Posted on 5 July 2017 by Michael Dahl

Marking a milestone in my bouts with Depression and Anxiety.

I once heard of a Minnesota legislator who said during a committee hearing that he didn’t believe in mental illnesses.  After all, there weren’t blood tests for them.  My blood, I can tell you, began to boil.

As someone who has struggled for most of my life with the mental illnesses of Depression, Anxiety, and OCD (until my Anxiety started getting treated), this “leader” was discounting my experience.  As a policymaker, this man had a say in what services would be available to those in need.  Scary!

That said, I’m glad he came out into the open with his ignorance.  His cards were on the table.

Since I was diagnosed with mental illness well over a decade ago, I’ve placed my cards on the table.  In the early days, I remember openly writing a letter to a board I once served on that I had to step down.  I had to devote the energy remaining beyond work obligations to dealing with my Depression and Anxiety.  I simply did not have the ability to keep up with extracurriculars.  I figured it was better for me to be open about my experience rather than make my board colleagues think I was shirking responsibilities or even quitting “just because.”  A reason — a fully truthful reason, I felt — was better than partial one.  The board chair called me with one of the most heartfelt and supportive “goodbyes” I had been the recipient of.  It emboldened me to be even more open.

Within a few years I was blogging infrequently about my experience.  People started asking me for advice on what they should do about their illness or how they could help a loved one.  My usual answer was to point them in the direction of NAMI-MN, an amazing organization that has support groups, does community and workplace education, and advocates for more resources to treat mental illnesses.  I’d then share my experience with the caveat that I was just one transparent guy.  My experience did not apply to what everyone should do.  I was just providing food for thought.

In fact, it’s worth repeating:  I’m just one guy.  Mental illnesses take many forms.  And some people are not surrounded by the mostly supportive community that I have the fortune to call my friends, colleagues, and family.  For those of you who don’t know if you have a supportive community, please consider at least contacting a doctor and / or a therapist for help.  If you are surrounded by ignorance or even mental illness deniers like the policymaker noted above, “coming out” may not be helpful … or helpful yet.  But you can still get help.

I’m writing these words because I just passed a two year anniversary.  Two years ago today I was certain I had come out of a major bout with Depression. I had a big a hint a few days earlier, when I noticed I was enjoying (and had the energy to devote to) music and reading again. But on this day two years ago, I walked a mile into and then out of the Haleakalā Crater on the Hawaiian island, Maui. Proof that my physical energy had been restored, I would soon begin practicing yoga again and taking my pup, Franco, for longer walks. The next milestone, finding my way out of Anxiety (or at least a manageable level of Anxiety), would take much, much longer to achieve. In any case, I was proud of what I had just pulled myself out of with the support of many people (and meds).

I’m also writing these words to fight the stigma of mental illness as well as let others know who are who are struggling silently and alone that there is reason for hope.  Talk therapy — often combined with medication — can often bring you out of the depths of pain and energy drain you are currently experiencing.

I think I’m pretty good at conveying the pain and energy drain, especially the physical aspects.  If you’re curious, here are the four posts that described me falling into the period of Depression and Anxiety I most recently experienced:  (1) through the panic; (2) the days the music dies; (3); brick-brain, frayed-nerves, drenched shirts; (4) nearly six weeks of hell.

If this has piqued your interest, I am always open to answering questions.

Take care, my friends.

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Michael Dahl

On Feeling Alone

One of the most painful aspects of living with Anxiety and Depression is how alone you can feel when the symptoms attack. Of course, we all know there are stats telling us how prevalent both mental illnesses are — we are certainly not alone. But during the struggle, it’s so easy to recede into the most vulnerable parts of your brain and feel the illness is yours — and yours alone — to deal with.

Of course, sometimes you are lucky and can be open about your situation. You are in the company of someone who understands and can help talk you through your feelings. Or, someone has agreed to be your standby.  They are ready to take your phone call whenever you need them.

I am lucky to have a few people on standby for me. Although I’ll freely admit I don’t reach out to them as much as I should. And, there are people I feel okay being anxious around should I need to say to them, “________, can I bug you for 10 – 15 minutes? I am in need of help.” If you want to read about one such situation for me, click here.

