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.

flow15a-feel-like-shit-chodron-quote

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.

hello-my-name-is-anxiety

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.

America’s Mental Health Crisis


I’ve had several different topics up for consideration on the blog this week, but in the wake of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams I’ve decided to continue my focus on mental illness.  As our country, indeed our world, tries to come to terms with the paradox that a comedian as brilliantly talented as Robin Williams could suffer from depression so severe that he would end his own life, I hope that we will each open our minds to understanding the true gravity of mental illness.

Every few years when a celebrity commits suicide or dies of a drug overdose, our society gives a cursory nod to mental illness & the same old platitudes are rolled out over & over: “Anyone can suffer from depression.”  “Get help.”  “Don’t suffer alone.”  While all of these things are true, the sad reality is that true change never happens.  The same old stigmas against mental illness persist which only contribute to the negative cycle of these diseases, making it difficult for people to even seek treatment.  For those who overcome the stigma & do seek treatment, the lack of adequate resources continues to make finding & continuing treatment a true challenge.

robin williams

To understand the gravity of mental illness, one must first understand the prevalence of the problem.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, some 18.6% of adults in the US suffer from some form of mental illness.  Read that figure again: 18.6%.  That is almost 20% of the population!  (Please note this does not even include substance or alcohol abuse.)  Anxiety & depression make up the largest percentage of this figure with schizophrenia representing about 1% of the US adult population & bipolar disorder about 2.6% of the US adult population.  While these figures may seem low, consider that out of every 100 people you know, at least one or two of them are probably suffering from one of these serious disorders.  Regarding anxiety & depression, the NIMH reports that almost 7% of the adult population in the US has suffered at least one major depressive episode in the past year & that about 18% of the adult population has suffered a major anxiety episode in the past year with a life-time prevalence as high as almost 29%.  Furthermore, it is estimated that as much as 25% of homeless people are suffering from a severe mental illness.  Shockingly, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death for adults in the US, according to the CDC.

I do not mean to overwhelm you with numbers & statistics, but my point here is that mental illness is extremely common.  It does not discriminate against age, race, gender, religion, wealth, intelligence, or talent.  ANYONE can suffer from mental illness & many do.  For some people mental illness is transient & with proper treatment they may never suffer from it again (this is more common with SOME cases of anxiety or depression).  But for others it is a chronic condition that will persist throughout their lifetime (for example, bipolar & schizophrenia are rarely, if ever, transient conditions).

bipolar-quote

Sadly very little is understood about the causes of mental illness.  Certainly most doctors & scientists would agree that mental illnesses are affected by both nature (genetics) & nurture (environmental factors).  But for the most part we are just treating the symptoms with mental illness because we really don’t know the exact cause.  There is little research in this field so sadly there are not as many advances in treatment as one would hope.

As I mentioned earlier, the accessibility to treatment for mental illness is sorely lacking in this country.  Not only are there far too few psychiatric facilities for the seriously ill, but access to outpatient therapy is far from adequate.  For example, without insurance my therapist would cost almost $200 a session, a price I could not afford to pay more than a few times a year & a price that would be absolutely prohibitive for many Americans.  Prior to the 2008 passing of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, more commonly known as the mental health parity act, insurance companies were not required to provide equal access to mental health treatments.  Even after this, many insurance companies provided minimal access to mental health treatment.  With the passing of the ACA, we can only hope that mental health services will finally begin to expand & that greater accessibility will finally take shape.  The sad reality is that those suffering from mental illness, particularly severe mental illness, are more likely to have difficulty holding down a steady job which translates into being uninsured & unable to afford the treatment they so desperately need.  It’s a vicious cycle that often never ends.

Despite the prevalence of mental illness, Americans have been slow to understand the gravity of these disorders.  The stigma against mental illness is real.  Far too often those suffering from anxiety or depression are accused of “just not being thankful enough for God’s blessings in their lives,” showing a clear misunderstanding of these disorders.  Or how often have you heard someone casually scoff that a person who is a bit moody or difficult to handle “must be bipolar”?  Indeed the lack of knowledge of mental illness has led a great deal of the population to confuse schizophrenia with multiple personality disorder, the latter of which is actually an extremely rare condition.  I for one grew up thinking schizophrenia was the same as “split personality” when in reality schizophrenia is a completely different, though just as serious, disorder.  Again a lack of understanding of mental illness leads to a great deal of fear surrounding these conditions.  How many times have you read a novel or seen a movie in which a serial killer or some other heinous villain is depicted as being schizophrenic, psychotic, or otherwise mentally ill?  Indeed, after almost every mass shooting or bombing, the accusations of bipolar, schizophrenia, & general mental illness are thrown out by every media outlet.  Once again this feeds into the fear of mental illness.

