Mental Health Awareness Month

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 I took this selfie on the 1st, found a mental health sticker for it, & I wanted to post it but couldn’t think of a perfect caption for it. Because I wanted it to be about something important. Because mental health is HEALTH, not something separate but a portion of the whole piece. The conversation about mental health is for all of us, just not those of us with mental illness, although I guess sometimes the term “mental health” is used to mean the absence of illness, which I don’t love.

But I do think if you have issues it’s more apparent that you have to focus on mental health since your life revolves around it & you weren’t given a choice in the matter. Basically, mental health is “cognitive, behavioral, & emotional well-being.” Health in how we think, act, & feel.

I’ve been thinking about what that random sticker I found says. It’s good advice, but what does it mean to ❝make your mental health a priority.❞

Here’s a brain-dump I came up with:

↳ ᴅᴏ ᴅɪғғɪᴄᴜʟᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋ
-think about things you have to process
-get things done when they need to be done
-ask for help when you need it

↳ ʟᴏᴏᴋ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʙʀɪɢʜᴛ sɪᴅᴇ
-part of doing difficult work
-try to find the good thing even during bad times
-be grateful for those good things

↳ ғɪɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʜᴀᴘᴘʏ
-and hold onto it during the craziness we call life
-do more of what makes you feel good ⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
↳ ᴄᴜᴛ ʏᴏᴜʀsᴇʟғ sᴏᴍᴇ sʟᴀᴄᴋ
-be gentle with yourself
-take a break
-it’s okay to make mistakes
-you’re only human⠀⠀
-don’t feel guilty for needing to rest
-you’re trying your best

time is an illusion, and I don’t have the time or brainpower to dissect that entire concept, but the fact is that it’s painful right now

All the time stretched out in front of me feels painful and scary, and all of it trailing behind me gives me anxiety and brings forth the remnants of terrible feelings.

I know I have a good life and I know there’ve been times when I’ve enjoyed that good life.

But right now I can’t remember a time when I was fine for more than 2 hours. Even with the few months of relative stability I had, it was just relative stability. And I would just go about my days being fucking thankful it wasn’t worse, spouting bullshit like “oh it’s okay at least it’s survivable.” But honestly, fuck that. I don’t want to suffer anymore. At all. Ever. This shit isn’t fair and every time I think it’s getting slightly better it goes to shit again and I’m scared and upset and frustrated and hopeless and defeated. Have I missed any negative emotions in that list? If you can think of any feel free to throw them on the pile.

Yes, welcome to my pity party. I’d love to say this is my first one, or better yet my last one. But we all know those sentences would be fucking lies.

I can’t move my body. It’s 1:45 in the afternoon and I am so beyond exhausted physically and mentally that all I can do is cry, but I can’t sleep, I don’t even WANT to sleep, so I’m just stuck crying and whimpering and moaning. Pathetically.

I don’t know if these posts are helpful…me just bitching and moaning on a platform I want to eventually become something. I have the potential (somewhere deep down in the sane part of my brain) to make it somethingggg.

I don’t even think it helps to complain, I just think maybe showing the reality of this suffering is at least the truth. If I can’t be positive at least I can be honest. Whatever.

I wrote a list a while back about “how to know it’s coming on again” and hoooo boy does it feel accurate…but maybe I’ll think about the opposite now?

To review:

How to know it’s coming on again:

  • No matter what song I put on, it doesn’t feel right
  • No matter where I go, it doesn’t feel homey or safe or okay
  • So much dread
  • The fact that I have to get through a whole day (and subsequently a whole night) feels like I have to scale a mountain
  • “Life hurts”
  • I’m overwhelmed by everything
  • I’m having trouble doing small, menial tasks
  • I want to drive really fast so the anxiety can’t catch up to me
  • I can’t decide what mood I’m in or how I feel, I just know I don’t feel right
  • Oh dear GOD the irritability

