If conclusions were a ledge, we’d all be jumping…

cliff

Big Trigger warning: Depression/suicide

There is a thought that has snuck up on me several times since I started entertaining the idea of this blog. Sharing stories about mental health can be risky for several reasons. My biggest perceived risk is that people will jump to two conclusions: 1) they think I’m being overly dramatic and am just looking for attention, or 2) they assume the only option is to send me away to the ER on a mental health hold, where I will be forced to ingest three-day old sandwiches and tiny cans of Shasta cola. (note: to anyone who ever has been on a mental health hold in the ER, I do not say that to make light of your experience. I worked in an ER for several years and saw so many kindred spirits – others suffering from mental illness who had nowhere else to turn or were hanging on by a thread. I see you.) (second note: to anyone who works in an ER: now would be a good time to check the expiration dates on the sandwiches. They’re gross. I don’t think that’s even real meat.)

Two memes popped up on my Facebook feed within a few hours of each other. I took it as a sign that I should share what’s on my heart regarding this topic. Both pictures hit close to home on so many levels. They are similar, yet different. Both have to do with our society’s affinity for jumping to conclusions.


not attention seeking

The first one speaks to me on a very personal level due to recent happenings in my life. It also speaks to me from the perspective of someone with a blossoming passion for mental health awareness and education. The subject of suicide is just about as welcome in everyday conversation as Lord Voldemort is at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter nerds…that is very unwelcome indeed. Psychotherapist Stacey Freedenthal (2018) states, “I don’t fault those who avoid naming suicide. Instead I fault society and social conditioning for teaching us to treat suicide as unspeakable. If we can’t acknowledge suicide when a person has died, then how can the living expect to talk openly with friends and family about their urges to end their life? It’s awfully hard to help suicidal people – and for them to ask for help – if we treat suicide as if it is a dirty word.”

A dirty word.Because I love the power of definitions, I decided to look up “suicide” in the oh so tactful Urban Dictionary. I was curious to see how Joe Shmoe off the street might define this concept. Definition #7 tugged at my heart strings because it addresses the emotional side rather than the physical act of permanently stopping one’s breath. It says that suicide is “what people do when they start to fear life more than they fear death” (Suicide, 2016). Take a moment to absorb that.

Now imagine that sense of fear and despair magnified a million times over because this society makes it nearly impossible to be open about our struggles – it pours stigma on top of shame on top pain. It is naïve and reactive, rather than educated and proactive. Our vulnerability backfires!  Instead of openly discussing depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other illness that may lead to suicidal thoughts, society has done a damn good job of brushing feelings, and the people who feel those feelings, under the rug of social propriety. Then, when someone has the courage to ask for help, it’s far more comfortable for someone else to call 911 and have them carted off on a mental health hold than it is to see their pain…to feel their pain…to understand their pain. How tragic that “this silence about suicide can be deafening, making it exquisitely hard to hear those whose cries most need to be heard” (Freedenthal, 2018).

Obviously comments about suicide should not be taken lightly.Never assume they aren’t serious or that they are just looking for pity. By all means, call 911 if it is genuinely the right thing to do. But take a quick second to go back and reread that meme. Sometimes it’s a cry for help and empathy, so don’t jump to the conclusion that it is an egocentric plea for attention. Sometimes we just need to talk. Sometimes telling someone that you have entertained ideas or have formulated a plan provides the reprieve you need to NOT go through with it. Giving up that secret is a powerful motivator to survive, while harboring that secret only encourages it to grow and swallow you whole. If someone comes to you and says they are having suicidal thoughts, talk to them. Their fear of you jumping to conclusions may be what keeps them from asking you to pull them back from the ledge and to stop them from jumping themselves.


See the difference. See the similarity.

tell you about my past

In her 2004 article Coming out about Mental Illness, Sarah Albert shares a powerful quote by Joyce Burland: “Our cultural understanding of mental illness is that you are just not trying hard enough. We never say that about cancer or heart disease. America thinks mental illness is something that can get self-corrected, and that is a vast misunderstanding.” Misunderstanding stems from ignorance. You know how they say ignorance is bliss? Yeah…not so much. Ignorance and misunderstanding cause humans to jump to conclusions. If you don’t take the time to educate yourself on the impact of chemical imbalances in the brain, for example, of course you might conclude that depression or anxiety is just an excuse to be lazy or to seek attention.

