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BlogBiking

I’m writing this post from the bike at the gym (note: it’s also heavily edited – turns out phone blogging during cardio isn’t efficient). I questioned how much of a workout I could possibly be getting if I’m able to freaking blog while doing it, but the sweat and heavy breathing (not that kind) tell me I wasn’t doing too badly. This gym visit is costing me approximately $360 because it’s the first time I’ve been to the gym in my year of membership here. I’m not proud of that, but I am proud of myself for getting myself here today.

Ever since my most recent medication changes a couple months ago I’ve developed an obsessive relationship with food. I’ve watched the scale go up and up and up, and my depression get worse and worse. It’s hard to get dressed much less get myself out the door to the gym. But today I did it, and I made a plan and goals for doing it for the next month. If I feel too depressed to go, I don’t go, and it’s not a failure. If I go, I will celebrate by eating junk food. I’m mostly kidding, but I’m also self-destructive as hell.

I would love to lose the weight, but really I just want to feel better. Getting back to my active athletic self is what I want, even if I start slowly. Like on a stationary recumbent bike navigating fake hills and texting and blogging while my long inactive legs start to burn.

Anyway, all this to say: I’m proud of myself today.

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When Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks are no joke. No matter how many times they happen, they are terrifying every time, and it’s easy to feel like you might die if you’re not able to talk yourself through it. I have them every week if I’m in a sustained hypo-manic state, and about once a month if I’m in a bad depressive episode. Still, even without the emotional extremes, they can happen seemingly out of nowhere, triggered by things I often don’t understand until after they’re over. A big thing in therapy is learning to recognize triggers, which is helpful for perspective, and sometimes helps in the moment. But still it’s only part of the anxiety picture.

I had an anxiety attack as recently as the other night when I was grocery shopping with my family. I had gone off on my own to look at a few different items and soon realized that I no longer had my phone on me. I rushed back to the cart and asked the family if the phone was in the cart. They glanced in the cart and said no, so I rushed back to each place I had been to look for it, not finding it anywhere. My pulse and breathing quickened, I couldn’t think about anything but my phone, focusing, oddly, on the panic of losing my shopping list. Then I lost my family and started crying. My vision blurred and I’m sure I caused other shoppers some concern. I made eye contact with a few of them (a mistake).

Finally I found the family and breathlessly started throwing things out of the cart until I finally saw my phone at the bottom. I grabbed it and left them gaping to try to walk off the physical symptoms. When my mind started clearing I found that I was in the freezer section staring at Eggo waffles with the freezer door open. I felt better eventually, I still had my shopping list, and my access to my supportive texting friends and family, and more importantly, my shopping list. I can’t go into a grocery store without a list or I become too anxious. Ah, yes, there was the trigger.

There’s no way I could have prepared for that, though I did try to talk myself through it as best I could. Mostly it sounded like, “Breathe slower you’re not going to die. Breathe slower. Breathe slower.” It didn’t work though because my panic brain replied, “MY LIST MY LIST MY LIST!” Afterward I was able to talk myself down better. “It’s going to be okay. I am okay. Everything will be okay. Let’s go get some waffles,” apparently.

The most severe panic attack I ever had lasted three days. I know therapists and doctors say that a panic attack can really only last 25 minutes because after that your body chemistry is depleted of panic chemicals. So sure, I had breaks from the actual panicking, usually when the Xanax allowed me to calm down. But as soon as it started wearing off I panicked again. Sobbing, blurred vision, hyperventilating, shaking uncontrollably.

It reminded me of when I was working in the veterinary field and we’d see severe epilepsy cases where we put them on the strongest medications to get them to stop seizing and as soon as it wore off the poor animal was in another seizure again.

I was in a situation where there were about 20 unexpected triggers hitting me all at once. None of which I saw coming. I almost missed the wedding of one of my favorite people in the whole world because I was trapped in a prison of my own panicking head. Anxiety does not care where you are, what you were planning on doing other than panicking, or who you are with. It’s coming in anyway.

