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My Unofficial Therapy Dog

I’ve started bringing my dog to therapy. Does she sit with me and look patiently into my eyes while I cry? No, definitely not. She spends 10 minutes wandering around, smelling the smells of the week with great vigor. She pokes the diffuser with her nose, sticks her whole head in the trash can, and squeeeezes behind my therapist’s chair to not-so-sneakily smell her belongings. Then, she goes back and forth between the window and relaxing on the rug, ears perked up, listening for outside sounds. She comes over to me for pets and cookies every once in a while, but mostly, she’s just nice to have around as my unofficial therapy dog. She’s completely oblivious to my human problems. Looking at her blissful ignorance during therapy is like a brain palate cleanser.

You can’t help but wonder what she thinks of this development. Here we are, in this room we come to sometimes for no discernible reason. Pretty comfy. New smells since last week. 8/10. Would be better if I got second dinner. All that matters to her is that I feed her, walk her, and let her sleep at the foot of my bed. She’s a simple creature – intensely curious and frustratingly smart – but simple in that she really doesn’t need a lot to be happy.

She shares some of that innocent joy with me. She makes me smile every single day. It doesn’t matter how depressed I am – she does something goofy or sweet and has no clue that I find her antics ridiculous. Like how she leads with her face when encountering snowdrifts, or her exasperation at me taking constant photos of her, or the many, many hilarious faces of Sleeping Stella.

Sometimes, when I try to change something in my treatment(s), my depression says, “No, thank you.” Changing my medications has not gone well for me in the past, but I continue to clutch my personal dream of reducing the number of things I pick up from the pharmacy. I recently added a drug which required me to get off of something else, which overall, does not seem to have gone well. The options now are complicated and I don’t particularly like any of them, but I still have Stella! The routine, obligatory outdoor time, and turbo-boosted zoomies have done me immeasurable good. She demands my attention and action, and there’s really no telling her to just go entertain herself. Our walks are sacrosanct to her. No replacements. And no skimping on length, either!

This was part of my goal in adopting her, and it worked in more ways than just the responsibility of it. I thought that it would be healthy for me to be forced to get out of bed and do things, but that the emotional reward of that would come during my good times. I wasn’t expecting my unofficial therapy dog to be able to careen through the fog of my depression and make me smile every single day. A smile or laugh every day certainly doesn’t fix everything, but it’s something to be thankful for.

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“We’re snuggling! This’ll be cute.”

Search & Rescue Elephants and Other Therapy Tidbits

My mental health has once again taken a turn in a not-fun direction, which I attribute to some recent medication changes. So, instead of sitting here thinking, I should write something. I can’t think of anything to write, and then putting down anything I do write as being the worst drivel ever to appear on my screen because I’m in a rather negative headspace, I’m going to take you on a little diversion.

Did you know that an elephant’s sense of smell is twice as strong as that of a bloodhound’s? (C, that documentary led me astray. Google says twice, not four times.) This is what I said to my therapist the other day in one of my many, futile attempts to distract from the topic at hand. We’ve also discussed, among other things, a documentary I watched called “Octopus Volcano,” how scallops have eyes, and what “horse” is in ASL. Usually, when I share a fun fact like this, there’s a brief exchange and then she goes, “Well, that used up about a minute and a half.” And then we’re back where we started, just a little more entertained. This time, I think we probably used up, like, at least three minutes with the elephant fact. It may have been the most productive time-wasting fact I’ve ever pulled out of my sleeve. We got going on a train of thought that I think has some incredible real-world promise.

Just imagine: search and rescue ELEPHANTS. The police force bring out the specially trained sniffer elephants in super-wide trailers. They step down, decked out in vests that say “DO NOT PET. I’M WORKING”, but the vests are really just tarps secured around their bellies with bungee cords because the elephant service vest market just isn’t there yet. Soon, they’re working in airports, sniffing for bombs and drug trafficking. All floors have widened stairs and elephant-safe ramps, and next to the dog relief areas are rooms with piles of dirt for the pachyderms to toss over their backs. Retired sniffer elephants spend their golden years relaxing with their family herd with frequent visits from their old handlers, revered as heroes for their invaluable contributions. I think we’re on to something, here.