But there is another way of feeling alone. You are surrounded by people who do their best NOT to interact with you for fear of:

  • Errantly feeling like those of us with mental illnesses are fragile beings who can’t engage in a conversation without breaking down.
  • Us saying the “A” or “D” words. (Of course, these may be the same people who talk freely about physical health problems.)
  • Who knows what … feeling uncomfortable???

Well, since posting about a struggle I had with Anxiety last week, I’ve had a few conversations with people about mental illness and feeling alone. I’ve had many similar conversations since I began this blog.

I’m glad “Prone to Hope” has had one of its intended effects. I want people to know they are not alone in their feelings / struggles. I am also quite open to talking with people about their illnesses, if that’s what they want / need.

Now, as I’ve stated before, I am lucky. For the most part I am surrounded by people who know about my frequent interactions with Anxiety and rarer plunges into Depression. Most of them don’t see those struggles as even nearly the complete definition of who I am, and are more than willing to talk to me … about anything (e.g. gardening, politics, music, my skirmishes with mental illness — just as I ask them about their lives and, often, their encounters with health problems).

But I too feel the pain of aloneness at times. As I said above, when the symptoms hit, it’s hard not to “recede into the most vulnerable parts of your brain and feel the struggle is yours — and yours alone — to deal with.”

But I’ve also felt ostracized while in the presence of many.

I remember once being in what I thought was a supportive crew of four others. Everybody was sharing their woes of the day. So I felt comfortable saying something dealing with an anxious start to my morning.

One person at the table looked at me and said, “Oh, so we’re going to drudge up AA and childhood issues, huh?” Those at the table went silent for a few seconds before continuing on with whatever acceptable woe was last discussed.

First, I have no idea what the AA comment was about. But the dismissive statement made me feel put in my place. For several minutes I said nothing. Thankfully, I did not act rashly; but I should have had some witty retort or stern comeback. Instead, I stewed silently and let them have the power in the situation.

Oh well, I can’t resolve that situation. And, it’s best to know I can’t feel fully comfortable in the company of that person anymore.

So let’s put that away and end on a positive note. Yes, the world is a competitive and sometimes harsh place. But we each have the power to act differently. As I noted in the last post, we can decide to be gentle or humble in our interactions with others rather than brash or self-centered. We can give more (preferably dark chocolate, please). We can also show others more often that we care.

And empathy … empathy can go a long way.

Do these things and you will not only make the world a little less harsh. You may just have helped brightened someone’s day when they needed to see less darkness.

You may have helped someone feel less alone.  Bravo!

Posted on 10 June 2017 by Michael Dahl

“Mikey Dahl for 3 years old like a good boy” and other pick me ups during a difficult week.

This morning I woke up with my lip quivering, the border between crying and just feeling overwhelmed. It’s been a difficult week mental health wise, and my spirit and mind just feel taxed.

I won’t recount the difficulties, but feel free to read about one of my encounters with Anxiety this week, if you’d like to read what an attack can feel like and / or what I sometimes do to overcome It.

Instead of recounting the negatives, I’d like to express my gratitude and appreciation.

Many of you know about (and Facebook “like”) my posting of photos that help me see beauty in the world or remind me of a good time. These daily postings are amazing ways for me to start each day with personal expressions of gratitude for the good in the world. This picture in particular was a treasure for my week.

 

Another treasure was a gift from my aunt, Cathy. I don’t know if she intended it this way, but soon after I wrote about that bout with Anxiety, she posted a picture of me with her and my sister Shari when I was a hyper child. My first thought was that I look like I’m a backup singer in a band. I chuckled a bit and smiled a lot. Thanks for the well-timed pick-me-up, Cathy, and sharing how you still say “Hi” to me, exclaiming: “Mikey Dahl for 3 years old like a good boy!”

I’m also grateful for connections with two people I don’t always hear from — nor do I do the reaching out to enough. Thanks to my friend Serenity for posting appreciation of our one year friendship on Facebook — we’ve been real friends for a bit longer than that. I’m also grateful for my niece Autumn for reaching out for a couple Facebook chats. Thanks, Autumn.

