Riding the Black Horse

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This is the first time in years that I’ve used my writing to work out what’s going on in my life. Right now I’m so overwhelmed that I feel I have no choice.

See, that’s the biggest problem right now. I’m helpless. I’m poor and that doesn’t give me a lot of options and I have a whole list of disabilities that limits me as well. I have this fantasy about living a life where I’m allowed to make choices that benefit me instead of being forced into situations that benefit some faceless government.

I just got a notice today that my rent is going up $265 in two days. Yes, you got that right. Two whole days to come up with $265. Looks like groceries are optional now. See, I live in a low-income building and let me give you a few facts.

  1. There is no definition as to who can live in a low-income building. There’s no regulations stating that you have to make under a certain amount to live here. I could be a millionaire and still rent here.
  2. There’s no regulations stating what they can or can’t charge for their apartments. Legally, they could raise my rent to $1000/month if they wanted to and still call themselves “low-income.”
  3. There’s no regulation stating how they determine my rent. A common practice in low-income buildings is to have tenants hand in their tax assessment and base rents on that. However, that’s not the law. It’s just common practice.
  4. They’re under no legal obligation to give me any notice in rent increases. Yes, folks, you read that right. Two days is completely legal.
  5. I can be kicked out at any time if I can’t pay that rent.

Yes, that’s the life I live as a tenant of a low-income building. Sometimes low-income buildings will evict tenants they don’t like on very spurious reasons. When you’re poor, you learn to live with this reality. You are always one step away from being homeless and everyone knows it.

That’s not all I’m dealing with this week, though. I’m finding out things about myself that leave me feeling at odds with myself.

Back in 2011, I had an assessment done. At that time I was given the diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning disorder. I did my research (for which I’d like to thank both the Edmonton Public Library and the University of Alberta library) and felt more in control knowing more about what it was. Once put on the Asperger’s spectrum, it’s been given its own diagnosis. However, it exhibits a lot like Asperger’s.

I also deal with anxiety. Nothing new to anyone who’s been reading this for any time. I talk about that black horse a lot. What is new is something I failed to read in the assessment; I have ADHD. It’s at this point my brain stops and I have no words.

Coming to grips with the reality of the link between NLD and Asperger’s is enough of a blow. Realizing I have ADHD on top of it…. how do you add that information into your life? Yes, it’s a diagnosis and shouldn’t mean much but those four letters stun me. I’ve always known my brain works more like a blender on high than the functioning computer it is but that didn’t bother me. I worked with it. But ADHD? How do you add those letters into your life?

So I’m particularly vulnerable right now and want to feel like I have some control. The truth is that when you’re poor and disabled, control is taken away from you. The Powers That Be believe that, somehow, you’re unable to handle control so you’re treated like a child. I don’t know where anyone got that idea but I’d really like them to get it out of their heads.

Right now I’m scared because something new has come down the pipe and this infantalization of me as one of Alberta’s poor and mentally ill has left me with few tools to deal with it. So, in a desperate attempt to gain some control, I grasp at the only thing that has ever made me feel powerful; my words. Right now, they’re all I have.

 

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Employment and the Mentally Ill

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Back in the summer of 2011, I worked as a writer for Alberta Education. It was such an absolute nightmare for me that had I not had the good fortune to be fired, I would have found myself in the psych ward in the hospital within a week. I wish I could say that is an exaggeration but it isn’t. As a result of this nightmare, two things happened; I began to have panic attacks. These attacks were triggered when I tried to write or when I was working in a job and had to talk to the boss. Just thinking about it is enough to quicken my breathing and make a panic attack seem imminent.

Yes, I tried to work but the anxiety got the better of me and I simply couldn’t anymore. The idea, just the simple thought, of talking to a boss still makes me want to shut down. However, I’m not one to give up without a fight so, recently, I thought perhaps I could work part-time somewhere. A couple of days a week shouldn’t overwhelm me and would give me time to recuperate for the next shift.

See, aside from the anxiety, I’m actually a great worker. In an office I’m versatile and creative. Show me what you need done and I’ll get it done. In retail, I’m actually very patient with the customers and like to help. I understand what it’s like trying to find something and needing some help. So, with that in mind, I applied to some local businesses. Like Walmart.