“Sir? Sir! This is a service animal. Please don’t feed her the limp lettuce off your hamburger.”

Is this a breakthrough? Did I have a breakthrough in therapy?! Yeah, yeah, it’s not about me, but a striking realization is a striking realization. Elephants are the next sniffer dogs. Maybe they’re not as motivated to please humans, and they do need to eat a tremendous amount of foliage as they travel great distances throughout the day, but I think those problems could be overcome with some creativity. There really is no limit to what you can take away from therapy.

Non-sequitur segue! Other problems that can probably be overcome include my current difficulties with changing my clothes and eating and getting work done and my general depression problems. Titrating down on an antidepressant can be tricky. I’m trying to figure out whether this dip in my mood is because this antidepressant was helping me more than I thought it was, regular old withdrawal, ketamine wearing off, or any number of other variables. I suppose time will tell. Let’s persist in our efforts to overcome wacky, theoretical elephant scenarios and the challenges of living life.

P.S. Good luck to the Google algorithm in trying to figure out what the heck this post is about. 🙂

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Working on Depression

Sometimes I feel like a bird that can’t figure out how to fly. I periodically get launched out of a cannon (in this metaphor, that’s ketamine), then flap and flap to no effect. I’m trying to make progress, but gravity is always there. Eventually, I sink lower and lower, just exhausting myself with all that flapping.

That’s how it feels, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Yeah, ketamine wears off eventually, and yeah, my brain has a biochemical problem that means I can’t fix depression just by flapping. But the flapping is doing something. All that work I put into therapy and maintaining a routine and getting exercise must be functioning in tandem with the ketamine to push my little bird wings just a smidge farther.

I know this because my mood still dips pretty low sometimes, but on the whole, I’m in a better place than I was a few months ago. Perhaps it’s that I bounce back faster, now. Or maybe it’s just knowing that it won’t last forever.

And now, being able to look back and see that I’m flippity flapping on my own a little makes it just a little bit easier to continue. Chipping away at something day by day is tedious and frustrating, but all of that work adds up. If you can look back at where you were a little while ago, it helps to notice that you have made progress, even if it’s just in the personal growth or a skill you’ve learned or the support you’ve gotten.

Keep flapping, everybody.

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Therapy Code Words

Unfortunately for me and my therapist, my ability to write words does not always translate well to being able to speak them. I need time to think through an entire thought before I speak it, and I struggle sometimes to get the words out when the topic is something challenging. And not just for sensitive topics like self-harm or suicide, but even for topics like life goals.

In fact, the word “goals” makes my stomach twist. I feel so much internal pressure when it comes to my ambitions that any discussion of the topic overwhelms me. It’s as if I know that once I start really acting to reach my goals, I’ll have to go all out because I don’t know how to not do something 100%. And that’s overwhelming. And unrealistic. So I try to avoid talking about it or thinking about it beyond my daily sense of guilt for not “doing more”.

It goes without saying that I don’t like this. Goals are important, and they should be exciting, not something you dread. Yes, they often take hard work to reach, but I think the balance of work to reward should be worth it. I don’t want to put in work just to alleviate an unhealthy internal pressure; I’d rather work for something because I want the excitement and fun and pride of achieving the thing. Depression makes this hard. Excitement and fun and pride are not feelings that depression wants around. So, I find myself terrified of adding more to my plate and pursuing my goals, and terrified that I’ll do nothing and fall even more behind my self-imposed schedule. Trapped in between the two, “goals” is a scary word.

Here’s where the code word comes in. Instead of “goals”, my therapist and I talk about “clams”.

It’s groundbreaking, I know.

There’s no significance to clams, it was just the first word my therapist thought of, but it stuck. Much like the Potato Scale of Depression is useful in its humor, “clams” are somehow easier to talk about because of the silliness. It takes away the gravity of having a discussion about goals and replaces it with a lighthearted conversation about a bivalve often eaten with a lemon-butter sauce.

And this is how I want my goals to be. Not so scary. Not so enormous. Just little steps to bigger results, like shucking one clam at a time to make a chowder.

