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perkreations

Honesty about creativity, art, mental illness, grief, feminism, human rights and chronic pain with a healthy dose of sarcasm

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chronic pain

Panic Attack Drawing

After deciding to take a crack at using the drawing prompt #fear from #sketchbookskool on Instagram today. I thought of what makes me fearful and immediately thought of panic attacks. Thus I decided to try and draw what a panic attack feels like to me. Here’s how my drawing turned out…

K

Part 2: Welcome to the Psych Ward

Bare footprints disappearing in the snow, heading further and further from home. Finding a well hidden snowbank she lays down, blue silk nighty billowing then settling around her, staring up into the silent, swirling snow as the handfull of sleeping pills begins to take effect. Soon she stops shivering, closes her eyes, lets the hypothermic warmth take over and eventually she is no longer.

This was the suicidal plan that played out over and over in my mind last winter. I saw my demise as a favour to my friends and family. Finally they’d be able to move on from my constantly bringing them down and holding them back with my depression and pain and anxiety and defectivness.

I often researched suicide methods and statistics online, wanting to make sure my first try would be permanent. I began punishing myself, for failing to get on with my plan, by burning my flesh with the hot metal of a lighter, carving up my arms and legs with scissors.

I had eaten only cheerios for the better part of a year, bringing myself to a point of malnourishment where I grew lightheaded frequently and occasionally passed out.

In a last ditch effort to save my own life I wrote out all of the above in point form and shakily handed it to my psychologist one day. I was finally telling him what I’d managed to keep secret from him and my loved ones for so long. I remained silent as he read, folding in on myself, dry eyed and staring into space.

My psychologist called an ambulance and this was how I ended up in the psych ward. It was discovered that my hemoglobin levels had dropped to 75 and later down to 45 (normal is 120 – 160 for females). This extreme anemia came from my self-induced malnourishment and led to intravenous iron infusions and, eventually, the discovery of a stomach ulcer and acid reflux, which had likely occurred from taking my meds on a frequently empty stomach.

There are parts of my first few days on the ward I’ve no memory of. I was so ill I could scarcely make it out of bed, let alone out my door and into the common areas.

When I grew stronger and would slowly make my way to a common tv, clinging tightly to the wall railing lest the lightheadedness get the better of me. I’d lay on the couch either staring blankly at the tv or falling asleep as the other patients chattered around me and controlled the remote.

As my physical symptoms began to heal I was able to spend more time focusing on the reasons for my suicidal urges. This led to a focus on self esteem and expression of anger.

A particularly memorable breakthrough came when I told the loud-mouthed, bully of the ward to, “fuck off!”

I told my nurse about my vulgar admonishment of the man, expecting to be scolded. I was surprised and elated when I was told, while this wouldn’t be the best way to handle all conflict, I should be proud for having stood up for myself.

Slowly but surely I found myself again, a strong, robust woman who’d become trapped inside a girl who’d lost sight of self love. I gradually met goal after goal, in spite of numerous setbacks. My recovery has never been a straight, upward line, but upward has been the overall direction lately.

At the end of January I left the hospital scared to be back in the real world but I felt hope beginning to stir within my soul. As I’m writing this now I can finally see how far I’ve come and I can’t help but smile and be proud. Tears also sting my eyes with conflicting emotion, how did I ever get so very low and am I destined to take a dive again if I’m not ever vigilant?

I know I’ve a long way to go but I am finding more and more hope in my heart and more motivation to keep working to get better.

I am so thankful to my incredibly kind, sensitive, unconditionally loving husband who did so much to help me pull through and convince me he would not be better off without me. My father and father-in-law and mother-in-law visited me often and showed so much unconditional love it was overwhelming.

The rest of my family and friends from near and far away also expressed their deep concern and love when I thought all was lost. I still feel unworthy of this amount of love but I’m beginning to accept it and I’m trying to love everyone back as hard as I can.

This is where the second and most severe mental health crisis in my life has led. I’m still fighting maddening chronic pain but I feel like the fight within my mind is less and optimism is beginning to win a little more each day.

K

Love ๐Ÿ’– Recovery?