More and more I am realizing that surviving my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression is part of my identity. I have battle scars that run deeper than any physical wound. Like that meme says, I want you to understand what has led me to become the person I am. It’s what is actively making me into the person I will become. This blog, and any conversation that requires me to open up and show those ugly scars, is NOT a pity party. Each day I survive brings me one day closer to the real me. I want to take pride in my scars. I want to help others take pride in their scars. That is the purpose of my exercise in risky vulnerability.

One of my recent favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, wrote this incredible book called Furiously Happy(2015). I am going to share a paragraph from that book that literally turned my life upside down several weeks ago.

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.”

Jenny Lawson’s words inspired me to permanently ink myself with the anxiety awareness ribbon. A lovely teal ribbon. It is a constant reminder that I am who I am because I have survived many battles and am surviving the war. I have some ugly scars because of it, but I would not be me without them. I am proud of who I am and want to share that.

tealribbon

You can jump to the conclusion that I’m crazy. You would be correct. But don’t jump to any other conclusions about people who want to – no, needto – feel they can safely talk about their suicidal thoughts or internal demons. It is risky. But you can make it worth their risk.


References

Albert, Sarah. (2004). Coming Out About Mental Illness. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/coming-out-about-mental-illness

Freedenthal, Stacey. (2018, June 14). Let’s (Really) Talk about Suicide. Speaking of Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2018/06/14/lets-really-talk-about-suicide/

Lawson, Jenny. (2015, Sept. 22). Furiously Happy: A funny book about horrible things. Flatiron Books.

Suicide. (2016, August 18). In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Suicide

To overthink or not to overthink…not even a question.

I love definitions. They take words or concepts and turn them into living, breathing beings. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to overthink is “to put too much time into thinking about or analyzing something in a way that is more harmful than helpful” (Overthink, n.d.).

Overthinking is a finely-honed skill I have been perfecting for as long as I can remember. When the below list popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago, it kind of stopped me in my tracks. I am very aware of my tendency to overthink pretty much…well…everything, so it wasn’t a surprise to me that I am an overthinker. It was for some reason surprising that every single bullet point was ME. I am having a quiet night in with my pup, which means it is the perfect time to overthink the overthinker list.

overthink


  1. Second guess everything

I approach every decision assuming I will make the wrong choice, whether it’s moving to a different state or whether I want ranch or ketchup with my fries. I agonize over pros and cons, ask for advice from everyone I meet, brainstorm, journal, compare different options, review financial risk, think about how it will affect those close to me, print off a tree’s worth of papers supporting any outcome, make myself physically sick, and on and on and on. When I finally do decide, I then agonize about the fact that I probably made the wrong decision. Why on earth would I be so stupid to choose this option? Clearly the other was better.

  1. Analyze things to death

This is certainly a source of sleepless nights for me. What I analyze is myself – my actions, my words, my behaviors, my abilities, my shortcomings. I share this trait with many kindred spirits who also deal with social anxiety. It’s common to hear people say things like, “I thought of the perfect response 10 minutes later.” Imagine thinking of every possible response (perfect or otherwise) for days or weeks afterwards. I wonder constantly if I said the right thing or behaved in a socially acceptable manner. The world is so full of normal people, which means I don’t fit in. I study every minute detail of my day to see if I’ve made a fool of myself at any point or if I have made a passable attempt at pretending to be normal. I still have many situations or conversations that come back to me years after the fact. There is always something I could have differently…could have done better.

clingy

  1. Catastrophize or expect the worst

Anyone who knows me will tell you that saying I “expect the worst” is the greatest understatement of this entire century. I function (using the word “function” a bit loosely here) with the constant assumption that something devastating is going to happen to me or anyone I know at any given moment. Here are a couple recent examples:

Friend: “S took her husband to the ER because he’s coughing up blood.”

Me: “OMG. He’s dying of tuberculosis.”

Friend: “Um…no. He probably has pneumonia.”

Me: “Has he spent any time in prison? It’s a huge risk factor for TB. Has he been having night sweats?”

Friend: **laughs**

Me: “What’s so funny? TB is not funny!”


After leaving my groceries in the car for a couple hours on a cool fall day, I threw everything away because I couldn’t risk the inevitable botulism. I don’t care that it is extremely rare. “Extremely rare” means it happens.


