Category: Life

My Post-Medication Rehabilitation Journey

My Post-Medication Rehabilitation Journey

When I quit my antidepressant medication, I was mostly hopeful but a little afraid. Would this be the time my boyfriend gives up on me being a dark-thought disaster queen? Would I spend my days in the black pool of despair that is my depressed mind? Would my anxiety keep me from leaving home or making a phone call?

So much uncertainty.

I’ve had to take a lot of steps to deal with this medication-free. I’ve had to develop vigilance and advocate for myself. I have to make decisions daily that will be better or worse for my mental health and well-being.

Quality Time – I’m spending more quality time with my son and it has been amazing. We’ve been playing more video games together and having more really good talks.

The News – I’ve been avoiding the news entirely. I don’t click on news stories or read about the goings-on of a society that seems very much in ruin. For me, right now, it’s important to steer away from doomsday and try to make some sort of mentally productive life and a triumphant return to my creative self.

Social Media – I’ve been limiting my interactions on social media and it’s been going really well. I check Facebook daily but I don’t spend all day refreshing it like I used to. Occasionally I catch myself being a little too invested and when I do, I close the tab.

Entertainment – I try not to waste as much time on YouTube watching things that don’t challenge me. I unfollowed a lot of accounts that created mostly garbage content that pandered to the lowest common denominator and I’ve been quite happy with that decision.

Reading – I spend a lot more time reading these days. At this rate, I should double my reading goal. I’ve made a return to my lost love of learning by reading more non-fiction. I’m also stimulating my brain by reading more imaginative fiction.

Writing – I’ve been pouring a lot of my strength and time into writing. When my son goes to bed at night, I try to divide my time between reading and writing. I’m still editing my novel but I’m working on setting a goal to be done my second draft by the end of April, at which point I am hoping to let a few people read it so I can get some valuable feedback.

Relationship – I’m learning to ask for what I need, and when the answer is no, to reassess its importance and work on compromise. I know I need to put myself first and to spend time with people who elevate me rather than push me down.

Toxic People – I’m getting better and knowing when to remove toxic people from my life. Difficult decisions need to be made at times, but I remind myself to be vigilant about my mental health and self-care.

There are probably thousands of other little things, but overall my mind is in a pretty good place and things are only getting easier over time as I develop healthier habits. I know now without a doubt that medication is not the right path for me in combating my mental illness, and that I’m capable of handling things myself with the right skill-set.

Breathing Easy – How I Quit Smoking and Never Looked Back

Breathing Easy – How I Quit Smoking and Never Looked Back

In the summer of 1999 I was a 14-year-old goth girl with baggy pants and a weird hairdo when I smoked my first cigarette. My friend Lisa and I would walk to the mall and bum cigarettes from smoking strangers in the food court. We’d collect a mishmash of different brand cigarettes and share them. Back then, I remember little tin ashtrays on every table.

Lisa stopped smoking shortly after that. I didn’t. I remember waiting hours in the rain outside of convenience stores asking adult strangers to “pull a pack for me” until someone finally felt sorry enough for me to do it. I remember my mom telling me how disappointed she was in me between drags on her own cigarette. Smoking became part of my life; part of my identity. My uncle Bob paid me a pack of cigarettes and a beer when I was 15 in exchange for a portrait I drew for him. It was the first time I sold my art. My mom started giving me packs of cigarettes instead of my allowance every week.

Life as a smoker was stressful. In high school people either wanted part of your cigarette (“I call dibs!”) or their parents wouldn’t let them hang out with you. For antisocial me, smoking was a way to talk to people. I can’t count the number of times that sharing a cigarette with a boy I had a crush on made it into my diary. Life was lived through the clouds of smoke that followed me everywhere.

One of the first things I did on my 18th birthday was go buy my very own cigarettes. I worked at a call center at the time, and met many of the friends I still have today in the “smoker’s shack”. Adulthood introduced me to paying bills. Cigarettes were a normal part of my budget. When I moved into my own place with my smoker boyfriend, my addiction increased with the new found freedom of smoking indoors under my own rules

I wasn’t ashamed of my addiction. Like most smokers, I found every excuse in the book for why I didn’t want to quit smoking. I defended it. I told everyone it helped my stress levels. I told everyone I would never quit because I enjoyed it. I waxed poetic and romanticized my addiction. I was passionate about it.