Photo: Andy Castille – @kikini

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Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy 2: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 23)

Compared to my first KAP session, the second one was wildly more entertaining for me, but much less productive in terms of the number of words coming out of my mouth. KAP stands for Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy. The idea is to utilize ketamine’s ability to lower your mental barriers in order to more comfortably talk about difficult topics with your therapist. I know that I was very nervous for my first session and likely fought the ketamine in an effort to stay in control, but I didn’t expect my slightly more relaxed approach this time to produce such a dramatic difference. I think I remember that there was a slight dose change from last time to this time, but I don’t think it was enough to really impact my experience. But, in a bewildering turn of events, being more relaxed actually led to me saying less. Rather than unleashing a flood of thoughts and feelings, I found myself being washed away by images and colors. My ability to imagine images certainly made my conversation with my therapist more bizarre, and most of the time, quite disjointed.

We started out by talking about bridges. I had tried to create a metaphorical bridge that crossed into my protected mental fortress during a previous infusion, but got stuck with a drawbridge that lifted every time somebody tried to cross. This time, I saw a fraying rope bridge with missing wooden slats. It stretched across a dark chasm with no visible bottom. It was a long bridge with not enough tension, making it sag in the middle. Despite its frayed appearance, the connections to the edge of the cliff on either side were sturdy. It would be a harrowing journey to the other side, but you could do it. Thinking about this as a lucid person, it strikes me that the metaphor breaks down at some point. Clearly, I have a well-protected area of mental privacy. I don’t open up easily, and I don’t tend to rely on many people. But to picture a dry, brittle rope bridge stretching across a dark chasm implies that it would be frightening to attempt to cross it. It’s scary for me to allow people to cross the bridge, but I certainly hope the crossing isn’t scary for them. Perhaps the drawbridge was a better metaphor for me. In any case, I only come up with bridges that are difficult to cross.

I found it extremely hard to stay focused on the topic at hand during this infusion, sometimes pausing and saying things like “the blood pressure cuff makes me think of fish being squished.” (The cuff periodically tightened, which distracted me and produced a feeling of what I imagined felt like raw fish being rolled and squelched under pressure.) If an answer to a question didn’t immediately pop into my mind, I found myself floating away from it – the room and the people within receding into the distance. At times, I remembered that I was supposed to be answering something, but wasn’t at all sure of how much time had gone by since my therapist asked the question.  Is she still waiting for me to answer? Are we still on that topic or did we move on already? I don’t think I remember the question. It was chronologically confusing – seconds slipped by without my notice like water flowing over stones, and yet the small movements of my therapist and doctor in the room were auditory markers of real time. How much time passed between my last thought and this one? It’s too hard to think in words. Better to just float. I don’t usually try to hold onto the real world during ketamine infusions, and it proved to take a lot of effort.

I also don’t usually talk during my regular ketamine infusions, so it was interesting to discover just how hard it is to describe the images I see. I can write about them in detail after the fact, but in the moment, they just escape description. Take, for instance, when I said I was seeing “a bunch of…cleaning things.”

What I actually was seeing was more like a set of rectangular brushes that fit together into a grid. They were a very light pastel range of purples and blues. Why was I thinking about puzzle-piece bristle brushes during my ketamine infusion? I have absolutely no clue. Part of what made it hard to describe was that the image was so enthralling that pulling myself out of it to come up with words was difficult. But part of it was that I knew that what I was saying came across as completely bizarre. Trying to describe why such a mundane-sounding image was so pretty just kind of stumped me.

The random and nonsensical images that I was trying to describe reminded me of “Drinking Out Of Cups“, a video from the mid ’00s of Youtube (contains profanity). I tried my hardest to explain it, but seeing as it’s a video about nonsensical things, I had a hard time putting it into words while lost in my own nonsensical world. I think I slipped into fits of giggles halfway through and had to finish up with “I dunno, I’m not doing it justice, but it’s really funny.” Also, “outta” is a really hard word to say when you’re on a mixture of ketamine and propofol. Just in case you wondered.

At some point, vials of colorful sand spilled into a desert, creating clouds of blowing particles with swirls of color. I was seeing it from above, and the drifts and valleys the wind created were captivating. It was a beautiful but rather lonely landscape. A parrot with no feathers appeared in the foreground, and when I mentioned this, my therapist questioned me for clarification. “Yeah, like a…a plucked chicken” I answered.

