All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Addy Lake vs Writer’s Block (and the World!)

One of the many downsides of bipolar depression are the crippling bouts of writer’s block that permeate each episode. For the last several days, ever since writing my last substantial post, I have been experiencing said writer’s block. No matter how much I want to write, no matter how brightly my post ideas burn, I just can’t find the words to express my emotions. A post on forgiveness has been sitting in my drafts folder for a week now. A post concerning my anxiety over my impending trip to Melbourne is begging to be written. Yet the moment I sit down to write…nothing. Not a sentence. Not a word. Not even a syllable. Nothing. It’s infuriating. It’s frustrating. And there doesn’t seem anything I can do about it other than ride out the episode and hope it dissipates sooner rather than later. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with song selections and random streams of consciousness. Like this one.

handandbook

It’s been a rough old week. Last Friday I was incapacitated by an annoying little stomach bug that saw me seek refuge (and comfort) on my couch. I didn’t move from it for days. I just lay there, cocooned under a blanket, watching the good Doctor battle minions and mercenaries. I didn’t eat (wasn’t hungry), I didn’t blog (wasn’t inspired), I didn’t even social media – which I’m becoming frighteningly proficient at. I just lay there, cocooned under a blanket, feeling sorry for myself and wishing that I had the energy to do something, anything, more productive and worthwhile.

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day,”
~ A.A. Milne ~

This incapacitation lasted a few days. All through Saturday and Sunday the couch was my only destination. I did force myself to blog on Sunday, I did force myself to social media on Monday, but my heart was in neither. I just didn’t want the illness to overcome me. To be honest, I’m kinda over being sick this year. What with my pancreatitis and cyst taking up most of the first five months of the year, I could do with a substantial period of time that my immune system isn’t being assaulted by nefarious parasitic bacteria. I need a period of time where my energy is overflowing in order to combat this stubborn, unrelenting depression that has been gripping my mind for the last fifteen months.

And principle in my war against this depression is my trip to Melbourne. Over the last few weeks my plans have been coming together and it looks increasingly more likely that it will be going ahead. At this stage I plan to go the week of 21st August, so I can attend the social gathering I’ve been invited to. Not only is this social gathering something that I would love the opportunity to do, but it is something that will challenge my social anxiety head on, and anything that does that is worthwhile in my book. In addition to this social gathering, I’m eager to walk the streets of Melbourne again. I’m desperate to roam the laneways, eat street cuisine and overwhelm my psyche with the hubbub of city life. I want to explore the art galleries, watch the fishes at the aquarium and laze amidst the gardens of the King’s Domain.

It’s been nearly two years since I last left Wodonga. Two years of being suffocated by this sterile, uninspiring town. I crave stimulation. I yearn to have my heart’s desires met. I need my boring monotonous routine to be eradicated, and I can only do that by leaving this boring, monotonous town. I’m not getting my hopes up just yet. I know from past experience that if I do that, they will only be dashed at the last-minute by some hitherto unseen obstacle, but I should know whether my planned trip is possible next week. And if it is. Then prepare to be dazzled by Addy’s dance of excitement!

Aside from stomach bugs and dreaming of Melbourne adventures, life has carried on in much of a muchness. My quit smoking attempt is trundling on. I have smoked cigarettes over the last week, but for the last five days I have been totally smoke free, which is quite exciting. My anxiety, however, has been taking a major hit without nicotine to counteract it. For the last couple of weeks my anxieties have been off the charts, impacting and effecting every aspect of my life. There have been days when I haven’t left the house in fear of what may happen to me in the big bad world. There have been moments of panic at the supermarket; attacks that prevented me from performing fairly mundane and tedious of tasks. I’ve been doing a lot of work with mindfulness to try to combat this increase in anxiety, but to little or no effect. It seems that without cigarettes, my anxiety increases, and I don’t quite know what to do about it.

Meadhbh tells me that, in time, my anxiety will decrease. That it is merely a reaction to being nicotine free. She’s probably right, but only time will tell on that. As per expected she has been a Godsend over the last couple of weeks, egging me on, encouraging me to remain smoke free, playfully chastising me when I slip up but quick to offer an inspirational word or two when I need it most. We’ve been doing a lot of colouring in (using our Van Gogh colouring book) to curb any cravings I may have, which she’s been enjoying, as well as playing lots of Yoshi’s Island and Lego Batman, which entertains and keeps her happy. And as I’ve said before, a happy voice means a happy Addy!

Audrey, too, has been in good spirits lately. She hasn’t been as supportive as Meadhbh with my quit smoking endeavor, but has offered the occasional sage like word of advice. She’s been thrilled by my recent resurgence in reading. Each night, before I go to bed, I will read a few chapters of a book. Over the last several weeks I’ve read ten books, and Audrey has loved every minute of them, even the crappy ones!