For me, the decision to quit happened out of the blue and all at once. I had realized I wasn’t really in control of my addiction, or even of my own mind. I kept telling myself that I needed them to reduce stress, even though I knew deep down the stress came from the addiction and needing a cigarette.  I started to research cigarette addiction. I read books, and different methods for quitting. At this point, I recognized that I was at the mercy of the cigarette. I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and something clicked in my brain. I became smarter than my addiction was strong. Logically, it all made so much sense.

I set a date in the future. I thought my birthday would be a good date: I was going to give myself the gift of better health on that day. As the date approached, I found myself looking forward to it rather than dreading it. I was looking at my cigarettes in a new light. I realized all the excuses I was making for my habit were really the addiction trying to justify itself and not me, so I didn’t really feel like any part of me was going to be “lost” when I quit. I started to recognize the cycle of addiction, and as soon as I understood what was happening in my body, the rest seemed kind of easy.

I should note that there was a lot of prep work. I was determined to be successful. I broke up with the boyfriend I had at the time as he had no desire to quit and I knew that I’d fail if I stayed. I stopped hanging around with my smoker friends. I moved to another part of the city. I essentially transplanted myself so that the habitual part of my addiction wouldn’t be as strong.

The night before my birthday, at 11:55 PM, I had my last cigarette in a 7-eleven parking lot after 10 years as a smoker. Then, I crushed every last smoke that remained in my pack. In a lot of ways, that was the hardest part, having to overcome that mental hurdle and say “I’m officially done.”. But now would begin the physical withdrawal.

The next three days were tough, there’s really no getting around it. But because of the book, I felt like I knew what to expect, so nothing really came as a surprise. I was irritable, fidgety, and felt miserable. But I kept remembering that most nicotine is out of your system within 3 days, so I just kept thinking about the end of day 3 as being the finish line. It was hard as hell, but I got there. Then, I reminded myself that the first 2 weeks can determine the success of quitting. I shifted my view to the end of that two weeks being the finish line. I thought to myself, if you can make it two weeks, you can make it forever. At the end of the two weeks, I felt like I’d kicked it for good.

From that point forward, I kept remembering something that Allen stresses a lot in his book: “Never take another puff”. I repeated it like a mantra in my head every time I had a craving. Never take another puff, Wendy. Never take another puff. I convinced myself that if I took a single puff, I’d be hooked again and my efforts would have been for nothing. That probably wasn’t far from the truth.

To this day, I haven’t taken a single puff since that day in the 7-eleven parking lot. It’s been almost 7 years. When I think back to the person I was when I was addicted, it’s incredible how much has changed. I am more in control of my life now. I have better self esteem. I don’t have to run outside in the freezing cold Canadian winter or unsuccessfully shelter a lighter from the wind just to get that next fix. Nicotine no longer steals my money or controls my life. I am free.

 

Words Will Save Her – A Brief History of My Writing

Words Will Save Her – A Brief History of My Writing

CHILDHOOD

I started writing poetry when I was 9 years old. Nobody ever told me to do it, I simply felt compelled to create a tangible representation of what went on in my young head. As a kid suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I had a lot of emotions flowing through me: anger and fear being major players. I spent a lot of time alone, and I spent a lot of time writing. I filled notebook after coil-bound notebook with these little poems that just sort of poured out of me. I kept them all hidden away in a drawer.

As I got older, my body changed and puberty began. My confusion and developing feelings towards boys were spelled out in my poem books and journals. When I finally got my own room in our unfinished basement when I was 12, a new hiding spot was found for my growing collection of notebooks up on top of some metal vents near the ceiling.