I always put the parking brake on in my car just in case I forget to put the car in park. I suppose this habit comes from driving a manual Jeep for nearly a decade. Forgetting to use the parking brake genuinely can lead to disaster in a manual. I now drive a vehicle that will not let me remove the key from the ignition if it is not in park. But there’s always a chance that will fail. So…parking brake it is.


Good time for PSA: medication can be of great benefit if used as directed by your physician.

  1. Have insomnia

Some of my best overthinking is done at 2:30 in the morning. It’s not uncommon for my friends or family to wake up to text messages sent at some ungodly hour of the morning. I take enough sleeping medication to knock myself out for a couple hours early on, but inevitably find myself awake and searching my own head for answers to the universe’s greatest mysteries. I’ve probably solved one or two of them, but was so tired the next day that I forgot. The most tragic part of it all is that I usually fall into a deep sleep about three and a half minutes before my alarm goes off. Moral of the story is…if you are having a bad time and need someone to talk to, I’ll probably be awake.

  1. Hate making decisions

See point 1.

  1. Would rather someone decides for me

Wait…this is an option?!

  1. Regret often

When I was younger, I always swore I would live with no regrets – to see every mistake as an opportunity for growth and personal development. I failed at that life goal (yes I have spent far too much time analyzing that perceived failure). Regret is a natural part of life for most people. When you spend as much time as me questioning decisions and examining behavior with a microscope, it’s a very slippery slope towards continuous regret. There are things I have done or said that I will regret for the rest of my life. I know I should let these things go. I know I am only hurting myself by dwelling in that regret. However, it is so much easier said than done. To let go of regret, one must forgive themselves. That is not a skill I have spent my life honing and will likely struggle with it for the rest of my life.

  1. Can’t let things go

See point 7.

  1. Take things personally when they aren’t

In the process of analyzing every little detail, I often get lost in this fog of irrational fear that I have in some way caused everything to happen. So-and-so hasn’t responded to me because they can’t stand me and are just too nice to tell me to go away. That other person quit working for our company because I wasn’t pulling my weight. Someone else is embarrassed to be seen in public with me because I’m wearing the same shoes I wore yesterday. In reality, So-and-so has their own crap going on and may be busy slaying their own dragons, that other person simply had a better opportunity at a different company, and someone else hasn’t noticed my shoes in weeks. When it comes down to it, other people pay far less attention to us than we think. What we do has far less impact on someone else’s decisions than we care to admit. Unfortunately points 2, 3, and 7 make it difficult for me to not see every potentially negative change or outcome as my fault.

  1. Are a perfectionist

It’s amazing how our own expectations can cause an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety. My mom jokes sometimes that if I say I failed a test, that means I received 98% instead of 100%. In fact, the lowest grade I have received on an exam was a C+ and it almost did me in. This C came hours after finding out my husband had a girlfriend on the side and they had a baby together, but even then I was unable to cut myself any slack. The amount of pressure that comes with demanding perfection from yourself is immense. To make matters worse, I generally do not expect perfection from those around me. I beat myself up for every little thing, but do not hold anyone else to the same gold standard, which means every disappointment is somehow my own fault. See points 2, 7, and 9. I share in Brené Brown’s struggle: “…There are days when most of my anxiety grows out of the expectations I put on myself” (2010, p. 37). She goes on to say, though, that “perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight” (Brown, 2010, p. 56). Someday I hope to fly. It won’t be today. But maybe someday.

  1. Criticize yourself a lot

See point 10.

  1. Never feel 100% certain

See points 1, 2, 5, and 6

  1. Feel tense

I was once told that I guppy breathe on a regular basis and am visibly in fight or flight mode most of the time. A massage therapist once commented that one shoulder was sitting at least a couple inches higher than the other because of how tense the muscles were on that side of my body. I must remind myself constantly to relax my jaw, lower my shoulders, unclench my fists, and to stop pushing my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I am so frequently lost in thought that I don’t realize my whole body has become one big clenched muscle. It’s physically exhausting. Deep breathing helps sometimes, but I usually am so easily distracted by anxious thoughts that the deep breathing ends before it really gets started.

  1. Feel like you can’t turn your brain off

I recently found this magnet and it instantly became my favorite. With so much to agonize over, so much to analyze, so much to internally debate, I sometimes feel like I don’t even know which tabs I have open in which browsers. It’s incredibly easy and dangerous to get lost in my own mind. No wonder I don’t sleep and have difficulty with word recall and short-term memory.

brain tabs

 


These are all difficult things see in myself. To me they are weaknesses. I am imperfect. Someday soon I hope to learn that it is okay to be imperfect. I am who I am. I worry. I overthink. But at the end of the day I am me. And that’s okay.


