Questions My Anxious Self Asks Non-Anxious People

anxious

Agoramedia

What is it like to just relax and not worry that you’re forgetting some huge responsibility and therefore can’t allow yourself to fully enjoy your self-care time?

What is it like be like to hear someone’s story and not immediately use it as a yardstick against which to measure your own quality of life and well-being?

What is it like to understand right away that when someone asks you a question, they do so out of curiosity, not because they’re trying to trip you up or make you feel insecure in your lack of knowledge?

What is it like to hear someone critique you without feeling your complete sense of worth drain away from you?

What is it like to wake up from a weird dream and simply accept it as a dream and not as if it is said deep, terrible things about who you are and how your life is?

What is it like to make a mistake at work and not immediately assume you’re going to get fired because you’re useless and replaceable?

What is it like to look at your partner and just understand that they love you unconditionally instead of assuming they are so annoyed by you that they only reluctantly deal with your garbage?

What is it like to accept that you love this person more than life itself without second-guessing yourself anytime you notice someone attractive or see other people more “lovey-dovey” than the two of you are?

What is it like for your friends to do things without you and not assume they are leaving you out on purpose because they can’t stand you?

What is it like to have questions about life without becoming so fixated on them that you can’t see the world around you?

What is it like to have political conversations without either blowing up on those who disagree with you or shrinking into yourself because you don’t trust that your answers are good enough?

What is it like to be secure in who you are and confident that you are enough?

What is it like to not panic about the state of your bank account every time you hand over your debit card or hit “Complete Purchase” on a screen or pay a bill?

What is it like to not have to worry about when the anxiety is going to come back in ways that will crush you after months of peace?

What is it like to not have almost every single memory touched by anxiety’s constant presence?

What is life without anxiety like?

I still don’t know. I don’t know if I ever will.

So tell me: what’s it like?

Why I Didn’t Participate in Good Friday This Year

Larry Pattern

I find myself irritated at people who skip through Holy Week in their rush to Easter, and those who participate in Holy Week while talking about how Sunday is coming. I don’t like seeing “He Is Risen!” proclaimed on church signs or Easter hymns on Palm Sunday or pictures of the stone rolled away from the tomb on Holy Saturday. Even though I know how the story will end, these little gestures still irk me the same way someone revealing spoilers to an episode I have yet to see does.

But it’s Holy Saturday, and I have a picture of the open tomb a day early.

And when I woke up on Good Friday morning, I emotionally skipped ahead to Sunday.

I felt well-rested after a week working a Girl Scout day camp, and the day was sunny and gorgeous. I spent the day with Bryce, grabbing lunch together at Sheetz (because we like “good” fast food”), dropping the car off to get a tire alignment, and going for a long walk in the Northern Virginia area before heading home to relax and play video games/read comics for the rest of the evening.

I did this instead of attending a Good Friday service, a first in 4 years, because I my soul wasn’t in a mourning, uncertain period. Instead, it was full of joy and more relaxed and content than it has felt in a long time, and I needed to honor that.

When you struggle with anxiety on a daily basis, you’re no stranger to fear, despair, uncertainty, and even devastation. For many of us, Good Fridays happen weekly or, for stretches of time, even daily.

So when Good Friday came, but my mind was content and resting in Easter, I knew better than to disrupt it. Instead, I let it be.

I didn’t mourn. I didn’t think about the fear and death I, or even we as a nation and as humanity, experience on a daily basis.

Instead, I let Easter arrive a little early for me. I let my soul rejoice in this resurrection taking place within me, from a new job and a steady income, as well as renewed vigor in productivity and relationships. I let myself lay my burdens down, walk lighter and taller, and simply rest in the peace surrounding me.

Some may ask how I can celebrate Easter if I haven’t stopped by the death and uncertainty of Good Friday.

But I can say that after enduring days, weeks, and even months of Good Fridays, the joy of resurrection is still very much real to me, even if it arrived a few days earlier this Holy Week.

