Mindless help is hurtful

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Yesterday, my doctor told me I’ll be out full-time for at least another month.

I feel like I’m on the edge of reality, not completely myself and lost in a fog. The symptoms fade if I sit virtually still and do nothing, so I won’t be blogging as usual for a while.

Instead, I’ll just jump over to my podcast for a few weeks. Audio will be unedited and my concussion ramblings are, well, ramblings, but at least I can feel like I have some connection to the world.

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Getting pro help is hard

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Over the past few months, I’ve frequently gotten the impression that the mental health services in Winnipeg are set-up in ways to discourage people from using them.

Going to an open house at the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM) is as easy as showing up to one of two monthly sessions (which is a prerequisite for beginning the intake process), but they won’t hand out paper applications on the spot. In fact, they won’t even email it later. People have to call or email, wait for them to snail mail a paper copy, then fill out and send it back. At the open house I was at, the woman admitted this was because they couldn’t handle the rush of applicants after every event and needed them to be spaced a bit.

Compared to other services I’ve tried to access, this was actually pretty easy and straightforward. And it made me wonder if maybe they’re overwhelmed with applicants because they offer services at a variety of times that are affordable and their staff are quick to respond?

I’m expecting my snail-mailed application from ADAM in the next day or so and I plan to send it back immediately. But then I’m told they’ll call me to schedule an interview within three weeks of receiving it.

When I read that email, I felt like I lost the little hope I had in that moment. Three weeks may not seem like a long time to some, but for me it is. I think about the days I’ve worked from bed in the past three weeks. The nightmare-filled 10 hour sleeps I’ve woken exhausted from and all the meals I’ve missed because of the nausea. There were the nights I wanted to do something fun with my partner but I ended up crying on the couch instead. Can I really do another three weeks of this?

I should have started looking for help a while ago, but I thought I could take care of it. I’m now reaching a point where somedays I don’t have the energy to try anymore. I can’t see a future for myself. I feel stuck and I’m certain this is where I’ll be forever.

After getting the email, I used these feelings of helplessness to motivate more research. I registered for an open house for a mental health recovery program and signed-up for a mindfulness course, both with the Canadian Mental Health Association. I looked for alternate support groups which I could perhaps get into immediately or just drop in on.

I calmed myself down with promises that I can hold on, keep making small changes and try to stay positive until I get help, but the fact is that there shouldn’t be these barriers and hurdles. People who need help shouldn’t have to call and call and call therapy centres to try to get applications. Anxiety-suffers shouldn’t have to spend hours searching for programs and then sitting in open houses to see if the program is right for them, and then wait weeks to months to actually get into them.

I’m sure this post will get me the usual list of resources, but before you comment, think about how accessible they really are. When you call, does someone always pick up? When you stop by the office, is it guaranteed there will be someone there to help you out? Do they respond to emails? How long is the waitlist? Is it affordable? Like, actually affordable, not affordable to people making $20,000+ per year.

I don’t have a solution. Maybe we need to be more open about mental health issues so people reach out for help before they feel like they’re drowning. Maybe we should be putting less pressure on children to succeed and give them the tools they need to be present and happy. Maybe we just need more funding going towards mental health programs.

For my part, I’ll just keep publicly bitching until I feel well enough to actually think about what could have prevented me from getting here.

I can do this, with you

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I really felt like shit about myself last week. Despite knowing better, I was judging myself rather harshly for not being able to take care of myself properly on my own. And then you all stepped in and set me straight.

An acquaintance responded to the status update about last week’s blog post on my Facebook wall with this:

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She’s right. I’ve always had high expectations for myself. I was the kid who cried when they didn’t get an A in a class. I was disappointed in myself for getting 98 per cent as my final grade in a high school pre-cal class. I stopped drawing in junior high because, though I loved it, I didn’t think I was good enough (looking back at my old sketchbook, I was again judging far too harshly).

Last week, two friends popped into my place to help clean and I told them to leave the disaster that is my living room. At the time, there were piles of whole rags, stripped rags and braided rags which are part of my project to turn worn-out clothes into dog toys for animal rescues. I had a suitcase of wallpaper, wallpaper cut into squares, notched/creased wallpaper for envelopes and some actually glued into envelopes for sending issues of Cockroach mag out. I had a little bin of mason jars for packaging the dried greens I foraged this summer to make teas and the vegetables I collected and dried for soup mixes. And there was some yarn lying about for a gift I’m working on.

The time I spend putting supplies for craft projects away and taking them back out is ridiculous, even though everything is sorted nicely in labeled bins. Having the projects I am currently trying to power through all over my living room saves me time. Maybe one day I’ll have a little workshop for these things, but right now I do all my making in the living room. What Lynn said made me not only feel better, but realize that it’s totally acceptable to have my home however I want it and not feel guilty.

While all the comments on my post were supportive and lovely and made me feel better, this one also really struck me:

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If you know me, you know I do a lot for others. Friends are often encouraging me to stop helping people so much, but it’s hard because I truly believe this world would be a much better place if we all did as much as we could to take care of one another.