mental illnes quote

The reality is that research has consistently shown that those suffering from mental illness, particularly severe mental illness such as bipolar & schizophrenia, are actually far more likely to be the VICTIMS of violence, be it abuse, rape, or murder, than to be the perpetrators of such violence.  But this is NOT the picture depicted by the media, whether in response to real-life tragedies or in books & films.  Tragically, even within the healthcare field, there is a great deal of prejudice against mental illness.  Far too often the moment a nurse or doctor sees a mental health diagnosis, an eye-roll ensues & the patient is viewed though a considerably different lens than someone without such a diagnosis.  What I’ve found in my own practice as a nurse is that patients who are actually mentally ill, if treated properly, are in fact no more difficult to care for than anyone else.  While I’ll be the first to admit that I feel ill-prepared to handle patients in acute psychosis, in general I’ve found that mentally ill patients do not deserve the negative stereotypes so unfortunately assigned to them.

My point in writing all of this today is to help people understand that mental illness is extremely common, but it’s not something of which we should be afraid or ashamed.  Though the treatments available are far from perfect, they can & do make a tremendous difference.  If you’re looking for a personal perspective, I am happy to report that I am already feeling significantly better since starting my own anti-anxiety medication just a week ago.  With a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with my therapist, regular saturation in music & other such relaxing activities, & now Prozac, I can honestly say my anxiety is becoming more & more controlled.  While I have no idea what it’s like to suffer from a severe mental illness, I do know that having my anxiety better-controlled is greatly contributing to my quality of life.  But I couldn’t say that if I hadn’t sought treatment last year (first through therapy & now additionally with medication).

Furthermore my hope is that after reading this you will become more aware of your own prejudices against mental illness.  We’re all guilty of them at times.  Having a dear friend who is bipolar has radically changed how I view mental illness, as have my own struggles with anxiety.  What I’ve learned is that mental illness is just one aspect of a person; it doesn’t define them.  No one chooses to be mentally ill just as no one would choose to have diabetes or heart disease or cancer.  I’ve also learned that sometimes just being a friend & lending a supportive hand & a listening ear is one of the greatest things you can do for someone suffering from mental illness.

I am not my mental illness

 

As former NJ governor Richard Codey stated, “For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet…and hoped that they would go away.”  But the reality is that these problems are not going away & probably never will.  But if our society can decrease the stigma against mental illness & increase our understanding of these conditions, we can offer more hope to those suffering.  Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Be an advocate for proper understanding & treatment of mental illness.  Stand up to those around you who propagate negative, harmful stereotypes against the mentally ill.  The grim situation of the mentally ill in this country will never change until our attitudes about mental illness change.

Most importantly, if you’re reading this & you feel like you might be suffering from a mental illness of any sort, I hope you’ll have the courage to get help.  The world can be a cruel place for the mentally ill, but nothing is worse than suffering in silence when help really is available.  To those who are lucky enough to not suffer from mental illness, open your eyes & your mind to those hurting around you.  Don’t diminish their disease by telling them it’s not real or they’re just looking for pity.  Encourage them to seek proper treatment & be that listening ear when they need it.  You never know when you might save a life by doing something so simple.

mental illness not contagious

 

Statistics & other information found at:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/index.shtml

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf

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.  

Social Anxiety Strikes Again


My palms are sweating.  My heart is racing.  My stomach is in knots.  Sounds like I’m getting ready to give a speech in front of a bunch of people, right?    

Actually, no, I’m just going to a Christmas party held by one of my coworkers.  Parties are supposed to be fun, right?  Wrong.  When you’re a natural introvert who suffers from a touch of social anxiety like I do, the idea of going to any social gathering with more than say eight people is terrifying.  Most people who know me would probably never guess that I feel this way because I like to think I’m good at hiding it.  Yes, I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy; like most things in life, introversion and extroversion lie very much on a spectrum & I believe I fall on the more liberal side of introversion (in other words, close to the middle).  I love talking to people, anyone really.  But I thrive on one-on-one or small group conversations.  That’s where I shine.  And I require a certain amount of alone time in order to stay sane.  Put me in a group of more than roughly eight people and suddenly I feel like the same old awkward teenager I used to be, the one who never knew about all the “cool” TV shows and music that everyone else knew about and who was generally out of the loop about just about everything.  I’m not that person anymore and I know it, but there is still something about being in a larger group of people that just sends off firecrackers in my brain.  And not the good kind of firecrackers.  The kind that say “Run away!  This isn’t safe!”  I might not really act like the turtle with its head in its shell, but deep down I’m often feeling that way.