No matter how much I plan and pace and predict how attending an event will work, coping with the consequences never fails to surprise me with its intensity. I do my best to mitigate pain difficulties during an event and leave time for recovery but I’m not psychic so I cannot account for everything that might happen and how it will make me feel.

Myself (far right) with my girlfriends last night taking timeout in the beer garden to enjoy some sangria๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’–

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Folk Fest with a couple of girlfriends. They were kind enough to pick me up and take me in the early evening, thus decreasing the total time I’d be there but still allowing plenty of time for us to have some fun and see the entertainers I most wanted to see.

Lately I’ve been saying, “fuck it, I’m going,” then figuring out ways of doing some of the things I most enjoy rather than being permanently sidelined. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have friends and family willing to take my special needs into account and help me to make the most of what I am able to do.

I think my new fuck it attitude has enabled me to enjoy life a little more but it has also had a direct effect on the time I spend out of commission during the time following. No matter how much care I take during an event I always know there will be time spent in recovery mode for several days after.

What does recovery look like for me? It’s not particularly pleasant;

  • Pain levels highly elevated
  • Decreased mobility
  • Extra time spent sleeping and feeling overly tired
  • Inability to do much beyond resting for several days. Recovery time needed depends a myriad of factors and I often find it difficult to predict
  • Feeling overly emotional, tearful, depressed, and angry
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Difficulties completing simple household tasks
  • Increased need for pain medication
  • Headaches

In spite of my desire to try to take part in things I enjoy more I can’t help but wonder if it’s worth the inevitable painful recovery time. In spite of this trepidation I plan to continue to say, “fuck it, I’m going,” whenever I can reasonably do so. The joy returning to my life is, I think, worth it and will hopefully make me stronger in the long run.

If you suffer from a chronic condition do you have a, “fuck it, I’m going,” policy or something similar and if so what do you do to mitigate recovery time and still enjoy taking the chance to do what you love on occasion? I would love to hear your ideas and stories.

K

Psych Ward Humour

The psych ward can be a little scary at times and is often fraught with emotions running high. In order to keep some semblance of normalcy one must keep a sense of humour. Here are a couple of amusing incidents I recall from my time spent as an inpatient.

In order to protect the identities of those involved I’ll be using gender neutral pronouns such as them and they. I will not provide any names nor physical descriptions.

Please understand these stories aren’t meant to make a mockery of psychiatric patients. I am simply trying to highlight the fact there is light and levity to be found even during the darkest of times.

One day I was invited by another patient to join in a lesson they’d be offering on tantric kissing. The patient pointed to the ring on my left hand and said this lesson would be especially important for me to attend as a married woman. I politely declined the offer but couldn’t help chuckling as I walked away wondering what teaching techniques were planned.

In another situation an apple was left on the coffee table in the common area. A patient asked if it belonged to anyone. I said it was without an owner and they were welcome to it.

The patient recoiled at my suggestion and said, “no way! It could belong to a woman and you know how Eve tricked Adam into eating an apple in Eden. I’m not going to let that happen to me.”

“Yeah, the women are always trying to lead men into temptation!” another patient chimed in.

In another situation it was brought to my attention the best way to dispose of a body would be to throw it out concealed within a Christmas tree.

My absolute favourite moment happened one day when I finally was feeling well enough to draw a little bit. Another patient, who was very withdrawn with constant delusions, approached me and peaked over at the sketch I’d just started. For the first time in the week I’d been there I saw a sense of lucid clarity as my gaze was met.

“That’s a really ugly drawing!” the patient declared then nodded at me and withdrew again, striding away speaking to unseen partners in conversation.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I’d been hoping the patient would start to have more moments of clarity. I just didn’t expect my unfinished art would be the thing to draw out the lucidity!

K

Fun?

Conversation with myself:

“When was the last time you had fun?”

“I’m not supposed to have fun.”

“Really? And why do you feel this way?

“It should be obvious. I don’t work, I’m on long-term disability benifits, I suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. I can’t even keep my house clean. I don’t deserve to have fun.”

