Anxiety – The Dinner Guest No One Invited

I, like millions of people, deal with anxiety on a fairly regular basis.  Whether you’ve been officially diagnosed with it by a doctor, or you’ve ever felt like your heart was going to explode out of your chest, I think we can all agree that anxiety is a very unwelcome visitor.

Whether anxiety is a frequent or seldom visitor, it has the power to leave you exhausted, scared, and paralyzed (figuratively speaking).

I’ve written before about how panic attacks feel like being stuck in a box that’s slowly filling with water, but it dawned on me that that’s not really a relatable analogy.  People aren’t often trapped in boxes and then drowned.  Or are they?  God I hope not.  Either way, I wanted to write something that people who have or don’t have “official” anxiety can relate to.  That way we can all commiserate because at best, anxiety is EXTREMELY inconvenient.  So let’s all get on the same page, shall we?

I think we’ve all been at a dinner party, as either a host or a guest, where someone who wasn’t invited shows up.  Suddenly, your mind starts to fill up with questions – who is this person?  Did I invite them?  They look weird.  That’s not fair, I shouldn’t be so judgmental.  But I thought we weren’t going to bring randoms anymore?  Whatever. Stop thinking so much.

You shake it off because when you really think about, does it really matter if there’s just one extra person?  Probably not.  But what if that person sucks…

Did he really just say he supports Trump? No one was even talking about the election? WHY WOULD YOU LEAD WITH THAT?

You feel your pulse increase, your temperature slowly, rise, and you breath get shorter.  You don’t say anything because you don’t want to be rude or you don’t even know how to respond.

What was that?  We need to get rid of WHOM?  You racist prick.  I’m going to lose it on this asshole.

You look around, but everyone else doesn’t seem phased.  They go about the dinner like everything is normal and there isn’t some giant asshole making people uncomfortable.

How is no one else freaking out?  People like this guy are dangerous.  Does anyone else see that??  WAKE UP PEOPLE!  Wait…if no one else is freaking out…does this mean I’m imagining it?  Am I overreacting?  Am I being too judgmental?  Am I being crazy?

The overwhelming thoughts keep pouring in, your pulse keeps increasing, your heart rate feels like you just ran up a flight of stairs.  Before you know it, you’re hyperventilating and people are staring at you asking if you’re alright.  You feel like your head it going to explode and your heart is going to burst out of your chest, so you abruptly get up from a table, embarrassed and scared, and seek shelter in the bathroom.

That’s what anxiety feels like.  At least for me – we all experience it differently.  Regardless, I think we can all agree that feeling anxious is uncomfortable, scary, and embarrassing.  Even if you’re alone, it can feel shameful and you think to yourself, “Other people don’t freak out about this kind of thing.   What’s wrong with me?”

Nothing.  You are not wrong for feeling anxious or having a panic attack.  You are not crazy for having racing thoughts or feeling like your heart is going to explode.  It happens to a lot of people, even people who don’t have anxiety disorder.

Instead of beating yourself up, try to think about what triggered your anxiety.  See if you can pinpoint the moment you started to feel off, and think about what you could do to sooth yourself next time.  Personally, I’m a fan of deep breathing.  So much that I got the word “Breathe” tattooed on my left wrist.  People often tease me about it and say, “Is that in case you forget?”  Ha ha.  Jokes on them, that’s exactly why I got it; it’s my personal reminder.

Breathing doesn’t always do the trick, though.  There are times when my anxiety is so bad that when I tell myself, “Calm down, remember to breath,” the part of me that’s panicking says, “FUCK YOU, YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE!”  Instead, I count.  I usually count backwards from 100 (or 50 or even 10) because I need to focus more since I’m terrible with numbers.

Once I’m able to calm down (or I fail to do so and wait for the panic attack to end – it’s a process), I try to thinking about what made me feel that way and I what I can do next time to try and prevent anxiety from taking control.  A former therapist and I made a list of things to do, which I carried around in my wallet.  They vary based on my environment, i.e., if I was home, at work, on the subway, lost in the middle of nowhere, etc.  Some things that work for me are:

  • Playing with Sasha (my furry companion)
  • Listening to music (usually show tunes) I know all the words to and singing along (either out loud or in my head)
  • Walking around the block/neighborhood/apartment
  • Going into a CVS/Duane Reade/Walgreens and reading the ingredients or instructions on different item.

