Progress

Today marks the start of week 3 of TMS treatments. Have I noticed any progress? Well, that’s hard to say. I’m still suffering with anxiety attacks. I’m still breaking down in tears (for no apparent reason) multiple times a day and I still feel sad and hopeless most of the time.

On a positive note though I have been making an effort to reach out to friends who I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m thinking about places I’d like to go this summer, things I’d like to see. I’m looking forward to seeing Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. Little things. But it’s often the little things that make the biggest differences in life.

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Update

I just finished today’s session with J, K, one of the nurses from yesterday, and C, whom I just met. I cannot say enough kind things about these wonderful nurses. Today was so much easier. Less a frantic woodpecker and more like Sheldon rapping on a closed door.

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So it Begins…

Yesterday was my assessment for, and first treatment of, TMS therapy. I don’t even know how to describe the experience in one word. I’ve been using the word “intense” but that doesn’t really cover it.

It started out ok. Well, not great. I became easily overwhelmed by the hospital complex getting turned around several times trying to find the correct parking lot. After 15 minutes of driving in circles and another 10 sorting out a parking pass, I was able to park and make my way inside. I breezed through security and reception without incident, found a seat in the waiting room and settled in to read my book. So far, not too bad.

A short time later two nurses came out, introduced themselves, and took my vitals. My blood pressure was MUCH higher than usual. Apparently, I wasn’t fooling anyone with my calm demeanor. My anxiety was through the roof. The nurses left, assuring me the doctor would be out shortly which he was.

The doctor led the way to the TMS room where I would spend the next hour. In it were a table and set of chairs, where we sat while he asked me standard questions to chart my level of depression and anxiety; a utility sink; a desk and chair; some cabinets; some rather expensive and complicated-looking machinery; and in the centre of the room a large chair reminiscent of a dentist’s chair. It was covered in a white sheet and was surrounded by more large, expensive-looking medical equipment.

tms throne

TMS throne

The doctor explained the procedure to me then left the room to consult with another doctor leaving me alone in the TMS room (that’s when I snapped the picture; not entirely sure if it was allowed). J, who runs the clinic, joined me to further explain the steps that would be taken as part of the assessment including measuring my head. By this time my brain was going mushy. I can’t remember who explained this was a new machine and I would be the first patient it would be used on – would I mind if they brought in a few more people and another doctor for training purposes? I said of course not. How are people to learn if we don’t help out?

The doctor returned and asked if he could have my permission to measure my head. This was done so they know where to position the machine to be the most effective for treatment. After gaining my verbal permission (it’s important that all contact be approved) he pulled out a small measuring tape and began mapping my skull. This proved to be a bit challenging for the doctor as I have a lot of very dark, very thick hair. After watching the doctor struggle for a couple of minutes one of the nurses stepped in to help separate and hold my hair. I sat as still as possible while he measured and marked my scalp with a red Sharpie.

Once the measuring was completed and all the staff was assembled I was asked to alight the TMS throne. I was made comfortable and given noise-canceling earphones. For anyone who has had a traditional MRI, you will know how loud they are. This small device wasn’t much quieter. After some adjustment of both me and the machine, including a threshold test where my fingers were observed for twitching, the treatment began.

It was nothing like what I was expecting. I had watched a few videos of people getting TMS treatment. They appeared restful and relaxed. I can tell you the experience was neither restful nor relaxing. The machine proceeded to rapidly tap my head. I believe only a tree being assaulted by a woodpecker pecking out an urgent Morse code message could fully understand the sensation. It wasn’t long before my eye began to twitch uncontrollably and my jaw rattled of its own accord. I had control over neither.

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I had a thousand feelings at that point – hope that this treatment actually proves beneficial; anxiety because they had started on the right side of my head and I knew they still had to do the left side; despair because I knew I was going to experience this pain daily for the next month.

At that point, the tears started. I held them in for as long as I could but they came just the same. I didn’t figure out why I cried until last night after supper. It wasn’t so much the “discomfort” (I’ll borrow the medical world’s word for “pain”) instead it was because I could envision what I looked like sitting there in that big chair – hair disheveled from the measuring; a straw sticking out of my mouth to prevent my teeth from clacking together; a machine crammed against my skull; blue headphones encircling my face while tears streamed down my cheeks – each one representing the loss what little dignity I had left.

