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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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disability

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

Panic Attacks as a Child

My heart pounds so heavily it reverberates through my entire body. This feels terrifying and only adds to the worries bringing me to this elevated state of arousal.

I am supposed to be sleeping but it’s clear relaxation is a ship long since sailed and I am stranded on an island of anxiety. My mind races. On this night one small worry has become a storm and soon swirls into a fucking tsunami.

This particular tsunami is not a current concern. It is a memory of a string of my very first panic attacks. Awww, such sweet and special memories๐Ÿ˜›

I didn’t experience a lot of anxiety attacks until my late 20’s and 30’s but the more I consider the first pushing of my panic button the earlier in life I can recall it happening.

When I was around 9 years old we were studying World War 2 and the holocaust in school. I was also reading Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl. The more I learned the more disturbed I felt.

I cried in my mother’s arms for ages when I finished the book. I couldn’t, still can’t, comprehend the hatred shown for differences that shouldn’t matter. We’re all human and no one person is better or more valuable than another.

I lay awake many a night terrified of World War 3, the possibility of conscription, concentration camps, torture, and the possibility of the end of the world. I shook with fear, sobbed into my pillow, felt the terror of hyperventilation, and I was tormented by nightmares bringing all my fears to life.

My parents spent a lot of time reassuring me that WW3 wasn’t nigh. They were also real with me. They told me the holocaust was an unforgivable crime against humanity and that many people, including Anne Frank and most of her family, had died painfully and needlessly.

I often worried my father would be conscripted and have to go fight in a war or that we’d be forced into a death camp and be gassed in a “shower” room. I was scared a dictator would come to power and slowly strip our country of rights and freedom. The more I learned about the 2nd world war the more I feared hubris, ignorance,and forgetfulness would plunge our world into a similar state of chaos.

Perhaps my fears were over the top and incredibly dramatic for a 9 year old but my Mom and Dad listened to my concerns patiently, gave me honest answers to difficult questions, and they reassured me with logic and reasoning rather than empty platitudes. They also didn’t tell me to stop reading and learning so intently. To help reassure and encourage me they kissed me, held me tightly and told me they loved me.

Looking back I still feel the fear and panic that came with learning about such a difficult and terrifying subject. I cannot even imagine how awful it would have been to have lived during that time. I don’t regret the learning for one second though. Some subjects are scary but we cannot sensor education just because it’s frightening. We must remember to learn from the mistakes of the past.

I think my parents did a commendable job dealing with my first panic attacks and many more to follow. The fact that I suffer from panic attacks is nobodys fault. My Mom and Dad did a great job making sure I felt safe and loved even if panic seized and I am forever grateful for this.

My hope is this will reassure others that although difficult subjects may lead to difficult times we shouldn’t be ashamed of fear or avoid learning. Sometimes the only way to cross a river is to swim no matter how swift the churning current and rollicking rapids.

What are your thoughts about panic attacks or any other psychological challenges during childhood? I’d love to hear any stories or advice.

K

Spinning Sky Series

Here is another painting from my Spinning Sky Series. I have titled this one, Drama’s Brewing. Painted with acrylic on canvas.

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

Welcome to the Psych Ward

I’ve often alluded to my time spent in the psych ward for anxiety and severe depression but I’ve put off writing about it directly as it was an extremely difficult time. I’m still not sure I’m ready to talk about this but I’ll try.

This is me waiting in the secure emergency ward room. Note the word “useless” scrawled across my inner arm. This is a stark reminder of the other self-flagellating words I’d written in other places and the still bloody and red scars I had from harming myself with blades and flames. It is blatantly obvious to me now that I desperately needed to be where I was.

I’m going to break this story up into several smaller pieces to make it easier on myself and to make for easier reading. To begin with I’ll begin at the beginning. Admission.

I voluntarily asked to be admitted so I can only speak from my experience. I know others are admitted involuntarily for a myriad of reasons. Regardless, we must all wait our turn to be triaged through emergency.

In most psychiatric cases, including mine, not just any bed will do. A bed must open up in the secure area of the emergency ward, guarded by peace officers, void of creature comforts, and constantly surveiled via cameras.

This area is reserved for those on suicide and self harm watch (like me), others experiencing psychosis or other unpredictable psychiatric conditions, prison inmates or those under arrest needing medical attention, and any other patients who might cause harm to themselves or others. Bright side – you get a small private room.

There is one common washroom in the secure area I was in, no lock on the door, the words, “I died here,” etched into the wall along with a swastika which I attempted to turn into a peace sign. I left the words alone as they made sense to me.

I waited in this area for 2 nights the first time I was admitted and 1 night the second time. I consider myself very lucky as I met others who waited up to a week for a psych bed to open up.

Once a bed came available my belongings were hastily packed up and I was bundled into a wheelchair to make the trip to the ward that would be home for an indefinte period.

I cried and hid my face as I was wheeled along. I was sure I was being judged for taking up space and services I wasn’t entitled to. I felt there were others more deserving of admission and I was a lost cause anyway.

Upon arrival in the ward I was greeted by friendly nurses. They went through my belongings carefully, placing anything of value or that might cause harm, my purse, headphones, pencil sharpener, aresol hair spray, and nail scissors into a locker I could only access through a staff member.

I had to surrender my phone as nothing with a camera is allowed for privacy purposes and the environment is meant to be as low stimuli as possible. I would be able to use the communal landline on the ward or, once granted timed off-unit privileges, given my phone back temporarily.

I recall being completely overwhelmed by the co-ed ward at first. I could see into the high observation area behind the desk, a wall of windows penning acutely psychotic, violent, or destructively delusional patients into a locked ward within the locked ward. Many of these patients prowled back and forth, ranted and yelled, or pressed their faces to the glass, staring with glassy eyes and unkempt locks at anything and anyone.

I was told to wait in the common area until my nurse had time to give me an orientation and tour. I observed the other patients I’d be living with and grew nervous. I didn’t want to judge anyone, I wanted to be as empathetic as possible but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed.

The ward was not just for the anxious and depressed like me. There were individuals pacing round and round talking and gesticulating wildly to themselves. Others sat and stared into space catatonically. I soon became familiar with the manic laughter of someone who cannot control their emotions despite trying desperately. It’s not a pleasant laugh… it’s hollow and pain filled and a little scary.

Some patients approached me and introduced themselves. One lady told me her entire life story within moments of meeting me. But she was kind and welcoming and I soon found that those I’d been unsure of because of their erratic behaviour were also wonderful people who’d just lost their way and needed time to rest and regroup…like me.

To be continued

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

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