Part of making that a reality is actually accepting help. So, when a dear friend offered to deliver a care package to me, I didn’t object. Rather, I said thank you and appreciated the dried goods and vegan hot chocolate mix (which she’ll have available at The Half Moon Market). When another friend called to tell me she was coming over to clean, my response was also simply “thank you,” as was my response when she surprised me the next day by bringing another person along plus food her husband had made me.

My friends’ generosity (whether that was them physically being there, sending me cat stickers on Facebook, or texting me cute emojis or a tiny compliment) helped rejuvenate me. This week isn’t awesome. The pain is minimal but I’m just exhausted. One afternoon, I passed out on a co-workers couch when I stopped by to feed his cat while he was out of town and then considered going to bed at 7 p.m. that night.

However, the love I’ve received gave me the energy to get most of those dog toys ready to go to D’Arcy’s Arc and Hampers of Hope, watch a friend’s kid and sneakily clean her kitchen a bit while she went to an appointment and start to plan a sleepover at my place for four children who I absolutely adore but don’t make enough time for.

The past week strengthened my belief that if we all put more time and energy into supporting and loving one another, we’d all be better off.

I can(‘t) do this

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It’s fucking embarrassing needing help.

I’m a 26 year old white woman from a middle-class family. On paper I’m able-bodied, I have a safe home and just enough money to squeak by every month. I shouldn’t need anything.

And yet, my knees hurt so badly sometimes I can’t leave my three-storey walk-up to get groceries. When my heart starts pounding and my chest tightens, I need to pull over my car before I get too dizzy and find another way home.  When that dizziness becomes constant, I can’t stay vertical long enough to make a meal, clean or even go for a walk.

It’s embarrassing because I don’t know what’s wrong. Saying my fingers are too weak and the pain shooting from them up my arms into my elbows is too sharp for me to be able to do my dishes sounds like bullshit when the reason is anxiety. It’s just anxiety. I should be able to lift my crock pot into the sink. Even I judge myself and have trouble believing that something in my head is taking over my entire body. Maybe I’d feel different if I was diagnosed with arthritis. Maybe then I’d feel okay asking someone to take care of my dishes.

On good days—or at least on better days when moving isn’t too much to bare—I’ll power through the cleaning and the errands. Satisfied, I’ll go to bed in my clean sheets which aren’t filled with dishes from midnight snacks, books I plan on reading and countless notebooks.

But it’s only a few days before I inevitably crash again and my home becomes such a disaster I’m hesitant to have anyone but my closest, least judgemental friends over. Those are the friends who also suffer from anxiety or who truly understand and empathize. To them, anxiety is a valid excuse. I’m not lazy. I’m not a slob. I’m sick. And I’ve seen the looks of people who don’t understand. They tell me I’d feel better if only I’d clean my home and keep it that way, not really understanding what’s stopping me. Not getting that anxiety gets in the way.

But, even to me, that’s not a valid excuse. Working up to asking someone I love and care about to take time out of their own hectic life to vacuum my living room because I’m anxious feels disrespectful, like I’m taking advantage of having them in my life. When someone buys me groceries, I panic that they’ll start to think I’m ungrateful if I don’t do something equally as caring back.

Without that help, I’m sitting in a messy home, hating myself for not being able to deal with the basics of my life. With that help, I’m sitting in my clean home hating myself for being a burden on my friends.

There’s no winning.

Take care of each other

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***WARNING: Lots of images of cardboard and knit dicks.***

***CONTEST: First person to comment on this post the correct number of dicks in these photos wins a free packages of Cockroach zines and buttons.***

As I speak about on Ramblings of an Anxious Mess this week, a lot of people have done a lot of things to help me out over the past little while. Here’s some of what I found in my apartment when I came home from camping to discover that my cat sitter had let some mutual friends in the door.

I’m told that I’m yet to find everything. While I feel a bit bad about all the time and effort my friends put into me, every time I find something new in my apartment, it makes me feel a bit better. And I know I’d do the same for them. In fact, I’m planning my payback, although I won’t say what it is here in case they read it.

If you know someone who is going through a tough time, the least you can do is send them a message letting them know you’re thinking of them. If you have the time and energy, you could ask if there’s something they need. If they say nothing, but you still want to help them out, here are some things you can do:

  • Check in with them regularly
  • Send them funny or cute messages and images
  • Mail them a postcard, letter or something fun, like a zine
  • Drop dinner off at their home
  • Bring them groceries
  • Stop by to do their dishes, laundry or other cleaning

You don’t have to do anything spectacular, time consuming or expensive to make a huge difference in someone’s life. I always thought that was the case and tried to do little things for folks, but now that I’m actually going through a rough time and experiencing all this love, I know for a fact that a nice card in the mail from a friend can really brighten my day.


podcast artwork4This week on Ramblings of an Anxious Mess, I talk about some things to keep in mind before asking for or offering help to someone in need.