Bye-Bye Sugar High

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What does sobriety look like for a sugar addict?  I ask myself this question. I’m facing down my desperate, seductive relationship with sugar.  In the introduction to my 6-part blog series, I’mPerfectly Me, I explore the myth of comfort food. The key to making the distinction between self-soothing, and enjoying a treat, is the underlying motivation. Chasing a fix for me means a panicked, heart-racing dash to score a two-litre escape of caramel fudge ice cream or a chocolate cheesecake. My motivation is that I specifically want pain to disappear. As with any unhealthy dependence, my intention is to dissociate. This is why I now name my relationship with food as addiction. Writing this series has helped me articulate how I keep sugar in my life.  I have to pay attention to my physiological signals so I can distinguish a delightful treat from a desperate fix, a loaded numb. If my motivation is to anesthetize, then some wounded part of myself needs comfort, needs me to listen to whatever previous unhealed part of me yearns to express.

Numbing is the circular coping path between pain and emptiness. My research, and my therapist, help me understand that mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand. The missing ingredient in my recipe for moving from numbing to nurturing is BELIEF.  At almost 52 years old, I’m retrieving my innocence.  I re-claim my body as my safe place.  I don’t want to use (food) to both escape triggers and seal in the pain of old wounds, self-loathing, bad choices, and shame.  I’m reprogramming my internal messaging, telling myself that I deserve to be loved unconditionally.  I deserve to feel safe inside my own skin.

Therapy has helped me uncover, acknowledge and heal.  I don’t need to reach for sugar to survive. I’m now free. I’m building trust between myself and my emotional triggers. They’re the parts of me asking to be heard. So yes, I still experience the impulse to use, but I take care of myself in better ways.  With much love and support around me, I’m choosing and preparing foods that show myself the same love and care that I offer my family, my dear friends, my beloved animals, and my garden.

I’m feeding my innocent child self. I’m buying and trying new foods, new spices, and new recipes.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but so far, I’m having fun. I’m experiencing “enough” and “satisfied” in surprising ways. Clarity and vitality are starting to replace the pain and shame my fixes masked. Altering the ingredients of my life in order to manage my addiction helps me find my place in this world.  I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I’m here to share my stories in order to build connection.  The gift of Not Numbing is the ability to find out who I am, really. I’m not my disorder. I’m not my addiction. I’m a resilient woman with wounds and scars.  And I’m tremendously proud to be I’mPerfectly Me.

This post completes my I’mPerfectly Me series.  Thank you for all the support I felt in detailing this very personal journey in such a public format.  I’m passionate about sharing our experiences. I believe compassion leads to healthier individuals, and a healthier world.

Is this the face of an Addict? From Numbing to Naming

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Food is everywhere.  We need it to survive, to nourish our bodies.  Yet, I feel trapped by the need to eat.  How do I navigate the policing of too much sugar when I’m forced to include food in my basic survival kit?  Enough, or too much; the key to overcoming my sugar addiction isn’t about measuring the quantity or the frequency.  It’s about the WHY?  My inspiration for this blog series comes from a YouTube video featuring addiction specialist, Dr. Gabor Maté.  Listening to him speak, I hear something that reverberates through me like the unmistakably familiar sound of a dial tone: Addiction is rooted in childhood trauma.

I’m curious about the relationship between trauma and my Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  My research leads me to agree that trauma is, in fact, an integral cause of mental illness, including mood disorders like mine. In 2015, Genetic counselling tells me that mental illness results from a complex combination of environmental factors, and genetics. Specifically, I’m told that trauma can exacerbate mental illness, but cannot cause it.  Unlike the medical model, I include trauma within the category of environmental factors. As Dr. Bessel van der Kolk writes in his revolutionary book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, “Trauma affects the formation of the self, and directly affects how we learn to cope.”  I now know that both my mental disorder and my sugar addiction exist since, and due to, early childhood trauma.

