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.

hoping for the best
Posted on 28 January 2017 by Michael Dahl

Have I reached a new mental health “normal?” And a new chapter for Prone to Hope.

Early next week I visit with my mental health med doctor to check in on how I am doing a couple of months since we last talked.

I will note that my mental health is basically in a good, but nuanced place. I am not fully relieved of my Anxiety (although I am of my Depression). But I am so, so much better than I had been before.

Truth is, a little of the Anxiety I used to experience in the morning has returned. Not much. Just about 45 minutes to an hour of nervousness and self-doubt has crept back. It usually passes naturally, making the rest of my day just fine.

Would I like not to experience anxiousness almost daily? Would I prefer to not beat myself up on many mornings? Sure.

But it’s all part of a cost-benefit analysis. My current meds make me better most of the time. And so, I get to ask myself and my doctor if we should try to tweak things so I am better all the time. However, I fear doing so would come at an unacceptable expense.

You see, my current meds make me tired almost all the time. And I fall asleep very early almost every night. I fear that amping up my drugs just a little bit would skew me towards an even earlier bedtime and saddle my days with even more tiredness.

Just to be clear, I fall asleep at around 8:15 pm each night. And, I wake at 4 am nearly every morning. That’s annoying. It’s also annoying to be tired as much as I am.

But I can do my job. I can spend a little time with my wife and pup every night. And, despite the tiredness, I can still get myself to the gym (or exercise at home) a number of times each week to keep myself in good physical health.

So is this the new normal? I am prepared (and basically happy) for this to be the case.

We’ll see what my doctor says. She’s certainly surprised me before with even more options than I thought possible. But I think she’ll say we have struck a fairly good balance, and I should use techniques taught to me by my therapist to make the mornings more bearable.

 

Posted on 7 January 2017 by Michael Dahl

Man in the Mirror

Earlier this week I was looking into my bathroom mirror. At first it was simply a quick last look at myself before I headed out for the day. And then it became something more.

Something — I don’t know what — held me in place and transported me to another time, about a year and a half ago, when I was looking into a mirror in a Target store as I felt my mind and body stuck in the grip of Anxiety and Depression.

I started comparing the feelings of the two different experiences, peering into the mirrors. The day earlier this week, I wouldn’t say I was happy or sad, anxious or depressed. I felt somber and powerful at the same time. So I just stood there and let the feelings wash over me. I also allowed myself to linger in the memory — but not the feelings — attached to comparison point of a year and a half ago.

If you like, you can read that whole experience here. But I’ll provide a shortened version of the post for those who just want to read here.

I was dressed in one of my power outfits, just a nice shirt and nice pants that fall pleasantly on my body. My shirt was a slightly lighter version of lavender; my charcoal grey pants fit my trimmer waistline. This is one of the simple but snazzy outfits I wear when I want to feel good, when I want to look good, when I want to convey confidence and strength.

But I did not feel confident or strong or in anyway nice. I was drained. I was angry. And I just want to get out of this outfit, curl up in bed, and sleep.

That day was a necessary pain. I had my first talk-therapy visit in years. No big breakthroughs happened. I just told my story. I talked about how I am a pretty self-aware guy. I noted that I am very confident in the things I believe in. I shared that I am pretty knowledgeable about that fact that my genetic history, series of knocks to the noggin, troubled childhood, and several tween and teen years living in poverty have made me a very good candidate to carry the chronically depressed and anxious label.

Without getting into details, we now know that the toxic stress of difficult childhood mixed with bad genetics doesn’t just impact the brain. It wreaks havoc on the body. Sometimes the high stress levels force children dealing with “adult level problems” to breathe differently than the lungs of a much-calmer young body. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes that happens. Oh, there’s so much garbage we’ve learned.

So I found out how much life can suck … even more than I thought it could before. Now, mind you. I’m happy I know this. It helps me understand that part of what I’ve always thought of as normal is really anything but. There’s a new level of burden. But it’s also a type of burden I now had to try to deal with, or work through, or erase. And I guess that’s good.

But, as happened that last time I left that same office a couple weeks ago— coming out of a visit with the doctor who prescribed me my new meds — I called my wife and just started to cry.

“The old Michael is a new Michael,” I thought. “And I need to figure out who he is.” Because “better” is in my future. But it’s a bumpy road ahead to get there.

