Ask Anita Guest Post!
Today we have an old fashioned "Ask Anita"! (that was a Royal 'we', by the way, since there's only one of me). This post is not a question at all, but a brave story by someone who has recently been inspired to share her journey on this anxiety road. You don't have to be house-bound with nerves to appreciate how this affects everyone. Thank you, Nameless McGee for being so brave!
You’re so honest about your thoughts on life. It makes me feel less isolated by my similar feelings. To thank you for sharing, I wanted to share a bit of my own journey -but not with my real name, because it’s just hard for the people that care about me to read about my struggles.
It’s 2006. I just moved to a new city for a new job and have zero friends. Things are pretty stressful and I’m having persistent symptoms of a condition I can’t quite identify. I’ll be minding my own business and suddenly the room starts to get smaller. Wasn’t my apartment small enough already? My heart speeds up and I’m sweaty. Am I about to drop dead in my early 20’s? I don’t even have a Will! Who will take my cat?? A knot forms in my throat and it’s hard to swallow. Is this throat cancer? My stomach twists up, and I’m not sure what and which end something might come out of. OMG, the cancer has spread through my organs. My vision is a little blurry but if I just lay down for a little bit, it all goes away. The doctor says I’m young, healthy, and fine. It’s probably just work stress.
I didn’t think work stress could physically hurt, but my lack of a social life left me with plenty of free time to talk to a counselor about it. I planned to give her an earful about how hard my life was and how she’d feel sick too if she had this much on her plate. She wasn’t impressed. It turns out that 97% of people feel like their plate is too full and things suck sometimes (you can fact check that). The difference was that my narrow mind made it hard to see outside of my small world and manage that plate more peacefully. We arrived on a diagnosis of Anxiety with a side of Panic Attacks, and worked to equip me with tools to kick these attacks right in the ass.
I spent the first wave of visits pretending that counseling was for sissies and it was really just something to distract me from the job I hated, and to make sure I got my money’s worth out of my health insurance premiums. But before long I noticed a difference. By naming and identifying panic attacks, I saw them coming from a mile away and learned some techniques to prevent them from escalating. I learned how to say, “No” without lingering guilt. I learned how to stop replaying conversations in my head, obsessively thinking about how it was perceived, and stop the “what if I had said something differently” thoughts. I learned that my most reliable trigger of a panic attack, for me, is doing things to please other people when I really, really don’t want to. I had to stop overcommitting.
For a while, I felt cured. The panic attacks stopped coming and I was cruising along comfortably and able to see a lot of good in my life. But every now and then that familiar, discouraging feeling would sneak back in. I went back to a counselor and demanded answers. I had already won the anxiety battle! Why was it back when life was so good?? She gently reminded me that an anxious response is a normal and healthy human instinct. We should feel the need to fight or fly when under attack. It kept the cavemen safe from sabre tooth tigers, and it reminds me to pay attention to my surroundings in questionable parking garages. I don’t need to completely remove all anxiety from my life, I just need to remind it who’s boss.
Now it's 2016 and anxiety rarely dares to flare up anymore. I’m in a lovely French bistro waiting to meet a friend for lunch. As I read through the menu, I start to feel overwhelmed with all of the options. The hipster café with its fancy coffee and beautiful pastries starts to close in around me. 10 years and a pile of life skills later, I know exactly what is happening. I say to myself, “Knock it off, anxiety bitch! Pastries aren’t a threat!” My heart starts to speed up and suddenly it’s really hot. “Stop it, anxiety, I don’t want to be all sweaty while I’m eating my overpriced salad and drinking lavender scented lemonade.” I know step three is stomach upset but I also know that I can stop this if I bring my senses back to reality by changing my environment.
I walk out to my car and blast cold AC in my face. I sip cold water and focus on its taste and temperature. I speak out loud, the sound of my own voice grounding me back in reality. I click a pen in my hand, feeling the rubber grip and hearing the clicky sound. I tap my foot and match the rhythm to my words. What used to ruin an entire day or more is now diffused in five minutes or less because I know what it is and what I need to do in order to stop the adrenaline, resume my life, and see all the good and beauty that it contains. Once I’m back in control of my body systems, I can think through what triggered this annoying event in order to help myself better prevent more in the future.
Everyone’s triggers are different. I know mine and my mantra for agreeing to things has become, “If it’s not a ‘Hell Yes!’ it’s a NO.” When I break that vow, I become overcommitted, overwhelmed, and at risk for heightened feelings of anxiety.
If you don’t know your triggers, you can’t handle them in healthy ways. And if you are ignoring symptoms of anxiety because it’s easier to believe that it’s temporary, situational, or some sort of weakness, just knock it off! It’s a normal part of being alive on this Earth. You can let it keep coming, messing up your mood, sleep, and French bistro lunches, or you can learn how to recognize and manage it in healthy ways. Anxiety doesn’t discriminate, and counselors are for everyone. You don’t have to feel desperate or like a #hotmess to talk to someone about improving your quality of life.
Thanks for encouraging the masses, Anita. Change happens when we share honestly. Keep up the good work!
Fake Name McGee