 

References

Brown, Brené. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Overthink. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overthink

Confessions of a Drowning Social Moron

drowing

I was curious about common definitions of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) – a disorder I live with each day. According to all-knowing Google (2017), SAD is “a chronic mental health condition in which social interactions cause irrational anxiety” (para. 1). This comes across as a bit obtuse and vague. If I tell someone I have SAD, do they think I walk into a party and am afraid all the party goers will turn into pink dinosaurs and eat me alive? Because that seems like an irrational anxiety to me. In my world, in my head, my anxieties surrounding social situations are not so easily explained by just labeling them irrational. To me they are very real and very scary. I found a much more accurate description on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2010-2018) website:

“The defining feature of social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious (e.g., blushing, stumbling over words), or being viewed as stupid, awkward or boring. As a result, they often avoid social or performance situations, and when a situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress” (para. 1).

THAT. That is what I experience every single day when we step foot out of our front door.  It’s not irrational anxiety…it is just anxiety. I am not afraid of other people. I am, however, afraid of how other people see me. What if I say the wrong thing? Why are those people whispering…are they talking about me? What if I mispronounce a word? What if I trip over nothing? What if I have an allergic reaction to something I’m eating in public? What if I get in a car accident while someone else is in the car with me? What if I call someone by the wrong name? What if I have an upset stomach and can’t make it to the bathroom in time? What if I run into one of my ex’s friends? What if I run into a wall? What if I drop food down the front of my shirt? What if I’m asked to play a sport and can’t do it? What if I choke on my drink and cough all over the person next to me? What if I fall down the stairs at the Brown Palace? What if I don’t have enough money to pay for my lunch? What if…? What if…? What if…? What if…?

It is exhausting. These thoughts are racing through my head at work, school, social events, big group outings, one-on-one meetings. It never ends. I have found what makes or breaks a social situation for me is the support I receive from those closest to me. I am a firm believer that people don’t know how to support those with mental illness because we are afraid to reach out and tell you exactly what that support might look like.

With that in mind, here are a few “what not to say” tips for anyone who has someone in their life who suffers from debilitating social anxiety.

  1. Stop worrying so much!

As soon as you start to tell me I’m being irrational or that I am worrying too much, I will become frantically anxious about how anxious I am. It is a vicious cycle and making a big deal out of it helps in no way, shape, or form.

  1. Just do another shot!

Yes, sometimes alcohol helps to take the edge off, but unlike what some people from my past thought, getting drunk before any social gathering is NOT the way to cope. If anything, it makes anxiety grow as the day/evening/event goes on because now I am worried about all those other things PLUS being completely drunk and talking too loudly, saying even more ridiculous things, or puking all over myself.

  1. I can’t talk about this again!

If I bring it up multiple times, it’s because it is my life and sanity on the line. It is meaningful to me. I know you don’t necessarily understand…and that’s okay! I don’t expectyou to understand. But I need you to be sensitive to this very real disorder that plagues me every day.

  1. But you know everyone there!

I am just as terrified, if not more terrified, of making mistakes and looking like a fool in front of people I know. Being around friends and family can at times be exhausting. It is not a reflection on you, but rather on me. Don’t get offended if I don’t want to hang out or if I cancel at the last minute. Sometimes I just can’t do it.

  1. But you had fun last time!

That was last time. It may have been last night, last week, last month, or last year, but it was still last time. Maybe I had an exhausting day today. Maybe my anxiety was extra high because of that project at work, so now I’m already too worn out to face another small or large group of people. If I do well in a social situation once, don’t be disappointed in me if I don’t do well the next time. I hate to suggest you should “lower your expectations,” but sometimes it may be necessary.

  1. You drive me crazy!

That only makes it worse. I can’t speak for all people with general anxiety or SAD, but I have a very healthy guilt complex that pairs better with my anxieties than a fine red wine pairs with filet mignon. Please don’t guilt trip me. I’m not fragile…I just ask that you be considerate and patient with me. This is very real to me whether you understand it or not.

