Book review: Since We Fell

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This novel is a hot mess, in a super addicting, gotta-read-until-I-finish way. Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell is basically a short soap opera on paper. With a main character who suffers from debilitating anxiety.

After a traumatic event, Rachel starts getting panic attacks. She starts to unravel until she reaches a point where she stops leaving her home for months at a time. Stepping out of her apartment doors causes her both intense anxiety and great amounts of pride.

I’m not going to say anything else about this mystery because I’m afraid of giving something away. I don’t even want to go over the general plot because it starts in one place, goes to another, skips over to another time and the finishes with a wild, unexpected adventure. And then just drops off, leaving readers wondering what the hell happens next while giving so much unnecessary information about what went on before. To tell you the first part of the plot gives you no real information and to go further risks spoilers.

I’m not dissing this book at all. Relaying the juicy details of Rachel’s life to my partner gave me great pleasure. “Babe! Guess what happened in my book today??? Well … ”

What I specifically loved about Since We Fell was that the main character had an anxiety disorder. In the past year, I’ve been pretty much non-stop listening to audio books because of my concussion and this is the first work of fiction that dealt with mental illness in a major way. What’s better is, Lehane dealt with it in a great way.

Rachel’s anxiety is normalized by an understanding partner who holds her hand through her recovery, offering the right amount of support while still pushing her to break out of her comfort zone in small ways. It touches on the loss and loneliness that comes with struggling with an unseen illness that most people don’t understand. Her anxiety plays a central role in the novel; as the mystery unfolds, Rachel’s choices are to take a huge leap out of her bubble or risk death.

If you dig mystery, drama and anxious characters, I highly recommend this novel. It’s no great work of art, but reading it is a fantastic way to spend a lazy day.

I’d give this book three out of five cats.

Unhealthy anxiety coping mechanisms

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When I drink, I can’t stop until I black out and pass out. When I start working on something, I find it difficult to stop–no matter how hungry I get or how badly I need to pee–until I’m done. And, even then, I find myself really, really wanting to get started on the next project. In the past, when I started eating junk food, I’d find it to difficult to stop; I’d make grilled cheese after grilled cheese until I was out of bread or munch on cookies until none were left in the bag, no matter how full and sick I felt.

I figured I had impulse control issues and poor self-control, although I’ve been vegan for a decade, studied enough in high school to get a 98 per cent in pre-cal and never handed an assignment in late.

As I’ve been dealing with and exploring my anxiety, I’ve realized these are all coping mechanisms. A early 2017 car accident, resulting in a head injury that I’m still struggling with, took my coping mechanisms away, highlighting how much of a dependency I’ve had on them. Kicking the crutch out from under me forced me to find new, healthier ways to cope with my uncomfortable emotions. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Write about ’em: In outbursts of complete rage, I’ve sat at my computer and vomited my intense feelings into a piece of writing. In some cases, they’ve actually turned out pretty good and I’ve been able to publish them, giving others some insight into what’s going on with me.
  • Talk it out: I’ve gotten so much better about reaching out to friends and family when I’m feeling like I’m going to snap. I let them know if I’m looking for advice or just need to vent, ask if they’re up for the task of listening and then let it all go. I usually end up talking myself into a place where I can look at the positives.
  • Find the upside: Last year, I moved to the US from Canada. If I had known it would take months, rather than a few weeks, for my cats to follow, I likely wouldn’t have done it. On Christmas day, my little David ended up being hospitalized in our new Montana home town. A few days later, he was transported to another town for an invasive surgery, which was followed by weeks of healing. I was so upset, beating myself up about not having been with him for months, agonizing over whether I could have prevented his suffering. Realizing there’s nothing I could then but care for him, I looked at the bright side. I’d felt like the worst cat mom for months. This was an opportunity for me to love him and nurse him back to health, making me feel like a good cat mom again and giving us a chance to re-bond.

When my brain heals more, I’m going to find more healthy coping mechanisms. I used to love to run and have always loved going for long walks, so I’ll try them out again. I’d also love some suggestions of different things I could try out! What healthy coping mechanisms do you use?

Build healthy relationships

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I used to hold people at arm’s length. I was afraid of letting anyone in too close because I hated who I was and didn’t wanted others to truly see me; then I’d be alone.

I moulded myself to fit the type of friend I thought those around me wanted. In junior high, I agreed with the friend I spent the most time with that female masturbation was disgusting. I went to parties because my boyfriend wanted to go, even though I hated being in houses crowded with strangers and couldn’t stand having nothing to do but drink and look around for a cat or dog I could pet.

