Meet Ana.

These pictures are of a cartoon girl called Emily Strange.  If I could draw a comic book version of Ana, she would look something like Emily Strange.

Ana isn’t just my eating disorder personified.   Ana isn’t just a nickname for anorexia.  Ana is another part of me.  I experience Ana as an angry teenage girl.  She isn’t just me as a teenager.  She has long straight black hair and very pale white skin.  She has dark eyes which are usually downcast.   Her fists clench when she is angry.  She wears hoodies, dark clothes, army boots and skirts.  She is slim and looks like she could sneak around very easily, light on her feet and quiet.  She is filled with anger and yet she doesn’t take up much obvious space.   Ana is my inner child.  Ana is my alter ego.  Ana is my eating disorder.  Ana is self harm and suicidal thoughts.  Because Ana is a scared, teenage girl.

Ana is the part of me that doesn’t trust you.

Ana is the part of me that wants everything or nothing at all.  Complete loyalty, or no friendship.

Ana is the part of me that feels like nobody believes me.   Ana doesn’t feel heard and when she is angry, she hurts me rather than expressing herself assertively.

Ana acts out, but that’s because she’s  young.  She’s probably only 14 or 15 years old.  She doesn’t have life skills.  Her anger is a mask for fears she is too afraid to share.  Her prickly exterior is a mask hiding deep vulnerability and shame.

Ana feels worthless.  Ana feels helpless.  Ana feels like punishing me is the only solution to these feelings.

Ana acts like a complete spoiled, controlling brat, when she really wants to be rescued.   She makes unreasonable rules rather than admitting she is afraid.

Ana craves safety, yet acts like she does not need protection.

Ana blames herself for being abused.   Ana feels responsible and wants to protect me by keeping me alone.  Ana tries to push people away with self harm, suicidal thoughts and eating disorder behaviours.  Ana thinks if we are smaller and take up less space we will be safer.

Ana is me.  At least she is a part of me, but I don’t know how to make peace with her, forgive her, accept her and come to a truce.  I don’t know how to integrate her, so that we become just one adult person again.  I’m not sure how to soothe this angry child inside of me.  We lack compassion for each other and for our younger selves.

I hope one day I can truly feel that Ana deserves forgiveness for hurting me.  And that she can forgive me for not protecting her.

Calories on Restaurant Menus: a Rant.


When Ana and I first started hanging out together, I used to go to the bulk food store and buy candy.  Specifically, gum drops and red licorice bits.   I used to drink diet coke and eat twizzlers licorice from the 7-11 on my way home.  I used candy and diet pop as a replacement for proper nutrition.  I would bring exactly 5 gum drops to school and I would eat them slowly, while sipping diet coke and pretend it was a meal.  Those gums drops and the occasional licorice were some of the only treats allowed into my strict food rituals.  I loved that candy.

Then one day, the bulk food store started posting nutritional information on the lids of their bins.

And I never ate those gum drops again.  In fact, I stopped eating candy.  I mostly stopped shopping at bulk food stores!  Something that had been considered “safe” was suddenly off limits and forbidden.  The only reason?  Because I now knew exactly how many calories were in that licorice piece and 5 gum drops.  I was devastated and angry.  Why did the store need to post the caloric content of the gum drops?  Why?!?

When I was an inpatient receiving treatment for anorexia, I was encouraged not to read food labels, not to look at calories.  I was encouraged to eat based on my body’s cues, or even mechanically an appropriate amount to sustain health.

For the most part, I did this for years.  When my children were diagnosed with severe and life threatening food allergies, I was forced to confront food labels.  I was forced to read all the ingredients and check carefully for potential allergens.  I struggled with this, because again my eyes could not avoid seeing the nutritional information, calories and fat in the items I was consuming.  But I did it for my kids health and safety.

Recently, the government has decided that it is mandatory to post nutritional information and caloric content right up on the menus of all restaurants.

I was furious!  This is so incredibly triggering for many people with eating disorders.

I absolutely did not want to know exactly how many calories were in the Starbucks cookie I was having for a snack.  I did not want to know how many calories were in my caramel latte.  I just did not want this information.  I don’t want it!  I will never want it.  Because once I know it, I can’t “unknow” it!  This information is not useful to my life.  It does not make me healthier or happier.

On a good day, the information won’t change the choices I make.  But on a bad day, a day when Ana is in the driver’s seat…

Suddenly I’m struggling over deciding what snack to choose at Starbucks.  Suddenly I’m ordering a black coffee, rather than that cinnamon latte.