There’s so much more to that, I can add countless more things to that list. But in the spirit of being positive (because I somehow don’t have the weight of existence crushing the life out of me at this moment), here’s a list of how to know you’re coming out of it:

  • I contemplate what outfit to wear, don’t get violently angry while trying to find one I like, it sort of matches, and then I even think about putting makeup on (too much effort still? that’s okay)
  • My therapist gets me to crack a smile
  • Breathing becomes easier, and it’s so hard to explain the sensation but the air doesn’t feel like lead as much anymore
  • I can hold a conversation with my boyfriend, with my mom, my sister, my friends, the people I’ve been ignoring for weeks
  • I take a shower and go through the trouble of shaving my legs and using coconut oil on my skin because #selfcare
  • I think to turn on happy/pump-up music in the morning and it actually has the vague effect of making me happy or pumped
  • My thoughts get clearer
  • I don’t use sleep as an escape from the bleak reality of consciousness
  • Hello motivation, how I have missed you

I dunno. I’m obviously scared to say this episode is dissipating. I don’t want to jinx it. Again. Every time I think it’s getting better I get beaten down again. The higher you go, the harder you fall. That type thing. Of course, there’s the positive outlook on that. That being the harder you fall, the higher you bounce. I dunnooooo.

I’m trying. I HAVE been trying, but like, I’m STILL trying. What else can I do?

Anyway, here’s hoping the sun’s gonna come out soon (the literal sun, because it’s been rainy and gross all week which obviously doesn’t help my moods, and the metaphorical one).

Things to do when you’re too depressed to move

Aaaaaand ladies and gentlemen, I am too depressed to move. It is taking every ounce of energy in me to type these words and upload them to this blog, but if I don’t, I’ll collapse into myself like a black hole.

So, I dunno. Here’s some random list I just threw together:

— Count as high as you can. Count to 10938 if you have to. You have nothing else to do anyway.

— Progressive muscle relaxation or guided meditation. Gotta throw some cliche bullshit into here, don’t I? And I might as well do it right away.

— Scroll through your camera roll, because there’s gotta be stuff on there that makes you happy, otherwise why have a picture of it?

— Scroll mindlessly through social media but be careful of anything that’s gonna make you feel shittier.

— Think of a happy memory, if you can conjure one up. Bring yourself back. Try with all your might.

— Netlix/ Hulu/ Disney+ binge? Why not.

— Stare at the ceiling contemplating life’s biggest philosophical questions. Again, you have nothing else to do, and why not. Maybe you’ll come to some grand conclusions.

— Scream into your pillow because everything is meaningless and everything hurts and nothing makes sense.

— Count by 3s.

— Try to recite the alphabet backward.

— If you can’t even use your brain to form thoughts let alone do math or memory tricks or some shit, have someone turn a fan on and literally just lay there feeling the sensation of air hitting you.

— Or you know how you can still kinda see light or vague shapes when you close your eyes? focus on noticing and observing whatever the fuck that is. if nothing else, it’s a distraction.

— Download more games to your phone and actually play them. sudoku? word puzzles? racing game? logic game? math drills? vocabulary quizzes? (yes, I have apps for math drills and vocab words, and I actually quite enjoy them) how about a game specifically for kids? I have one where you just put makeup on some doll thing and it’s colorful as fuck and it’s at least something to do to occupy my mind.

— Keep breathing.

— If you can’t think positively (and if you’re depressed, as the title of this thing assumes, you can’t) just think neutrally. “I’m a person, I exist, there’s a sun out there, flowers bloom in the springtime.” I dunno. Anything’s better than dwelling on the fact that I feel like a complete and utter failure.

Maybe now that I’m done writing this I’ll actually go through the list. I was really just thinking of nonsense off the top of my head. But lists are helpful for me. I usually write out lists of things to do that include so many pointless things (which is largely because if I have 4 seconds of free time I’m assaulted by horrible thoughts), and those kinda make me feel worse, especially during moments like this. But this is a list of things even I, laying here comatose in my bed, am capable of doing.