I learn from my therapist that trauma occurs when things happen to us that are outside our window of tolerance.  When something traumatic befalls us, our brain patterns are re-routed in order to help us survive. Our brain can’t tolerate input that doesn’t make sense. It creates a story so that we’re able to function.  This resolution, which may not be true, serves to bury the trauma so that we can manage.  Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop an addiction.  However, in my case, sugar serves to take me out of a place of pain, even though relief is only temporary, and self-loathing follows every time.  Numbing is the circular road between pain and emptiness. Working with my therapist helps me see that my sugar dependency isn’t because I’m weak, less than, not enough, undeserving, over-dramatic, or an extremist.  OH! I’m moving beyond shame.  I’m beginning to work through feelings, desperately determined to end this life-long sugar high.

I begin writing this blog series believing that the healthy activities I offer as alternatives to numbing might develop into a recipe builder, ingredients to stopping damaging behaviour. My suggestions of creativity, physical activity, mental activity, social activity and relaxation activity are specifically intended to inspire movement.  To empower us all to “GO.”  My therapist tells me that, these activities are great tools for managing well throughout day-to-day life.  However, she flat out declares that when part of me gets triggered, and I’m in the blinding tightness, all physical and mental cylinders exploding inside me, the goal is not to replace eating with another activity, even one as wholesome as, say,  knitting.  I’m simply escaping the self-criticism from scoring my next sugar fix. I’m still masking pain, still not addressing the “why” of my behaviour. The “why” is buried deep, and has been for almost my entire life. My therapist gently counsels that I don’t have to re-live the trauma, but in order to heal, I do have to work through it, as I’m able, when I’m ready. I’m ready now.

In his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts; Close Encounters with Addiction, Dr. Maté writes: “Traumatized children shut down emotionally. They also stop developing emotionally. Why? Because you need emotional vulnerability to grow. We are like crabs.  We don’t grow where our bodies are hardened. The greatest loss is not that there was pain.  The greatest loss is that we’ve lost the connection to our essence.  That’s our wound.  The loss of connection to ourselves.  When you recover, what do you recover?  Yourself.”

I feel as though I’ve spent my life trying to insulate and protect myself with food. I’m working toward feeling secure without numbing. My addiction isn’t about food, or eating, it’s about my need to feel safe. Compassion and patience are key as I continue to explore the multi-layered relationship between trauma, mental illness, addiction, and healing. In order to recover, forgiveness is required. This is challenging, yet so powerfully liberating.  I’m pursuing my recovery so that I can proudly reclaim my true self. I absolutely believe, as I learn and grow, I’m okay. I’mPerfectly Me.

Feeling the Healing Rejuvenates Me

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Relaxation is doesn’t come naturally for me. What does come naturally is constant, excessive worry. I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I push myself hard to outrun my negative inner voices. I strive to fit in. Living in a culture where status and success are measured and quantified, I fall into the dangerous trap of believing my worth is tied to unchallenged standards of success. Whether it’s the number of appointments crammed into each day, the weight showing on the scale at the gym, the big, or not so big, paycheques, worth is a commodity, and I’m chasing it. I’ve got to capture it in order to feel easy and confident in my skin. This will make the negative inner voices and physical symptoms of stress stop, right? Then I’ll be able to join the elusive group of folks who enjoy that soft, warm blanket-y state of being called “relaxed,” right? Wrong.

Pressure to excel is both insidious and ubiquitous. Failure to fall in line is isolating. Shame is crippling. I have, in my life, chased all the numbers…and I crashed. I don’t fit in. Rebuilding a healthy, safe life at a much slower pace than I’m used to has been my focus for the past six years. I can now identify the warning signals by actual body sensations. Tiger-tight chest, racing heartbeat, blind, desperate urgency to stuff my face, and my feelings down, and hot messages from my brain to ignore anyone or anything that tries to get in my way. I understand now that my addiction isn’t about food, it’s about the need to escape. Part of my pro-active antidote to my toxic coping strategy is to build relaxation into my life, so that I’m less likely to become overwhelmed. Through therapy, I now connect with my emotions, rather than food, when that anxious escape command gets triggered within me.