  1. I can’t help you!

Oh, but you can. All you need to do is sit down with me, listen to some of my fears, and see what you can do to help. For example, one of my biggest fears is not being able to locate a bathroom in a restaurant, private residence, or larger event venue. I felt like I had a breakthrough in a previous relationship because he realized this was a huge source of anxiety, so all I had to say was, “I need to use the bathroom” and he would point out its location. It’s little things like that that make a huge difference. Even if you don’t understand, figure out how to help put my anxiety at ease so I am better able to navigate a social gathering.

  1. Can’t you just be normal?!

Listen. This ismy normal. I’m not going to get over this like a common cold. If you can’t accept me and love me for all of me, including this side of me, then I may need to step away from our relationship for my sake and yours – it’s not healthy for either of us.

There are alternative phrases that would work for every single one of those above. Also note that saying the words and meaning the words can make a huge difference.

  • What can I do to help you get through this evening?
  • Am I introducing you to too many people?
  • Are you okay with me leaving to go spend time with that group over there?
  • Would you rather stay home? *if the answer is yes, don’t make me feel guilty about it*

Please remember that just because you have never experienced something or don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean it is not a valid struggle for someone else. Keep an open mind. Be patient. Show empathy. We are strong in our own way, whether you see it or not. Help us pull that strength out and make it shine. We can do it alone, but it is so much more difficult.

social moron

Resources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2010-2018). Understand the Facts: Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understand-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder

Google. (2017, Sept. 11). Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/search?q=Social+anxiety+disorder

A Message to All the Buttercups

buttercup

I think we’ve all been told “Suck it up, Buttercup!” a time or two in our lives. Lucky for the rest of the world (a.k.a. the three other people who might read this), my insomniac brain finds true life-enrichment in analyzing things like pop culture catch phrases in the middle of the night. In a terrible world full of terrible things, perhaps we need some alternative phrasing. It’s time to have catch phrases for those of us who live in the real world where “sucking it up” isn’t always the answer.

Cough it up, Buttercup.

When I would get sick with a respiratory infection as a kid, I remember my mom always telling me, “Get that junk out of there! Keep coughing it up! Better out than in!” Along those same lines, why do we take expectorants for bronchitis and pneumonia or feel better after throwing up food from the sketchy diner down the street? Because the sooner we get it out of our system, the sooner we will begin to heal! The same goes with emotions or thoughts that play off of our mental illnesses. Better out than in, folks!

I personally am so afraid of imposing on someone else or being a burden that I end up bottling up my stress and fears to the point that I begin to implode (metaphorically, of course…if I literally began to implode I would have bigger issues to worry about). I know that everyone has their own crap going on. Who am I to self-schedule an appointment on someone else’s mental and emotional calendar? Everyone else deals with their life concerns on their own…so should I…right? WRONG. I am only just now learning the freedom that comes with opening up about my struggles. How is anyone supposed to help anyone else if we never know of the hurt or pain until it is too late? Don’t let shame hold you back. And you never know…opening up about your struggles may actually earn you a “Me too!” instead of a “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

Draw it up, Buttercup.

(trigger warning – depression/suicide)

I know better than many at the moment how terrifying it is to not remember why you keep breathing. We all have reasons, but at times those reasons can become unclear and fade just outside of our mind’s visual field. We know they are there, but can’t remember what they are. As soon as that happens, we have just lost our footing on a very slippery slope.

Let me interject here that I personally don’t believe that suicide is inherently selfish. The people who say it is have probably never been close. To be at the point of suicidal ideation is to be at the point of complete and utter despair. Depression removes our ability to make rational decisions. Suicide is a plea for release from the agony that life has become at that point. That doesn’t make it right, but I would also argue that it doesn’t make is selfish either. I beg everyone to think long and hard before saying that to anyone. It only adds to the shame, which may cause a slide down a whole different slippery slope that has the same end result.

My suggestion to anyone out there who feels that they are losing sight of their reason to keep breathing is this: Tell someone. And not just anyone. It has to be someone you trust – someone you know will answer the phone every time or come to you in your hour of need. Draw up and sign a Contract for Safety. Come up with a plan to help prevent theplan. If a written document is a bit over the top for your taste, draw up a verbal contract. Sit down with your person and tell them you need their help. And be transparent in explaining why. They need to understand the urgent nature of your request. So long as you go to the right person, you will be amazed at the support and empathy you receive.

not a burden

Give it up, Buttercup.

(trigger warning – abuse)

There is an extremely scary word that we all must look in the eye multiple times throughout our life: Forgive.

