Bounce Back

A few weeks ago, I was explaining to a frustrated friend about how healing is not linear. She was distraught because she felt as if she was having another breakdown.

I, too, have felt that way this week. I found myself crying after a week plus of not having cried once.

Oh, shit. I’m moving backwards. All that progress is lost.

I had to remind myself of what I told that friend.

“The most important thing,” I said, “Is the bounce back period. How quickly can you pick yourself back up after you break down?” It’s unrealistic to expect that we will stop being upset by something that shook us so deeply. But, what’s more important is, how long after experiencing the strong emotions are we able to return to our normal life.

Almost a month ago, well, it took me about a week to “get back to normal.” I had no routine, because I resisted one.

I’m too distraught. I can’t simply do anything. Not when I’m this upset. 

All I could do was pace, and curl up in my bed, and cry hysterically, and call a friend, and then try to eat. And worry. A lot.

That was three weeks ago. And I got it back together because I tried. I started small in putting the pieces back together.

This morning, I became very upset and sobbed to my friend on the phone. “I’m so overwhelmed!” But then I was able to get off the phone with her and do the things I needed to do. A week or more ago, it would have taken me two or more hours to pull it back together.

I’m bouncing back faster. And that’s how I know I’m healing.

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Childhood Anxiety Revealed

Property of Nickelodeon

If you grew up in the 90s like I did, you likely remember the show Rugrats. Tommy’s best friend was a boy named Chuckie Finster who had messy red hair, purple glasses, and was afraid of everything. Especially if someone implied that he should be afraid of something.

Looking back on my childhood, I’m not sure I was much different. I was never afraid of something until someone suggested that I should be. For example:

I was never afraid of the dark as a young child. Until, one day in preschool, we had a lesson about being afraid of the dark, and why you shouldn’t be. After that, I slept with the lights on until I was eight. When I learned that other people were afraid of the dark, it validated the fear.

My mom has told me the following story: One day, I was watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. He was doing an episode about kids whose parents were divorced. I came running up to my mom in tears. “You’re going to get divorced!” I sobbed. She comforted me that that was not going to happen.

A fear of fire began in elementary school during fire safety week. I became petrified that the house would catch fire while I was asleep. Some nights I was so scared, I’d sleep in my sister’s room. I would lie awake, looking at the ceiling, my mind creating images of dark, whispy smoke floating above. My parents tried to help by creating and reviewing a fire evacuation plan with us.

I was never afraid of something until I started to think about and analyze that thing. It’s all in the “what ifs.” The same thing is true of me today, but now, I am able to recognize that as a symptom of my anxiety. Now I know that I am trying to confront patterns that I have had since I was very young. Of course it’s hard!

The irony is not lost on me that, like Chuckie Finster, I also have red hair and purple glasses!

It Gets Better

I broke my own rule this morning.

I know, I know, I just wrote about them yesterday.

But, I stayed in bed for an hour past when my body first woke me up. As I lay there, I was curiously feeling into my body. Observing the sensations. I was really feeling into my neck and my back and my limbs. I was astounded by what I found.

I found almost nothing.

This was in stark contrast to weeks and months ago, where I felt everything. Tingling, and energy, and jittering, warmth, tension. Sure, today, there was still some movement, some anxiety in my body, but today . . . what a difference.

The anxiety that is present in my body is not debilitating anymore. It is not paralyzing anymore.

I’m not waking up anymore, startled by the sound of the train as it passes by my apartment, because in my dazed mind, I truly believe that it is something that is going to hurt me.

Change and healing occur slowly and in small increments. From day to day, I might not notice, but if I compare today to three weeks ago, or three months ago?

I’m better.

Last night, this was the first card I drew from my archangel oracle deck. I’ve never been so happy to draw a card.

It gets better.

