mental illness

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.


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