I should tell you, just as I am typing these words, tears are falling from my eyes blurring up my sight. They are happy tears, although I would like to see what I am typing.

I am thankful for the phone conversation I had with my friend, David Manuel, a local food activist with Red Lake Food Initiative. During the call he agreed to again step up and tell more people about he and his tribe’s inspiring story to get more of the community gardening. I told him that his pictures of thousands of starter plants he and his team grew and gave out to tribe members so they could give gardening a go (with help / mentorship) was / is a true inspiration for me. Thank you, David.

I am also grateful for one of my colleagues, Maggi.  She has no idea how much her swooping in to take on a task helped me focus on other things this week.  Thank you, Maggi.

Tom, thank you for your prayers.  Even this atheist appreciates positive vibes of any sort being sent my way.

I’m probably forgetting many others to thank, and for that I apologize. But I’d end the expressions of gratitude with a huge thanks to my wife, Rebecca, for encouraging us to join U2’s fan club so we could get in on the pre-sale tickets which landed us great seats for my favorite band when they arrive on September 8th.

Lastly, I wanted to say that other than my posting of pictures — a personal and intentional act of gratitude — these other encounters may have simply been normal interactions that I received as pick-me-ups during a very difficult week. The givers may not have intended much more than “Hey, let me talk to or post something about Michael.” But as I said, I received each with incredible gratitude and joy.

Again, happy tears falling down my face, I’d advise us all to give a bit more, to be gentle with the world and the people who surround us, and to be humble in our conversations with one another. These qualities often bring cheer to those of us who struggle — which means all of us.

Go forth and be snazzy, my friends.

Love.
Michael

Posted on 8 June 2017 by Michael Dahl

Anxiety strikes again.

This morning my demon named Anxiety pounced on me as I was headed out on my walk to work. Instead of the tension first building in my chest and lungs and working up to restrict my throat, the beast went straight to my head. I felt like thousands of bees were whirring around my brain forcing any positive thoughts to be BLENDED AND SHREADED as I tried to think them.

Earlier in the morning I had thought of other things I wanted to think about on my walk to work. Any attempt to make that happen were immediately destroyed — BLEND AND SHREAD this, BLEND AND SHREAD that. Anxiety had other things in mind for me, and none of it was good, or constructive, or calming.

I tried to imagine Anxiety walking alongside me. Acknowledging It, not fighting, just letting It do Its thing for a short spell and seeing I was uninterested in what it wanted to haunt me with. But BLEND AND SHREAD the image of Anxiety walking alongside me. It had fully occupied my brain.

Immediately upon getting into work, I pulled out my laptop and started to type this. Writing, next to medicine, is really the best way for me to force an end to a bout with Anxiety or the onset of a panic attack. So here I am. Anxiety is being forced out of my brain, down a now stressed out neck and arms, and flowing out my fingertips on to my keyboard. I actually envision that’s what’s happening. I’m not sure that’s part of what helps me return to a semblance of normalcy. Perhaps it’s just the writing. But I’m not going to question anything that seems like it helps.

Before signing off, I want to make clear: my current med mix and tricks to escape Anxiety have me in a much better place. The cost benefit analysis is that I will take an infrequent panic attack or a manageable encounter with Anxiety compared to what I used to face … much more frequent incidents of both.

But I’ve also accepted that my meds and brain tricks don’t always do the trick.

And so, I write.

Anxiety, gone; whirring razor-winged bees in my brain, gone.

Drop the mic.

Posted on 21 May 2017 by Michael Dahl

Suicide is not the answer. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

I remember hearing the news that Robin William had committed suicide almost three years ago. It hit me pretty hard. I was actually in the midst of a bout with Depression, so that probably contributed to the feeling of deep sadness. I wasn’t really a Williams fan. Still, I remember mourning because I knew he was a good and personable man who used his celebrity for causes. And, of course, he had his struggles.

Last week’s suicide of Chris Cornell hit me somewhat similarly.