Ugh, when will this be overrrrr.

memes are my coping mechanism and I think everyone in my boat can agree

It’s literally tornado alley up in here.

I had a panic attack last night after doing literally nothing. Like I had a good day, it was productive and relaxed, but by like 4 I just couldn’t push away the stabbing sensations of anxiety that had been ripping into me all day. I’d run out of bandaids. And like, can anyway blame me for being defeated and broken? For giving up?

But memes are my coping skill haha, that definitely counts right?

Image result for ah yes humor based on my pain"

I’m trying to put into words why they’re so valuable, and why humor in general is necessary for my survival (and I’m assuming the survival of everyone else who’s damned with mental illness, or even just unfortunate life circumstances).

Off the top of my head:

  • it’s a distraction from the shitshow that is life, even if it’s only for a few  brief seconds
  • being distracted like that for more than a few seconds (by scrolling through memes online or looking in that folder of memes you definitely have saved to your phone) sometimes calms me long enough so I can breathe and thus lessens my sheer, unrelenting panic
  • laughing releases endorphins that act to relieve pain and stress
  • I think if you laugh you kind of trick your brain into thinking “maybe things aren’t utterly terrible” and maybe, just maybe, you’ll continue thinking that unconsciously for a while
  • depression memes are just so damn relatable, and it helps at least a tiny bit to know you’re not totally alone in your suffering

I’m scanning a few websites for reasons #isthisresearch #pretendingtobesmart

Apparently, finding humor in the face of shitty shit makes us more resilient (a word I totally relate to, but it’s definition, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties fails to address the fact that I don’t recover quickly, I can’t be expected to, and I have no choice but to drag my ass into recovering…so keep that in mind when I use it). That isn’t some earth-shattering discovery, but it says it on everything I’m reading, so…

Have some resilience, and try to have a less-than-excruciatingly-depressing day ❤

retrospect: how to survive the bad days

The storm has subsided (mostly)

I guess it’s like a pendulum. It goes from one extreme to the other, oscillating with all that energy being saved up and used between swings, whizzing by its equilibrium position, giving me whiplash as I try to keep up and get my head on straight. But eventually, the momentum, which is thankfully not conserved, slows it down and it stops.

Basically, when I’m coming out of a period of what I call “I just lost my goddamn mind,” it becomes more spread out. Less intense, I guess, although yesterday’s random panic attack was pretty insane. But today has been fine, and tomorrow might be a little iffy, but then the next day will most likely be fine. And so on.

That’s exhausting in its own right because I’ve said a billion times that I’d rather just feel shitty than feel shitty with periods of feeling okay. I don’t like being teased like that.  Unfortunately, I don’t have control over how it works (ugh).

I don’t think I have to explain that in the darkest depths of my depressions, I physically cannot find any good, any meaning, any safe thought to rest on. “Just being positive” is not an option because my thoughts are spinning painfully fast and I am totally unable to fathom how I’ve every functioned and how I’ll ever be able to function again. It’s all-consuming, omnipresent dread.

(Sidenote: someone literally tried to pull the whole “just be positive” bullshit on me the other day, and then proceeded to tell me about people who have it worse than I do but still have better attitudes than me…needless to say, I was not very happy…I didn’t even bother to explain how utterly wrong she was because why waste the little energy I somehow still had?)

Howeverrrrr, now that I don’t feel like death warmed over, I’m using the time to do what I always fucking do and value the semi-calm and pretend there’s meaning in this bullshit (okay, I’m still a bit negative, but go with me here). I’ve done this countless times before, but hey, why not do it again? Maybe thinking this way and preparing for the eventual and inevitable next-time will finally be of use. Fingers crossed. Anyway, here’s a list.