On a bad day, nutritional information and caloric content listed in large ominous letters on the menu in front of me, can put a dark cloud over my enjoyment of that snack or meal.

I understand that nutritional information must be available at restaurants.  It should be available for those with food allergies or sensitivities or religious dietary restrictions.  It should be there for those with diabetes.  It should be there for viewing ON REQUEST!  But does the caloric intake of my Starbucks beverage REALLY need to be right in my face as I attempt to order?

I think the answer is no.  I go to Starbucks for a break.   I go there to relax.  I go there to treat myself and rest from the stress of my life.  I don’t go there to have an extended and upsetting debate with Ana.

I just want to drink my coffee in peace!

I feel like an imposter.


Some days I don’t feel like I belong.  I feel like an imposter in my own life, or like my life doesn’t belong to me.  It’s a disorienting feeling and very difficult to describe to others. When I’m depressed or coping with PTSD symptoms I often feel like I’m faking it.  Like I’m pretending to be something I am not, or I am not what I am supposed to be.  I don’t fit in anywhere, even within my own life,which I struggle to believe is actually MINE.

During the workday, I help abused women.  I’m a counselor, a support worker, a health care professional, a peer supporter, and I help others.  I believe that I am good at most aspects of my job, especially those related to support work.  I have slowly developed some confidence that I can help other women.  That my experiences may have some meaning because they have given me the skills to deeply connect with others who are living with abuse, trauma and the impacts of violence.

But it’s incredibly disorienting when I leave work and am forced to deal with abuse, trauma and the impacts of violence in my own life.  Sometimes I feel confused, sometimes I feel like my life can’t really be this bad, this difficult, this out of my control.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living inside a public service announcement for domestic violence awareness.  How can I truly help others, when my own life is still being impacted by an abusive ex-partner?  How can I truly help myself?  How can I separate the past from the present, the triggers from the actual risks?   How do I stop this terrible helpless, disoriented, exhausted feeling?  Can I be a good support worker if I can’t solve the problems in my own life?  If I don’t follow my own excellent advice?

Last week I was at a doctor’s appointment with my children and my ex-partner.  It was very difficult and very triggering.  The doctor was asking the kids questions that they obviously couldn’t honestly answer with their father sitting in the room.  I felt a deep sense of pain and discomfort.  I wanted to tell the truth to the doctor about what my kids are struggling with, but I knew that if I said too much it could have impacts on my kids’ safety with their father.

The doctor asked questions about “do you feel safe?” and “do you have thoughts about harming yourself?”  On one hand, I was glad to see that this doctor was asking mental health and abuse screening questions.  On the other hand, I felt panicky and unsafe because the situation was so impossible.

I remember a time years ago, when I went with my then husband to the emergency room for a migraine.  The triage nurse asked me “do you feel safe in your home?”   The question made me pause, stop and think.  I knew that I didn’t feel safe in my home, but I also knew that answering honestly would cause something to happen.  My husband was sitting only a few feet away.  I didn’t know exactly what the “something” would be.  I hesitated for a second and answered “yes,” the only real possibility in that moment.

But I was thankful that the question was asked, because on a different day, or for a different woman that question could have been the permission and the space needed to disclose domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Health care professionals MUST ask these difficult questions.  They must ask their patients about thoughts of self harm, thoughts of suicide and experiences of violence.  They must ask if their patients feel safe at home.  These questions are vital and open a potentially life saving door.

But if the professional doesn’t have a clear plan as to how to handle a disclosure, they can do more harm than good.

Don’t ask a question you don’t want to know, or aren’t prepared to know, the answer to.

Don’t ask if someone feels safe, unless you are prepared to help them find safety if the answer is no.

Don’t ask someone if they feel suicidal unless you are prepared to support them, connect and hold space for them.

Don’t ask about abuse unless you are willing and able to support, believe and validate that potential disclosure.

Please, don’t ask questions unless you are willing to help or do what is needed to find help.

Sometimes it’s not enough just to believe someone.  Sometimes that person might need concrete help and support.  Health care professionals need enough time and enough resources to provide this help.  They shouldn’t be rushed in their jobs, they should be given adequate time and privacy to complete interviews.  They should have training in trauma informed care.  They should have resource lists, with shelter numbers, sexual assault centres and other options available.  And they should receive specific training around handling disclosures related to violence.

