Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Magnificent Metaphors & My Mind

Before I get started, I would like to tell you guys that when I first started this blog, I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to write about. I did not expect to be writing about my anxiety and related mental health problems quite as often as I do. I anticipated it'd be a sort of meandering stream of consciousness about marriage, animals and art - my hobbies when I'm not consumed with fear. However, the truth is that my anxiety unfortunately defines me more than those things do at this point in my life. This is sad to me and I've never wanted to be that person who IS their illness but when you struggle with something every single day, even on your good days, it has a tendency to become a big part of who you are.

Which segways nicely into what I wanted to share with you all. My wonderful friend Chelsea showed me something called The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. You can follow the link to get the in depth explanation of it but I will try my best to paraphrase it here should you choose not to read it (though I highly recommend that you do).

In a nutshell, the spoon theory gives you a certain amount of spoons. Literal spoons. When you're sick (the author of this theory has lupus), you have to make conscious decisions regarding what you can and can not do each day. If you have 10 spoons, for example, the act of waking up takes one. Getting dressed is another. Making toast is a third. Brushing your teeth is a fourth. By the time you go out the door to head to work (another spoon for driving!), you have already lost half of your spoons.

This is the most simplified explanation I can muster while still giving you a fairly alright idea of what this means. Some days, she writes, are better than others and you might have fifteen spoons. Other days, when your illness kicks you in the face or even a smaller secondary sickness on top of it, you may have as few as three.

I've been fascinated with this clever explanation of chronic illness and the difficulties one faces when it comes to choosing activities. Being sick, any kind of sick, is exhausting. Lupus definitely more so than anxiety. Yet I still relate deeply to this theory.

Yesterday, for example, was a good spoon day for me. I woke up early, chopped vegetables, attempted to make an omelet. I went on to vacuum an entire room (using the hose attachment for the carpet next to the wall, even), empty the dishwasher then reload it, help my roommate move an armchair and a couch. I even left the house twice, albeit I was in my pajamas both times. Without counting more minor tasks like making a bowl of cereal or brushing my teeth, I used about eleven spoons.

This amount of energy I expended is very abnormal for me. In the end, I paid the price as I couldn't even stay awake a full twelve hours and passed out on the couch around six in the evening. Some days, I am lucky if I can read a book and boil water for tea. Most days are somewhere in between, where I can manage one or two housekeeping tasks and make one group meal.

You would think the nervous energy from anxiety would make me more gung-ho but the truth is that all the extra energy I usually have is sucked into a vortex of panic. After I fight off another throat closing, heart racing, chest tightening attack, I'm too tired to even sleep properly. Most of my time is spent watching shows I have almost no interest in because I've already watched everything good on both Netflix and Hulu at least once, usually several times. As someone who loves television, it's almost depressing to me how many hours I've wasted in front of a screen just because any other activity is going to require too many spoons.

I'm still drinking tons of water. My omelet this morning had cucumbers and tomatoes in it, then I had carrots with hummus for a snack later. The other day I walked over a mile. My lunch always consists of a multivitamin afterwards. Yet all these things are incapable of eradicating my exhaustion, my muscle tension, my terror. I even tried drawing earlier, something I haven't done in at least a month, because I know how important a creative outlet is - yet an hour into it, all at once my heart was racing and my throat constricting. Positive thinking is a big deal to me and I work constantly to redirect thoughts ("I'm not having a stroke, it's just a little anxiety. This will go away."), but it's very difficult when there's a loud, stupid voice in your head screaming, "There's something seriously wrong with you!!"

Even now as I write this, my head feels oddly swollen (one of my favorite new symptoms, along with a crazy stiff neck), and I'm breathing as calmly as possible but even though the voice from an hour ago is a little hoarse I can still hear it groaning,  "why can't you just go see a doctor?"

Come May 1st, when my new insurance kicks in, I'm going to have so many medical appointments it's going to be stupid. Allergy shots, teeth cleaning, that stupid blood work for my thyroiditis and most importantly I'll find a real doctor with a degree, not some certification, who will actually investigate all this shit that happens to me even though I'm doing everything short of selling my soul to the devil to get rid of my anxiety.

Don't do drugs, kids. Or, more specifically, don't do a double dosage of some random hallucinogenic up your nose. Especially not if you have a history of mental health issues in your family. Though that and my anxiety didn't occur at exactly the same time, I can't help but relate the two in my brain. I'll tell you the whole story sometime. There's something about experiencing your own death only to keep living that makes you pretty freaked out all the time.

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