agoraphobia, bloggy stuff, coffee pot posts, depression/anxiety, Obsession

Saturday Morning Coffee Post

tapestry diary 2018

This is day three of my week without social media or news. I suppose that some people would count blogging as social media but I have so little interaction with people here I generally think of it as an online journal and personal portal.

If you have followed me through the years you might know that I began this blog in early 2005 as a healing process for my depression, anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia. I am open about my mental health because I strongly believe that we must take away the stigma so that more people, like me, do not wait so long to get help. I am light years better than I was in 2003, which was probably my lowest point, but I still struggle. Much of my problem is physical…panic disorder and depression runs in my family. However agoraphobia is a behavioral response to anxiety so I decided to give behavioral therapy another try. And for the past few years, my biggest problem has been obsessive thoughts and behavior and it keeps getting worse. The political situation in this country has done some real damage to my brain.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into all the details of my therapy, but she gave me two assignments. One was to stay off social media and avoid the news for a week. The other ***GULP*** concerns my game playing. Perhaps it is significant that I waited to tell her that I play games A LOT until the end of our first session. Immediately she said, “Delete your games.”

To the social media break, I said, “Okay, that’s a good idea.” To the game break, I said, “D-delete my games?”

She said, “Ah, there’s the look.”

She nailed my addiction.

I have been playing games all my life, since I was little, to calm my mind. Before computers, since I can remember. I played solitaire and board games where I played both sides. I had a plastic grid with tiny pieces very much like Legos that I constantly made patterns on, sitting on the den floor in front of the TV. (It drove my daddy crazy.) I do puzzles. I am drawn to any game or puzzle that involves logic, strategy, or setting up patterns. Ever heard of nonograms? Candy Crush totally scratches that itch too.

So she backed off a bit when I told her that I didn’t think that I could do that. Instead I am limiting my game playing to a schedule and being aware of the amount of time I spend playing games. I would be embarrassed to tell you how much time I have wasted. It is my way to avoid thinking because my mind is engaged with strategy.

Sewing pieces of fabric together serves this same function, but my sewing machine has been wonky and my hands can’t deal with too much stitching. I cleaned my machine as best I could and the tension has straightened out. It costs about as much to repair this Brother as it costs to buy another, so I won’t be getting maintenance or repair on it again. Once it crashes again I’m going to switch to my mother’s old Singer which dates back to the 50s or 60s. The only reason I haven’t been using the Singer is due to lack of space in my studio. The Macomber loom takes up a lot of space and I need a work table. And I swear that I am going to warp up this Macomber this winter. The warp is measured and ready to go.

Right now I am concentrating on getting my t-shirt quilt finished. It’s beginning to get chilly and the garden is about done. I have never quilted anything (successfully) but this is just a bunch of old t-shirts and it’s not a work of art. I’m going to finish it and get the room back in my studio. I don’t care if the angles are correct or the stitches are even. It’s something to cuddle up with, not to hang in an exhibit. It will be good to get a big project finished.

Also, I finished the summer entries on my tapestry diary and now I’m mulling over how to weave September and October. A lot happened.

Tomorrow afternoon I plan to go down to Gate City Yarns and get a little social time in. Sandy is going to take me out for dinner and we will watch our friend Brad’s jazz band play in the park.

And next Sunday afternoon, I am going to drive to Raleigh for a book making party with the Triangle Book Arts group. I am not going to back out of this one. I have ideas.

In between, I’m going to go to work and get shit done. It’s likely that there will be more frequent blogging.

agoraphobia, depression/anxiety, whining

I think of all the things I want to write about constantly, thinking that I’ll start doing it after this, after that, and then I don’t do it. Then the words float away, buried by the debris in my anxious brain, or pushed away by mindless game playing that absorb my thoughts lest they go to dark places. I do this to myself. It’s the same reason I don’t get art done.

It’s a pattern for me to get depressed after my last trip west for the year, without any trip planned to keep my INTJ cells active. This coming year I’m sure that I’ll go somewhere for a retreat, maybe to the HGA (Handweavers Guild of America) Convergence in Reno in July. I’d love to take one of the ATA (American Tapestry Alliance) three-day workshops. However, I’ve never been able to get into one, even when I set an alarm to register online at the very moment registration begins, because donors to the organization get to register a month early and the workshops fill up. If I was to donate $125 before Oct. 17, I’d get a shot but I’m feeling the squeeze of medical bills and household repairs that I need to hire someone for. Then I might not get in the class anyway and I’d be out the money. And I’d have to make a firm decision about going to Reno before Oct. 17. Ay yi yi. This is the kind of thing that makes my chest hurt. So maybe I’ll try to register for one of the classes again on Nov. 17 without the extra donation. If I get in, then Fate has decreed that I should go.