It is extremely difficult to forgive others who have caused us pain through physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Even harder still is forgiving ourselves for mistakes we have made in the past or for actions we took as the actual abuser. I have been the abused. I have also been the one causing intense emotional pain and trauma. If I cannot forgive my abuser, I cannot move on without being eaten away by bitterness, rage, or hate. If I cannot forgive myself, I will never experience life with peace and joy. If I can do neither, I will quickly slide down one of the slippery slopes mentioned above. (see how these all tie together?)

“We have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. We have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. It is an intrinsic human trait, and a deep responsibility, I think, to be an organ and a blade. But, learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. We make horrible mistakes. It’s how we learn. We breathe love. It’s how we learn. And it is inevitable” (Unknown).

Forgive. If you are unable to do anything else, do this.

Grow up, Buttercup 

(trigger warning – tough love here)

Take responsibility for your own actions and feelings. The world is cruel, but it doesn’t owe you anything. It is never going to pay up for hurting you, so stop expecting it. Once you are able to forgive yourself and others, you will be able to put aside any sense of entitlement that is holding you back from experiencing love with a clear head and heart. Remember that “sometimes we are responsible for something not because we are to blame, but because we are the only ones who can change it” (Feldman Barrett, 2017). When I realized that life is cruel and then we die, I realized I am wasting the good moments by wallowing in the bad moment. I have to choose to change how I feel and react to the negative moments so I can still experience the good moments. The caveat to this is that it has to be an ACTIVE choice – this is not a one and done choice. If you take it one day at a time (one minute at a time if you have to!), it can be done. Draw strength from God and your faith (whatever that faith may be). If I can do it, so can you! Tomorrow I may need the encouragement from you when I forget how it’s done.

Wake it up, Buttercup.

None of the above can be accomplished without the others. But if you actively work on each one – survive, forgive, and changing your attitude – you will begin to see an awakening within yourself. You will see peace. You will see confidence. You will realize that you are worthy of love, worthy of grace, and worthy of respect. Once you realize your own worth, the other pieces will hopefully begin to fall into place. Thank you to my very best friend for reminding me that self-love and self-worth is necessary before we can accept love from anyone else. Once we learn to value who we are as perfectly imperfect individuals, we can demand no less from others. Let’s elevate our self-worth together and make this world a better place!

 

Reference:

Feldman Barrett, Lisa. (2017, December). You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions – your brain creates them. Retrieved from

Chronic Anxiety: A day in the life…

1:15 am – Sits up straight in bed. What an awful dream! Are the sheets drenched in sweat or did I pee the bed?

2:09 am – What was that noise? Did I lock the door? Better go check.

3:29 am – Go. To. Sleep.

3:41 am – Bolts awake. Am I late for work?

3:52 am – I only have a couple more hours to sleep.

3:59 am – My side hurts. Is it appendicitis? I need to check my temperature.

4:04 am – What if I never get back to sleep?

4:15-5:40 am – Listens to audio book.

5:40 am – Finally dozes off

5:45 am – Alarm goes off. Snooze.

5:54 am – Snooze.

6:03 am – Snooze.

6:12 am – I’m going to be late for work! Quick! Make the coffee.

6:30 am – Falling asleep in the shower. I forgot to make the coffee!

6:45 am – Forgot to make lunch, but made coffee. Priorities.

6:48 am – Where did I park when I got home last night? And where are my keys?!

6:59 am – Was that a pot hole or did I just run someone over?

7:00 am – Turning around to make sure there isn’t a person dead in the road.

7:04 am – Where did I put my parking pass? Do I have change for a meter if I can’t get in to the parking garage?

7:06 am – Did I hit the car next to me with my door? I don’t see any marks and didn’t feel the door hit anything, but what if I did?

7:09 am – I’m half way into the building, but I better go check one more time to see if I door dinged that car.

7:13 am – Dang it. Did I lock the car? Better go back again and check.

7:20 am – I can’t remember my computer password. How am I going to clock in?

7:24 am – I’m so tired already! What if I fall asleep at my desk and get fired?