Again, as I looked into my bathroom mirror earlier this week, I felt somber and powerful. That was / felt good. But I also felt troubled that this latest bout with Anxiety and Depression significantly defined at least a year and a half of my life.

And then I felt — just for a second or two — scared. I know that there will likely come a day (hopefully years in the future) when my current drugs will stop working. I will again become a bundle of Depression and Anxiety. And my doctor will need to help me find that new drug that will help pull me out of the mess.

I know that that period, whenever it happens, does not have to be an 18+ month ordeal, as it was this last time. But you can understand why I felt a couple seconds of fear.

Then the powerful feeling returned. Unlike before, I have a number of new tactics (part 1; part 2) to help me confront Anxiety. I also know a ton more about Depression.

And so, I stayed in front of the mirror for a while longer. It seemed I should heed the compulsion to compare who I was then and who I am now.

In the earlier post (which I condensed above) I described my confidence in a bumpy path to better.

Today — and that day earlier this week — I can attest that I traveled that bumpy path and I found “better.” Not “perfect” — that’s rarely possible — but much, much better.

Posted on 22 December 2016 by Michael Dahl

There are many times I’ve relied on government, and it was there.

(I wrote this post on 14 July 2011.  With the vitriol spewing out these days about government and people being considered for lead positions in parts of government they’d like to destroy, I thought this deserved a repost.)

I value good government and good government services provided on the local, state, and federal level. There are many times I’ve relied on government, and it was there. I am proud to help pay for it so it is also available for others and for me in the future … which as you will read will likely be later today.

The following is just a bit of how government has helped me become what I am today.

I attended public school and am glad I was taught everything from how to read to trigonometry to how to compete in cross country. I am thankful for Ms. Toy, Mrs. Spees, Principal Holte, Ms. Lemke, Coach Andy, and countless others who believed in me and taught me.

I am thankful for the school bus that picked me up each day. There was no way I could have walked the 9.5 miles it was to Arcadia Elementary or High School.

For a significant period of my childhood, our family relied on federally subsidized free- or reduced-priced lunches because we were too poor to afford nutritious meals all the time.

A number of winters we received fuel assistance to help heat our shoddy trailer home, because it was very cold, frost was collecting on our walls and floors, and my Dad’s job did not pay near a living wage.

College, despite my great grades, would have never been possible had it not been for Pell Grants and federally insured student loans. Or, for that matter, a public high school guidance counselor telling me I could achieve more than the 2-year business school I was considering as my only option.

While in college, I was constantly aware that the public university I went to was a state treasure. The liberal arts education I received from the University of Minnesota gave me a much deeper sense of how to be a helpfully critical citizen and how to navigate a constantly-changing world.

I once called the Minnesota Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline to ask about my rights and find out a vendor was almost going to rip me off. Government saved me a pretty penny that day. The advice was given for free.

I took the city bus for many years. It helped me get to school and work. While on the bus, I caught up on the world’s events, made some friends, and always witnessed an interesting slice of the community I live in.

I’ve camped in, run through, walked around, and canoed poorly in many Minnesota state parks. A couple times a week, I walk my dog Carlos around a city park. I really enjoy these things as communal resources that everyone can use.

Each day, I drive on government-subsidized and maintained roads. I sure don’t know who would keep our roads safe if it weren’t for government.

I’ve called the police when I saw someone trying to break into a neighbor’s home. They responded quickly and professionally. Thankfully, nothing was stolen because of their swift response.

A team of firefighters once drove by as my car was stuck in a ditch. They stopped — six of them — and pushed me out. They drove off soon thereafter to return to the station. I had to do a lot research to find out what station that was, so I could thank them and their supervisor.

Sometimes I eat in restaurants that I know are periodically inspected for safety and cleanliness by local food inspectors. It’s nice to know there are regulations that keep me safe when I, as an individual, would have no way of personally guaranteeing that safety.

I am thankful for the public servants that run for public office and do their best to reconcile competing interests with limited public dollars. It warms my heart when I know that the taxes I pay help those in need, invest in our infrastructure, and help people achieve things they might never be able to do on their own.

It pains me that so many seem to hate government (its programs, its public servants, and politicians), but rely on many of the things government provides. It also pains me that some of these people are consumed with taking away the things other people get from government but think the things they receive are sacred cows.

