Yesterday should have been a really good day. I was very productive in the morning. I got several important tasks taken care of. I started the day feeling very successful. I took Iko, the puppy to get her nails trimmed and get a little bit of face grooming. Well, she got a bit more of a haircut that we expected. Oh well… hair grows back… even on puppies. Boyfriend had been out of town and was coming back. Even though he is going to be leaving again on Saturday, we were planning on spending some time together. All in all, I should have had a really good day.
Here’s the thing: my brain has an anxiety disorder. My brain also has a depression disorder and an attention disorder, but I am focusing on it’s anxiety disorder at the moment. Yesterday, Anxiety was in high gear. I wasn’t having a full blown anxiety attack- with acute physical symptoms, but Anxiety was my ride-along all day.
I think that people who don’t deal with chronic anxiety have a fairly easy time understanding the concept of an anxiety attack in which a person feels like he or she is having a heart attack, can’t breath, and possibly seems out of control. I have had some major anxiety attacks which, at least for me, causes a surge of adrenaline, and the accompanying fight or flight response. I typically try to go for flight because I am afraid of what I will say if I fight. I think I may have said some harsh things when I have fought, but there are also times when I honestly don’t remember. When this happens, I do tend to cry uncontrollably. Not loud sobbing, but tears. I think this may look fake or overly dramatic to some people. I have seen the look on people’s faces when it happens to me and they appear shocked. I feel terrible and just want to get away until it passes. If someone tries to confront me or comfort me in this state, it is very hard because I often need to self comfort. I may want someone with me or near me, but I can’t give them anything to do to make it better.
But, here’s the deal- when you deal with your unwelcome “friend” Anxiety on a regular basis, the effects are often much quieter. Anxiety is the “frienemy” who whispers mean things in your ear all day. You know they are not true, but you can’t not hear them. Not to go into too much detail, but all day yesterday, Anxiety was bringing up a couple of problem issues Boyfriend and I grapple with. It wasn’t bringing up real problems- just stuff that I could worry about and that would make me crazy. All day I had to remind myself that just because my brain was telling me, “He doesn’t really want to see you tonight,” or “You two are going to get into a fight tonight,” does not mean that Boyfriend was thinking that! Trust me, I really wanted to see him, and I did not want to get into a fight. We had a lovely dinner (okay, the service was amusingly bad, but the food was great) and just enjoyed the time that we had. Yeah, I am going to miss him while he is away for a month, but I isn’t like we won’t talk. A month is not forever. I am actually kind of excited to find ways for us to connect long distance.
I feel terrible for Boyfriend because sometimes I have to ask him to clarify things because my brain is telling me something different than what he is. I worry that he feels like I don’t trust him. Okay- occasionally we have had timeliness issues, but he knows it is an issue for me, so he works on it really hard! Because he does change the things that have caused actual trust issues, I DO TRUST HIM! However, when Anxiety is working on my brain, I need him to reassure me. However, that starts a chain of worrying that I am being too needy. This, this right here, is how we get into fights- I am worried about being worried, and he is worried about me being upset about something he has done, but can’t control. Anxiety is sitting in the corner snickering at all of this like Loki, the trickster.
The point here is, no matter how many times I tell Anxiety that it is wrong, or at least has no credible sources, it does not stop the propaganda campaign. No matter what I am doing, I have to keep telling Anxiety that it is wrong until something alleviates the situation. The only thing that helped a little yesterday was telling a close friend what I was anxious about. She didn’t tell me that my thoughts were wrong, but reminded me to think about whether I had any real reason to think that. Again, it didn’t make the anxiety go away, but it did help to vocalize it. This is why a support group is important.
I have never had that “I’m having a heart attack” kind of anxiety attack, but I think that is because I have been living with the physical effects of anxiety for so long. I can very specifically remember the first time I identified the physical effects of anxiety at four years old. The vagus nerve, which regulates the heart… and a bunch of other stuff from the vocal chords to the intestines… is affected by emotional stress. This is what causes people to feel like they are having heart attacks, nausea, or other physical symptoms in moments of stress. For me, the effect of anxiety is feeling like I suddenly have a void in the middle of my abdomen. I cannot tell you how unnerving (pun intended) the sensation is to feel like you have no internal organs. As a child, my only words for it were, “I don’t feel like myself.” This can happen to me in a moment when I do not feel comfortable, or it can happen at the most random moment.
Anxiety can be “not feeling like yourself” and not being able to get yourself back. You know those people who get put in psych wards because their bodies have been taken over by aliens or they are possessed by spirits? I wonder if that is anxiety gone to the extreme? Or, I wonder if anxiety is being possessed by aliens or spirits? Annnnd, this is where you start looking for a nice facility for me.
Anxiety isn’t all bad. When I am anxious, I can actually get quite a bit done. In trying to escape the propaganda in my head or the discomfort, I need to keep myself distracted. That means that I try to stay busy- cleaning, writing, drawing, home improvement projects. However, it can also be exhausting because it is difficult to attend to tasks which require focus when Anxiety is visiting. While I am staying busy, I am mentally talking my brain or body down. It also means that tasks like reading or some work tasks, such as grading papers, are incredibly difficult because they require too much focus, or are not distracting enough (is that oxymoronic).
What do I do to keep my brain in check? First, I take my “monster-fighting-pills.” That is a term I have taken ownership from via the wonderful Jen Yates of the blogs, Cakewrecks.com and Epbot.com. The wonderful thing about words- many people can own them! Look, I know that people have different opinions on psychiatric medications. My take on them: I am still me with or without them. It is just so much harder to be me without them. I take an antidepressant that also works well for anxiety. I still fight with both depression and anxiety, but the medication takes the edge off. I also take a medication for attention issues and a blood pressure medication (beta blocker), both of which have been shown to reduce anxiety. None of these medications make me perfect, but they make it easier to be the version of me that I am usually reasonably happy with (not always, but usually).
When my anxiety is high, I try to find something to do. I used to shop, but realized that was a false coping mechanism and ummm… debt causes stress. I clean, I knit, I draw, if I can focus, I write. I have certain friends who are my “tribe.” They are my emotional support group and they “get it.” We have a fairly constant text chain and when one of us is having a rough time, we support each other. When one of us needs to be gotten out of the house, the other two step up. I also have an online social network- people I have never met, but who “get it,” and are supportive as well. I am going to be honest, I often have either an audio-book or a TV show on in the background of what I am doing. I need the audio-stimulation to keep my anxiety at bay. When my anxiety is very high, I also have a playlist of songs that are my battle songs. They are familiar and get me through a rough patch.
As with all mental illness, my anxiety is different than others’. Sometimes it is the “mean girl,” sometimes it is “Loki, the trickster.” Most often, I think of it like Randall Boggs, the villain in Monsters Inc or Voldemordt before he got his body back, a nasty shadow creature. What is always true is, to spin another of my favorite “Jennifers” words, Jenny Lawson, “The Blogress” (theblogress.com), Anxiety, like “Depression, lies!” All of those worries are not going to come to fruition. Even if some of them do, there will be a solution! What I can say is that while anxiety makes it hard to be me sometimes, and Lord knows, it makes it hard to be around me sometimes, anxiety is not ME. I am more than my mental illness, but I see the world from an amazing perspective because of, and in spite of my mental illness.
© SheMightBeRight 6/29/2018