A Brief History of my Experiences with Generalized/Phobic Anxiety. Or, How To Deal When You Cannot Deal.

What if it’s not a mole, what if it’s a flesh-eating virus?
What if I fail at life?
But what if it really is the Rapture this time?

What if they hit us again?
What if I wake one morning to see planes a-scraping skies again?
What if it’s me this time?

And I think, Wow,
It must be exhausting to want to live this much. – Catalina Ferro, “Anxiety Group” 

You probably wouldn’t get this if you met me in real life, but I’m a highly anxious person.

My anxiety can be about the most simple “We haven’t figured out dinner plans, I wonder if where we go will have gluten free food” to the most complex “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MY LIFE IS ALL ABOUT.” So, there’s a wild swing that occurs there.

At the same time, I can look like I’m in a state of total contentment and awareness.  I went to drama school.  I’m a damn fine pretender.

Coupled with this anxiety is a compulsion to keep myself busy.  I control my anxiety through always having something to ‘do’, whether it’s going to work or going to run errands, or getting my workout in for the day.  I’ve been told my constitution thrives on control of my environment, and my personal thriving is based on routine and alone time.  So when those two things don’t happen for a while, I kind of lose my mind.  For more on this phenomenon, I strongly urge you to read this Buzzfeed article about introverts.

You wouldn’t automatically peg me as an introvert or a socially anxious person.  I tend to be boisterous in groups of my friends, I talk way too loud, I have a laugh that sounds like Seth Rogen grew breasts, and I accidentally swear in front of young children all.the.time.  In reality I do like to listen rather than speak on nothing (which is why I don’t necessarily blog ‘regularly’, only when I feel like I have something important or necessary to say) and I actually get profoundly uncomfortable in front of people I don’t know, or are just beginning to know, or guys I’m interested in.  Prior to my current relationship, my method of letting a man know I was attracted to him amounted to staring into the back of his head from across a bar until I Professor X’d him enough for him to turn around and notice me, because God forbid I go up and talk to him! He could hear me! 

When I was a kid, trying to be an actor in plays, I could funnel this anxiety into a performance focus that I still miss to this day.  My last legitimate onstage role was as Cherie in Bus Stop three years ago, and I had a panic attack on stage during one performance.  That feeling freaked me out so bad I haven’t been in a regular play since (with the exception of The Vagina Monologues last year).

Part of it was an intoxicating drug; people were looking at me, I wasn’t just the nerd with giant purple-rimmed glasses who sometimes showed up at school with her hair unbrushed.  But once I started trying to really understand myself, the anxiety came out and ate up a good portion of 2010.

I remember my first encounter with this kind of phobia.  In sixth grade my grandfather died and I suddenly had an epiphany about mortality. I spent a good three months entirely consumed by fears of death and dying that at times made it physically impossible to function.  There were several times I took a shower in the morning and slumped against the wall, unwilling to move as the water poured on my head, so crippled in terror that I couldn’t wash my hair.  And then one day it was gone, soon replaced when I stumbled upon the Book of Revelations – what, you don’t read the Bible for fun? – and spent many sleepless nights worried any thunderstorm was a sign of the seven-headed dragon coming to eat me.

In sixth grade I was also diagnosed with ADD.  Now, I don’t want you to get it into your head that ADD just means an inability to pay attention.  When it’s something I care about or am truly invested in, I am paying way too much attention to it to the point of entire distraction from everything else in my life.  Like, for example, laundry.
Yoga, and other factors, have helped get rid of the crippling panic attacks that used to keep me bedbound in fear.   It’s been three years since a panic attack has gripped my throat.  I look at my current levels of calm/anxiety like a quiet burn in the back of my mind that usually remains undisturbed and covered up by peace.  But if I let it, or if I’m in an environment out of my comfort zone, that panic will sink deep down into my stomach and sit there like a badly digested hamburger. 
I’m positive I get my anxiety from my Nonna. I love her dearly, but my Nonna freaks out about everything.  My Dad inherited this to an extent but his anxiety is more based on a relentless work ethic and need to be perfect, as well as everyone around him to reach their maximum potential at all times.  In a way, I really love that I got my anxious nature from this side of the family – it taught me to push myself and never be satisfied with less than excellence.  Also, let me clarify that nobody in my life tells me I’m not good enough, ever.  But anxiety, like depression, sometimes has no true beginning to speak of.  It just meanders in, like the jittery friend that is galvanizing in small doses but every once and a while tries to ruin your life.

