Monthly Archives

October 2015

Personal Essays

I Had Never Stayed Up All Night Until Anxiety

Since it’s Halloween night, I figured I’d write about something spooky.

Anxiety.

*cue ominous timpani roll*

A little over a week ago I had the worst anxiety attack I’ve had since I was 19.

It went something like this:

I lied down to try and get to sleep around 11:30pm. I then got up, down, up and down over and over again. I watched my phone clock go from 6:28, to 6:29, and then to 6:30am, when my alarm started going off. I hadn’t slept at all.

My first night ever spent with absolutely zero sleep.

Seven solid hours of disabilitating anxiety.

My heart was pounding like I was being chased; I sweated hot and cold; I shivered. I breathed heavy. I threw up a couple times.

The usual creepy closet I stare at while I’m in bed didn’t even seem so scary. I wished a creepy clown would climb out. Just so I could say, “Oh good, a distraction!”

I kept lying down, hugging my body pillow, closing my eyes and trying to go to sleep. Even when I was lying still and taking deep breaths I felt like my heart was going to explode. I was in flight mode. It was not nice.

In the past 24 hours before, I’d only eaten:

  • 1 slice of toast;
  • 1 banana;
  • 1 cup of tea; and,
  • 1/2 a bowl of tortellini (with a bit of salsa… because we had no tomato sauce)

I had also done four interviews over the course of the day, including some filming and a photoshoot. A lot of running around and working on projects for my graduate degree.

This was something I should have watched for. I know I’m  more prone to anxiety attacks when I’m exhausted.

The odd thing was, during this anxiety attack I had absolutely no appetite. That was unusual for me.

As I would be lying there, trying to fall asleep, I kept replaying conversations from ealier in the day. It’s like my brain was trying to do its nightly job to process the day, but I wasn’t asleep. I couldn’t stop it. My head was spinning.

I kept hearing phrases and having flashbacks from the interviews I’d done earlier that day. There stories were so important, and I would feel like an asshole if I didn’t do them justice. I needed sleep so that I could write them properly!

At 4:30am I called my Mom who actually answered the phone (on like the second ring: she is wonderful). She tried to make me feel better and invited me over for supper the next day.

Anxiety can make me pretty despondent. My responses to her on the phone probably made her more worried than she needed to be.

After finishing the call with her, I decided to call one of those help hotlines. You know, that telephone number you’re always told to call in grade school if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal? I wasn’t feeling suicidal by any stretch, but I just felt terrible and didn’t know what to do and wanted to talk to someone. The number I found wasn’t very good. After I dialled through a few different automated voice messages I just hung up.

This also got me thinking: for help hotlines, we should have humans picking up on the first ring. That’s something I think our tax dollars should do.

At around 5am I was on my kitchen floor, forcing myself to half-heartedly munch on an apple, because I thought, “Hey, maybe I’m just hungry?”

I had no appetite, but I made myself chew the fruit. Chew the fruit, Mel. Do it. 

I took a piece of bread back to bed with me. I just sort of held it in my hand as I tried to do back to sleep again. I had a good laugh inside at how ridiculous I must have looked. Aren’t I supposed to be smart? And here I am, holding a chunk of bread as I stare restlessly at the ceiling.

After my phone alarm went off, my amazing, patient fiancé (can’t believe that’s a thing!) dragged me into my clothes and made me an awesome breakfast of eggs and toast, which I promptly neglected. I only drinking a half cup of OJ and a nibble of eggs. I think I licked the toast after breaking it in to tiny pieces.

After morning class and having an assignment edited, I got back in to the groove of things. I was still tired and starving since I didn’t eat any breakfast, but I could tell the tide was subsiding.

The guy who runs the radio room at the university was amazing enough to see my zombie face and grab me a cup of coffee. God bless good people. A karma cookie to him!

That half cup of coffee and water are all I had until lunch around 1:30. At which point I devoured a huge sandwich from Subway.

The food got me back on track, and I was pretty much back to normal after that.

But that’s it. Like a little emotional natural disaster, I was briefly powerless to its thrall, and then it receded and I went on with life.

This hadn’t happened in awhile to me. In a way it was actually a good reminder to watch out for my mental state.

After one night of no sleep I was drinking water out of a the votive candle holders in my bathroom and feeling awful. I’d hate to see me after more than one sleepless night.

It’s rough when you’re there.

It’s like being dragged out to sea.  You just can’t escape. If you struggle, you’ll only drown. Best just try to float on your back until the tow subsides.

Maybe some people can escape it. I’ve read some things – like if you can force yourself to do exercise, or do something else to get your body back on track.

In my experience, even easy things become very hard.

For example, when I was sitting on my kitchen floor trying to eat that apple. In my brain I wanted to eat it. I kept telling myself, “Eat the apple. Eat the apple.” But, my body still had a hard time bringing it up to my mouth. To chew, swallow, repeat.  There’s a part of you that counters with, “What’s the point? What’s the point? I don’t want to. I don’t want to do anything.”

So that’s it. It’s rough. That was an unpleasant reminder. I had a good sleep the next night and went on with my life. I finished the first module of my masters this week, and I did a pretty great job.