Top five books I’ve read over the last several weeks:

1. Scott Pilgrim (Bryan Lee O’Malley)
2. A Fringe of Leaves (Patrick White)
3. Smokeheads (Doug Johnstone)
4. Gone Again (Doug Johnstone)
5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Thinking (Susan Cain)

Vanessa, meanwhile, is as abusive and obstinate as always. Keen to tell me I’m a failure. Keen to remind me how useless I am. If only she’d cheer the fuck up and stop being such a grumpy, narcissistic bitch, things would be so much better – for both of us.

The last couple of days have been busy when it comes to external forces. Yesterday, I had a productive session with my psychologist. We discussed and dissected various PTSD treatments and therapies she believes could assist me. We didn’t go into detail on the source of my trauma – that will come in time – but she believes there is hope for me in this area. Which is good. Because I don’t think there is! I also had a good session with my support worker today. We decided to forgo the usual ‘sit in a room and talk’ session and went for a drive to Albury Library Museum instead. She had seen a photography exhibit was on and thought, rightly so, that it would be something I’d be interested in. The photographs – all landscape – were stellar. Some of the best I’ve seen in years. In fact the photographer, Peter Elfes, has skyrocketed onto my list of favourite photographers. So if you’re in the area, you should check it out. And if you are in the area, why not stop by and say hello to little old me? We could have a coffee or something! :)

Wow. 1318 words. Not bad for someone suffering from writer’s block. And whilst we’re back on the subject. Any hints, tips or advice you may have on vanquishing this silent, deadly foe would be greatly appreciated. I never know how to tackle writer’s block and could do with some suggestions!

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wait! Before you toddle off to do whatever it is you wonderful people do, could you spare a moment to vote in my poll?

I’ve been trying to convince my Andrew that it would be a good idea to write to some of the beautiful people he met in Canada. He hasn’t spoken to them for many, many years and I know he misses them terribly so I thought it would be nice for him to write to them. Andrew thinks it wouldn’t be a good idea. He thinks he would be imposing on them and they wouldn’t want to hear from him but I think they miss him in the way he misses them. So I thought that if I created a poll, a simple yes/no/maybe poll it might convince him my idea is the best and he would write to them. What do you think? Should he get back in touch with them or should he just put the past behind him and leave things be? We’d love to know your thoughts! :)

Meadhbh xoxxox

 


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Life is hard, sometimes…

One of the strangest things that has come from my quit smoking attempt is an addiction to cheese. Ever since going smoke free on Wednesday I haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff. I’ve devoured toasted cheese sandwich after toasted cheese sandwich. I’ve feasted on jacket potatoes slathered with lashings of cheddary awesomeness and snacked on savory biscuits adorned with cubes of tasty cheese. Part of me feels I should be worried about this new obsession. That I am merely substituting one addiction with another. But the other part of me laughs in the face of such thinking. Cheese, after all, is not known to cause cancer. It is known to increase your waist size, but as I’m already a big fat person (okay, not that big or that fat) I’m not too worried about this. I’m just thankful for the fact I’d gone three days without cigarettes…

…and yes, you read that sentence correctly. I had gone three days without cigarettes. For this afternoon, after a brutal night of PTSD nightmares and little to no sleep, after a morning of confusion and melancholy, I turned to the sweet drug nicotine to ease my troubled mind. I know what triggered it. I know what caused the onslaught of memory and flashback. And there is nothing I could have done about it. I’m trying not to see this as a setback. I’m trying to look at it with positive eyes. Yes, I smoked a cigarette. But I only smoked one cigarette. I could easily have smoked two, three or four. I could easily have said to hell with my quit smoking attempt, give me more of that nicotine drenched goodness! But I didn’t. I smoked one, blissful, cigarette and then placed the pack in the trash before returning to my quit smoking endeavor.

You might want to give me a bollocking. You might want to turn me over your knee and give me a sound spanking. But before you take such extreme, flirtatious measures, remember that at least I’m being honest about smoking today. I could easily lie about it. I could easily ignore the fact I smoked today and go on making everyone believe I was still smoke free. But that isn’t me. I’m an honest soul. Sometimes too honest. Every quit smoking attempt is littered with setbacks and relapses. Nicotine is, after all, one of the hardest drugs to give up. It’s grip is vicious, strong and vice like. I do feel bad about smoking today, but I’d like everyone to remember how difficult my life is before scolding me.