Being ill holds little glamour. Anyone who has ever sat in a hospital gown with their fanny exposed can attest to that. Being a mental health patient brings with it the stigma and embarrassment of being “crazy” and “unstable”. One’s sense of self and self-worth erode over time and one is willing to do just about anything to try to regain one’s sense of humanity. As I sat there, with the last of my dignity streaming down my face and seeping into my sweater, I wondered if this was going to be worth it.

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I was reminded of a scene from the movie The Cutting Edge, a rom-com about a hockey player who loses his peripheral vision and can no longer play professionally. Doug, played by D.B. Sweeney, begs the doctor for help – “Okay, you don’t do it, but somebody, somewhere, down in Mexico City, they shoot shark piss up your nose, you sit in traction for eight months.” It’s amazing what we are willing to go through for the promise of good health.

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression – the staff was amazing. Doctors and nurses were handing me tissues and murmuring words of encouragement. Assuring me that many people cried during their first treatment. It was a normal reaction. It still didn’t stop me from feeling like a fool. No one likes to be seen as weak and crying is considered one of the weakest human states of all.

I don’t know how much time passed before the treatment was completed but when it was over the doctors removed themselves and the nurses took over (it is no secret that nurses are the driving force behind medical care and truly underrated medical practitioners). They released me from the machine all the time speaking words of consolement, and reassurance, promising it would get easier. They were lovely, compassionate angels.

So here I sit at 2 AM. Awakened from sleep with nightmares and a deep sense of foreboding because I know what is to come in 8 hours and I am clinging to their words that treatment gets easier with time.

Disclaimer – This is a description of my experience with TMS and does not necessarily reflect anyone else’s experience. As with any medical treatment each individual responds differently to treatment. If you are considering TMS please don’t let this deter you.

Posted in anxiety, coping strategies, depression, GAD, Mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, Surviving the Madhouse, TMS therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I Am Here

I'm here

When people ask me how I’m doing I commonly reply, “I’m here” or “I’m upright”. I imagine most people think I’m being facetious; that I am just making cheeky or flippant comments but there is a much deeper meaning behind those few words.

When I say “I’m here” it means I have chosen to be here, on this Earth, for another day. It means, that for that day; moment; hour; event, I have overcome the anxiety-induced nausea and migraines in order to be present. It means I was able to set foot outside my door without going into a full-blown panic attack. It means, that for a little while, I was able to beat down the ever-present negative voices in my head long enough to show up.

“I’m here” and “I’m upright” are my victory cries. Because it means I won that battle against mental illness.

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I Should

“I should”. “I should” is one of the worst phrases in the English language. At least for me, it is. By starting a sentence with “I should” my anxiety rises by at least 20%. Then my mind starts spinning with reasons I can’t do whatever it is I just said I should do. Whenever I start a sentence with “I should” it’s a clear indicator that whatever action I’m talking about taking is something I don’t really want to do but feel I must.

“I should go to therapy”. You see, the trouble is, therapy is a bit like torture for me. I am forced, for an hour, to talk about things I don’t want to talk about. To think about things I don’t want to think about and go a journey of “soul-searching” when I’d rather just leave well enough alone. That being said I know things are not “well” within me. I’m just not strong enough, at this point in time, to deal with them.

I should exercise more. I should go to church more often. I should socialize more. I should be doing more. I should. I should. I should. I could just scream with frustration.

So for today “I will” is my mantra. I will be respectful of myself and my needs. I will be patient and understanding with my feelings. I will be kind to the soul that resides within this body. I will not overthink my day. I will love myself. I will be gentle.

 

breathe

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Waiting Patiently

Three weeks. Three weeks until I start TMS therapy. Twenty-one days. It feels like no time at all yet in the same breath it feels like an eternity.

I’ve been on a number of medications for mental health, all with limited or no success.  This is actually one of the reasons I’ve been referred to the TMS program. TMS is a therapy that has shown to be quite successful for “treatment-resistant” patients with depression.

“Treatment-resistant depression is defined as a failure to demonstrate an “adequate” response to an “adequate” treatment trial (i.e., sufficient intensity of treatment for sufficient duration).”
from The National Center for Biotechnology Information 

Meds I’ve tried (at least the ones I remember):

  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft
  • Celexa
  • Effexor XR
  • Remeron (I had an allergic reaction to this one)
  • Wellbutrin
  • Gabapentin
  • Lorazepam

One of the conditions for participating in TMS therapy treatment is the patient (in this case, me) cannot be on any anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. I started weaning off the latest medication just before Christmas and have been med-free since mid-January. I can honestly say it has been hellish.

mind

I have experienced withdrawal symptoms from medications in the past (see The Detox Blues). This has been as intense as those symptoms were. There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t cried at least once. I am so tired but I was unable to sleep (that’s improved some since I’ve started taking Melatonin at night and practicing light therapy in the mornings). The anxiety I experience has risen greatly making it hard for me to leave the house. I have no armour to protect myself from outside stimuli.

