Monday, 22 June 2015

Healing Diary: Prologue

I haven't been feeling well, lately. I've written posts before about how I do have depression and I manage it, most of the time. But lately, I've noticed a new ailment which - and I can barely believe I'm saying it - I believe to be much more severe, and a much heavier burden to bear. The strange part is, from the outside looking in, it seemed so much easier. I've heard about people suffering from it before, but it didn't seem so bad, concerning but not life-changing. But now that I'm living with it, it's devastating. It's anxiety.
The Word of the Day is: 'BUTTERFLIES'

Butterflies /ˈbutəfluyz/ pl. n. Informal A queasy feeling or tremors in the stomach region, as from nervousness, anxiety, excitement, etc; flutters: I sure got butterflies thinking about it.

Yes, I know "butterflies" tends to downplay the seriousness of anxiety. But, just as my post on 'depression' was called black dog, I thought it was apropos that this one also related to some kind of animal synonym.
This also relates to my "My Little Pony" post. I've been feeling a little blue lately, and that's why my 199th post was about MLP:FiM, because that makes me happy, and it did cheer me up (as did post 200), and it also it occurs to me, the character "Fluttershy" from my My Little Pony (my favourite), she's an easily startled, anxious little pony, and her cutie mark is three butterflies . . . make of that what you will.
I am writing this with two hours before I'm going to the doctor, to get checked out, and I'm actually kind of glad for it. In fact, that's the only reason I can write this, is because I've been doing everything I can to get better.

See, it all started not long after my 200th blog post. After that, my parents went on a cruise, and I had the house all to myself. It has been forever since my friends and I have partied together, had a few drinks together and enjoyed ourselves, so I decided to host a party. It was fantastic. It wasn't too raucous, and although there was heavy drinking, we spent most of the time sitting on couches, watching sport or bad movies, and just joking around, laughing at our dumb games and getting drunk. It was a lot of fun.
This was three days of drinking and friends, and on the last day, it was just me and my two great friends, Sean and Kieran. I was feeling a little unwell then, I assumed it was a hangover. Since I always hydrate myself well, I never get the headache, but I do sometimes feel my guts churn from too much drinking, and I was feeling that, I assumed that was all it was. They asked if I wanted them to leave, and I didn't, I just said I didn't want to party anymore, and wouldn't be drinking. They were fine with that, and it was Monday oncoming, so they packed up and left. And I basically went to bed and slept, since I was tired.

I woke up the next day, and I cleaned up the house a bit, but I still wasn't feeling well, and more than just a hangover would cause. I assumed it was the food we'd eaten, since we'd had pizza and chips and take-away food, mostly. So, I figured a better diet would perk me up; and since I usually get upset during winter, I thought some sunshine, some warmth and some healthy food would perk me right up. So, I did that, and during the day, I felt okay, if a little tense. But as night fell, I just kinda broke.I lost interest in everything, I felt stuck, I felt lonely, I felt a pressure in my chest. And I started getting these panic attacks, fear that I couldn't get a job, couldn't support myself, couldn't move out of my parents house - fear that my life was meaningless.

I talked to my Beloved about it, and she was a great help, but one person could only do so much and there are only so many hours in the day, especially when living in different hemispheres. I started avoiding . . . everything.
I was scared of the coldness, I was scared of the darkness, I was scared of the silence. And so, I spent my evenings watching YouTube videos, talking to my girlfriend and trying to wade out the darkness, but I couldn't sleep when it was dark, because that tension in my chest was also in the back of my neck, and it didn't go away until I could see sunlight, but then I slept through morning, woke up late afternoon and panicked as the sun went down that I was wasting my days.