My goal is no longer to fit in, but to fit with: “Fit with whatever I come with!” “Fitting in,” in my experience, means building connection through assimilation. Acceptance may require soul sacrifices and the loss of personal authenticity. In February, 2016 it became clear that I’m no longer able to function in a traditional work environment. Part of my depression that followed was a grieving the loss of the possibility that I would ever fit in, just as I am. But I’ve discovered that I actually can be who I am, truly.

Rejuvenation springs from redefining what “work,” “play” and “enough” look like for me. By finally accepting my own diversity, and letting go of old ambitions, I’m finding room for new, healthy goals. The standards of success that I strive to meet are now my own, based on my passions and capabilities. Moving from barely surviving to thriving lead me to discover the beauty of “fitting with,” which celebrates individuality. “Fitting with” who and how I really am invites integration over assimilation. More options open more doors, and more things seem possible. The key to “fitting with” is that shame is silenced.

Through this new framework I discover the vital connection between rejuvenation and relaxation is the valuable process of healing. Nasty voices that make me want to numb are only exacerbated when I’m pushing too hard, piling too much on my plate. Stop. I am enough. I need to make time for things that give me pleasure and peace of mind. Small moments offer jewels of wordless wisdom; a hug, a kiss, a cuddle with my cats, a walk in my garden. For me, relaxation and spiritual activity are most restoring when combined. I call upon a higher power because prayer gives me strength. Expressing gratitude is also engaging in spiritual activity. Quiet, focused breathing, which connects our mind, body, and spirit, is a highly under-rated, under-utilized spiritual activity. My rejuvenation is born from a daily diet of self-love, sometimes one kind word, or silly laugh, or healing tear at a time.  I’m trying to say, with peace of mind and unabashed conviction, “I know who I am. I like who I am.” As I alter the ingredients of my life, I learn and embrace, release and restore, I see myself growing into the woman I want to be. This is my recipe for being I’mPerfectly Me.

Putting my Game Face on to Play

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Social Activity inspires, tires, and rewards me.  Not always in this order.  Not always immediately.  In truth, I regularly battle my inclination to hide in bed with my cats. Burying myself under the covers is a sure-fire invitation to my own self-loathing symphony.  I not only need to fact-check my brain, but also my body, because it turns out sleep is another way to numb. This is tricky, because fighting non-stop negative head talk is exhausting. I need a good night’s rest, plus my daily nap in order for me to manage well.  However, I’m talking about resisting the “I’ve been up for an hour and I need to go back to sleep until lunchtime” reasoning.  I challenge this anxiety-based message as often as I’m able.  And I challenge it with activity.

Part of living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, means my energy is limited. The reality is, as much as I need creativity, physical activity, mental activity and spiritual activity, I can do these “ivities” alone.  I also need connection.  Physically putting myself among other people, communicating and relating with others, lights me up.  Even though I have to psych myself up to leave my comfort zone, this leap of faith is worth the exposure and vulnerability. Being part of show, a class, or a group empowers me.  I feel proud to be a part of something bigger than myself.

As much as I thrive on being re-energized through social activity, I still must live within my boundaries.  For example, as an actor, I control when and where I’ll go to audition.  I don’t choose plays with big casts or small children because I don’t manage well in large groups. I only audition for shows that are no further than a 20 minute drive from my house.  I know these personal requirements may prevent me from participating, but I accept that my formula for functioning well depends on sticking with my own ingredients.

The blessing and the curse of GAD is that others don’t see me shaking.  Imposing control on my social activities gives me the feeling of having my own oxygen mask. Without it, I feel tense, tight, teary, hot, panicked, and short of breath.  Sometimes I do feel too unsafe to participate.  It’s hard to miss out on things, but I accept this as part of my GAD.  Luckily, I’m comfortable talking about my disorder.  I surround myself with patient, compassionate people who understand my need for accomodation.  Still, making plans with close friends or colleagues presents equal challenges. I need to use my recipe for social comfort.  I choose daytime because I don’t like to be out in the dark. I stick close to home.  I prefer one-on-one interactions, and schedule no more than three per week. Time is always limited, because folks need to get back to work and family.  I most often choose a coffee shop, or, sometimes, lunch.  I have a small rotation of places to meet, so I know where I’m going, where I’ll park, and what I like to order.  These ingredients allow me to let go of as much of my anxiety as possible.  I’m now focusing on the other person, savouring our time together.

