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Tough times in my world

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather then post a news article, I’m opting to get a little personal and share some of my recent struggles, but in addition to my struggles, I wanted to share what I’m doing to work through them in hope that others might get ideas of things they can try if they are struggling as well.

Here’s some of the highlights of what has happened with me.

  • During the last week of July 2013 I made the tough decision to Retire my Service Dog, “Tippy”  I saw she was developing cataracts, and she has battled a chronic skin condition for about 5 years, on top of developing bladder stones over the past year.  Initially I thought maybe I could retire her, she could stay with me as a pet and I would just not work her, but I quickly found that going places without her, even those places that I am comfortable being, were extremely difficult to go to.
  • The first week of August 2013 I broke the news that I was retiring Tippy to my friends and family
  • By the end of the 2nd week of August, I realized without a doubt I needed to replace Tippy so I got in contact with the organization I got Tippy from to see if they had any dogs that were close to being ready to be placed, or had washed out of the program because of a refusal to retrieve or something along those lines that wouldn’t be a problem for me with the type of work I needed Tippy’s replacement to do.
  • Things progressed and on September 11, 2013, I dropped off Tippy with the organization, and came home with “Ora” who later got renamed to “Orca” because even though I really like the name “Ora” I kept calling her “Oreo” which is my cat’s name, so for my sanity I added a letter to her name and made it “Orca” which has been simpler for me.
  • September 18, 2013 I had spent the day with my Mom getting some items for Orca, and enjoying a nice meal out in a resteraunt, we had an awesome day.  I got home that evening, and was checking my email since I’d been gone all day, and the first email I spotted was one from a friend telling me that Rachel Freund had passed away that morning after battling cancer for some time.  I was devastated by this news

Since early July 2013, I have been on an emotional roller coaster to put it mildly.  Retiring Tippy has been very difficult, but I feel like it is the right decision, Orca has helped to fill that void but she has lots to learn, so training with her has helped me to keep my sanity on some level.  Losing Rachel, while on some level I’m not surprised, because of the severity of her cancer, I feel a huge sense of loss because she was one of us, she was a mental health consumer, and advocate not only for herself, but for many others, and the world lost one of the most awesome people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.  She inspired me to develop an interest in politics and I was one who when I met her really didn’t want anything to do with the political realm.  I still have a lot to learn where politics are involved, but Rachel gave me a good foundation to build on.

So, with all the struggles I’ve had since probably June when I started noticing Tippy’s health was deteriorating and retirement was likely going to need to happen, what have I been doing to help keep myself from sinking too deep into depression or otherwise getting overwhelmed by circumstances?

Well, here’s a list of things I’ve done, maybe it will give others ideas of things they can try as well.

  • Bought a mountain bike
    • I have loved riding a bike since I was a kid, but hadn’t rode in about 10 years.  Retiring Tippy was a seemingly odd motivator to get the bike, but my idea in getting it was that it would not only help with my weight loss goals, but also would allow me to be a little more independent and need to rely less on others at least during the times when the roads aren’t icy.  In addition to being transportation and exercise, it is also something that has proven to be awesome for helping me to manage the stress I’ve been under
  • Training Orca
    • I would be doing this even if I wasn’t stressed, but training with her has helped to keep me from getting stuck inside my head by keeping at least some of my focus outside of myself and on her needs
  • Gaming
    • Gaming has been a HUGE help through everything, there was a period where text just wasn’t making sense to me, so I wasn’t able to do any blogging, but I found that not only YouTube videos that were educational in nature were helpful, but also gaming was as well.  I’ve been playing World of Warcraft and The Sims 3 for years, and over the past couple years have played SimCity, Skyrim, Defiance, and recently started toying with Warframe.  When I was angry or frustrated I seemed to gravitate to Defiance, Warframe, Skyrim and WoW.  When I was feeling empty, hollow or like my head was mush, I found that Sims 3, SimCity and World of Warcraft were helpful.  They let me step back from my struggles and take a break from my emotions for a bit so I could regroup.
  • Socializing
    • This one has been tricky, some days I want to be around people while other days there doesn’t seem to be enough distance between me and other humans, but a few select people who I’ve been able to keep close to me through all of this, they have made me smile, been supportive, allowed me to cry and vent to them, while at the same time allowing me to have a sounding board to bounce my thoughts or ideas off of.  Sometimes we hung out and would joke around, while other times were more serious in nature, but regardless of the tone of our gathering, these folks played a huge role in helping me keep things in perspective and to them I am grateful.
  • Exercising
    • Yes I said that dreaded word …. exercising.  I have come to realize that exercise can be anything from doing housework to going for a walk or bike ride.  Being physically active has been a huge thing for me as well, it has helped prevent me from staying in bed all day (Orca helps with that as well) I feel better emotionally when I’ve been active, it helps me to clear my head and refocus myself, while at the same time burning calories.  I tend to feel more relaxed when I’ve been physically active then I do when I laid around the house doing close to nothing physically active.
  • Cleaning my home
    • Okay another dreaded thing with that one, but for me I found that doing housework, even though I’m not a huge fan of doing the cleaning, the result of having things look less cluttered and less overwhelming visually helps me with my anxiety and has an added benefit of keeping me physically active.

