Tag

anxiety

Sensitivity

I cried on my drive home today. 

I knew it was going to happen. 

I picked up the baby from my parents’  house because they have her on Thursdays and I couldn’t believe another Thursday has come and gone, wasn’t I just there yesterday, and my beautiful baby girl will be 5 months old tomorrow and it seems like  just yesterday that I was newly pregnant, and I love each moment with her but am I enjoying it enough? And time is flying and that is so scary and I try to live in the moment but it’s so hard and how long will I have with my loved ones and what if something happens to them, I will not survive it, what ritual or compulsion can I do to protect them, there isn’t any, I know this, and how do I just freeze everything so I don’t have to worry, and am I a good enough mother and wife and daughter and sister and friend and are my coworkers sick of me and is my boss mad at me, and my heart hurts for the world and for everyone else hurting and lately I’ve been feeling it all (again), feeling everyone’s feelings and feeling consumed by what doesn’t even belong to me and every sight has a feeling and every smell has a memory and there was a dead squirrel on the road and that did me in, and I am happy and sad and overwhelmed and stressed and tired and there isn’t room for all of those in my body and it feels like a million pounds weighing on me, and this is me and this is what happens from time to time but it’s a lot and I couldn’t reign it in. 

So I cried. 

This is part of why I used to not eat, or do other not great things around food. Because everything is scary and hard and I’m the epitome of a hypersensitive person and when all of those feelings and worries and questions became too much and the world was too big I could make it smaller by making it about food and calories and my weight. I could have that to focus on instead of gun violence and cancer and dead squirrels and anxiety and worry thoughts about my loved ones. Food and weight I could solve. Food and weight I could manage. The rest? Not so much. 

I remember how, as a young child, I had all of these same worries and fears and moments but I didn’t know what it was. I just knew I felt scared and overwhelmed and heavy and I didn’t know it was because I was so sensitive. I just thought something was really wrong with me. 

Nothing was wrong with me, though. I just didn’t know it. Glennon reminds us, right – “you are not a mess. You’re a feeling person in a messy world”. 

Right. 

But feelings hurt and worries are scary and everything IS hard when you’re wired this way. 

So sometimes you just have to cry, release the pressure valve, wipe your face, take a breath, and wait for the shift. 

Lessons learned. Again.

You know how when there’s a leak in your house you usually fix it right away, but sometimes you just ignore it? Because it’s really not doing that much damage and it’s probably only leaking because it’s raining and it’s going to stop raining eventually.

Right. Except.

The thing is, you don’t know when it’s going to stop raining. Or when it’s going to start raining again. And how hard. Because despite your best efforts, and the best predictions and forecasts, sometimes storms just come. And sometimes they come out of nowhere, and you haven’t fixed the leak, and it makes an even bigger mess.

And then you have to figure out how to fix the damage from the leak. There’s no point in wasting time wishing you had fixed it earlier. Hindsight is 20-20 and all you can do is deal with what you have in front of you.

So you get mad at yourself, and you complain, and maybe you cry, but then you do the Next Right Thing. You call the repairman, and tell them that even if their schedule is crazy, you need to be fit in. And you don’t, you can’t, feel bad about it, because that’s their job. And you have to fix the damage to your house. No amount of avoidance or wishing is going to make it go away.

And you remind yourself: next time, for the love of all things holy, don’t ignore the leak. No matter how tempting avoidance is, remember that the likelihood of the leak just stopping is slim to none. Patch it. Fix it. Face it. Call the repairman. Well before the damage occurs.

The intimacy of a panic attack

There was a recent episode of “This is Us” that had people talking (this is not a spoiler, not to worry). It involved Randall coping with anxiety that quickly increased in severity, and eventually showed him in the midst of a full-blown panic/anxiety attack.

It hurt my heart. It was gut-wrenching and painful and beautiful, too, because during his panic attack, his brother came and sat on the floor with him and just held him.

There are few things so vulnerable, so intimate.

I can count on one hand the number of people who I have wanted to see me in the middle of a panic attack. Some people have witnessed it just because it happened when they were around. But usually? I prefer to ride it out on my own, touching base after the wave has passed.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it. You get through the hard times however you get through them. Some people want to be physically hugged through a panic attack – others push loved ones away. You do what you need to do.