This must sound totally ridiculous to those of you reading this who thrive on large groups, parties, clubs, and all of those supposedly fun things.  I on the other hand hate crowds and any sort of social situations that do not lend themselves well to intimate or deep conversation.  (Hint, intimate does not have to mean sexual, despite our society’s tendency to equate one with the other.)  Hell, the idea of going to NYC and walking around those crowded streets makes me feel like my throat is closing up and I can’t breathe.  I’ve even realized that I have this same type of anxiety around my own family, if a gathering consists of more than say eight people.  I know that must sound so silly.  But it’s true.  Perhaps the reason for this is that when you put 20-30 people in a house together you rarely have meaningful conversations with anyone.  You just say “Hi, how are ya?” and other such trivialities to everyone.  I for one long for so much more.  Yet I love having a big family.  Argh.

I am coming to realize that my mind is a mass of contradictions.  For example, I actually love hosting cook-outs and other casual “parties,” and yet the idea of attending one that isn’t composed of my closest friends inevitably causes me to have a mild anxiety attack.  I don’t have this problem when I’m around a lot of people at work or in class.  I think I handle those kinds of situations quite well.   I also am not afraid of giving speeches, teaching a class, or taking on leadership roles at work such as charge nurse.  I actually ENJOY all of those things!  But there is something about pure SOCIAL situations that still scares me if there are too many people involved.

With help from my therapist I’m starting to understand these things about myself and slowly learning that there’s nothing “wrong” with me because of them.  I know a lot of people are the exact opposite of me and fear intimate one-on-one conversations because they are too “exposing.”  But I love those kinds of conversations.  I’ve found that people almost universally like me when I am able to talk to them one-on-one or in a small group.  But in a larger group I have a tendency to just fade into the background and ask dumb questions like “Why do people put olives in martinis?”  

I don’t really know why I’m writing this other than to make myself feel better for being so “uncool” as to have a mild anxiety attack about something as silly as going to a party, something that most other people would be excited about.  The truth of the matter is I had a decent time at the party.  I almost always do.  But I still get anxious about these kinds of scenarios.  And deep down I’d always rather spend time with people alone or in very small groups.  If you’re reading this and you can relate to what I’m saying, feel free to comment so we can all feel less alone.

As an aside, I had my first winery experience yesterday with a group of close friends and it was AMAZING.  I haven’t laughed that much in a long time, and it was fabulous.  The winery was perfect for me: casual, friendly, & not the least bit pretentious.  Underneath it all, I promise I really am a fun person.  😉

As a further aside, I should add that I have at worst a mild case of social anxiety. I know there are people out there who suffer far more, or perhaps I should just say differently, than I from social anxiety. I don’t mean to say my experience is representative of everyone with social anxiety issues. I just wanted to share my own story.

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.

Inexplicable Anxiety


Chaucer on his first ever beach trip back in July at Jockey's Ridge St Park in Nagshead

Chaucer on his first ever beach trip back in July at Jockey’s Ridge St Park in Nagshead

I don’t really know why I’m posting this.  I’m not sure that it will be interesting to anyone else.  But writing is one of the best ways to temper my anxiety & I figure there are probably other people out there who can relate to my struggles.  So here goes . . .

Today started out with me getting up early with Jared & feeling really content with life. We went to the farmers’ market & got breakfast at the restaurant there which we had never been to before. It was a fun way to start the day & I was in a great mood for no particular reason. And then, for no particular reason, that mood crashed & burned like a rocket falling out of the sky. Some days my anxiety just comes around a corner & chokes me before I even realize it’s happening. It’s maddening to say the least. My therapist has been helping me to slowly identify some of the triggers for my anxiety which has been very therapeutic for me. After all, if you don’t know the cause of a problem, how can you hope to cure or treat it? But I still have days like today when I am just inexplicably anxious for no apparent reason at all.