I love Minneapolis and St. Paul; I love Minnesota; I love this country. Yes, I get angry about some of the things the governments of these places do … my anger usually results from someone’s desire to make government less available to those who need it most. But on the whole, government makes life better for me, my friends, my family, my neighbors, and the larger community.

There is so much I would have never of accomplished had it not been for the helping hand that government programs sometimes provide. There are so many things I rely on (and I bet you do too) that government does to keep you safe.

And the parks! The roads and bikeways! The educational systems! None of these would be possible (except for to the very wealthy) except by communities – local, state, and national – banding together and doing them together.

For many, many years I’ve had a decent paying job. I gladly pay taxes. In fact, sometimes I wish more was asked of me, especially when I hear about severe cuts in programs that helped me make it.

I am more than willing to pay, so I can continue to live in a city, state, and country I love.

Posted on 10 December 2016 by Michael Dahl

I wake up an hour before my demon named Anxiety: the daily struggle to keep It sedated.

I take mental health drugs five times a day. Four of the times are required, as one of my drugs works best if divvied up fairly evenly four times throughout the day — early morning, late morning, afternoon, and bedtime. But I’ve learned to and have thankfully gotten into the habit of following a fives-times-a-day schedule.

I’ve posted before that my meds have impacted my sleep schedule. I fall asleep sometime between 8 pm and 9 pm; I often wake up at 4 am.

My demon, Anxiety, usually wakes up at 5 am, but sometimes It chooses to sleep in if I have as well. So, I am often given an hour of natural peace.

I take two of my meds immediately upon waking up to keep my demon sedated throughout the day.

Again, thankfully, I’ve internalized the habit of medicating twice each morning. That is, I don’t forget to take meds at 4 am. And then, sometime between 5 am and 7 am I eat breakfast and take some once-a-day pills that do best if taken with food.

The rest of the day is a bit of a challenge. At work, I often get wrapped up in my projects and tasks. I’d say at least twice a week I temporarily forget my late morning drugs until I feel my demon waking from its slumber. By then I know I will experience at least an hour of Anxiety.

Emotionally, it sucks as I know I will be agitated, jumpy, unfocused, and overwhelmed for a segment of my day. Physically, it feels like all the skin on my body is tightening, almost like a restrictive web is trying to compress my body — not fun — which is also accompanied by a tightening of the chest. (Thankfully yoga has given me a series of chest-opening exercises that do a pretty good job of combating that feeling until my drugs have had the time to work.)

I take the meds a bit late and wait for Anxiety to be put to rest again.

The same thing sometimes happens with my afternoon’s not-yet-a-ritual med-taking.

And so this weekend I am going to figure out how to set two alarms on phone to remind me that it is med-taking time. Why I have not already done this, I have no clue.

Posted on 3 December 2016 by Michael Dahl

Triggering daily practices to avert or curtail Anxiety.

I am pretty good at being proactive in averting Anxiety and the onset of depressive thoughts. That said, I pretty much suck at curtailing them if they hit me for one reason or another. For instance, some times I forget to take some of my mental health medications. And some days are just tough, because life is complicated or a zinger hits me out of nowhere.

My therapist and my small library of mental health books provide me with several actions and mantras to help in both situations — starting the day off right as well as how to get yourself out of an anxious or depressive funk.

Over the past several months, I’ve been compiling the advice. But it’s hard to remember the practices, especially when that zinger hits you.

For a couple months I tried wearing a bracelet to remind me that I had practices that could help me. But I when the negative thoughts hit, I rarely looked at my wrist, saw the bracelet, and thought, “Michael, remember what you’ve been taught.” Similarly, the little notebook I compiled with the same good practices just sat in my backpack, never of use when I needed it most.

Out of sight, out of mind. I was blind to the bracelet on my wrist as well as the pocket in my backpack when hard times hit.

And then I had an epiphany. I love looking at beautiful (snazzy) photos I’ve taken — mainly (but not solely) of my garden.

Well, one day I was in a very anxious place. For some unrelated reason I had to open my photos folder. I just started clicking through my favorites. Before I realized it, a smile came to my face.

“A-ha!”

I decided to put my favorite photos on constant rotation (one every five seconds) on my laptop’s screen. As I am often working on my laptop, I didn’t need to think, “Remember to look at your favorite photos.” They were just there, quite often making me smile.

And then another, “A-ha!”