I’m not saying that for sympathy or special treatment. I’m saying it because it’s true. My life is difficult. I live alone, I have few friends in close proximity and I battle bipolar affective disorder, complex PTSD and severe social anxiety disorder with little to no help. Just being alone all the time is enough to drive most people to despair, let alone having to deal with complicated mental illnesses at the same time. The smallest, most inconsequential thing can trigger me. I could be watching a movie that features a rape scene and bam I’m back in Adelaide being anally penetrated by a grotesque stranger. I could be walking down the road and smell a scent that sends me hurtling back into my abusive relationship. Or I could read an online article and be sent spiraling into the depths of poverty and homelessness.

Over the years I’ve come to realise just how precarious my life is. So many triggers. So many things to avoid. It amazes me sometimes how I have lived as long as I have. Chewing gum, gin and tonic, Buffy, Fitzroy, cigars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight; all are things that I have to avoid. All have the power to pull me away from the present and send me tumbling into the abyss of panic, terror and nightmare. Just think, for a moment, how difficult that can be. How many times is Harry Potter mentioned in the media, on blogs? People who read Harry Potter don’t just like it, they obsess over it. Hundreds upon thousands of online hours have been dedicated to writing about this fictional wizard. He regularly appears in the mainstream media, on Buzzfeed, on blogs; and every time he does, my mind is triggered and I stop functioning.

Just the other day I was in the supermarket when a father asked his daughter “Would you like that?” and I was rendered almost non-functioning. For this was the exact assortment of words that my rapist said to me. And that’s not the first time that’s happened. Once, many years ago, I was in a similar situation, heard those exact words, and an ambulance had to be called to assist me as I ended up lying in the fetal position, unable to move. Can you imagine how difficult life can be when a simple four word sentence holds such power over someone’s functioning? It’s exhausting. It’s debilitating. It’s painful. It’s so many bloody synonyms I could be here til Doomsday typing them all out.

But I do the best I can. I get out of bed when it would be all too easy to remain there all day. I walk to the supermarket when all I want to do is remain in the comfort and safety of my own world. And I push myself to perform tasks that, although difficult, aid and assist my life. Just the other day I discovered that there is an event being held in Melbourne on the 21st August. A gathering of like-minded souls, congregating to celebrate their passion in a club like environment. There is going to be hundreds of people there. Hundreds of strangers that have the power to render me panic-stricken and comatose. But I put my hand up to attend. I, Addy Lake, social anxiety extraordinaire, volunteered to attend a function with hundreds of people who could render me unable to function. All because I want to go. All because I yearn to break through the hold my anxiety and PTSD hold over my life.

That’s why I’m not beating myself up for smoking one cigarette. My life is hard, it’s painful and it’s every day. There is very little joy in my life and very little relaxation. I exist in a constant state of hyper-vigilance; endlessly on the lookout for the next thing that could send me cascading into the past. But I keep fighting. I keep pushing myself. And I keep seeking out new and hitherto untried strategies that could break the hold mental illness has on me. And that is something to be proud of. Regardless of the occasional slip-up or setback.


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Relapse: Identifying your early warning signs

Although I have been lost to the demons of depression and mental chaos over the last few months, I’ve been doing my utmost to heave my way out of the maelstrom. One of the most enjoyable activities I undertook came at me via the Mi Recovery group I partook in during May/June of this year.

The exercise was part of a week that saw us take a look at relapse (which was kind of ironic considering it was around then when I began to lose control!) and revolves around identifying warning signs of an impending mental apocalypse.

At present, only a few people have seen this (and only one of those in any degree of detail) but considering my elongated absence from this blog, I’ve decided to share it as a way to ‘make up’ for my disappearing act. For even if you don’t find any value or substance in the activity, you may enjoy having a wee giggle at my attempt at “art”!

Creating your timeline…

First of all, choose a metaphor that suits your view of the world (such as an ovulating road or a winding river) to use as a basis for your timeline and then sketch this on a big sheet of paper. Once this has been drawn, mark onto this picture all of the most significant experiences/events/incidents that have shaped you into the magnificent human being you are today.

After all of your major experiences have been documented, make a list along your timeline of all of the resources (people, places, distractions etc.) that you used to get through the difficult times and that energized you through the good times. You may also wish to mark onto this timeline any strengths and/or values you have procured along the way.

Once this has been completed, whether you realize it or not, patterns will have emerged throughout your timeline. Before any period of mental ill-health there will be an array of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that repeat throughout your timeline. These thoughts, feelings and behaviours – more often than not – will be early warning signs of an impending relapse or episode.

You will find that knowing your warning signs is a major weapon in your battle with mental illness. Now that you know what to look out for, you will know when you need to seek help in the future.

