I Don’t Want to Be a Canary in a Coal Mine

https://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2017/11/09/are-high-yield-bonds-the-canary-in-the-coal-mine/

Wall Street Journal

Americans without mental health conditions like to talk about people with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions in intriguing ways.

They like to offer us a billion home remedies and natural fixes instead of encouraging us as we seek medication and/or therapy. As such, instead of looking at us as people, they see us as projects who need curing instead of grace.

And then there are those who put us on odd pedestals that I personally never asked for.

They call us canaries in coal mines, extra sensitive to the pain of the world and, as a result, its saviors.

To be honest, I’m not sure which one is worse.

On the one hand, I don’t want my pain diminished and the treatment I seek for it to be demonized. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the world’s savior. And I don’t want my fellow people struggling with mental health conditions to have that burden placed on them.

Because yes, canaries warn coal miners of toxins in the air so they could get out and save themselves.

But those miners also let the canaries die.

That’s the country in which we live. We don’t live in a country that takes care of us. We don’t even live in one which heeds our warnings.

We live in a country that demonizes, ostracizes, and casts us aside.

So please, don’t put us on this pedestal, whatever your good intentions may be, even if it’s out of your desire to rewrite the narrative around us. Please, just let us be people who care deeply about the world and need deep care.

Because even though we are your prophets, activists, and healers, we have to manage our own conditions so your pain doesn’t kill us.

Sometimes, Anxiety Wins

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Anxiety by Giuseppe Cristiano

You try to keep it at bay by exercising 30 minutes a day or cutting sugar out of your diet.

You try to keep it under control with deep breathing, yoga, prayer, and spending time with loved ones.

You try to reason with it by finding the cycles, patterns, words and wording, and reminding yourself they are “just thoughts,” even when they feel like the most true statements in the world.

You try to fight it by telling it you’re more than those dark thoughts say you are, by saying you’re beloved despite all of the flaws it hurls at you like jagged stones, and by asking it kindly to shut the hell up.

Sometimes, you win.

The thoughts quiet to a dull roar and gradually subside. Calm returns, and you continue your routine, maybe a bit more weary than you were before but otherwise unscathed.

Other times, you are pummeled.

The stones cut deep, and the blood flows freely. You curl into a fetal position, out of defense and because everything seems to cave in on you. But still, the stones continue to hit, and they hurt something terrible, and when they finally cease, you lay there weary and languid, wondering if you will ever find the strength to rise again.

And as you nurse yourself slowly back to health with tears and fitful sleep, you wonder why nothing worked. You wonder why the medication or the lifestyle changes or the therapy sessions or any combination thereof didn’t fortify the floodgates.

Maybe you’ll even wonder the most paralyzing, frightening thought of all: was it all my fault?

 

You’ve had these experiences countless times before, but even though you’re used to them, each time can feel more unsettling than the last. Even if your recovery time is better than it has been in the past, it still shakes you to your core and leaves you trembling after the dust has settled.

Because, damn it, what did you do wrong? What could you have done better? What could you have done to have a fighting chance, to not be crushed, to stand strong and not lose the battle?

It’s a terrible question, crushing in its despair and isolating in its seeming loneliness.

And yet, most of us with a mental health condition have asked it.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but I have to admit it:

Sometimes, anxiety wins.

This shit happens. It still does and probably, to some extent, always will.

And it’s not because we didn’t try hard enough, or because we didn’t love ourselves enough, or because we didn’t do enough yoga, or because we consumed a teaspoon more of sugar than usual.

It’s because the exercise, medications, diet, and techniques don’t stop the attacks. After all, they are our tools, not our cure. They are our assistants but not our salvation. We carry them to support us in our lifelong diagnosis.

Sometimes, they keep the anxiety at bay. Other times, they fail us.

And that’s OK. And you’re OK.

You’re OK.

I know it can be hard to believe. The sense of hopelessness following an anxiety attack, combined with the cultural expectation that we hold ourselves together at all times, can be crushing.

But the hard days are as inevitable as the good, no matter how high your dosage or how many times you went to the gym or your therapist this month.

And when they happen, whether you stand victorious or lay defeated, you are OK. And you have permission to let go of the expectation that you’re only OK if you “won” the battle.

Because it’s not all about winning. It’s about surviving long enough to feel like we’re thriving again.

You are OK, beloved. You had a hard day, and you are OK.

And I’m glad you’re here.

Questions My Anxious Self Asks Non-Anxious People

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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?

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.

Anxious and In Love: Our Story

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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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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.