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.

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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.

The Feedback Loop


When I was in the worst month of my anxiety, my brain and body were in a giant, unceasing feedback loop. My body, being over-activated because of heightened medication levels, was communicating to me that I was in danger. My heart was racing, my body was tense, my jaw was clenched. The symptoms, to my mind, were signaling a flight or fight response. My body was acting like it was in danger. So, it makes sense that my brain followed, searching for things to defend me from. Which was pretty much everything.

That plane overhead? It’s going to come crashing down.

I’m going to get into a car accident on the way home from work.

That food I ate for lunch? It’s going to make me sick.

That thing I said yesterday? So and so is going to be mad at me because of it.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s actually a triangle- your thoughts impact your feelings impact your behaviors impact your thoughts, and so on. But here, I just want to focus on thoughts and feelings, and how they feed each other. This is something I’ve only recently began to observe and understand.

I had just favored a psychotherapy approach rather than a cognitive behavioral way of thinking. I was always fascinated with the idea that things from one’s past could lurk in one’s subconscious and impact their actions and behaviors without them knowing. I figured that my current anxieties were based on previous traumas. And they are. But, the thing is, all you can really do with that approach is to develop mindfulness of how these traumas impact your daily life, so as to notice and minimize their impact. In grad school, we used to talk about the “corrective emotional experience.” I used to picture some magical, cathartic “aha!” moment, where the wound stopped hurting and never hurt again.  Through my own therapy, I learned that this doesn’t happen.

What happens is that you gain an awareness for the issue and it’s triggers, as well as an acceptance for the way it makes you feel, which does help it to hurt less. From there, you learn how to take care of yourself when you are feeling that way.

So now, I’m finding that, because my anxiety is less in my body, it is less in my mind. However, there is still work to do. Now, my body isn’t feeding my thoughts, but my thoughts are still feeding my body. It’s easier to be cognizant of how this is happening, now that it is coming more from one side and not so much from both.

For example, when I feel my body tense up as I’m lying in bed early in the morning, I now recognize that it is related to my concerns over the day. Will I be anxious today? Will I complete all the tasks that I have ahead of me?

As I work through my CBT workbook, Mind Over Mood, I hope to improve this.

Of Worries and Tic Tacs


I’ve been reading through the book The Worry Trick by David A. Carbonell. I recommend this book for anyone who experiences generalized anxiety. The author explains that for some people with anxiety issues, some of the cognitive restructuring methods from CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) aren’t helpful. He offered some alternative methods to beat anxiety and worry.

He suggests an exercise early in the book to help the reader become mindful of their worries. Every time one catches themselves in the act of worrying, they should take out a pack of tic tacs or mints, which they are to carry with them, and eat one.

The exercise isn’t meant to do anything other than to help you pay attention to when you are worrying. It’s simple, but I’m finding it to be very effective. It’s a small action, but just enough to disrupt the pattern of worrying. See, whenever I find myself thinking “what if,” the next thought that now comes into my mind is, “that’s another tic tac!” And then I don’t engage in the runaway train of worrisome thoughts. It’s interrupted right then and there. It’s so much easier to catch the runaway train right when it starts to run away, rather than to stop it once it’s been running awhile!

I started doing this at noon on September 11, and I’ll be doing this for one week. On day 6, I’ve been through more tic tac boxes than I thought I would go through. I’m halfway through my fourth.  There are 38 tic tacs in a regular sized pack. That means I’ve been through 133 worry tic tacs. (And, this is under the assumption that I’ve been cognizant of every anxious thought I’ve had over the course of the week, which is unlikely.)

The first step towards changing anxious thoughts is noticing them. Once I catch myself thinking the words “what if,” now that I am more aware of it, I try to replace the second part of the sentence with something else. A favorite way to do this is to play “what if God was one of us?” in my head. (Other songs with “what if” work just as well!)