It was so triggering for me to be in a situation where these questions were asked in front of my abuser.  Where I knew my children didn’t have the ability to speak freely.  This situation was not conducive to health.  When in doubt, children could be interviewed alone.  Or if the doctor sense there is something complex going on, they should follow up. In a timely manner!

I know this doctor could sense the tension.  I did get the impression that she believed and could tell that I was afraid.  I didn’t feel like she did harm or had ill intent.  But I’m still constantly frustrated how many adults, doctors and counselors “believe” my children, and “believe” me, but have either no power, or no will to actually intervene to influence change.  The systems that have the power to intervene don’t believe (or are too slow) and the systems that do believe, ultimately have little power to impact the situation.

It means something to be believed.  But if the dangerous situation is allowed to continue indefinitely, it makes it difficult for survivors to trust.  It makes it difficult to feel safe and supported, anywhere.  It makes it more and more difficult to continue to disclose and continue to ask for help.  It makes me feel crazy.  It makes me feel like an imposter in my own life.  Where nothing makes sense and what I know to be right and fair and good is not able to transpire.  Where I can’t effectively protect myself or my children.  Where I help others by day, and feel panic, helplessness and fear each night.


Capitalism = Isolation


We live in a society that glorifies productivity, busyness and wealth.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how this capitalist value system doesn’t work for people with disabilities including chronic mental illness.  I’ve also been thinking about how glorifying busyness means devaluing human connection, caring and many tasks that are associated with women’s unpaid labour (housework, childcare, health care); as well as, devaluing self care (especially for women).

Those are a lot of big words.  As I’m adjusting to reduced energy levels and increased amount of symptoms related to my physical and mental health issues, I’ve been recognizing the need to slow down.  I’ve been more aware of my disability than usual.  I’ve been very keenly aware of how many people around me are addicted to, or glorify, being busy to the point of workaholism.  I’m aware of how many people around me are literally too busy to make a human connection.  I’m aware of how many people are putting careers first, trying to get ahead, trying to get rich…and putting off connection “for later” or for “when I’m successful enough.”   It’s incredible how many people are too busy to spend time with friends.  Too busy to go on a date.  Too busy to have a telephone call other than in the car in between “essential” tasks.

I’ve been reflecting on what is actually important to me and why I often feel like I just don’t fit in anywhere.

Quite honestly I have no interest in being so busy that I am too exhausted to enjoy my life.  I don’t want to be rich.  I don’t want to be famous.  I don’t want to have a bigger house or a fancier job. I don’t want to be the boss.  I don’t want to have fame.

I just want human connection, peace and happiness and I don’t think money can buy those things.  Neither can workaholism achieve them.  I want to have time to enjoy  my kids while they are young.  I want to spend the day cuddled in bed with a partner.  I want to have someone to cook for.  I want long talks over coffee.  I want to have someone to talk about my day with.  I want to be comforted when I’m afraid.  I want to create memories.  I want to feel like I have space to breathe!  And I want someone else who feels the same way.

It’s occurred to me that there is a much larger social problem going on around me when people I talk to don’t have time to meet for a coffee.  Not just one or two people, but the majority of people I know are so busy they have almost every minute of their lives scheduled.   I’ve been thinking a lot about how our society glorifies being busy.   Society equates being busy with being valuable.   Being productive with having inherent worth.

But where does that leave people who choose to stay home to take care of their children?  Where does it leave those who are living with either permanent disability or temporary illness?   When we don’t value unpaid caring labour we are not valuing some of the most important work in our society.  When we equate productivity and earning power with self worth we perpetuate abelism and the view point that disabled people are somehow less than whole, less than valuable or even expendable.

Equating productivity with self worth means that I’ve been conditioned to believe that resting, self caring, and hobbies have no inherent value.  This is not true.

Equating earning power with value, means that when I entered the workforce my years of full time parenting were not viewed as relevant experience, even though I was applying for jobs in the helping profession.

Capitalism creates a world where burn out is expected.  It is almost worn as a badge of honour by some people, how many hours they work and how much money they earn.

Lately as I’ve been forced to slow down and accept my own limitations, I wonder if some workaholics will have regrets.  I wonder when people are old and rich, but alone if they will feel sad.  I wonder if people feel satisfied with the lives they have, or if like me, they are yearning for more.  I wonder how many people in our society are deeply yearning for connection.  Connection to one another, connection to community, connection to nature and connection to something bigger than themselves.