There is a new trend in corporations to use psych tests as a means to thin out the resumes they get. The belief being that they can get the type of person they want without all the hassle of actually talking to people. It’s cookie cutter thinking and it’s dangerous.

Anyone who’s been trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you that without the proper training and proper testing methods, these tests are, at best, useless. A true psych test such as the MMPI has very specific questions that answer questions that the psychologist or psychiatrist may face. However, these tests are meant to be a tool, not a means to weed people out.

Think of it this way; a hammer is a tool that can help a person with the right experience and training to build a house. However, that hammer cannot build the house by itself. These big corporations are relying on these mini psych tests to do their job for them. A job they were never designed to do.

Further, these tests are not full psych tests. There is a great deal missing from them. A true psychological test done by a trained professional has multiple questions dealing with the same or a similar issue. This is done not only to determine who’s trying to fake something but is also a means to gauge how deep an issue may go. These mini tests don’t have the follow up questions. Therefore, the corporation is only getting a very skewed picture of the person.

There is a very real human rights danger here, though. Those tests can reveal any mental health issues such as, in my case, anxiety. Suddenly the person with a mental illness finds themselves and their illness exposed to strangers without their knowledge or consent. I find that frightening. It goes deeper, though. Once exposed, the corporation will red flag that person so that any subsequent resumes they send in are automatically rejected without even being glanced at.

What does that mean? That means that those with mental health issues are being denied jobs based on their disability. Yet, most of the time they don’t even know this is going on. That the human resources department has red flagged them because their mental illness showed up on a test they neither have the training nor experience to administer.

I find all of that terribly, terribly frightening. Don’t you?

Crocheting Anxiety to Sleep

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Having anxiety is like having spiders infest your brain.

Brain Spiders

This week was a particularly bad one for me. Anxiety-wise, that is. I don’t know how it started but my anxiety attacks had a cascade effect, one tumbling into another. It was only when I picked up my crochet that the anxiety was lulled into a near-slumber like a cranky 2 year old who’s finally crashed from too much sugar.

There is a rhythm to crochet that, if you let it take over you, will create a diversion from the anxiety. It’s soothing and the texture of the yarn gives your brain something to focus on.

So, my week went something like this;

Brain: WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!
Me: *crochets quietly*
Brain: WE’RE ALL GONNA… ooo… look at that color… DIE!!
Me: *yarn over, pull through*
Brain: We’re all… the yarn feels nice… we’re all gonna…
Me: *yarn over, pull through*
Brain: We’re all gonna die, you know. That’s pretty.

Eventually it gets quiet in my head and I can start to think again. The logical half of my brain can take over for the anxiety-ridden, cracked half and I can function for a while. The respite is sometimes short before that half is up and destroying the house again. Don’t get me wrong. I still love that half of my brain even when it’s keeping me up half the night with screams of terror. It’s trying to do its job of keeping me safe, even if it’s doing that job a little too enthusiastically.

I’m beginning to train myself that crochet means relaxation. It’s taken me some time and determination but I’m getting there. The repetitive rhythm of crochet is the key to it, I think. I look at other techniques used to get people into a different state of mind and repetitive rhythm is a hallmark of all of them. Just look at prayer beads or the rosary. Saying the same words while massaging the beads. Instead of saying words, I’m feeling yarn and moving the yarn through a pattern. Similar ideas, different actions.

My anxiety won’t go away. It can’t be cured or pushed down. It’s here to stay, I’m afraid, so I have to learn to live with it and use it to my advantage. Sometimes, though, it can be soothed with a bit of crochet.

Crocheting Anxiety

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My attempt at crocheting a tiger.

Derf

In this past year I took up crochet. Some of my efforts have been… well… we call him Derf. Other efforts, though, have been amazing and, encouraged, I’m working on a sweater for my mother for Christmas.

I originally took up crochet as a means to help me control the shaking in my hands. I’ve always had tremors in my hands and it sometimes makes life difficult. During an anxiety attack, the shaking can get so bad I can’t hold a glass of water. I thought crochet would help me deal with that and it has.

However, there has been an unexpected side effect; it calms me. I suffer from anxiety and sometimes it gets so bad you can’t even remember how to breathe. Thoughts race in your head, each one worse than the last. I can go from the thought that someone’s fine to they’re dead in under a minute during an anxiety attack. It’s not fun.