The best comparison I can come up with is this – imagine having paper cuts over your entire body, from the soles of your feet to the tips of your ears and between each follicle of hair. Now, it’s time for a bath. You ease your wounded body into the warm bathwater expecting some relief only to discover, rather painfully, it’s not water, it’s vinegar. Each and every inch of your skin that has been cut is now submerged in acetic acid and you cry out in pain. You hop out of the tub and attempt to wipe the vinegar off but there is no escaping the anguish you are experiencing.

That is how I feel each and every time I step outside my door. I am exposed and in pain but there is no escaping it. Sometimes I even feel like that here, in the house. Exposed, vulnerable, and in constant agony.

I am reminded of a scene from the final episode M*A*S*H, Goodbye, Farewell and Amen where Colonel Potter and Father Mulcahy are saying good-bye:Father Mulcahey

This is how I feel about my battle of the brain. I’ve done my time.

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Has It Been that Long?

Two and a half years. Has it really been that long since I’ve posted anything? It must be true. I can’t imagine WordPress has the dates wrong. But wow, two and a half years.

A lot has happened in the last two and a half years. Both kids have graduated high school and gone off to college. It’s weird not having them around. Grocery shopping has become especially strange. I keep loading the cart like I’m feeding two teens and M. keeps taking the food out of the cart, putting it back on the shelf and reminding me the kids aren’t there to eat it. My freezer is still full from before they left in the fall.

My daughter is going to college an hour from home so she comes home pretty much every weekend (and helps eat some of the food, but it was my son who was the big eater). My son decided there was no way he was sticking close to home and moved 6 hours away. He’s going to my alma mater but living with my ex-husband. Yes, it’s as horrifying, from my perspective, as it sounds but it wasn’t my call. My latest mantra is “Let go and let grow”. As in, I have to let them go in order for them to grow. It’s hard but I have to trust it’s for the best in the long run.

Things with me have been steadily declining since long before the kids moved. I can’t pinpoint why I just know things aren’t right. I’m on a waitlist for a newer type of therapy called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy. It’s recommended for patients who have proven treatment-resistant to traditional pharmaceutical treatments.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a form of neurostimulation. TMS is a non-invasive procedure in which a changing magnetic field is used to cause electric current to flow in a small targeted region of the brain via electromagnetic induction. Wikipedia

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I’m pretty excited about it and thought I’d share the process on here in hopes it might help someone else. I’m also participating in a study at University of Western of Ontario on depression and its effect on memory. By participating I hope they are able to find something that can help others.

Future posts won’t have many anecdotes about the kids I’m afraid. But I feel very strongly about continuing to share about the Madhouse’s journey with mental health so I will keep sharing. My small part to battle the stigma.

 

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The Sounds of Summer

This past weekend was Victoria Day up here in The Great White North. It’s a national holiday and the kick-off to Summer (in Canada, Summer gets a capital “S” – it’s that important to us).

Victoria Day is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25 in every province and territory. It honours Queen Victoria’s birthday. In Quebec this holiday is called “National Patriotes Day” (Journée nationale des patriotes).

From Statutory Holidays.com

www.pinterest.comThe Victoria Day weekend is commonly referred to as “May 2-4”; partly because Queen Victoria’s birthday was May 24th, but mostly because, as the kick-off to Summer, there is a lot of beer consumed on the weekend. As in “I’d like a case of 2-4, please.”

molson24case

I Am Canadian. Image courtesy of Google.ca

May 2-4 is the traditional weekend to open cabins and cottages. It’s the official kick-start to the Canadian camping season. It’s the weekend Canadians ready their yard for our 3-months of sun and high temperatures. We put in gardens. We rake up grass. We get out our patio furniture; dust off the BBQs and smokers; fix our decks; replace the boards on fences; mow the lawn and light up the bonfires. Not to mention fireworks – this is one of two holidays, the other being Canada Day, when it is legal to set off fireworks.

The Madhouse was no exception to the unwritten get-ready-for-summer bylaw that affects 90% of the population up here. We too were busy in the yard all weekend. What were we doing? We were building a shed. Yup, a great, big 10×14 Arrow Oakbrook storage shed.

