life, mental health, MS, writing

Coming to terms with that bugger anxiety

First, let me tell you that I shared more pictures of stunning Cortes Island, BC, and beautiful Hollyhock Resort where I spent four days at a writing retreat, at the bottom of this post. So, if you’re not in the mood for reading about the oh-so-fun topic of anxiety, with a side dish of introversion and MS sensory overload, scroll on down.

Ocean, beach, west coast, hollyhock resort, cortes Island, BC, blue sky, white clouds, forest, treesView with a room

Retreats are meant to be times of reflection and self-learning, right? Yeah. Nailed it. I realized that I have been in denial about having anxiety my whole life. This is not something I can blame on the monster of MS. Maybe it’s more acute now since the brain-frying relapse, but it’s how I have always been.

I have always felt inherently unlikable. Fuck. There I said it. Not to be confused with the more pathetic, whiny ‘nobody likes me’. I have a very small but very powerful group of people who like me just fine.

It’s in the unfamiliar, unscripted moments where I do every thing I know how to be friendly, open, interested and engaged (it uses a spoon just thinking about it) and most often the vibe I get is… meh. Or, I’ll talk to you until someone more interesting comes along. Or, I’ll talk to you now like we’re connecting but later I won’t even remember that I talked to you.

The questions then become: Do other people feel this way? Is this just my anxiety? Paranoia? Or am I, in fact, unlikable?

Don’t answer that.

I got called a snob as a teenager because I was so ‘shy’. Truth was, I was this weird thing called an introvert but that wasn’t a recognized thing at the time, it was called being a snob, or anti-social. That’s partly why I started self-medicating early on with drugs and alcohol. Well, and it was the 80s – age of excess.

I have learned as an adult to manage that instinctive desire to hide and forced myself to put myself out there. Knowing everyone is just as self-absorbed as I am helps – I’ll call this Exhibit A, for reasons you’ll see later. But I still find it exhausting, as all hard-core introverts do.

Then, there’s the dwindling number of spoons from being out of my routine, and the sensory issues that make my body react to the chatter of mealtime in the cafeteria like that guy in the old Operation game, except for instead of my nose – that would be unfortunate – my whole body lights up inside. It all adds up to being a tad overwhelming.

So, my body goes into self-protection mode which means withdrawing and being seen as, guess what – anti-social. I don’t want to be the person that uses my disease as an excuse but at the same time it puts limits on me over which I have no control. How to explain that to a group of strangers? Answer: Exhibit A, no one cares because everyone has their own issues.

I have a history of feeling like everyone else understands something about the world and I never got the memo. I don’t mean the existential shit, I think I have as good of a grasp on that as anyone at my age. I mean the social, human stuff. It goes back to always feeling the outsider, feeling less than, needing to excuse myself for taking up space in the world.

I thought I had a better handle on it by now.

I found myself in that classroom, with all these amazing women discussing all sorts of interesting topics and the thought of speaking up had my body vibrating and tingling in all the wrong ways. Damn nervous system.

When I did manage to pluck up the courage to say something, most often I felt like a complete idiot. Red-faced, tear off my sweater before I spontaneously combust embarrassment. Even though – Exhibit A! Note to self: nobody gives a flying fart.

What the whole experience made me realize is that I have had undiagnosed anxiety my whole life that I have, and continue to manage with drugs* and alcohol. In a much healthier way now than in my teens obviously. Promise. Usually anyway. Major lifestyle changes and the coping strategies you can only learn through experience, not to mention an amazing family, all help too.

But it’s always there. Even in the most beautiful places.

Beach, Cortes Island, BC, west coast, dark clouds, obscured sun, driftwoodBeach, driftwood, clouds, blue sky, ocean, west coast, Cortes Island, BC

Hollyhock resort, Cortes Island, BC, west coast, Canada geeseGarden, flowers, alstroemeria, west coast, hollyhock resortGarden, dahlia, flowers, west coast, hollyhock resortGarden, flowers, dahlias, west coast, hollyhock resort

That tingly, vibrating thing I mentioned above? That has completely invaded my body in a most annoying way as I’ve written this post, along with the tears coursing down my face. Anxiety fucking sucks. MS sucks. But, do I regret putting myself out there and trying something new? Never.

Do I regret putting this post out there, at the risk that someone answers ‘that’ question? That remains to be seen. 😉 If even one person can relate to just one part of what I’ve spilled here, it’s worth it.