In my early 20s, I met a woman about 10 years my senior through a vegan meet-up group. She started inviting me to events at her home, which led to us frequently chatting via Facebook messenger, be babysitting her kid and her helping me out with rides and groceries. She was openly flawed and I still loved her. Even when I fucked up, she still loved me and I became comfortable being vulnerable and real. I knew she wouldn’t ditch me if I had a different opinion than her, as long as I was respectful.

That woman completely changed my life. I learned what a real, healthy friendship looks like and began striving to model all my relationships after what I had with her. I weeded out the people who weren’t good for my mental health; the ones who didn’t understand I needed time away from my phone and expected me to always be there for them, but who were seldom there for me.

I started being more honest and finding ways to be a good friend despite my anxiety. Opening up allowed the people around me to support me in the ways I didn’t know I had needed and that anxiety lessened. On the worst days, I knew I had people who I could talk to, people who cared and would understand.

Relationships of all kinds are difficult when you struggle with your mental health, but they’re incredibly important for coping and recovering. My number one tip for people with anxiety disorders is to find and develop meaningful friendships to help get you through.

I’ve started a private Facebook group for anxious creatives to chat about what’s going on with their work and lives, ask for advice and give support. If you’re interested in joining, send the email attached to your Facebook account to me at megjcrane@gmail.com and I’ll add you!


So many things are wrong with my brain, which is making blogging difficult. If anyone is interested in guest-posting about their experience as an anxious creative, tips for dealing with the struggle or explanations of different types of treatment, email me at megjcrane@gmail.com.

Book review: 100 Days of Mental Health

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Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this book. This time, it’s not because I hated it. Actually, I was quite enjoying it when I slipped on the ice. While for most people jerking back in time to prevent a fall would be a good thing, but for my concussion-weakened brain, it wasn’t so great. So, I’m back to being unable to read. Sigh.

When my brain gets itself sorted out again, I’ll dive right back into Paul Green‘s ebook, 100 Days of Mental Health. Each day for 100 days, Green wrote a bit about what he had gone through that day. There are triumphs–like getting out to large public events–and lots of bad times–like feeling unable to get anything done.

For people who struggle with anxiety or depression, I think this is a great read. Knowing others have similar struggles can make those struggles seem normal and okay.

Who I’d really recommend this book for, though, is people who have not experienced mental health issues. It’s a quick read (if you’re not concussed) and Green has a great sense of humour, which definitely shows through in the book. Although it’s just one person’s experience, Green’s book gives some insight into what it’s like to be constantly fighting with your brain and emotions. For anyone who has difficulty understanding mental illness, this book could help.

This book was only available as an ebook, but I’m having trouble finding it now. But Green does regularly blog on his website, so that’s a great place to get a taste of his dry humour and openness about his mental health.

Book review: A Worrywart’s Companion

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I can see why reading Beverly Potter’s The Worrywart’s Companion: Twenty-One Ways to Soothe Yourself and Worry Smart is highly recommended for all the folks who join support groups at the Anxiety Disorder Association of Manitoba.

A lot of the more helpful points in the book, such as how to argue with the thoughts causing your anxiety, were tricks I picked up in counselling. And since not everyone has the resources to go to counselling, it’s fantastic that all that info is packed in this book.

Some of the suggestions seemed a bit hokey to me. I can’t see myself setting up a dedicated worry spot in my home where I sit for X minutes a day to worry, but I also got a lot of my worrywarting under control before reading this book.

And what I love about it is that Potter gives many, many options for controlling worry, from distraction to limiting it to redirecting thoughts. While there were some suggestions I really didn’t think would work for me, there were many others that I’m going to add to my anxiety toolbox.

I highly recommend buying the book rather than borrowing a copy, if you can. I initially borrowed it, but there’s a ton of info that is difficult to absorb in one library borrow. I also really appreciate having it around to reference.

The book starts off with a questionnaire where you rate your anxiety and thinking patterns on a scale of 1 to 9. Your final score tells you how much of a worrier you are. After trying out some of the books techniques, you can go back to the quiz and see how much it’s helped you. It’s a great way to gage how you’re improving, over time.

There’s lots of copies on Amazon for pretty cheap, including audio versions.

Happy reading!

Learn about your mental health labels

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Everyone is different and so, even when we share the same mental health labels, we’re going to have very different experiences.