It was a project and a half. Let me put it to you this way – it came with 192 nuts and bolts (that’s 192 sets of nuts and bolts) and 446 screws. Thank God for electric drills. Mike was a trooper. Not only was he the driving force behind getting it done he also tolerated my dizzy spells (I’m susceptible to heat/sun stroke) and Rian’s whining (she is a teenager and she breaks out in a rash if she gets too much sun – thank you, Irish ancestors).

intro_scooter

The Muppet Show’s lovable gofer, Scooter.

Alexi wasn’t too involved with the shed. He had all four of his wisdom teeth extracted on Thursday so he wasn’t feeling too hot. Despite bearing a striking resemblance to Marlon Brando in the Godfather (holy swollen cheeks, Batman) he still pitched in. He did some yard work; helped hold up wall panels while Mike and I screwed them in place; and acted as our gofer or as he put it, “I’m your Scooter.” (I’d love to post a picture of his puffy face, but he asked me not to, and I must respect his request. Trust me, it was both cute and hilarious.)

 

 

After two, long days of working in 25C+  (77F+) temperatures, we were worn out. I could not wait to go bed. All the windows were open allowing a beautiful breeze to flow the through the house. There’s nothing quite as nice as having a fresh breeze blow all that stale, winter air out of your home. But you know what else comes with the lovely breeze? The not-so-lovely noise.

 

We’ve lived here, “in town” (“town” has a population of about 35 000, which is a small city by Canadian standards) as we call it, for 16 years. I lived in the country for 10 years before that and spent a great deal of my childhood on the family farm where my mother grew up. When we lived out in the country our windows were open all the time in the spring and summer (except when they were spreading manure, we shut up the house super quick at the first waft of “Eau de Poo”).  I would fall asleep to the sounds of cattle lowing in the barn, grain elevators, tractors and combines in the fields, crickets, birds, and the occasional car driving by. It was heaven.

Do you know what I hear at night here in town? Cars driving by on any of the two dozen streets within earshot of my home; sirens; neighbours in their pools and hot tubs till all hours of the night; car alarms; people screaming; central air units humming; Guitar Hero blaring from a basement window; dogs barking; the occasional train; and last night – fireworks. And in the daytime it’s non-stop lawn mowers; kids screaming (that I can handle because kids need to play); even more traffic; buzz saws; power drills; hammering; the neighbour’s pool pump; the birds (which I enjoy) and once a week the banging of the garbage truck stopping at hundreds of houses. Basically a cacophony of sound.

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It’s like an audio assault on my senses. I become overwhelmed by the onslaught of sound. I cannot rest. My brain will not shut off. I lie in bed trying to decern which neighbour is having a party. Is the ambulance heading out or bringing some poor soul to the emergency room? Or is there a fire nearby? Is that our car alarm or someone else’s? Should I get up and check the yard just in case there’s a problem?

Last night I got out of bed, went out to the living room and closed all the windows just so I could I try to sleep. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is ADHD or anxiety. Or if it’s related to the hypervigilance associated with PTSD. Maybe it’s all three. What I know for sure is that, even after 16 years in town, I still haven’t adjusted to the sheer volume of city life. I still feel vulnerable surrounded by that much noise.

I’m not sure if the noise affects the kids in the same way. After all, they grew up here. I have noticed they don’t like their windows open either maybe they don’t like the noise either. I’ll have to ask.

So what’s the solution because you can’t live life in the problem. The long-term goal is to move back out to the country, even a small village. In the short-term it’s either keep all the windows closed or start wearing noise-canceling headphones.

 

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I can totally rock this look.

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747 360 Minutes

747 360 minutes. That’s how much time has ticked by since I have written anything of substance; anything that has meant something to me. 747 360 minutes or 519 days.

I did sneak that small post in back in January, The Battle, but that was so raw (not to mention short) I’m not really counting it as a substantial piece of writing.

So, what’s stopped me from writing? There had to have been time. I mean, 747 360 minutes isn’t chump change. There was time. And lots of it. So what stopped me?

Was I that busy? No, not really. I’ve watched a lot of TV in 747 360 minutes. I mean, a lot.

So if it wasn’t a matter of time what was it? No ideas? No, that’s not it. There have been tons of things I’ve wanted to share – our trip to Canada’s Wonderland; my 40th birthday; my 20-year college mini-reunion; Alexi’s 16th birthday; Rian’s 18th birthday; the passing of my cat, Louis; the adoption of our new cat, Skippy; finding out my other cat, Mittie (yeah, there’s a lot cats in The Madhouse), has cancer; going to Fan Expo in Toronto; how I’ve been tapping into my creative side and making crafts (all kinds of stuff, who knew I could do that?); reconnecting with old friends…the list goes on, and on.