HIGH SCHOOL

A few years later, high school began and my increased level of emotional intensity was matched by an increase in both the frequency and severity of content in my poems. I branched out into writing stories at this time as well. I was an angry girl who acted out, had a problem with authority, and spent every moment possible working on artistic endeavors or spending time with some of the first friends I ever had who I felt understood me. It was in high school where I developed a taste for controversy, which was reflected in my assignments for a creative writing class which were never marked because they were “too disturbing” for the teacher to stomach. I was proud of this fact. Hell, I still am. Isn’t the purpose of writing to make someone feel something?

When my mother bought a family computer when I was 15, it wasn’t long before I became quite quick at typing and moved my previously handwritten hobby into a digital one. I’d type out poetry and short stories into Notepad files and save them to floppy disks rather than continuing with my spiral-bound notebooks, which by that time seemed slow and clumsy in comparison. Thematically, my work remained dark and focused on love, death, and depression.

 

EARLY ADULTHOOD

My writing stopped rather abruptly when I was in my early twenties. I was working full time with people I loved. I was in a long-term relationship. I had friends I loved spending time with. I didn’t have time for those silly writing projects anymore. After 6 months or so without writing much of anything, my chronic depression had spiraled down to a point where I could barely get out of bed most days. At the time, with all the good going on in my life this didn’t make sense to me. My self-harming had gotten quite bad again and suicide was never far from my mind. Nearing complete hopelessness, I went to see my doctor who prescribed an antidepressant for my depression, anxiety and OCD symptoms, as well as a twice-a-week appointment with a psychologist.

I saw the psychologist at the scheduled times for about 4 months. Things had gotten bad between my boyfriend at the time and myself because he wasn’t able to give me the space I needed to heal and so we broke up. A year later I still hadn’t written anything. The meds I was on had taken away the bad feelings, but they’d also taken away any good feelings. I was essentially an emotional zombie, losing my ability to create anything with colour or with words. I made the conscious decision to go off my meds and start creating again as a way to handle my mental health issues and fulfill my desire to create.

I started writing again. I started drawing and painting again. It took a year to safely wean myself off the medication I’d been on, and it was difficult. When I look back now, I realize that I was trying to use medication to accomplish what I’d normally been able to accomplish using my creative outlets. I’ve always been more fulfilled when I’m creating, and when I stop for too long, my head tends to get out of control.

 

NOW

I’ve noticed, more recently than ever before, just how necessary it is for me to write. I’ve always thought of myself as a visual artist. I never really claimed the title “writer” in the same way until this last year. The things is, I’ve always been happiest when I’m actively writing. In the last month or so, since I’ve resumed blogging regularly, I’ve found myself reaching a state of inner calm. I’m forced to remember why I stopped writing in the first place, and once again it was because life got busy with work and motherhood and trying to be a responsible adult. I stopped giving writing any priority in my daily life.

Without writing, I become this sort of wound up ball of string. Every day that goes by without writing becomes another length wrapped tightly around my middle until the very center of who I am becomes so compressed that I lose myself. Every time I sit down at my computer and start typing away into the night, I unravel a little bit. This built up emotional fog I have to such excess gets released in little spurts and I start to see more clearly.

I write to figure things out. I don’t usually know how a blog post will begin or end until I’m in the desperate throes of its creation. It starts with a single inspired thought and as I type out word after word, sentence after sentence, it evolves. I whisper to myself each line and furiously type it out until it feels somehow complete. Many posts get published on the blog, and many don’t. When it really comes down to it, I write for me. Sometimes I get messages or emails or comments from people who say that a post of mine helped them, and that is a really great feeling.

When I deny the writer in me, it’s a poison in my life. The built up emotion or ideas end up coming out negatively if I don’t give them their own space. This is something I’ve learned and re-learned the hard way a number of times. I need to write. Writing is the one thing that’s always been able to save me.

 

Don’t Talk, Don’t Talk – The Value of Listening

Don’t Talk, Don’t Talk – The Value of Listening

Sometimes I like to just sit in a crowded public place and listen. Listen to the bustle of the crowd; catch snippets of conversation in passing. Listen and watch. You learn a lot about people that way.