I don’t want to speculate anything about what led to Cornell’s suicide. I do want to say that while I wasn’t a follower of him, my love of Pearl Jam music meant at times I’d hear the stories of Cornell’s trailblazing the grunge sound and the Seattle scene. He was a music pioneer who helped define music of the 1990’s and a style of music I continue to enjoy today.

Cornell deserved to live, as did Williams … not just because the two were great talents and pioneers. They deserved to live because they were humans who had a lot to live for.

Still, I remember a short conversation I had with someone last week about Cornell’s death. This person wondered — as many people do — “How could he have done such a thing?! He had a family; he had children. Shouldn’t he have felt he needed to be there for them?” Some people take this even further. The see suicide as an act of selfishness; an act of abdicating your responsibilities to the ones you love.

I think that type of thinking is hogwash. And it definitely comes from people who come from a place of ignorance about mental illness.

Depression can make someone feel not only like you can’t be there for your loved ones, you often feel like you are a drain on them and the rest of the world. Anxiety can introduce debilitating thoughts of incredible fear and physical manifestations of extreme pain. I can understand why one who suffers could imagine the world and their loved ones would be better without them. While I’ve never contemplated suicide, I have wondered — while I was facing extreme levels of Anxiety and Depression — “Why would anyone decide to love me? How can they handle the drain of energy and happiness that this black hole of me has become?”

Mind you, I’m not advocating suicide. I’m simply saying that while you are in the depths of a struggle with either or both of the illnesses, that you can feel that in addition to escaping the pain, you think you would actually be making things better for those around you.

That’s one big reason why the stigmas attached to mental illness must disappear. It’s why we need to talk about suicide. And we need to be there for those who suffer. They may see an option that the rest of us would never contemplate.

Lastly, we need to be there for those who are suffering from either or both of extreme Anxiety or Depression because while they may be feeling terrible now, better days are likely ahead. Meds (or a change in them) along with visits with a therapist can often help someone escape the depths of pain, Depression, Anxiety, loneliness, and fear. The sufferer may not be able to see this; it may be our job to help them see this future.

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Michael Dahl

I should have taken a mental illness day and lessons about my Anxiety.

Two mornings ago I had a panic attack. While I was able to get myself out of the panic mode — through meditation, isometric exercises, and writing time — I was unable to bring myself to a semblance of health. I continued to suffer from high levels of stress, which kept my body tense and in pain. Plus, while I accomplished some at work, I was much less focused and reflective as I usually am.

I couldn’t have called in sick; I was already at work. I should have just gone home, called it a day.

The lesson from two days ago, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, some days you don’t win and conceding is alright.

We all have days of poor health. Caught the cold; feeling sick to the stomach; or deep in the grips of Anxiety that won’t let go no matter what calming efforts you try to work yourself through.

The lesson, which I need to keep reminding myself of, is that while I’ve won the Depression battle with my current mix of meds, Anxiety is still a presence, just at a level that is much more acceptable than It once was.

I don’t want to rehash the Anxiety of old, just to say It was a near constant presence a couple of years ago, before my change in meds and advice for action from my therapist.

Now, I experience Anxiety in small measure each morning just before my meds have a chance to kick in. If stressors of the day ahead hit me, sometimes the Anxiety sticks, and I try to work tricks to bring my brain back to a healthy place — which I am often successful at (e.g. writing, exercise, self-therapy talk, (recently) meditation, etc.)

But sometimes I can’t win. Calling it a day or accepting that the day is just going to be less than I hoped for needs to be okay.

Posted on 16 May 2017 by Michael Dahl

Panic hits again.

I’m having a panic attack. It started about 20 minutes ago with a shortness of breath accompanied by the sensation that only the tops of my lungs were functioning. And then I felt my brain hardening … not quite brick-like, but definitely a soft cement. And then just a few minutes ago my arms tightened and my wrists’ nerve endings started exuding pain. Now, I can feel my heart racing.

I’ve taken as much in meds as I would find allowable.

I’ve got to think, feel, write, and perhaps meditate myself out of this.

I’m frustrated. Over the past several weeks, while I’ve encountered stress and slight Anxiety, I’ve been able to see myself to the other side. The capable me.

I haven’t had a panic attack in quite sometime. I’ve felt a sense of pride in that.