So I guess you could say that for me I’ve had to focus on balancing my need to process emotions out by countering them with things that keep my mind and body active.  I have days that are horribly difficult to keep going and do stuff, but then other days it’s like I can’t wait to go for a walk with Orca and do some training with her.  I also found that what works great one day may not work well the next day, so there is a bit of trial and error involved with the things I’ve tried.  I think for me the key has been not allowing myself to give up, and balancing emotional overload with positive healthy activities.

Now that I’m able to comprehend what I read once more, blogging and web design are also helping me to not get stuck inside my head,  I’ve had a lot happen in a short period, on top of the anniversary of one of the toughest times in my life, which always causes me to struggle in September, since the year that terrorist flew planes into the twin towers.  That year, I had lost my job, was on the verge of becoming homeless, and was struggling with some severe mental health issues among which was a conversion disorder that manifested itself as blindness.  that fateful morning of 9/11 I was attending a school for the newly blind where I was pretty much learning how to navigate the world around me without the ability to see.  Medically my eyes were fine, but my brain was so overloaded with stress that to deal with the overload, it had to shut something down and in my case it was my vision.  It was because of the conversion disorder that I had to quit my job, because I wasn’t working I lost my apartment, and at the same time was hospitalized for mental health reasons.  I was at a very low point, and even though overall things have been better since that year, I always get kind of moody in September because of the anniversary of the year I nearly lost everything and then had to deal with emotions surrounding the well-known terrorist attack on 9/11.  So for me, September is a tough month to begin with, and this one has had both sadness and joy compounding things.

So yeah doing the things I listed above have truly been things that helped me keep my sanity through this tough month.  None of them are overly huge, but sometimes small things can make the biggest difference and allow me to succeed.

Thank you to all my readers for being patient with my lack of posts and downtime here on Pennsylvania Mental Health Issues, it means a lot to me that folks would stick around even though I had to step back and stop blogging for a bit.  I feel like I’m starting to get my mojo back though with blogging, so hopefully I’ll get back on track again and it will be blogging as usual so to speak 🙂

“ARC Issues Guidelines for Coping with Stress during Recent Traumatic Events”

Article Link

This April 20, 2013 article on the GanDaily.com website talks about tips from the American Red Cross for coping with tragic events.  As the article points out it’s been a rough week for our country, with a bombing, flooding and a fertilizer plant explosion, I feel like I’ve reached a bit of a breaking point myself.  I have an anxiety disorder that causes issues for me under the best of conditions. With tragedies that make it into national headlines my anxiety sky rockets.  Not so much because I’m directly affected by what is happening, but I tend to fear for the lives of others, I hope they will make it through in one piece, but at the same time questions like “what would I do in their shoes?”  or “what if that happened in my area?”  the way my brain is wired it goes into overdrive trying to figure out answers to these and many other questions.  I see an increase in the frequency of my panic attacks, and find that I tend to struggle more with leaving home.  Yes, often I realize my fears are irrational, and that what happened in Texas, Boston or the midwest isn’t happening here, which helps me stay grounded.  On the other hand there are things mentioned in this article that I have worked on doing myself.  A prime example would be not allowing myself to be glued to the tv or other media outlets when there is something big happening.  I don’t need to know the play-by-play details of the horror to know it’s bad …. I allow myself to watch a few minutes here and there but then go into what I call a personal “media blackout” where I do anything I want as long as it doesn’t involve the media.  The media blackouts allow me to regroup, refocus, and in many ways not put myself into a major tailspin with my anxiety issues.  A wise therapist I once had suggested to me at one point that maybe I should “strive for balance as opposed to normality” it took awhile for me to understand what was meant, by it, and I feel like in many ways I’m still learning about it.  What I know at this point though is that normal doesn’t work for most people (myself included) it’s an elusive carrot on a stick of sorts we think we see it, but can never seem to do what we think we see.  I’ve found that balance is more realistic and often times more achievable.  I chose not to glue myself to the live feeds of the Boston marathon bombing, not because I didn’t care, but because I needed to keep myself healthy. I chose to allow myself a few minutes of media coverage so I would be aware of what was occurring, but at the same time I chose to do things like play Sims 3 or World of Warcraft to occupy my mind.  I also chose to do things like tackle some of the clutter in my home, or go for a walk, or simply relax with my knitting and sometimes even reached out and talked to friends or family members about anything that didn’t focus on the horrors that were unfolding.  For me, I feel that making these choices were examples of what my former therapist was saying when she suggested I strive for balance.  It’s about what is going to keep me functioning at a level that is healthy.  I feel that the tips offered in the article from the American Red Cross magnify balance as opposed to normality and they are simple tips that could be applied to anyone’s life.  Take time to balance your life even if it is just for a moment, because without balance none of us will be of any benefit to those around us.

