Anxiety Survival Tips: The Wedding Edition

I’ve always heard that planning a wedding is one of the most stressful and exhausting processes a human can go through.  I’m here to say that is absolutely, 100% accurate.  But does it really have to be?

I find it incredibly irritating that wedding planning is so stressful because getting married is supposed to be the “happiest day of your life” and “all about the bride and groom”.  Even though that’s the truth, it still feels inherently false.  It feels like it’s not about the bride and groom at all; somehow a wedding morphs into this monstrous, expensive, and soul-sucking life force for everyone but you.

I get so mad when I go to weddings and see that everyone is having a good time except the bride and groom.  They’re running around putting out fires (literally and figuratively), they’re playing therapist to drunk wedding guests and/or bridal party members, and they end their night exhausted and starving after missing out on all the food that they paid for.

So why the hell would anyone have a wedding?

That was my feeling after getting engaged.  I was happy to go to city hall, elope to an island, or even have a teeny tiny ceremony with no more than 15 people.  But when you marry into a big, tight-knit Italian family, that is not an option.  Since part of getting married and maintaining a healthy relationship is compromise, I gave up my vision of the two of us saying our “I do’s” in bathing suits and agreed to a reasonable 160 max guest list.

There are now 60 days until my wedding, and the months since my engagement back in October have been quite the roller coaster.  Overall, I have to say that wedding planning has been an overall positive experience.  But even with the help of friends and family, the stress of planning and coordinating has the tendency to mask all the good and highlight the stressful.  Couple that with have anxiety disorder and you become a ball of fun for everyone around you ::queue sarcasm::.

Knowing that I’m prone to anxiety attacks and thinking that the sky is falling, my future husband and I have taken some precautions that have really helped.  I wanted to share them because even the coolest of brides will find herself at one point crying over something that does not matter AT ALL, like my ‘font size on the placement cards’ meltdown.

Exercise, exercise, EXERCISE!  

This isn’t just a #sweatingforthewedding thing, this will help keep you sane.  So when you get the inevitable “we won’t have those flowers in stock until 4 weeks after your wedding” email, you body is already prepared for you to take out your anger on a bike at SoulCycle.  Plus your butt will nice.  Win/win.

Meditation, yoga, and aromatherapy are your friends.  

This isn’t just a plug since I’m a yoga teacher (but do email me for private lessons), these are your weapons against stress and sleeplessness.  If you’re unfamiliar with any of these things, check out a beginner yoga class and ask your teacher about essential oils.  Most teachers should be able to answer your questions and the studio may even sell them at discounted rates.  As for meditation, Spotify and YouTube are fantastic resources for endless Om-ing.

Remember that people will surprise you in both positive and negative ways.  

Something about weddings brings out a lot of baggage someone may not even be aware they have.  Don’t let them dump it on you – now is not the time for you to play therapist for them.  Focus on the people who surprise you in a good way, and remember to thank them every step of the way.

Ask for help.  

If finding ceremony music or choosing a table setting is stressing you out, ask someone else to do it for you.  That’s what your wedding party is for, or your family if they’re not stressing you out.

Be selfish!!!  

This is one of the very few times in life that something is all about you!  Enjoy the time with your partner when together you pick what you want to have for dinner, what type of music you want played at the reception, and which wedding traditions you want to want to include or skip (you will pry my bouquet from my cold dead hands).

People remember feelings.  

You won’t remember what your napkins or table numbers looked like because those things don’t really matter. But you will remember dancing with your partner as newly weds vs. fighting with the caterer that the dipping sauce is too sweet.   Just like everyone will remember that your friend from college break-danced (with no ability to do so whatsoever) after the father/daughter dance, rather than the chicken that may or may not have been overcooked.

Focus on both of YOU – no one else.  

This is YOUR day. When it comes down to it, every single person who attends your wedding is there to celebrate the love that you and your partner share.  I keep thinking about the line in Wedding Crashers about why people go weddings because it’s the only reason that matters – people want to be in the presence of true love. That’s what a wedding is; it’s celebrating two people committing their lives to each other.  It’s not about the music, the centerpieces, or even the food and booze – it’s about two people in love.

