anxiety

I conquered

It’s been a while since I published a blog post here. I’ve written some posts but those have ended up in the drafts folder. Book Fridays is on hiatus until January. I have plenty of books to talk about! Tonight, I find myself in the mood to update my blog and so I am sitting at my dining table doing just that.

This year was both amazing and horrible for me. The horrible parts aren’t something I feel like sharing but I did want to share some of the amazing things I have accomplished this year.

I don’t make it a secret that I struggle with my mental health and have done for the past 7 years. I have anxiety disorder and panic attacks. For a while they restricted my life in ways most people don’t know about. Everyday things were struggles for me. Going to the store presented challenges, would I have a panic attack? Would I collapse? On and on went the what ifs. Going to new places triggered my anxiety, feeling lost in my own town had the same effect. In all it was just a drag and even though I did manage to do some things I knew that I wasn’t living my life to the fullest.

This summer I began to notice a change in my anxiety. My symptoms were less frequent and whenever I did start to panic I managed to squash it easily. I started building my confidence by challenging myself everyday to do something I thought I could not do. Here’s the thing about my anxiety, it often tells me I can’t do a lot of things. I started off small, going to the store on my own to pick up a couple of things and I slowly started adding stops to my outings.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing. There was a time I couldn’t manage to pick my husband up from the airport because the mere thought of the drive crippled me. This happened while I was making all kinds of progress and it almost set me back. It embarrasses me to an extent to share this but at the same time it doesn’t because what other people think about that doesn’t matter.

My biggest accomplishment came in November when I traveled to Puerto Rico to visit my parents for two weeks. I traveled alone with a 3 year old. It was THE goal I had set for myself years ago when overcoming my anxiety was nothing but a pipe dream. I did it. Was I anxious? Yes. Did I experience  a panic attack or two? Yes. I’m not cured and I never will be but I’ve managed to do things I’ve been unable to do and my anxiety came with me. It will always be with me but I am finally at a place where I feel in control of it.

As I write this and perhaps because I am writing about anxiety I am feeling very anxious (it’s probably why I don’t write about it as much). It’s a familiar feeling but no matter how familiar it’s always a noxious one. I sometimes find it difficult to discuss anxiety with people because for those who don’t experience it as a disorder understanding it can be difficult. For one thing anxiety doesn’t necessarily have a cause. Something can trigger those feelings for me but I cannot pinpoint why I have the disorder. We all feel nervous, stressed, and scared  now and then but living with anxiety for me means a constant pressure on my shoulders, a tightness in my chest and a feeling of dread. They are intense feelings that interfere with my life and how I live it.

Whenever I talk to people about my anxiety I get asked about medication. I am currently not taking any medication but I’ve always maintained that should I reach a point where I need it I will take it. I don’t believe it’s responsible to pat oneself on the back for not taking medication. The position that medication for mental illness is not needed is irresponsible and ill informed. I fully support medication. It really is the difference between life and death for lots of people. My decision to not take medication is mine alone and not a reflection on my position of the same.

Today I walked to a nearby park with my son. A year ago just thinking about walking there sent my heart racing. Today I spent two wonderful hours enjoying the slightly cooler Florida weather.

It was a good day.

Below are some photos from my trip to PR. See you next year!

 

Where did my anxiety go?

The past week or so has been taken out of a dream. My constant companion for the past eight years has seemingly packed its bags and left. Now, I am not superstitious so I don’t have any reservations about sharing my good fortune and I have experienced this before. Living with mental illness is exhausting. I hate having anxiety. I hate experiencing panic attacks. There is nothing about suffering from those two things that anybody enjoys. When I am not feeling anxious I am usually thinking about the next time I will be anxious and so the cycle continues.

Any sort of trip causes me a lot of anxiety. Being away from home (my home base) sends my heart rate soaring. New places are difficult for me to navigate because when I am home and I am feeling like the world is about to end I can somehow grab onto my reality to anchor my mind and settle my thoughts. It is difficult for me to do this on the go. Difficult, but not impossible. This past weekend we took a trip to Orlando for a wedding. Orlando is familiar. It’s far from home but I’ve been there enough times that I can’t justify classifying it as a new location. Weddings involve crowds of people, which I am not fond of but I can manage. Still, I was nervous and worried that my anxiety would rear its ugly head.

I can’t say what has changed over the past week. I haven’t done anything differently. I haven’t started taking medication. All I have been doing is what I have always done: following Dr. Liebgold’s book and holding on to hope that every episode of anxiety/panic attack will be the last one. I have been challenging myself more. Going out more and doing one thing that scares me daily. For me, it’s doing one thing that triggers my anxiety every day. I have been more diligent, more consistent and it has payed off.

This weekend I felt like myself. The way I felt when I was 22 and not yet suffering from mental health issues. It was glorious and I went with it. Did my boo try to crash my party? Yes, he did. He is an asshole after all. But I kept him at bay and enjoyed my vacation. I was present. I was not caught up in my own mind wrestling thoughts and worries about anxiety.

The thing about anxiety (and mental illness in general) is that it is not visible. Anxiety happens internally. Somebody can be having the worst panic attack of their lives and you’d be non-the-wiser standing next to them. Anxiety can take over your life and render you unable to function. I know that I am not magically cured. Anxiety is something I will always live with but anxiety can be managed and even though there will likely be set backs I know that I will be okay. And I will use these blog posts as reminders that there is respite. That I CAN and WILL feel much better than I do when my anxiety is at its worst.