How to survive the bad days

  1. Just don’t

Don’t bother. Don’t try. Don’t waste precious energy. It can wait. It will have to wait. It has no choice but to wait. I’m not talking about literally everything by saying this. Obviously there are some responsibilities we can’t totally hide from. But don’t add shit to your to-do list that you don’t have to. Cut out literally everything you can cut out. Another way to phrase this might be “get your priorities straight.” And, my main point, I guess, is to not beat yourself up about not. Survival mode is difficult enough. Give yourself credit.

  1. Maintain your body one thing at a time

There are things human beings hafta do to like, be human beings. We need to take care of ourselves. Use the car analogy or whatever, cars require maintenance, bodies do too. There’s lots to do though, and right now you don’t wanna do any of them. So maybe choose one thing and then feel good that you’ve done that thing and then stop trying to do more things because #depressionisexhausting amirite? Choose from the following: wash your face, brush your teeth, have a glass of water, stretch your body, take a shower, change your clothes, open a window and get some fresh air, eat something with some sort of nutritional value

  1. Ask for help

Why face the monsters from the hell that is your brain alone? You literally don’t have to. People love you, they’re there to support you (it’s true; your depression and anxiety are lying to you, those worthless motherfuckers). I might be guilty of asking too many people for help (usually), which is bad because there’s so much input coming in, not all of it valuable or helpful, and it’s overwhelming (and I’m already overwhelmed). This round I kinda just kept to myself and didn’t answer any texts or messages because I had no brainpower to figure out how to describe this bs yet again, let alone figure out how to put words together). But when I finally thought to call one person, it was actually helpful. And I dunno, they say talking helps in general? So yeah.

  1. If you can do it, do it

If you can open your Pinterest app and find an inspirational quote, do it. If you can summon the will to put a single dish from the sink into the dishwasher, do it. If you can try to quiet your mind, try to breathe deeply in spite of the anguish, do it. If you can’t, refer to point #1 and don’t. You’ll be able to at one point or another, so just wait it out. I think giving up and not doing shit you can actually do makes things worse, though (duh).

  1. Be miserable all around the house

I assume you’ve been laying in bed all day. Maybe you’re crying or maybe you’re totally catatonic. Whatever the case may be, try to be miserable somewhere else. Sit on your couch and cry or stare blankly into space. Sit on the floor and curl into a ball there as opposed to on a comfier surface. Feel the pain in the kitchen. Drag yourself to the bathroom and feel the weight of the world there, instead. I think not staying in one place helps trigger some sort of something good in our brains. Might be totally wrong. But maybe you’ll be less bored (on top of your crippling depression).

  1. Go to sleep then be awake, repeat

I basically slept whenever I could this episode. It started with insomnia, of course (hypomania always starts with that and violent irritability, both of which are just…so unpleasant). But when I got sick enough of that I’d take Benadryl and shit to knock myself out. Dunno if that was wise, please don’t take my idiotic advice without talking to your doc. But sleeping/ not being conscious while I waited it out? Sounded good to me. Buttttt I think next time (ughhhhh next time) I’ll try to be awake when I’m awake. Not saying I’m not gonna sleep my days away. God knows I can’t make that promise. But like. There’s a certain something about being an awake and alert entity that seems helpful.

Right

Has this been helpful? Probably not to read, but it’s been helpful to write. Am I going to remember these “tips” when major depression crashed into me like the meteor that caused the ice age? Probably not. Why did I write this then? Eh, why not.

youve-survived-100-of-your-worst-days

this round: a summary

I’m hesitant to say this round is over. I won’t say that just yet. The remnants of unbearable fear are still with me, the trauma is still too recent.

Like, fuck. It was (I’ll use the past tense there) like 15 or so days of just. Well, if you’ve read my shit before you know what it was like. Or if you’re unlucky enough to suffer this sinister fucking disorder, you know. You don’t need me reminding you.

It always starts with the violent, aggressive, uncontrollable irritability. It has no actual cause and therefore no clear way to be diffused. It’s terrifying. I notice it in the car the most, driving. No matter who’s in front of me and no matter how they’re driving, I am angry. Intensely. White-hot rage is literally all I know or have ever known.