My timeline…

Notes
(i) The larger text in various colours are strengths, values and resources that I’ve procured along my journey.
(ii) Yes, there is a glaringly annoying mistake on ‘Page 5’. I was extremely tired when I coloured this page.
(iii) The two blurred words on ‘Page 5’ are names I did not want to revealed publicly.
(iii) The timeline was based on my post ‘Your Life as You Remember It‘, so should you fancy more detailed information about the various stages of my life, you’re welcome to pop over there for a quick read! :)


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Six things that have happened in my absence

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I think it goes without saying that – given my elongated absence – the last few months have either been filled with all sorts of wonderful excitement (such as restorative sleep, marshmallow fountains and rolls in the proverbial hay with Daenerys look-a-likes) or filled with the sort of nightmarish negative mental health episodes I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Given that last week I spent the better part of two hours writing a list of reasons to die/live in my journal (for the record, 28 reasons to die opposed to 1 reason to live!) I think the ‘nightmarish negative mental health episodes’ is the safest bet as to my absence. 

Thus, as I attempt to slowly ease my way back into blogging mode (and deal with all the WordPress changes!) I shall fill you in with a few of the occurrences in my life over the last few months.

And, given my somewhat depressive mood of late, the first couple of things on this list fall into the ‘it’s okay to admit you’re not okay’ category…

1. I have suffered a relapse of my mental health

There’s a hell of a lot to discuss in this area and, to be honest, I’m not really in a mental state to do so right now. But, to sate any ‘where is Addy?’ appetites: I have been self-harming on a fairly regular basis for the last month or so, I have been considering suicide (as the above list-admission attests), I still haven’t got all that much hope for a better future and my voices, PTSD issues and sleeplessness have gotten way out of control!

Not fun! :(

2. I discovered I have dangerously low levels of Vitamin D…

…as well as worrying discrepancies in several other vital substances that are essential for human life!

Thus, I am currently on a strict regime of supplements – which I keep forgetting to take – and hope that by the next blood test in a couple of months my levels will more closely resemble an ‘acceptable level’.

But it hasn’t all been self-harm, suicidal ideation and ‘what is the point of living?’ depression.

Some of what has happened has been downright embarrassing…

3. I locked myself in my house (!)

Most people can claim to have locked themselves out of their house at some stage or another, but how many can claim to have locked themselves in? Last week, I did just that!

There I was, nonchalantly opening the back door so I could have my morning cigarette when the key snapped off in the lock. No problem, I hear you say, I can just use the front door. Wrong! Because my front door has two locks – and one of them uses the same key as the back!

So I was trapped in my own home for nearly two hours until the real estate agency could sort out a spare key in order to release me from my not very comfortable prison!

…whilst other things have actually been rather wonderful…

4. I am now the creator and co-facilitator of a group at GT House

The group I created is called Creative Therapy and its mission statement reads like this: “To provide participants the opportunity to explore their life’s journey in a safe, supportive and (hopefully) fun environment via a number of creative activities, writing prompts and lively discussions.”

Basically, for two hours every Monday afternoon I babble away to a miniature group of people about how therapeutic creativity can be. So far we have written letters to our younger selves, decorated a brand spanking new journal (you know, to take ownership of them), had a lively debate about the power of books and examined our personal positive experiences.

Basically, it’s what I’ve spent the last several years doing on this blog, only with a live studio audience! Some of it has been fun, some of it has been challenging, all of it has been severely anxiety inducing. But not enough to stop me from hoping there will a second term of creative shenanigans as I’m actually rather enjoying it! :)

5. I have joined a gym

The last time I was a member of a gym was late 2006; the glory days when mental health was a manageable nuisance and my life revolved around preparing for tertiary education, hanging with my social network and rolling in the proverbial hay with my then Daenerys look-a-like of a girlfriend.

But – courtesy of the wonderful people at GT House – I am now the proud owner of a free six month gym membership. My goal is that by the end of the membership I will more closely resemble a shaggable human being, instead of the hideous (body dysmorphic suffering) blob monster I currently am.

Last week (my first under this new regime) I put in 180 minutes of cardio (treadmill and cross trainer) and three sets of ten on four differing weight machines; I’m hoping to push myself harder in the future!

And yes, my menagerie are going mental at this attempt to alter my grotesque appearance, but more of that later!

6. I have obtained a camera!

Courtesy of a generous family member, who lovingly decided to send their distant nephew a camera they were no longer using, I now have the facility to take photographs again. Given it has been over five years since I really dabbled in this field – and given photography is now a bit of a trigger for me – it may take a while for me to get my form back, but expect numerous photographs of my ‘life’ appearing over the next few weeks, beginning shortly with a 30 Day Photo Challenge that I hope will help me get my photo-mojo back!

Just a wee photo I took as I played with my new camera. He is Meadhbh’s monkey and his name is Ceenem (pronounced as if C-N-M)

Aside from these things, ‘life’ continues as per usual.

Here’s hoping that you’ve all had a far more profitable, entertaining and joy-filled time since we last met! :)