Once I get myself outside, I enjoy the beauty of sharing life experiences with another person.  The hugs, the smiles, the laughter are all what makes being human so delightful.  Talking with friends or colleagues about a good book, an inspiring event, or even a new software that helps us manage our small business makes for great conversation.  More valuable for me, though is that I’m able to see myself as part of this larger picture called life.  Regardless of the uneasiness that simmers inside me, or the nasty inner attacks about my unending inadequacies, I’m able to absorb and appreciate the time we make for each other.  Participation is possible.  Adjustments may be necessary, but I’m okay with that.  These delicious connections enhance the tart taste of GAD with the inspiring flavours of social activity; encouragement, validation, acceptance and hope.   Social activity isn’t always easy, or even achievable, but courage builds courage. I keep this in mind, and in my heart, when I’m out in the world, being I’mPerfectly Me.

Working with my Write Brain is Healing

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I live in my head. Mental activity, a.k.a. my work, is the third ingredient that helps me feel a sense of community and belonging. As a writer, I explore thoughts, feelings and ideas. Through my writing I’m able to investigate what’s true, and real, and what isn’t.  This can be a struggle because part of having Generalized Anxiety Disorder means that I experience the world around me through hyper-analysis and relentless over thinking.  A healthy brain is wired for survival, whether physical, mental or emotional.  When faced with uncertainty, the human brain creates a story in order to eliminate confusion. The narrative may or may not be true, so it’s critical to challenge content constantly.

Since my GAD diagnosis in August 2012, I’ve become aware that my life-long pattern of intense, constant worry and fear is part of a clinical disorder.  I’ve learned how important it is to check my “facts.” I use lots of good tools and strategies to manage well.  It’s thanks to my mental activity that I’m not only surviving, I’m growing. For someone who can’t get herself into the shower some days, I cherish this channel that helps me feel like I matter.  When I’m engaged in my mental activity, numbing isn’t necessary.  For the hours when work is going well, I honestly prefer my laptop over lady fingers.  The thrill of posting my personal epiphanies feeds my voracious hunger for making a difference.

In September, 2014, I’m struggling with being unable to function at work, saying good-bye to yet another job, and the chance of convincing myself that I’m “normal.” I’m also recovering from my second bout of Clinical Depression. I’m lost for what my future might look like.  Future?  I barely make it through a day.  Finally, I come across a quote that saves me.  Whenever I lose my way, I call upon this message from novelist Harriet Lane: “In my everyday life, I have no control, really: Who does? But on paper, I hold all the cards.  I wrote myself a purpose.  I wrote myself back into the world.”  Immediately, I’m clear on how to go forward.  All notions of finding my next job vanish.  I know instantly that my passion needed to be my purpose.  Writing gives me a focus, and a clarity that resides nowhere else.  My passion becomes writing about living with GAD, exploring and sharing how my anxiety disorder affects my life, so that I can connect with others.

As part of my work, I’ve been able, slowly and with the help of my therapist, to go back to the 15-year old teen me that twists my parents’ very vocal concern about my weight into a belief that my father will love me more if I weigh less.  GAD capitalizes on my confusion with destructive and damaging data.  I live with this “truth” for almost 40 years.  Bearing this conviction for almost my entire life is painful, and exhausting. However, letting go of numbing is allowing me to sharpen my awareness!  I’m actually beginning to uncover buried treasure beneath my escape routes. I’m shocked when I realise the depths of my brain’s lies! This epiphany brings a multitude of emotions, including unimaginable relief.  My comprehension of GAD now reaches beyond the day-to-day stream of worries, fears, and negative beliefs.  Thankfully, through my work, I see this cunning disorder can be ruthless.  Beware, brain, I’m not numbing anymore.

