A blizzard is on its way where I live and it is reminding me of a great lesson a past blizzard had taught me. There are opportunities for lessons everywhere, even in the weather. It goes like this…
There was a time when I could not be alone. My anxiety and panic was new, and it was terrifying and I required a constant rotation of friends and family by my side forcing me to avoid my scary thoughts and feelings and use them as false sense of security. I was unable to feel safe by myself. I feared my thoughts would put me over the edge, that I would go crazy, and I needed someone always. I was single at the time living alone so this meant spending a lot of time crashing on the couches of others. The nights I did have to spend home were torture. The funny part is, this couch hopping actually made me feel worse because I would tell myself that this would make me feel better and naturally it didnt. They couldnt jump in my head and untangle the mess of thoughts and they could not go in and soothe my frazzled nerves. So it actually frustrated me because deep down I knew I had to learn to be my own safe harbor. I knew that nothing anybody could say or do or how many people I surrounded myself with could fix my panic and anxiety disorder. The only thing it did bring me was a tiny sliver of peace knowing if I went crazy someone was there to make sure it didnt get out of hand.
And then a blizzard was coming. A state of emergency, snowed in for days, stock up on essentials, better get a good shovel and snow boots, hell of a storm. I knew I would have to be alone. I had to do this and what better way then when you cannot leave and nobody can get to you. It was exposure therapy at its finest. I could in theory go be snowed in at someone else’s house but I decided that this had to be done. I told myself that if it broke me, if I went into a crazy anxiety panic downward spiral from it then at least I tried. I faced the fear of being alone with my thoughts and unpleasant feelings.
And something miraculous happened. When I did not have the option to run, when I did not have the option of calling someone over, or getting in my car to go somewhere I was forced to deal. And I had zero anxiety or panic the entire three days. I mean ZERO. In fact it was a turning point for me. Those three days restored my confidence in myself and my strength and let me know I can overcome this, I can learn to deal. I am stronger than I think. Facing the fear shed light on it, it was not so scary. Having the options in the past made it easy for me to crumble and cave. Having no choice was like a switch in my brain went off.
When the snow outside started to melt, slowly so did my symptoms. Facing a fear head on and the regaining of confidence from doing so is a powerful thing. I diminished it to nothing just by facing it. That was the end of running to other people’s house. I slowly started not getting anxious on my drive home from work knowing all the co-workers and conversation and busyness of the day would be gone and it would just be me. I didn’t fear weekends without plans, or weekends with plans. It really was the start of the healing. And that little bit of confidence gave me the strength back I needed to do other things to help the healing process that I was too burned out in the anxiety cycle to focus on prior.
Is there something in your life you are avoiding or running from that you can attempt to face? Think about it, even if it is small it is worth a try. You may relapse at times ( I did at certain points) but to less severity and still with the knowledge that I have and can get past it with real life proof of that.
Yesterday I had a hell of a panic attack. This may not seem surprising to you since I write a blog about anxiety and as a sufferer you may assume I have panic attacks all the time. Not true. Do I have anxiety attacks, rumination, racing thoughts, monkey mind, unsteady breathing and racing heart, and all the other truly darling things anxiety brings, yes. But not so much panic. I would say I average one panic attack every six months and they are usually a one and done, phew glad that is over with, let’s carry on with our day, sorta thing. Now there was a time in my life, the nervous breakdown which you will hear me reference often, that I was in a constant state of panic attack for months so I am not a stranger, but it has been almost a good 4 years since then. My last panic attack was in August and it was isolated to a situation meaning once I got back home I was fine and unfrazzled. And prior to that August one I had not had one for almost a year.
And then there was yesterday. I was in the car on the highway on the way to work. If you have read my previous blog entries you know most of my anxiety happens in the car especially on highways. I have had anxious thoughts almost everyday on my way to work but like I said, it never really escalates to panic. Yesterday I was tired, I had not slept. I have a little bit of stress happening with the planning of a wedding, my Grandma is ill and possibly not going to make it through the weekend, things at work have intensified. It makes sense. Only on the surface I do not feel like I was thinking of any of those things. What I was thinking is, I feel anxious, remember that time I had a nervous breakdown, oh god what if that happens again, is it happening now, what if I have a panic attack and I can’t calm down and I am already half way at work, I am having a panic attack. Shit. Call the fiance, tell him to come get you. Turn around, go home. Turn around, turn around. I wont make it home, I am going to pass out.
It went something like that. My thoughts normally always go to “What if I get as bad again as I use to be” ( the nervous breakdown constant panic attack state aforementioned). On strong days I shut down those thoughts real fast with facts. 1- you came out of it 2- it led to great spiritual growth 3- You did not know what it was then, you have knowledge and resources, it won’t ever be that bad and many other self affirmations I have stored for such occasions.