I have often said that I am the best version of myself when I’m at work because as a nurse I get to focus all of my obsessive tendencies onto caring for other people, including my patients & their families as well as my coworkers. I love helping out my fellow nurses as much as I love caring for patients. I’ve always known that I feel a very urgent need to have a job that is important & meaningful, which is one reason why nursing is such a great career choice for me. So even if I have a bad shift, which is inevitable from time to time, I can always leave the hospital knowing I in some way made someone’s day a little better.

It’s when I’m at home on my days off that my anxiety is often the worst. As I’m typing this I realize how ridiculous that must sound to anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like to suffer from some form of anxiety. But it’s true nonetheless. I don’t know how to explain this without sounding like some miserable frump who doesn’t know how to have fun & enjoy her life. I promise I’m not like that at all. I love music, books, & spending time with my friends & family. I love the feeling of a crisp fall breeze, the smell of sweet potatoes baking in the oven with cinnamon, the thrill of hiking in the Blue Ridge & marveling at the majestic mountains, the heart-melting experience of cuddling with an adorable puppy, & so many other little things in life that truly are the very essence of our existence. Yet may I just say that there are days like today when I feel like the world benefits from my overly driven but caring personality while I sit here wondering what the heck I’m getting out of this deal? And may I just say that I already feel incredibly guilty for even thinking such a thing much less actually writing it? But it is what it is nonetheless. As I’ve said many times before, emotions aren’t sins in my book. Emotions are what make us alive. As long as we’re feeling, we know we’re living. It’s what we do with our emotions that matters.

So for now I’m going to play with my puppy (Chaucer) who follows me around the house constantly & insists on sitting in my lap just about every waking moment & thus clearly thinks I’m the world’s best puppy mommy. And I’m going to listen to music that inspires me & reminds me that though I may be struggling with my anxiety more today than yesterday or the day before, I’ve walked this road a thousand times before. And, as it has a thousand times before, it will end. I will always have my “bad” days like this, but I will always have my good days too. And even on the bad days I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. And I know that my anxiety doesn’t own me. It doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me. Just one small part. After all, if Chaucer thinks I’m awesome I must be.   🙂

A Window Into My Brain


Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I've included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I’ve included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

For as long as I can remember I have always been “Miss Responsible.”  I have always been the girl who did her homework early, finished her papers well before the deadline, created study guides for tests & shared them with classmates, & packed too much for every out-of-town trip because I always imagine everything I could possibly need.  As a nurse I always have my patients’ lab values & test results written down at the beginning of every shift & I always make sure to update my data & give the latest lab results in report to the next nurse.  I obsess over I&O’s so much that I often have to remind myself that I’m not a patient so I don’t need to measure my own I&O (yes, you can laugh WITH me for that).  I like to think that this makes me detail-oriented but also capable of seeing “the big picture.”  Unfortunately underneath all of this responsible behavior lies a great deal of anxiety.

The first time I saw a psychologist was about a year and a half ago when we were still living in SW Virginia.  I was concerned that I might be OCD because of how detail-oriented I am & the anxiety that this sometimes causes me.  The psychologist quickly assured me that my life is far too organized & controlled for me to actually have OCD (anyone else think that’s an ironic truth?), but that I do have “OCD personality characteristics” which he insisted actually make me a great nurse (I’d like to believe that!).  I continued seeing him maybe once a month until we moved to NC just so I could have a place to vent to someone who wouldn’t go home & worry about me or be offended by anything I said since he had no emotional connection to me.

The first few months in the Raleigh-Durham area were difficult.  Growing up in a place that had four stop-lights in the whole COUNTY makes moving to an urban environment like this an exciting but sometimes daunting challenge.  I hoped it would be easy to meet people & make new friends, but it was nothing like college where I could just walk down the hall or go to class & meet all kinds of interesting people.  (My first year out of college I still had friends in the area who were either still in college or who had graduated but, like me, still lived in the area.)  Sometime around my birthday last year I was feeling quite depressed & lonely especially as the holidays approached & I knew that, being a nurse, I would not get to spend much time with my family due to work obligations.  I decided to once again try a psychologist who turned out to be a very nice older man.  I told him how much I love music & missed playing my flute with a group, so he, a musician himself, told me about a music store downtown where he was certain I could get information about a local flute group.  I took his advice, got lost in downtown trying to find the store, eventually found it, got the information about the flute ensemble, & joined the group in January when their new “semester” began.  I didn’t end up making any great friends in the group but just the experience of making music in a group again brought me great joy.