The possibility that my self-exploration might inspire others to expose viciously hurtful beliefs as products of intense negative head talk, gives me a strong sense of purpose.  It’s my ammunition. Self-stigma is one of the many battles those of us with mental illness and disorders face.  I don’t want to judge myself by what I can’t do,  but rather by what I accomplish. Writing is my safe place where shame doesn’t get in.  It’s my super power where I feel strong, confident and free to be I’mPerfectly Me.

GAD is Better when I Get My Sweat On

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Physical Activity is tough for me to nail down.  As an average-sized, sensitive, artistic kid growing up in a family of tall, slim, athletic, outdoorsy people, I literally don’t fit in with my family.  From age eleven, body awareness fosters feelings of shame, disconnection, and self-loathing.  In order to escape the pain, this resourceful young girl turns to food for comfort. Hiding what grows into a life-long eating disorder only perpetuates the feelings I’m trying to soothe. My therapist teaches me how to re-route my damaged internal wiring.  My self-talk changes completely.  I begin to think and speak messages of honour, pride and respect. Okay, breathe.  It takes me some time to face showing up and being seen in a physical way.  I need to call on my courage. Buying dri-fit clothes without allowing nasty head talk to take over is challenging. But I’m determined to play.

I reclaim my youngest memories of how wonderful it feels to enjoy my body, regardless of size, age or skill level.  I’m ready to join in and rock what I’ve got!  I remind myself, daily, that physical activity is simply about connecting with my body.  This vessel is a precious ingredient in the recipe for my personal wellness.  If I hang out in my head too long, my body doesn’t get to be heard.

Fight, flight or freeze are our natural, physiological responses when we get triggered.  However, even when I’m in a non-threatening situation, my anxiety can become exacerbated.  My heart races, my tears come, my throat gets dry, and my breathing gets quick and shallow.  My body’s talking!  Maintaining a close relationship through physical activity allows me to become fluent in interpreting my GAD vocabulary.  Speaking body language enables me to translate non-verbal signals, and, using my tools, I’m better able to function.

Owning all of me also helps me recognize the more subtle physical cues.  For example, when I’m rubbing my hands up and down the tops of my thighs, my body is in the process of soothing, calming.  I now know to get curious and ask myself, “What’s going on for me right now?”  I trade mindless eating for intentional, compassionate listening.  By digging deeper, I’m ultimately able to feed my true needs.  Tuning into these physical indicators is so much more satisfying (and effective!) than numbing.  I don’t count points, or keep a food diary or weigh myself.  For me, these options smell like roses by another shame.

I do have to push myself to lace up and get my sweat on.  I feel safe inside my home, where I have all my art supplies and instruments and textile projects in various stages of completion.  I’m in control inside my house.  Outside anything can come at me.  Self-judgement escalates. Steeling up the nerve to face the world, I hear old messages around letting myself gain weight, looking larger in leggings, feeling like an imposter as my thighs rub together.  WAIT! SO WHAT?  Challenging nasty, negative head talk is exhausting.  Physical activities get me out of my mind, out of my house.  Golfing, gardening, power walking and pilates recharge me.   Getting my blood pumping helps me feel, fuel and feed the trust between my body, mind and spirit. This is my sacred time to let go and get grounded.

I believe there’s a barrier that keeps folks from feeling entitled to participate in physical activity.  I’m looking to challenge the money-making myth that there should be only one standard of physical beauty.  My goal is to perpetuate a new view of body awareness that encompasses inclusion, variety, diversity and celebration.  We all belong.  Just as we are.  Today.  We all deserve to enjoy the delightfully distinctive rush of being grounded in our bodies.  Today I nurture myself with recipes full of healthy helpings of unconditional acceptance and empowerment:  I am enough.  I am strong.  I’m a unique and beautiful miracle.  I’mPerfectly Me.