Why?

As I’ve noted before, writing about this experience helps me out. I usually get to the other side, because in writing about my experience as it’s happening, requires me to be in the moment and acknowledge the my demon named Anxiety and then just let It sit and disappear.

This writing experience is helping too. I’m not all hunky dory. I still feel heavy … soft cement-like. But I can breathe full breaths. More of my brain feels engaged with the world. And my wrists, while weighted, are not in pain.

I do a few isometric exercises to fatigue my muscles some.

The day goes on.

Posted on 7 May 2017 by Michael Dahl

I’m feeling vulnerable.

With the US House passage of a new healthcare bill, I’m feeling vulnerable. I know I’m not the only one. From the invective showing up on US Representatives’ Facebook feeds, it’s easy to surmise that millions of Americans are very afraid, very angry, and very vulnerable.

Packaged as a “healthcare bill,” Trumpcare is actually a huge tax break for the rich along with an erosion of things health insurance companies must cover while inflating the cost of coverage for many.

I don’t know how to speak health insurance-speak, so I’m not going to try and get technical here. I just know that people with pre-existing conditions ought to feel vulnerable. A job loss, a change in insurance by your employer (or what that insurer offers), or if you’re already amongst the unemployed or elderly could mean you will be paying dearly to maintain your health … and perhaps even your life.

Alabama congressman, Mo Brooks, recently made a fool of himself by telling CNN’s Jake Tapper, “People who lead good lives” don’t have preexisting conditions.

My pre-existing conditions are (at a minimum) Anxiety, Depression, high blood pressure, and kidney stones. The kidney stones are, perhaps, the only thing I could have done something to avoid. But I lead a pretty good (trying to be healthy) life. I exercise, I eat well — I eat my fruits and veggies; I eat almost no prepackaged foods; I don’t go out to eat much; I don’t add salt to my foods — and I’ve lost more than 25% of my once borderline obese body weight.  (I also, thankfully, have a good job with great benefits.)

I am not to blame for my Anxiety, Depression, or hypertension. Each runs in my family, and — regarding the Anxiety and Depression — as I’ve noted before, I had a tough childhood along with a few serious knocks to my noggin when I was a kid.

Shame on you, Rep. Brooks!

Another dense US Representative (Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho)) recently said in a town hall meeting that “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

I’ve never considered suicide. But I need to be honest. As with many who suffer from Anxiety and Depression, it is very common for a medication that works today to fail you in the future. During that time falling into the depths of my mood disorders could take me to a place I’ve never been to before.

When I’m forced to think about that, it obviously scares me. Now — because of the changes to health potential insurance — it scares me even more. What if I spiraled to the depths of Anxiety and Depression with no insurance? Again, just being honest here.

Shame on you, Rep. Labrador!

To conclude, I’d like to lop on some shame to Minnesota’s GOP Representatives Paulsen, Emmer, and Lewis. To be honest, I expected Emmer and Lewis to support the current version of Trumpcare. But Representative Paulsen, you are supposed to a be a moderate. My wife and I have decided we are going to significantly contribute to whomever your Democratic opponent is. You have brought shame upon yourself and potential misery upon your constituents.

Posted on 22 April 2017 by Michael Dahl

My therapist tells me to live my life according to my values, and know that’s the best I can do.

A few days ago I had a therapy session that’s been long overdue. During the visit I had lumps in my throat several times as I almost burst out crying. The details are not ones I feel comfortable sharing. Just know that if you are reading this, you are not amongst the subjects I was grappling with.

My therapist and I talked about four topics.

First, my brain has spent a goodly part of my life marinating in stress and chaos. Meds will do and have done a lot to reduce the bad chemicals from being released in my brain during such situations. But, like it or not, from early and long-term exposure, my brain has gotten used to stress and chaos, and when given the opportunity will release panic-inducing chemicals. I must continue my meds and practicing cognitive therapy exercises to get ahead of Anxiety from taking over my brain.