I like to sit in a restaurant and watch people. Based on what I see of their body language, notice about their physical presentation, and hear of their conversations, I construct elaborate back stories about their lives in my head. I make my best guess at what they love and fear, how often they smile, and what brought them to this specific moment, where we share a space and a time.

When you act like a sponge; when you pay attention: that’s when you learn the most. While absorbing the actions of strangers in public might be more of a bizarre hobby than a helpful addition to your life, listening to the people you are directly communicating with makes all the difference in the world. I don’t mean listening, like… hearing the words they’re saying an nodding your head while waiting for your turn to speak. Looking like you’re listening doesn’t mean you are listening.

Truly listening to someone who’s sitting in front of you means you don’t talk. You don’t give your opinion, you don’t insert your little quips, you don’t go off on a random tangent related to what they’ve said. You just. Listen. You listen until they stop talking, and then you listen some more. If they stop talking for awhile, you ask a question about what they’ve said to get them talking again. You do this until you have a deeper understanding of who they are as a person.

It’s in our nature to want to be known, and to share, which is why we’re always so quick to want to take hold of a conversation. It’s why so many people feel fulfilled when talking about themselves. Hell, it’s why some of us blog. It’s the willingness to share who we are in the hopes of making a connection. But, if everybody is wanting to talk and nobody wants to listen, any connections made will be entirely superficial.

I work with a lot of incredibly smart people: doctors, nurses, social workers and the like. On my break when I join many of them in the coffee room at work, I love listening to what they have to say. I hear such interesting stories and even learn something every now and then.

When you’re just getting to know somebody, it’s so important to listen. When I have someone new in my life, I want to learn all about them. I want to know what makes them tick, what they love, what makes them smile or laugh, how they see the world and how they see themselves. I love deep connections, and it’s easier to achieve those when you listen.  If you don’t, you’ll end up projecting onto that person who you think they are, or who you want them to be, rather than who they’ve been trying to tell you they are.

Try it. Next time you’re having a conversation with somebody, don’t think about yourself at all. Don’t talk about yourself if you can avoid it. Ask questions to the person you’re conversing with and let them talk. Listen to what they’re saying and pay attention while trying not to subconsciously dismiss them in favor of trying to make yourself known. It just might be one of the best conversations you’ve ever had.

Steady Your Hands, There Are Miles Still to Go

Steady Your Hands, There Are Miles Still to Go

 

I find myself needing a reminder every now and then that it’s not a failure to feel this way. It’s okay to feel like you’re a piece of shit sometimes. It’s okay to feel like giving up – roll credits, the film is over.  It’s okay to be weak, to feel ashamed and fall inside myself to drown a while.

Sometimes I forget that I’ve had a hell of a ride and that I’ve been dealt a really difficult hand to play. In some ways, I think I forced myself to heal too quickly after Dave (my partner and son’s father) died shortly after our son was born. I had to, of course, for my son’s sake, but sometimes it feels like I forgot myself in the process. Something inside me still feels unresolved. Something inside me feels dead. I worry that there is some part of me that is irreparably damaged, and, even when my goals are reached, maybe I’ll still feel unhappy and incomplete.

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t been patient with myself, or like I haven’t healed from my traumatic past the right way. I underestimate the impact living through what I did as a child can have on me: the adult. Does being deprived of food as a child have any bearing on why I struggle with overeating now? Is it why I struggled with not eating enough in my early twenties?

There is so much inside me that has been broken. I feel like I’m in a constant state of transition and trying to fit the pieces together. I have a difficult time pinpointing who I am sometimes because maybe I don’t really know who I am anymore. If someone asked me to describe myself, I wouldn’t know what to say. I feel like I’m detached. I’m on autopilot. I’ve spent so much time smothering the parts of me that feel pain that I worry I’ve lost my ability to feel in the same way I used to.

Depression gets worse for a while and then it gets better for a while before getting worse again. I know medication isn’t the answer for me, but keeping up with everything that keeps me sane sometimes feels like it’s doing the opposite. I feel like I need to step back and take my time; be patient with myself.

I just hope I can pull myself out of this fog soon.