Self-Validation through Comfort Food is killing my Joy!

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Creativity is the first ingredient in my recipe for personal serenity.  Without creative sustenance, my anxiety levels intensify.  My self-loathing and self-doubt slither into my head, amping up their heinous hate-tracks.

Since January 2016, I’ve been voraciously striving to succeed as a writer/performer and mental health advocate.   This, to me, means being noticed, invited, included, dare I say, sought after, to perform my one-woman show, “MiND FuLL.”  My push for external signs of success backfires.  By November, I sink into total work shutdown.  I wander through my house in a fog.  I question my purpose, plummeting into the overwhelming pit of anxious inertia. My brain spins round and round.  I lose time wondering why eager prospects aren’t calling (read: validating) me.  I realize that what success means for me has to come from me.

This seemingly small distinction revolutionizes the way I see myself in the world.  What I do must be, first and foremost, for myself.  Not my parents, not a boss, or a mentor, or my peer group.  Me.  It’s through my writing that I make sense of the world. It’s taken me 51 years to honour my gift because I couldn’t allow myself to truly credit “artist” as a worthy profession.   I now realize that labelling my writing as a “hobby” or a “make-work project” devalues the raw integrity I demand of myself.  Inspiration, insight and connection are hard-won gifts I gladly share with the universe.  Even though living in this passionate space ravages everything out of me, I will continue to turn to creativity over food as validation, because numbing with food dulls my ability to release my pain and heal my wounds.

Ignoring my creative voice has exacerbated my life-long food addiction.  I have learned that when I’m stuffing down my fifth fudge brownie, the reason isn’t hunger.  I must stop cramming chocolate and ask myself:  “What are you feeling right now?  What might’ve triggered you, my darling?”  Using compassionate self-talk, and comforting soothing gestures, I let the part of me that’s hurting, or nervous or angry, be heard.  Until this triggered part of me feels understood, she won’t see a different option. What she knows is: Eat. Repeat.  I share with my younger self that eating my feelings doesn’t ever help.  Even if I purge, guilt and shame are right there. Instead, I now insert a new ending to her story that gives her compassion, power, and understanding.  This alternative narrative allows the brain to replace a younger, incomplete perception with a healthy, empowering truth.

I don’t need to create for a living.  I need to create to live. I grieve for the time I believed there was any way of life more valuable to me.  Creativity gives me no boundaries!  It’s the space where my heart drives, my soul cranks the stereo, and my disorder can’t catch me! This is joy!  Whether I’m writing a blog, or sketching a bird, knitting mittens, or playing my guitar, these creative dialects are not spoken by my disorder.  My hands are busy, my mind is focused, and my feelings are being expressed.  My (he)art is visible and tactile. When I nurture my creativity, the emptiness and self-loathing that feed my need to numb with food is silenced.

Finally, I can identify joy and comfort food as total opposites.  By challenging my path toward self-validation, I re-direct myself into a new practice of creating over numbing.  The key word, of course, is practice.  I need to remember: I’mPerfectly Me.

I’mPerfectly Me

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In August 2012, after 25 years of therapy and two bouts of Clinical Depression, I’m finally diagnosed. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Living with GAD means challenging constant streams of nasty, fear-based head-talk.  I learn Good Mental Health Maintenance Tools, which include taking medication, less sugar, limited alcohol, exercise, meditation.  These are beneficial practices for anyone, and they certainly help me.  But I need deeper healing.  Mental illness and addiction go hand in hand, and I want to dimperfectlymecharteconstruct my emotional addiction to food.  Thankfully, the mental stability I gain from using these tools gives me clarity.  I’m working closely with my therapist.  For me, there’s no other way to get through this life-long battle.