Over the next 60 days, I have more little, annoying details to take care of then I’d care to acknowledge. But knowing that no matter what happens, even if everyone hated what we chose and dubbed it ‘the worst wedding ever’, I’ll still be married to the person who means absolutely everything to me makes all of the stress and anxiety slowly fade away.  Well, at least most of it 😉

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Anxiety Survival Tips: Step by Step

Anxiety is word that gets thrown around a lot in our culture.  I’m not here to stand on a soapbox and tell you what “real” anxiety is because I can’t do that.  I know what my anxiety is but I don’t know your life, and I’m not going to stand here and tell you what it is vs. what it isn’t.  Instead, I’m here to tell you how I deal with it with the hope that my survival tips can help you too.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or your feel stress from time to time, we can all agree that anxiety is annoying and something that go from inconvenient to crippling very quickly.  Recently, my anxiety has been through the roof.  Starting a new job, trying to finish up my yoga certification, planning a wedding, and just existing in New York City have my nerves all sorts of screwed up.  It’s so out of control that I get anxious just trying to decide what to each for lunch, which can lead to me hiding in the bathroom contemplating if I can scale down my building to run down the street screaming.  

Needless to say, it sucks and I’m not about it.

I have a plethora of coping skills thanks you years of therapy, but when my anxiety reaches new levels it can become impossible to implement them into my life.  My beloved yoga mat goes unused, my essential oils never seem to make into my work bag, and crying in the bathroom gets really old really fast.  So what have I been doing to maintain any semblance of sanity?

I write down or think about every single step I’m going to take.

That might sound excruciatingly tedious and annoying by I swear to Mama Rupaul that it works.  So here’s what I do:

When I’m sitting at my desk, walking through my office, or even sitting on my couch I think about all the steps I need to take.  Not all the things I need to do – the physical steps I’m going to take.  For example, here’s what I’ve been writing down today:

  • At 5pm I’m going to close my laptop and put it in my purse.  Then I’ll put my headphones on and turn my music on.  
  • I’ll walk out of the office and go to stairwell because I don’t want to be near other people in an elevator or god forbid get stuck one.  I’ll walk down six flights of stairs and admire the old architecture of the building.  
  • Once I get to the bottom I’ll go through the door, not the revolving door because they make me anxious, and turn right.
  • Once I get to 6th Ave I’ll turn right and then right again at 19th St.  SoulCycle is half way down the block.

Today I needed more of a distraction from my thoughts so I got pretty specific.  Other days, it looks more like this:

  • I’ll leave my office at 5pm and walk towards 6th Ave.  I’ll turn right at 19th St. and walk to SoulCycle.
  • Once I get to SoulCycle I’ll get changed and go to my bike. After class I’ll walk to 23rd St. and take the subway from there.
  • After I get home, I’ll shower and order sushi as a reward for making it through the day.

Different approaches, similar results.  Sometimes I do a combination of these tactics and get really specific and include things I’ll see on the way to know I’m getting closer to my destination.  I vary it based on the way I feel because there is no right or wrong way to do it.

 

When even this is too much and feel too stressful, I’ll repeat a mantra over and over.  A mantra is a word, sound, or phrases repeated to aid concentration in meditation, but you can use them all the time.  Most of the times I use mantras in sanskrit that I learned through my yoga practice.  Other times I repeat simple phrases like “you’re ok”, “you’re safe”, or “I can”.  There’s something soothing and meditative about the repetition, even if you’re walking down 5th Avenue during rush hour.

 

Give it a try and post your favorite mantras in the comments, I’d love to read them!

Get On The Bus

I have my favorite quote by my favorite writer (Hunter S. Thompson) tattooed on the left side of my body.

It says “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Those familiar with his writing will most likely recognize it as this line appears fairly frequently in his work. He uses it whenever it’s time to take initiative and go for something, which is usually some highly illegal in his case.

I’m not a political journalist or an ether enthusiast, but I love this quote because to me it means take control. These words are close to my heart, both figuratively and literally, and serve as a reminder that I have the ability to take charge, take a chance, and take the ride.

As simple as this quote is, my darling mother could not remember it for the life of her. She would frequently ask me what my tattoo said and then quickly go back to forgetting. One day she said, “What’s your quote again? You know, your tattoo…Get on the bus?”