I remember where I was last Good Friday. I was kneeling at the foot of a black-shrouded cross at Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, tears streaming down my face, internally pleading to God to stop the onslaught of intrusive thoughts in my mind. I was on a medication that wasn’t working, but I was too afraid to stop it lest the thoughts grow worse. I was barely in control of my mind most days, since paranoia and restless thoughts streamed through it day and night with few interludes.

I remember spring bursting with new life all around me that year, but I hardly noticed. I could only focus on the pain and turmoil wrestling within me. Good Friday and Holy Saturday were so real in their pain, despair, and uncertainty that year, and I needed them more than I ever have in my life. They met me where I was.

This year, though, I have seen the newness of spring from the beginning. I notice trees blooming, flowers bursting forth from the ground, the grass growing greener, and the chirping of birds. I notice them this year, because my mind is in a good place to allow new life in instead of being bombarded by anxious thoughts.

This year, I’ve learned to cling to the days of Easter when the Good Fridays ebb out. I’ve learned to hold onto the rejuvenation of the Easter days in order to have the strength to carry on for the next wave of Good Fridays.

So this year, I did not participate in Good Friday. My mind and soul woke up to Easter, and I let them stay there.

And that was OK. In fact, it was necessary.

It didn’t mean I copped out of the story, nor did it mean I said death and despair are too big, scary, and difficult for me to handle.

It meant I know the journey as a person with anxiety is already full of overwhelming Good Fridays, and when the breaks come, it is in the best interest of myself, my loved ones, my work, and my faith to take advantage of them.

So if you struggle with mental illness, enjoy your Easters when the Good Fridays are finally over. If you remain in Good Friday and Holy Saturday when Easter arrives, don’t rush into a resurrection you’re not ready to experience. Wherever you are, this Holy Week and those to come, let yourself be there. This story proves God has been through death, despair, and resurrection, and just as God did not rush through those, God will not rush you through to the end.

Be where you are, and know God is there with you.

I Had Another Panic Attack

panic

SquareSpace

I was on my way home from church on Sunday. My body and mind carried the exhaustion of one less hour of sleep. Bills were piling up and paychecks loomed in the too-distant future. I felt the anxiety creeping a bit, but a good Sunday School class and a solid service kept it pacified.

Besides, despite some money concerns, Bryce had just deposited a work paycheck last night. I figured I at least had enough money to get a bit of gas and maybe a cheap lunch on the way home.

I left church and drove to the nearest gas station. To figure out how much I could put in my tank, I did a final check of our bank account.

And I found $1.47 remaining.

The levees in my mind began to crack under pressure, causing fissures which allowed the first streams of panic to enter.

I felt anger at Bryce for telling me the check provided us enough money to tide us over. I felt anger at the phone bill that had zapped that paycheck away. Fury threatened to bubble over as I pondered the little money we had despite the work we did, and embarrassment gurgled within me as I compared my life to those of my friends who’ve graduated and have jobs they love and actually went to school to get.

The fear simmered beneath it all. Fear and shame. Fear of the car insurance bill getting paid before they cancelled my insurance, of not having enough gas to make it home, of not being able to keep a literal roof over our heads. Shame over my lack of resources and dependency on our parents, over having a Master’s degree with nothing to show for it, over what my family and friends must think of our destitute situation.

I kept it beneath the surface, though. I had a few teary, sobbing outbursts on the ride home, but I stayed well enough to not need to pull over lest I wreck the car (and further increase my insurance premium).

When I got out of my car after pulling into the driveway, though, everything unleashed. The levees broke, and the panic flooded in.

Bryce stepped out of the house. I didn’t want to face him. I felt too much fear for our living situation and misdirected anger towards him. I knew he’d see it. I knew he’d ask what was wrong.

And I knew he’d worry.

He’d worry about the money situation, yes, but above all, he’d worry about me.

I didn’t want him to. I wanted to hold myself together on my own for once, to not need a hug or a shoulder to cry on.

But I needed his hugs and his shoulder. I needed to collapse into my bed and let my body shake with the panic threatening to overwhelm me.