It was a vicious cycle, and on the third night, I couldn't stand it. I felt so alone, so stuck, so hopeless . . . luckily for me, when the going gets tough, my solution is "the worse the problem, the more I'll do to repair it", this was my Godzilla Threshold, and so despite feeling like frozen elephant shit, I picked up the phone and called for help.
I can tell you the exact time, because my phone is an internet phone, and it records all ingoing and outgoing calls. On Wednesday the 17th of June, 11:28pm, I called 1300 22 4636. That's the number for BeyondBlue's 24hr support line; an Australian service where you can talk to a mental health professional and get advice on how to deal with any mental illness you happen to be suffering from.
I can't recommend it enough. It is not a counselling service or a crisis hotline, so if you want a counsellor, or you feel like hurting yourself, it's better to call LifeLine (on 13 11 14), I was at my lowest, but I know some people can get lower than that, so you might consider LifeLine first.
But either way, it was helpful, because I talked to the woman on the line, honestly, about what was going on, how I felt and what I thought the issue was. She helped me to calm down, kept me company for a good 26 minutes, and gave me a lot of information. I feel guilty that I don't remember her name, since she really helped me. She didn't cure me, but she gave me the steps to help myself. If you are feeling down and calling this line, it's amazingly informative, I just have one piece of advice, make sure you find a pen and paper.
It's not immediate, and you have time while the robo-receptionist puts you through to an operator (it takes about a minute), but the lady I spoke to gave me eight different resources I could use, and if you're calling because your mind is working against you, you definitely won't remember it all, so most definitely, pen and paper.

After that, I decided to try some self-help. I was still anxious, of course, and a bit resistant . . . oddly, just like how an animal survives by running from danger and seeking out food, mental illness seems to work the same. It festers by encouraging you to avoid help, and makes you do things that perpetuate it and allow it to grow (like make you sleep during the day, despite feeling anxious at night when it's cold and dark). So, I felt incredibly anxious about using any of this self-help stuff or calling a doctor, but I tried it out, starting with E-couch. E-couch is a website that offers information about self-help programs in an easy, step by step guide, that allows you to identify what's wrong and then offers ways to deal with it, and it is entirely free to register and use, and if you get distracted, or feel like you want to stop, you can go away and come back, and it saves your place for you.
I highly recommend this website, not just because it's so informative, but because it's honest, accurate and, well, it doesn't feel too clinical. The site is an initiative by the government and BeyondBlue to give the average, Australian citizen information about how to deal with their mental illnesses, from anxiety and depression to grief management and divorce/separation programs. And now, I say Australian, because this site has data about Australian mental illness statistics and it is funded by our government . . . but, my girlfriend suffers from anxiety and I wanted to share some of these tools with her, so I told her about it, and she registered to check it out for herself. So, it doesn't seem exclusive, and although I'd recommend you look for local programs, help is help so I'd recommend E-couch for anyone that wants to try to manage their mental illness alone.

But, as I said a few paragraphs ago, I'm going to the doctor soon. The reason is simple, both E-couch and the BeyondBlue support line made it clear, no amount of self-diagnosis, online support or personal remedies can equate to professional healthcare. Don't get me wrong! I'm not saying this stuff is useless, it's very useful. I feel better using these programs, and using that website's criteria, I actually managed my depression from "high risk" to "medium-low risk".
However, both this site and the lady on the phone told me that I should see a G.P. (i.e. general practitioner), as I seem to be suffering from severe, chronic anxiety, and I should get a diagnosis from a doctor, so that I can consider medication or counselling.

So, that's what I plan to do . . . and I figured I'd record what happens, and show it all here, including the path to getting better, hence the title "healing diary", I plan to document my recovery. See, while suffering from anxiety, I withdrew from everything, because it wasn't bringing me joy anymore, and that included writing - not because writing isn't fun, but because my mind wouldn't allow me to have fun, because it was busy being anxious. But because I wasn't writing, I got even more upset, it's a vicious cycle. So now, thanks to the help of E-couch, and the knowledge that I'll soon have a doctor working with me to handle my latest mental illness, I am perked up enough to write, but the only thing on my mind is the illness on my mind that's kept me from writing for so long.
So, I decided to go for full disclosure, and maybe help someone else to find help by documenting not only the process of getting better, but also a prologue as to how it started in the first place. I've been going through this for a week, but I've been a high risk patient for anxiety for a while, since not only do I rely on the company of others a lot, but I've suffered from depression in the past, and I have had some of the symptoms of anxiety even though I could manage them before. So although I've only suffered from anxiety for one week, it hit me like a point-blank cannonball, and I've been in bed, hidden away from the world, as though I were suffering from a physical disability, because that's what anxiety can do to you.
Anyway, it's a 30-minute walk to the G.P., and I have an hour, so I'm going to take 30 for lunch and then go see the G.P., when you next hear from me, I'll tell you how it all went, then we can talk about follow-up stuff.

. . .

Okay, I've just gone through that ordeal, but it was a lot more 'dramatic' than I expected, so my next blog post will explain what happened. Until then, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I suffer from anxiety; but hopefully, not for very much longer.

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