A Weekend to Forget: A Lesson That Anxiety Can be Dangerous

I am not blaming everything on the virus. In truth, I am to blame for allowing fear, which I have talked about in the past, from taking over my life. Last week it culminated for the first time since 2019 that I had terrible stomach issues. The weekend I had to tone things down and change my diet (which included once again giving up coffee), and I had to de-stress my life.

I had no illusions or lofty expectations for my birthday last Friday. Some Chinese food and relaxing were on the agenda. My week was going okay. I was beginning my next semester as a graduate student, and I was ahead of schedule, which gave me a rare day off–and on my birthday no less! It seems anxiety and stress had a different idea.

Back in January 2017, I was in the midst of the worst two months of anxiety in my life. My levels of anxiety were so high every day that it was impossible to function, and most days, I failed. My doctor has tried unsuccessfully to take me off Ativan, and getting back on only made things worse. For the three weeks I was off benzodiazepines in December, I was on a rollercoaster of anxious thoughts, anxiety, isolation, and panic attacks.

The culmination was a week and a half in the hospital with bleeding ulcers (where I was literally bleeding in my stomach so much I was puking pints of blood), and I had to go through several blood transfusions and an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy three times. The first time I had a panic attack just before and passed out from the blood when they had to pull it prematurely. I spent two days in the ICU because of the loss of blood. It was the worst painful experience of my life. When I finally got the two endoscopies, first to fix the issues and then to see if it worked, my stomach was never the same for two years. I gave up meat entirely.

Afterward, when I went home, I realized that my anxiety can be a dangerous thing if left unchecked. I began to makes changes with adding meditation, and though I had issues over the next two years with what I could eat, and what made me hurl was an adventure. I got better at dealing with anxious thoughts, and panic attacks were not a weekly occurrence for the most part.

It was never perfect, but last summer, I was able to slowly reintroduce meat into my diet. It was good, and life was good. I wrote a 210,000-word novel and a 30K novella in just four months. No issues with my stomach. I took my daily dose of the neutralizing stomach acid medicine, and with the change from Ativan to Clonazepam last year, I was able to find some relative balance. Then COVID-19 happened.

I am not blaming everything on the virus. In truth, I am to blame for allowing fear, which I have talked about in the past, from taking over my life. Last week it culminated for the first time since 2019 that I had terrible stomach issues. The weekend I had to tone things down and change my diet (which included once again giving up coffee), and I had to de-stress my life. I walked away from social media and writing all weekend. I stayed in bed (which didn’t help my depression, but you can’t win every battle).

Monday, I felt a bit normal, and today I was able to eat. I am working not stressing out. Playing video games and writing helps. Also, not following every single article on COVID-19 really helped me. I am hopeful the upward trend continues. Less stress and more focusing on the positives. I am healthy and social distancing like I am supposed to, and I can only control what is in my orbit. Life indeed is too short to spend it obsessing if I will or won’t get sick. I am not going to go out and lick things, but social media takes a back seat. I will continue to do my part.

Last weekend was a life lesson in the dangers of anxiety and anxious thoughts.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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Mopping Up Mental Health

I went to the clinic on Friday.  Quite cheerful I was when I arrived there and ready to get things DID. I shuffled past the HIV and AIDS Section.  The Reproductive Health Section with many blushing teenagers and finally turned the corner at the clinic to head to the mental health “corner”.  I paused briefly to think that the signage is intended to be functional, it screamingly communicates and impacts on the people waiting so much more.  What would you say if a friend passes you by in the HIV queue?  Hi, I’m here for a fun check? Blushes and shuffles feet? Anyways, almost fittingly,  the mental health section is in the most inconvenient area that is too small to seat the large number of people who require a service on mental health Friday’s. Yes.  On Fridays, when the psychiatrist graces the mentally ill with his or her presence and the nurse (no mental health specialisation) who are at their most tired, open the clinic to the mad, crazy and otherwise, on condition that you are prepared to queue from 4 in the morning outside.