It could be a radical act to accept our self worth is not connected to our net worth.

It could be a radical act to deeply value self care and caring for others.

It could be a radical act to care for our communities and help those around us who are less able, while still viewing them as complete and valuable human beings.

It could be a radical act to value connection.

(please note this blog entry is NOT meant to devalue the struggles of those who don’t have enough money for the basics of life, or who need to work long hours to provide the basics for themselves. Captialism is responsible for this as well, because a more communal philosophy would place stronger social safety nets in place, including a living wage!)



<trigger warning for graphic descriptions of self harm and eating disorder>

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “firsts” of my mental illnesses.  We all have memories of the first time we did certain things or had certain experiences, but for people who have chronic mental health struggles over a number of years, not all “firsts” are positive memories to celebrate.

When I was experiencing my “firsts” of mental illness I was a teenager.  I was 15-17 years old and I didn’t have any idea that my experiences were those of specific mental illness, let alone what those mental illnesses might be.  I thought that I was going crazy.  I thought I was the only one.  I was afraid to tell others what I was experiencing internally.  Until I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 20 years old, most of my “firsts” made little sense to me.

The first time I experienced what would become anorexia I was about 16 years old.  I’ve written about it in another blog post.  I was physically sick and hadn’t eaten for a few days.  I felt mostly better and wanted to go to school.  I remember my mother telling me I had to eat something if I was going to school.  I took a granola bar and started walking down the street to meet my boyfriend at the time and to catch the bus.  I remember feeling light, empty and powerful.  I remember feeling the sense of white, blank emptiness that I now associate with disassociation.  I felt like I could take on the world.  I felt like I could survive without food and that I’d actually be more powerful.  I loved that feeling and I chased after it in various forms for the next 20 years.  I believe this moment is the one I chose anorexia as a coping technique for the sexual and emotional abuse I was living with.  At that time I wouldn’t have identified it as an eating disorder, nor would I have identified my relationship as sexually and emotionally abusive.  It was just a feeling I had, of realizing that disassociation was more comfortable than pain.

I remember the first and one of the few times I tried (unsuccessfully) to purge after panicking about eating.  This I described in another blog post.  I remember crying and sitting shaking on the floor of the downtown public library.  My crime?  Eating a whole cookie rather than half of one.  I remember I had been reading books about eating disorders, secretly, trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

I remember my first panic attack.  I was in Grade 12, 17 years old and extremely ill from anorexia.  I was attending school despite the fact that my weight was well under 100 pounds at close to 5’9″.  I remember feeling driven.  I remember feeling an intensity of moving forward that wouldn’t allow me to slow down or calm down.  I had to keep “doing” and trying to be perfect at everything.  I had to follow all my rules or something terrible would happen.  I remember there was one day I had a math test.  I believe it was Grade 12 Calculus or some other horrible subject.  I had been doing well in school despite my illness.  But that day somehow my brain just wouldn’t work.  I remember sitting in the classroom, the desks were arranged in rows, one in front of the other with the blackboard at the front.  I remember all the numbers and letters swimming around on the paper.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t think of how to solve the problems because everything was spinning and I felt like I was being crushed.  I felt nauseous and I realized that I was about to cry.  I remember bolting out of the room and into a stall in the girls bathroom.  I remember sitting there crying, shaking and feeling terribly upset that I couldn’t do the test.  My thoughts were racing around and I just wanted to go home.  I remember another student from the class coming in to check on me (it was a male teacher).  I remember being somehow glad she was there even though I was embarrassed.  I made up some excuse about being sick and not being able to write the test.  I think I went home.  I wouldn’t have known at the time that it was a panic attack, but it was and it was probably related to extreme lack of nutrition and just pushing myself too hard on no fuel.

I remember the first time I cut myself as a coping technique for stress.  I was about 18 years old.  I had just started taking SSRI medication for depression and anxiety after about 2 years of fighting with my parents and my doctors.  I never wanted to take medication.  I think deeply and instinctively I must have known that my mental health problems were situational, but that knowledge was too terrifying to face, so I blocked it out.  The first time I engaged in cutting I  used a pair of scissors that I kept in my bedroom.  I used to make just one small cut.  I would do it once a week in the exact same place, just under where the band of my watch lay.  So I could hide it carefully.  It was ritualistic, very controlled.  I don’t remember exactly why I started doing this.  It became part of my routine as I gained weight and somewhat normalized my eating behaviour. I needed something else to help block out the memories of the abuse.