Food is easily available, accessible and affordable, meeting all my needs as a young teenager looking to numb.  Rather than intellectualizing my past during my therapy sessions, I begin learning to connect to feelings through my physical sensations and responses, such as breathing, tingling, gripping, hot or cold.  Checking in with my body offers a different way to return to the very young parts of myself that learned to use food as a fixer. There are reasons why this young me needs to find something to feel comfort, to stop the pain, to escape, to feel okay, to feel nothing.  Over the years, these unresolved hurts become triggers. At 51, I learn to read my physical and mental reactions as GPS signals to my old, unhealed wounds. Specifically, when my teen self is triggered, everything goes dark. Then bright orange and yellow flames explode across my mind, jamming my head with blinding light, loud noises. My body reacts with tightness and tears, a racing heart, and feeling hot.  I’m clearly being sent a message from a younger, still-hurting teenage me.  She’s not asking for a fudge brownie binge.  What she truly wants is for me to get quiet, find privacy, and listen to her.  I pay close attention to her story, often through writing. I’m able to hear, honour, and heal the wounds carried by my younger self.  Using wisdom and experience that I didn’t have as a teenager, I’m properly equipped to help soothe and heal those long-unmet emotional hungers with understanding and validation, rather than ice cream and chocolate cake.

I decide to develop a plan, a recipe for how to feed my needs without turning to food.  With a deep breath, and a lot of courage, I listen for my deepest, purest, most basic requirements.  I begin to write down ingredients, starting to articulate my own formula for personal serenity.  I know, for me to feel full, I must create something every day.  To avoid feeling bloated, I have to get out of my head. The third craving I need to satiate is my work.  My fourth hunger, Social Activity, requires me to provide my pallet with outside stimulation.  Fifthly, in order to digest everything properly, I’ve got to take time to rejuvenate.  I also include Spiritual Activity in this healing space, for I have a strong faith that revives me.  The sixth element is my addiction. Never again will I vow to starve my food addiction, because, frankly, this has never worked for me. I’m now managing my disease by naming it, owning it, and working through feelings, rather than indulging in my default mode of being a numb-er.

As I roll out this new blog series, I’ll elaborate on each of the ingredients on my chart, sharing how they help me manage my own mental illness and addiction.  My I’mPerfectly Me chart is a written expression of what I need, in order of importance and frequency.  Each of us will have different needs and emotions that require us to attend to them in our own way.
I invite you to create your own I’mPerfectly Me chart.  If you do, I would love to hear how it goes for you. Pop me an email!

Fall to Peace(s)

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September.  The air cools.  Traffic becomes thicker.  Heads are down. People are concentrating, making renewed commitments to productivity.  Everyone’s going back to school, back to work.    I spend July and August putting myself out there, but honestly, my momentum’s waning. As a creative, and as a person who manages GAD, feeling connected is challenging.  I’m a freak twice over!

Since my diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in August, 2012, I’ve been working diligently on my recovery.  This summer I’ve created a colour-coordinated chart to help me define the activities that get my butt out of bed. It’s Rina’s Recipe for Optimum Personal Mental Health.  I include Creativity, Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual Activity. I even have a “warning” column for Numbing activity.  Nowhere on my chart do I write: apply for a job.

Three days ago, I spontaneously apply for a part-time position when fall-and-rise-coffeea local retailer sends out an email blast advertising their search for seasonal employees.  I click the link to the detailed application form and Presto!  I’m in the race, just like everyone else!  As I enter information on their personal profile, my spirits soar.  This is awesome!  Sitting in faded pink pyjamas,  I answer each question like a superstar: Yes, I am bubbly and warm.  Yes, I am comfortable initiating conversations with strangers.  Yes, my colleagues would agree that I am a hard worker.  Well, I haven’t actually had colleagues since 2011, but I’m sure they would say that.  I feel so energized!  I would totally hire me! I complete their application, and press “send” like I’m activating fireworks and a marching band. Sis, boom, GASP!  I CAN’T BREATHE!  Immediately I’m experiencing an explosion of paralyzing, negative head talk, tight chest and tears.  This is my body reminding me: I can’t go to work.

