My Anxiety Triggers


It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, much less about anything other than music, but today I feel compelled to write about my anxiety triggers.  It’s a subject I’ve considered writing about many times before, but I wasn’t sure at first how useful it would be to anyone else.  I knew it would be therapeutic for me but I always like to write things that have the potential to benefit others as well.  However, the more I thought about it the more I realized that there are many other people out there who struggle with anxiety & some of them may not yet have the insight to realize what their own anxiety triggers are.  It’s possible that if such a person came across this post they might be inspired to try to figure out some of their own anxiety triggers which of course is one of the first steps in learning how to better manage the “anxiety monster.” anxiety charlie brown

Identifying my own anxiety triggers is certainly one of the most useful things I’ve obtained from working with my therapist about once a month.  And just to be clear it’s not like we ever sat down & tried to make a list or anything like that.  We just slowly gleaned things over time from the natural course of my conversations with her.  So there’s my plug for finding a good therapist!  Trust me, it really can make a huge positive difference in your life.  My personal opinion is that everyone should see a therapist at least a few times a year, regardless of whether you have a diagnosable mental illness or not.  I just think it’s something we can all benefit from so immensely.

hello-my-name-is-anxiety

Anyway, without further ado, here are some of my biggest anxiety triggers along with some ways I’ve learned to avoid or work around them:

  • Crowds: Ahh, crowds. Some people love them, some people hate them. I am definitely without a doubt in the latter group.  I’m not sure exactly what it is about crowds that makes me so anxious but I imagine it’s a combination of the noise & the general sense of disorganization that naturally follows any crowd.  The only time I can really stomach crowds is when I’m at concerts because the music is such an antidote for my anxiety that it allows me to (more or less) forget the fact that I’m in a crowded place. That being said, I still strongly prefer to stand at or near the back of the audience or at least on the side of it so that I feel like I can “escape” if I need to do so.  One way I’ve learned to avoid crowds is to go to restaurants at “off” times.  Instead of going to lunch at noon or 1:00 pm or to dinner at 6:00 pm, I’ll go to lunch at 10:30 or 11:00 am or do an early dinner at 4:00 pm.  I also NEVER go to the mall (Can you tell I grew up in the country? I still say “the” mall, as if there’s only one) on weekends.  Instead I’ll go at 10:00 am on a Tuesday or something like that.  It’s MUCH more tolerable that way.

  • Parties/clubs: This follows right along from the above point. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gathering of my own family; if there are more than about 10-12 people at a party/meal, I begin to feel overwhelmed, especially if it’s a party at which I don’t really know very many people (or don’t know them very well).  As far as clubs go, forget about it; I’m not interested.  I think part of the reason I dislike large groups at parties or get-togethers is because these types of situations do not lend themselves well to having actual meaningful conversations.  If you think about it, when was the last time you had a true heart to heart conversation about anything when you were in a large group?  Probably never.  I know I haven’t.  Because I am a solid introvert, interacting with others is exhausting for me (which is not to say I hate talking to be people, not at all) & thus I wish to use my limited energy on meaningful conversations & interactions, not just mindless chit-chat.social anxiety party
  • Small talk: We already touched on this in the previous point, but small talk can definitely make me anxious. It’s all about context though.  I have no problem making small talk with my patients & their families because I know that helps me build a rapport with them & hopefully provide them with better care.  On the other hand, I really don’t want to make small talk with my server at a restaurant or the cashier at the grocery store.  I know this makes me sound like a grouch but anything more than “Hi, how are you?  Find everything you need?” or whatever else is necessary to accomplish the task at hand just seems excessive to me.  Again, this comes back to being an introvert & not wanting to waste my energy on mindless conversations that are of no import to anyone.

    keep-calm-and-do-more-sales-2

    No, I can’t keep calm! I hate sales!

  • Sales-people: This one is a two-way street. I HATE selling anything which is why it’s a damn good thing that sales isn’t part of my job.  On the other hand I also hate when people try to sell me stuff.  The fastest way to make me walk out of a store is to hover over me & ask a million questions or offer a million different sales pitches.  I’ll just leave to escape the situation.  I always strongly prefer when I enter a store & the sales-person just smiles & says hello, maybe “Can I help you find anything?”, & then proceeds to leave me alone unless I approach them with a question.  This is probably not how they’re taught to treat customers but it is certainly more effective with me.wine
  • Feeling out of control: I’ve never understood why so many people love the feeling of being drunk. To me anything that makes me feel like I’m not in control of myself is much more of a stressor than a stress reliever, & that’s exactly what being drunk is: not being in control of yourself.  Trust me, I’m not a teetotaler: a glass of wine or a beer every once in a while is great.  But I always need to know that I’m still in control of myself.  Besides one of the best things about having a low tolerance is that you can have only one or two drinks, feel a little giggly & tipsy but not anywhere near drunk, & never have a hangover the next morning because it’s basically impossible to be hungover from only one or two drinks . . . On another note, one of the greatest ways I’ve learned to feel more in control & manage my anxiety at work (as a nurse) is to make a list of tasks I need to perform for each patient (medications, dressing changes, IV starts, etc) at the beginning of the shift so that I can plan out my shift as much as possible.  This has made a HUGE difference in lessening my anxiety as a nurse, & being able to cross out a task always gives me a great sense of accomplishment too.  Regardless of your career field, I think you can apply this tactic to help yourself feel more in control of the situation at hand.Basic RGB
  • Being late: Being late or thinking I might be late gives me a great deal of anxiety. This is why I always leave early for everything.  Plus I was just raised that being on time is important & shows respect to others, & I certainly intend to raise my own kids that way someday.

    Lines of cars are pictured during a rush hour traffic jam on Guo

    REUTERS/Jason Lee (CHINA)

  • Traffic: Having grown up in a county with four stop-lights (yes, four in the whole county!) basically I had no idea what traffic was for the first 18 years of my life. In any case, as an adult I quickly learned that it is something I do not enjoy.  Thankfully even now that we live in an area where traffic can be pretty problematic I’ve learned ways to avoid it such as just not going out during rush hour if at all possible.  Thankfully my work schedule allows me to avoid the worst parts of rush hour.  And I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s better to take a route that is longer in mileage but involves less stand-still traffic.  I’d always rather drive a longer distance than be stuck in traffic. anxiety

I’m sure I could think of a few more anxiety triggers but these are the biggest ones I face on a daily basis.  As I’ve explained, over the years I’ve found ways to avoid or work around them as much as possible.  If you’re reading this & you too struggle with anxiety, I hope this list has helped you to identify some of your own anxiety triggers because that is a HUGE first step in learning to tame the anxiety monster.  It may never go away forever, but it CAN get better, I promise.

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.

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.  

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/