Slaying the Anxiety Monster


Yesterday I did something I’ve been pondering for years . . . literally years.  I got a prescription for anti-anxiety medication & started taking it.  I’ve considered doing this for YEARS now but every time prior to yesterday I’ve backed out due to fear: fear of what others might think, fear of how my opinion of myself might change, fear of side effects, fear of “giving up,” & just basic fear of the unknown.  Growing up in a society that quite literally tells people with anxiety, depression, & other mental health issues that they “just aren’t thankful enough for God’s blessings” & other such nonsense coupled with my own perfectionist personality makes admitting that I might need medication for my anxiety incredibly hard to accept.  But yesterday I finally said “Screw you!” to the fear & admitted that, for right now anyway, I need more help than I’ve been able to give myself.

anxiety meds

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while or if you know me in real life, then you probably know that I’ve been struggling with anxiety issues practically since birth.  I can be pretty good at hiding it because outwardly I am so “put-together.”  In reality my life really IS quite together.  It’s just that my brain is always on “overdrive” which makes it very difficult for me to truly relax because my mind is always thinking, thinking, thinking about a million things.  It’s a blessing & a curse as I’ve detailed on this blog in various posts from time to time (see: https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/07/28/shut-up-brain-part-2/ & https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/06/shut-up-brain/ & https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/08/17/inexplicable-anxiety/).  But lately due to a variety of external factors in my life, it’s been more of a curse than a blessing, & my usual coping mechanisms have not been enough to keep my head fully above water.  I’ve been drowning myself in music & essential oils & all the other things that normally help me . . . and they just haven’t been enough.  It’s not that these things haven’t been helpful at all . . . but the anxiety has not receded significantly like it normally does in response to these coping mechanisms.  If anything my anxiety has continued to grow steadily over the past month or so.

I really can’t describe to you how hard it is to admit this.  I’ve been seeing a therapist for just over a year now & this is honestly the first time in that year that I’ve felt like my anxiety has truly taken a turn for the worse.  I’ve had a few bad weeks here & there but nothing like this.  Until the past month I’ve felt like I’ve been steadily climbing upwards, steadily improving.  But somewhere around the end of June I feel like I hit a brick wall, tripped over a boulder, & slid all the way down the mountain.  After all the progress I’ve made over the past year, having my anxiety overwhelm me again is incredibly devastating.  I really felt like for a while I’d slayed the beast that is my anxiety.  But I guess the reality is that I had just put it to rest for a while.  And the truth of the matter is I should be rejoicing over how well I did for so long.  Instead of berating myself for struggling with this issue, I need to remember that like most chronic health conditions, either mental or physical, unfortunately anxiety rarely goes away forever, despite preventative measures & the best treatment.  The sad reality is that no matter how many times you fight the anxiety monster, every new battle is still frightening &  sometimes overwhelming.  

hello-my-name-is-anxiety

I know there are some people who will say I’m “giving up & taking the easy way out” by taking medication for my anxiety.  But the truth of the matter is I’ve tried everything in my power to control this on my own for YEARS now . . . basically my whole life.  I also REALLY don’t want people to think that I’m saying therapy isn’t helpful because I literally cannot express to you how incredibly helpful it has been for me.  Finding my current therapist was one of the greatest decisions of my life.  And the essential oils I’ve been using are also amazingly useful & have helped me tremendously as well.  And music has been my lifeline for most of my life; there is no question about that.  There is no doubt in my mind that for many people these kinds of coping mechanisms are more than enough to manage their anxiety or other mental health concerns.  But unfortunately I’ve just reached a point where these things aren’t enough for me anymore.  I sincerely hope to get back to the point at which these normal coping mechanisms are sufficient for me.  But the fact of the matter is I’m not there right now, & I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize or explain myself for that.  If I had any other type of health condition, almost no one would question my need to take medication for it.  But if you have mental health concerns, far too many people, even well-meaning people, expect you to just “get over it.”  Would that it were that easy!  Trust me, if I could just will myself out of my anxiety, I’d have done it a long, long time ago!!

katy perry

I’m going to end today’s post with the incredibly eloquent words of a very dear friend of mine who has provided so much encouragement to me over the past few years.  In fact she is the person who encouraged me to find my therapist last year.  I have so much to thank her for.  This message she sent me yesterday describes her own experiences with mental health over the past few years & was a courageous (& very effective) effort to assuage the guilt & fear I had regarding “giving up & taking medication” for my anxiety.

What I have learnt over the last six years of this bullshit is that it matters less & less what people think or what box you fit into: bipolar, depression, anxiety . . . We are all damaged in one way or another.  We just have to survive.  And maybe that sounds cynical, but to me it makes me want to find balance even more, because I’m determined to find the joy that remains somewhere & live it.  And all this is just part of getting there.

My anxiety might make my life a bit harder at times, but it also means that I appreciate the good times all the more because I know how it feels to be really down.  I may never truly slay the anxiety monster, but I CAN find ways to keep it in hibernation for as long as possible.  And as my friend expressed in her message yesterday, fighting the anxiety monster makes me all the more determined to enjoy every second of this precious life, “to find the joy that remains somewhere & live it.”    And if taking a medication is part of getting there, so be it . . . Hopefully it won’t be forever, but for right now it’s worth a try.  

The Negative Emotion-Guilt Complex


anxiety

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.