On being a high-functioning introvert

Some people are surprised to learn that I am an introvert and suffer from bouts of social anxiety and agoraphobia.

Unless things are really bad, I have no problems with most social interactions. I can be friendly, engaged and even talkative.
I might be aching to wander away and retreat into my shell but most people would never know that.

When things are bad, I can’t leave the house.
Not “don’t want to”, but “CAN’T”
Here’s an example.

A few years ago I had a heart attack, a fairly serious one. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night along with severe nausea.
I waited 3 HOURS to call 911.
I told people that it was because I thought it was just heart-burn.
I was a military medic for almost 20 years…I KNEW it was an heart attack!

The problem was that I was going through a particularly rough period of my life and just couldn’t deal with people at the moment.
From my medical experience I knew that not only would the responding paramedics poke and prod, but they’d be asking me questions, and talking to me and reassuring me and generally invading my personal space.
Because all that is essential when treating any medical condition.

So yeah, I didn’t call 911 for a heart attack because I couldn’t deal with social interactions!

And yes, I was fully aware that I could die because of that.

That’s how bad my social anxiety was that day. I would rather die than have to talk to another human being.

I finally called because the pain was immense enough to eventually override everything else.

I relay that particular story so you don’t mistake the affects of my anxiety as a lack of willpower or some other character flaw.

At this point some of you are likely saying, “But you have a good job that requires you leave the house (to go to work), and that you interact with people!”

One of the important things to keep in mind is that like many chronic conditions, anxiety sufferers have good days and bad.

If I must leave the house and interact with people on a bad day I have coping mechanisms that help me get through.
Work is usually a refuge for me. Its rare that things are so bad that falling into my work doesn’t mitigate the anxiety.
When it does I have people I to whom I can say, “I’m having a bad day today”, and they’ll know what I’m talking about.
With people outside that circle who notice that I’m off, I use the “not feeling great”, and if they push I’ll chalk it up to something that I ate.

Work is an imperative though. I have responsibilities to my co-workers and customers.

Social engagements are another issue entirely. I often feel some combination of anxiety, trepidation and/or dread whenever a social engagement is approaching. Even ones that I know I will enjoy.
As the time approaches my brain will race around looking for excuses to not go.
Its sort of like this:

ME: Oh no, I think I’m coming down with the stomach flu!!
ALSO ME: Relax, you just farted. You’re fine.
ME: I’ve got a really really bad headache coming on!
ALSO ME: No…you don’t. You really don’t.
ME: But there will be people there!!!
ALSO ME: JUST GET IN THE GODDAMN CAR ALREADY!!!!

You get the idea.

That being said, social engagements of any type are out of the question on bad days.
There is no particular thing that I’m afraid of on these days, its just the idea of simply interacting with another human being seems to be impossible.

Case in point a few days ago I was having a bad day. Unfortunately I absolutely had to go to the grocery store.
It took me a good hour to work up the nerve to go.
When I got there I was distressed to see that there were people canvassing for a charity at the front doors.
I put on my best “Don’t talk to me” posture and strode quickly past, grabbed a shopping cart and WHAM..came face to face with a sweet old lady asking me to support something or other (I don’t know what it was).
I stammered out a no thank you and practically ran into the store.

I picked up a few things, but was so frazzled by the unexpected social contact that I ended up forgetting to pick up what I went to the store for. (and there was no way in hell I was going back for them!)

So the title of this is being a high-functioning introvert, but having read it over…who am I kidding? I’m a mess.

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3 Days that Saved My Life

This will be hard to write and for some, undoubtedly, hard to read.

I’m going to share my story in the hopes that it might help someone.

It’s no secret that I struggle with depression. Many are aware that there are days that I wake up regretting that I didn’t die in my sleep.

Mood wise, things got better towards the end of last year.

I noticed my mood slipping, but wasn’t too concerned as it always does during the winter months.

My life went to shit. I made some mistakes in the past that caught up with me and have created a difficult financial situation.

There were other things that I have to deal with that seemed harder and harder the more depressed I got.

Then my 11yr old Great Dane, Kharma started to show her age. Great Danes rarely live past 10, so this wasn’t unexpected, but the realization that my big girl is dying hit me harder than I thought it would. (I got tearful just typing that in fact). She is currently sleeping on the comforter behind me, so she is soldiering on.

Eventually, with everything piling on my depression deepened even further.

Then, one day I realized that things were futile, hopeless, joyless, and there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel.

I started to isolate myself as much as I could. I stopped looking after myself. I started subsisting on instant Pho noodles because the act of taking something out of the freezer to defrost was like trying to climb a mountain. I couldn’t even contemplate the energy it would take to prepare a meal, no matter how simple.

Often I would find myself sitting on the couch with Kharma’s head on my lap prematurely mourning her loss.

It became harder and harder to leave the house, except for work.