As I lodged myself into the long queue, with an approximate waiting time of two hours for two people (not exaggerating), we all waited anxiously, knowing that although you were at a health centre, and could have braved massive odds to get there, there was no guarantee that you would actually receive the service you required regardless of  how serious your ailment is or what you’d come for.  In my hard-won um, experience, I have learnt that the South African Health System is more adept at turning people away than it is at servicing people who need it the most.  As an example, I had a close friend with mental illness tell me that when they were suicidal and reported to a hospital, they were told to come back when they had more serious symptoms.  I’m sorry did I miss something here?  A symptom of suicide?  Well.

I had come for a meds refill.  Not that hard.  I had a script, a detailed psychiatric history and referral letter from my resident psychiatrist.  So you could say I was capacitated to come and that the paper could speak for me because you know, someone with mental health anything is NOT able to do that.  Like we may have years of experience of living and coping with our disorders, but cannot describe our symptoms unless a psychiatrist decodes the language we apparently speak. center  Symptom of suicide indeed.

I no longer know what it will take to draw attention to the needs of the mentally ill in our families and communities in Africa because I have it unfortunately on great authority that we are fully and fundamentally being failed. We should not be turned away,  or have it suggested that we actively go home and allow our mental health to deteriorate. Because we matter.  Our families matter.  Our communities matter. And research/statistics in our country and the world says that mental health issues are undetected, and ravaging communities.  So perhaps, mental health services need to be primed to helping people not making them sicker?  In the meantime, whilst I mull this over, I am going to take that cleaner’s bucket which became so intimately acquainted with the tender flesh on my knees during the time I should not have waited, and I’m going to mop clean at the local clinic.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

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Resolutions Undefined

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It’s that time again, time to list resolutions for the year ahead, defining a “new” start, a “new” year, a “new” you. Well, pardon me if I say, forget that noise. Don’t get me wrong, I believe setting goals and working toward them is healthy in all aspects of life, however I do not believe success or failures of your “list” should ever define you. Life has unexpected events, twists and turns, hardships and successes, and we are not given the play by play of what the next chapter will bring, so while we strive to be better every day, let us strive to accept who we are as enough.

That list, and whether or not we stop even looking at it in a week or in a few months does not define you, and is not the judge or jury on your track toward living your best life, but it can be a reminder. For me, I will be making a list of goals because I feel it’s important to visualize our dreams, but in the process I will also remind myself that this list is only a guide on the path of continuing to be the best version of me for the present moment of each day, and not a list that defines me, because while…

I will make healthier and realistic choices for me, my weight/body type, food choices and gym time do NOT define me;

I will make smarter financial decisions for me and my family, my wealth or material things do NOT define me;

I will strive to turn my “job” into my dream, my title does NOT define me; and

I will make attempts to forgive myself and those who have hurt me, my past does NOT define me.

These reminders not only allow me to see what does not define me but what does, and that is the love in my heart, the kindness I share and the peace in my soul. I am enough, and I wouldn’t trade this me for a “new” me any year, because this me is pretty darn awesome no matter where I am in the journey of this life.

You are enough, every little quirk, every scar, every smile, every choice and every piece that makes you, you. Set your goals for you, work to accomplish them for you, but always remember what truly defines you.

Reflecting on 2018, I am grateful for every lesson, fear overcome, goal reached, and connections made and look forward to each in the year to come.

Much love and happiness for the new year!

Lisa J.

Tweenager Teachers

For a while, I have not been able to write.  I was consumed by working to save lives (through amazing organizations), buying beads to make awesome jewelry in the future, discovering double chocolate coffee and awesome stuff like that.  And then as to be expected in a comical existence such as mine, life took over me.  It started by my kids being held at gunpoint for their phones, an immediate emergency extraction of teeth (x3), a dose of severe gastro which meant I couldn’t take my medication, followed by being robbed at home, of three of MY most prized possessions:  kettle to make coffee, my NEW phone (that took amazing pictures of my children), and my speakers that lifted me with mom cooking tunes, which usually brought about (never show anyone) mom cooking showstopping dance moves, whilst making supper before my family would usually get home.

