Monday, March 26, 2007

Round the Bend and Back: Part 1

I've mentioned in a few comments on other blogs and to people in my real life that I suffered terrible, paralyzing anxiety a few years ago. Several people, on the web and in real life, have asked me for more details of how I got healthy. They have loved-ones who are suffering anxiety, or they themselves are.

I've touched on it here and there over the last few months, but I've never really written about just how bad it got, how I got help, and what I did for myself, which might helpful for other people who are suffering right now. So I'm going to start writing about it. I fear it may take me a few posts, to write all that I want to about it. I want to delve into all the nasty details and relive how some of it felt, with the benefit of hindsight and a far healthier perspective. It's ok if you're bored by this; I won't be offended. But I do apologize in advance. And also, things may get a bit graphic... sorry for that too.

Even now, it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly when my anxiety started. For one thing, I can't separate my physical health from my mental health; my anxiety has always been tied to physical, especially intestinal, illness. The McDonald's thing was significant, but I think it goes farther back than that. Back to maybe the winter of 1997-98? It was a shitty shitty winter.

In university, I prided myself on my laid-back near-apathy. I had a lot of fun, and the academic part was an inconvenience. Occasionally I dragged my hungover ass to classes, but mostly I spent my days playing pool with the hair of the dog. At the last minute, I would pull all-nighters to complete papers, and mostly got acceptable grades. I dropped courses here and there when they started to interfere with my pool education or beer appreciation. By third year, I hadn't failed a class. I'd lost my virginity in first year (finally!), and embarked on a series of casual encounters with random men. I don't think I let anyone see if I was hurt by any of them. But my sexuality was just one more thing in my life that I treated with a laid back, whatever happens happens cool disdain, like school, like eating, like drinking. I also prided myself on eating nothing but crap, and not getting sick. I was a bit heavier than I would have liked, but I worked hard to accept my body as it was, rather than give in to our culture's fucked-up pressure to be thin and go on a diet. I mostly ate Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodles, with occasional chicken fingers, burgers and poutine at the pubs I found myself in so frequently.

Writing this now, I find myself wondering when I constructed this apathetic armour. The academic apathy I'd cultivated for many years, probably since grade six at least. I put forth the minimum effort required to keep getting 80s as a badge of honour almost, and it had the added benefit of infuriating a few teachers who weren't very smart. I often played the smartass. I guess the sexual stuff probably started in second year, or maybe late in first year, after too many heartbreaks. Maybe it started when I lost my virginity. Maybe it's just a necessity of having sex without love.

Anyways, in the middle of third year, the armour started to fall apart. I was living with the roommate who brought in the street kids, and the kid who did crystal meth scared me. We had two kittens, and those street kids got one too, even though the store knew none of them had homes. We found out later, when one of our kittens (Lud, short for Ludwig van Beethoven because he had crazy long hair; we soon started calling him the Rasta Cat because he bathed so infrequently, he grew dreads, and was extremely laid back unless he heard the fridge or oven opening, in which case he would make a run for either of them; once we left him in the fridge for a bit hoping he would realize it's not all it's cracked up to be but it didn't work) got distemper, that their kitten was sick; Lud had to be put down. Our other kitten, Stevie for Cat Stevens, survived and drives me nuts to this day.

In other news of that horrible winter (dare I say the winter of my discontent?), another roommate was suicidal and I had to take her to the hospital after she took all the drugs in the apartment, passed out on the train tracks, and then when she woke up, in one piece, came back to the apartment and told me; my boyfriend stopped speaking to me suddenly at Christmas (which also involved my birthday and New Years); I developed a pilenidal cyst, very painful, followed by weeks of painful dressing changes (which required me to bare my ass to whichever nurse came to our house).

By February, I was pretty miserable, stressed out, and exhausted. My parents took me to Niagara Falls for a couple of nights to cheer me up during Reading Week... It was nice. They weren't judgmental about my smoking for once, I lost 20 bucks (which they gave me) at roulette, they won 30 at the slots... when they dropped me off back at home, I settled down with a big bag of Doritos for dinner and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, which my roommate had rented. So began the horrible food poisoning incident that I wrote about in #11 of this meme. I'm gonna get graphic here, so if you're queasy, you may want to look away. I was so sick, I was puking AND shitting yellow bile for hours before the forced expulsion ended, leaving me dehydrated and weak. Without a word of exaggeration, I didn't pee for two days. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten some IV fluids.

Ok... graphic bit over. You can start reading again.

It was seriously traumatic. Every time I felt nauseous after that, for years, I was terrified that it would happen again. My stomach was never really the same after that. I still kept up the drinking, but it was hard going.

By finals, I had dropped down to three courses. I had two final papers that were not coming together no matter how much reading I did, and the prof, who was a total sweetheart and teaching two of my courses, kept giving me extensions. I just had to get them in by the finals. The night before the finals, I panicked. I couldn't write, couldn't think. The only way to escape was to give up. So I didn't show up for the exams, and didn't submit any papers, and avoided the prof for a couple of years. A few years down the road, he told me that I should have talked to him. He would have helped. In my third course, I managed to write the exam, and dropped from something like a 78 to a 63 with my final, which wasn't actually worth that much.