Fortunately there are lots of book arts classes that are in driving distance and don’t cost so much. I’m getting involved with the Triangle Book Arts group, which has its meetings in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill and are about an hour’s drive away. Tomorrow morning I’m going to a mark-making workshop at the Chapel Hill Public Library and it will be my first meeting with this group.

Have I mentioned that my agoraphobia now has no problem with hopping on a plane to fly thousands of miles away, but rears its head at a car trip by myself more than 15 minutes away? Mental illness has no logic. This is the kind of thing that slips up on me. I have to push through this. Boo, panic disorder! Go away!

Then I’m going to join this TBA group again the following Saturday in Durham to play with creating a panel for a collaborative accordion style book that will hang at the ReFuse show in January.

I’ve got all kinds of ideas for this panel BUT I realize that right now it might be best for me to just pull out a bunch of collage materials and found objects and then follow my nose.

And I’m working on appreciating Greensboro and North Carolina. I know it’s a case of the “grass being greener on the other side of the hill.” I realize that Greensboro is actually a great place to live, and that North Carolina is a beautiful state. I’m trying to see it with new eyes instead of the eyes of someone who has lived in the state for 56 years and in Greensboro for 38 of those years, never anywhere else.

So I’m going for a hike on one of the lake trails on Sunday.

But all I really want to do when I get home from work is play computer games, read, and sleep. I gotta snap out of it, but it’s not so easy when I want to be kind to myself too. Like right now, I’m gonna have a real hard time not laying down on the bed, much less even thinking about cooking dinner. Last night I ate some crackers and went to bed at 7 p.m. I don’t know how people with children manage.

You’ve probably guessed that I’m having a hard time with thinking about politics, natural disasters, and personal worries.

Oh yeah, my gallbladder surgery is scheduled for October 5. Trying REALLY hard not to think about that, except for keeping my diet fairly low-fat. My neck is much better, and I’m getting a home traction device soon that should help a lot.

Okay, that’s enough whining. I’ll write about my gardening plans and more substantive subjects later.

agoraphobia, depression/anxiety

Today

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Today, I got through the day after a serious prolonged anxiety episode during errand running after the guild party yesterday. The party was fun, the food at Printworks was delicious, and some of us exchanged handmade “mug rugs,” so I was surprised by the panic attack. It’s been so long since I’ve had a major one that I forgot that they usually do come on at the most puzzling times. So, YAY, I got through Monday! One day at a time, ya know.

I did manage to go to a Hanukkah party last night, and I’m glad that I pushed through it, but I pretty much collapsed before I even got to the car. One thing I did learn over the years was that panic disorder developed into agoraphobia when I did not push through it, and I certainly don’t want to retreat to that.

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The menorah was beautiful. I love what Susanne has done with her studio, spreading it over two rooms on the first floor of her house. I hope to do some papermaking again soon over there.

Today we resolved one of the work issues, but I think that we’ve done all we can and won’t be able to resolve the others. Too bad. God knows we tried. Now I’m letting it go, evicting the cats from the bedroom, and heading to dreamland. Hopefully I will be blogging about art instead of mental health issues very soon.

agoraphobia, depression/anxiety

A bout with agoraphobia

I am 95% finished with cleaning out the kitchen – I have two drawers to go, and they won’t be bad. It was the ones in which nothing had been touched for months, in some cases, years, and around the trashcan under the sink that had me horrified. The mice found those spots irresistibly peaceful and set up homesteads there, so it was a nasty job to tackle. Fortunately the large majority of the heirloom stuff was boxed up so that the mice couldn’t touch it, and I ended up throwing “away” most everything that wasn’t metal or glass and couldn’t be sanitized. I ended up with three big cabinets and five drawers to use for my art supplies. This was a rare instance in which I actually used bleach and a face mask in cleaning the kitchen. I had had it with the procrastination and I was taking my space back.

One of the reasons this made me feel so much better is that the kitchen mess was a result of my struggle with depression. I couldn’t face it – it was overwhelming. I was already using a tiny portion of my kitchen to prepare food because I felt that I could control it and keep it reasonably clean. I got to the point where I hated cooking because the kitchen nagged me that it needed major attention every time I walked in there. I bought prepared foods from the farmers’ market to take to potluck parties.

As a recovering agoraphobic, I realized that I was retreating from spaces in my own house.

Once I got that (and I’m not sure that I totally understood it until just a couple of days ago), I knew that I had to move past it. That is the only way to deal with agoraphobic behavior. So I took it a little at a time until it was done. I feel so much better. I cooked soup this week and I worked in my new studio space. My kitchen space is smaller and manageable. I am not holed up in my bedroom now, although it does still beckon to me. I’ve set up my laptop in the dining room/studio.

