Archive for anxiety disorder

Meet my best (furry) friend.

Posted in anxiety, anxiety disorder, cats, coping strategies, depression, mental health, mental illness, panic attacks, pets, recovery with tags , , on June 5, 2013 by Trace

I feel like I’ve written mostly heavy articles on this blog so far, and figure, hey, you know what this place needs? Cats. Cats always make things better.

 

Particularly, my cat makes my life better. If you checked out my coping tips blog article, you might’ve noticed the inclusion of considering getting a cat or dog buddy. I say this from experience because both animals have enriched my life in many ways. I focus on my cat, however, because while I love my dog, my cat seems to have found some sort of connection to my emotions that my dog has never tapped into. But I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

 

Meet my cat. Her name is Kiki.

 

Super adorable.

Pretty cute, right?

 

 

She was a stray in Rhode Island twelve – almost thirteen – years ago, found under a porch with her siblings and mother. They were taken to a vet in Rhode Island and given their own special area to grow. My sister and her boyfriend – now her husband – had recently rented their first place together up there, and they decided with their lifestyle, a cat would be the pet for them. They happened to hear about this litter and went over to check them out. All of them were adorable – and the mother was very sweet – but in the end, my sister spotted a tiny black kitten who seemed a little off in her own world, concentrating hard on her mother’s flopping tail instead of pouncing on it. It made mer laugh, and she knew in that moment she would be the pet for them.

 

The cat was a ball of energy. The first night they put a giant bed up to keep the cat confined to one area and woke up in the middle of the night to her howling. Turned out little Kiki had clawed her way up and realized only after how high it was, and needed help down. This of course did not stop her from doing that more than once, but there’s cat logic for you. When they moved back to New Jersey, they faced a far more strict housing situation with pets involved, as well as the very late realization that my sister’s really bad allergies were in part due to cat hair. At the time, we had a large golden retriever but no cat, and my parents made the offer to see if Amber and Kiki could get along.

 

Suffice to say, it went fine. Kiki was nervous at first, but Amber was old by then and, true to the golden retriever nature, very gentle and calm. For a long time they settled on not really bothering with each other, but eventually Kiki became comfortable enough with dogs that I would sometimes find her sleeping on the floor near Amber, or getting bored and playing with her tail. She settled in nicely, mostly sticking to my mom. Still, I noticed she had an uncanny ability to come find me when I had anxiety attacks and just sit with me. To say the least, I got very attached very quickly.

 

Peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo!

 

As all living things unfortunately do eventually, Amber passed away three years later from bone cancer at the age of twelve. Kiki became the only animal of the household, which she seemed pretty listless about at times, especially in the beginning. Honestly, my entire family was listless too – it’d been a long time since we had no dog around – and while we all thought we’d wait some time, it wasn’t long before we started looking at petfinder. We found a small puppy rescued from a Georgia kill shelter with her siblings, and she would eventually become the newest member of my family. There was admittedly some worry that Kiki wouldn’t like a dog with quite a lot more energy than what she was used to, but two years later, they have gotten very comfortable around each other. Annie – the new dog – has learned boundaries, and Kiki knows how to make it known if she’s getting a little too annoying.

 

I bring this backstory up because it was when Annie came into the picture, she really became my cat. Annie is a smaller dog, allowed to sleep with my parents in their bed instead of the floor, so Kiki suddenly found her usual spot to sleep taken up. She began spending more and more time in my room – the quietest in the house – and suddenly it went from her finding me when I was freaked out to basically going between the porch to my lap whenever I was home. Having a warm cat curled up to you, knowing that they have complete trust in you to pass out for hours and not have a second thought, is a strange but wonderful feeling. At my lowest, she was one being I never felt uncomfortable being sad or upset around, because animals don’t judge. They just don’t.

 

Hanging out, as always. :P

Hanging out, as always. 😛

 

And that’s where I am now. My cat is my best friend. I’m not embarrassed to say that at all. There’s something about having a being that literally will never stop loving you, no matter how many tears they see you shed or what you tell them. She’s amazingly patient with my moods, and I honestly hope I have many, many more good years with her. I cherish every day the little pain in the butt is with me, even when she decides to be very much a cat and gets into trouble.