7:30-11:09 am – Is everything good enough? Which task did I do wrong? I can’t believe I just said that to someone – I am such an idiot! Later I need to analyze the conversation more to see what I should have said and how they might have interpreted what I did say. I can’t remember that person’s name. I need more caffeine. Did I shut off the coffee maker? What am I going to do for lunch? I can’t keep going out to eat…I’m going to gain too much weight and spend too much money. I was just zoning out in the meeting and missed what the person said. I told someone the wrong thing and now I’m so embarrassed that I want to crawl under the table and die. I think I just closed the wrong case. Did I lock my computer before I stepped away? What if someone gets on my computer and does something malicious? I just spilled coffee on myself! What if someone thinks I’m lactating and have been hiding a baby all this time. Who’s hair is this in my yogurt….I definitely can’t finish this now. Hair…did I unplug the hair dryer this morning? What if my pen runs out of ink during the next meeting? Where is that conference room again? What if I get locked in the stairwell and no one realizes I’ve been missing all morning?

11:11 am – make a wish! Omg. It’s already 11:12. Now what do I do? Can I still make a wish?

11:30 am-12:00 pm – this lunch was too expensive and has way too many calories. Remember to check weight in the morning. What time did I clock out for lunch again? What if I’m late going back? Did I have a meeting at 12:00 or was it 2:30?

12:06 pm – Don’t forget to put bread and string cheese on the grocery list.

12:08-4:00 pm – Carb coma…can’t keep my eyes open. More caffeine? No, I won’t sleep tonight. What if that pasta gives me an upset stomach and I’m not able to make it to the bathroom in time? Did I turn the coffee maker off this morning? What did I do with my phone? If that amazon package gets delivered today, will someone steal it off my porch? Did I remember to submit s refill request for that medication? What if it goes to the wrong pharmacy? Where do I find more toner for the color printer and how am I supposed to find the correct toner for that machine? What if I put the wrong size in and it gets stuck and breaks the printer? That manager was supposed to call me back an hour ago. What if the company was hit by a hurricane and he died?

4:08 pm – I need to go to the store on the way home. Wasn’t I supposed to put something on the grocery list earlier? I think it was maybe laundry detergent and salsa. Adds them to list.

4:18 pm – Throws a chicken pot pie into my cart. Realizes after checking out that I forgot to check my grocery list. I didn’t get laundry detergent or salsa, let alone bread or string cheese.

4:19 pm – Walks out to car and leaves. No way I’m going back in there for the things I actually needed. Someone will notice that I walked out and walked right back in. Surely someone would think it’s suspicious and report it to security or the police. I can’t go to jail for a jar of salsa. It’s just not worth the risk.

5:10 pm – So mentally exhausted. I don’t even have the energy to eat the pot pie.

5:30 pm – Determined to journal or read or craft.

5:34 pm – Dozing off

6:00 pm – Takes medication and goes to bed.

6:19 pm – Wide. Awake. Why?!

6:20-8:42 pm – How am I going to pay for school? Why am I not good enough for anyone? Is that pot pie in a metal pan or can I take it to work and put it in the microwave for lunch? Did I lock the car when I got home? Is the front door locked? Need to go check. Remember to add toilet paper to the grocery list….only have six rolls left. Did that person look at me funny when I sneezed at work today? Did I have a booger hanging out of my nose after sneezing? When I recommended a different method to Bob, he got upset and walked away. Did he complain to his manager? Should I have kept my mouth shut and not offered suggestions? If he complained to his manager, will that manager tell my manager I should no longer be employed there? What if I did actually hit a person driving to work this morning and they just crawled off the road before I could turn around? When will the police show up to arrest me for leaving the scene of an accident? I think I just heard a rattlesnake under my bed. How would a snake get in the house?

8:43 pm – I need to pee. Don’t use too much toilet paper….I’m running low and need to get more. Don’t forget to add toilet paper to the grocery list.

9:02 pm – Finally starts falling asleep.

9:05 pm – Did I feed the dog? Wait…I don’t have a dog.

9:21 pm – Sweet sleep oblivion.

10:37 pm – Need to pee again. It’s cold, though. If I try to hold it until my alarm goes off, will my bladder explode? Better not tempt fate.

10:40-11:12 pm – Listens to audiobook.

11:13 pm – Falls asleep.

11:59 pm – Still asleep….for now.

———————————

Believe it or not, this is a picture of my internal chatter every single day. And usually it is much worse.

While some thoughts may seem funny or ridiculous, my brain truly sees them as things worthy of the time and energy it takes to worry so extensively. I obsess over things that the logical part of me knows to be irrational, yet I am unable to stop worrying about them.

Imagine how exhausting it is to have your brain going like that all day…every day….all the while trying to participate in daily activities like work, school, social outings, etc.