That’s the thing with agoraphobia, it will slip up on you if you stop paying attention.

I try to write about my experience with it from time to time, because I think that it is important to talk publicly about mental illness. Agoraphobia is about your personal comfort zone and can take many forms.

To those of you who can relate to this overwhelming anxiety of moving out of a comfort zone, if you haven’t gotten help, I urge you to either find a doctor or therapist who can help you and if you can’t make yourself go, get a friend to take you. Agoraphobia is a behavioral problem, but I was not able to deal with it on my own until I had taken medication for anxiety and depression for a few years. Now I fly and travel all over the world with great pleasure. I wish you the same.

agoraphobia, depression/anxiety

Anna Banana gave me a good prompt in the comments: “Do you think doing art facilitated/facilitates your transformation? Can you say more about how you got from there to here?” This requires a much longer answer than I can do justice to in the comments, so here it is.

I guess that to explain this adequately, I need to give a touch more history. I haven’t had a panic disorder for only eight years, I’ve probably had anxiety/depression since the fifth grade, and in retrospect my first symptoms of panic disorder began in my mid-twenties. I was diagnosed with anxiety at that time but I had no clue about what the panic attacks were until they became disabling in my early forties. I just thought it was part of my general craziness.

I’m very happy to say that my last panic attack, was, I think, a couple of years ago. I was already going through a very tough time when Squirt got sick and died, and that was pretty much the worst thing that could have happened. I’ve just now stopped reeling from it, but I still dreamed about protecting him last night.

Did art facilitate my healing? This answer might surprise you. I don’t think that it did. I’d like to think that, but if I’m truthful then I’d have to say that it was the other way around. I think that my healing facilitated my art. And now that I feel healthy most of the time, I think that my art energizes and nurtures my soul, and fuels my growth.

I’ve been an artist all my life, but I’ve struggled with it. I was always very uptight or I was crocked. Once I got my “self-medicating” under control, I had to let go of a lot of other things too. One was my best friend. One was my self-loathing. I decided that I had to look within and become my own best friend. I had a strong visual affirmation that I got from a stop-smoking hypnosis group – imagine seeing yourself as a three-year-old child. Are you going to let your three-year-old play in the traffic on the street? I decided to love my three-year-old and guide her to safety. I was very proud of this strategy.

But what I didn’t realize that I was doing at the time was that I was slowly corraling my wounded 3-year-old into a corner. Agoraphobia is a behavioral disorder that often develops as a response to panic attacks. You begin avoiding places and situations where you’ve had an attack, and then places where you might have an attack, until your life pretty much revolves around avoiding living outside your own self-constructed ever-shrinking bubble.

And I was doing art during all of this. It was very processed, tight art. I beaded obsessively. I wove, a very process-driven art, and during my worst time, I wove traditional patterns. I did make some pottery as I began to force my way out of my hole. And I really thought of it as a hole. I remember saying that I felt like as soon as I peeped over the edge of my hole something kicked me back to the bottom. Leaving the bottom of my hole was one of the hardest things that I ever did, but I read about agoraphobia, and I knew that it was up to me to do it. Drugs do not cure agoraphobia.

So I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at UNCG. My thinking was that if I couldn’t drive to class, it was possible to finish the degree online. The second class took place at a location where I had to drive 45 minutes through heavy traffic. I forced myself to do it. The class also was extremely soul-searching, taught by a behavioral child psychologist and a lay minister for the location, called Healing Ground. I was often a real basket case in this class. I told the professor upfront that if I slipped out, that I was probably having a panic attack and that I would stay outside until I was over it and either come back or go home.

As hard as that class was, I believe that it was the real beginning of my healing. Ironically, I took my last class from the same professor in the same location, and I was, again, a real mess, but it was due to outside influences (Squirt) more than inside.

I drove to the classes held in several far-flung locations, made friends with like-minded people, and along the way became involved with Slow Food. I gained my confidence back and was able to travel to Italy with one of my classes. I learned to prioritize my life and pursue what was meaningful to me.

Once I learned to love myself as well as protecting myself, I was able to free my mind to play. And that’s what facilitated my new direction in art.

I won’t discount the good that the right anti-depressant has done for me. I had to try several medications over the last eight years, and for some of it I refused to take any. Anxiety and panic disorder is hereditary in my family. It has physical causes, as does clinical depression. Anti-depressants are literal lifesavers for some people. I am one of those people. I tried natural remedies for years that didn’t work.

I’m open about my mental illness, and in a way, I am grateful for it. It is part of what has shaped my life and made me who I am. I hope that anyone who is struggling like I did will try to find an understanding doctor and stick with trying different treatments until one works. It is a rough road but the destination is well worth the effort.