I was already looking at my screen. What if I listed my ever-growing list of tactics to stave off Anxiety along a thin band at the top of my screen. I didn’t place it so it would crowd out my photos. But I did make it so the practices and mantras were almost always in view.

This did two things. First, the practices were there whether or not I needed them. But there they were when I needed them. Also, I’ve started to memorize / internalize the practices.

While I am sure I will be adding practices as I learn more from my therapist and books, here’s where the list stands right now:

Remember to take my meds. — Breathe. — Be in the present. — Be silent. — Be humble. — Be flexible. — Exercise daily. — Each day express gratitude for 5 people. — Treat 3 existing relationships as new. — Silently wish people peace. — Assume people have positive intent. — Cheer others on. — Look at snazzy photos. — Laugh at prior mistakes. — Worry only about worthy worries. —  Shed illogical worries. — Worry only about things you can take action on.  —  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.

I feel I should end this post with a disclaimer … a disclaimer targeted at those who don’t struggle with Anxiety or Depression:

To the ignorant ear, such techniques may make it sound like you can simply “snap out of” your mental illness. That would be a terrible impression for me to make. Just as you can’t will away cancer and you can’t laugh a broken leg into mending itself faster, neither can you “simply” think calm and happy thoughts to rid yourself of Anxiety.

However, just as people must find a way to live with and address the symptoms of other chronic diseases / illness (e.g. arthritis, asthma, diabetes), someone who suffers from chronic Anxiety can do things to face their symptoms successfully.

Sometimes you win the encounters; sometimes you lose.

Some days I outwit my bully; other days I have to call in sick to work. Such is life, no?

Posted on 19 November 2016 by Michael Dahl

“I hate you, winter.” A poem by Michael Dahl

I hate winter.  Outside hurts.  And as someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder in addition to chronic (treated) Depression, I detest November through February.

The words to the poem below came to me as I was driving Rebecca to work and a jerk was tailgating us on a slippery road.  It was late January 2014 — the year of the Arctic Blast. Our car had not yet warmed up, so my shoulders were scrunched up trying to cover my neck.  The sky was gray.  I was in pure misery.

I submitted this poem to Minnesota Public Radio for a conversation on Minnesotans and their feelings about winter.  They read it, so I was plenty prideful that day.

“I hate you, winter”

I hate you, winter.
Your fresh-fallen snow is eye candy
with a flavor that quickly grows stale.

I hate you, winter.
Your cold forces scrunched shoulders,
bad postures, sore necks, and a 6-month long backache.

I hate you, winter.
Your icy roadways turn tailgaters
into selfish killing machines.

I hate you, winter.

I simply hate you.

Posted on 6 November 2016 by Michael Dahl

on a good day

On a daily basis, I am actively involved in efforts to stay ahead of my Anxiety and predisposition to depressive thoughts. It’s a lot of work, but work well worth it.

On a good morning I remember to take some of my meds — the two different types of “chill pills” that don’t need to be taken with food — right away. This prevents the onset of two hours of hell which will begin about an hour or so after I wake up if I don’t take the meds.

On a good morning I spend time contemplating reasons to be grateful — like for my funny pup, Franco. To make this practice of gratitude a habit I created the blog “Snazzy Images.” On it I share and write a bit about my favorite photos of beauty, peace, and fun in the world.

On a good morning I exercise to get good (happy) chemicals churning in my brain. For example, endorphins, which are released during exercise, are chemicals that both help fight pain (a common feeling attached to Anxiety and panic attacks) and trigger feelings of awesomeness (the opposite of negative Anxiety). If I can’t (or don’t) exercise in the morning, I make a point of doing chest opening stretches to fatigue the area of my body that first physically feels Anxiety.

On a good day, if I didn’t exercise in the morning, I find time to do so later. As noted above exercise is simply one of the best things you can do to help make a brain happy.

On a good day I try identity situations during the day that might induce Anxiety and try get ahead of them. For instance, I use some creative jujitsu to turn soon-to-be present Anxiety into future Accomplishment. If my Anxiety seems to be getting ready for attack, and it’s using the list of meetings and tasks I need to tend to that day to overwhelm me, I try to say to myself, “Just imagine what tonight will feel like once you’ve accomplished everything you’ve got to do today. Michael, you’re going to accomplish a ton today, and the world will be a better place because of it.” (Admittedly, this creative jujitsu is difficult, but when I can do it, it really makes for an awesome day.)