8 Commandments of My Anxiety


As I’ve been going through this most recent anxiety journey, I have learned how to listen to my body to do what is best for me. Here are some of the things that I have learned over the past two weeks:

  • I am to get up as soon as, (or before, if I can), I start to feel tingling and tension creep up my upper spine and into my neck. I have found that my anxiety is worse first thing in the morning because I have been immobile for eight hours. Spending any extra unnecessary time in bed only makes it worse, so . . .
  • I am to get myself out the door to walk and MOVE AROUND as soon as possible after getting up. This usually means I get up, feed the cat, get dressed, drink a glass of warm water with lemon, and head out. That gives all the pent-up anxiety an outlet.
  • When I get back, I eat breakfast and begin the tasks of my day. I find that the walk activates my appetite, so it is easier to eat breakfast despite my morning anxiety.
  • I am not to return to bed AT ALL! No matter how tired I am, no naps! The anxiety returns with a vengeance whenever I awaken from a nap, disrupting my day.
  • This also means that I am not to sit on my bed to work or read. Work is to be done at my desk.
  • I am not to let myself pace if at all possible. If I do, I will work myself up into more anxiety. It is better for me to take a walk outside if I can.
  • If my legs begin to shake, I am to take a walk if at all possible. I might doubt their ability to hold me up, but my legs will stop shaking if I move them.
  • Bodily sensations and symptoms that freak me out and contribute to my anxiety are often innocuous symptoms of other things, such as allergies. I will feel better if I treat them with the proper medications and treatments. Basic self care is key.

I’ve learned a lot in a few weeks, and taking these steps has made me feel a little bit better, day by day. What have you learned about your anxiety?

Favorite Sights from My Walks

By now, I’ve mentioned several times that I often use taking walks as a coping skill. One of the reasons my therapist has been encouraging me to take walks is because she thinks I need to be able to “see the beauty in the world again.” While I don’t usually walk far, I do get to see many beautiful things. I thought I would share some of them.

I loved these flowers the moment I saw them because of their multicolored blooms. A gardener friend of mine told me that they are called Lantana:

Nestled right next to the sidewalk, I never expected to find a hidden pumpkin growing!

A spiderweb in the bushes covered in morning dew:

A private little hideaway I found nestled in the woods:

I love mums because they come in so many colors!

I thought this wet feather on the pavement was a lovely sight:

Every time I go by these particular mums, (which, by the way, are HUGE!) I swear there are more blooms on it.

They fascinate me because of all the colors present in one plant. In the back, there are red blooms now!

I hope you enjoyed my photos!

October 10: World Mental Health Day

In honor of World Mental Health day, which was earlier this week, I decided to share a couple of youtube videos on mental health topics. This first one, by ASAP Science, describes the causes of anxiety symptoms, and discusses panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

This second one is a TED talk that I feel is VERY important. It is from the perspective of an African man who came to the United States for higher education. In Africa, he describes that mental health was not taken seriously, but when he came here, he learned how important it was. Such a good talk.

I hope these videos are helpful in your understanding of mental health.

Understanding My Dad

When I was in high school, I would observe my dad in the following morning routine:

He would get up early, before the sun came up,

get dressed and go straight out for a walk,

come in and eat breakfast,

and then he would immediately get himself involved in busy work, usually some kind of cleaning.

I’m now finding myself doing the exact same things, in the exact same order. Back then I thought it was strange, but now I get it.

I get up early, too, because it is important for me to get up as early as, or before I start feeling anxiety in my body. Laying still only makes it worse. So, I get up for a walk to give the anxious energy that has stored up in my body an outlet, immediately, so it has minimal impact on my day.

Once I have walked it out, then I am able to gain an appetite to be able to eat breakfast. However, after breakfast, it is important that I find something productive to do, in order to maintain the positive momentum. If I let myself be idle, the anxiety creeps back in.

My Dad is who I inherited my anxiety from, and understanding my anxiety helps me to understand him more.

A Guide to Snapping Out of It


Last week was awful. Absolutely horrible. And I thought it would never end. Every morning started the same way. I would get up, realize that I wasn’t going to work, and then I would suddenly become flooded with overwhelm. I would pace, thinking:

I don’t know what to do with myself. Everything is so messed up, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

And then I would start sobbing hysterically, working myself up into an anxious lather. To deal with that, I would call someone. I had a rotation of about four or five people who knew what I was going through. They would listen patiently as I lamented over my state, Then, they would suggest many of the same things over and over.

“Have you tried any of your coping skills?”

“When is the last time you played your music?”

“Are you writing in your journal?”

“Get outside and take a walk. It will get you out of your own head.”

“Are you expressing yourself?”