There have been very, VERY few times in my life that during a panic attack that I have actively sought out someone. It is hard to be that vulnerable. It’s hard to be that intimate. It’s hard to let someone bear witness to your struggle.

What I CAN tell you, is that the times I have sat in front of someone, allowing them to see me at my most vulnerable, as I shook and sweat and gasped and hyperventilated and felt the color draining from my face – those times ended, interestingly, with me feeling more empowered after. I think it’s similar to how being upfront and telling it like it is in a medical setting has a positive result. There’s something very empowering about thinking, I could not be more vulnerable right now – and yet I’m going to let someone bear witness to my struggle. I’m going to trust them to love me through it and I’m not going to tell them what to do or what to say. I’m going to ride out what’s happening right now, and they will figure out how to help or what to do. It’s empowering because it’s allowing me to be me, and not feeling shame or embarrassment about it.

Like I said – it’s rare. I much prefer to handle it on my own. But from time to time, there’s something special about it. There’s something beautifully intimate about experiencing a hard time with someone else, and something powerful about embracing the struggle, and letting it float out there freely, letting it move through you, and not feeling like you need to hide.

You be you. You do you. You embrace you. And the right ones, the loved ones, those special ones that are in your tribe for a reason, will love you for it, and love you through it.

Write and breathe

Did you know that exhaling activates the parasympathetic nervous system? That’s the part that calms you down, brings you back to baseline. I love that fact. I love it in part because it means there’s actually something really easy we can do when we’re anxious: exhale. Long exhales. I also love it because I knew, for years, that “take a deep breath” was not always helpful. There are about a million reasons why. But I think one of them is because breathing in, in and of itself, actually isn’t the solution. If we aren’t careful, we breathe in too quickly, or too deep, and exhale too short, and we end up hyperventilating and more anxious than we started. The key is to breathe overall. In deeply if it’s helpful and cleansing – but out, slowly, for longer.

I have felt anxious on and off the last few days. This isn’t anything new for me. Anxiety comes and goes, it’s a part of me, and in learning and accepting that, I don’t worry when I’m anxious. I very infrequently panic, like I used to, What if I’m anxious forever? It just doesn’t work that way. There’s nothing to panic or worry about. I will be prone to anxiety forever – I will not be in an anxious state every moment of every day forever. And anxiety in and of itself, while at times unpleasant, isn’t a bad thing.

Anxiety means one of two things: something is happening or upcoming that is on my mind, or something is subconsciously working itself through – meaning I’m not (yet) aware of what it is, but it’s doing its thing. These things aren’t brilliant revelations – but having spent years thinking I was anxious “for no reason”, it’s always a comfort to remind myself that there IS a reason. I just might not know it. And in a way it’s kind of cool (kind of), that my body can work things through even before it has been able to effectively communicate to my brain. Quite efficient. Sometimes unpleasant, yes, but efficient nonetheless.

Oh, goodness. There isn’t a point. I can’t always have a point of writing, can I?? Mostly what happened is that I haven’t written in so long. And the more I don’t write, the more I feel it building inside of me wanting to burst. Kind of like when you have to pee (I know, but seriously, it’s a good comparison). And then today I thought, Ugh, I wish I could just write something, I know it would feel freeing and cathartic. And then I told myself Uh, you can. Just go write something. And then I argued back, But I have nothing profound and no words of wisdom and no good moral or lesson. And then I countered, Right. But. Who cares, remember?

Ah, right. Who cares. Write from the mixed-up middle, and you don’t need an ending, and you don’t need a beginning, and you don’t need a point.

Use your voice

And use your voice, every single time, you open up your mouth.

(My Chemical Romance)

One of the most empowering moments of each week is at the beginning of my yoga class. We stand at the top of our mats, with strong legs, rooted down. As we reach up and bring our palms to heart center, our teacher invites us to gaze down or close our eyes. She tells us we are going to open class with the sound of a single ohm, and then she says:

“And as I always remind you: of all the things to fear in this world, do NOT let the sound of your own voice be one of those things.”

That reminder, that statement, sends chills up my spine. It makes me grow a little taller, breathe a little deeper.