On a good day I remember to take my afternoon medications. (My record in this regard is roughly 75% success rate.) I do not enjoy low-level Anxiety pouncing on one-quarter of my afternoons / early evenings.

My good days, unfortunately, often start at 4 am (because of my meds) and end at around 8:30 pm. So at around 8 pm my super-sleepy self takes my nighttime meds and mulls over what I will be grateful for in the next day. As I do this — usually looking at photos on my laptop — my eyelids become very heavy. Soon they are closed, and I realize my laptop must be set on the bedside table. I do so, roll on to my side, and fall asleep without any worries about the day ahead.

Not all days are good days. But they are becoming much more frequent. I am grateful for this.

(For what I try to do on potentially bad days, visit this post from months ago. Note that my mental health was not nearly as good as it is these days.)

hoping for the best
Posted on 4 November 2016 by Michael Dahl

A string on 17 good days, and the return of snazzy.

Yesterday, someone passively asked me, “Michael, how you doing?”

“Snazzy, how about you?” was my reply.

That was momentous. I’ve only started attaching the word “snazzy” to myself for the past few days. (I, of course, have wished snazzy upon others for quite some time.) To attach it to me and how I feel has rarely been the case for the past 19 months.

Oh, and I’ve caught myself joyfully whistling while walking my pup, Franco.

“WHAAAAAAT!”

I don’t want to overstate my condition. My wife wisely tells me to take it one day at a time. But it bears repeating: I’ve had a string of 17 good days.

This is not to say that everything is perfect. One day I forgot to take my afternoon meds. I and my mood paid for that for a short period of time. Mornings, if I forget to take some of my meds right after waking up — this, as I’ve reported before, makes for a couple hours of Anxiety and all the physical body pains that come with that.

But way, way, way for the most part, life has felt normal. My moods have matched the situations that I’ve been in … and that’s all that someone suffering from chronic bouts with Depression and Anxiety wants: to be happy when times call for happiness; to accept sadness when times are sad; and to be excited when there are things to be jazzed about.

That’s basically been me for the past 17 days.

I’ve described some about how I’ve gotten here. However, I also need to extend thanks to my mental health med doctor for helping me find the right meds and then for listening to my suggestions for tweaks as I’ve felt better with each incremental change.

I also need to thank my therapist. She’s given me many tools to get ahead of Anxiety and a number more of coping mechanisms when Anxiety takes ahold of me. This has made for shorter and more bearable bouts with Anxiety now and then.

And I deserve to be proud of myself. I’ve been very up front with both my doctor and therapist about what’s been working, and what has not. I’ve played a very active role in my recovery.

As a result and after a long time and effort to reach this state of mental health, I’d say that my bouts with Anxiety are less frequent, less disabling, and occur for shorter periods of time. And this knowledge — along with the successful coping mechanisms — has meant I’ve been able to weather the physical impediments that accompany Anxiety.

Quite often I am fine — even snazzy. And when I am not, I know how to reduce Anxiety’s impact and know that the whole day need not be ruined by a blip of my mood disorder.

Now, I know everyone who suffers can reach where I am right now. In fact, there was a time a little over a month ago that my doctor and I believed I had reached the best I could expect, which would have meant a much deeper conflict with Anxiety, because (as my doctor has said many times), “some people are just anxious.”

I was prepared to eventually accept that. But before doing so, I am proud I suggested that one last tweak to my meds. My doctor accepted my thought out suggestion, and here I am: moods that often match the situations I am in and sometimes even snazzy.

I like snazzy.

Posted on 30 October 2016 by Michael Dahl

clawing my way back out of deep Depression and severe Anxiety

I’m going to start with the moral of this story: If you think you are Depressed or experiencing Anxiety, if you find your emotions are out of whack with what normal circumstances would warrant, seek help.

I am a fan of a three-pronged approach to chronic Depression and Anxiety: doctor prescribed medications, talk therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Life is too precious to let these mental illnesses run roughshod over the normal life you deserve to live.

The following is my most recent story of dealing with chronic Depression and Anxiety:

In August and September of 2014 I fell into a temporary Depression. I can’t remember exactly when It started. But I remember the Depression being strong at the time of Robin Williams’ suicide in mid-August … something that hit me much harder than I expected, as I was never a huge fan of his comedy.