 

So when I say, you should consider a pet, this is where I’m coming from. Pets are pretty dang great. 🙂

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On dating and self-acceptance.

Posted in anxiety, anxiety disorder, body acceptance, depression, mental health, mental illness, personal, recovery, social anxiety with tags , , , , , on June 4, 2013 by Trace

I’ve been taking tentative steps toward dating again lately. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, but have been wary of doing. My life isn’t put together like I think it should at this point of the game. I’m still job hunting, still living at home. It’s hard to explain both of these when you’re on the older spectrum of twenty, even in this crap economy. The ‘what are you doing with your life’ portion of any dating website makes me wince, but I know, honestly, that really isn’t my only hangup.

Anxiety ruins a lot of things, especially severe anxiety. That little part of me that feels good about myself is one of the first things that went, leaving me questioning why anyone would want to be my friend, nevermind date me. I look at the mirror and see my imperfections and that’s about it. I assume that’s all anyone who wants to meet me will see as well, so it becomes a battle of ‘why bother’, which is disheartening to say the least. I’m getting better at combating the negativity that plagues me, but it’s hard to tell yourself you’re worthy of love and friendship when you spent years having trouble convincing yourself you’re even worth being alive. The years I could’ve been spending learning how to grow as a person with other people around me was stunted, and I feel, in a lot of ways, still unequipped to be close with people.

My inexperience builds on my fear and my fear builds on more fears, until it’s just a mess of uncertainty. I used to think, if only I had work, I’d be okay and feel good about myself. If only I were skinnier, I’d be okay and feel good about myself. In the end, I think the thought is flawed – it’d certainly lift my self-esteem some to feel like I am being a productive member of society, but I know that work and appearance aren’t really all there is to a person’s character. My self-hatred is a deep seated one, one where I don’t think people would like me as a person because of my problems and my hang-ups, and that’s something I’m trying to learn isn’t true with my therapist.

can-stock-photo_csp5304582Because I at least know the thinking is warped. When I get over the hurtle of being around people – and it’s always that first hurtle I trip on – I like to think I’m good company. I try to be empathetic, I try to make people laugh, I try I try I try. I wish I didn’t have to consciously realize how hard I’m trying, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that at least for the time being, things will be a little harder for me than it would be if I didn’t have a mental illness. And it’s worth the uphill battle, because I do want friends and eventually someone to spend my life with. Both involve me having to force myself out to gain, and while that’s hard, exploring the world around me is a gift in its’ own right.

One day I hope I can, without a second thought, decide that if someone doesn’t like me based on superficial reasons like looks or the fact I struggle with this fear monster at my back, it’s their own problem and I’m better off without that sort of negativity around me. For now, I treat it like a mantra, something that if I tell myself enough, hopefully one day I’ll wholly believe that and not be so hard on myself when I hit walls and some ‘friends’ leave me behind instead of waiting for me. The funny thing is, I have had friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin, it’s just focusing on them and not the ‘failures’ that’s the real trick of it.

Coping with anxiety.

Posted in anxiety, anxiety disorder, coping strategies, mental health, mental illness, panic attacks, pets with tags , , , , on June 1, 2013 by Trace

Moving away from personal anecdotes, I wanted to talk a little bit about coping strategies for anxiety that I have found to be helpful. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor do I expect it to work on everyone. I also want to say that, as a blanket statement, you should try your best to find some sort of medical support if you have an anxiety issue you find really messes with your life – therapy can be expensive, but some states offer things like support groups. There are also online forums that you may find to be useful – I actually link to two on my sidebar. Basically, look around – you’d be surprised what you find.

 

With that said, on to some coping ideas and suggestions:

 

1. Rationalizing your symptoms – I was tempted to literally put sparkles around this one, you guys are welcome for not blinding you, ha. But seriously, I cannot stress how important this one is, especially when anxiety attacks strike. Anxiety in general tends to be irrational by its’ very nature in many different ways. We feel the chest tightness, we feel the sudden inability to breath, we shake and maybe cry and maybe feel nauseous and dizzy – all of these sensations are very scary in the moment, but that’s all they are – scary. And the longer you allow yourself to think something along the lines of you’re dying, or ‘I know I have had panic symptoms just like this but this time it’s real!’, the longer the panic attacks will last.