I’ve taken preventative measures to deal with the worst aspects of my anxiety.  Some of these things are through physical changes – I started doing yoga about six years ago and I also eat a diet that’s relatively healthy, so that’s helped tremendously.  But also a lot of that can be chemical. I started taking notes for when my anxiety would spike and noticed it seemed to be on the same days every month.  So after talking to my doctor about how some of these issues could possibly be a result of increased estrogen – I had to gain some weight about a year and a half ago in recovery from mild anorexia-induced amenorrhea – I was placed on birth control pills that provide a steady stream of low estrogen and measured progesterone.  It’s been nearly three months and I’ve been feeling better than I have in months.  That being said, maybe you need to speak to your doctor or to a therapist if your anxiety makes it impossible for you to live your life.  Medication for depression or anxiety is not evil; these things are chemically-based diseases and sometimes your chemicals need to get balanced out.  I’m pretty sure I should have spoken to a doctor about this when I was younger, but hindsight is 20/20.

But what if you just need to deal when you cannot deal? I’ve compiled a list of things that usually work for me in times of anxiety.  I encourage you, if you’re dealing with the same sorts of chronic worry, to engage in some of these tactics. 


Physical activity.  Psychiatrists/psychologists in numerous studies have found exercise, particularly cardio, to be tremendously beneficial to patients diagnosed with ADD.   Exercise on a daily basis is an enormous part of my sanity and clarity.  Right now I’m nursing a shoulder injury (as a result of pushing myself too hard, again) but usually I rely on a mix of running, the elliptical, and yoga as a means to both maintain a giant weight loss and also my levels of calm.  I’m also biking a lot, because it’s finally not disgustingly humid in CT.  Also, just in my personal experience I’ve found staying away from a lot of caffeine helps my anxiety levels.  Too much of it and I turn into a mess.

Alone time.  Do not be afraid to ask for it if necessary.  This is the biggie.  I need time by myself every day (this usually is the time in which I get my exercise in) in order to collect my thoughts and regain my center.  The Buzzfeed article articulates this well when it talks about how a failure to get any alone time for a long period can make introverts into total grumps.  I don’t get necessarily grumpy, but I do get stressed out which can manifest into bitchy resting face if I’m not careful.  It can be anything you want – sometimes I read, or paint, or just go into another room during a crowded social event to get my head straight.  Even going into the bathroom to get some alone time works sometimes.  But if you need that time, do not be afraid to take it and really be confident in saying to someone you trust “Hey, I just need to go off and be alone for a hot second.” It doesn’t make you weird. 

Breathe.  I know, it’s a yoga thing.  But it seriously works.

Surround yourself with people who get your failure to deal, and accept your tendency to sometimes fall apart into a thousand pieces  Although that might be freaky.  I try not to get into personal details about my own life on this blog, aside from my own personal experiences with various things in my past that are closed ‘passages’ in my life.  My current life away from things like The Olympics! and National Championships! is kept away from the blog.  But two years ago I managed to stumble into a functioning relationship with someone who is non-judgmental, non-critical, and loves me in a way that is so insane that it makes me…yep, anxious.  My response to that sort of love is to freak the hell out; I have a running commentary in my head at all times that I am probably the worst girlfriend on the face of the earth because when I’m afraid or vulnerable or anxious my go-to is to immediately shut off and turn into a stone, because my head is going absolutely insane.  I’m learning to be more direct with that and to deal with it as it happens.  And more often than not the response I get is “That’s okay.  Just go do some yoga.  Take the night off.  Take care of yourself.” Which is all you could ever ask for, right?

My point is, I get anxious.  And sometimes I need to be alone.  Sometimes I need to go off by myself for a little bit.  Sometimes I need to breathe.  Sometimes I need to feel out a situation of panic before I act.

But sometimes you can’t deal.

That’s okay.

ally

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