I remember the first time I considered suicide.  I was probably about 17 years old, but I might have been 18.  I remember being at a party at a friend’s house.  Radiohead OKComputer was playing in the background.  Music I always associate with the “saddest of the sad” times.  It was raining outside.  I remember sitting on the couch looking out the back sliding door.  It was dark outside, evening.  The rain was falling really hard and there was thunder and lighting. I felt like I was in a trance.  Looking back I realize this was also an example of disassociation.  I remember feeling incredibly alone and disconnected. I was AT the party but not part of it.  I remember being at home that evening.  My bathroom had green tiles.  Small square tiles with white grout.  I remember just sitting there staring at my razor.  Thinking about cutting myself, thinking about dying and ending my life by opening up my veins.  I just sat there for a long time thinking about it.  The images of the green tiles and the emptiness of that moment are burned into my memory.

I remember my first flashback.  I was 18.5 and with my first love, my first real connection after the abuse and the severe anorexia.  I remember we were in my bedroom and we were kissing.  It was consensual and I wanted to do it.  He was lying on top of me. I think he might have been about to unbutton a piece of my clothing or something like that.  Suddenly I was crying and shaking and it wasn’t him there.  It was my ex boyfriend, who had so many times taken off or unbuttoned my clothing when I’d clearly said now.  It was him on top of me and I was afraid.  I had no idea what a flashback was, I didn’t know I had PTSD.  I just had an intense physical reaction to what was happening.  My boyfriend stopped immediately.  I remember him leaving the room briefly to give me space.  I remember feeling scared and embarrassed.  I don’t really remember the explanation I gave to him.  Some of my memories are less clear, but I think over time I had told him that my last relationship had been difficult.  I don’t think I fully understood myself at that time that it had been abusive, and that this type of reaction was a normal one for survivors.

I remember the first time I cut myself deeply enough to need stitches.  I was 20.  I was at university.  I remember buying the craft knife at the university book store. I remember walking home.   There was  a bridge on the campus and for months I thought about jumping off it every day.  I knew that I was going to cut deeply.  It was planned and premeditated.  I remember disassociating and thinking only about the injuring.  I remember wanted to make sure it was deep enough to need stitches.  I remember walking to the hospital which was on the campus.  I walked across a field to get there.  It was May or June.  I remember the doctor stitching up the wound.  It was a medical student and I remember feeling afraid.  I remember the resident coming to check the work and commenting that the stitches were incorrectly done.  I remember wondering why the resident didn’t fix them, but I assumed that because the wound was self inflicted they thought I didn’t care about scars.  In the end that wound healed badly and caused me chronic pain until it was fixed about 7 years later by a plastic surgeon at that same hospital.   I remember feeling nothing.  I remember feeling nothing about the injury and having no emotional or physical reaction until the day I went to the health clinic to have the stitches removed. I fainted when the doctor took them out.  My body felt the trauma suddenly and all at once the disassociate wasn’t there.   From then on I always took my own stitches out so I could control the process and do it in a way that I would not feel as much pain.  The ritual of the whole thing was an important part of the process of disassociation for me.

It’s a sad list.  Really sad.  Because some of these firsts are clearly in my mind that pleasant memories I would like to remember.  The way that PTSD stores traumatic memories and erases positive ones is deeply frustrating.  Because the long term consequence of disassociation is memory loss, and rarely losing the memories I wish would disappear.

Picture was drawn in September 1999




Internalized Stigma.



Stigma causes me to make terrible choices.  Internalized stigma is dangerous to my health.  This is what I learned over the past few weeks.

Why do I feel so many complicated feelings about taking an anti-psychotic medication, but completely different feelings about taking arthritis medication?  The answer is internalized stigma.

Mental health stigma has taught me to be ashamed that I take psychiatric medication.  Internalized stigma causes me to think that I shouldn’t take the medication, that I should try to stop taking it as soon as possible, that I’m weak and somehow not good enough because I need medication to stay functional.  Basically, stigma lies.

Recently I started an alternative treatment which was helping me to sleep.  Because I was able to fall asleep, I decided to reduce my anti-psychotic medication.  I don’t need this!  I can function without it!  I’ll be fine as long as I’m still sleeping!  I feel okay!  What could go wrong?

As it turns out, a lot could go wrong.