I used to fear the sound of my voice. I used to keep opinions and thoughts and worries and fears and dreams and desires and stories to myself. It’s scary and it’s vulnerable to speak, to make noise. It invites in the possibility that we may be quieted, diminished, dismissed, ignored, berated. Amidst those possibilities, it seems safer to wilt and hide from the sun.

The thing is, nobody is every really ready to use their voice. Nobody walks into yoga thinking, “Today I’m ready to chant ohm with my class.” Nobody wakes up thinking, “Today I’m ready to tell the world my story.” If we wait until we’re ready, we will be waiting our entire lives. This is the truth.

So instead, we have to just do it anyway. Sometimes in small whispers and sometimes in loud bellows. Last winter I posted a baby step post, and then I told my stories, and then one day I just said, “It’s time.” And then I wrote it and sent int into the world.

Turns out, using your voice, speaking your truth, doesn’t break you. Quite the opposite, in fact. It sets you free. It connects you with others. It invites in conversation. It helps dispel others’ shame. It sets off a ripple of bravery. It’s all good, wonderful things.

The other day I said to Laura, “Remember when we thought that we would go to the grave with it as a secret? I never, not in a million years, thought I’d be here. But look at me – standing in the sun.”

Using our voice gives us power. It raises us up. Makes us grow. Dispels fear. Washes away shame.

So, maybe you don’t feel ready. It’s okay. Go ahead anyway. Chant that ohm. Tell your story. It will not break you. Stand tall, root down, turn toward that warm sun.

On not fleeing

Last week, my husband and I were flying home from vacation. I hadn’t been feeling well the morning of our flight – my stomach was a little upset and I felt slightly dizzy. On the way to the airport the car was warm and I overheated and felt faint, my pulse was high, and I was emotional about vacation being over and leaving loved ones. When we walked into the airport, Husband asked if I was okay and if I needed a minute, and I said I was fine – because I was, in that moment.

But as we waited in the line for security, I felt it start to come on. Fight-or-flight kicked in. While it almost always happens during medical situations, it can also occasionally happen for seemingly no reason at all. Shit, I initially thought. It’s panic or it’s a vasovagal syncope, but either way this is not good. My heart began to beat too fast, I started to sweat, and I felt that horrible hot sickening feeling wash over me – the one that signals, You’re going down. Literally. So I tried to lengthen my exhales as I took off my coat and shoes and put my carry-on on the conveyor belt. But that hot feeling kept coming in waves and I felt my stomach start to tighten – I was going to throw up, or faint, or need to use the bathroom immediately.

I evaluated my options – I had one person in front of me before I could go through security, and for a second, I turned around, deciding to let others go before me and sit down before it overcame me. But the security guard motioned to me, and told me it was my turn. One minute, I told myself. Hold on for one minute. And then, whatever happens, happens. I made it through security. And the minute it was over, I ignored my belongings, knowing Husband behind me would gather them, grabbed a nearby trashcan, and sat down on the ground, dry-heaving, spots floating in my vision, bowels clenching.

I stayed seated for a while and Husband came to check on me, but I was okay. A few people glanced at me but most didn’t give me a second look. One woman asked if I was okay, and I told her I wasn’t feeling well. She sympathetically smiled and moved on.

And then I was okay. And I didn’t spend the next hour ruminating on what happened and why and trying to understand every part of it. Instead, we got some cold water, walked to our gate, and then moved on.

Years ago, I would’ve fought. I wouldn’t have even made it through security because the thought of Oh heavens, somebody is going to see and someone is going to know, and they’re going to wonder what’s wrong with me, and I don’t even know what’s happening or why, and it’s going to be humiliating would magnify it immensely. And that fear of someone seeing, of knowing, and therefore of deciding I needed to fight it, just made the situation worse. But facing it, letting myself be vulnerable, is what helped it pass quicker than it ever would’ve years ago.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my therapist, discussing an upcoming situation in which realistically I am likely to have one of these attacks/situations, and she asked what my goal was in envisioning how I’d like it to happen. Was my goal to “be okay” with what was happening in the situation and therefore not panic/not have my body respond in this physiological way?