Then major depression. I noticed that when I was driving during that phase, I was angry as fuck still but literally to weary to respond with anger. It turned inward and tore me apart from the inside. It literally radiates off of me (like my anxiety does). My boyfriend always comments when he feels it radiating off of me.

Sidenote, I love that he senses/sees the changes that happen within me. They’re so sudden and for no reason, and they leave me feeling crazy (I already feel crazy like, generally, but I’m constantly questioning like “did that really just happen, did I really just sob hysterically for an hour?”). 

After that (or along with it) comes anxiety. Fuck the fucking anxiety. Like, physical panic attack symptoms coupled with the racing thoughts, none of which I can fully latch onto, most of them scary, many of them about death. It’s just indescribable to not have a safe place in your brain. No amount of visualization or breathing can fix it. Not even having someone next to me speaking words of comfort. Not even a hug, and I love hugs.

I had family stuff all weekend, and my cousins were visiting from another state. And it was terrible because I spent one day holding back tears and hiding and then actually letting the tears just fuckin’ flow. I couldn’t even bring myself to make eye contact with anyone that day. Yesterday was a little better. I was mopey and uncomfortable and distracted and totally not myself.

Then, of course, I got home and was hysterical for a little over an hour. And not that I wanna put myself back in that terrible, terrible moment (or any of the MANY previous ones I’ve had), but I just remember so vividly wondering how I’d ever be able to function again. I couldn’t fathom how I’d ever been able to function before. There was no escape, nothing else but inward-pointing disgust and depression and fear. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t stop dwelling on the fact that I’m only fucking 28 and that this thing is gonna live with me for the rest of  my ever, and it might get worse and there’s no cure and like. Yeah, the cure thing. I explained to a friend of mine that “cure” is not a thing. Meds are not a cure, therapy is not a cure, doing all the right things is not a cure. They help. They give me better tools to survive the next round. But that’s all it is, most times: survival.

Sounds like a totally negative way to view it. And I feel no guilt for feeling that way. This. Shit. Sucks. I deserve a pity party after every fucking episode. At least grant me that (not that I need or am asking for permission).

Also, could timing possibly have been any worse? Ugh. I missed them all and they were physically here. The guilt I felt made things worse. The longing didn’t help either.

And I’m pretty sure none of them have ever seen me quite that bad. I was afraid I scared or upset them. But honestly, they are all so understanding and helpful and supportive, and the tremendous amount of love I feel for them is mind-blowing. I am so lucky, and I’m at a loss for words. I doubt that in a lifetime of writing and collecting words, I’ll ever get enough to explain how lucky I am or how much all that means to me.

And I have to mention my sister. And brother in law. Not only their actually support, but they were sending pictures of my amazing perfect adorable pure nephew. Immediately puts a smile on my face. Lots of people reminded me that he’s a big WHY. I want to be the aunt he deserves. And I know I can be, although I dread having to explain to my little guy why Aunt Laura loses it every now and again (but there’s a Dr Seuss book about feelings which is actually totally about bipolar disorder that I’m gonna use when he’s old enough). It sometimes hurt that I had to feel so shitty and have that someone be connected to how he was making me feel better. There was some measure of guilt that I can’t explain. But my god is his little face and his little rolls worth it.

Right. So I’m feeling better but not ready to call it being out of the woods yet. If nothing else I think it’ll be less dramatic from here on out, and I think it’ll be less rapid cycling. I think I’ll be at least somewhat less reactive to tiny insignificant bullshit going “wrong.”

Mind you, this is all sheer optimism and positivity. And I do not for a single second take for granted the fact that I am, at this moment, capable of thinking that way. It’s fleeting. All of this is fleeting. I mean, life can be looked at that way by everyone, which might be a helpful push toward “living in the moment.” But bipolar fleeting. Moods are fleeting. Flux is constant and its effects are omnipresent.