Even though it was difficult I did my best to stay in touch because I didn’t want people to worry.

Thoughts of suicide started creeping in more and more frequently.

That voice in the back of my head that speaks up at times like this, pointing out that people love me, people need me, my dogs need me, work needs me, and that things will get better became less and less convincing, and more annoying.

There have been a couple of times in the past where I reached this point, and during those episodes I became fearful that I would harm myself.

That fear wasn’t there this time.

There was only fatigue. A bone deep exhaustion.

I didn’t see the point of carrying on.

The internal struggle of choosing between living and dying started becoming a nightly ritual.

I had almost reached the point where the voice telling me to carry on was gone.

Then, at a particularly bad and hopeless moment that side of my brain made a proposition.

“3 days”, it said. “If you’re determined to die, 3 days won’t matter one way or another.”

So a deal was struck. I would wait 3 days and if things didn’t get better I would end things.

When I struck that deal I figured I would be dead in three days.

Three days passed, and I can honestly say that at that moment I’d completely forgotten about the arrangement.

It was a few days after that when while driving home from work I found myself singing along with the radio and realized that my depression had lessened and I was actually thinking about the future.

My personal life is still a shit show, Kharma is still approaching the end of her days, but I have plans on how to deal with it all appropriately. It will be hard, but not impossible.

I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and will eventually reach it, thanks to those 3 days.

Depression

This weekend I sat with my phone opened to Facebook, my fingers poised over the keyboard to post something.

It was hard to come up with something.

I was going through a deep depression.

I wanted to tell people what I was going through. I wasn’t asking for help, or for anyone to do anything.

I just wanted people to know that I was hurting.

After many attempts I came up with:

“Today was a rather blue day”

I hit post and moved on and slogged through the weekend.

This bought snuck up on me. I didn’t realized that I was depressed until I recognized the individual signs. Not looking after myself, a near constant fatigue, random aches and pains, headaches, restlessness, apathy.

In all that, the only thing I could think to do was to let people know. Maybe a sign of progress because normally I’m not one to reach out when things get bad.

I’ll get through it.

I always do.

When Grief Isn’t Grief…

Regular followers will be aware that my Queen of Spazmania, Colorado was diagnosed with cancer a few months back.

She went through a rough patch, that prompted me to ask people to stop reminding me that she was dying.

Today she is doing pretty well.  She’s lost a lot of weight (she was too heavy in the first place),  but she’s eating, drinking and is her normal self so I’m not worried about it.

But Monday morning, something weird happened.

If I linger in bed too long Colorado will eventually come up and remind me that she has to go out.   She starts by sitting next to the bed and panting until I pet her.

Monday morning was no different, except as soon as I reached out to scratch her head I started to cry.

She was her normal self.

When I reached out I don’t think I was thinking of her eventual passing.

I thought that maybe I had felt it in her energy.  I knew Shelby’s time was coming.

Through out the day I found myself getting tearful thinking of losing her.

I didn’t understand that.  I had plenty of time to prepare.  I am ready.

Yes, it will be hard,

When we take an animal into our lives we have a sacred duty to look after them.

The hard part of that is letting your faithful companion go when its time.

I did that for Shelby, even though I was not ready and it almost destroyed me.

When Colorado’s time comes,  I will let her go.   To keep her around when she’s sick and life has no joy for her would be cruel,  and very unfair.

She is my friend,  she even saved my life once when I my mood hit bottom and suicide seemed like a pretty good idea.

It will be hard…as I’ve said.

There’s a reason I mention the “it will be hard” thing twice.

All day Monday,  I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to not cry when thinking about Colorado’s final day.

When discussing it in the past I might get a bit tearful in the moment, but nothing like the crying jags I just couldn’t control.

It was on the drive home that the real reason hit me….

Arranging her final visit with the vet will be hard…very fucking hard.

And that’s what was getting to me…

It is another hard thing that I have to do, in what seems like a life of constant hard things.

Admittedly, when one suffers from mental health issues, especially depression,  getting out of bed in the morning can be a hard thing.

That’s not really what I’m talking about.

I’ve never shied away from these hard things.  In fact,  I tend to be very good at doing hard things.   So much so that I was often handed tasks that were hard.

I’m talking about the sorts of things that can have a negative impact on one’s spirit.

It was Dr. Nielsen who pointed out a few years ago that I have the ability to turn all that off.   I didn’t realize that I was doing that until he pointed it out.   To me it was just “buckling down” and “getting on with it”.

Thanks to therapy I’m losing that ability.

Of course, as one gets older the closets that one shoves the trauma of experiencing these hard things into has problems keeping shut.   And I can tell you that some of the nightmares that come leaping out at you are worse than any movie,  and its often accompanied by wondering just how in the hell you managed to completely forget about THAT!