I tried to walk right past him without saying anything, but he knew right away I was having an awful time, and not because he knows me so well. I’m crap at hiding my emotions, especially when they are this overpowering, so my red, swollen eyes, trembling lips, and overall air of misery I carried tipped him off immediately. I croaked out a reason for my current state, something about not having any money and freaking out about gas and the car insurance bill, as I forced my feet to move forward.

Not yet, I told myself. Don’t let go yet. Let’s get to the bed first. Then we can break.

And break I did.

I crashed onto the bed, curled into a fetal position, and wailed.

Panic attacks really are paralyzing. They are mind-numbing and body-freezing. The feeling of drowning is such an accurate metaphor, because the mind drowns itself, suffocated and engorged by its own thoughts.

My lungs could inhale and exhale, but my mind struggled to push itself out of the depths and into the clarity of calmness and perspective. Those were on a distant shore. Sometimes during an attack, they are beyond sight. At moments like this one, I wonder if I will ever again feel ground beneath my feet.

I don’t know how long I lay in bed, crying until all that was left within me was pure exhaustion. I can’t remember everything I cried about, although finances and appearing “adult enough” were among the topics over which I was so anxious.

I remember getting over my initial anger the moment I saw Bryce’s lip quiver when he realized the state I was in. I do know he came in and held me as I cried to the point of hyperventilating. He’s never seen me do that before, and we’ve known each other almost 9 years.

I remember he stayed with me as the panic racked through me, then flowed out of me. I remember him telling me he deposited another small check from work to tide us over a few days. When I calmed down further, we worked out what bills needed paying soonest and what money was coming in.

Before leaving me to fall asleep, we managed to exchange a few jokes and even some laughs. He gave me an extra grilled ham and cheese sandwich our roommate had made. And some gentle hugs and kisses.

I read a bit from The Autobiography of Malcolm X and fell asleep, peaceful once more.

We Good? Reflections from an Anxious Person on Lent

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Nate Pyle

Having anxiety can make participating in Lent difficult.

My character perfection tendencies go into hyper-drive, and I am in a constant state of wondering just how well I’m doing with this whole “faith” thing.

Have I repented? If I have, how will I know?

Is giving up Netflix to read books from a few #BlackLivesMatter movement guides going to wake me up for real?

Am I good? Am I forgiven? Am I made new?

Will Easter be enough for me, my sins, and I?

Will this journey be enough for me?

I met with my spiritual director Linda this last week. She asked me how my “faith life” is going, which is such a difficult question for me. I’m never quite sure how to answer it, because I’m so anxious and such a perfectionist, I always think it’s not going as well as it could be.

So I told her I started meditating in the mornings. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, so it’s not really a Lenten practice, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a part of my “faith life” as much as giving up Netflix and reading books by black writers.

But meditation is so hard for me, because my mind is so busy, and honestly, going deeper into myself, the sacred spaces God calls me to examine and dwell in, scares me.

What will I find within me?

Will there be love and acceptance? Anger and hatred? Firm kindness, or judgment?

After I shared these concerns, Linda talked to me about the concepts of “original sin” versus “original blessing.”

Original sin begins with the assumption that all humans are made sinful (which is confusing because if God is good and we are made in God’s image, so what does being inherently sinful say about God’s nature?). According to this doctrine, we tell ourselves over and over “I’m not good. I cannot to be who I am. I must strive every day to reach an unattainable perfection that is unlike me.”

I was not made in blessing. There is nothing good to which I can return. There is nothing towards which I can keep striving, because I will always have that sinful nature in me, even as I aspire to be holy. The journey becomes tedious, exhausting, and even pointless.

If we messed up in Eden, how could we possibly make anything better outside of it?

This theology asks: What good are we? What good is God if God made us this way?

When we remember we are made in God’s image, when we remind ourselves our original creation was one of blessing and joy, when we remember the unbound, unconditional love God has for us, we remember who we are meant to be.

We remember we are made to love God and our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. We are made for more than our worst sins, our cruelest words and deeds, and our most embarrassing moments. We are made in a holy image, and even when this image is smudged, attacked, or hidden beneath our deepest wounds, it remains within us.

