Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hey everyone. I just wanted to let you know that I will be out of the country until next Tuesday. Off to The Bahamas to celebrate my birthday! The plane ride is going to be a bit of challenge I expect, but I have a good feeling about this trip. Relaxation is never a bad thing, especially for us anxiety sufferers!

Have a great week everyone. If you need to reach me, you can contact me and I will probably be able to respond.

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32-p1Hello, my awesome readers. I apologize for my sparse posting lately, but I have been adjusting to some life changes, so I thought I would send off  a quick personal update.

As I’ve written about before, I was forced to take a semester off my undergraduate degree in order to focus on my mental health. It’s been about 4 months since I came home from school to start my path to recovery. I’m feeling much better! It seems like forever ago that I was unable to leave the house and I was terrified of my own reflection. And yet, it seems like just yesterday at the same time.

I wouldn’t say that I’m 100% recovered, but I have certainly made some noticeable progress. I’m now able to sit in the car without panic, I can go grocery shopping, I’m going running outside now with no anxiety, and I’m even back to socializing. I feel like a completely different person – one who isn’t living in constant fear. I finally have control back over my life.

And yet, in the midst of recovery, it is often easy to discount the struggles that brought me here. It’s often easy to feel like I’ve “cured” my mental illness, and I can go back to being “just a regular person.” This is a pattern that has plagued my life since I was first thrust into the world of depression a decade ago. When we begin to feel better, it’s easy to throw aside our illnesses and pretend like we can go back to living the way we used to live.

This is a trap that I am trying my best not to fall back into. If my previous way of living was so ideal, then how did I end up like this in the first place? This is a question that I have to keep asking myself. Ignoring my mental illness has never benefited me in the past, so I need to stop pretending like it will work in the future.

The panic attacks may have left me for the time being, but my social anxiety is as present as ever. I’ve become so accustomed to the social phobia that I barely even notice it’s there; I think that’s where I’ve gone wrong in the past. I have discounted how difficult it is to be terrified of answering phones and making small talk because I’m so used to those awful feelings. It’s normal for me to feel my heart racing and my hands quivering every time someone says “hi” to me on the street. So, I never question it.

But maybe it’s time for me to reach to the bottom of my mind and finally overcome this for good. I will probably always live with anxiety, but I don’t always have to live in fear of it. It’s time for me to embrace my illness instead of fighting with it and ignoring it. I am a social phobe. Answering the phone terrifies me. Making small talk causes me physical pain. Presentations don’t just make me nervous, they give me nightmares and they eat away at my psyche.

As I write these words, I let out a sigh of relief. I feel very optimistic about my mental health, for the first time in years.

I hope you don’t mind the self-indulgent post for today. Sometimes, I just need to let some thoughts out so there’s a little more room up in my head.

I hope that you are all doing well. As always, if you ever want to drop me line, leave a comment or contact me.

 

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This is me. Hello world!

This is me. Hello world!

Today, I want to do something a little different. With this blog, I want to share all the advice I’ve picked up over the past few years on how to combat anxiety. But I also want to give you a personal look into the life of a fellow anxiety sufferer so you know that you’re not alone. In this post, I will walk you through a brief overview of the progression of my own anxiety and what has helped me get better.

I’ve been anxious most of my life. It started as a young child, when I was a definite social phobic in the making. I used to cry very easily and I found it difficult to speak my mind. As I grew up, I learned to avoid the things that made me feel nervous or uncomfortable (like being assertive, talking on the phone, or joining new activities). Through my teenage years, I went through spells of bullying (as most people do) which served to strengthen my burgeoning feelings of social ostracism. I grew painfully aware of how socially awkward I can be, and slowly started to fear meeting new people and being in new situations.

Fastforward a couple years. I started college (or university, as we say here in Canada). I made lots of awesome friends. I met lots of cool new people. I tried new things, learned new things, saw new things. My anxiety sat on the back burner as I forced myself to do the things that made me anxious. It seemed for awhile that by ignoring my anxiety, I could escape it. I was wrong.

I started volunteering in a lab the winter term of my first year. It was a psychology lab with rats. On my first day in the lab, my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t even pick one of the rats up out of its cage. I played it off as a latent fear of rats, but deep down I knew it was the social anxiety resurfacing. I am afraid of performing tasks in front of other, much more experienced people. I thought the fear would go away, but every time I went back to the lab, I was just as anxious as that first day. That was when I first realized that anxiety was going to be a problem for me. 

The year 2011 was a particularly bad year for me. I was going through some major life changes and my anxiety was resurfacing with a vengeance. I barely made it through the winter term, and the subsequent summer was a rough one. I struggled with depression and anxiety. It was that summer when I finally reached out and started seeing a therapist.

I went through CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), the prescribed therapy of choice, which was incredibly helpful in overcoming my depression. I learned a lot of new ways of thinking about my mental health problems. It seemed like I had made a major improvement in my life, and I thought I’d “cured” my mental illness. Unfortunately, I was wrong once again.