I realize it’s not easy when it feels like your heart is going 120 miles a second to tell yourself you’re not dying. When I first started really trying to accept these moments as a full blown panic attack, I would spend time writing down every symptom with a shaky hand. I would try to slow down, distract myself, remind myself I’d been through this before fine. After a few times, I had pages of how I felt at the time of my anxiety attacks, and noticed the patterns emerging. They were never exactly the same, but there was always something similar. This helped me back up myself to my own head that this is just an anxiety attack. Eventually, I learned to do this without writing things down. You’ll find the quicker you start removing your panic’s power over your thoughts, the shorter your anxiety attacks will hang around. I don’t know about you, but the idea of having any power at all like that is a good feeling.

 

2. Find a hobby – Distraction is key. While hobbies might not help with anxiety attacks outside your home, they’re great when you’re dealing with one, for example, at night when you have no one you can really turn to. The hobby needs to be something that you can keep your focus on. Reading, writing, knitting, playing video games, watching movies and TV shows – all of these can really pull you in and make you stop thinking about how bad you’re feeling. I find things that you can interact with, like video games and knitting, to be the most effective for me, but your mileage may vary.

 

images3. Get a pet – This one, I know, depends on a lot of factors. I’m going to go into more detail about how much my cat has helped me through the last handful of years in another post, but for now I’ll say this – pets are great. If you have the means of getting one, if you think you can take care of one properly and pay for the cost, they can be one of the best friends you can ever ask for. Even better, an animal like a dog can help you feel safe when you go outside, and can be a reason to give yourself to take a walk and get some fresh air.

 

4. Go outside – Even if it’s just a walk, or a drive around the block, go out as much as possible. Exposure is a big thing with anxiety, and while it might be uncomfortable, it’s important not to let yourself talk yourself out of being part of the world around you because you’re scared something might happen. The longer you stay inside, the worst it will get. If going outside makes you nervous, try to find a friend or family member to go with you. If you don’t have that support system, take it slow, building on each step every day.

 

5. Check your diet – No, I’m not going to say a bad diet will cause you to have anxiety, because that’s wrong. What I do know, however, is that some food allergies can cause symptoms to crop up that seem to come out of nowhere, which can be horrible for people, especially health anxiety sufferers (like me!). Limit your caffeine intake and see if that helps any. If you drink soda, try to cut that out of your diet or limit it – the amount of sugar in it is STAGGERING and it can really put you on edge.

 

images (1)6. Talk to people – I am so bad at this, too. Anxiety about having attacks around people can honestly cause attacks themselves. While you’re potentially opening yourself up to people who don’t want to bother to understand, you also have just as much a chance to open up to people who either want to try to get it or just do, period. Either way, it’s better to know what you are dealing with, and in the long run, it will make you feel safer when you hang out with people. Am I saying you should tell everyone the second you talk to them? No, of course not. But there are times where opening up is the obvious choice and you should choose to do so and fuck anyone who thinks badly of you for it. I would not wish suffering in silence on anyone.

 

7. Push yourself – This sort of goes hand in hand with going outside. There is going to be a lot of times when you are so anxious you could puke before doing something. I hate to say it, but the only way to get over this is to, frankly, just do it anyway. Maybe you’ll have an anxiety attack. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have to leave early, maybe you’ll have to find a bathroom to calm down in, maybe things will go great. No matter what happens, you need to push against it, even if you can only push just a little bit.

 

8. Be kind to yourself – Frustration is such a huge thing with anxiety. Recovery takes a long time to begin with, then you can feel great for months and suddenly have a lapse and it all feels like your progress is tumbling on you. I’ll give you a tip – your progress is not negated by one bad experience, or a handful of bad experiences. You can still pick yourself up and keep going, and things can get back to being good. I think the turning point for me was realizing that my own anxiety issues are definitely a chronic disorder, and it has ebbs and flows like any illness of that nature. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go like you hope – just tell yourself it’ll be okay in the end, because it will be. I promise.