“Aw, poor guy,” she said. To which I then said, “No, h-he seems ok, though.” Well. That’s a relief.

I wonder if, despite being more relaxed this time, I had a harder time engaging with therapy because I don’t know how to filter my mental experience. Last time, I may have been so nervous that I just locked everything down indiscriminately and tried to function as “normally” as possible. I was more open to KAP this time, which left me free to be distracted by anything and everything that entered my thoughts. It seemed to take enormous effort to hold on to the real world while holding the door open for therapy. I’m imagining a large wooden door to Ketamine Land, and within the door to Ketamine Land, a smaller door labeled “therapy”. I think I accidentally opened the big door to Ketamine Land and was bowled over by the peculiar sights within. I should have only opened the door-within-the-door and accessed the loosey-goosey-ness of Ketamine Land in a smaller, more manageable way. I’m not sure how to do that, but perhaps it takes practice.

 

Moose Revelations & the Magic of Yes Day

In an effort to help me become more easy and breezy, Fridays have been dubbed “Yes Day” by my therapist. I’m supposed to not hesitate when I’m faced with a decision on Fridays – just say yes. I mentioned this in a recent post, in which a therapy session combined with ketamine saw the creation of No Nap Day, which was slipped past my steel sieve mind on Friday under the guise of a Yes Day opportunity. Just kidding- I knew exactly what I was agreeing to.

I had good reason to say “yes” to No Nap Day. My Yes Day adventures have already resulted in positive experiences, so it only follows that I should keep it up. I’m not generally a spontaneous person. I rarely do anything on a whim, and sudden changes to my plans make me anxious. Sensory processing disorder makes me strongly prefer routine over spontaneity. I know that I like all of the sensory aspects of my familiar routine; anything new is overwhelming and could be very unpleasant.

Then again – it could be wonderful, and by saying “no” to new things, I run the risk of missing out on some great stuff. Take last month, for example. I go hiking with my mom every week. We usually pack lunch, make frequent stops to look at wildflowers, and generally have a wholesome nature experience. I usually enjoy these outings a great deal, but on this particular day, I was tired. The fresh air and pre-hike coffee did not perk me up, and I trudged up the mountain with heavy boots.

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We reached the first of two lakes about 2 miles up the trail, and as we rested on a flat boulder, we discussed our options for the rest of the day. My mom wanted to continue on to the second lake and the glacier, but I was reluctant. Heading back to the car and going home sounded pretty good to me, but it was Yes Day, after all. So, I said “yes” to continuing on. Stella led the way up the trail, and although I was still tired, we got into our usual pace before long.

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Stella was awed by snow in July, we humans were awed by the views and the beautiful waterfall, and I managed to be distracted from my fatigue enough to enjoy myself. We almost made it to the glacier, but our second wind was fading in earnest, so we took in the view and then headed back down the trail.

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Going downhill is easier than uphill in some ways and much harder in others. Upon reaching the parking lot, we hurried to the car and got the AC going. Stella had her head out the window as we turned onto the road, and we all enjoyed the bliss of sitting down.

Almost immediately, we came upon a car stopped in the middle of the lane. We waited for a few seconds, and then my mom said “Maybe there’s a moose!” I admit – I scoffed.

“They’re probably looking at Google Maps, trying to figure out if they’re going the right way.” I said. We chuckled a bit as we crawled forward, until the driver of the stopped car waved us around them. As we passed, I looked to the right and blurted “There IS a moose!”

“What?! Really? Should I…”

“Yes, back up!” I urged her. We rolled backwards until we could see it. An enormous moose (all moose are enormous, I suppose) was standing calmly by the road. He was munching on the thick vegetation around him, ears flicking lazily at the gnats.

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His antlers were velvety and magnificent. They’re such strange-looking adornments – one might even say goofy – and yet they’re so sturdy and solid. They make an effective reminder that moose are very, very, very strong animals. This one was content to carry on chewing, paying no mind to the gawking humans. I think that’s part of what makes them so interesting to watch; they’re completely unbothered by activity around them. They’re not as skittish as white-tailed deer, not as pugnacious as, say, a brown bear. They just sort of…stand around. Not to say that they won’t charge and cause you serious bodily harm, but this one’s general demeanor was one of complete and utter boredom. He was so unimpressed with us that it was almost like he was thinking “Yeah, yeah, snap some pictures. Now go home, kids. I have important vegetarian work to do, here.”