I also remember major happy and powerful experiences surrounding me, and yet I could not feel joy. In fact, when the happy and powerful experiences passed, I felt an extreme sadness that could only be described as Depression. I could do nothing to simply snap out of the negative places my brain was going to and staying.

My current med doctor said it was quite likely the medications I was taking at that point had just stopped working for me — something that is not an uncommon experience for those who take drugs to address Depression and Anxiety.   (In fact, I had had a good spell with the drugs I was taking then — six years of mental health.)

By mid-September I could no longer deny I needed professional help. However, when I made the call to my psychiatrist, I learned that he had recently retired. For a couple days this hit me pretty hard. But by the time I resolved to find a new psychiatrist, my Depression receded.

Regrettably, that stopped my search for a new doctor and psychiatrist.

Months passed and Depression stayed away from me. However, I was becoming more and more anxious. I started to write about my Anxiety quite often in my journal.  On one particularly bad day I wrote about running out of my workplace as a panic attack completely took control of me.

More panic attacks happened, but it seemed I was also permanently stuck in a state of Anxiety. Within a couple weeks, I again decided I needed professional help.

(As an aside, I must admit that looking for new professional help is a process can spur Anxiety all by itself. But thankfully (with my wife’s encouragement) I plowed through as I made several calls to med doctors and psychiatrists who were not accepting new patients. However, within a couple days, I found a clinic that had both med doctors and psychiatrists ready to help me find my way out of the mess I was in.)

I remember fidgeting on my current med doctor’s couch. Stilted words and a jittery voice, describing my life’s history of mental illness: OCD, the winter blues, and deep Depression and a near lifetime battle with Anxiety.

My doctor, seeing the mess I was, said quite frankly that my current meds were not working. I needed to taper off them ASAP while tapering on a new drug that might help.

Unfortunately, our first try at a medication did not work, and I descended even further into Depression and a higher level of Anxiety. When I wasn’t working, I was in bed. For a few really bad weeks I was sleeping at least 16 hours a day.

Eventually we found some new meds that would deal with at least the Depression, I was still in bed for long periods of the day. In fact, for a few more weeks I was would get myself to work for a handful of hours, but then be worn out. So I’d head home, get in bed, and try to put in a few hours more hours of work there as well.

Slowly, my energy levels returned as the Depression lessened.

As luck would have it, my Depression disappeared just as my wife and I embarked on a trip to Maui in late June / early July of 2015. That meant my energy levels were returning, and I could take part in hiking and kayaking, and day trips to parts of the island that would have been impossible only a couple weeks earlier. I even had the energy to hike one mile down Haleakalā mountain and back up again. I felt a huge sense of achievement then and for the next several weeks as my energy levels continued to rise.

Most of this blog has been devoted to trying meds and med mixtures in an effort to get my Anxiety to an acceptable place. And I’ve reported on therapy visits that brought me to tears as I learned why I was likely experiencing elevated levels of Anxiety and tactics to help me address the tense states I frequently found myself in.

The struggle with Anxiety … the slow work of getting it to a manageable place has taken much longer than I expected … 18 months! Eighteen months of med doctor and talk therapy visits — each for the better, but until recently, not quite there.  Thankfully, I stuck with it, as I am currently at the best place I have ever … EVER … been.

That does not mean everything is ponies and rainbows. Certain types of tense situations can still bring on Anxiety. And my last panic attack happened only a few months ago.  Also — and this has been one of he hardest things to get used to — this major bout has created a new me.  I am not the same person I was before this all started

Things that used to scare me before, no longer do and visa versa.  Meanwhile, my strengths and weaknesses have changed somewhat, making navigation in this new self surprising and difficult.  Also, the type of Anxiety I experience is completely different than the type I had before.  It’s all very strange.

But I started this post, because I am better.  Not “all better.”  Just much better … and acceptable and manageable better.

I have learned how to take my meds so I no longer have two hours of hell each morning — something I experienced regularly until just a few weeks ago.  Also, while I still suck at dealing with Anxiety once It hits, It sticks around for shorter periods of time, and  have stopped beating myself up so much after the Anxiety has passed.  I am also getting a little better at mastering the sometimes effective tactics to outwit Anxiety.

