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.

For the Rough Days

o-anxiety-facebook

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.

“What if…”

ropes

futuretimeline.net

It’s the question I ask a hundred times a day in a hundred different scenarios.

“What if…you really stood up for something you believed in, or told someone you disagreed with them, and they hated you for it?”

“What if…you talked to that stranger, and they thought you were weird and didn’t want to be your friend?”

“What if…your boss knew about what you don’t get done and fired you?”

“What if…you spend a bit too much money this month and bounce your account and get evicted from your house and have no health insurance?”

These thoughts paralyze me. They always conclude with the worst case scenario. They’re exhausting.

And these thoughts plague me all day. They can be mild or seem cataclysmic. Sometimes, I can easily dismiss them.  Other times, I have to fight tooth and nail to convince myself these thoughts are not my reality.

My therapist taught me if something I say or think begins with “What if,” it’s to be dismissed as “just a thought.” Sometimes that works. Other times, I wonder if, just this once, it’s not just a thought but an inevitable fact. I begin to doubt myself, my therapist, my loved ones, everything and everyone I know and trust.

But sometimes, I remember the other “What ifs,” which actually pushed me forward and had postive outcomes.

“What if…I used my stories to encourage other people with anxiety?”

“What if…I use my blog as a platform for social justice, to call out those with privilege to break systems of oppression and fear, and to stand in solidarity with the marginalized?”

“What if…I try out for Twelfth Night and meet some of the most amazing people ever?”

“What if…I pursue a deeper relationship with this cute, blonde best friend of mine?”

Not all of my “What ifs” are paralyzing or pessimistic. Some of them offer hope, a chance to consider something new and wonderful. They have been the thoughts which led to some of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

“What ifs” are double-edged swords. They are full of paralysis and potential. They hinder and help. They are part of who I am and how I live.

So how do I live a life empowered by the positive ones, not enslaved by the negative ones?

How do I live a life in which my thoughts pull me forward instead of tie me down?

pull

makeyourbestself.com

Prologue

A few days ago, I decided my next blog post would be about my constant need for affirmation.

Then I sat down at my keyboard last night and second-guessed whether or not that would be an appropriate topic.

So I went downstairs where my fiance and roommate were hanging out and explained my dilemma to them.

They laughed.

I understood the irony of asking for affirmation on my blog post about…affirmation, and I returned to my keyboard.

****

I’ve needed affirmation my whole life. It’s one of those quirks that comes with the package that is Me.

My friend Rachelle and I even came up with our own “affirming” ritual during Twelfth Night rehearsals. One evening, she had received one too many notes and “suggestions” from the director concerning her acting, and she told me she just needed a bit of affirmation to keep going. So I did the totally-not-creepy gesture of stroking her cheek, looking her straight in the eyes with a big smile on my face, and repeated “AFFIRMATION” until she laughed.

We still do this every time we see each other, and the play ended almost two years ago.

smaug

We also give each other these affirmations, although we say, “You is fire. You is death.” It’s ridiculous, which is why it’s so effective.

Yet I still need those cheek strokes and cheers of AFFIRMATION on a daily basis.

I see my counselor twice a month, but lately I have called her once a week because of the nagging thoughts bouncing around my head that I just can’t let go of. I ask her if the thoughts I have are true, and if the fact that I have them means that something in my life has gone wrong. Every time I hang out with a friend, I air before them a laundry list of worries, and one by one I ask them, “Is this fear real?”

After looking at each worry, they reply “No, Lindsay, this is something you made up.”

And to their replies, I say, “Oh. You’re sure about that?”

The tricky thing about affirmation nowadays is that I’m second guessing everyone’s affirmations!

I doubt the intentions of my friends and even my counselors towards me and assume they only tell me I’m OK because they’re annoyed with me. I wonder whether they understand what’s going on, because if they did, they would tell me how unhealthy I am, how much my relationships are deteriorating, and how my life is falling to pieces.

They insist that I am well, but how? Can they not see what I see on a regular basis, what my intrusive thoughts know to be true: that I fail more often than I succeed, that I am wrong more often than I am right, that I am a burden and not a joy?

These intrusive thoughts I have are quite cruel. I try to accept them as only thoughts, but that doesn’t make their blows light. Now that my head is clearing up a bit, I can recognize their true nature and release some of their control over me. Every now and then, though, they throw me for a loop. And when I’m not in a good place, they knock me down and drag me under.

I could tell myself that when I get an intrusive thought about my relationship with my fiance, I don’t need to worry about it, because we don’t have any threatening problems. When I start doubting my competency at my jobs, I don’t have to assume I will be fired, because my bosses and co-workers esteem me. I could even affirm that the words I’m writing now aren’t complete garbage and might even inspire a few people.

But why would I do that? How could I do that, when the intrusive thoughts are obviously the true ones, and ignoring them will just get me hurt?

I try thought replacement. I tell myself I can trust the deep calm that lives beneath my anxious surface. But then I think of past mistakes and miscalculations, of the times I have let people use and abuse me, of the times I have been terribly wrong about something and had the rug pulled out from under me, and I start to doubt again, and I run to others to tell me that I am not wrong, because they are obviously more trustworthy than I will ever be.

It’s a vicious cycle. I’m trying to work my way out of it, and I know it will take a lifetime and then some. And right now, it’s kind of in that middle stage, where I still need others to tell me I am fine but can do a little bit of self-affirmation. This is due to the fact that I feel like my head is breaking the surface of the deep waters of anxiety and I’m no longer drowning.

It’s threatened on a regular basis, though. When people I admire go through their own crises, I begin to doubt my own strength to handle my own. When other peoples’ relationships fail, I doubt the strength of the relationships I have. When trailblazers conform to the status quo, I wonder if I’m wasting my time trying to go against the grain.

I have to work on affirming myself every day. And when I  struggle to do that, I continue to affirm what others have told me time and time again: I am fine. Maybe one day I’ll believe it for myself, but when I can’t, I try to let them believe it for me, even when I wonder if I can trust them. It’s a very odd paradox.

But one day, I will be able to look at myself, stroke my own cheek, give myself a big, cheesy smile, and say “AFFIRMATION,” and actually mean it.

Affirmation