In the mid 1990s, I started having severe panic attacks. It’s tempting to think of that as the first time anxiety kicked my ass, but looking back at my childhood, I strongly suspect this would be a very naive assumption on my part. Still, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered what it’s like to be out of control of one’s body and brain, hyperventilating until my lips turned blue and all I could think was, ‘It would be so easy to stop breathing.’ I learned that my version of ‘fight or flight’ was to try to leap out of cars to escape whatever trigger had set off my most recent fit of panic. At its very worst, I was having panic attacks several times a week and exhibiting symptoms akin to MS.
I learned that therapists – at least back then – were not inclined to believe one’s self-diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. I argued with my therapist until he finally went over a list of symptoms and reluctantly admitted that I was probably right…so hey, do you want medication for that?
I said no thank you and I figured out ways to live with this inner tension. It’s like having a particularly harsh inner barometer. You don’t dare let yourself get too stressed out, because if you do? Bam, you start shaking and you can’t breathe.
I’ve spent years at this point getting this under control. For the most part, it manifest in small ways now, like night terrors; or, if I delay in answering an email or responding to a voice mail, the steadily increasing levels of anxiety about that make it very difficult to ever respond. (When The Bloggess talks about her repeated decision to just open a new email account because she can’t deal with what she’s not responded to? I can see why that would be tempting!)
There’s so much stigma about depression and anxiety. People have criticized me for being at all open/public about my struggles, saying that if they were hiring managers, they would never hire me. I’ve lost friendships because, at my worst, people have found it hard to watch that struggle and not be able to help.
Still, I’m open about it because I think it’s important to talk about these things. The Bloggess does it brilliantly. So does Wil Wheaton. And their posts have helped me, and so I hope that I might help others as I learn to help myself.
Enter Stitching Out Stigma.
A woman in the UK, Natalie, came up with the idea of a quilt project made up of cross stitch and embroidery squares created by people dealing with varied mental illnesses. Due to Facebook, Twitter and varied articles in varied magazines and newspapers, that ambitious thought extended to people internationally, and it was through that network of articles that I heard about the quilt last summer.
Most of the participants are in and around the UK, but I really wanted to be a part of this project…in part, I wanted to do it as a nod to the Bloggess, whose words have helped me so much. So I decided to use the quote she, and Wil, and so many others use on Twitter..
The design isn’t exactly what I envisioned, and if I ever actually mapped things out before I started stitching, it would have worked out better, but…la, there it is! I sent it off to England and I waited nervously to hear if it arrived safely or not.
…It did. 🙂 It’s one of around 45 squares that have been sent in for the project, and some of the squares have been on exhibit at varied events over the past few months..
Gabalfa Mental Health Clinic – May 15, 2015
Newport Mind Mental Health Event – October 9, 2015, South Wales
(Because not every square had arrived yet, the quilt wasn’t being assembled, so squares were placed into a notebook along with their accompanying stories.)
This month, the quilt is starting to be assembled, and the variety and beauty of what’s been contributed just astounds me. A gallery of the completed squares can be found here, but I’m going to post a bunch of assembly pictures because I’m so full of wow over it. (It looks like the team sewing the quilt together is going to get some news coverage,too.) The goal is to have this finished by January 2016, to be put on display in a new purpose built Mental Health Unit in Wales.