Lastly — and this is the most important one — I have returned to experiencing joy.  The Depression is gone.  The Anxiety no longer has such a hard grip on me.  And the normal life activities that should make me joyful have begun to have the effect.  In other words, Anxiety no longer haunts me the way it once did.  Only a couple weeks ago — before the last (and very successful) med tweak by my med doctor — I always knew that Anxiety could steal away my joyful moments, so my brain wouldn’t let me experience what would obviously be temporary happiness.

Now, I control my emotions much more than my emotions controlling me.  And because none of life is all ponies and rainbows, isn’t that all we can ask for?  Emotions that match the situation you are in?  As I’ve said many times in this post, I am not completely there, but I am close.

And that fills me with joy.

As for this blog, it will continue for at least a few reasons:  (1) I will still experience Anxiety, and writing about it is therapeutic to me; (2) I plan on learning a lot more about cognitive behavioral therapy as well as how to increase my resiliency … I’d like to share what I learn with others who suffer; (3) life is unpredictable; and (4) I want to end the stigma attached to mental illnesses.

Posted on 27 October 2016 by Michael Dahl

capitalizing “A” and “D” for Anxiety and Depression

Side note:  I will be writing soon about my recent successes in minimizing the Anxiety I feel daily. But I felt it “proper” (pun intended) to again describe why I capitalize the first letters “A” and “D” for Anxiety and Depression. You can criticize my writing skills or command of the English language for many reasons, but the use of capital letters in this — my — case are not mistakes.

I capitalize the “A” and “D”  in Anxiety and Depression for a couple reasons. First, I imagine them as powers unto themselves — proper (not common) nouns. While I don’t write much about Depression anymore — 15 months ago I broke free of that demon — I do, at times, write about depressive thoughts that are often the result of the Anxiety I endure. But depressive thoughts don’t plague me for days on end and curl me up on my bed as I wait to fall asleep.  They are just thoughts, not enduring states of my mind.

Regular readers know I do write about Anxiety a lot. And while I’ve wrest myself free (for the most part) of some of Its (proper capitalization) more intense impacts — regular panic attacks, freezing up in a variety of situations, etc. — It is still a beast I must contend with.

And that’s the second reason I capitalize the “A” in Anxiety. It is a beast, a demon, a power — only as I imagine it, not in reality — that I can have some agency in besting.

My therapist has taught me several tactics to reduce (and sometimes erase) the power Anxiety wields on me. In addition to the two posts (1 and 2) I often share, my therapist has recently taught me how to use the “multiplier effect” and “ride the surge”. I will be writing more about both of these tactics in the future.

I am curious. What tactics do others who suffer from Anxiety use to minimize Its grip?

(I always advise others who suffer consider — with their doctor’s guidance — medication and talk therapy as a means of treating Anxiety and Depression.)

Posted on 22 October 2016 by Michael Dahl

five days into much better mental health (part 2)

With a little over five days since my mental health med doctor tweaked my meds, I can report that my mental health has improved a lot.

In part 1, I shared that I still experience full on Anxiety for about 2 hours each morning. My sternum and throat are very tight, I can’t shake bad thoughts, and I am fearful of the day ahead. But a mixture of morning meds bring my mind back to calm usually by about the time I get to work.

Obviously, at any point during the day, if placed in highly-stressful situations, I still become anxious. And I believe under those circumstances I experience much more Anxiety than someone without mental health problems would. So my therapist is helping me with coping mechanisms to survive these times.

Thus far, just being silent is my best coping mechanism. “Don’t force yourself into a negative reaction if you don’t need to, Michael,” my therapist advises.

So that’s that. Two hours every morning of Anxiety and situationally-induced Anxiety now and then. As I noted in Part 1, I am going to tinker with when I take my meds to see if I can stave off the morning Anxiety. Stay tuned.

What I wanted to write about here is that over the past five days I’ve had a muscle memory of Anxiety that feels very weird. It’s a mixture of Anxiety and calm felt in my body at the same time.

Think of the fascia under your skin. The first is the real fascia — the thin sheath of fibrous tissue that covers muscles and organs.

Now, imagine there are two more layers. For me, it feels like there’s a very thin lower layer of fascia that is Anxiety ready to pounce on the rest of the body when called upon. But it is covered by a much thicker blanket of calming fascia that holds everything in check.

Under somewhat stressful times, the imagined thick calming layer won’t let the thin layer push through to a fully tense up my body, triggering all the bad things that then play with my mind.