A little bit ago, during a particularly rough patch,  it seemed like nothing was going right for me.   I remember spending a great deal of time lamenting that nothing would ever be easy for me.

That wasn’t my head space on Monday btw.

So in short, it was just another rock in the proverbial invisible basket.

I do have one very real fear when the time comes.

Colorado can read me.

No matter how well I’m hiding it, she knows my moods.

When one is saying good bye to their friend,  being calm and relaxed is essential lest you friend fights to stay by your side.

I can hide my emotions well.     I can be a full blown panic and no one will know it.  But Colorado would….

That’s the big fear for me when her time comes.   I don’t want her to go through that alone.

When Shelby passed I felt honoured to have attended his passing.

I hope I can do the same for my girl Colorado.

And now I’m crying again…fuck.

Depression, hopelessness, despair, salvation

This post will likely be the hardest I’ve ever written.

Im sitting here in my assigned hospital bed at the Stratford General Hospital the day after my second heart attack. In a couple of hours I will be transported to St Marys in Kitchener for an angiogram to assess the damage.

I will be fine on that account. Lying here with little to distract me has given me a great deal of time to think.

My struggles with mental hezlth are no secret. I think few are aware of how bad it really is.

I rarely discuss the dark stuff because I dont want to alarm anyone, and dont want to be a bother.

I sometimes ponder what I can do to get myself out of the quagmire I find myself in but always come up short.

In the days before my heart attack it was starting to occur to me that I needed to be more open and tell ppl what was really going on in my head.

Thats a scary proposition. I was afraid of how ppl would react. I didnt want to cause anyone distress, but at the same time I had decided on a course of action and didnt want anyone trying to stop me.

I need help. I dont know how to ask for it. I dont know what to ask for.

The outpouring of well wishes when news of my heart attack spread has shown me that telling the world what really is going on is the best course of action.

This will be hard to type, it may appear disjointed at times. I will do my best to avoid minimizing the situation.

Before I begin let me point out that the fact that I am telling hou all this is a good sign…I am asking for your help…more then thatI am actually asking everyone to help me figure out what it is that I need.

The fact that I am sitting here in a hospital bed typing this to you is a clear indication that indica there is no immediate danger.

The thing that got me thinking along these lines was a conversation with my new housemate Louise. A couple of nights ago I told Louise about my struggles with controlling my diabetes. I had forgotten that Louise used to be a nurse. Shes taking over that aspect. It lead to a discussion around mental health. I wont go into details because all of that will be covered below….unless I forget.

When I was first brought into the ER we went over my listof meds. I explained that I havent been taking them because I kept forgetting to get them refilled.

That was a lie.

Here we go….the truth is that I had stopped taking them because if I died of a heart attack it would be nature taking its course and not me letting anyone down by committing suicide.

And there it is.

My ADHD and depression made dealing with the day to day too hard. Doing what needed to be done seemed insurmountable. Dying seemed easier. The problem was that I have ppl depending on me, and there are a couple of things I still need to do.

That last paragraph sums up about a page and a half…you’re welcome.

This black depression started to lift about a week ago. Thanks at least in part to Louise who was quite adamant about her wanting to help.

In that time I considered what I had to do to improve my lot.

I need to be more social. I seem to have lost the ability to invite ppl for coffee. Ive been wanting to throw a dinner oarty or game night but Im terrified that no will come.

Part of that is finding activities out of the house. Social anxiety makes that hard for me. When I do go out the activities are usually solo.

Im keen to develop my comedy career…I just have to stay on track with that.

When I started this I thought it would be pages and pages, but Ive run out of things to say.

Im going to be heading kff to my angiogram in a bit, so I’m going to leave off here.

I hop what Ive said doesnt cause anyone distress. That wasnt my intent.

What I learned about “Living in the Now” from my two aging dogs

I’ve noticed that Colorado’s vision has been getting worse.

A while back I noticed that when I would throw her ball for her,  she’d often go right by it several times as she excitedly searched for it.   I knew she had cataracts,  but honestly,  I wasn’t sure if she was just too excited to see it.

Then,  a few months ago she started bumping into furniture in dark rooms.

A couple of weeks ago,  I gave her a treat and even though I was holding it right in front of her, she didn’t see it until I moved it slightly to the her right.

I imagine that many human beings in this situation would despair at the loss of their vision.

Colorado is not bothered by it.

Several times I’ve witnessed her come barrelling through the livingroom, only to run into something.

Each time, she picks herself up, and continues on whatever quest she is on.

She does not stop and think, “WTF?!”

Thoughts of a life without vision don’t seem to intrude.

This became evident when I was throwing her tennis ball for her.  Normally I throw it from living room to dining room.   It is not a rare for her to lose track of it and end up weaving around the dining room table in search of it.   She likes that game,  she is always very excited and happy and when we play.