Yes mom, I have ‘get on the bus’ tattooed on me.  But I have to admit it was fairly close.  It gave both of us quite a laugh and it’s still something we’ll say to each other to lighten up a “what am I doing with my life?” crisis.

As my beloved yoga teacher training beings to come to an end, I’ve been reflecting a lot on all of the different things I’ve learned about myself, yoga, and life, as well as all the questions that have come up during the past few months. I couldn’t have asked to do this training at a better with time with all that’s been going on in my life and, you know, the world falling apart.

I stopped reading and watching the news after it was named President, but it’s not just him. It’s the suffering in Syria, the corporate greed that caused physical violence on a domestic flight, the endless shootings, the crippling fear that we’re on the brink of WWIII…

Yikes.

Did your blood pressure just spike too? Sorry about that. My point is that I could go down that rabbit hole, I could only see the horror and feel completely hopeless because I know I can’t directly make an impact on any of these atrocities. I could choose to ignore everything going on around me and bury my head in the metaphorical sand like an ostrich (if you didn’t know that’s legit their defense mechanism — you’re welcome for the fun fact you can bring up at dinner parties). But that doesn’t seem like a great idea either. Plus I’d have to become a hermit to fully carry it out because people talk about just as much as we post about it online. But that’s not a bad thing, people definitely need to vent. What’s bad is getting so caught up in everything that it takes away from your ability to function or be around certain people, especially those who disagree with you. So now what?

There’s a third option — you can let it go.

I know, easier said than done, but it’s really the only option that gives you the only thing we really need to remember that we do have control; freedom. When you can accept something for what it is and without assigning it a judgement or label, you can let it go. And that’s really the only way we ever be really free. It’s something that I aspire do to as second nature because right now it’s pretty damn hard.  When people support things that make my skin crawl, I feel like my head it going to explode.  But then I realize that my head exploding only hurts me.

I’ve noticed that when I’m able to let go of hurt, anger, or frustration, it feels like one of the giant elephants sitting on my chest got up and wandered away. Then I can breathe a little better and work on getting the next elephant off me.

If you feel hopeless or powerless, remember that you can control how you feel – or least you can try your damn hardest.  So get on the bus, and live your life.

What it All Comes Down to is Everything is Gonna be Just Fine

I saw my psychiatrist a few weeks ago so he could tweak my meds. I was feeling more depressed than “normal” and having the most fucked up dreams, so I figured I’d ask a professional. Vivid nightmares is a common side effect of my SSRI, so that with the extra 15 lbs that mysteriously added to my body convinced me it was time to get off and just stick with lithium. But my lithium levels were WAY too low so we had to up that dosage and now have to wait to see if it’s all good before we can wean me off.

I hate not having control over what goes into my body. Giggity.

Aside from the meds, I’ve been so consumed in my yoga teacher training program that sometimes I even forget I have a mental illness. That’s right — I’m on the path to becoming a REAL yoga teacher. It feels like I finally found my calling.

Yoga makes me feel so fucking good. It feels like my mind, body, and soul are being massaged by God, or the Divine, or whatever you want to call that energy force we can’t quite explain. It’s the ultimate mind/body experience and I’ve been devouring everything I’ve been learning about reiki, chanting, mantra, Sanskrit, the Hindu deities, and everything in between.

It’s brought a sense of purpose to my life that I’ve been hopelessly searching for. I can’t even describe the feeling of working with someone in a restorative pose; it’s magical. Being able to assist people in a “real” class while watching seasoned, dedicated instructors work makes me feel so happy, peaceful, and alive.

It makes me feel like I have a real ability to help people. You can feel when someone needs to be touched and when they need positive energy. It’s truly amazing.

You can think I’m a crazy hippie or whatever, but I believe in this and it gives me a sense of being and purpose that I’ve never felt before. It allows me to help others and it also allows me to help myself.

When I’m in the yoga studio, I’m not bipolar, I’m not someone who hates their job, I’m not someone with the insecurities that plague most of us; I’m just me. I’m me in my rawest form…and it’s amazing. When I sit on my mat during our closing meditation I feel like all of the labels that have been plastered on me by society and by myself slowly peel away. Every time I practice is a new start.