However, during those morning Anxiety periods and when situations force Anxiety upon me, the thin layer pushes through — usually at the sternum and throat — and within seconds my full body is tense … and then in pain.

So here’s the funny thing. I sometimes feel both sensations when the outside world Anxiety is absent: a thin layer of tense Anxiety covered by a thicker blanket of calm … both just below my skin. It is a very weird feeling.

There are two things I can do to deal with the physical awkwardness. The first is exercise. Yoga is the best option, but any rigorous activity that twists and fatigues my muscles will overpower the Anxiety fascia. The second option is to stretch and massage the parts of my body feeling the low level of stress. Chest expansions and triangles with full binds work best for me.

The last thing of note is that the thick calming layer of imagined fascia has a direct connection to my brain. I feel the calm, and then I think the calm. And then I feel ready to experience the world’s experiences with the level of mental health that I’ve achieved to this point.

Now, it’s possible with my mental health improving (still fingers crossed), the muscle memory of the Anxiety-imagined fascia will disappear. I really, really hope for this.

Again, stay tuned. I’m still getting used to feeling somewhat good during my days.

Posted on 22 October 2016 by Michael Dahl

five days into much better mental health (part 1)

This past Monday my mental health med doctor tweaked my meds a bit once more. It was a game changer for the better — much better.

I went from being a guy who was almost constantly at least a bit anxious (and quite regularly much so) to someone who has difficult mornings but the rest of the day feels, for the most part, okay.

I wake up nearly every day calm and well-rested … at 4 am! The meds I took the night before are still working their magic as my mood is usually quite good.

As quietly as I can, I head downstairs to have a cup or two of coffee as I surf the web, work on blog posts, and read the newspaper. Sometimes I do these things until 6 am. Other days I head for the gym at about 5 am.

By around 6 am my mood turns south; the anti-Anxiety meds from the night before have run their course. My Anxiety level rises, my muscles tense up (if I haven’t worked out), and negative thoughts about the day ahead seep into my mind.

I eat breakfast at 7 am, allowing me to take all of my morning meds, as some must be taken with food.

The anxious mood sticks around for about another hour until the meds with short half-lives get a chance to kick in. (Amongst these meds are the use-only-as-needed “chill pills” that have been approved as a medication I can take regularly three times a day, if needed, plus a regular mental health medication that I now take four times daily.)

Calm returns, as does a bit of acceptable tiredness resulting from the two short half-life meds I take multiple times per day.

My day continues as I assume it would for a person who does not suffer from a mood disorder … except for a weird physical sensation I sometimes have (read part 2).

By late afternoon — because of the meds — I feel a wave of tiredness that borders on annoying. But annoying is better than Anxiety.

On a normal day I return from work, and I go for a longish walk with my pup. I then do some house or yard work,  pick up my wife from her yoga workout, we have dinner, and watch some TV together.

By 8 pm, induced by my short half-life drugs, I am ready to go to bed. Once I get into bed, I am only minutes away from a heavy sleep.

So, there is one obvious side effect of taking the meds I do. Current dosages make me a bit tired early in the day and progressively more so as the day continues. If the tiredness made it too difficult to exercise, I’d find this unacceptable. But at least until mid-afternoon that level of tiredness is not what I feel. Now, being asleep by 8:30 pm and awake by 4 am is definitely annoying. But it is an annoying I will accept, if there is no other choice.

That said, there are some things I can tinker with that might adjust my bedtime somewhat. And there are some things I could do to possibly reduce my 2 hours of morning Anxiety.

It is possible I can cut back on the “use only as needed” chill pills to reduce my tiredness, seeing if the other medication fully addresses my Anxiety. I have, in fact, for the past few nights stopped taking the nighttime pill, but the annoying sleep pattern is still in effect.

Another thing I could do is cut the chill pills in half and take the reduced dosage morning, noon, and (if needed) night.

These options are doctor-approved. And she’s said that if the Anxiety returns, just go back to taking everything as first prescribed.

Now, as for the morning Anxiety, neither of the short half-life pills require they be taken with food. So, I could take one or both very early in the morning (like at 4 am) to see if it staves off the 6 am attack.

I’ve got options. This is good.

(Part 2 describes a weird physical sensation I sometimes have related to my Anxiety.)

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