“Wow! That’s a really harsh perspective. If you met someone in the same condition as you and that person told you they felt as though they weren’t entitled to have fun would you agree and list off all the reasons why not as you’ve just listed them off?

“Of course not, but I have different standards for myself than I do for others.”

“Huh, so you’re a suffering snob? Sounds to me like you think your suffering runs deeper than other’s… is that it?”

“Of course not. I just feel like I’ve caused too many inconveniences for those closest to me for far too long. Actually I would wish for my friends and family to have fun without having to worry about me and if I’m comfortable or if I might need to leave early because I’m in too much pain.”

“Sounds like your friends and family want you to have fun. Especially since they go out of their way to make you comfortable. Do you agree they think you’re entitled to fun despite your disability?

“I guess I do. But what is it I should do for fun? How much fun am I allowed to have?”

***

Cut to me in early April when I see an advertisement that one of my favourite bands will be playing in Edmonton in mid-july along with another band I enjoy. I gleefully book tickets and subsequently panic.

I panic because it’s the first time in years I’ve planned to do something so frivolous, fun, and selfish. How could I have possibly have bought tickets to something far away, expensive, and taxing on my body.

Before I can give up and sell the tickets online. I decide to come up with a plan to make it work.

#1 I ask my husband if we can spend two nights in Edmonton so I have lots of time to rest.

#2 I ask that we take at least two short breaks on the road so I can walk a little bit and stretch out.

#3 Even though I have a number of relatives and friends I would love to see while in Edmonton I decide visiting will add too much bodily stress. I also promise myself not feel too guilty about this. There will be time for visiting trips in the future.

#4 I promise myself a week of guilt free recovery as I know the trip will be incredibly exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting. So I keep plans and appointments to a bare minimum and set my recovery time as a priority.

Our trip to Edmonton was great. We saw Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 and it was brilliant and totally worth the planning. I’m so glad I gave myself permission to do something fun after years of insisting on punishing myself. I’m also greatful for the planned recovery time๐Ÿ˜Š

K

Finished Another Mixed Media Peice

One of my favourite coping strategies for anxiety, depression, grief, and chronic pain is art. I started this latest peice about 2 weeks ago with one pencil crayon portrait of the late George Carlin. I soon found myself creating 6 more portraits to be part of a project about George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words stand up comedy routine.

I’ve always loved George Carlin and how he looked at freedom of speech, of freedom religion, freedom in general and I couldn’t help but think about how freedom may be in trouble because of leaders like Donald Trump. The world already has too many muzzled communities, this is not something to lay down and accept.

I am happy with how the project worked out. I love how there is more and more to it the longer and closer it’s viewed. I also enjoyed the thoughtful meditation I experienced on an important topic.

I’m glad to keep painting as it has helped me start to see more value in myself, more worth. This blog has also helped me to grow and stretch in ways I didn’t think I would and I have started to gain self confidence.

What do you do to cope with mental health issues? I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have.

K

Recovery

This was part of my recovery and self-care plan for today after over-doing it yesterday ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’– lol! It’s a great read.


I think others are worth taking care of… Just have to keep reminding myself I’m worth it too.

K

Pain Fog

Deciding to hit the grocery store yesterday may have been a bad idea but it was nessasary. The long weekend cleaned our fridge of fruits, veggies, and meal ingredients. So in spite of elevated pain levels I set out to pick up a few things.

learned yesterday that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when I need it.

First, ordering from the deli turned into a ridiculously difficult task. I stuttered out my order in drips and drabs because I couldn’t focus on what I wanted. My back was hurting so badly I had a tough time trying to push and pull my thoughts to anything else. Fortunately the clerk was friendly and patient with me.

I almost went to the check-out after the deli but I knew I would just have to go back so I pressed on. Trying to make decisions about what to choose in the produce section became more and more frustrating as the pain ratcheted upwards.

I saw someone I recognized but I couldn’t place her through my pain foggy brain. I grew nervous I’d embarrass myself talking to her so I hid my face and hoped she wouldn’t notice me.