 

There’s lots more, I’m sure, but those are some off the top of my head. I’d love to hear your own suggestions, if you have them!

On haircuts and anxiety.

Posted in anxiety, anxiety disorder, coping, mental health with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by Trace

Getting my hair cut has always been a harrowing experience for me, especially post-anxiety.

regular-haircut-1aReading that sentence, I realize someone without anxiety would question what that even means. For most people, the worst part about haircuts are worrying your hairdresser/barber might mess up the cut? For me, it’s a litany of what if scenarios. There’s a sensation of being trapped, of not being able to get away without looking like you’re crazy in front of your hairdresser. I have an extra layer of fear because of an unpredictable nervous stomach – one that just loves reacting to any tiny bit of stress with cramps and general non-great feelings.

Add in not being great at small talk and you have a miserable hour or so to contend with. Don’t get me wrong, I do like my hairdresser. She’s a nice Polish woman, probably around the age of my older sister, with two kids and a husband she clearly adores. She asks polite questions of me, and I try my best to interact well even when I’m nervous, but I always feel like I come off as a little stand-offish. In all likelihood, she probably doesn’t think that at all – I’m sure she has customers who completely ignore her, whereas I try to engage in conversation to the best of my ability. The worry is always there, though, and it made me think a bit today about how people view me as a person and how I view my own worth.

I hide my anxiety well. Around people I’m comfortable with, I’m a little better at being open about how I’m feeling, but around strangers – well, let’s just say bathroom breaks were common when I was at my worst. About a year ago I met up with an old friend from college for coffee, and she was stunned when I mentioned I was going through a lot with my anxiety.

‘I never would’ve guessed,’ she admitted, and she actually looked like she felt bad. ‘You always seemed so chill.’

In that moment, I honestly felt bad for not trusting people with the information. I certainly never plan to shout it from the rooftops – not because I’m ashamed, but because I don’t want anxiety to define me as a person – but I do realize now that there were a lot of times I should’ve said something but didn’t. That I don’t give people credit because I assume the worse. That I didn’t think people would find me worth hanging out with if they knew I could potentially have an anxiety attack that might halt the entire night. It’s because of all those doubts I closed myself off from situations and people instead of giving them a chance to understand. Instead of showing them my ‘weakness’, I hid away like I was some sort of deformed beast that no one would want to hang out with anyway because I was such a mess. Even in the situation with the hairdresser, my worst case scenarios were so silly – what if my stomach acted up? What if I had an anxiety attack? Surely my hairdresser would not care if I got up to go to the bathroom for a minute or two, but for some reason, the very idea was mortifying to me.

They say people make mountains out of molehills. I make the tallest kinds of mountains in my mind. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, and I’ve put a lot of rationalization into work, but it still happens.

Everything went fine, by the way. I got my haircut, I had my eyebrows ripped off (the joys of being a girl!), and while it was the usual awkward hairdresser/client conversation, we got through it okay and there weren’t too many lulls of silence. All those things that nearly made me cancel my appointment up to the very last minute didn’t happen. My stomach ‘magically’ stopped being a pain in the butt and it hasn’t made a peep since, when it’d been a problem all morning. It’s just another reminder that I can let anxiety keep me away from people or accept it exists and not let the ‘what if’s stop me. And every time I don’t let anxiety keep me from my day, I’m almost always rewarded with something good. Today’s reward? Lookin’ pretty rockin’ in this new haircut. I mean, look at this:

Pretty rocking, right?

Aw yeah lookin’ good, amirite?

Story time (otherwise known as, the big background post)

Posted in anxiety, depression, personal with tags , , , on May 30, 2013 by Trace

So I’ve juggled the idea of putting together a blog about anxiety for a long time. I talk about it enough elsewhere, so it seems silly I haven’t consolidated my feelings somewhere. And since this blog is mainly about my journey with an anxiety disorder, well, we probably should start at the beginning, shouldn’t we?