I write about my anxiety because it is infinitely helpful to record and celebrate the victories no matter how small they are. It is also important to give a face and voice to these illnesses that are still so often stigmatized by society. It is important for me to be open about what I feel and how I am feeling. I don’t want the curtain to fall on me. I have a support system by design. I make sure to speak up and seek help when I need it. I have been to therapy and I am always actively combating my anxiety. I am not currently seeing a therapist but it is something I think of doing again eventually because I find it very helpful. I am fortunate in that I have the access and the means to do so.

If you have somebody in your life who suffers from anxiety or another disorder and are wondering how to help them just ask them how they’re doing. A sympathetic ear that seeks to listen without judgment or paternalistic advice is invaluable. If you are suffering from mental illness yourself, seek help. Talk to a friend. Don’t give up on yourself.

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There’s something good in every day

Content warning: the following post deals with the topic of mental health and mentions suicide.

“Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.” I am not sure who said it first, but I love that quote. Finding something good about even the crappiest days can brighten the darkness. At least for me.

I suffer from mental illness. I have anxiety and experience panic attacks. I have probably been depressed at some point because of this. There are times when my world feels very small and hopeless. There are days when I feel sick of it, sick of feeling anxious, sick of the physical symptoms of anxiety, just sick of not feeling like myself. When I am going through a particularly bad period it takes a lot of effort to function, it takes a lot of effort to go about my day and do the bare minimum.

Before I had my son I worked at an office. It was exhausting to get through a day of work when I felt like a panic attack was looming all day long. For a while I saw a therapist and that helped a lot. In fact, I have never felt as awful as I felt when I started seeing her. My primary doctor prescribed a very low dose of Xanax which I took for less than a week. The fear of side effects made me more anxious and I didn’t feel that the pills worked at all. I was only too relieved to get rid of them. Medication is not for me. It might not make sense to others with zero personal experience with paralyzing fear or mental illness but medication was simply not for me at that point in time.

What I have learned about mental illness is that there really isn’t a cure. For the past eight months I have been employing the techniques set forth in the book Freedom from Fear, and even though Dr. Liebgold tells you that you will be “cured” what he is really giving you are tools to MANAGE your illness. Even when I am feeling good I know that my anxiety is there. Lurking under the surface.

There is a lot of ignorance regarding mental illness. As a sufferer I find myself surrounded by people who have no idea, no clue as to what mental illness is. It is still stigmatized and often treated in a blame-the-victim sort of way. Going to therapy and taking medication can help but they’re not necessarily going to. Some people try everything with little to no success.

Which is why instead of questioning people’s mental illness we should all be supportive. Listen, offer sympathy, give a hug if appropriate.  Suggesting that a person who suffers from mental illness is weak, defective, or not doing enough to get better is not only cruel and ignorant but also wrong. Similarly, when a sufferer succumbs to their illness we should not be calling them weak, cowards, or selfish. Robin Williams’ recent tragic passing has brought forth a lot of people who have expressed those things about him. He was not weak, he was not a coward, he was not selfish. Mental illness should not be considered any differently than any other disease. It should be treated with the same respect and seriousness. Mental illness takes lives.

Suicide leaves behind a lot of hurt and sadness for the family and friends of the deceased but it is not fair to call the person selfish. How insensitive do you have to be to overlook the amount of pain and sadness that drove this person to decide that suicide was the only way out? I know that in the past I have made the mistake of suggesting that suicide is a selfish act. I was wrong.

When you suffer from mental illness you often feel alone. I know I have. Let’s change that. Let’s talk about it. There is no shame in mental illness. There is no shame in being bullied, abused, or simply just confused. Talk to someone if you can, there is help out there. There is help here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help. Who should call? Their site says: “If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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Every day, do something that scares you.

As a person that suffers from anxiety, there are a lot of things that make me anxious. There are a lot of things that give me pause and make me question if perhaps I should not do them. My anxiety itself causes me to worry, especially when it comes to my ability to care for Diego. What kind of a mother works herself up into a panic attack over a toddler group at our local library? This one right here. I have been wanting to go since the beginning of the year. I even had it written down in my planner. Intentions don’t count, and it is now April and I have yet to take Diego to one.  It is one of the many things that I am working towards.

Every time I write about my anxiety, my struggles, and my goals, a small part of me feels silly. A small part of me worries about the opinions others will form as a result of what I disclose here. The other part of me, the part that thinks it’s a great idea to write blog posts about this very topic thinks it’s necessary. I know I am not the only person, woman, or mother to go through this. I also know that some are struggling much more than I am .

Last year I was doing great. I could go out without a care. My anxiety had vanished. I still felt it creep up now and then but it didn’t inhibit me. I look back and feel so angry that I am now back at square one. How does this happen? The truth is that is doesn’t matter how it happened. What matters is that I am working towards a cure. One of my tools in this journey is to challenge myself every day to do something that scares me. Anything that makes me uncomfortable or anxious I must do. These challenges become victories, these victories become ammunition for that little voice in my head that is always on the lookout for danger and impending doom.

Even though I strive to challenge myself every single day sometimes it’s just not possible. Some days I’m just not feeling anxious at all, but the idea is to challenge myself regularly. For me, this has really been working. I am still working on Freedom from Fear by Dr. Howard Liebgold, and blogging about it as I go. I have gone from avoiding anxiety and panic to facing it head on. Before, whenever I felt anxious, I would opt to stay home. I would rationalize my avoidance. Now, I don’t let that feeling stop me from doing anything. I still have a way to go but I feel so much better about my anxiety.

I wish I could tell every anxious person that feels alone that they are not. Is there a mommy and me group comprised of agoraphobes? There should be!

My challenge to all of you is to go out there and do something that scares you. If you think you can’t do it, then you must.