Within a week of reducing my prescription medication, I was having multiple panic attacks a day, having paranoid thoughts, thinking that I was seeing my ex everywhere, afraid to leave the house and almost impulsively quit my job!

I was physically sick, dealing with a lot of triggers and somehow I thought it was going to be absolutely fine to reduce my psych meds!

I’m going to blame this on stigma.

I’m also going to blame stigma for how long it took me to realize that the change in medication was directly linked to my crisis state.

I mentioned it to my psychiatrist over the phone.  We talk very infrequently since I’ve been stable for the past few  years.  He told me to take the medication.  He told me that I have so much going on and so much stress that I don’t need to justify to anyone that I need the medication.  He said, just take it.  Just take it and don’t worry about it.

I thought about it and I realized he was right.  Why was I fighting so hard to reduce the dose of a medication that wasn’t causing me terrible side effects and, in fact, was reducing some of the most unpleasant PTSD symptoms (panic, paranoia, seeing things as a result of flashbacks)?  Why was  I judging myself so harshly?  Why was it more important to reduce the medication and not be “dependent” than it was to keep my job?

The answer was that it wasn’t more important.  That I didn’t need to judge myself.  That I needed the medication to keep the symptoms at bay.  Yes, the anti-psychotic medication (as it’s name implies) was ACTUALLY keeping me functional and not on the edge of psychosis!

I started on the higher dose that night.  Within 2 days I was back at work, within 4 days the panic attacks were reduced and almost back to “normal” levels.  Within a week, I’m feeling more hopeful and less terrified.

These pills help me.

Yes, I’ve had horrific experiences with psychiatry and psychiatric medications.  Yes, some of these drugs have made me worse and almost killed me.  Yes, there is a social stigma associated with anti-psychotic drugs.

But I’m going to work on not internalizing this stigma.  I’m going to work on accepting what is.  Accepting my current limitations.  Accepting that PTSD is a brain injury and it’s logical to take medication if it helps balance things out.

So next time I start talking about decreasing my medication, please remind me to re-read this post.  Please remind me that my health is more important than stigma.  That I’d rather be functioning and medicated, than in crisis and able to say that I don’t take any medication!  Remind me that going off my medication is NOT a good idea right now.  And maybe be gentle with yourself too…do what you need for your recovery.  Do what you need and don’t let judgment (by self or others) get in your way.  You are the expert in  your own healing.  Trust that.


International Women’s Day


There was a call today for “a day without women” as a protest against President He Who Shall Not Be Named.  Women were encouraged to stay home from work or to wear red in protest.  It’s also International Women’s Day.

I decided to wear red, but I didn’t stay home from work.  I challenged the patriarchy by going to work today.  Helping women.  It was important for me to go to work today, because I’ve been struggling a LOT the past few weeks. Last week I was tempted to quit my job, and just accept that I’m not “able” enough to pass as normal, not “able” enough to continue working, too sick to keep pushing through.

But I realize that the patriarchy wants nothing more than for me to fail.  My abuser wants me to fail, I think he wants me to crash and burn and commit suicide.

So for me going to work today was an act of defiance and resilience.  It was me overcoming the panic attacks as I got ready, left the house and drove to work.  It was me ignoring the negative self talk which was telling me that everyone hated me and that I should just quit.  It was me saying that I won’t give up, I won’t give the system the satisfaction of seeing me fail.

Failure isn’t an option.  I have to be “well enough” and “able” enough to keep going forward.  I need to do it for my children and for people who are depending on me.  I know I could be replaceable at work, but my kids only have one mother.  So I’ve decided to take better care of myself, to rest and to try to move at a pace that is sustainable and won’t exhaust me to the point of panic and wanting to quit my job.   I’m going to do the best I can, but that best might not be what others are able to do.  Right now, I have to do what I am capable of, what I am able to, and stop judging myself against standards I’m not always able to meet.

So for International Women’s Day, I left the house.  I battled panic attacks but I did not let them stop me.  I tried to focus on my ability rather than my DIS-ability.  I did my best and for today, maybe that was good enough.

Pin featured in photo by Rachael House


Sick Days.


I’ve been home sick the past few days and sick on and off for a while now. It’s really difficult sometimes to separate physical and mental health symptoms.  Everything is all blurred together and it’s hard to tell when to push myself harder and when to rest.  This past week has been an explosion of physical and mental health struggles that are creating a storm of symptoms and have forced me to (uncharacteristically) stay in bed.