My mom and I rode that excitement all the way down the canyon. Along the way, it occurred to me that I had Yes Day to thank for it. After all, we would not have seen the moose if we had turned around when I first wanted to. Instead, I said “yes” to the rest of the hike, putting us in exactly the right place and time to witness that moose’s dangly neck thing (I now know it’s called a dewlap) waggle above the leaves. Moose are so silly, and yet so distinguished. Truly a creature of contradictions.

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My First Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy Session: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 21)

Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy was completely new to me. I’ve had numerous IV ketamine infusions and I’ve been in therapy for years, but I’ve never merged the two in the same setting. The first goal was to find a dose of ketamine that caused me to dissociate enough to let my defenses down, but not so much that I was incapable of answering coherently. I was nervous beforehand; the unknowns of it were stressful. Once we got started, though, that anxiety faded.

My doctor asked me to tell him when I started to feel the effects of the ketamine, and when I didn’t, he asked me again a few minutes later. “It’s hard to tell with my eyes closed,” I said, “but yes, I think so.”

“Why is it harder to tell with your eyes closed?” My therapist asked. I paused to think.

“I guess because I don’t have any reference points. When my eyes are open, I can see that things are getting fuzzy or moving slightly, but with my eyes closed, all of that is gone.”

This is where my memory of the infusion gets a little foggy. I remember talking about particular topics, and I remember it being easier to answer quickly. In my normal therapy sessions, I take time to think about my answers, which leaves lots of space between our talking points. During ketamine assisted psychotherapy, I found myself answering with less deliberation. The majority of what we talked about flowed fairly well, but then we’d hit a tricky topic and my defenses went up. I’d stop talking, trying to decide if I should speak or not, and if my therapist pushed a little, I’d open my eyes. Opening my eyes seemed to be an indicator of my resistance to an especially uncomfortable topic. I must have been trying to exert some control over the situation, although I wasn’t fully aware of what made me open my eyes.

I had been worried that ketamine would make me incapable of holding back or deciding what I would or wouldn’t speak on. It turns out that the brick wall of lucidity also exists under the influence of ketamine. The presence of that brick wall usually makes me anxious; I worry about it. Why can’t I just talk about this stuff? There’s nothing behind it that’s secret or an enormous revelation. I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s time by being so silent, but I just can’t seem to break through it. Ketamine made me too relaxed to care much about what my therapist and my doctor thought of my silences.

For a few weeks now, Friday has been “Yes Day”. On Yes Day, I make a deliberate effort to say “yes” to opportunities that come my way. It’s a step towards becoming more spontaneous and a way for me to push myself to get out of the house. This ketamine appointment was, of course, on Friday. At some point during the infusion, my therapist mused that we could have No Nap Day in an attempt to combat my excessive sleeping. When asked if I was on board with Mondays being No Nap Day, I jokingly accused my therapist of exploiting Yes Day in order to create No Nap Day. In the end, I said “ok,” which I think counts as “yes”.

Unlike my usual trippy IV ketamine experience, I didn’t “see” anything this time. I think focusing on the conversation kept me from getting sucked into any kind of creative extensions of whatever random thoughts usually pass through my mind. All I saw was the darkness behind my eyelids, although it did seem somehow more dark than what I see when I simply close my eyes. It was deeper than that, as if I were farther away from access to my eyelids. I felt as if I had to swim upwards to reach them.

With my eyes closed, I sort of forgot that there was a person attached to the voice I was hearing. Not entirely – I knew somewhere that I was talking to my therapist, but it was easier to just focus on the disembodied voice without any of my usual curiosities. In our normal sessions, I often wonder what she’s thinking about my answers, but during KAP, all I could think about was responding to the question immediately at hand. It was an interesting change.

Being able to remember only parts of the infusion is odd. The gaps in my memory that I notice after an infusion usually feel like how dreams disappear when you wake up. I’m often left with the impression that I’m forgetting something rather inconsequential. This time, however, the knowledge that we were talking about real things has left me feeling slightly raw. I feel sort of scrubbed at in a nonspecific way, and it’s mildly uncomfortable.