Second, facts are facts. Just as I am pretty much who I am for the rest of my life — in good ways and bad — so are others. If I want to change myself, I can work to make tweaks here and there. But I can’t expect others to change for me. No more, “if only so-and-so would do such-and-such, everything would be okay.” I can only change my expectations, attitudes, and actions and let others be who they are going to be.

Third, that said, I do have the power to live according to my values. These are deeply engrained in me — and I am pretty proud of them. I should not be forcing a futile standard of if I live my values, others will live their lives according to what’s important to me.

Fourth, and unrelated, are there any anniversaries recently past or soon approaching that are creating some Anxiety for me? Now, while I don’t usually pay attention to many anniversaries, there is one that I do and is soon-approaching. It’s the day two years ago I ran out of my office, because I didn’t want to subject others to Michael experiencing a panic attack. It’s also the day I decided to seek out another therapist and med doctor (my previous one had retired several months back).

My therapist imparted three lessons and one reality. She let me figure out if future sessions should be scheduled to continue helping me with my current situation.

First, I should keep on practicing cognitive therapy approaches to facing the Anxiety-inducing situations I find myself in. I’m also likely — because of my wife’s prodding — going to ponder different forms of meditation that could be useful.

Second, as my brain is used to stress and chaos, it’s probably best to find a constructive outlet for this … in essence, turn my weakness into a strength. I’m not explain this weird concept, because I don’t want to share too much right now. It’s too sensitive of a topic.

Third, about those values — compassion, creativity, gratitude, humility, humor, integrity, justice, stewardship, reverence, trustworthiness, and transparency — live them. Feel pride in practicing these values. Expect nothing from the world in return. Simply know that living according to my values contributes to my well-being and my health. (It will actually reduce Anxiety.)

Lastly, March 26th may be a difficult day for me many years. Take care of myself in all the ways I can on that date.

Posted on 15 April 2017 by Michael Dahl

I no longer hide my medications.

At home, my daily medications sit prominently on my desktop. Any visitor could stop by and see I take a number of pills. If they wanted to rummage a bit, they could easily figure out I take drugs for mental health, blood pressure, and allergies. Less interesting, I guess, would be the Vitamin D pill I take.

My daily meds are arranged in a pill box that has small compartments for morning, mid-morning, afternoon, and bedtime. And the pill boxes sit in a plastic tower, so I only have to worry about sorting meds once a week. (On Sunday nights, my desktop can look like an apothecary table.)

Each day, I get up and take two pills out of my morning portion right away. This helps me get ahead of Anxiety … which will attack if I don’t preempt it. The other morning pills wait an hour or so until I’m ready for breakfast (i.e. they must be taken with food).

As I get ready for work, the appropriate pill box gets put in a pocket of my backpack, which if I remember, gets taken out at work and is placed near my keyboard. I like to think it’s like some people placing ibuprofen or antacids within immediate reach.

I’m not trying to advertise, “Hey, look at me. I’m Ailment Man.” Rather, it’s because I so often forget to take my morning and afternoon meds for my mental health. The chance of forgetting is much lower if I just have the pill box in plain sight all the time.

If I leave the office for a meeting, I put the pill box back in my backpack. Again, if memory holds while I am out and about and if it’s time to take my meds, I do so. Again, I don’t advertise. I just take out the pill box, remove the appropriate pills, and pop ‘em.

I realize I am lucky enough to work with colleagues who don’t think less of me because my mental illness.

I know, for others, similar actions could lead to stigmatizing, misplaced pity, and / or prejudice. The workplace, school, even certain family settings can be challenging.

For me, it’s a simple act of remembering my meds while also fighting the stigma against mental illness.

Here’s the funny thing. While I’ve always been open about my Depression and Anxiety, I’ve always — until just recently — hid my meds. I’ve tried to take them when others weren’t around … or at least take them discretely.  But with my current med schedule it is quite simply hard to remember. It’s not like I take all my meds with meals and when I go to bed. And so, the forgetting has become more frequent. And the result hasn’t been fun; that is, my Anxiety levels begin to creep up if I forget for more than an hour.

And so, a couple of weeks ago I stopped hiding my meds. And I have to say it’s been liberating for me.

I am who I am.