Baby Christmas Outfit

Baby Christmas Outfit

There is something soothing, though, in the repetition of crochet that helps calm me. I’m not sure what it is or how it works. I do know that I can work through a few rows of crochet and my brain starts to slow down. It’s as though my thoughts start to mesh with the rhythm of the knots I’m creating. Eventually I simply lose myself in the project and all that anxiety melts away.

I’ve gotten to a point in my crochet where I’m starting to try and sell it. I’m getting better at it and love the more artistic side of it. I’ll never be that person you see at the Farmer’s Market selling one of 300 dishcloths she’s made. However, I will keep creating one of a kind items

Baby Blanket in Purple

Baby Blanket

that can be treasured for years to come. And, meanwhile, I’ll use my crochet to give me a solid foundation when my world seems to shatter around me.

That is the true beauty of crochet.

Fitness and Anxiety

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When I was first put on anti-anxiety medication, I noticed an alarming weight gain happening. So, I decided to do something about it and went to a nearby gym. This turned out to be a bad idea for someone suffering from anxiety and who was terrified of socializing. However, it was an adventure.

I will call this gym “The Gym”. It was one of those typical gyms with lots of very fit people posing for each other in tight spandex. There were a lot of scary people I call iron monkeys. You know the type. They spend half the day at the gym growling into a mirror while they pose. Sometimes they growl at each other which I was pretty convinced was a mating ritual but never had the nerve to ask about. These were very large people and the term, iron monkeys, was kept very carefully to myself.

Mostly what I noticed about The Gym was the men and women posing for each other. This was another mating ritual whose complexity eluded me. Apparently the goal was to go on a piece of equipment designed to show you off to maximum benefit. The stepper and elliptical were the best for this display. One woman even told me she did her real workout at home, she simply went there to meet people.

So, The Gym was an experiment that quickly imploded on me.

Recently I started getting back into fitness again. I’m diabetic so losing weight is a priority. I’m not very good at it but I’m trying. I had the option of going to The Gym again but that left me on the floor in a panic attack so I quickly discarded that idea. Instead, I make use of the equipment in my building in the evenings so I know there’s little chance of being disturbed. I was asked to join a fitness class but, again, that filled me with anxiety.

So, what’s an introverted anxiety-ridden girl to do? Here’s some ideas;

  1. Get some private training time. I got to get some one on one training with the Primary Care Network with a kinesthesiologist. We built a program designed for my needs.
  2. Get some music to listen to during your workout. I find that putting headphones on serves two purposes; it shuts out the outside world and people tend to not bother me. Of course, having good music to listen to during a workout helps your rhythm which is always good.
  3. Do your workout during the downtime. Go to the gym when its slow. This might mean going during the early morning or late evening. Fewer people means less anxiety. It also means more access to the equipment
  4. Get outside. Running is free. There are organizations who can show you the fundamentals of running. Biking is another way to go or even walking. Take the kids to the park and play tag. Going outside is a great way to get some exercise while enjoying the fresh air. There are plenty of outdoor exercises you can do with a bit of imagination.
  5. Remember to breathe. The other people at the gym are there for their own reasons. When you think anxiety is becoming overwhelming, just step outside for a moment and breathe. It’s okay to take a moment to yourself.

Fitness is important to a healthy body and healthy mind. Those of us who suffer from anxiety have a few challenges to overcome but with some help and creative thinking, we can do it.

A Hair Out of Place

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I normally only post about once a week so I don’t come off as a whiny jerk but an event occurred yesterday that really got under my skin. The result is this post.

Yesterday on Twitter I had someone tell me that having anxiety was my fault and implied that I could stop it if I wanted. It’s nothing new, I’ve been told this before and usually shrug it off as some twatwaffle who has no clue what mental illness is like. It usually occurs to me that if I’d been a soldier, I’d be expected to be a bit twitchy. Apparently a history of abuse isn’t enough of an excuse.

So, I came up with a demonstration of what a typical conversation is like with the average person when I’m having an anxiety attack. While the following dialogue is a metaphor, it’s pretty close to what happens.