On Friday evenings we have a class where we discuss our readings and really anything else that comes to our minds. The other week mental illness came up and I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. It was like all the feelings and resentment I hold about having bipolar disorder came flooding back. Because as much I want to be free flowing, positive, and free spirited, I still have bipolar disorder and sometimes it gets in the way.

There are days when I want to get up and start the day with a sun salutation and meditation, but I end up spending the whole day in bed because I’m too depressed to get up. It makes me feel like like I’ve failed my yogi self and that I can’t truly be what and who I want because of bipolar disorder.

But that’s not true. Bipolar disorder is just a work around — sometimes I won’t feel like it’s there and other times it will make it’s presence very known. And that’s ok. It’s ok to have good days and bad days, you just have to remember that having a bad day doesn’t mean you’re letting yourself or others down and that you’re still you.

As long as you have faith in yourself and keep trying, everything will be just fine.

Don’t Stop Believin’

Every so often I like to take a moment to stop and take everything in.  Mentally, that is – I live in New York City and if you stop in the middle of the street you will get trampled by tourists and commuters.  Also you are an asshole.  And there’s a strong chance that where you’re standing smells like garbage or pee.

Anyway, yesterday I caught my reflection in the one of the Macy’s windows and I couldn’t help but laugh.  No I didn’t look like a homeless person (that’s only on the weekends…or after aggressive happy hours).  I looked…like an adult.  A NEW YORKER adult!

I looked at my non-ancient iPhone I was texting my FIANCÉ (ah!) with about planning our engagement party. I looked at the incredibly beautiful and thoughtful engagement ring on my finger.  I looked at the designer sunglasses on my face, the designer bag on my shoulder, and the pricey headphones on my head.  I’m not trying to sound like an asshole – I was just in awe of myself.  Not that long ago I could barely get out of bed, let alone get out the apartment and go to work.  I could barely pay rent, let alone buy myself a purse (my mom had to insist I throw out my old purse because it had too many holes in it), and I was convinced I would die alone surrounded by cats.

Designer clothes and expensive “adult toys” aren’t what matter to me; it’s the fact that I now have the ability and capability to get them.  I bought that purse after I got my start date at my new job because I got a huge raise.  My dad bought me those sunglasses for Christmas because he’s no longer swamped by my medical bills.  My amazing fiancé bought me those headphone because they’re noise canceling and he knows how sensitive I am to sound.

I’m able to have all of this because I fought to get my life back.  Mental illness was taking my life away from me and after a long, grueling battle I finally did.  For a while I let it win because it was too hard to fight back.  I didn’t realize how many resources I needed to fight and a lot of the time it didn’t seem worth it.  I didn’t know that I could have a life like this.  I didn’t know that I could have a successful career, a loving partner, and a comfortable lifestyle that I earned.  My mental illness told me that I couldn’t.  It told me that I was confined to my bed, wearing the same dirty sweatshirt for weeks, isolated and alone because that’s all I deserved.

But something inside me told me that wasn’t true.  Even when 99% of your mind is polluted by darkness there is still that 1%, maybe even 0.01% that holds on.  If you don’t think that you have it, trust me you do – if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this.

You can have the life you dream, in fact you can one that’s even better than you could ever imagine.  But you have to fight for it.  Even if you don’t have a mental illness holding you back, there’s plenty of other things that plague our minds and lives and convince us that we don’t deserve the lives that we want.  Don’t listen to that voice.  Believe that you’re worthy and capable of love and happiness and eventually it will find it’s way to you.

For many years I didn’t think I deserved love or happiness but here I am, sitting in my office writing this post with a diamond ring on my finger.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Depression is a Dick

Depression is a dick for many reasons.  It waits for an event or moment that’s extremely important to you, whether it be a visit from your best friend or an interview for your dream job, and then right when you’re supposed to be happy and excited BAM! Depression is here and it’s ready to ruin your day.  Or week.  Or month.  Or year.