Later on I, rather ironically, dropped a packet of muscle relaxants because my hands tremble more and more as my pain levels increase. I then slowly, almost comically, squatted down to retrieve the box and decided I had enough groceries, which was good, ‘cuz I’d sure as hell had enough in general๐Ÿ˜‰

I made my way to check out and scared the guy in front of me when I yelped as a spasm struck as I tried to reach into the cart to pick up my items. I then fumbled through small talk with the cashier as I didn’t want to be rude. It was busy and because my injuries aren’t easily visible and I am young-ish, I didn’t want to bother asking for help carrying my groceries out.

I beat myself up over my poor decision to not ask for help and slowly pushed the cart towards the doors. I suppose it was fortunant I was slow though as a clerk jogged after me to hand me the card I’d forgotten.

I used all the focus I had left to drive the 5 minutes home. Carrying my bags in and putting things away was done in conjunction with a few tears and taking medication. After finishing I finally was able to rest.

Have you ever experienced the brain fog chronic pain can sometimes cause? What tricks have you found to combat this? I look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have.

K

Grieving Dramatic Life Changes

When I first realized the pain in my ankle would, likely, never go away I did my best to grit my teeth and continue my job as curling pro/manager. Then I injured my back and still kept trying to swim up stream and not give up the dream job I had.

Laying to rest the function of my ankle and trying to make peace with the long incision scar and ongoing nerve pain. The adorable slippers help make me feel a little better๐Ÿ˜‰

It broke my heart every day I wasn’t able to play the game I so love and care about. I also found myself having to avoid other high-impact excercise I had enjoyed previously such as, running, skiing, dance, boxercise, and step aerobics because the impact caused dramatic flare ups and I risked further injury. 

In order to invest the energy I still had into my job I had to spend more and more spare time in isolated recovery mode. I consoled myself with the fact I could still teach, I could still help others enjoy the game of curling.

I bounced on and off of disability a few times, always striving to claw my way back onto the ice. There were days I could scarcely stand, days where I struggled to walk, days where the pain screamed at me so loudly I couldn’t even think.

Eventually my performance at work reached a point where no matter how much I wanted to be the reliable, contientious, creative, perfectionist I used to be I couldn’t keep up and it was time to go back onto disability… this time for an indefinite period.

Doctors have told me it’s counterproductive for me to think of ever going back to curling as the sport only agrivates my injuries. I’ve been told, if I’m patient, I might be lucky enough for my back injury to worsen enough in the next 5 to ten years that surgery may then be helpful. Yippee!

I’m not writing about my lousy prognosis to gain pity (we all have our trials and heartaches) or to ask for any advice. I want to explain how it feels to grieve something in life aside from another human.

I didn’t understand for a long time why my heart ached so badly and why every time my thoughts drifted to my prognosis I wanted to somehow, simutanously, scream and cry and rage and close my eyes and never wake up. 

During my first in-patient psychiatric stay a very kind, and very smart nurse clued me in to the fact that grief isn’t solely reserved for the dead. She showed me books and articles outlining how we can also grieve loss of a marriage, a career, a friendship, health and wellbeing, a pet, independence, and many more personal heart breaks.

I finally began to understand exactly what I had lost and why it hurt so much. I feel as though, to this day, I grieve my Health and my career to some degree each day just as I continually grieve the death of my Mom. How much I grieve on any given day depends on what the world throws at me.

When I see an article about my former curling colleagues that reminds me of what I’m missing or I try to plan a holiday and remember all the travel contingencies I must plan for or around I my have more acute feelings of grief regarding my career and my health.

To cope with these feelings I have learned to get creative. I think of getting stronger both mentally and physically so I might peruse a new and exciting career that I find just as satisfying. In fact, writing this blog is part of my copeing strategy as well as a way to test if writing is something I wish to persue as part of my future. 

I also get creative with travel plans, specifically building in long rest periods, and usually travelling with a companion to take care of decision-making or driving, for example, if I get too tired or develop brain-fog from elevated pain levels.

If you suffer from chronic pain or any other dramatic loss and have experienced the grief that often goes along with it I’d love to hear your stories and coping strategies. Building community understanding is in itself a coping strategy. I don’t know about you but I could sure use, and would love to contribute all the strength I can to helping others and myself.

K

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