But on weak days, when I am tired especially or have pent-up stress, not much helps. So I did call the fiance and he strongly urged I do not turn around and he was right because once you turn around and go home your confidence goes down. At least for me. Then negative self talk begins, “You are not strong enough to push through” and it becomes a cycle where you always turn around and then you get trapped in the fear that you cannot push through and you just always default to staying home and that is dangerous territory. So I arrived at work and he showed up to offer hugs and support. Once he left I was on my own to battle the mind and make it through the day. For the most part when I have a panic attack in the car, almost immediately as I step out of the car at my destination it immediately lifts like magic. Yesterday it did not. As I emerged myself in work the anxiety and lingering panicky aftermath started to fade and by 3:00 I chuckled to myself over how absurd it is that I don’t feel anything like I did this morning. Man is panic and anxiety weird! So now you are thinking, yay happy ending, she felt great by 3:00pm and she conquered the day. Not really. So I left work and on the way home I started to feel frazzled again. And then this morning I woke up with residual anxiety. Now lucky for me I am working from home today but I believe strongly that if I had to drive to work I would panic again over memories of yesterday. BUT at least I could tell myself that I survived yesterday and I survived today.
The big difference to panicky me now as opposed to panicky me during the breakdown is now I don’t panic over panic as much. It is so uncomfortable, it makes you feel like it will never go away and you won’t ever feel better and sometimes feels impossible to beat but I just tell myself that I have felt this way before, and then I have felt better in days following and it is an ebb and flow and just go with it and take it as it comes and it too shall pass.
In the past I would have freaked out and reacted so much to the panic which obviously just makes it grow. So although I did freak slightly I kept going forward and I guess sometimes that is the best we can do. Today I sit here with residual anxiety. I feel worried about driving to work tomorrow and if I am being quite honest I feel a panic attack creeping up just thinking about having a panic attack tomorrow but I try to take the perspective that each attack is an opportunity to implement techniques for coping and each incident that I cope will make it easier and easier. It is why I truly believe I have been able to keep panic attacks at bay in the past.
Send me some good vibes for tomorrow’s commute!
( Good vibes back at ya!)
Happy Monday! So I have decided to start something new called “Music Mondays”. What does that have to do with anxiety? Everything! At least for me it does.
I would estimate that 80% of my anxiety attacks and panic happen when I am in the car, alone. I would estimate that 5% of my anxiety happens prior to driving when anticipating an upcoming drive. Let’s say 2% is residual anxiety that last all day after having anxiety and panic attack in the car that day, the lingering effect. That leaves only 13% that is not car and driving related. So having the right tunes in the car for both distraction, and sometimes motivation and strength is very crucial to my anxiety disorder. It is important that I am equipped with the right playlist. So every Monday I will share one song from my “Anxiety Fighting” playlist. I will tell you why it helps me and maybe just maybe it can help you.
I will kick off the very first one with “Age of Worry” by John Mayer. This song sings like an anthem. It is meant to be sung out loud, on the top of your lungs, victoriously as the chorus insists. Knowing a lot about John from a minor (sometimes major) obsession, I know he suffers from anxiety so this song rings a bit more authentic to me knowing that. Sometimes I hear songs that may sound like the person is speaking about anxiety and such but not really knowing their background can make you question their authority. It is easy for anyone to sing “Don’t worry be happy” if they have never suffered.
So some lyrics:
“Alive in the age of worry
Rage in the age of worry
Sing out in the age of worry
And say, “Worry, why should I care?”
But for this one, for me, it is more than the lyrics. It is the chanting way in which he delivers them. Pretty much telling worry to F’ off, and I can appreciate that!
Something about telling worry off helps minimize the anxiety and panic and helps take a bit of control back. (At least for the 3 minutes or so, while the song last)
Happy Monday and Happy Listening
“Oh my god I would have a panic attack!”
“I almost had a panic attack!”
“I’m seriously going to have a panic attack!”
These are things people often say in jest. Just the other day I was talking to a co-worker about how I did my Christmas shopping in one day, 7 hours in the mall and he said ” I would have a panic attack.” To him this is a simple exaggeration and his way of saying he could never do that. It is too much shopping, not something he is interested in. And so many times you hear people utter the phrases up top in a light-hearted manner. But when you are someone who ACTUALLY does have panic attacks the light-hearted response hits a bit deeper.
My first reaction to his comment in my head was “Oh I wonder if he suffers from anxiety too.” But in reality I know saying things like this is said in the casual tone similar to when people jokingly say “I’m gonna kill you” Because people who do and would have panic attacks rarely make a public statement like that about it. However I am the opposite, I tell anybody who would listen as hiding it or pretending it is not happening actually makes it worse for me. But that is for another post.
Whenever I hear someone make a statement as such I find myself thinking about how nice it must be to say something like that knowing you really won’t have a panic attack and although the situation might stress you out and you would like to avoid it, saying you are going to have a panic attack is just said to symbolize how strongly you dislike it. I envy those people. Ah to be able to say it in jest and not really live it. Same thoughts go through my mind when someone says they are anxious because of xyz. “I am anxious I have to give a presentation tomorrow.” “I am stressed and anxious because I have a lot of work on my plate right now.” I would LOVE to have actual factual reasons for anxiety. Something I could link it back to. That to me that is easy peasy to deal with. Cause and effect. You know the source, you know why, you might even know how to alleviate it. But when anxiety and panic hit you with no obvious and forefront cause, that is another level of displeasure.