Ok, so there was plenty of writing material, maybe lack of encouragement? No, that wasn’t it. Larry at Me, Myself and Kids has continued to encourage me to get back to writing. And Kate at Did That Just Happen? has told me numerous times she’s looking forward to reading about The Madhouse again. Mike has been exceptionally supportive. Every time he sees me madly keying at the laptop he asks, “Is that for your blog?”.

We’ve established what hasn’t stopped me from writing – there’s been plenty of time, oodles of inspiration and an abundance of support. So, what was it? It’s hard to explain, even now, because I’m experiencing the same phenomenon that has held me back for the past 747 360 minutes even as I type these words.

I feel like I’m choking. It feels like there is a hand applying pressure to my throat and the more I type the more pressure that hand applies. As though the hand doesn’t want me to communicate. As if it is trying to crush my ability to express myself. As I am experiencing this choking sensation I am also experiencing an ever-increasing build-up of anxiety although I am forcing myself to continue. I am trying not to cry. I am going to keep going.

This is the first time in 747 360 minutes I have been able to persevere through the feeling of being strangled. The first time in 519 days I’ve been able to carry on through the nausea, the clenching of my jaw, the cold, clammy hands, the shallow breathing, the racing thoughts not to mention racing heart. The first time I’ve been able to endure the mental anguish that presents itself as physical symptoms.

psychosomatic

adjective psy·cho·so·mat·ic \-sə-ˈma-tik\

Simple Definition of psychosomatic

  • : caused by mental or emotional problems rather than by physical illness

Full Definition of psychosomatic

  1. 1 :  of, relating to, concerned with, or involving both mind and body <the psychosomatic nature of man — Herbert Ratner>
  2. 2 :  of, relating to, involving, or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance <psychosomatic symptoms> <psychosomatic medicine

from Merriam-Webster

Even my face is tingling. God, I hate this. Please get me through this.

At the New Year I received a message from my friend, Saidat. Saidat is a motivational speaker, singer, song-writer and author of the children’s book, Tadias and the Bully Tree. Saidat wanted to start a blog but needed help. She asked if I would be willing to help with editing (I’m sure some of you are cringing as I know I often misuse commas and formal writing tools, like, well, brackets) and maintain the blog. I accepted.

And thus was born Living to Motivate, Motivating to Live. Saidat’s blog. I’ve been enjoying editing her work and doing the odd extra bit of writing for her here and there, but it’s not the same as writing in my own voice; giving my thoughts words and wings. Allowing myself to write as myself.

Another friend sent me an email yesterday asking my opinion on an email she had written. I did, what I call, a “quick tweaking” and sent it back to her. This was what she sent me in reply.

It’s amazing what that little “take some credit” did for me. Yes, I can write and write well. Yes, I have a gift for stringing words together in such a way that they are coherent and expressive. Yes, I am a Writer. It’s only taken me 28 years or 10 222 days or 14 716 800 minutes to say it out loud.

writer

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The Battle

I posted this on Facebook about a week ago. My Michael has encouraged me to share it here even though I haven’t posted in 14 months. I’ve been debating it for the past few days but was inspired by the hope-themed post “Everyone Had the Fever” written by my friend, Larry, over at Me, Myself and Kids.

Anxiety is more than a mental health issue. It is a parasite. It sucks away your energy. Your drive. Your desires. Your dreams. It poisons you with fear. It causes paralysis of the mind – it anesthetizes the positive thoughts, creativity and imagination. The poison feeds your fears. Fuels your Nightmares and holds you captive. Anxiety eats you from the inside out. Leaving an empty shell that was once a vibrant person. I have the desire to kill my tormentor. Slaughter my captor. Rid myself of the infestation that is Anxiety. I use coping tools, medications and therapy to wage war against my unseen enemy. I win some battles. I lose others. I long for a cease fire. There are days I am ready to wave the white flag. Surrender and never fight again. But that is not an option. So today, when I am ready to tie anything that is white to a stick and wave it feebly in the air, crying, “You win! You’re stronger than I am. I give up” – I don’t. It may not be a great victory. The only ground that may be won is the step I take to grind the white flag of surrender into the ground. But I will not surrender. Not today. Not ever.

white flag

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