Whenever I feel like things get too overwhelming, and I need to force myself into the present, I think ‘just put one foot in front of the other‘. Did you hear the song from the Santa Claus Is Coming To Town movie when you read that, or is it just me – the Christmas and musical geek? 🤓😊 Putting on my headphones and listening to music always helps too. Spotify is my new favourite app.

I would, of course, welcome any comments, answers, illuminations, wisdom, advice, input. More pictures below.

Have a wonderful week!

❤️ Amanda

Here are some articles you might find useful if, like me, you sometimes feel you were dropped here from another planet. My results from the anxiety assessment were surprising, and yet not.

15 Signs That You’re An Introvert With High-Functioning Anxiety

Anxiety in MS: Frequently Overlooked and Undetected

MS and Anxiety – free anxiety assessment

Marijuana And Meditation May Both Reduce Anxiety. Which Is Better?

*Cannabis aka marijuana aka weed aka pot aka ganja, etc is known as a tribal medicine for multiple sclerosis. Meaning MS was one of the first diseases to be recognized as gaining relief from its use. All I can say is I’m grateful that I’ve lived to see the day that it is legal and the medical community is finally starting to recognize the powerful benefits of this natural remedy. But that’s another post.

Garden, flowers, vegetables, west coast, hollyhock resort
The garden at Hollyhock is stunning and provides many fresh ingredients for the delicious meals.

Garden, vegetables, west coast, hollyhock resortGarden, vegetables, peppers, west coast, hollyhock resortGarden, flowers, alstroemeria, west coast, hollyhock resortGarden, vegetables, irrigation, hollyhock resort


Wild West Coast

View of the beach emerging from the private trail from our campsite.
View of the beach emerging from the private trail from our campsite. Photo: M. Cockayne

I am so incredibly fortunate to live on Vancouver Island. As I said in my last post, I was off camping last week at Pachena Bay Campground which is on the west coast near Bamfield, BC. The drive is an adventure in itself, two and half hours on dusty, bumpy logging roads from Port Alberni. Every teeth-chattering, slow-going minute is worth it once you arrive, though.

As it turned out, the first day was the nicest weather we had so it wasn’t exactly the tropical vacation we hoped for. When you’re camping in a coastal temperate rainforest, you take your chances. Instead of sweltering in the heat wave the rest of the island and most of North America it seems, was suffering, we were in our layers of fleece, toques and rain jackets.  Like most MSers, I’d rather a bit of fog, wind and misty rain than having the carnival of symptoms start when my body temperature rises.

Fog descends into the trees, creeping in from off the ocean.
Change in the weather, the fog rolls in.
Fog obscuring the tops of trees at the edge of a sandy beach with driftwood.
Fog is a regular occurrence but often blows off later in the afternoon or early evening.

When the tide is out, the enormous beach triples in size, impossible to capture in a photo. One day, we walked far out along the beach exploring tide pools towards the beginning of The West Coast Trail. We were going to walk a bit of the trail until we got to some of the ladders, which we have done in the past. Almost there, I looked down and saw this:

Fresh bear tracks on a wet sand beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Would you turn around or take your chances? Photo: M.Cockayne

Fresh bear tracks leading down a wet beach on the west coast of Vancouver IslandThe beautiful patterns in the sand with the fresh bear tracks leading away made the moment magical. And sped up our pace on the way back! Photo: M. Cockayne

We knew we were in bear and cougar country but seeing fresh evidence that we were right on the heels of Baloo? Yes, we turned around and headed back towards the main beach. ☺️ (Photo credits to Miranda Cockayne as my dinosaur of an iPhone died.)

Four days and nights of living in the forest, sharing secrets and too many laughs with one of my longest (not oldest, see what I did there? 😉) and dearest friends, building fires on the beach, watching the ospreys and eagles diving into the ocean, unplugging from the world (for the most part, they have wifi at the main office now), and plugging into the inspiration I always feel when I remove myself from the manmade and reconnect with the natural world.

Old growth cedar trees, ferns, bridge, west coast trail

It’s even worth the week of recovery from not sleeping and just being out of my usual routine. No matter how careful I am about eating well and hydrating, I never sleep well when camping or away from my own bed, actually. Are other MSers and chronically ill people the same? Does a change in your routine inevitably exacerbate your symptoms?

One thing I will make sure we do next year, is go on a Kiixin Tour.

“Kiix̣in is the site of a 19th-century village and fortress that exhibits evidence of occupation dating to 1000 B.C.E. Today, it remains a sacred site to the present-day Huu-ay-aht First Nations.”

Thank you to the Huu-ay-aht First Nations for sharing your amazing piece of paradise!

Have a wonderful week everyone!

❤️ Amanda