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.

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.

Life is Good…Finally

It has been pointed out that I’ve been relatively silent for the past week or so.

Normally this is a bad sign.  When depression sets in that’s what I do.  I fall silent.  I avoid contact.  I try not to be a nuisance,  and above all else I avoid letting anyone know that I’m hurting.

That is not the case here.

Despite the fact that its mid-February which is typically the worst part of the year for me in terms of mental health.

I’m okay.

I’m better than okay.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it.

I discussed it with my psychiatrist who was pleased to see the insight I was showing into my own progress.

I first realized it when I blurted out, to an empty room, and for no reason at all, “Life is good!”

That surprised me.

These unprompted, sudden exclamations to no one in particular aren’t new to me.  But until now they were heavily negative.  Usually, “I hate my life!”.

Honestly, I did.

The past few years have been hard.

I won’t go into details.  Some of you know the meat of it.

It got much worse towards the end of 2015.  Terrible in fact.

It is with a bit of humour that, at this point, I let you know that my answer to anyone who asked me if I was suicidal was,  “No,  I have too much to do yet.”

And then I found that I had lost almost everything that was important to me…..I no longer “had too much to do.”

Then I found that I didn’t lose everything that was important to me….my eyes were opened to the fact that there were a great many people who cared about,  and not, as I suspected,  because of what I could do for them.

What I found was that I have friends.  Good friends that I could tell that things weren’t good.

What I did lose was what I thought was my purpose in life.

I suddenly found myself with no one to look after,  no one to protect,  no mission,  no purpose except to get through each day.

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t have some external thing that kept me going.

But there I was….

It was terrifying.   The lack of purpose consumed my every waking thought.

Emotionally,  psychologically,  spiritually I hit bottom.

It may have been the best thing that happened to me.

It was just last week that I realized that what I thought was a horrible emptiness,  was a blessing.

I had no one to rescue.  Nothing to fix……except me.

I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.  But I started working through the issues I pushed down,  or blotted out while helping others.

Eventually I noticed that my thinking was much clearer.  My thoughts are calmer, even when contemplating things that would normally cause me a great deal of distress.

At the same time,  I’ve allowed myself to get angry over things that I should, rightfully, get angry over.  That’s always been a difficult thing for me.

I think the most important thing I’ve come to accept is that I am important,  and, so long as I’m not a complete asshole about it,  it’s perfectly okay to put my needs ahead of others (except my dogs, and cat).

So yeah,  I feel better than I have in years.

Life is good…..finally.

 

 

Dear Santa

Hi Santa;

It has been a very long time since I’ve written to you.

I hope I didn’t offend you in last letter when I questioned the fact that you insisted that instead of milk that we leave beer with the traditional offering.   I may have been a bit blunt in my pointing out that your favorite beer happened to be the same as my dad’s.   Black Label.

I had recently noticed that restaurants were selling “Imported Beers” and found it unlikely that Black Label was available at the North Pole.

So, uh, sorry about that.

All that being said,  I hope you get this.   I don’t know what sort of internet is available at the North Pole,  but maybe your phone will download this when you transition through more civilized locations.

Santa,  its been a tough year.  Not just for me,  but for millions of people around the world.

At this point, I believe its customary for the letter writer to point out how good they’ve been all year.

Santa,  I’ve been a good boy all year!!!

LMAO….once you stop laughing you’ll realize I was being sarcastic.

I’m going to ask for something anyway….but it is more of a global thing.

Santa,  with all the shit that has happened in the world,  I’ve noticed something….

Since 9/11,  it seemed that every time people who happened to be Muslim did something wrong,  social media feeds,  and forum posts were wall to wall hate for all Muslims.

That’s not all.

In 2001 very few people would speak up when someone vilified gays and lesbians.

Almost no one would speak up in defence of those society marginalized.  I’m talking about the homeless,  the addicted and the mentally ill.

The world seemed bereft of compassion.

I think that started to change in the past year or so.

Even in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks people who complained about Islam,  and wanted to punish all Muslims,  even those fleeing the inhumane hell that was once Syria,  were shouted down.

Not by one or two,  but by the majority!

For homophobes it got so bad that they started complaining that their ignorant hatred was actually a majority opinion,  but people were afraid of speaking up out of fear of being bullied by “bleeding heart Liberal bullies”.

I honestly believe that society is becoming more compassionate.   That people see that homelessness and addiction is not the problem,  but a symptom of the problem.

More and more people are seeing that the way we treat social welfare makes poverty nearly impossible to escape.

Santa,  I know that even with your mastery of quantum mechanics that you couldn’t have done all that.

But,  if you help move it along in any way I’d really like that.

It would make the world a better place.

Oh,  and Santa,  if it turns out I’m wrong,  and this is just some delusional fantasy….I’m good with that.

Thanks Santa,   have a safe flight.

If you do make it to my place,  as soon as you get in,  get the fridge….you’ll find some sausage in there.    If the dogs haven’t cornered you before that,  just throw them a couple of links and you’ll be fine!

 

 

 

 

I am Adrift and in Need of Rescue

I was planning on writing something else tonight, but I will save that for later.

Going into my 50th Christmas I find myself in one of the darkest, bleakest periods of my life.

I can’t go into details,  but I am going into week 4 of “Sick Leave”.   I’ve had the one thing that gave my life purpose and meaning stripped away from me,  through no fault of my own.

My days blend together,  each one the same as before with few exceptions.

Without the distraction of work, and socializing with my friends there life has become pretty grey.

There is one bright spot here though,  and that is that I’m recognizing my tendency to hide when things get bad.

With the help of my psychiatrist, Dr. N.,  and some very good friends I’m finding it easier to recognize behaviours that are less than helpful.

And,  I’m finding it easier to talk about them.

Up until recently there was no way in hell I would let anyone know that I was hurting.   It would have to be truly bad for me to even hint that I was in trouble,  let alone ask for help.

The headline of this blog is something that I’ve wanted to say so many times in the past.

The reasons I didn’t are all my own.

There are a few reasons for this neurotic way I deal with depression and stress.

Most of my adult life,  I was the one who came to the rescue.  I was a medic.

Back then I had coping mechanisms…friends, alcohol and terrible, terrible karaoke.

There is also a part of me that is terrified of being vulnerable.  As I type that I realize the irony.  Not asking for help for fear of being seen as vulnerable, actually increases the vulnerability.

So,  after years of battling depression I find that my social skills are lacking.

I withdraw from socializing because I don’t want to bother people with my bullshit,  so I’ve lost the ability to make small talk,  or have a “normal” conversation about “stuff”.

The result of this of course is that its harder to find people to socialize with,  and build those friendships where someone will call bullshit when I say that I’m fine when I’m not.

The bright spot in this quagmire is that I’ve been unable to hide it.  Dr N commented during my appointment the other day that it was the first time in the 4 or 5 years I’ve been seeing him that I actually looked depressed.

I say bright spot, because other people have noticed and have offered support.  Invitations for coffee or a shoulder should I need one.

Thank you so much all of you for that.

Now to the bit that still kind of terrifies me….I’m going to ask for help, directly…

Please know that accepting help is new to me.   I fight every day to keep from “going dark” and avoiding everyone and everything.

So,  if you’re inclined to reach out, please don’t let me run and hide…because I might.

Thanks everyone…I’m going to hit “Post” on this before I chicken out.