My stomach just kept getting worse and worse. I learned the unspoken rules and best strategies of shitting in public bathrooms. It's ok for other people to know you're shitting, you just have to avoid letting anyone know it's you. (This, of course, can be difficult when you have a fondness for quirky shoes like I do; I just hope people don't look down.) So I'd wait and wait and wait for silence before I'd emerge and wash my hands as quickly as I could before making my escape unseen. If someone else happens to also be taking a shit at the same time, you wait. If you're further ahead and ready to emerge from the stall, they will wait for you to get out of the bathroom anonymously. If they're further ahead, you let them wash their hands and leave before you yourself leave the privacy of the stall. It's just courtesy. (Although once, a few years ago, someone breached this [previously] unwritten rule and busted me after taking a shit WHILE I WAS STILL washing my hands. Worse, it was a coworker, the kind you don't really like working with but tolerate and make occasional small talk with to keep things running smoothly, AND she had just taken a shit herself. I was furious. I really didn't need that kind of information about her. I guess I still haven't gotten over it.)

I decided to take a break from school. It was clearly making me sick, and I just needed a break. My parents let me stay at home, and paid my rent over the summer while I worked a couple of days a week at a futon shop here in G-town, and spent the rest of the week with them. I bought my first camera, a steel, fully manual Yashica FX3. I explored photography, moved in with a new roommate, and tried to heal. I worked three or four part time jobs starting in September before I got hired full time at Black's. Eventually, I realized that I wanted to work in some kind of communications and figured I'd better finish my degree.

Over that time, I tried to eat a little better, and drink a little less. I remember one day when I had only ten dollars until my next paycheque, I felt immensely proud of myself for spending it on bread, meat and cheese instead of a six-pack. I took Acideophilus to try to repopulate the little guys in my gut I must have lost with the Great Expulsion of 98. I still drank A LOT of coffee though. I think I felt like things were mostly ok. I subletted a little attic apartment and discovered comfort in solitude for the first time ever; for the first time ever, I didn't need to surround myself with people. And it was nice not to have to deal with wacky roommates going through their own shit for a while. I still had stomach complaints - a lot. But I lived and worked downtown, and always managed to make it to a toilet when I needed to. I remember once having to run the last hundred or so metres to my little attic apartment, finding my keys as I ran to reduce time unlocking the doors. I landed on the my little attic toilet totally out of breath, and it felt like just in the nick of time. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I didn't make it to a toilet on time, but I comforted myself that my body would never let that happen. I thought there was some magical mind-body connection that kept me from shitting my pants in public. Which is what made the McDonald's thing, the night before my first date with Sugar Daddy, the night after my final shift at Black's, so so terrifying. Here was a woman whose body was letting her down, whose legs couldn't move as fast as her bowels. Not only that, but her family just abandoned her, clearly disgusted by her bowels playing fast and loose. That's scary shit.

Stay tuned for the next installment, whenever I get around to writing it...


NotSoSage said...

Cin, I'm glad that you felt you could share this story. And as serious as the subject matter is, I couldn't believe that you put down all those [until now] unwritten rules about the bathroom!

I'm looking forward to the next ones in the series.

Kyla said...

I'm really intrigued. I have weird anxiety issues about bathroom issues and being the car. We had to evacuate for a hurricane last took us 24 hours to get to a place that usually took 3.5 hours. I got miserably ill on the way and we almost did not make it to a stopping point...yada-yada. Every time we see and Applebees my four year old says "Remember when you got SO sick there?" Ugh.

Glad you are writing this. :)

kgirl said...

i cannot believe you wrote about the work poop. that was awesome.
i'm looking forward to the rest of this - the 'how did i get here' posts are fascinating.

cinnamon gurl said...

Those are the unwritten rules, right? Or was it just the product of me having way too much time sitting on the throne while trying to remain anonymous? Am I alone?

NotSoSage said...

Totally. That chick so didn't know the rules.

Mad Hatter said...

Yup, those are the rules. No doubt about it.

I have a few different kind of anxiety dreams but key among them are the bathroom dreams. I have to go so badly in my dreams but all the public toilets are vile--filed with shit and piss and I find myslef gagging in my sleep.

Sin, I have said it before and I will say it again. No one, but no one, can craft the granular moments of life into stunning prose the way you do. I loves me my time at your place.

Anonymous said...

Okay - I did not know the bathroom etiquette rule. I'll do better in the future.

I had a similar episode of sick. I spent 3 days on a native reserve (where a family member was a teacher). I came home and got so amazingly ill (sitting on the toilet leaning over to throw up in the sink). I went to the doctor and she said it was probably the water on the reserve - I should have boiled it before drinking, teeth brushing, etc. I could not believe that any place in Canada did not have potable drinking water. Yes, I was that naive!

Anxiously awaiting the next episode(s)!

Aliki2006 said...

I will attest to those unwritten rules...

I too am eager to read Part II.

Oh, The Joys said...

Okay - it's so odd that all the comments are focused on the pooping part, but...

I never heard the rules either.

Mary G said...

This is so powerful. We have all had moments like this and probably tried to wrap them in a plastic bag and stow them in the back of our minds. Much thanks for sharing this, and I am looking forward to more.

Nancy said...

Wow. I think you're amazingly brave to share your story -- I can write about current painful things, but I am still so cowardly about touching on the really deep down things in my past.

It's interesting because the paragraph you write about your beginning college life is exactly what I could have written. My friends used to joke that I was more like a guy than a girl, because I could have casual flings with guys and break their hearts. I never thought of it being a near-apathy attitude. That makes sense.

I had a bout of c-diff one time, so I can also empathize with your stomach woes somewhat. It took a couple of years for me to not get violently ill whenever life was stressful or if my defenses were down already due to illness.

On to Part 2...