I also feel like this ketamine infusion consisted of a lot of work. Usually, they’re relaxing and somewhat meditative; I just float along and let whatever comes into my mind pass by. This time, the effort of speaking and of thinking in sentences made it feel a lot less restful, but a lot more purposeful.

If you’re thinking about ketamine assisted psychotherapy, remember that this post is only my experience, and only of my very first one. Apparently, I’m tenacious in my resistance to open up; it may be easier for you to let your defenses down. While parts of it were uncomfortable, it was never scary.

I now have to think about how I want to proceed. Choices, choices!

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Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy

Some people experience profound breakthroughs with ketamine assisted psychotherapy (KAP), in which a person engages in therapy while having a ketamine infusion. I’ve been getting IV

ketamine infusions for a while, now, but never really considered KAP an option for me. I’m comfortable with the arrangement of treatments I have now, and KAP has always intimidated me.

Cut to this week, when it seems a whirlwind swept through my plans for my upcoming ketamine infusion. Here’s what happened:

I’m in a rut. Again. My previous infusion didn’t seem to have a large effect on my mood, so discussions began to circulate about how to adjust things. My doctor suggested a ketamine assisted psychotherapy session and directed me to the release form that would allow him to talk to my therapist.

At this point, my alarm bells were going off, urging me to slow the KAP train down, but alas, here we are. My therapist had a conversation with my doctor, in which it sounds like they agreed that I am, indeed, in a rut. My therapist got some information about what ketamine assisted psychotherapy entails and then brought her thoughts to me at our regular session.

For context: One problem that I consistently run into during therapy is the brick wall between my mouth and certain emotional topics. Sometimes I can plow through it, but sometimes, I just shut down and the words don’t come out. There’s no fixing it until I go home and, often, write down what was happening on the other side of the brick wall.

Ketamine assisted psychotherapy is effective partly because the dissociative state that ketamine puts you in can make you less inhibited. It lets you separate yourself from your emotions. A therapist can then help you through topics that might otherwise be too difficult to talk about. The conclusion that everyone reached upon discussion of KAP was something like “Well gee, KAP would probably improve that problem where Gen makes like a mollusk and clams up.” (It’s likely that that particular wording only happened in my own brain.)

I’ve decided to give it a try. Despite constantly feeling like I don’t do enough, I do recognize that I work hard at improving my mental health. Beyond keeping up with the everyday tasks that seem to pile up to colossal proportions in my depressed mind, I also routinely push myself to leave my comfort zone. And yet, I continue to slog through quicksand. I sometimes feel like I “should” be able to heal myself with the tools I already have at my disposal, and if I can’t, it’s because I’m not working hard enough. This is garbage thinking. I’m allowed to add things to my treatment, and I’ll try something new if it seems like it could help me, even if it does sound scary.

My therapist asked me, “What’s the worst that can happen?” when I expressed my reluctance to do KAP. We decided that the worst is probably that I could embarrass myself or cry a lot, both of which I have already done in front of my therapist. Still, I know how I feel during a ketamine infusion, and that knowledge makes the idea of having a therapy session at the same time feel uniquely invasive. The sensation of talking while under the influence of ketamine is something I’ve written about before because it is just so bizarre. I’m always struck by how quickly thoughts go from my mind to coming out of my mouth; there’s no time to deliberate on whether or not you’ll say it. Again – this is part of the goal for me in this KAP experiment, but man, as a guarded person, the idea really provokes anxiety. Somehow, I’m also worried that I may not say anything. There is no way for me to enter into this with no worries other than to accept that there is no wrong way to do it.

Tracking My Anxiety

The anxiety began when I was eating lunch and scrolling through youtube, trying to find something interesting to watch. I scrolled faster, considering each thumbnail more and more briefly as the tightness in my chest increased. “Hold up,” I thought. “I’m supposed to be tracking my anxiety for my appointment next week. Let me write this down.”