I feel like I learn my triggers just in time to find out that I have a whole new set waiting for me. The work is never done with mental illness. Nothing is ever fixed, it just morphs into new challenges. That’s what makes people living with mental illness such badasses. They are constantly fighting invisible battles that threaten to take over their whole lives, but they still manage to wake up every single day to fight again. How much more badass can you get? And sometimes they get dressed, have jobs and relationships and friends, all while doing battle.

Fight on, you motherfucking badasses. I’m fighting right next to you. Let’s have a waffle together sometime.

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Grey, Everywhere

Have you ever heard a version of the saying, the only way you’ll get what you want is if you ask for it? In a lot of ways this has proven to be true in my life. I’ve learned to stop waiting for things to happen for me and to start making things happen.  I’ve learned not to complain about my life not being what I want it to be if I haven’t made any efforts to make it so. I’ve learned to trust the things that I want and to think about what it would look like for me to actually go after them. Sometimes with that last one I find that what I wanted, even when it is a genuine, strong desire, isn’t what I really need.

Often this lesson comes along with life experience. For example one time when my nephew was two years old, he felt with all his heart that I wanted to go play with the white and orange lane bumps in the middle of the road. He turned to run into the road, and when my sister stopped him he cried and cried and cried as though by not getting what he wanted, even if it was dangerous, his world had just ended. I think this is a fight that we continue to have with ourselves in different forms our entire life, we just don’t always have my sister to stop us from running into the road. As adults the decisions are ours.

How can we amass four decades of life experience, fully understanding that certain decisions will be dangerous, and still make the self destructive choice over and over again? Just because I want something doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for me. And just because something is the right choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be attractive to me at first. I want a lot of things. I want speech without consequences, I want sex without consequences, I want to deal with my problems by drinking and getting high, I want a baby elephant, I want to live in a self sustaining house in the middle of the forest and never talk to anyone ever again, I want to eat strawberry frosting from the tub with my finger.

Because I’m adult, I can choose to do any of those things. People may try to stop me, but no one can really stop me if I decide go for the frosting tub. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t get between a diabetic and a tub of frosting. Just don’t. But any of those other things on the list are either not realistic, or they would have consequences that I do not want. I could speak like there are no consequences, but then I would end up hurting people I love or going to jail. I could adopt a baby elephant but I would ruin its life, and possibly vice versa.

All I’m saying is that sometimes making out lives better isn’t a matter of demanding what we want. I don’t go up to my boyfriend and demand that I want to start living in the forest and may not be home very much anymore. That would not make my life better at all, even though it’s something I think sounds attractive. Because the world isn’t black and white. It’s all grey, everywhere. Want doesn’t equal need. Want leading to happiness is as much a truth as want leading to disaster, so we have to fish around in the grey to make the best choices we can.

My heart can be an idiot and my brain can be a bitch, but every now and then, with effort, they can work together and take care of me.

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Another Note on Journaling

Another “note” on “journaling” sounds a little redundant, and I tried to make a pun out of it, but I couldn’t make it work. Let me know if you come up with something better. As I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered journaling as a coping and survival method in my early 20s with the help of one my therapist at the time. She recommended a book called The Artist’s Way, which is a book I ended up loving. It has exercises for your brain and spirit to discover the artist within you. The exercise from this book that spoke to me was “Morning Pages.” This is where you write three pages in a journal every morning. It doesn’t matter what you write, how big or small you write, or even whether or not the words can be found in a dictionary. The idea is to develop consistency and to empty your brain of whatever is cluttering it so you can start  your day with a clear head.

It was difficult for me to start writing in a journal, but once I got the hang of it I started doing it every day. There is so much cluttering my head at any given moment – racing thoughts, depression fueled thoughts, negative self talk, positive self talk, jokes that are hilarious until I write them down and read them to myself – that getting some of them out on paper, a place outside of me, frees up a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth and helps me continue to survive, function, and thrive.

My most recent psych hospital stay reminded me of how much I need journaling. I had given up journaling for about a year, and apparently a lot of thoughts and feelings and misspelled words got backed up in there and gummed up the works. My lack of journaling did not lead to my suicidal thoughts, that was my lack of functioning brain chemistry. But once I started writing again while in the hospital, a flood gate was open.