Backing my chair away from my computer, I inhale slowly.  What am I thinking?  Why am I trying to return to an environment that makes me sick?    Why on earth am I risking sinking back into that darkness?  That place where I can’t get out of bed.  Can’t hear anything but my negative head talk. Can’t see me in my bathroom mirror.  That place where I feel nothing.  At all.

After much self-reflection, I begin to understand what’s really going on.  Anxiety is persuading me to lose confidence in my purpose and run to what’s familiar.  The real reason behind my impulsive behaviour is that I’m trying to escape from what’s unfamiliar. My applying for traditional jobs isn’t about wanting to meld with the masses.  My current job environment is unquestionably different from corporate life.  I work at home, in my studio, by myself.  My hours are short.   My naps are long.   It’s quiet.  It’s what I need.  However, I’m just beginning to realize that it isn’t society, or my amazingly supportive family and friends, or my wonderful husband that needs to endorse what I do with my days.  It’s me.

I must resist chasing the deflective disguises of “traditional,”  “common,” and “normal.”  If I’m going to live an authentic, meaningful life, I need to celebrate my true identity.  I am an artist. I’m a writer, a communicator, a story teller.  And I manage a mental illness.  I have to stop comparing myself, and my lifestyle, to the rest of the world.  No more judging myself as “less than,” or “unable.”  Regardless of my mental health challenges, or, maybe because of them, I’m determined to follow my passion:  Using creativity to smash stigma through shared experience.  I know the best in me comes out when I follow my art.

Cut and Paste

Posted on Posted in Generalized Anxiety Disorder

It’s scary, and isolating and it’s still a daily struggle, but I can laugh about it now.  I’ve battled negative thoughts and excessive worry ever since I can remember.  The stressful and sometimes harsh culture of a career in advertising sales mirrored the pathology of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so I blindly chalked my inner attack track up to being tired…for twenty years.   I went from feeling driven, to feeling numb.   In August, 2012, I couldn’t get out of bed. Through the help and support of my family and friends, and my family doctor, I got the help I needed.  I went back to therapy, I started taking anti-depression/anti-anxiety medication, and I began to heal. At this point, working full time, or even part time, wasn’t possible.   I had so many questions that kept looping in my brain.  How did I go from being an award-winning sales rep, to wondering if I would, or could, ever work again?  Without a career, what am I contributing?  Who am I?   WHO AM I?!?!   I turned to my trusty lens of creativity to find answers.

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In my home office, I began cutting out inspiring pictures and quotations, and I pasted them onto my dream board.  Yes. This was what I could manage.   A strength I didn’t feel slowly began to emerge in front of my eyes. There was a hunger that wanted to be fed.  I began watching interviews with engaging content.  I read books on trust and inner strength.  I went to therapy.  I took my medication.  And I began to write my story. Through a dear friend, I found a mentor who’d been writing and performing her own shows about living with bi-polar disorder.  She agreed to come on board as my editor.

A show about anxiety, depression, and the detailed account of a complete breakdown, can make for a heavy hour.  I knew that for my show to be effective, it had to be accessible.  It had to include humour.  The real-life experiences I draw upon to illustrate a panic attack, or anxiety-driven behaviour patterns, or the devastation of depression, demand compassion and understanding.  Laughter takes us out of our heads, and into our bodies.  I want people to become engaged, and to learn along with me that we’re okay, and that we’re not alone.

It took one year of writing full time, but finally “MiND FuLL: A touching tale of this gal’s life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder” was complete.  The next steps of finding objective feedback, getting my show on its feet with a director, designing and creating marketing tools, having hair, make-up and professional photos done (gulp!) could have overwhelmed me.   However, my wonderful web of women came to my rescue, generously donating their time and talent to my project.  Their pure delight and collective commitment to helping me rise, literally and figuratively, refocuses me when I’m stalled and struggling.  I feel a debt of honour to get my work in front of audiences who struggle, or who have someone in their life who struggles with mental illness.  I’m living proof that recovery is possible.  I’m working to create a community of understanding, which is borne of education, recognition and connection.  I invite people to smash the stigma, and laugh with me ‘til we’re true in the face.