Here’s how to overthink your anxiety record: First, I spent several minutes considering the medium I should use to document my anxiety; paper and pen seemed reasonable, but what kind of format? List? Table? Stream of consciousness essay? I also considered the kind of paper I’d use, be it sticky notes, that half-used legal pad in my bookcase, small notebook–ugh. Too many choices. Let’s go digital. Thank goodness the Notes app is pretty minimal, or I’d still be waffling on what kind of font to use. (Speaking of “stream of consciousness”, I just realized that I could totally make a PowerPoint presentation, complete with awesome clip art and slide transitions. That would really prove my therapist right when she said I’d probably find a way to make it complicated because I’m an overachiever. Challenge accepted.)

So far, I have written down everyday things like realizing I wasn’t sure if someone introduced themselves as Janice or Janet and imagining the obviously catastrophic embarrassment when I inevitably pick the wrong one. I also have bigger things like my unknown life plans, noticing that Stella had put her sneaky paws on the counter and eaten chunks of chocolate cookies out of the pan (she’s fine), and also seemingly random anxiety with no discernable cause. Some of the “random” anxiety is probably due to sensory processing disorder and my tendency to steamroll over discomfort rather than make adjustments for my nervous system. It’s a work in progress.

I think I’ve spent a long time telling myself that anxiety isn’t an issue for me, which makes it a challenge to be mindful of it. After the OCD mostly disappeared, I guess I went “Well, that’s done. I don’t have anxiety anymore.” If only it worked like that. I keep having to reassess my understanding of what’s a normal amount of anxiety and in what contexts it’s normal. Seriously, I have no idea at this point. Do other people feel anxious when they have to walk by the check-out lanes on their way to somewhere else in the grocery store because they can feel people looking at them? No? What kind of lie have I been living?! I guess I knew that some of my anxiety was unreasonable, but convinced myself that it was minor enough that it didn’t need to be addressed. Now I’m just not sure what should be on my list of concerns. Time to go put “worrying about the amount I worry” on my list.

In case my therapist reads this: don’t worry, I will not be showing up with a PowerPoint detailing my anxiety, although that would be hilarious and probably a new one for you.

 

Anxiety and Doing New Things

In an attempt to fill my time with things that will keep me from slipping back into severe depression, I’ve started doing New Things. One is volunteering and the other is taking a neighbor/friend up on her offer to teach me how to ride horses.

I really want to quit and crawl back into my hermit cave. I am way outside of my comfort zone, which, for me, always leads to near-constant worrying and ruminating. I can’t help but laugh because when my new therapist asked if anxiety was also a problem for me in addition to depression, I said “hmm, no, not really.” She later disagreed, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that yes, yes it definitely is. Now that my depression is easing, I think that anxiety is coming to the surface. (Additionally, when I tell people about this anxiety realization, they look at me like “you…didn’t know that?” So, that’s cool. Everyone knows about this but me.)

When I’m really depressed, I’m so numb and slowed down that I don’t even worry about saying “yes” to new things; the answer is automatically “no”. But when the depression lifts, my natural tendency to overthink everything and fall face-first into crippling indecision has room to become obvious. Because I feel capable of doing more than I did while depressed, I feel like I should say “yes” to new opportunities, even if I’m on the fence.

Rather than deciding to just get out there and demolish the boundaries of my comfort zone, I get…stuck. Really stuck. I want to do new things in general, but when an opportunity comes along, my worry and fear keep me from making a confident decision. It’s tough for me to decipher whether I don’t want to do something because I’m feeling overwhelming New Thing-anxiety or because I won’t like it. And, since I know that this is a problem for me, if I think there’s a chance I might like it eventually, I tend to make myself push through and do it no matter what. Of course, I do that while also continuing to worry about whether or not that’s the right thing to do.

An additional layer of this terrible cake is that I do not like quitting, even if I really want to bail. And even if this hypothetical New Thing has very natural exits where I can decide it’s not for me and stop, it still feeeeels like quitting. This makes me even more indecisive because not only do I need to know if my anxiety is coming from a dislike of the Thing or not, but I also need to know if I can be committed to the entire Thing. No quitting. Approaching opportunities like this is not fun, and I do not recommend it. 0/10.

I imagine the goal is to take each new opportunity and be able to decide, quickly and simply, whether I want to do it or not. I just don’t know how to do that without taking all of the stuff above into account and getting hopelessly tangled up. I guess step one is to remind myself that I can say “no”, changing my mind is ok, and that in many cases, it’s not that big of a deal.

Much easier said than done.