This time she couldn’t find the ball.   It was in the middle of the floor.  I pointed at it and she still couldn’t see it…..until I put my finger on it.

Her reaction…..”OMG!  I FOUND THE BALL!!! YAY FOR ME!!!!  AGAIN!AGAIN!AGAIN!!!”

The fact that she needed help didn’t diminish her joy one bit.

She didn’t become consumed with what would happen when the time came that she couldn’t see at all.

She rejoiced in the moment.  Nothing else mattered.

…and that is the purest example I can think of for “Living in the Now”

It is something I’ve struggled to achieve since the concept was introduced to me years ago by my then therapist Roberta.

Essentially,  Living in the Now means not worrying about what could happen in the next moment,  or obsessing over what happened in the last.

In the example Roberta gave,  imagine the van you are driving is stuck in the mud.

Worrying about what will happen if you don’t reach your destination in time,  or obsessing over the circumstances that got you stuck will not get you unstuck.

I will point out that this doesn’t mean shirking responsibilities or not learning from mistakes.

In the past year there have been many changes in my life.  Happily I’ve made great strides toward this whole living in the moment thing.

I am better at taking each day as it comes.   But there are things that I still need to work on.

I think fear is one of the strongest forces in nature.  Especially when the fear is one of the biggest an individual faces.

That is why this lesson on Living in the Now is a hard one for me.

Both my dogs are getting older.

Even though it is an unavoidable aspect of nature, the thought of losing them terrifies me.

It is not that the fact that they will someday die that worries me.

The darkness that looms large and often makes me feel small and helpless is that when they are gone that I will be alone.

And that my friends,  is my biggest fear.

It might surprise a great deal of you because I often seek solitude,  and am well known for not being able to stay in large gatherings for very long.

But,  that solitude has always included my girls.

When these musings are coupled with depression,  the thought of not being able to reach over and run my fingers through canine fur reduces me tears….even when I’m actually doing just that.

That is the anti-thesis of Living in the Now.

The passing of Shelby, my cocker spaniel almost destroyed me.

It was a week before I could return to work,  and nearly 6 months before a day passed without me crying over his absence.

That was during a difficult time in my life.   I wasn’t ready to let him go,  but he was ready,  and I made him a promise.   And I keep my promises no matter how badly they cut.

In the immediate time after.  People kept their distance.  Close friends and family told others that I would want my space, and to grieve in private.

I appreciated it, because that’s what I thought I needed.

It was only years later that I realized how very wrong that was.  My isolation exacerbated the pervasive emptiness in my life.

Now,  even though both my girls are healthy and happy,  that fear is back.

While most of the time I enjoy the time with my girls without any thought of what happens,   there are times when the future intrudes and cannot be pushed away.

My life is much better now.  I have more friends, and am better at being social.

I know in my heart  that my friends and family will be there whatever the day brings.

But one of the things about mental illness is that your head sometimes injects false and terrifying  realities that are not easily banished.

Shelby: Pro Zombie Cocker Spaniel
Shelby: Pro Zombie Cocker Spaniel

Post-script:
I’ve been working on this for awhile.
A bought of depression sprang up sometime after I first came up with the idea for this post.  
 I don’t know if working on it is what caused my current bought of depression.
It was very difficult to finish….

 

 

An Impasse

 

I haven’t worked since the end of November.

I became embroiled in a dispute with my employer after I filed a complaint naming two senior employees.

It took months, but that issue was resolved in my favour.  Leaving me unemployed but with adequate resources to start life anew.

In the past few months I have battled severe depression,  anxiety, and a fair amount of stress.

3 days after everything was over,  I suffered a heart attack.

Just as I was getting to the point where I could return to normal activities, I badly sprained an ankle.  So bad that I couldn’t sit for long periods of time without elevating it.

My ankle is almost fine (although its throbbing while I sit here typing this).

So now that I, in my own opinion, am ready to tackle life again, I find myself at an impasse.

I’m trying to decide whether to look for work,  or take a serious, honest shot at getting a software company off the ground.

For years I was offered jobs where potential employers would, in the words of one, “treat you like a rock star because you’ll make us tons of money!!”.

While not motivated by money,  at age 50 I’m thinking about my future and retiring with no mortgage and “tons of money” sounds very appealing.

But, I’ve lots of ideas for marketable products, and would really like to make a go of starting my own company.

I figure that I can go a far number of months with no income.   That will give me enough time to develop a product to the point where I could look for investors, if not out and out have it generating income.

But, there’s always the possibility of failure and ending up with nothing.

On the other hand,  if I went back to working for someone else,  that money could go towards needed things for the house, and wanted things…like my dream vacation to St. Petersburgh Russia and a multi-day tour of The Hermitage Museum.

I’m coming out of a week long heavy depression,  so this issue is taking more brain power than I have on hand.

Anyone have any thoughts they’d like to share?