This original blessing, this uttermost essence of ours, is who we are, and we live life and seek God’s help to not only remember this, but to be this holy image in a painful, beautiful world.

This theology asks: How can we return to the good God made inherent in us? How do we continue to live out the Love within us with God’s help?

I took this theology to my meditation time the day after our meeting.

I sat on a yoga mat in the basement, facing my fiance’s guitars. His area is the tidier spot in the basement.

I breathed in and thought of my congressional representative, over whose comments about issues I became so furious. I breathed out and honored the blessing of his creation and the image of God inherent in him.

I repeated this process for the President, his cabinet members, and people who drive me crazy on a regular basis.

I repeated this process for my fiance, my parents, and my youth group.

For good measure, I repeated this process for myself.

Meditating on our God-given image changed the way I look at and even engage with people. It also reminds me while I am called to show the perfect love which casts out fear to the people who deny justice and mercy, this same, perfect love doesn’t cast out frustration, sadness, and the need for accountability.

Because I honor the image of God in myself, I honor it in others.

And because I honor this image of beauty, love, and holiness, which is inherent to every single one of us, I will continue to keep calling out the times I and others act in ways contrary to our holy nature.

So I keep praying. I keep remembering the image of God, first in myself, and in others, the ones I adore and the ones I abhor.

And my prayer for myself and for us is this:

You are made to love. How are you showing it?

Anxious and In Love: Our Story

bryce

My fiancé Bryce and I have been together just over 6 years now and engaged for 7 months. We met 8 years ago at Bridgewater College after a group of friends and I awkwardly greeted him with an Anna-Farris-from-The-House-Bunny-inspired salutation, and he was gracious and crazy enough to want to be my friend afterwards. We bonded through long-distance runs, 7-11 trips, and long walks on campus discussing faith, relationships, and dreams. My mother loved him when she first met him, his Dad thought I was awesome after I single-handedly moved a recliner into Bryce’s dorm on Junior year move-in day, and we finally admitted we liked each other over an awkward silence in his dorm kitchen in November 2010.

He’s the best, y’all. He’s a goofball with big dreams and deep thoughts. He’s a liberal Baptist who takes the commitment he made at his baptism seriously, even through doubts and questions. He loves video games but doesn’t like watching TV all the time (unless it’s anime). He got me into running and comic books, and my mom accuses him of turning me into a liberal (even though he’s now a bit more conservative than me). He gives me big bear hugs and an obnoxious amount of kisses, and he will sleep without blankets if it means the kitty curled up on them doesn’t have to move.

He’s been my most consistent companion and true partner in crime (I even identified him as such on an Emergency Contact form).

And through it all, we’ve lived with a third wheel: my anxiety.

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Being in any kind of relationship as a person with anxiety is tough, but romantic relationships seem to have their own special struggles. We began dating almost 2 years after I ended an emotionally abusive relationship, so while I entered our relationship with strong feelings and a foundation of trust, I worried he would turn into someone I no longer recognized. My anxiety can latch onto anything that could possibly be interpreted as attacks on who I am and what I believe: jokes, opinions, faith, life stories.

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We’ve been through boughts of poor communication and snap judgments. Because my anxiety flares up in times of conflict, there are times if he expresses his opinion or asks me to stop doing something which irritates him, I fear being controlled and push him away. If we roughhouse too hard or in public, I might retreat out of fear that he is abusing me or someone will interpret our actions as such. If we disagree on a matter of theology or a social issue, or if I become convinced we don’t have enough common interests, I fear we aren’t compatible enough. I have exhausted both of us on numerous occasions with my suspicions, “what ifs,” and false assumptions over something he has said or done.

My anxiety even flares up when I realize that, out of my fear and pain, I have caused him pain. When Bryce tells me my anxiety is difficult to deal with, that he is exhausted with all the effort he puts in only to have me distance myself, when I seem to be putting in little effort and he has to pick up the slack, I want to hide away and internally beat myself up.