Some people with anxiety are outgoing and avoid their feelings by surrounding themselves with others, while some (like me) retreat from social situations because of it.

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. It just means that while we’re talking, reading, listening to how other people deal and heal, we have to remember that their strategies might not work for us. And it also means we might have to listen to a shit tone of voices before we find stories that resonate with us.

Here’s how I’m going about learning more about anxiety, depression and PTSD.

1. Books

As I mentioned last week, I’m challenging myself to read one book per month that has something to do with mental health, whether it’s educational or a personal story. Even when I find a writer who I feel gets me, I move on to a totally different author who’s coming at the problem from a drastically different angle.

2. Podcasts

Besides the podcasts with anxious hosts, I check out podcasts specifically about mental health issues from time to time. I haven’t found one I like enough to subscribe to, but I’ll binge listen for a couple hours to one here and there to see what I can learn.

3. Friends

I try to be as open as possible with my friends and others around me. I’m always surprised by how many people start being more open with me about their own mental health struggles and about how much valuable information is hiding within my friend group.

4. Online communities

From following depressed Instagrammers to joining private Facebook groups for people with anxiety, the internet is a great place to connect with other people who are going through similar struggles. I learn a lot from reading about their lives, but I can also get specific advice just by asking for it.

If you’re looking to grow your online community, check out who I’m following on Instagram and see if any of them are up your alley.

Usefulness of mental health labels

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There are certainly times when mental health labels aren’t helpful, such as when they get in the way of proper medical care. However, I’m finding them to be useful when it comes to taking care of myself.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with PTSD, something I was in denial of having. With the label formally slapped on me, I started following the PTSD Alliance of Manitoba group on Facebook and I read some of the articles they post. This led me to an article about PTSD and workaholism, which resonated with me. I tend to work, work, work without taking breaks to eat until I completely burn out, and I especially do this when I’m feeling raw. With the knowledge that this habit is so closely tied to my mental health, I now know when I’m feeling like I want to work on a Friday night, what I probably actually need is a calm, quiet night to sort through my thoughts.

Knowing I have PTSD has also led me to finding the right type of help. During my first neurobiofeedback appointment, I told the therapist I was there for my concussion, but I also have an anxiety disorder, acute persistent depression and PTSD. We’ve now had many discussions about all three over the weeks, including her recommending books and letting me know about current studies.

One that was particularly helpful was research that suggests PTSD should be treated with non-verbal therapies. She told me that because the part of the brain that deals with language shuts down during a traumatic experience, survivors often don’t have the words to talk through what happened, so meditation, animal therapy and yoga are much more effective ways to treat PTSD than having conversations.

Sometimes all the labels make me feel overwhelmed and like too much of a mess to ever have hope of a normal life, but in reality the labels are helping me get what I need to take care of myself and be happy.

What’s your relationship with mental health labels like?

 

List of podcasts with anxious hosts

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I’m trying a new thing this year! The second Monday of each month, I’m going to give you a list of something mental health related. This month, a list of podcasts that have hosts who struggle / have struggled with their mental health.

With these podcasts, the focus isn’t necessarily on mental health. Which, honestly, I love. When anxiety and depression come up naturally in a conversation about murder, it normalizes those feelings. It’s also fun to learn that the host of a podcast I love is dealing with some of the same things I am.

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Beautiful / Anonymous: Show host Chris Gethard is a comedian who frequently talks about his struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts and addiction. On this podcast, he takes calls from anonymous strangers and they direct where the conversation goes, but it often touches on mental health.

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Budgets & Cents: In this podcast about money, co-host Cait Flanders sometimes talks about her mental health struggles.

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Call Your Girlfriend: In this weekly call between two long-distance bestie, Aminatou Sow sometimes jokes about her anxiety.

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Guys We Fucked: In this anti-slut shaming podcast, one anxious comedian and another with OCD talk sex with their guest and, of course, mental health often comes up.

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My Favorite Murder: Although the premise of this podcast is to talk about the details of murders, there’s a lot of chit chat. Co-hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark frequently touch on their struggles with alcoholism and anxiety (respectively), with a shit ton of humour.

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Recovery Elevator: Mental health doesn’t frequently come up in this podcast for recovering alcoholics, but there are a few great episodes that talk about how alcohol can increase anxiety and how alcohol can be used as a coping mechanism.

What podcasts would you add to this list?

Book review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck

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TW: cis-dude saying creepy things re: men wearing “women’s” clothes and a woman’s body

I only got 37 minutes into the 5+ hour audiobook.