I’m just trying to find the silver lining. Wrap this up in a bow, as I tend to do. Actually no, as I need to do. And like, don’t we all? Part of what made this episode suck so bad was that I couldn’t write (even though I had some deadlines) and I couldn’t describe this bullshit in a way that I haven’t already. Each bought of insanity brings with it new…shit. And it is infuriating to not be able to explain it again. Also, I couldn’t move let alone form words. Couldn’t make eye contact let alone summon the energy to talk with other human beings.

I dunno. I guess for now I’m gonna focus (something I’m able to do again!) on finding the beauty in the spaces in between the chaos. Find a way to drill it so deep in my brain that I’ll inherently remember it (or just fucking FEEL it) next depression (well actually this was a mixed episode but whatever).

Until I get around to doing that, peace out, internet.

Saturday 1/25/20

Dear tomorrow, you stupid motherfucker,

I hate you. I hate you already because I know what you’re certain to bring. More of this absolute torture. More gruesome depression. More of the same agony, the agony I write about over and over and over again. I’ve put so many words to it, I don’t think there are many more to be used.  I’ve spent so many hours feverishly writing about this thing, this demon come to life and ravaging my brain, passionately and powerfully. But it doesn’t matter, nothing does, and I still know that when you come in the morning, I’m gonna get gutted with it all. Again. So I hate you. I wish you wouldn’t come. I’m afraid I can’t handle you. It’s all-consuming.

After you leave, there’ll be another tomorrow. I write that sentence as a plain fact, but there’s still emotion attached to it. Maybe the days following yours will be just as bad. Maybe they’ll be worse. The emotions there are obviously…not good. But then, of course, there’s the eventual tomorrow when the sun starts shining again and I start my mornings humming and the magic inside my first cup of coffee stays with me for the entire rest of the day.

It sucks that I have to face you before I feel the world get lighter again. I hate that.

Maybe I shouldn’t hate you, though.  At least not specifically. You’re gonna be hard, and surviving you is sure to suck (this thing is gonna last a while longer). But if nothing else, you’ll be a bridge to better days. Aaaaand to cross the bridge, I’ll need to see you. Tomorrow.