Depression is a dick because it’s like having a leech stuck to your foot. It slowly drains you of your energy, excitement, and passion.  While no one around you sees the cause, they all see the result.  They say “Why are you so down all the time?  You used to be fun,” and “Can’t you just snap out of it?”  But you know it’s the depression that’s making you like this.  You think, “I am fun, I just don’t feel like myself right now.  I’m trying to snap out of it, but it doesn’t work like that.”

Depression is a dick because it makes colors fade into grey.  Foods that used to make your mouth water start to taste like cardboard.  Friends that used to make you happy start to make you exhausted and embarrassed.  Work that used to fulfill you starts to drain you.  And getting out of bed suddenly starts to seem impossible.

But the main reason depression is a dick, the reason I don’t think people realize, is that depression lies.

As depression sinks in and takes a hold of you, it becomes harder to fight back and easier to give in.  Instead of thinking “I am fun,” you think “They’re right.  I must not be fun to be around anymore.”  Depression makes its way into your mind and tells you that you’re not good at your job, you’re not attractive, you’re not likable, and you’re not worthy of happiness.  And if you let it, depression can make you think that your life isn’t worth living.

Do not listen to it.

Fight back against it.  Fight back with therapy, medication, art, music, loved ones – anything that makes you happy.  Don’t listen to depression when it tells you those things don’t matter anymore, remember that depression is a dick and it’s lying to you.
Remember that you are talented, you are beautiful, you are loved, and you are extremely worthy of happiness.  Don’t let depression win.

Anxiety is a Bitch

There I said it.  Anxiety is stupid, inconvenient, and a huge pain the ass. I’m tired of sugar-coating it and pretending like it doesn’t impact me, but today I’m too tired to pretend.  Everyone has felt anxious; some of us experience it because of an incident, like being stuck in traffic on the way to the airport, and some of us feel it all the goddamn time.

My medications help with my anxiety but they don’t take it away.  I still feel anxious just like I still feel depressed.  I think one of the reasons I get so frustrated when I feel this way is because I had this unrealistic belief that my meds were these magic pills that would take away all of the bad feelings and thoughts.  Wishful thinking.

The reality is they don’t and I still get the reminders that my brain hates me sometimes, like when I feel like people are staring at me when they’re not.  For me, one of the hardest parts about dealing with anxiety is knowing how crazy I sound.  At work I get so afraid that someone is going to try to talk to me and I’m going to feel too uncomfortable and too awkward to say something coherent and end up sounding like a lunatic. So I stay at my desk with my headphones on praying that no one will tap me on the shoulder.  It always becomes a problem because I drink a ton of water (thanks, Lithium) so I have to pee every 10 minutes.  But when my anxiety kicks in I feel so uncomfortable and unsafe that I stay glued to my chair until the feeling of having to pee becomes so painful that I have to get up.  Then I walk to the bathroom with my head down, again praying that no one will talk to me, and sit in the bathroom panicking that people think I’m crazy.

The reality is that no one usually notices.  People are caught up in their own world, especially at work.  And even if people think I’m crazy, so what?  I know I act this way because my mind plays tricks on me, but I also know that it happens to millions of other people.  My anxiety makes me do weird shit, like wear headphones without music playing so people won’t talk to me or change train cars because I think people are staring at me.  It also makes me do things that are extremely inconvenient, like walk a mile to the train station only to turn around and walk all the way home to make sure I locked the door, even though deep down I knew I did.  I even wear specific types of hair ties on my wrist because touching them relaxes me.  I do it when I talk to new people and I know it’s weird and people occasionally give me weird looks, but most of the time people don’t notice.  More importantly, it makes me feel calm and that matters more to me than what someone I don’t know thinks about me.

Anxiety is a bitch.  It makes us do weird shit that some people don’t understand and might qualify as “crazy”.  But the worst thing we can do when we’re anxious is get down on ourselves for it.  Everyone feels anxious, whether they have anxiety disorder or not.  And if you need to make accommodations for yourself, like always having headphones or hair tie on your wrist, then do it.  There’s nothing wrong with taking steps to make yourself feel safe and comfortable.  There is something wrong will constantly allowing anxiety to take over and hold you up in the bathroom while you muffle a panic attack.  Believe me, I’ve done both.  Put your mental health and feelings first and find what works for you, don’t worry about how it will make other people feel.  They probably won’t even notice.