The Return of the Anxiety Monster


Recently it has come to my attention that being truly open, honest, & sincere is far more appreciated by the world as a whole than being some kind of continually positive peppy cheerleader type.  The latter becomes more of an annoyance than anything because inevitably there are times when life sucks, & at those times I think all of us desperately long for someone to validate our fears, our anxieties, & general woes about the difficulties we’re facing, whatever they may be.

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In an effort to be completely honest, I must preface this post by saying I am currently a bit of an emotional train wreck.  My hormones are all over the map (I recently came off birth control since my husband & I are trying to have a baby), work has been increasingly demanding, & there have just been a number of other stressful situations in my life lately, all of which have contributed to me struggling with my anxiety far more than I have for a long time.  And because I’m trying to get pregnant, I’m now taking a 50% lower dose of Prozac (which means I’m now on the lowest dose available), so as you can imagine that has been an additional stressor.

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In any case, this past week I was placed in a situation that brought up a lot of negative memories.  I was criticized in a way that I felt was at least 90% completely unjustified, & as usual my response was to cry.  I only shed a few tears during the actual conversation, & I did manage to stand up for myself FAR more than I would have years ago, but it took everything in me not to just break down & sob right then & there.  Trust me, when I was in the safety of my car I cried harder than I have in a long time. tears

The end result of this situation is that suddenly I felt just as small as I did so many years ago when I was in elementary & middle school & many of the other kids teased me & used my “weaknesses” to make themselves feel stronger.  Memories of being teased about everything from not knowing what an erection was to wearing the wrong style of clothes to forgetting to shave my legs to being “too smart” to being out of touch with popular music & TV shows to sucking at sports all came flooding back in a deluge of torment.  Many of these memories had not crossed my mind in well over a decade.  But suddenly the pain of those moments was just as real as if they had happened yesterday.  Suddenly I was the last kid picked in gym class all over again.  It was as if all the self-confidence I’ve built up over the past decade since leaving high school had evaporated like the morning dew on a sunny day.  teasing

And here I am two days later still struggling . . . Am I over-reacting?  Of course.  But I’m an intelligent, sensitive person who cannot help but take criticism to heart.  I do this because I truly care.  I want to be the best I can be at everything I do.  I’m not saying I need to win some kind of award for everything I attempt in life.  Hell no!  I’m just saying I have very high standards for myself, probably too high sometimes, & it’s difficult to take criticism, especially that which feels unfair & poorly presented, as anything other than evidence of a glaring failure.anxiety

I know I should just “shake it off,” forget it, & move on with my life. But that’s not in my nature.  Trust me, at times like these I would give almost anything to be so light-hearted as to be able to do that.  I’m trying very hard to remember that one person’s perception of me is simply that: one person’s perception of me & nothing more.  I hate to sound like a whiny first-world bitch, but sometimes being smart is not all it’s cracked up to be.  I’ve spent my whole life being largely identified & singled out for my intelligence.  All things considered, I realize this isn’t a bad lot in life.  There are definitely a lot worse characteristics for which one can be known. But the down side to it is that any “evidence” of failure makes you feel like you’re losing your whole identity, not to mention the inevitable phenomenon that everyone just expects you to deal with anything that comes your way because “she’s smart, she can handle it.”  Then there are also the people who think that just because you’re smart means everything you excel at must come easily to you, that you haven’t really worked for your successes, which of course could not be further from the truth.  And then there are the inevitable people who are jealous of your success & are probably just waiting for you to screw up so they can feel better about their own failures . . .intelligence

Anyway, it has also come to my attention lately that it is possible that I may be intimidating to some people.  Because I have a tendency to still think of myself as the nerdy weird girl, a bit of an ugly duckling for lack of a better term, it’s really quite incredible to me that this could possibly be true.  However, when I think about it objectively, I suppose a twenty-something woman who’s in good shape, reasonably attractive, successful in her career, happily married, & generally seen to be “on top of it all” could be a bit intimidating.  And I am all of those things.  I’ll never forget a situation in college where a friend of a friend told me that when he first met me he was really intimidated by my intelligence, but he then went on to say that he quickly discovered that I was also incredibly kind & any feelings of inadequacy on his part melted away.  When he told me that (probably 8 years ago now!!), I remember being totally flabbergasted because the idea that I could be intimidating to anyone, much less a guy, just seemed utterly unthinkable.  But I doubt he’d have admitted to such a thing if it weren’t true.  As much as I cannot help but admit that being known as intelligent & “successful” is indeed flattering, I sincerely want to be known at least as much for being kind & generous & helpful.  I guess the reason the criticism I faced earlier this week got under my skin so much is because I felt like it implied that I’m none of those things.You-are-nice-quotes-kindness-quotes-politeness-quotes