If I’m honest with myself, there were a lot of little things that were brewing way before my first panic attack. I had a tendency to really dislike crowds and actively avoided them. I worried about long trips because of the potential lack of bathrooms. I worried about people not making it home after work and school at night in an almost obsessive sort of way. I never really connected it all, though, not while it was happening. My parents shrugged it off as me being a homebody. I put it off as that, too – it was easy to just tell myself I preferred hanging out at my house than going to parties. When college came around, I chose the closest ones, never really even considering leaving home. Graduation happened, I got in to the university I wanted to go to, and things seemed pretty good.

I never saw the first panic attack coming. It was the summer before college and I was eighteen. I woke up and it honestly felt like I was having a heart attack. How I didn’t manage to rush to the hospital that night, I don’t know, but it forever changed me. I spent that month basically waiting to die, despite doctors assuring me I was fine. I nearly gave up on the idea of college all together, even though I was staying home and commuting, but my parents convinced me to give it a try. The first semester was brutal. There was one class I could barely sit in because it made what I now realize was anxiety flare up so badly. I nearly failed that course, and my other classes weren’t so hot either. It was November that year that I first went to a therapist.

Before I continue, I want to say that I won’t go into the long list of therapists and therapies I have tried in this post. Those might become their own posts, because sharing what I’ve been through and the types of therapies I’ve tried might help someone reading this pick one for themselves. What I will say here is the journey to finding the right therapy for you can be long and hard, and it took me two tries to get to a therapist who at least helped me function. I was put on medications at that point – after bad reactions to a few, I eventually was put on Zoloft and Klonopin. They helped get me through school, though at one point I went off my meds and ended up having to leave school for a semester when I basically reverted right back to how I used to be.

Protip: Don’t go off your meds and stop therapy in a stupid decision that you are clearly fine when you start feeling better. Trust me, it will probably not end well.

I missed out on a lot of things in school, unfortunately. It was hard to stay there, so I usually just did my classes and went home. Eventually I got a job on campus during phone stuff for fundraising, which I liked. But beyond that, my participation in social life suffered tremendously and the years I had to get work experience was sucked away. I had a general idea of what I wanted, but was always too nervous to talk to my adviser because I had no set goals. There were still classes that really made me anxious for one reason or another, but I’m pretty proud to say I only had to talk to one professor about it (and only because she had a strict attendance policy). The rest I managed to get through and get decent grades in. It took me longer than it ought to have, but I graduated at the end of 2009. Thrust into a world with no direction, my anxiety got bad very quickly.

I tried to better myself before I hit the working world. I got a new therapist, decided to get weight loss surgery while I was still covered (that will be a post in itself one day) on my dad’s insurance. I coped with eating, and had ballooned to a pretty high weight. I thought surely once I lost I would be okay. I wasn’t. My health anxiety had flared up at that point, and the surgery caused me to be unable to tolerate my zoloft. I was taken off my parents’ insurance, and basically went off meds cold turkey. It went as well as it did the first time. Depressed, I hit rock bottom. It was the closest I’d ever been to being suicidal (though I was always too chicken to ever actually think about doing it). I couldn’t deal with my parents leaving for a week on vacation and even my sister saw how bad I was getting. With her urging, and having gotten my own insurance, I decided enough was enough and started working on getting back on meds and trying to get my life back on track. I was twenty-six by then. My health anxiety had gotten so bad I was getting a lot of tests done that found nothing. I’m still dealing with a lot of debt from that, even with insurance.

I found the prescribing doctor, but now I needed a proper therapist. I jumped around. Finally, I found my current one this year. It’s been a positive experience, overall. I’m pushing myself to do things more and more every day in a way I hadn’t been pushing before. Am I cured? No. Will I ever fully be cured? No. Am I learning to live with a chronic disorder that ebbs and flows? Yes, yes, and yes. I think one of the most important things someone with any mental illness is to accept that sometimes there will be low points even when things seem to be going good, and that it doesn’t mean you’re back to square one. I always remind myself my worst is still not as bad as it was in the very beginning when I didn’t even know what was happening. I didn’t have the coping tools I have now to pull out of it faster.

In the end, I take things one day at a time. Do my best, try not to worry when things get bad. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it – I like to think I still have a lot to give to this world, after all.