To that anxiety attack, I say “smell ya later”. I hope that I can keep things in check again so that it doesn’t get a hold of me like that for awhile.

Speaking of, I think it’s absolutely true that there are things you can do to reduce your anxiety, if that’s something you suffer from.

To shine a ray of light on this piece, I’m also publishing at the same time some Lessons I’ve Learned From Anxiety that have helped me deal with it over the years.

I hope you find it useful!

Do any of you suffer from anxiety? How do you deal? Does it sometimes strike after long periods of not being a problem? What’s it like for you?

Personal Essays

Lessons I’ve Learned from Anxiety

GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

No matter how much you’ve got your anxiety under control, it’s still going to creep up on you from time to time. I hadn’t had a real problem with it in years, and then BOOM, it snuck up on me last week.

Like an awkward family member who insists on squeezing you too hard, or giving you uncomfortable massages, or making misogynist jokes, get used to the squeeze of anxiety.

You know how astronauts do High-G training in centrifuge machines before they go into space? This iskind of the same thing. I rode in a simulator at Epcot once, and that chest-squeezing feeling pushes all your human panic buttons.

Except, it doesn’t freak astronauts out. Why? Because they train for it. They know it’s a normal part of this crazy thing they’re doing.

Remember what an anxiety attack feels like. Know what to expect. The more you anticipate, the less it can surprise you.

PREPARE FOR IT

Expect it. Make it dinner.

What are you going to need when it shows up?

Whether or not you want it to be there doesn’t matter. You are in an intimate relationship with it and you have to be able to deal.

Because I guarantee, it will keep showing up. It’s not like a friend you can hope to avoid. It is in you. It’s family.

Is there a certain tea that helps? A movie? An exercise? A food? Stock up. Sometimes just knowing you’re prepared to deal can help prevent an anxiety attack.

For me, it’s earl grey tea, noodle soup and mindless comedies. Find out what it is for you.

YOU MAY SPEAK ITS NAME

I used to treat anxiety kind of like Voldemort, or the devil. I was afraid if I would speak its name, it would come.

I didn’t even like reading things about anxiety, or talking to friends about their anxiety, because I was afraid it would trigger an attack.

I forced myself to talk about it, to normalize it.

Similar to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, get comfortable reading it and saying its name.

As Dumbledore says, “Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself, (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling).

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

I’ve always felt that the grip of anxiety is kind of like being on a bad trip.

You feel like you can’t unlock your brain. You know your brain is thinking in patterns that are not normal, but you can’t stop them.

You might be sitting on the floor, staring at your reflection in the oven door, feeling like your face is going to melt off, thinking, “Oh my god. I’m going to die.” And no matter how easy it is to be outside that situation looking in and say, “geez, chill out. Everything’s really fine.” When you are inside that bubble, logic is useless. You might as well be on acid.

Despite that, even a particularly long anxiety attack does eventually end. Everything that rises must fall. Things need a baseline.

IT’S NOT WORTH IT

Anxiety triggers can be anything. For me, it’s often goals. I really like goals. I love achieving shit.

I can be really hard on myself, especially if I don’t meet my (sometimes) ridiculous expectations.

But the reality is, in the grand scheme of things, the only one who cares about these things is you. The reality is, things will be okay. We get caught up, we make things seem complicated and important. But, you know, a lot of it doesn’t really matter as much as we say it does.

And you know what? If someone else dares to tell you, ‘you let me down’, or says ‘I expected more from you’, then fuck that person. Seriously. Get away from them. Now.

You owe your life to no one but yourself. People will always try to indebt you to themselves. This is a power play. Do not fall for it.

TL;DR

Anxiety is just an horrible family member that shows up from time to time.

Learn the best way to deal with them.

You can do it.

You rock.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “What twaddle! I have anxiety and it’s nothing like this! “and that can be true.

As a non-doctor, the best I can tell you is what’s worked for me. This is all anecdotal. What I do know is: The happier and healthier we all are, the better. Let’s talk about it.

Lifestyle

Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

In honour of my first radio story this week (3:57 to start, if you’re interested!), my book this week is a graphic novel about storytelling, by Jessica Abel.

The foreward is by Ira Glass from This American Life. If you have any hesitations about picking this up, his name should assure you you’re making the right decision.

The book follows Abel as she embeds herself with radio journalists from podcasts such as Radiolab, This American Life, Snap Judgment, Planet Money, The Moth, Serial, and Invisibilia. Her years of research takes us behind the scenes.

Abel is a talented graphic novelist, with titles like La Perdida and french title Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars already under her belt.

She’s also worked with Ira Glass before. In 1998 he called and asked her to put together a book called Radio: An Illustrated Guide. It showed how podcasts were put together, and her experience making that means that she was already familiar with the medium when she made this latest book, Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.

One of the greatest things about this book is that it’s not just a guide, but is non-fiction storytelling itself. Abel goes from podcast to podcast, talking to the creators and watching them actually work through storytelling problems as they prepare for air.

We get an insider view at the lifestyle, the workflow, the editing process, the art of ‘signposting’ and how stories get put together.