That last one probably sounds weird, but all of these things have the same purpose – they redirect your mind away from whatever is causing your anxiety.  Once you’re calm you can figure out the cause because trying to do it mid-freak out usually just adds stress and unpleasantness.
When anxiety shows up unannounced, know that you’re not the only one who deals with it and there are things you can do to shoo it out the door.  After all, it’s just an unwelcome asshole – fight back and tell it to get the hell out of your dinner party.

Donuts Make Everything Better

This morning sucked.  After yet another night of “incomplete sleep” (i.e., waking up six times in one hour increments and begging my brain to let me sleep uninterrupted FOR ONCE), I dragged myself to my 6:45am gym class only to be met with severe back pain thanks to this bullshit weather.  Not being able to complete a workout because of my back is almost as high up on my list of “shit that frustrates the hell out of me” as accidentally stepping into ankle-deep puddles while wearing flip flops.

I’ve been feeling pretty low all week so I tried not to let it bring me down, especially when a girl from the gym started talking to me as we walked home.  I’m new to my gym so I didn’t want her to think I was some sort of crippled Debbie Downer.  After we parted ways I thought to myself, “She’s really nice, like most people as this gym.  This is pretty gr-”.  I didn’t get to finish my thought because out of nowhere a bird SHIT ON MY HAND.  My next thought was “Nope. I’m done with today.”

I got home, took a shower, and then, instead of doing my regular morning routine (meditating, making tea, packing my lunch, picking out my clothes, etc.), I got back into my bed and stared at the wall until I had to get up and go to work.  I put zero effort into getting dressed and picked out the comfiest clothes I can get away with wearing to work, and then headed for the subway.  The train showed up right as I got to the platform (win), I got a seat (double win), and pulled out my kindle to read a book I can’t put down (jackpot).  As I put my purse between my feet I looked up and saw a pregnant woman standing in front of me.  No one budged.  Not even the TWO DUDES manspreading next to me. So I smiled at her and got up so she could take my seat.  LIKE A DECENT HUMAN BEING.  I spent the rest of my ride getting shuffled around, and trying to find the right way to stand so I could hold the pole and my kindle without dropping it onto someone’s head.  Needless to say, I did not get a lot of reading done.

I got an express train so I had a longer walk to my office but figured the walk would be good for me.  As soon as I got above ground I was bombarded by an anti-Verizon hoard of people screaming at a building, and had to finagle myself around them just at the police showed up.  “Fuck this,” I said out loud, “I’m getting a fucking donut.”  I said that part out loud too.

My depression has been hovering around me the whole week just like this bullshit weather has been hovering over the east coast.  I’ve tried to fight it by going to the gym, being productive at work, and thinking positively.  Not one of those things has actually happened – they’re more like feeble attempts.  I mean technically I have been going to the gym, but my performance has been shit.  Work is mostly me hiding around the office so no will talk to me.  It’s not them – I love (most of) the people I work with, I just have a tendency to start crying when I feel like this and it’s super uncomfortable for everyone.  And thinking positively can go fuck itself this week.

Today I’m letting myself be sad.  Normally I try to fight back against my depression, or my anxiety, or the other shit that goes on in my brain, but not today.  I want to clarify that this is not the same as succumbing to it or giving up – quite the contrary.  I’m accepting it.  I accept that there are times that I feel bad, whether I know the reason or my brain is just being a dick.  Regardless, I know that I feel bad and I know that it won’t last forever.  Sometimes when I accept the bad feelings and let them run their course, they don’t last as long.  Instead of using all the little energy I have to pretend like everything is fine, I use that energy to do things that feel good to my sad self – like sleeping longer, spending time alone, staring at walls, and eating donuts.

On Tuesday, I felt crappy so I went for a walk and stopped at a coffee shop.  I saw a row of donuts and could hear them calling out to me, telling me to eat their deliciousness.  “NOT TODAY SATAN”, I heard my nutrition/fitness-focused self yell back.  I didn’t need the donut.  Today, I needed the donut.  So I bought one.  And I regret nothing.

Whether you have depression, another mental illness, or you’re just a normal human being with emotions, know that it’s ok to feed bad.  Instead of trying to hide it or force it back into the depths of your mind (because that always works out well), accept it and embrace it.  Let yourself feel bad and do things that feel right.  When you feel bad physically you take care of yourself, so do the same when you feel bad mentally.  Be kind to yourself and let yourself take it easy, it’s the least you could do for you.
And eat a donut – no one was ever sad while eating a donut.