For those of you who have never experienced anxiety but know someone who has, show some kindness. Don’t tell them to just stop worrying. Believe me….if we could, we would. Telling us we worry too much makes us feel worse. I personally feel shame, which causes me to internalize my fears and worries. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to our concerns. I don’t need answers or fixes or referrals to a good psychiatrist. Just listen. And ask what we need. Often just verbalizing my irrational worries out loud helps me release myself from the vicious cycle that is constant, chronic anxiety.

Why tell my story?

Hi. My name is Amber and I struggle with mental illness. Hint: this is where you all say “Hi Amber” back to me. Generalized Anxiety wreaks havoc in my daily life, Social Anxiety makes it nearly impossible to act “normal” before, during, and after certain situations, and episodic Clinical Depression is a source of debilitating feelings of insignificance and unworthiness. Hiding these struggles has led to a life of playing chameleon – trying to become someone I am not so that those around me might feel more comfortable and can in turn accept me for who they want me to be, not who I am.

A therapist reminded me last year that although I might feel completely alone and isolated in my struggle with mental illness, every single person I walk by is also affected by mental illness in one way or another. While many of those people are themselves sufferers of mental illness, the rest know or love someone who is.

This begs the question: Why do those of us who are haunted by the demons of anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, or any other number of illnesses feel so extremely alone in our daily struggle? And why do loved ones feel so unable to help or understand?

I realized recently while reading Brene Brown’s 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection that the answer to this question is simple: SHAME.

Shame (n.d.) can be defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”

With this in mind, I have started piecing together an equation. Those of us who experience any type of mental illness are made to feel that our thoughts/emotions/behaviors are “wrong or foolish,” which results in is a deep sense of shame. I’d love to see a show of hands for how many people would happily talk about something that causes “painful…humiliation or distress.” It just doesn’t happen easily or often. With shame comes an inability to be open and vulnerable. In one of his TED Talks, author Andrew Solomon (2014) states, “When we are ashamed, we can’t tell our stories. And stories are the foundation of identity.”

Here is the basic equation*:

(A + B) – C = D

If A = mental illness, B = shame, C = ability to tell our stories, and D = Social and emotional Isolation

*Disclaimer — math is not my strong suit, so please don’t judge my equation! (<– I almost deleted this statement, by the way, but left it in as a perfect example of social anxiety induced self-doubt…my stomach is in knots right now)

This equation results in a world full of people who are barely surviving each day, even though they are surrounded by individuals who know what they are going through. Mental illness is a collective human struggle, yet we are each held prisoner in socially imposed emotional silos. Even more tragic is the realization that someone ends their own life every 40 seconds because they no longer have the ability to face their uphill battle alone — in fact, the WHO (2018) also suggests that “for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.”

This brings me to the subject of those who do not suffer from mental illness, but know or love someone who does. Because those of us with mental illness have been conditioned to feel shame, and therefore have been stripped of our ability to share our experiences without being stigmatized, there is very little opportunity for loved ones to understand us or our illness. This can be just as difficult for the loved ones as it is for us. While we feel unable to ask for and receive support, our loved ones feel frustration and helplessness. It is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. Relationships can break down or even end due to misunderstandings and expectations that go unspoken and unmet.

Because of recent life events that have led to these dawning realizations, I have quickly developed a passion for mental health awareness. I am setting out on a journey to reach out to two different populations:

  1. Those who suffer from mental illness
    1. To empower
    2. To accept
    3. To tell stories
  2. Those who do not suffer from mental illness but know someone who does
    1. To educate
    2. To let them know it’s okay to not understand completely
    3. To tell stories

This will hopefully be the first post of many more to come. Please keep in mind that the stories I share and the emotions I describe are MY stories and MY emotions. We are all unique individuals, which means we all experience mental illness, support, and treatment differently. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me, but THAT’S OKAY. I want this to be a safe, judgement free environment where people can use my stories and vulnerability as an opening to share their own struggles, concerns, dreams, and fears in the comments. Any hurtful or malicious comments will be removed. If something I say comes across as hurtful or malicious, please let me know.

I share your struggles.

ME TOO can be two of the most life changing words you will ever whisper or shout.

 

 

References

Shame. (n.d.). In New Oxford Living Dictionaries. New Oxford Press. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/shame

Solomon, Andrew. (2014, March). How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are. Retrieved from (https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_how_the_worst_moments_in_our_lives_make_us_who_we_are

WHO. (2018). Mental Health: Suicide Data. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/