 

Life’s StReSsOrS And How I Put Personal Medicine To Work

The past few days have been tough for me, last Friday evening I had to take Tippy, my Service Dog, to the vet for emergency treatment.  in the couple of weeks before that I’ve dealt with anxiety surrounding a hearing I have received a subpoena to testify in that I truly don’t want to do for reasons I’d rather not discuss here.  So in light of what has happened, it’s been like a roller coaster for me.  One day I feel ok with life in general, and the next I feel like the only thing that would help would be to dig a hole, crawl into it, and then cover it up with a boulder.  Obviously digging a hole isn’t all that practical, so I’ve opted to use what is called personal medicine to help me through the rough times.

Let me start by explaining that personal medicine is different from taking medications (pills) , in that personal medicine is something you do and not something you take.  Personal medicine is something that is positive, non-destructive, and basically puts a smile on your face or helps you relax.  While it is different from taking pills, it is not meant to replace pills, but rather to compliment them and work hand in hand with them.

Some examples of personal medicine that I’ve used over the past couple weeks when things get rough or I’m trying to head off a panic attack, include the following.

  • Knitting on my knifty knitter looms
    • Knitting has a rhythm to it that I find relaxing, I also get a sense of pride when I finish something, even if it is something as small as a dish cloth or a little bigger like a scarf.
  • Playing video games
    • Games I commonly play
    • Video games are something that I find people either get or don’t get, but for me, they offer a temporary escape where I can recharge myself and take out my frustrations, or simply help me to refocus or relax.  Gaming is for me, what some may call a “Brain dump” Gaming on some level is for me what a lightning rod is for a house.  Stress/anxiety is like lightning striking me (so to speak) and like a lightning rod on a house, gaming helps redirect the effects of the “lightning” into something less destructive, giving me a release and allowing me to take a little break from my anxiety so I can regroup.
  • Writing whether it be a list of pros and cons, a short story, sometimes even a blog entry or anything that allows me to express what’s inside me somehow.  I also get a sense of pride when I finish writing something, and often feel like I was able to sort out something that was bogging me down mentally.  Sometimes I write for fun though and it’s just something I do because it is a safe place for me to be creative.
  • Research  This is an odd one, but for me, working on my research project can help me redirect my thinking into something more positive, which has a calming effect on me.  Not to mention asking questions and digging for answers is something I’ve always found to be fun and enjoyable so it’s pretty natural for me to research stuff which is a lot easier to do now then it was when I was a kid since I now have the internet to help me on my quest for answers.
  • Cuddling or playing with Tippy is a great diversion and when it comes to cuddling, there is a strong sense of comfort I get in having her snuggled up against me.

Those are some of the things I use as personal medicine each offers its own spin on relief, enjoyment, or diversion, and in some cases they overlap a little, but it’s what works for me.  Personal medicine is unique to each individual and what works for me may not work for you, and vise versa.  I’m guessing that like me, there are probably things that my readers do that would fall under the heading of personal medicine that they did but didn’t necessarily realize there was a name for doing these things.  Here is a link to a blog entry on Pat Deegan’s site that talks about personal medicine more in-depth.  http://www.patdeegan.com/blog/posts/importance-personal-medicine

On a closing note, Tippy came home with me Friday night, and is on antibiotics to treat a urinary tract infection that was caused by bladder stones.  she’s not at 100%, but I am relieved to know that  this is treatable and I caught it before it became life threatening.  I have to watch her closely to make sure she urinates, and if she goes 12 hours without urinating I have to call the vet again, but so far Tippy has been doing great at urinating.  I never thought I would get excited over the sight of yellow snow before, but now I get excited when Tippy makes yellow snow.  Also the hearing is tomorrow and at least in theory that mess will be done with.

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