By the time January-February came around I had started making more friends at work & generally feeling a lot happier with life, so I never went back to see that psychologist until one fateful day this summer when I was talking to one of my best friends online.  She was telling me about her struggles with bipolar disorder & I suddenly realized that my own struggles with anxiety were far from controlled, especially in light of the fact that I have started thinking a lot more about having children someday.  I felt such a relief in knowing that I wasn’t the only “crazy” one out there & also in knowing that if she had the strength to seek treatment I could too.  With her encouragement, I immediately called the psychologist I had seen in December & booked an appointment for that very day.  As it turned out, the psychologist told me I should see a psychiatrist in case I needed actual medical treatment for a possible anxiety disorder.  I was both devastated & relieved.  It took quite a few phone calls to find a psychiatrist who would accept my insurance & once I found one I had to schedule my appointment for a month in the future.  In the ensuing month I considered canceling the appointment so many times.  On good days I would tell myself, as I have so many times in my life, “I’m fine.  I’ve got this.  My life is so ‘perfect’ in so many ways.  I’m 24 years old, married to a wonderful man with whom I own a beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood, I have great health, & I’m about to train for charge nurse at my job.  How could I possibly need to see a psychiatrist?”  But on bad days, I couldn’t wait for the appointment just so I could hear what the psychiatrist had to say.

Well, finally the day of the dreaded/highly anticipated appointment arrived & much to my relief the psychiatrist was extremely friendly & put me immediately at ease.  She assured me that I do not have any true mental illness & definitely do not need any medication.  However, she suggested I start seeing one of the counselors in her office to work on some of my anxiety & self-esteem issues which, though they may not be “significant” enough to warrant the title of a true disorder, are still serious enough to bother me.  She applauded me for being so self-aware & for caring so much about my future children that I want to be the best, most stable version of myself before I seriously consider becoming a parent in the next couple of years.

As it turned out one of the counselors had had a last-minute cancellation right at the time my visit with the psychiatrist ended so I was able to start with a counselor that very day.  The counselor was very gentle, caring, & quickly made me feel comfortable in her beautifully decorated office.  I left the office that day feeling “lighter” than I had felt in God knows how long.  I had my second appointment with her last week & I already can’t wait to go back.  I honestly think everyone can benefit from counseling with a good therapist at least a few times a year.  As a friend of mine used to say, we ALL have issues from our childhood, our families, our friends, & just LIFE in general & we all can all benefit from having a caring but objective person to vent to who, as I mentioned before, isn’t going to go home & worry about you or be offended by anything you say (because they have probably heard MUCH worse) & doesn’t have any real emotional connection to you anyway.

It may sound strange to say I am excited about being in counseling, but I really am.  I’ve known for most of my life, even as a kid, that I am a very sensitive, perceptive person.  As my middle school English teacher, wise woman that she is, told me, I am both highly intelligent & highly sensitive which makes me feel things, both good & bad, more strongly than perhaps the average person does.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but I don’t know how else to put it.

As much as I would sometimes like to trade in my brain for one that just doesn’t THINK so darn much about EVERYTHING, I know at the end of the day this brain is what makes me who I am.  I do think it makes me a good nurse; as I have told both psychologists, the psychiatrist, & my current counselor, I often think I am my best self at work because I have something important & meaningful on which to focus all my nervous energy & obsessive tendencies.  And I’d also like to think this brain makes me an empathetic human being who makes a consistent effort to recycle everything possible, donate to charities, & buy water bottles for homeless people who are stuck outside in the heat.

In the near future I hope to post more about my struggles with what one might call “sub-clinical anxiety.”  This isn’t a comfortable topic to discuss & I’ll admit that I feel like I have taken the easy way out by writing about this as a blog post instead of just telling my family, friends, & coworkers in person about my issues.  But as my counselor told me this past week, we all have to start somewhere.  In the meantime, I hope this post will encourage even one person to seek counseling or treatment for their own issues with anxiety or depression.  And for those of you who are lucky enough not to struggle with such issues (though I daresay we all will at some point in our lives), I hope this post will encourage you to be more considerate & compassionate of those who do.

Also, please check out my friend’s brilliant blog (who inspired my own) at http://doesthatmakemecrazyblog.com/