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I’ve realized the importance of counseling, support systems, medication, a healthier lifestyle, and good communication. I continue to learn how to tell him what makes me anxious without assigning blame to him, how to tell the thoughts in my head that they aren’t real and don’t get to call all the shots, when to talk with another friend or family member about my anxiety when he needs time to decompress, and how to look into the gentle, kind, and mischievous eyes of the man I love and know in my deepest heart that despite what my fears say, I have found an amazing man with whom I can share my life.

We’ve had to acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with each other. We go through times when he puts more effort into communication than I do. We confront our issues head on instead of pushing them away. Sometimes he struggles with why I can’t let things go or why I get upset over seemingly meaningless and illogical issues. Sometimes I get upset when he’s less than understanding and tries to make things better when there’s no way to do so.

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Being an anxious person has made us deal with some hard things, and we have loved each other through them all.

We’ve learned to talk with each other in open and honest ways, even when the vulnerability hurts. We’ve learned each other’s quirks and how we accept feedback, insight, and assistance. I’ve learned to put my own anxiety on hold to support him in difficult times. He’s learned to hold me when there’s nothing left to say.

We’ve learned to be a couple, a pair of people doing life together. We’ve learned to do tough things and journey through them with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.

Despite what the movies and stories may say, finding the one I love didn’t fix my anxiety. In some ways, it made anxiety more difficult, because it no longer just belonged to me; I had to share it with another person.

But this journey has given me someone I know will not run away on the bad days and will celebrate with me on the good ones. This journey has made each of us into people who can, as my counselor says, “bump up against each other” without the other one falling.

Neither of us are perfect humans (despite whatever else we may tell you), and ours is not a perfect story (despite being told on a regular basis that we are #relationshipgoals). But we do our best to be supportive, understanding, and present partners, and that’s more important and attainable than perfection anyways.

Here’s to us and our ongoing story, my love.

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Kettle Bells, Books, and Cuddles (Or, How I’m Coping in Healthy-ish Ways)

I keep seeing wonderful posts about “How to Stay Sane and Healthy in the Midst of Intense Political Trials.”

When I read them, I think, “Oh, how helpful! Thank you for reminding me not to sprint this marathon! I will do the things you say to do to stay well.”

And then I read another political post, get upset, and fret over calling my representatives (and the representatives of other states).

I still have some work to do with this whole self-care thing.

Other days, I do alright, though.

Some things I do to lighten the mental, emotional, and physical stress include the following:

Kettle bell swings. These are excellent because I get to toss a large, metal bell (with either a chimp or orangutan face, because my husband-to-be loves Onnit and monkey faces), which requires a lot of force, which means I get to hurl out a lot of pent up anger, frustration, and stress.

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Tight Lightning

Watching political-but-funny TV. My favorites are Parks and Rec and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Parks and Rec is government so light and happy it might as well be run by golden retrievers (Knope for 2020!), and Trevor Noah rehashes current events with a sarcastic and prophetic edge (Noah for VP 2020!).

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TheWrap.com

Reading. Lots and lots of empowering reading, like Maya Angelou, Glennon Doyle Melton, and J.K. Rowling. Reading and re-reading their stories has been beyond healing and inspiring.

Huffington Post, Momastery, and Wikipedia

Letting my fiance hold me. A nice rush from pheromones and the knowledge that the love of my life is by my side, even as the world is going to hell, is quite helpful.

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Yes, we often hold each other like this. And yes, it is comforting. We’re odd people like that.

Wedding planning. It’s oddly therapeutic, and especially exciting now that I have a wedding dress! Although I’m sad said dress is at my mom’s house because I can’t just sit in a closet and stare at it whenever I want.

Singing in the church choir. Focusing on a lot of ranges as a musically-inept person is in and of itself a welcome distraction, and, as my choir director says, “Those who sing pray twice.” (Pretty sure she stole that quote from someone, but that’s OK.)

Teaching youth Sunday School. My students are some of the most passionate and woke teenagers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, so getting some Lectio Divina in together after talking about national affairs is extra inspiring!