I really don’t know why I’m writing all of this other than to try to maintain my own sanity.  I suppose the message I’m trying to convey is that even those of us who may seem to “have it all together” are extremely vulnerable & just as hard on ourselves, if not more so, than anyone else.  The truth is none of us has it all together.  We’re all facing our own unique battles.  Perhaps it’s to my own detriment that I am so adept at seeming like I’ve got it all together because it masks the battles I’m facing with my own anxiety.  I’ve said it before & I’m sure I’ll say it again, but I truly believe the world would be a far better place if more of us were honest about the battles we’re fighting on a daily basis.  Anxiety is my battle, the anxiety monster is very real, & right now I’m fighting it harder than I have in a very long time.  So in an effort to live up to my own beliefs, this post is me being truly candid & letting you know that at this point in time I’m really struggling . . . But struggling though I may be, I won’t be defeated . . .  times are hard

Before I end, I feel like I must include this quick side-note: to the people who say those of us with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses should just pray more or read the Bible more, I may as well tell you to pray away your diabetes or your cancer or your heart disease.  Now do you realize how ridiculous you sound?  If you’re going to take the view that disease is a product of sin & can be cured by pure faith, then at least be consistent about it.  If you’re going to criticize me or anyone else for taking medication for a mental illness, then I better not catch you taking an antibiotic, a pain medication, a blood pressure pill, or anything of the kind.  Just saying . . .

I’ll conclude this post with one of my favorite “pick me up” songs by the talented guys from Redlight King.

My favorite lyrics from the song are below:

Risk it all, I’m gonna risk it all
I’m gonna break my back and risk it all
I’m gonna pick my spot, take my shot,
Swallow my pride and risk it all
I’m gonna risk it all
And I won’t look back
I’m gonna pick my spot,
Take my shot, swallow my pride
And risk it all

The light’s on, the last round
The dark horse keeps on fightin’

I’m gonna make a comeback
I’m gonna dig six feet up tonight
I’m gonna get it all back
I’m gonna make a comeback this time

Anxiety, you will not win.  I know I’ll never bury you completely, but you will not take away all the progress I’ve made.  You may have won a few battles here lately, but trust me, you are not going to win the war.

Anxiety, Plane Tickets, & Flying Solo


I did something tonight that might not seem like a big deal to most people but was a big deal for me: for the first time in my 20-some years of life, I bought a plane ticket.  By myself.  With no help from my husband or anyone else.  AND I did it WITHOUT HAVING AN ANXIETY ATTACK.

When my husband & I went to Montana last Fall, he bought the plane tickets (actually I paid for them I think, but he did all the work of finding & selecting the flights).  Ditto for when we went to Boston the next month for a wedding.  Furthermore, every other flight I’ve taken in my life was planned by someone else; thus, I was never involved in the tedious process of finding & obtaining tickets.  All I had to do was show up & follow someone else who knew what they were doing.airplane

Not only did I find, select, & buy the plane ticket for this trip by myself, but this will also be my first time flying by myself.  I know for most people my age this whole scenario probably seems like no big deal.  But when you have anxiety like I do, even something as “simple” as buying a plane ticket, particularly for a solo trip, can induce extreme anxiety, the kind that most people associate with taking a major exam or giving a speech.  (Oddly enough, neither of those activities has ever been all that nerve-wracking for me, with the exception of the NCLEX, although I only had major anxiety about that the day I actually took the test).