Last Christmas I had my first panic attack. Luckily for me, I’d read lots about panic attacks while going through CBT, so I knew what it was right away. That didn’t matter. It was the most terrified I’ve ever been. It started early one morning while I was having a cup of coffee (I used to be quite the caffeine hound). I noticed I felt a little “off”, almost like I hadn’t eaten in awhile. I shrugged it off for the time being and headed out to Walmart with my parents. As soon as I stepped into the store, I knew something was wrong. I felt immediately uneasy, like something really bad was about to happen. My vision narrowed a bit; I felt suddenly unable to focus on anything but myself. My heart started racing, my breathing became labored, and my body went through rapid hot and cold flashes. I ran out of that store like a bat out of hell, tears spraying out my eyes (I cry every time I have a panic attack – you’d think it would get easier, right?).

Since that first panic attack, I’ve been constantly worried about having another one. And I have – several times. It still amazes me how my anxiety levels can change so dramatically, constantly going up and down, but the panic attacks are always the same. Each one is as terrifying as the last.

The panic was held at bay for most of the past year. I was anxious all through 2012, but I managed to get by. This past semester, I had started my honors thesis and was working a part-time job, all while juggling a regular course-load. Some weeks were harder than others, but on average I was putting in about 50-60 hours a week between being in the lab, being at work, attending classes (which I do quite infrequently), and studying (which usually means catching up). I wasn’t the busiest person in the world, but I learned quickly that my mind doesn’t do so well when it’s constantly forced to be on the go. And so, I snapped. Finals hit, and I just couldn’t handle my responsibilities anymore. I started having nightly panic attacks. It got harder and harder to just get out of bed in the morning. I started missing work, blowing off lab meetings, skipping classes that I knew were mandatory. In November, a psychiatrist slapped the official diagnosis of panic disorder on my forehead. And here we are.

I mentioned in my first post that I’d taken this semester off to relax and recharge (and hopefully become less anxious). Well, I have made some progress.  I got into a loop of agoraphobia in my first few weeks here at home (meaning I was terrified of leaving the house), but I’ve slowly overcome it. As hard as it is, the most effective way to overcome your anxiety is simply to face it. Anxious brains have learned that certain situations demand a fight-or-flight response, and it’s your job to teach your brain that it’s wrong. Each day, I have to step out of the house and remind my brain that the world isn’t as dangerous as it may seem. 

If you’re curious, here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Accepting my feelings and talking about them more often
  • Explaining to other people what it means for me to be anxious and how they can help
  • Lots of exercise
  • Meditation and mindfulness (more on that later)
  • Deep breathing (I mentioned breathing in a previous post)
  • Sleeping more regularly (another future topic)
  • And of course, exposure therapy 

There is no one recipe for overcoming anxiety, or any other mental illness for that matter. You will have to take the time to see what works for you and what doesn’t. You may relate with everything I’m saying, or nothing at all. Unlike most physical illnesses, mental illnesses are quite different from person to person. We all have our own struggles.

What is your story? If you’re up to it, post your own anxiety story. If you’d prefer, you could comment with anything you’ve found helpful on your own path to recovery.

 

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Two equestrian riders, girls on horseback, in low tide reflections on serene Morro Strand State Beach

Here I sit at my computer, gazing idly out the window at the snowy wonderland before me. I’ve left the house twice in the past three weeks, and while an overwhelming sense of shame lingers dangerously close to my conscious thoughts, I maintain that I’m using this time to get better. After 16 and a half years of schooling, I am taking a full semester off for the first time. To the world at large, I’m just an over-stressed student who needed a bit of time off to relax. But deep down, there’s something much more sinister going on here. I have an anxiety disorder. Saying those words out loud is like admitting to the world that I’m a failure or a self-indulgent deadbeat. How do I explain to someone that I can’t carry on with my normal life because I’m “too anxious”? Everyone gets anxious, right? So why I am so special that I get time off? I know how real the panic attacks feel, how tangible the tremors and heart palpitations are, how disarming the anticipatory worry is – but other people don’t. How could they?

If you’re with me so far, if you’re identifying with anything I’m saying, or if you’re just really goddamn sick of feeling anxious, then I invite you to stick with me as I embark on a journey to recovery. I’ve had anxiety all my life, so I know most of the conventional wisdom, and I’ve learned a lot of the technical details in my undergraduate psychology courses.  Most of all, I know what it’s like to feel helpless, confused, judged, and alone. Luckily for me, I have a solid group of supporters, both friends and family, and I have the luxury of taking time off to deal with this problem head on. But I also know that not everyone is so fortunate.

Like I said, this is a journey, and like every other meaningful journey, it won’t be linear, no one will take the same path, and there will definitely be bumps along the way. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I am convinced that I will get better (I’m already on my way!), and I’m even more convinced that you can get better too. Whether you’re just an edgy person or you’ve completely lost all function in life because of your anxiety, join me in this quest. I know we can do it!

photo by: mikebaird
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