A new Star Wars movie called "Rogue One" is coming out this December. It's not part of the numbered series. It's about the mission to get the codes for the sheild around
the forest moon of Endor. View Trailer on YouTube
Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety, & Terrifying Hallucinations.
"Telling a person with depression that they will feel better by thinking good thoughts, is like telling a diabetic they will be cured by not eating sugar."
I've suffered from depression and social anxiety for most of my adult life. It started when I was a teenager, but I didn't have the vocabulary to describe what I was experiencing until the last few years.
While I have had bouts of depression that were deep and severe, for the most part, it's mild ... but it's always there. How does it affect me? It's hard to describe in a way that will make sense to people who don't have this persistently. Imagine for a moment, a time when you were really sad about something. Not the tears and the crying, rather, that feeling of heaviness, of "what's the point in doing anything right now", or "I'm never going to have hope again". Now imagine that you feel that way, not as intently, but persistently — every day — every hour of every day.
That's what depression is like for me. We all have depressive events and moments in our lives, but for those of us who suffer from "depression", it is a persistent condition that is with us all the time.
Unfortunately, I'm very good at hiding it. I say "unfortunately" because I've never really asked for help with it, until now. I'm very good at putting on a smile and faking a smile. I don't want people asking me how I feel. I can't stand people putting on the sad face when they greet me and inquire as to how my day is. I just want to be treated like I'm normal; I just want to be treated like everyone else, that's why I hide it.
Now, in 2016, I am finally starting to get the help that has always been available, but that I didn't know to ask for in the past.
I'll talk about social anxiety in a moment, but for now, I want to talk about generalized anxiety.
Twice in my life (in 2011, and again right now in 2015/2016), I have suffered Generalized Anxiety. Both times these have been due to workplace events. This type of anxiety isn't an acute situation; this is a chronic and persistent condition (The DSM-IV needs it to persist for more than six months for diagnosis).
Don't let the word "generalized" fool you: it does not translate as "insignificant", or "easy", or "nothing to worry about."
What is anxiety like? Everything is a conspiracy. The people I work with are conspiring to get me in trouble, the neighbours are conspiring to exclude me, the person at the convenience store is conspiring with their coworkers to make me feel uncomfortable ... for a person with anxiety, everything is a conspiracy. The world, people, events, happenings, etc. are all working against me. I know, conceptually, that this is nonsense. I can reason that this is my anxiety making non-existent connections, but I am powerless to feel otherwise, even though I know it's not true.
With anxiety, at any given moment I am going to worry about: what you said at lunch time; that thing I said to Bobby-Joe seven years ago; that my credit card payment didn't get recorded, and they are immediately going to go to collections; that someone will see that I have a problem and will be afraid of me; that my bathroom isn't clean enough for company even though I haven't had a visitor in over a year; the conversation with the boss last Tuesday. I imagine all possible scenarios for the upcoming conversation I have to have with a coworker tomorrow; I can spend an entire weekend obsessing about the true meaning and potential ramifications of just ONE of the things that were said to me this week, and lots of things were said to me this week.
Generalized anxiety does not have any downtime; it doesn't go away. It's always there; it always has fuel for its obsessiveness.
With anxiety, as I said, everything is a conspiracy.
"Telling a person with anxiety not to worry,
is like telling a dog not to wag its tail."
With Social Anxiety, everyone is judging me. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE: Boss, coworkers, subordinates, friends, neighbours, store clerks, service people, Facebook friends, the pastor, the doctor, the person in the car behind me, the person on the sidewalk who looked at me and didn't smile, the person on the sidewalk who looked at me and smiled, etc. ad infinitum.
The only person who isn't judging me is my cat — and I'm not 100% sure of that.
The social anxiety started in my teen years and progressively got worse. I still don't know the cause of it. I’ve begun Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the most successful method of dealing with anxiety, so I hope to learn the skills to cope with this and reclaim a somewhat normal life.
So what is it like, living with social anxiety? I can go to the store, I can talk to clerks, I can keep appointments, but I do these things because I'm an actor, and can be incredibly charming for brief periods of time. I cannot, however, go to dinner with people I don't know well. I haven't been on a date in over ten years because the thought of spending intimate time (and I don't mean sexual, I mean mentally/emotionally intimate) with someone I don't know well to be terrifying.
