thoughts, less compulsive social media checking, less time lost to the scrolly-scroll.

bee in purple flowers

What have I been doing with my extra time? I've been spending it on writing, reading, catching up on backing up photos from the summer, drawing, mending clothes and sewing, and of course, there may have been some Netflix watching too. (I broke down and started watching Gilmore Girls last week - uh oh!) And of course, hanging out with my sweetie!

I've also been feeling generally awful since mid-summer, and have been having a very hard time healthwise lately, so all that stuff that sounds like "doing" is really very much in the slow lane and making up a small part of my days. I've been mostly resting and trying to listen to what my body needs right now, as well as continuing to work through medical appointments and research, and following up on referrals and tests I need to schedule, etc. Life in the sick lane.

This post is Part 1 in a 3-part series on my quest for a calmer mind. Part 2 on healing and boundaries is here, and part 3 on meditation and mindfulness is here.

I've lived with anxiety problems since I was a teenager. It took me years to figure out that's what was going on finally seek help for it, and even longer to fully understand why it was happening. It's only in the last two years, particularly the past year, that I've finally gotten a real handle on it and learned what it feels like not to be spinning around inside my head at a dizzying speed, day in and day out. This means approximately half of my life was spent in a haze of uncontrollable thoughts and anxiety. In my quest for a calmer mind, I've discovered several changes that have helped, and one of them is modifying how I use social media.

Train ride from Vancouver to Seattle

This spring, I took a month off from Facebook. Now for those who might not know, I use Facebook a LOT. I've got family and friends I want to keep in touch with spread around the world, and because of my health problems I rarely even see local friends in person. I'm a recluse, and these days Facebook is my main connection to the world. I also use a multitude of other social media, read blogs and news online, write online, etc. but Facebook is the BIG one. I can spend a lot of time on there, and it's not all well-used time. Much of it is what a friend of mine recently termed "scrolly-scroll", ie. where you find yourself zoned out and endlessly scrolling down the page.

In the spring, I did a Facebook fast. But as much as my Twitter usage has declined since back when I was working in tech, it easily substitutes my usual scrolly-scroll of choice. Nothing else sucks me in like those two platforms. YES, they are an effective way to connect and engage. YES, they are a convenient way to keep up to date on things. There are tons of positive things about them! But they change the way we live our lives, and not always in a good way. I know they change me. And over the last year or so, I've developed the distinct sense that they change how my brain functions when I use them too much.

Health is not binary. People who are chronically and/or mentally ill may indeed be "sick" (a term with a huge amount of complexity in its own right), but we are not on any given day A) sick or B) not sick. These conditions can be lifelong or last many years, going through flares and remissions. But we are not just "sick", we are people with hobbies, partners, friends, and if possible, jobs. Our illness(es) may feel all encompassing at times, but they are not us. They are only a part of us - people who are just as complex and nuanced as any. And yet, it seems at times that there are absurd standards, perceptions, and expectations about what someone who is "sick" looks like. This only exacerbates our already complicated relationships with our bodies.

BB Day 18 + 19IMG_8603IMG_7997IMG_7513

I'm reading an amazing book right now, recommended to me by my friend who passed away earlier in the year. I wish I could thank her for bringing this book into my life, but since I can't I'm going to make sure to share it with as many other people as I can. I've been sharing bits of it on my various online channels, but I wanted to write a bit about it here for anyone who's not able to see my other posts. Every one of you should read this book! 

It's called How to be an Adult by David Richo, and it is basically a guide to how to behave and think like an adult - responsible, assertive, self-actualized, healthy relationship boundaries, and all that good stuff. It's so clear and specific, and it's a short book but it's absolutely packed with insights.

Goodbye 2013. 

BB Day 27

You rivaled 2012 for how shitty I often felt, both physically and emotionally. But I also had some reprieves and glimmers of hope, showing me that change may be slow, but it's still possible. 

You were at once one of the hardest and most important years of my life. I'm tempted to say "good riddance", but that wouldn't be quite right...instead I'll say thank you.

You got to push, got to shove
I've got to eat before they eat me
Got the crown and the cup
I've got to write to my family
And say, "I'm calm and feeling warm."
I'm not quite there, but I'm close
And it's a world of difference​

(Life on the Nickel, Foster the People)

Sometimes life is fine and dandy, and you can just let it flow. Just live. Just be. Other times, life smacks you upside the head and says WAKE THE FUCK UP. You realize that a lot of things are really wrong, and they have been for a looooong time. At this point you can either stick your head in the sand and maintain the status quo, or answer the wake up call. If you answer, you're signing up for hard work. If you don't answer, you're signing up for more of the same. Neither one is pleasant, but one at least holds the potential for things to get better.

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