No, I realized. The point isn’t to make it go away. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but the point is to be okay with whatever happens. So if I have a panic attack – it’s okay. If I throw up – it’s okay. If I pass out – it’s okay.

And deciding to float, to face it, and not to run or fight it – that’s what gets you through. That’s the bigger life lesson anyway, right? That we will be okay. Whatever happens. And we don’t have to run, because it will not destroy us.

Advertising Anxiety

When working with a client who stutters, we often talk to them about “advertising”. By that, we mean being open about their stutter. Sometimes we’ll have a client go into another therapist’s office and tell them, “I was hoping to talk to you today about stuttering. What do you know about it?” Or they might ask to borrow a stapler, but stutter while they’re doing it (on purpose). Other times they’ll be ready to tell a new adult, “I stutter, and this is what I’m working on.” The idea being that the more they are open about stuttering, the more their own internal stigmas are broken down. Additionally, the more open they are, the less likely they are to have avoidance behaviors (avoiding people, places, and words, because of their stutter).

This is the type of advertising I have learned to do about my anxiety when I’m in a medical setting.

I don’t do well in a doctor’s office of any capacity, and I have recognized that I likely never will be able to be present in those settings without any anxiety. But for many years, this knowledge, this belief of I have panic attacks in medical settings directed my behavior. I was completely out of control – or rather, my anxiety was completely in control.

[Apologies in advance – the next part is gross but hey, it’s all about being real, right?]

For years I passed out every single time that I had blood drawn, or a TB test. But passing out wasn’t the worst part. I knew people who fainted from things like that, and let me tell you, I would’ve paid money to only have fainting be the issue. What would happen to me is that a heavy, hot, feeling of unreal-ness would pass over me. I’d start to get tunnel vision. And then instantly, nausea and an urgent stomachache would follow. My body would go directly into flight-or-fight mode, and shut down, trying to empty. And this meant maybe by vomiting and maybe from my bowels. Well, you can’t really do both at once, or else it’s going to be messy and disgusting. And it’s even messier and more disgusting if it happens in an exam room. So in this split second, I’d realize I needed to bolt to the bathroom before any or all of these things happened. Usually I’d make it to the bathroom, my system would empty in one way or another, and I would pass out on the toilet seat.

Lovely, right?

The memories of these unpleasant panic attacks combined with my pre-existing fear and anxiety about a doctor’s office in general led me into a cycle for years: knowing it would happen, therefore it would, therefore confirming that it happened, therefore knowing it would happen next time, etc. I’d sit in the chair, and wait for the needle, hoping I could fake it this time around, never succeeding.

Until one day about 5 years ago I realized that I didn’t have to be helpless.

I began to advertise.

“I need to lie down when you take my blood,” I started telling the techs. “I am a fainter and do better reclined.”

“I’m going to listen to my ipod while you do that procedure,” I told a dentist.

“I appreciate you telling me exactly what you’re doing while you’re doing it, but can you actually talk to me about anything else instead?” I’d ask the doctor.

“I am about to pass out,” I told a doctor once. “I need to recline and I need something cold for my head.”

“I know you’re not doing an exam today, but I just need to let you know that I tend to get very anxious in medical settings. So if I step out into the hall or something, I’m fine, I just need a minute.” I told a new specialist I was seeing.

“So do you think it’ll snow tomorrow?” I’d ask a technician, not caring about the weather and not knowing if she did, but knowing I needed to distract myself from what was happening.

And it began to work. I had a TB test where I didn’t faint. I had blood drawn where I didn’t pass out. I sat on an exam table without the white-hot unreal fog coming over me. Breaking the cycle, making me believe I could be in control of this.

My expectation was never – and is not today – that I will never have these episodes again. But more that in being up front about it, the fear is out of me and into the world. They know what to expect so there are no surprises if I rush off to the bathroom or suddenly dart out of the room. One lab technician thanked me, saying, “I’m glad you said something. We’d always rather know, just in case.”

I used to not speak up out of – you guessed it – shame. Feeling that I should be able to handle this and it shouldn’t be such a big deal and what was my problem, anyway. But guess where that got me? Correct. Nowhere.

So now, I advertise.

Dispelling a piece of that shame, each time I speak up.

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