Posted on 25 March 2017 by Michael Dahl

The roller coaster called “Life”

Life is a roller coaster, and mental health is complicated. This week — if I hadn’t already known this — would have served as good education.

Yep. I’ve had to deal with a hefty share of Anxiety and periodic depressive thoughts. Per usual, I probably over think things. Had a tough week placed my brain in this place (situational)? Has some trigger been what’s responsible for my difficult bearings? I dunno. Or has the busy week — and resulting forgetting to take my meds a couple times — forced this Anxiety and funk upon me?

It’s probably worth putting a little reflection into the past week; but most of my time would really be better spent working to reset my brain and banish the negative thinking and resulting Anxiety … if that’s possible.

I’m not going to report on this past week in this blog post. I’m simply going to let the basic act of writing work wonders on my mood. Writing (even cryptically) helps my brain process and then move on.

Truth be told, I’m really writing this post because I don’t want a trying week to bleed into what could be a fine weekend.

Good temperatures will let me do a little yard work (i.e. cutting back my yard’s decorative, dried grasses so springtime will allow new, green grasses to start growing; cutting straw, so it can easily be worked into the soil in my raised beds once it thaws). Yard and garden work — and the often rote actions involved — are very therapeutic for my brain. If time allows, I also have some reading and binge Netflix-watching I could do. And then there’s exploring new music that’s been released this week. Sometimes I’m into sampling new tunes, sometimes not. This weekend (at least right now) feels like a weekend made for music.

Well, readers, I don’t know how interesting this post has been for you, but it — at least temporarily — took my brain from a bad place to what feels pretty normal.

Onward.

p.s. A visit with my therapist would probably be a good idea.

Posted on 19 March 2017 by Michael Dahl

when I forget to take my meds

As I’ve noted many times before, one of the reasons I post regarding my mental health is to help those who don’t experience it get at least one person’s perspective on Anxiety and Depression. Today’s post fits that category. In other words, I am not currently in the throes of a battle Anxiety would like to wage with me. I am simply recalling a particular experience I had a couple of days ago.

It was Friday; a floating spring break holiday staff get at the University. I was up for an awesome day. I got up a little later than usual (5 am) and took my meds in the usual 2-step process I navigate daily with rarely ever a problem. That being, I took two of my meds to get ahead of any Anxiety attack immediately upon getting up. After I eat a small breakfast I take one other mental health medication. And at night, right before getting into bed, I take my main mental health med — the one that fights off both Anxiety and Depression — along with the two meds I took right away in the morning.

At two points during the day (i.e. mid-morning and mid-afternoon), I have to take those two meds again, otherwise my Anxiety levels will creep up and up and up.

On Friday, I forgot to take my mid-morning (10 am) meds. I don’t find my reliance on these meds a bad thing, a sign of weakness. Other people suffering other ailments must also juggle drugs to make it through the day. Why would it be any different for someone — me — to have to do this for an illness of the brain?

Well, as I said, I forgot to take the mid-morning pills. I suppose around noon I started feeling agitated. But I chalked some poor service I had just received and a parking meter that was about to run out. A little while later, my agitation level rose some more, and I was getting physically jumpy. I, again, placed the blame on something else — the loud chattering coming at me from all sides in a coffeeshop I was trying to do some focused writing in.

A half an hour later and really cranky about the noise, I started to feel the physical aspects of Anxiety take over my body. All my nerves felt frayed and my throat was just beginning clench.

“Stupid me!” I said to myself. I quickly grabbed my meds out of my backpack and downed the pills I should have taken three hours earlier.

Now, some of you may be thinking: problem solved. Just wait for the meds to kick in and everything will be alright. However, that’s not how the story always goes. You see, if I had simply remembered to take my meds a little after I should have, there would have been no problem. If I had taken them at noon, I would have stayed agitated for about an hour before the meds would not only kick in, but also beat back the slow onset of Anxiety.

But if I don’t remember the drugs until the physical pains take over parts of my body, I’ve usually got to to accept where I am at at least until I take the mid-afternoon drugs (3 pm) and let them kick in. In fact, even after that point, I will usually stay agitated for much of the day. But, thankfully, the physical pains disappear.