In any case, as “silly” as it may seem, one of the most beneficial things I’ve learned from a dear, dear friend of mine who is bipolar is that, particularly when you have a mental health issue, even something as “small” as mild anxiety, you have to learn to celebrate even the minor victories.  You have to learn to recognize when you’ve reached a milestone in your recovery, if you will.  I hate to use the word recovery because I don’t believe my anxiety is something I need to or can “recover” from.  It’s not an illness, like the flu or strep throat, mostly because it’s not something that can be cured with a week’s worth of medication with only a small chance of recurring later.  But my anxiety IS a disease that I have to learn to manage, just like many other folks have to learn to manage diabetes or heart disease or any of a myriad of other chronic conditions.hello-my-name-is-anxiety

In my case, I’ve realized that buying a plane ticket by myself for a trip I’ll be taking by myself WITHOUT HAVING AN ANXIETY ATTACK is indeed a victory.  It’s an accomplishment, just as much as is giving a successful speech, acing an exam, winning a game, or any other more commonly recognized achievement.  A year ago, before I started taking Prozac, I can tell you without any doubt that this would not have happened.  So this is progress for me for sure.anxiety meds

As I was telling a friend at work last week, the longer I’ve been in therapy, the more I’ve realized that my anxiety has very deep roots.  In other words, this is something I’ve been struggling with more or less my entire life.  It’s probably the major reason I wasn’t a very happy child.  Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t depressed or suicidal or anything like that.  But I just never remember experiencing that carefree existence that most children seem to enjoy.  I still feel guilty for that sometimes because my parents were & are wonderful people who did so much to ensure that I had a healthy, happy home.  But I’m slowly beginning to understand that it was my own anxiety that prevented me from fully embracing life for so many years.  And that wasn’t my parents’ fault.  Or mine.  It’s just the way it is.anxiety charlie brown

The trouble is that when anxiety is something you’ve battled for so long, it’s very easy not to realize that it isn’t normalAfter all, the only brain you know is your own!  This is why it took me over 22 years to realize that maybe, just maybe, the constant swirl of anxiety in my brain wasn’t normal.  Better yet that it wasn’t how things HAD to be for me.  I look back now on my college years & I so regret not seeking help sooner.  It’s not that I didn’t have a good time & create lots of wonderful memories.  I absolutely did.  But I also know it could have been much better.  I’m also very aware that on the outside I probably seemed like I had it all together . . . & in a way I did.  I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, I maintained my relationship with my high school boyfriend (now husband), I passed the NCLEX on the first try, & I got married & started my first nursing job within 3 months of graduating from college.  Outwardly, I suppose I was the definition of “put together.”

A very simplified explanation of anxiety . . . but it made me laugh.

A very simplified explanation of anxiety . . . but it made me laugh.

But on the inside my brain was a wreck.  No wonder I struggled with high blood pressure for a while!  My mind, & subsequently my body, was on constant overdrive for so many years.  As my husband describes it, I had this endlessly “chattering squirrel” in my head that was always, always, always thinking, thinking, thinking!  Despite what many people think, having anxiety isn’t just spending too much time pondering the “what ifs?” of life.  It’s so much more than that.  It’s a brain that never stops, that plans everything, & perhaps more than anything just doesn’t know how to shut up & relax.  And a brain that can’t relax is a brain that will eventually burn out.anxiety

This is why I’m so incredibly grateful I took the advice of a friend & sought help: first through therapy & eventually by adding medication (Prozac).  Through a combination of the two, I have come to an even greater appreciation of so many things in life that I’ve always enjoyed but that I can now enjoy even more & thus utilize to further relieve my anxiety: music, books, my relationship with my husband, & so much more.

Trust me, there are still days when I struggle with my anxiety.  There are times when the idea of interacting with anyone other than my husband or closest friends seems like torture.  But those days are much fewer & further between now.  And even when they happen, I have the foresight to know they won’t last forever.  And that one bad day doesn’t doom me to a bad week, month, year, or life.bad day quote

I’ve wandered a lot in this post.  But, as I’ve done so many times before, I want to encourage anyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness to seek help.  Admitting that you need help is NOT a weakness.  Let me repeat that: needing help is NOT a weakness.  Rather it is the first & perhaps most important step in creating a better, more peaceful life for yourself.MentalHealth-HeadGraphic-250px

Looking back on my childhood, adolescence, & even into college, there were so many signs that the anxiety I faced on a daily basis was not normal.  But they were mostly things that only I knew about (for example, the hours I spent awake at night off & on for years & years thinking about the Holocaust & how horrifying that was) . . . My point is that I didn’t realize how bad things were until I got the courage to ask for help.  And now that I’ve gotten help & my anxiety is so much better managed, I honestly can’t believe I struggled alone in silence for so long.  But I suppose sometimes we have no idea how dark the night is until we see the light of day.  I’ve found that light, & there are days when it is dimmer & days when it is brighter, but I think I am now even more grateful for the light since I know what it was like to live in the dark for so long.