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Writing. Whether it’s political, spiritual, nerdy, entirely personal, or a mix of all, writing is fantastic therapy, and it’s free! I get my thoughts out, see through their jumble and tangles, and feel my burdens fall to the page and leave a bit lighter than before.

And therapy itself. This kind costs money, but it’s money VERY well spent, since I can bemoan my political situation to a like-minded spirit while also receiving self-help tips to manage my anxiety in the midst of crisis.

These are ways I’m coping with political and personal stress. What are some of your methods? Please share in the comments below! We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other through!

For the Rough Days

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Huffington Post

I’ve been on Lexapro for a couple of months now. And overall, I’ve felt fantastic.

My anxiety is at an all-time low. I focus better. I write, laugh, relax, and play more. I’m re-reading my Harry Potter books and catching up on my Netflix queue because I want to, not to dull an onslaught of intrusive thoughts. I even downloaded a video game in the hopes of making time to play it with my fiance.

I talk to others more, and not just about my anxiety. I genuinely ask them how their days are going in order to catch up with them, not to be cordial so we can talk about my problems ASAP. Counseling sessions are devoted to a few big incidents that happened and how to both deal with them in the future, and maintain my health as it is. My fiance and I spend less time processing and being frustrated by my fears and more time planning family visits, house parties, and our wedding.

I’m doing great. I’m really doing great.

And then rough days happen.

The rough days are the days when I am simultaneously overstimulated and exhausted and cannot handle it. They are the days when every comment contains underlying condescension and disappointment, when I want everyone to leave me alone AND to hug me so I can get all my pent-up emotions out. They are the days when I look at myself and only see a failure who doesn’t have enough time or money to visit my beloved family members, who are obviously furious with me and prepared to disown me for my atrocities. These are the days when I struggle to trust and open up to my fiance because of a stray comment or lack of caring about something that is obviously so important to me.

These are the rough days, and when I’m on medication, they hit me pretty hard.

Because, I tell myself, I’m not supposed to have these days. I’m supposed to be cured and fixed and well, and a cured, fixed, well person doesn’t act this way. So something must be wrong with me or the meds.

So I go on internal tirades against myself.

Why isn’t the medication working? Why are my counseling tricks not helping today? Why was I fine last week but not today? Why was I fine with this thing a month ago but it’s bothering me this week? Why am I panicking about the future when I was confident last night?

What am I doing wrong?

I know anxiety and medication don’t work this way. I know the bad days will happen, and they will not be as bad as the days when I was overwhelmed with thoughts day and night with little to no respite.

But…why do these days still have to happen?

Why can’t I depend on my mind to give me peace? Why must I continue to fight to maintain the calm? Why is this still difficult?

These are my thoughts on the rough days.

Today is not a rough day, and as such, I have some words for myself and others who are in the midst or on the other side of a rough day.

You are OK.

You don’t feel OK, and that’s OK.

But trust me, you will be OK.

You can be upset and still be OK.

You can be mad at people and still be OK. And they can still be OK, too.

You can be worried about money and still be OK.

Give yourself permission to feel those pesky feelings without rushing to the conclusion that something terrible is happening because you’re feeling them. The medicine is working fine. You are fine. Feelings and bad days still happen, though. This just might be how “other people” feel more often than not. You’re in good company.

You’ve gotten through the rough days before. You’ve gotten through much worse days before. You will get through this one, and the next one, too. Eventually, maybe today or another day entirely, you will encounter another good day and let the rough one slip to the back of your memory until next time. That’s fine. You need the good ones to get you through the rough ones, to remind you that those are not the end.

You have a family who loves you and won’t disown you for not being able to show up for the holidays. You have a fiance who will always love and be faithful to you, rough days and joyful days alike. You have friends who care as much about your happiness and anxieties as you do theirs. You have enough to make it through, even if you don’t have enough to buy comics and candy bars.

You’ve got this. You’re OK.

So go ahead and feel, and do what you need to do to feel it proper.

I’ll be here through it all.