It even gives us some tips as to how we can get out of the dark ‘German Forest’ of editing – that’s when you’ve collected all your material and feel so buried that you get lost in your own creation. Great tips for me!

Abel’s reflection in the epilogue is on point. She says she feels she needed to read this book in order to finish it. So solid was the advice she got from the radio storytellers on distilling meaning form life, and re-bottling it into the essence of story.

Anyone who wants to be a storyteller should read this book. There are some parts – like foley and sound editing – that are radio specific, but most of it focuses on how to give meaning to people’s narrative. Relevant to any writer.

Lifestyle

Curiosity is more important than knowledge

How you approach the world will always be more important than what you own.

That includes knowledge. It may be intangible, but the pursuit to own knowledge can be just as consuming as the pursuit for material goods.

We fool ourselves by thinking we can trap all of life inside our heads, or our homes. Be a stone in the river, let life flow over you.

Stay curious. Stay kind.

All my final projects are due today. I’m writing this a couple of days in advance, but if all goes right, I’m probably wishing I had a den of kittens to crawl in to right about now.

How are you doing?

Download the wallpaper.

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 19

 

Hey humans!

Getting this out by the skin of my nose tonight. Would you believe I’ve written about 5,000 words today? I do, and it feels great!

Here are some things I hope you’ll like.

  • If you’ve ever wondered, “Should cities be built differently?”, then definitely check out The Human Scale.
  • If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and haven’t seen The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness yet, you should.
  • Shield maidens are real! Some researchers bothered to actually determine the gender of vikings found in burial pits, and discovered, ‘Oh hey, there were lots of ladies too’, busting years of inaccurate historical speculation.
  • Speaking of gender, the New York Times has a whole new feature called Transgender Today. I recommend checking out their podcasts.
  • I enjoyed reading Mark Critch’s insights into all three Canadian candidates in the most recent federal election. If Harper was as funny as Critch says he was, we can only wonder what being Prime Minister does to you.
  • Afraid to start doing what you love but feel you don’t have time to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, ‘Big Magic’? This talk between Gilbert and Marie Forleo might get you back on track.
  • Be amazed by master calligrapher Seb Lester’s technique of all calligraphic mediums.
  • That video inspired me to make this short video of my talented designer friend Gab White as part of a school project.
  • Not only is this NY Mag project about women abused by Bill Cosby incredibly groundbreaking, but the editorial design is done ridiculously well. Love the way this story is put together.
  • Beautiful shots of Italy through a vintage lens.
  • With all the difficulty people faced in voting during the federal election last week, I wonder how long it will be before we code a better government. I want to vote securely from my smartphone!
  • Behind the scenes at Lipton’s Kenyan tea estate.

Let me play you out with Adele’s beautiful new track, ‘Hello’. Check out the video if you haven’t yet. The narrative is lovely. Also, I’m just a little fangirl, squealing with excitement about the release of her newest album, ’25’, coming on November 20th.

 

Lifestyle

You can’t fix a blank page

No matter what you think of Nora Roberts’ romance writing you have to admire her for her prolific career (206 novels and counting).

Something I’ve been trying to get better at is just showing up and writing every day. I might not always feel like the light of divine imagination is leaking from my fingers, but our habits form the foundation of our lives.

You are not what you say.

You are what you do.

Lawyers don’t feel like reading court cases every day, and I doubt cardiovascular surgeons show up every day saying, “Yippee, another coronary artery bypass grafting!” (Okay, there’s probably one who does).

But that’s the thing, right?

They have to do their jobs whether or not they feel like it. Writing is the same.

I see people (me too) get frustrated with their work when they develop expectations for it. Despite this, writing one page of shit still puts you in a better place than having a big blank.

Always have something.

Don’t be afraid of your shitty writing.

So, I will be doing NaNoWriMo again this year. National Novel Writing Month is a 30 day writing challenge that happens every November. The goal is to finish with 50,000 words (‘novel’ length) written. Most people break this down into daily chunks of around 1,500 words.

It’s no small commitment, especially when faced with work, school, and all the other bits of daily life that fill in the cracks.

I came very close to not doing it, but then a friend of mine posted this simple yet genius advice on my Facebook wall:

“I never aim to win, I just want to write as much as I can for 30 minutes a day. I also want to beat my goal from last year.”

Why didn’t I think of that? It’s such an obvious solution. NaNo is like a marathon. When you run a marathon, everyone doesn’t aim for the same personal best.

That would be crazy.

Yes, traditional NaNo is 50,000 words in a novel format, but if you write anything (screenplay, poems, novel, whatever) for half an hour a day, you will progress. You will get somewhere.

I’d rather have 12,000 words at the end of 30 days on a novel I can go back and edit than have nothing at the end of 30 days. All or nothing is not the way to grow.

Also, once you’ve written it down, you’ve given birth to it.  Now you just have to edit it and then release it out into the world.

Nothing to it…. right?

The important thing is to write SOMETHING.

Even if you’re stumbling around in the dark, you’ll feel the shape of things.

For the curious, I took his photo right beside the Lake Agnes Tea House. This part of the mountain (specifically the left side) is called Big Beehive. We had some really great fog skulking in and out that day. Lucky times.

Download the wallpaper.