Whatever you're facing, you are not alone.

Whatever you’re facing, you are not alone.

If you’re living in the dark of anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, please don’t suffer alone.  Get help.  Life CAN be better.  I am living proof.

The Negative Emotion-Guilt Complex


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Last week I had my monthly session with my therapist & I told her how that week I’d had my first real anxiety attack in at least a month or more.  It happened on Monday afternoon of last week when I was just feeling overwhelmed with my busy schedule, working overtime, lack of sleep, etc.  Thankfully with some encouragement from a dear friend of mine, diffusing & applying several essential oils, & some deep-breathing exercises I was able to quickly move past the anxiety attack & get on with my busy day.  It felt like such a big step for me to be able to tell my therapist that not only was that my first real anxiety attack in a long time but, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t allow the attack to ruin my entire day or week.  Instead of feeling defeated & discouraged & beating myself up over having a “bad day” I just rejoiced in the fact that I was able to recover so quickly & move on with my life.  You have to understand that ordinarily when I have high anxiety days or anxiety attacks for whatever reason (often there really is no reason) I not only have to cope with the anxiety itself but also with guilt over suffering from anxiety problems.  This guilt of course only serves to compound the problem.

I grew up with the idea that certain emotions in & of themselves are sinful.  I’m not sure exactly where I got this idea but it was just there.  Add that to the perfectionistic, high-anxiety personality I was somehow born with & you’ve got a pretty difficult situation.  For the first 18 or so years of my life, whether I wanted to or not, I believed that “negative” emotions such as anger, fear, hate, frustration, sadness, etc were sins.  Naturally this created a horrible cycle in which I felt guilty for experiencing these types of emotions & then the guilt just triggered more sadness, anger, whatever & the cycle continued.  What a mess!

The older I’ve gotten the more clear it’s become to me that no emotions are ever sins in & of themselves.  Feelings are feelings, nothing more, nothing less.  They are what make us ALIVE.  They are what make us human beings.  For example, it is only human nature to be angry at times, even to the point of wanting to hurt someone or something.  It is what we DO with our emotions that matters.  For example, when we strike out in anger at someone, whether verbally or physically, that is when we cross into sinful territory.  Allowing so-called negative emotions to overcome us to the point of being permanently bitter is also perhaps sinful.  But again it is not the feelings themselves that are the problem; it is the actions that spring out of them.  And I for one believe that, though fallible, we as humans have the power to control our emotions.  We might not be able to stop ourselves from feeling angry or frustrated over certain things.  Nor should that even be the goal.  But we DO have the power to stop those emotions from ruling us & causing us to act out in ways that hurt ourselves or other people.  To me that is the definition of sin (I hate that word but can’t think of anything better at the moment): something that hurts yourself or someone else.  I know that is kind of vague but the world is vague.  We only try to paint life in black & white because of how confusing it can be, to try to make sense of a world that is often unfair & cold.  But we do ourselves a disservice by trying to understand a very grey world in only two very extreme colors.  There is so much more to life than that.

I still struggle with anxiety.  But it’s not something that defines me anymore.  And I still struggle with not feeling guilty over having anxiety or experiencing other “negative” emotions.  But the greatest freedom I’ve found in life is when I let go of the guilt & just allow myself to feel whatever it is I’m feeling at that moment.  I have found that these so-called negative emotions leave a lot faster when I just admit what I’m feeling instead of trying to force myself to feel some other way out of guilt.  I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this or if it’s just me.  But I don’t think I’m that unique so I’m sure there are others out there fighting this battle too.  And I hope that if you’re one of those people & you’re reading this that you will be encouraged to move past the guilt & to learn to just enjoy being alive.  We all have our inner battles & we all have bad days because of them.  But as long as we don’t allow those days to define us we are winning. 

P.S. Whether you struggle with any particular mental illness or not, I strongly encourage everyone to consider seeing a counselor or therapist at least once in your life.  As a friend of mine once told me, we can all benefit from having someone to vent to who isn’t emotionally attached to us because no matter how “perfect” our lives may be, we all have issues we could benefit from discussing with an impartial mind.