In the psych hospital there’s a lot of down time. There’s a structure of therapy and treatment and activities, but between those you don’t go home, you just, sort of, exist together. About 80% of my down time was spent journaling, sometimes by myself in my room, but usually around other people. Here is a non-sequitur journal entry from my hospital journal (written in marker because that’s all we were allowed to have to write with):

I want to say he eventually got the hang of Uno, but I don’t specifically remember that happening.

Here’s an entry about how people noticed how much I journal through the day:

The woman walked up to me while I was sitting outside, asked me if I had seen a rabbit, then pulled a carrot out of her bra and threw it in a shrub. She said, “I bet we’ll see it soon!” and winked at me. The level of commitment involved in smuggling carrots from the cafeteria impressed me.

A few people in the hospital asked me how I journal so much because they wanted to start. The first step for me it to stop judging yourself. That’s easy to do, right? Just flip the switch from On to Off, and you’re done, right? No? Oh. It takes practice. Start with words on paper. Don’t judge yourself for your handwriting, your ability to spell, your sentences, your thoughts, whether or not it makes sense…it is all good. If your pen (or hospital sanctioned marker) is making marks on a piece of paper, congratulations! You’re journaling! Now do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

I started this way, a little at a time, often writing through it when I judged myself for something. Before long I was able to just let the thoughts translate to paper. I don’t read anything I’ve written either. Not for a very long time. And when I do I realize I knew more about my own situation than I gave myself credit for.

It’s difficult for me to talk about my most recent psych hospital visit because I’m still so close to it, but I intend to face it and write through it. Reading my hospital journal in pieces is helping me process the experience, and continuing to journal daily after my discharge day is making me a stronger person every day.

Journaling is powerful. I’ve heard more times than not someone saying they would love to journal but they don’t know what to say. And I tell them that’s a form of judging themselves. We all know what to say it’s just a matter of learning how to get it from our heads to paper. It looks different for everyone so the most important thing we can do is just practice. Do it for you. I do it for me, not anyone else…

…until I scan them onto my computer and post the contents online for the whole world to see*.

 

*Note: you are not required to do this when you journal.

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Journals From Past Allison

Journaling has been an important survival tool for me ever since the year 2000 when my therapist at the time turned me onto it. I have saved all my journals since that year, and sometimes I like to go through them all and find the same date in different years and read them. I do this more out of curiosity than anything else, but it can also help me track my progress, or lack thereof, through the years. The evolution of mental illness is fascinating, as is my level of denial in the early years. But simply because I kept writing, I kept following hope.

All of my journals either have titles or quotes at the beginning of them, like they were books. And they kind of were because I would fill every page of every journal I ever wrote in. I’m not sure where those bragging rights would be relevant, but that’s kind of impressive, right?

Here are some of the quotes in the beginning of my journals over the years:

For a second, two seconds, they had exchanged an equivocal glance, and that was the end of the story. But even that was a memorable event in the locked loneliness in which one had to live.
-George Orwell, 1984

Forget about what you are escaping from…Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.
-Bernard Kornblum,The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay

Pretty Pink Suicide Notes
– journal title, Allison B. Hollingsworth

I feel a little down today
I ain’t got much to say
You’re gonna miss me when I’m not there
And you know I don’t care

Life is hit or miss, and this
I Hope, I Think, I Know
And if I ever hear the names you call
If I stumble, catch me when I fall
‘Cause baby after all,
You’ll never forget my name
You’ll never forget my name.
-Oasis

There are two ways to look at life…The first view is that nothing is stays the same and that nothing is inherently connected, and that the only driving force in anyone’s life is entropy. The second is that everything pretty much stays the same (more or less) and that everything is completely connected, even if we don’t realize it.
-Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

For Posterity
– journal title, Allison B. Hollingsworth

I’ve compiled a list of excerpts below that Past Allison wrote in a gesture of recognizing her journey. I hate the word journey, but I love Past Allison. At least I’m learning to.

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