Last year there was a house party for two people leaving my team at work. As I am the team leader, I had to attend. I spent a week of growing apprehension before that event. On the day it arrived, I forced myself to stay for two hours, and I mean I FORCED myself. There was no problem with the people. They are all lovely. But the entire time I wanted to scream inside because I was afraid of what they were thinking of me, what they were talking about when I wasn't listening, how they might be "pitying" me. I know that none of that was going on, I know that they weren't judging me. However, what I know theoretically and what I experience somatically and physiologically are completely different. It doesn't change the fact that I had to fight to control my breathing, I had to ignore the tight band around my chest, I had to push down nausea, I had to keep averting my eyes when people looked at me without speaking to me.
That's what it's like in any social setting. However, I think I'm lucky in one respect: I don't deal with that at work to any great degree. Those same people at the house party, I'm very easy going with and able to relate to at work. But I'm still very guarded at work, in how much I show of myself to them individually.
To my surprise, though, when some of the people I'm closer to at work found out what I was going through, they were incredibly supportive.
To make this even more confusing, I love public speaking. I can get up in front of a crowd at the drop of a hat and talk about anything I’m familiar with. More than once I’ve been called upon to step-up and make a presentation with little to no warning, and it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I love it! I used to be involved in community theatre and often said that all I needed was the stage, an audience, and half an idea. I guess it’s because there is no one-to-one connection taking place, I can view the audience body objectively, rather than experience them subjectively.
Still, put me in a room with two people I don’t know to have a coffee and chat, and you might as well cast me into a den full of hungry lions.
Asking for Help
Suffering a trigger event in the fall took me mentally and emotionally back to a time of crisis a few years ago. A person said one thing, one phrase actually, that was part of what I previously experienced was all that it took. When I went through that horrible time, a time when I thought that everything I had and knew was going to be taken away from me, a time when my mother passed away as I was dealing with that personal crisis, I didn’t ask for help back them. I didn’t want to admit I was “weak.” I didn’t want to admit that I couldn't handle it. I didn’t want to admit that I was vulnerable.
I should have. I should have admitted all those things and asked for that help. However, if I had, I wouldn’t have this story to share with you today.
After the trigger event, the depression deepened and the anxiety started to take over. I had several panic attacks the debilitated me to the point I lost several days work. Finally, I realized that I was reliving past trauma but this time, I knew that I had to ask for help.
That first visit to my family doctor has, in all truth, changed my life.
She put me on medication that has significantly helped my ability to cope with the anxiety and depression. I didn’t suffer any more impromptu panic attacks after that. I still have days were circumstances exceed the medications ability, but those are few and far between. She arranged an assessment by a psychiatrist who determined I had experienced a “major depressive event”, and that I was suffering from generalized anxiety, as the situation persisted more than six months. As a result, I’m seeing a psychologist for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and I’m having a sleep study done.
Oh, yeah, I didn’t mention the hallucinations. Both hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. These occur when you are falling asleep and when you are waking up, respectively. While the hypnogogic hallucinations are peaceful and even relaxing, the hypnopompic hallucinations that occur when I’m waking up are terrifying.
So what can you do if you are suffering mood disorders?
Seriously, CALL YOUR FAMILY DOCTOR. They are the first step, especially here in Ontario. Then can give you short-term medication to help you until you can get the proper help you need. They can connect you with professionals and resources that you are unlikely to know about, or access on your own.
Will you experience stigma because of this? Probably. But take heart from that fact that many of us have to face uphill battles, and people who are not educated about what we are suffering from. Even now, I’m shocked to know that there are people that I’m dealing with who are afraid of me, simply because the terms depression and anxiety have been referred to as “mental health issues.” There are those, right now, who treat me like I’m someone to be managed and controlled, rather than supported and listened to. There are those who consider me defective, broken, and without the same value that I had pre-injury.
I praise Bell Canada for their “Let’s Talk
” campaign. Indeed, let's talk about mental health issues. Because of Bell Canada, and because of the negative experiences I’ve had, and because of the negative receptions I've had - I’m making noise. I talk about mental health issues, specifically depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I also encourage people to ask questions and learn about the issues, especially if they know someone with a mood disorder or mental illness.
Ending the stigma starts with you.
Like Howie Mandel said in a video on the Bell website, "If you take care of your mental health, the way you take care of your dental health, we'll all be okay."
There should be no stigma.
"If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do." – Stephen Fry
A co-worker and myself raising funds for CAMH. We raised $113.00 in our "Super Sammi Smackdown", pitting our culinary skills against one-another.
My tattoo proclaiming my fight against the stigma of mental illness. My very first tattoo, at the age of 50.
A painting I created for the Toronto Police Service "Great Minds Challenge" in support of CAMH. I should point out that I've never painted anything before in my life. It didn't make it to the top ten, but at least I made some noise ... in a visual way!
Daily Wisdom for Adults (...a history of my tweets!)
"I can't tell if it's killing me or if it's making me stronger."