The lack-of-meds-induced Anxiety feels quite similar to situational and trigger-induced Anxiety. But mentally it’s different. On the relief side, I know that the agitation and physicality of it all is temporary. That is a huge solace — if you can place agitation and solace in the brain at the same time. On the “I feel stupid” front, well, I feel stupid for bringing it upon myself. On the physical aspect, I know the pain will pass. And it’s really hard to describe what a huge comfort that is.

You see, when I forget to take my meds, and I get to the physical pain place, I remember that that is what life was almost constantly like when my meds had stopped working nearly two years ago. Nerves frayed, jostling to every loud sound, a chest and throat tightened, and a brain frequently either feeling like it was on fire or turning to cement — I haven’t a clue why my brain would feel one or the other.

Getting to this point and then taking the meds to bring me back to normal, there is a relief. But there is also a sense of how precarious things can be. Because as I’ve reported before, someday my current med cocktail will likely stop working. Some people are lucky; they don’t need to change meds much. I’ve had to do so many times since I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety well over a decade ago.

And I’ll admit it, I intensely fear when that may happen again to me. I write this not because I am in a bad place or that I constantly think about when my drugs could stop working. No, I bring it up because it is part of my existence, and likely the experience of many others who have to deal with these twin ailments.

I’ll end by just asking readers to be gentle and empathetic with one another. We all struggle in different ways. And when we struggle, it’s a relief to know those around us care for our well-being.

Posted on 9 March 2017 by Michael Dahl

About last night … Why now? (Pt 2)

First off, thanks to everyone for the get well wishes and pep talks via Facebook. They are really helpful. Really! The compassion and reminding me of my strengths helped last night not feel so isolating. (Rebecca is on a work trip … in France! So we weren’t able to chat until a couple hours later that night).

So I was talking with Rebecca this morning and thought of a different way to explain the scariness of the type of panic attack that occurred last night.

Last night I described it as Anxiety grabbing ahold of my breath in my lungs and making it painful as it left my body. My throat constricted, and I felt an enduring pain in my throat and chest. This is definitely an accurate description of the physical aspect.

The scariness is that the feeling came from deep within me as if It — the Anxiety demon — was always there, a part of me, just waiting for the right moment to grab ahold of my body and breath. And that coming from deep within me simply reminds me that Anxiety, while not completely defining me, is a part of who I am. As my med doctor and therapist say, “Some people are just anxious.”

I am one of those people. I simply have to use tactics to deal with it.

So to end on a positive note, I’ll share some of the reminders on my laptop screen that help calm me as Anxiety works to rear It’s ugly head:

see the value in who you are – breathe – be in the present – be fully present – be silent – be humble – be flexible – assume people have positive intent – demand perfection of no one, including yourself – everyone is priceless to someone – look at snazzy photos – laugh at prior mistakes – shed illogical worries – if I think of a bad memory, also think of a good one – worry only about things you can take action on – think of people who value you – see obstacles as necessary for success – when Anxiety attacks, ask yourself “why?” – acknowledge Anxiety if It’s already pounced on you; let It sit beside you, not occupy you – take a sick day if you’ve lost the battle – remember that every day is a new day – change loneliness (lack of social connection) to solitude (solitary work of intentional focus and drawing connections) – healing involves three domains (i.e. physical, psychological, and spiritual)

Posted on 8 March 2017 by Michael Dahl

Why now?

Tonight a feeling returned. The feeling of Anxiety capturing my breath and turning it into pain. It rose from lungs and took over my throat. If I had tried to talk, it would have been difficult.

Throat constricted; my brain switched from normal to negative with a tick of a clock. I was overcome with fear.

Why? This type of acute attack of Anxiety hasn’t hit me for well over 6 months.

That’s not to say I haven’t experienced an Anxiety attack in the past half of a year. I most certainly have. But this intense, body-felt version rises from what seems like nowhere. Not nowhere because I can’t identify major triggers and stressors in my life. No, I can do that. Instead, It’s out of nowhere because the timing of the onset seems so random.

And that randomness accentuates the fear. When will it strike again?

I feel incapable, embarrassed, less than, damaged.

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