Because of my awareness of this due to my own personal background I make it a point to be very careful with my words and sensitive to what I am saying. For instance, if I am really bummed about something, but fleeting sadness, something happened to cause me to be sad, I try really hard not to say “this depresses me, or I am depressed over it” because I know how deep and real depression is and you never know the inner struggles of your audience. Someone experiencing depression will not appreciate you putting your sad moment in the same category as their debilitating darkness. I know that the majority, if not all the people, who say these things in jest are not purposely being insensitive by any means. I cannot control what they do however I can use what it feels like to be on the other end of that and make sure going forward I choose my words carefully and make sure I don’t speak lightly of serious things to those who may struggle. Just something to think about and be aware of when communicating emotions to others. I would hate to contribute to the desensitization of such disorders and those who truly suffer deeply to be made to feel like what they are dealing with can be made light of.
And I know that those who have never suffered or experienced such dark moods do not know what it feels like and might truly think a panic attack is being stressed out and frantic in the crowded space of a mall during Xmas time. Or someone who is really sad about a break up may think that it is similar to what depression feels like because they do not know better. But us who do know better, we can choose our words wisely going forward. And maybe even help those who don’t know, understand and perhaps make them more aware and sensitive to the words they select when describing what they are experiencing. I guess my point is, I would like to fight for awareness and help stop the desensitization of these words and this seems like an easy situation to help do it in both by making you aware of how you may speak to others and help correct others when they speak to you using terms in jest, that hold a lot of weight to those suffering.
Lady Gaga song, yes. But not the inspiration for the title. No disrespect Ms.Gaga.
The inspiration actually comes from my therapist and a conversation we had last week. The question: Am I hardwired for anxiety? Was I, in a sense, born this way?
See my time in the womb may have been less than perfect. My mother was under a lot of stress due to a personal situation going on in her life. Outsiders had voiced their very loud opinions to abort me due to the circumstances and I wonder if tiny little fetus me could absorb that kind of energy. Did I sense that others were trying to demolish me before I truly existed? Could I have picked up on her stressful energy in utero? Did that paint a picture of an unsafe world to enter into? Her labor was no walk in the park either. Perhaps I was rebelling against coming into the world that felt unsafe because I kicked and kicked and bruised her ribs and made a fuss in there!
There is a lot of research and studies out there about this topic. What the womb can feel, pick up on and how much the mother’s state when pregnant can affect the child’s disposition for mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, ocd, etc. I am not going to get into all the research and debate either side but it is just something to think about.
But here is the thing. Even if I was “born this way” it doesn’t mean I am forever bound this way. Whether you are chemically imbalanced or a series of events or patterned thinking brought you to your current state I truly believe the brain can be re-trained. That it can be re-conditioned. There is also many studies on this which I also won’t go into. Is it easy? Heck no! Does it take A LOT of work, patience, non-judgement of yourself and compassion for yourself, definitely. But it is worth it.
I know that I have a series of destructive thought patterns and a tendency to ruminate which gets me in a bad way. I can see how my thoughts have been conditioned over many years that have contributed to my anxiety. The thing about feelings is, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a feeling without a thought. It may happen so fast it seems seamless but your feelings are a direct response of something you think. Feelings cannot happen on their own without a correlating thought.This often comforts me when I am feeling particularly judgemental about something I am feeling. I think back to the thought that may have provoked it and then I work on disproving the thought and working through the thought process that got me to that feeling rather than judging the feeling. But since thought patterns have been so engraved into your being, you probably have been thinking a certain way for years, it will not be an easy undo.
I like to implement to good ol’ stop and replace method. Whenever I see myself falling into a thought pattern that statistically has led me into an anxiety frenzy I envision a giant red STOP sign and replace it with positive thought. Sometimes if the anxiety is bad I am stopping and replacing every 5 seconds but remember what I said in my first blog about your anxiety muscle? You have to keep exercising it before it gets stronger. Just like a new work-out routine, it is hard at first, you may not see immediate results, but keep at it and it will come. With time I am down to like one red stop sign a day! I dream of a world where no red stops signs need to appear in my mind’s eye and it is just green light, go!
So even if I entered the world anxious, and I was set up to be anxious, doesn’t mean I cannot overcome it. Maybe you were chemically set up that way because of genetics, or your situations have led you to be this way, or you are not even sure how or why, just remember you do not have to be bound. The brain is miraculous and has capabilities to heal itself more than we know and it just takes some work.
As a closing thought, I know that working hard on it is exhausting, especially when you feel so defeated already. Tired, apathetic and like you have been in an uphill battle everyday of your life. Don’t think I don’t have days where I am tired of fighting against my mind. That is okay. I just hope you find reasons to push through. And if you can’t I will help you find all the beautiful reasons why it is worth it.