I haven’t met very many people who understand the complex intertwined experience of having both physical and mental health issues simultaneously.   Most doctors aren’t very trauma informed and also struggle to validate that both physical and mental health issues can occur simultaneously, and be either linked, not linked or both linked AND not linked to each other!

One of the things I’ve been coping with in the past few weeks is a urinary tract infection.   Obviously, an infection is caused by bacteria and isn’t a mental health issue.  But I was also really triggered in the past few weeks and this made me extremely reluctant to seek medical care.  I was afraid to go to a walk-in clinic, afraid to see a doctor, afraid to be examined.  This was linked both to past trauma around the medical system AND generally high levels of panic and anxiety related to stress with my ex and my kids experiencing abuse.   Thus I waited for over a week to go to the doctor, by that time my symptoms were much worse and I felt pretty awful physically.

This is an example of how physical and mental health issues can be both separate and linked at the same time.  The infection itself was physical, but my avoidance of the doctor was mental health and trauma related.   Of course you might also argue that my high levels of stress and anxiety also generally lower my immune system and make it harder for me to fight off infections.

By the end of last week I was on antibiotics, but I also developed a sinus cold.  I had a migraine related to receiving a nerve block to treat the migraines, but the sinus congestion put pressure on the nerves that were being treated.   My anxiety was causing panic attacks and making me afraid to leave the house for fear of running into my ex.

Thus again, my high levels of stress probably didn’t help any of these physical issues that I was dealing with.

When someone has an infection, generally they are advised to rest.  But resting is difficult when you are also struggling with severe anxiety and panic attacks.  My head gets filled with worries about work and what I’m missing and what people think about me being away and creating all sorts of worries and fears, many of which are not realistic.

Anxiety causes me to feel like a failure.  It causes me to feel like making a mistake is a terrible thing which can’t be recovered from.  It causes me to feel like everyone around me hates me and thinks I’m doing a terrible job.  Or worse, they think I’m faking being sick to avoid responsibilities.  A lot of my irrational worries centre around feeling like nobody believes me and that nobody likes me.

Experiencing abuse, and extending periods of emotional abuse, as well as abuse within systems, has lead me to fear and avoid conflict of any kind.  I want everyone to be happy all the time.  I get very anxious when there are disagreements and I’ll often apologize even when I’m not sure I have done anything wrong.   I’ll do what I can to avoid conflict, because when interpersonal conflict levels are high around me, my anxiety levels feel unbearable.  Because ongoing interpersonal conflict is a trigger.  I try to keep people around me happy because I want to feel safe and BE safe.

Unfortunately, in the real world, conflict is unavoidable.  Disagreements are part of life.  As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone all the time.

But I want to!  I need a lot of reassurance from people around me that I’m doing an adequate job.  I need reassurance that conflict isn’t dangerous.  I need reassurance that people believe me, that they believe I experienced abuse, that they believe I’m trying my best.  I need reassurance so badly because my internal dialogue is so self critical and judgmental.

I know it’s not the responsibility of those around me to constantly reassure me.  I know I’m an adult and I have to take responsibility for my own feelings and fears.  The difficult part is that while I’m experiencing ongoing abuse and conflict which is outside of my control, my self esteem is constantly being eroded and challenged.  I need reassurance because I haven’t yet learned to fully believe and reassure myself.

I believe this is very common for survivors who have experienced long periods of gaslighting or complex emotional abuse.    It’s hard to build up a stable sense of self when you are being confused, beaten down and made to feel like you are crazy and nobody will believe you.

Survivors need a lot of patience.  Sometimes you might get frustrated with me.  Sometimes you might feel like I’m being unreasonable.  Sometimes you might not understand why I’m SO upset over something SO little.   Please remember that it’s not little to me.  My reaction could be related to feeling triggered and that trigger is making me feel like a failure.   If you have the energy and patience to reassure a survivor, please do so.  She might need to hear thousands of times that you believe her and that you don’t think she is crazy.

I need to hear it a thousand times.  Especially on weeks like these where I feel crazy, broken and like a failure.

Being physically and emotionally sick at the same time isn’t a lot of fun.  Taking sick days when you are struggling with severe anxiety and PTSD isn’t fun.  It’s not relaxing.  It’s not “a break.”

I guess sometimes we have to carry on, try to move forward, even if we don’t believe or have faith that everything will work out for the best.