Me: <WAIL!>
Other Person: What’s wrong?
Me: A hair’s out of place!
Other Person: So? It’s just a hair.
Me: But it’s out of place!
Other Person: Just ignore it. No one will notice.
Me: You don’t understand! It’s out of place. <WAIL!>
Other Person: What a drama queen. It’s your own fault it’s out of place, you know. Just fix it.
Me: I can’t.
Other Person: Holy crap! Way to play the victim. You just don’t want to take responsibility for your own hair.
Me: That’s not true. I’d fix it if I could but I can’t.
Other Person: I’m so tired of your drama. It’s just a hair. Get over it. I’m out of here.
Me: Please just help me….

I do, however, have a dear friend who is so sweet that a conversation with him is very different. This man, whom I’ll call X, embodies positive thinking. He can take anything and turn it into an upbeat situation. I don’t know how he does it but it makes a world of difference to me. X is eternally calm and not even texting him 20 times in a half hour ruffles his feathers. He doesn’t even mind being my safe place to land during an anxiety attack. Our conversations are very different.

Me: <WAIL!>
X: What’s wrong?
Me: A hair’s out of place!
X: Which hair?
Me: I don’t know.
X: Okay, well, what would you like to do?
Me: Burn it. Make it go away.
X: <laughs> That’s a bit extreme. How about if we fix it? Would that work?
Me: <sniffle> Okay.
X: So where is it?
Me: I don’t know.
X: So let’s fix all the hairs until we get the right one.
Me: You don’t hate me?
X: Why would I hate you? To me it’s just a hair but to you it’s the entire world. I understand. It’s who you are. It’s a little tiring sometimes but I can only imagine what it’s like for you. It must be exhausting.
Me: It is. Thank you for fixing the hair.

Just as an end note, he really did tell me that he accepted me, anxiety and all. It’s a good feeling to know that there’s someone who gets it. I don’t expect everyone to be like him but realize that I can’t just turn this off to suit you. I hope that people read this and start to get a clue. Understand this, though, I am no longer going to apologize or explain my anxiety to  you if you refuse to try and understand. I am no longer ashamed of who I am.

Exercise and the Crazy Person

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Two subjects I often write about are anxiety and exercise. However, I’ve never written about them together and how they interact. Recently, I got a glimpse into how my mind affects my fitness routine and vice versa. It was a moment of awakening for me and it occurred to me that not many people think about the connection. I’ve never talked with a fitness trainer who takes mental illness into consideration. Why should they? One is body and the other is mind, right? Yet there is a bigger connection between the two than you might think.

As a child, and then into my teen years, I enjoyed being physical. I was always moving and going. I swam competitively, biked almost everywhere I wanted to go and loved walking for hours. Like other teens, I went rollerskating every chance I got which worked out to be three or four times a week. It kept the darkness at bay.

My home life as a child was less than ideal. I was the victim of psychological and emotional abuse on an almost daily basis in a family that believed any physical touch was sexual in nature. I didn’t learn how to hug until I was 17 years old. There was a very dark nature to my being that often manifested in thoughts of suicide. I even came very close to trying to commit suicide a couple of times.

I firmly believe that the only reason I’m alive now is because I was so physically active. I didn’t know it then but the activity helped keep the worst of it at bay. Looking back, when things got really rough (like the time my sister grounded me for a year for saying no to her), I took to physical activity. It was a way of pushing everything aside and focusing on the moment.

When I had to take care of my parents, I didn’t have time to go out and exercise like I wanted. I couldn’t just get up and leave for a few hours to get away. As a result, those are some of the blackest years I’ve known. I never want to go back to that.

Recently, though, I started exercising again and I’ve noticed something that should be apparent to anyone. If I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack and go exercise, the attack stops or recedes to a manageable point. Go endorphins! Yes, endorphins kicking in is a temporary measure but it’s enough of a breathing space to give me room to quiet the attack. You cannot imagine how wonderful that is. Just to have that moment’s peace is amazing.

There are still challenges. Going to an exercise class fills me with dread and the thought of going to a gym is enough to make me want to wet my panties. Ideally, I would like to see someone try to tailor exercise to help with mental illness. For example, if someone has bipolar disorder, is yoga the best or perhaps martial arts? For someone with schizophrenia, is running a good idea or swimming? I think exercising is a good first step. Now, I think we need to take it a step further and start to tailor programs to help those who suffer from mental illness.

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