“I am expressing myself, to you right now!” Didn’t they get it? I couldn’t do those things because I was too overwhelmed! I couldn’t possibly focus or concentrate on anything other than my circumstances! They must have never felt this way.

On one day, I was particularly distraught, and I called my boyfriend. “I feel stuck, and I am sick of feeling this way!” I was crying perhaps more hysterically than I had before.

He listened carefully, but he did not hesitate to share some stern advice. “You need to help yourself,” he said. And then he gave me two recommendations: that I meditate and take a walk every day. “If you do those two things, I guarantee that within the week you should feel better.”

I listened and agreed with what he said. In theory, those things should help.

“But will you actually do it? It’s not enough to just agree with me.” Because I didn’t want him to find me insufferable, I wanted him to continue to view me as a strong and independent woman, and because I was ready to try anything, I told him that I would.

And then I got off the phone and went on my walk.

I was in this vicious cycle. I was so anxious that I could not eat. Because I could not eat, I feared that I was not getting enough calories to sustain myself for any activities. So I would refuse to go out and do things, fearing that I would faint when I was out and about. But staying inside kept me anxious. Because I was struggling to get myself to eat much, the only way to break the cycle was to go outside.

“Just go around the block,” my boyfriend suggested, “if that’s all you feel like you can do.”

That was a small enough task for me to handle. If I just went around the block once, I would never be that far from my apartment that it would take more than a couple of minutes to return to safety.

Not only did I walk around the block- I walked around it twice. I learned that my body could handle it, and relieved, I was able to go inside and eat some lunch.

Every day, I made time for that walk. Whenever my body would start to feel particularly unsteady or jittery, I would go around the block, often times more than once. By the time I made it back to the steps of my building, I would find that the jitters and shakes were gone- they had been expressed. Then, I was able to go inside and focus on productive things, instead of magnifying every sensation in my body. I made a list of all the things that needed to get done, professionally and personally, and began to do them.

It really was as simple as taking a walk. It’s now been over a week since my boyfriend gave me that advice, and I am happy to say that he was right. I did start to feel better within the week. The day I spoke to him on the phone was the last day I cried. I needed him to remind me that the power was in my hands.

A couple of days ago, I came across this Mary Oliver poem that resonated with me:

“I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”

 

“Geyser”

I have been feeling my emotions so intensely lately.  The anxiety gathers in the area where my body holds the most tension- where my neck meets my shoulders. Once I get up and start to move around, it is slowly able to release. But, when it releases, I feel it in my whole body.  This happens most often first thing in the morning.

My legs begin to tremble, and I doubt my ability to stand. And then an intense tingle rises up through my body, until it finally hits my head. It comes up so strongly and so violently that I feel as if something bad is happening to my body- like I might pass out, or vomit, or have a seizure, or, who even knows.

But then it hits my eyes, and I’m able to cry. Not just a few tears, but a full-on, hysterical sob. The above painting, acrylic on canvas board, is a visualization of what this rush of emotion feels like. I call it “Geyser,” because that’s how violently it happens- like a geyser or a volcano.

I hate feeling this way, but at the same time, it’s nice to know that I can release all of the built up anxiety through my tears. I’m hoping that my art can eventually take that place, however.

If You Only Knew

This is a blog about high functioning mental illness. Some people don’t believe it exists. If you are successful and appear to have everything in your life together, you can’t possibly be “mentally ill.” Right?

Wrong. Some people just hide it really well.

I attended college on a scholarship and went straight to graduate school, where I graduated with a high GPA. I work in a mental health organization, providing therapy and teaching life skills to kids and teenagers. I’ve worked there for three years and have been promoted three times. I live on my own in an apartment. I teach guitar lessons, and I’m involved in community organizations.

And I suffer from anxiety and depression.

When you see me saving the world at my job, you might not know that I cried in my car this morning because I was so anxious about going to work. You might not know that two months ago, I was so anxious that I would come home from work and curl up straight in my bed, because it was the only place I felt safe. You might not know that, when I go on my breaks at work, it’s because I’m feeling particularly anxious, and that I’m about to go take a walk in the parking lot and call a friend to help me calm down.

And every day, I get out there, and I do it again, despite all the unknowns.

I can guarantee you, that you know someone like me. Probably, several people. And you might be one of them, as well.

And it’s okay. I see you and I accept you.