Fuck you for now,

Laura

again

I am completely exhausted. Insomnia has finally given way to excessive sleeping, or maybe it’s just because I’ve been taking multiple doses of multiple sleep aids every night, starting at five, just to become unconscious. I don’t want to have to think. Although I say that as if thinking is an active process at this point. It’s something that just happens. I’m dragged into it. The thoughts come in, rising like floodwaters, forcing me wherever they want me to go. My moods move in a similar, violent fashion, dragging me with them in a deranging pattern that seems never to end. I’m scared, as dramatic as it may seem to say. There’s no other way to describe it. Nothing else seems to capture what this feels like, although everyone I come across who sees my dead expression and my body twisted with anxiety seems to “understand.” Because, apparently, they’ve felt the same way at one point or another. I need that to not be true. Because if “everyone” feels this intensely terrible, then what in the fuck is wrong with me? Have they really experienced the painful ripping of their sanity from their brain? Repeatedly? Have they suffered the debilitating fear waiting for it to happen again? Have they been pulverized by the gravity of the rage within them, caused and quelled by absolutely nothing? Have they collapsed into bed, exhausted from staring blankly into space trying to summon the will to move. Have they laid there in agony that stems from nowhere, that goes on without a beginning or an end, an explanation or a solution? Cried empty tears for hours? Heaved heavy sobs until the accompanying headache stops them in their tracks? Yes, sadness happens to all of us. And yes, even depression can be felt by those still lucky enough to not have bipolar disorder. But do not. do NOT tell me you understand. Don’t insult me like that. Don’t compare your commonplace emotions to the colliding hurricanes of unwarranted pain I am tortured into feeling. Your sadness was caused by something, and I don’t deny how much that sucks. But my suffering comes without reason. There is nothing to blame it on, and nothing to repair to try to end it. It is meaningless, but its omnipresence demands it be given a meaning. Confusion rips into every aspect of who I am. My concentration is turned to smoke and dissipates like it never existed. I am sick with it. My appetite is stolen and morphed into disgust. Mr. Hyde to its Dr. Jekyll, they are one and the same, and maybe one is an excuse for the other as goes the moral of the story, but how can I be blamed for the defect thrust into me, for the malfunction that invaded my body and soul like a virus and continues to violate my every moment. Survival is all I can hope for. Day to day, minute to minute. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. It is heavy, the air like lead, but there is no cure. There is nothing left to do. Deal with it. Barely get by, but get by. It requires constant distraction. Frantic, panicked distraction. One wrong thought and I’m paralyzed. One spare moment and I’m incapacitated, another day wasted in the darkness of my mind in the darkness of my bedroom in the darkness of life itself. It wouldn’t be so extreme if it didn’t bring powerful uncertainty and unintelligible, mangled discomfort. All-consuming distress. My deadened eyes announce the signs of visible resignation. The dark bags have never left, and I don’t need a mirror to know they’re getting more pronounced. I scream into my pillow, not actually hearing the blood-curdling slice through the silence. It’s a faraway sound. It might be coming from something outside of myself, but what does it matter if I don’t have a concept of who in the fuck I even am? Spiral again. Spiral further into it. Rather than reaching for relief, clinging to whatever remnants of happiness I can find in my memories, I give up. Relief would only be fleeting. Why bother? Maybe giving myself up for consumption will get this whole ordeal over with sooner. But for now, existing is difficult. Building myself up over and over again is futile, but I have to keep doing it if I want to drag myself from under my covers to the bathroom at least twice a day. My brain is mush, but it’s still firing neurons or something, I’m still alive or something, so I’m left with gray matter leaking down into the rest of me. It’s sticky, and a sickening sight. And it lacks the neurotransmitters that might be some sort of help in this fucked up situation, lucky me. I am left with a mind disconnected, sensations out of my control, moods trying to escape the bounds of their intangible nature, and a stomach ache. Congratulations to me, I’m having en episode.

Find a safe space

You’re having a panic attack, struggling to see straight, calm your racing thoughts, slow your pounding heart, and breathe. You tell yourself you’re okay. You aren’t in actual, physical danger. But something triggered your alarm system, which sent a message to your amygdala, which made all this shit happen in your body in order to keep you safe. Too bad the danger lives more internally than externally. Still, your fight-or-flight instinct has taken over (even though you can’t run from or fight the source of your crippling anxiety), and adrenaline is surging through you, all because we inherited such a response from our ancestors thousands of years ago and our brain systems just haven’t caught the fuck up. So what do you DO?

You can try to force yourself into breathing normally. Inhale slowly, hold it, exhale slowly, hold it. Repeat. Repeat. Or you can try to “ground” yourself, to reconnect with the fact that you’re exactly where you are, here and now, to live in this present moment instead of the impending future. You can try (almost desperately) to distract yourself. Solving math problems is great for that. So are word puzzles. Your brain can’t focus on figuring things out and panicking at the same time. The same is true of experiencing a rapid and drastic change in temperature. Take an icy cold shower if you can. Your brain will stop processing the paralyzing fear you’re experiencing (or so I’m told). The scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but personally, I open a familiar perfume bottle and breathe in the comfort it carries for me. I always use that perfume before I do happy, relaxing things. So I’ve (almost) effectively trained my brain to associate it with happiness and relaxation.

But something that’s been particularly interesting to me lately is visualization. A kind of intense mental imagery. A purposeful relocation to a safe place.

I have a pretty active imagination. Maybe that’s the writer in me, but I have a particular proclivity for getting myself lost in whatever place I’m thinking of. Like, I force myself there. I picture everything vividly, paying careful attention to detail. I mentally feel the sensations that accompany that place. I let myself experience the feelings that would go along with being there.