I like the premise, although the title is somewhat misleading. Author Mark Manson is suggesting that people choose what they give a fuck about. Instead of yelling at a cashier for not taking a $0.30 coupon, find something more important to worry about. We’re all going to die. Make life full and meaningful.

This is great advice for someone like me. I’m still anxious about a dude who honked at me three years ago for not speeding into a merging lane. (It’s a traffic intersection I can’t explain in words, but I was in the right. Trust me. I’ve been playing this over in my head for years).

From the half hour I listened to of this book, I got a new tool for my anxiety toolbox. When I get the rude cashier at Good Samaritan and she goes out of her way to imply I’m lacking intelligence, I’m going to shift my attention from hating her and plotting ways to never have to see her face again to thinking about how I’m going to use the new crafting supplies I’ve picked up in upcoming Stitching Hearts projects.

But not giving a fuck, according to Manson, is also about just doing things without caring too much about what people think, etc. “These moments of non-fuckery are the moments that most define our lives,” Manson wrote. I like this. This is sort of how I run my life. I don’t dwell on decisions. I dive into whatever seems the most fun, exciting and fulfilling.

I’ve known my husband a total of 11 months and I’ve already moved to another country to be with him. The moment I made that decision was a moment of non-fuckery. I didn’t think about logistics or finances. I’m now so homesick and so broke and really miss being able to work for money (still waiting on that green card!), but when I’m giggling so hard my stomach hurts and I’m about to fall off the couch, I know I made the right decision. A decision I never would have made if I’d taken the time to gather information and weight the options. This is also how I chose my post-secondary program, became a freelancer and got cats. All some of the best decisions of my life.

However, one of Manson’s examples of not giving a fuck is breaking up with your boyfriend because you caught him wearing your pantyhose one too many times. There are so many things wrong with this line. But, basically, this is something that someone should definitely not give a fuck about. Unless said boyfriend has been asked to not wear your tights for practical reasons like he’s stretching them out. I wish I’d just hit pause and moved on then. I’m a little ashamed to say I decided to keep giving this guy a shot.

But not long after this, Manson writes that we need to accept that we’ll never get to touch Jennifer Aniston’s tits. That’s where I bailed. Way to make the breast-harbouring readers super fucking uncomfortable, dude.

If anyone knows of a book that’s similar but missing out on the transphobic, objectifying bullshit, lemme know!

 

Eliminate clutter

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Life is noisy and busy and chaotic.

For me, that can be difficult to deal with when I’m anxious. Too much stimulation is overwhelming. Too long of a to-do list leaves me panicked. Too much physical clutter to sort through to find what I need is frustrating.

Earlier this year, I came down to the US without any of my belongings and decided to stay. It’s going to be a while before I can get anything, so I’ve been experiencing life without a kitchen full of all the fun gadgets and without a totally decked out craft supply. My closet is pretty bare and our food cupboards aren’t overflowing. This is different than what I’m used to.

It’s made me realize that not only do I not need a lot of what I had before, it was actually making life more difficult. When I needed anything from my baking shelf in my Winnipeg home, I pretty much have to take everything out to be able to find what I was looking for. In my Helena home, I can just pop up on my tiptoes and spy the baking powder hiding in the corner.

This has made me think a lot about simplifying my life.

I surround myself with to-do lists a mile long that are impossible to complete in one day. I have dozens of apps on my phone, but only use a few daily. On Facebook, I’m constantly getting notifications from groups that I just completely ignore. By doing this, I’m pretty much setting myself up for failure. There’s no way I can do everything and pay attention to everything in one day.

So, I’ve started to slash it back and think about what is absolutely necessary. I’ve unsubscribed to many emails and turned off notifications on apps. My pal Jenna Anderson actually just posted a list of the ways she keeps her social media under control and I’m using her tips to do a little Facebook weeding. My daily work to-do lists include bare minimum that I want to accomplish. In some cases, thinking about my why helps. Does this app really do something to help me in my why? Nope. Then it’s trashed.

This is also a huge reason why I took pressure off myself to respond to Facebook messages in a timely manner, especially when people are sending me videos and links to articles. As a general rule, I don’t even look at what people have sent me unless there’s a specific reason for sending it, like a friend wants to discuss the book mentioned in an article or have found a craft they think I’d enjoy doing.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the stuff and noise in your life? Do you need to simplify? What can you to do right now to make that happen?