At first, I was overcome.  Disabled even.  Angry, sad, a lot of things.  I put my development hat on and argued that crime was a result of so many years of pain, impoverishment and racial segregation and that it would be addressed if we worked harder to address poverty and inequality.  That argument lasted a good three minutes until I profoundly missed my so carefully compiled biscuit baking board on Pinterest, and the opportunity to take a selfie where my ex-phone automatically added lipstick and eyelashes.  Which self-respecting girl with mental illness doesn’t want a phone that makes her look like she has made up on (which she never wears) and makes her look awesome even better than other filter adding apps we’ve come to know and love.  NONE.  No.  We all want to look like we’ve spent hours applying our faces, when in fact, I usually prefer to get up after nine, stay in pj’s ’til five minutes before my family gets home, and then I run and shower and pretend like I’ve been um, clean, the whole day.

If you thought this was enough – the mental illness gods thought they’d add another dose of  “humor” into my life by bringing about an impromptu sleepover of nonstop eating/ talking/walking/playing / loud 12-year-old girls.  x 4.  And I will say that I loved my coordinator of the sleepover – my own 12 years old – less.   But what unfolded, was a number of tweens teaching me what was really important and what I needed to remember.  Being multi-racial, different aged, different voiced, different body shaped, they told me about being bullied for being fat, for having a skirt too short, basically anything that set them apart from others.  Well, these others were pretty unscrupulous – they could even tease you for being thin. They talked about the popular girls who set the rules in the school, who issued nicknames that were scrawled inside the toilet doors of the school.  That was heavily branded on the very vulnerable hearts and minds on whom they were issued.

A lot sounded similar.  A lot sounded like the playground we found ourselves in as people with mental illness.  The loud and silent taunting of ourselves because we are other, too extra, and in my case, much fat, chocolate inhaling someone, who is the most socially awkward person around.  And I realized something as I was talking to them, attempting to offer advice:  the bullies are usually less than those being bullied because let’s just been honest, most of us are in some way socially awkward whether we admit it or not.  And that if we all stood up, mental illness or not, that if we all shouted stop at the same time, maybe just maybe, we’d be able to call out the bullies, and cut what could be and is the most emotionally damaging in its tracks.  Because no-one should ever, ever keep quiet when someone else is made to cry.

For any reason whatsoever.  So instead of being sad, instead of being silenced, or taken out by what life’s dished my way, I am reminded that friends and family are the most important, that material possessions don’t matter, and that being extra is ok.  It’s more than ok.  It makes us better than anyone else. ’cause alongside that extraness is a whole lot of empathy that my tweenager taught me today.  I am reminded of what matters.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.

I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

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Push Through and Just Keep Going

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The light, the gift, the true nature of our individual being is within each of us, and I believe it is our responsibility and our mission in this life to share these truths with the world. To find these gifts within ourselves may take many attempts that can lead to success, and to failure, but in these successes and in these failures, we learn lessons that teach us understanding, love, forgiveness and how fear can send us astray. If we are blessed with these lessons and have the strength and the ability to see inward and recognize our path, we must move to the direction of this truth.

While I truly believe sharing these blessings is our purpose in this life, there are many times that walking this path is exhausting and our minds tells us to stop. I have had many moments in my life where I just couldn’t or just didn’t want to anymore. My mind would tell me it wasn’t worth it, the time and energy were just too much. I would sink into the comfortable, drown in easy and sit back and wait, hoping what I desired would come to me with little or no effort, and curse when it didn’t. I would think to myself “if this is what I’m am meant to do, why is it so hard, why do I feel pain, or heartache, or disappointment”. These are the moments that I needed to dig deep, to shut out the games my mind would play and to move forward no matter the weight of what was holding me back.

I sat at the volunteer table at Mile 22 of the Chicago Marathon last week and these thoughts of my own life journey cluttered my head. As I cheered the thousands of tired, drenched and physically and mentally drained unique individuals on to the finish line, I didn’t make the connection to my own struggles until now. I had watched the agony on the faces of those who passed and the smiles of those who understood they were almost there. I could relate, maybe not physically in the moment, but mentally on my journey.

To push through, to stay strong, to keep going no matter what mental games you are playing will get you to your true path and purpose of this life. Even when we don’t feel like it, even when the effort seems to outweigh the reward, we must push forward. We must continue to share our gifts and our light for we may not see the rewards in the moment, they will be revealed in the end.

Believe in your truth, and even when it’s difficult to keep going, keep going. Let your heart be your guide and remember how it beats when you shine the light from within.

Much Love,

Lisa J