Sometimes it’s a made-up place in a random, made-up scenario. Sometimes it’s an actual place in a scenario I wish would happen there. There are the typical escapes. The beach, with sun shining, the waves crashing, the smell of sunblock wafting through the air. And the perhaps less typical cozy cafe, with a good cup of coffee and a book I’m completely absorbed in. A lot of times it’s a memory that, a moment in my past that I’d love to go back to. (Again, that might be the writer in me; I love the quote “we write to taste life twice,” and I think reliving memories is another way to do that)

I haven’t had a full-on, gasping, clutching, gut-wrenching panic attack in about a month. And after being prescribed an as-needed benzodiazepine about two months ago, I definitely feel more in control of those situations. Knowing I have a pill in my bag that can alleviate those sickening physical symptoms is often enough to reduce the unrelenting (and usually unnecessary) fear. And if that isn’t enough, I put the pill in my mouth and swallow.

But I’m still an anxious person. That probably won’t ever change. So I’m trying to get this visualization thing set in my mind so I can get a better handle on my general, day-to-day anxiety. I’m trying to set up predetermined safe places that I can teleport to at a moment’s notice. So here’s my attempt at collecting them and getting them ready for use:

Disney World. The Happiest Place on Earth. In any park, with any loved one, either in memory or projection. Perhaps it’s the Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA in the early morning with my parents and sister. There’s time-appropriate music playing from seemingly nowhere, and we’ve just turned the corner to see Cinderella Castle standing majestically in the distance, and I feel like I’m Home, like nothing else matters because this moment is perfect. The love I feel around me is palpable. The excitement is tangible. All is well.

Driving down Ocean Parkway, looping from one Long Island beach to another, singing loudly to a crazy array of music with the man who’d soon become my boyfriend. It’s late at night and we’ve been driving for hours, alternating between deep conversations and enjoying the fact that our tastes in music are so similar. I’m calm and happy and fulfilled.

The bookstore. Summer 2010, the summer I really came into my own. My best friend just walked in the door and we greet each other by immediately launching into talking about exciting plans and things to try and what’s been going on since we’ve seen each other a day ago. We get matching cups of coffee and sit by the window and we bounce ideas off each other while simultaneously bouncing off the walls. When we’ve exhausted that, we wander the bookstore, admiring the books we hope to buy, feeling the peace that comes with being surrounded by such an awesome amount of written knowledge. Things are good.

Christmas morning. My parent’s living room. The day that we’ve been anticipating for an entire season. Surrounded by my family and presents, the Yule Log on the TV, love and laughter and magic filling the entire room. It feels right.

I’m at a concert venue about to see my favorite band play. My friends and I are standing by the mosh pit, being bumped by someone dancing in circles every now and then, and we’re all screaming the lyrics to the songs we know by heart. The music fills my entire soul and leaves me feeling energetic in the best way. They start playing my favorite song. Then the singer cuts out and he points the mic into the crowd so that the crowd can take over the song. We’re all different but also so similar, most of us with tattoos and dyed hair and checkered vans and band t-shirts and the like. I feel connected and important.

It’s Monday morning and I just sat down in my therapist’s office, on the floor by the window, where we can watch the clouds go by and the wind blow through the trees and the cars driving by. But we’re talking about important things and processing the chaos that is my life, and occasionally veering off topic to easier things, and oftentimes looking at funny memes. I’m wiggly and all over the place, but there’s safety and comfort sitting across from me so it’s okay.

I’m in our room, sitting there on the bed under my weighted blanket, laptop propped up on a pillow, and I’m scrolling tumblr. He’s sitting next to me, and every 10 seconds we stop to show each other something stupid we stumbled across online. We’ve been sitting there for like an hour in relative silence, but it’s the epitome of what love looks like. I don’t have to worry about anything because he’s there and he understands and he loves me.

My favorite places, my favorite moments. There are more, of course. And I’m sure throughout my life I’ll continue finding ones to add to the list. But for now, I’m gonna try to remember that I have these to escape to whenever the need arises.