Tuesday, March 17, 2015

ANXIETY: What Makes Me Anxious, How I Deal With It, and How it Affects YOU (Plus pictures of my cat)

Hey you guys! Today I'm bringing a topic to you that is very personal. It goes hand in hand with my anxiety blog from back in January, but it is slightly different. Instead of telling you what anxiety feels like to both me and others who experience it, I'd like to share with you what anxiety looks like on me when I'm experiencing it and how anxiety affects certain decisions that I make. If nothing else, my hope is that it will help others to understand who I am as a person because of my anxiety and why I do some of the things I do. I'm not really excited about this post being yet another "all about me" post (I always feel really bad when I post things with no pictures and nothing exciting to read!), but it's a subject that is definitely very relevant in my life right now. You should also know that this will probably be a long post. But I promise I'll get to some more interesting stuff soon! So let's get started!

Please enjoy this picture of my cat, Marble, as a token of my appreciation for you having decided to read this very long, pictureless-- and possibly very boring-- post.

The reason I feel that this post and my other anxiety posts are so important is because the more people talk about it and the more people with anxiety that come out of the wood work, the better the world will begin to understand it and empathize with those who experience it. Even when I write to you guys and talk about myself, I learn things and put together things that I didn't realize were related. As I get older and spend more time analyzing myself, pieces of the puzzle are revealed and I am able to put so much more together so that I can further understand my issues and that I can work on them. I'll admit that I have a long way to go down this road. Some days are just fine and some days are awful, but the key for me is to analyze what happened during those days so that I can understand what sets me off, what is good for me, and how to deal with those things when they aren't in my favor.

I've said it before and I'll say it until I'm blue in the face-- anxiety is such a severely misunderstood mental disorder. Those who study it understand it the best they can without actually having it. Those who have it understand it... if they make the effort. Those who only see it and don't have it can sort of understand. But there are also some people who just simply do not understand it and completely discount it, responding with things like "get over it" or "that's not real, grow up." Even your own friends and family members can feel that what you're experiencing is not real, and that makes communication extremely difficult. I have people in my life that I know do not understand my disorder and do not believe it is real or believe that I am pretending that it is much worse than it is... So when I'm feeling anxious, I try to hide it from them (which sometimes backfires, like in the situation this past week when I ended up going to Sacramento). I actually start to feel bad that I'm feeling anxious, like I'm doing something wrong and I will be chastised for it.

Please enjoy this picture of my cat inspecting my face.

Compare it to the feeling of doing something but having no proof. Did your dog eat your homework? No one will believe you because everyone else has their homework and you don't. Couldn't you have stopped the dog from eating it? You should have put it someplace that the dog couldn't have gotten to it. Do you even have a dog? Where is the evidence? You have no proof that you did your homework. That is the oldest excuse in the book, therefore it isn't a valid one. Enough of your excuses, I'll see you in detention after school!

I also realize that there are many people out there who have never been diagnosed with anxiety and use it as an excuse for things. For example, OCD is very similar. Many people complain about "having" OCD without having it at all. It is too common of a term that is used by uneducated people who want a reason to get their way or a reason to explain things. Does that make sense? Possibly not, but the point is that the more people who pretend to have a disorder but actually do not are "crying wolf" for the people who do. It becomes less believable. Of course there are people who actually have these disorders, but not actually having them and throwing them around is counter productive for those who do suffer from them.

I do want to throw a disclaimer out there stating that I know these are my issues and my issues only, and my issues specifically stem from fear that I am unable to control and sometimes unable to pinpoint. Not everyone that does the same things that I do has anxiety. For example, I shake my legs when I am concentrating or deeply engaged in something, but I also shake them when I am subconsciously anxious. Some people simply have habits and they have nothing to do with anxiety at all. Additionally, people who have anxiety do not all have the same habits. Lastly, not all people who have anxiety are set off by the things that upset me personally. Anxiety is a very wide umbrella and can cover almost every aspect of life.

Please enjoy this picture of my cat and her fabulous manicure (ask me about why you shouldn't declaw and what you can do to prevent your cats from tearing up your furniture!)

So let's talk about my anxieties. Here is a short (yes, this is short!) list of things that really set me off and will cause me to exhibit some of my anxious habits. Underneath, I will give an example of this anxiety and then explain how I try to cope with it. That's right-- I'm calling myself out on my own bullsh*t. Now you'll be able to spot my anxieties, but my hope is that it will help people to better understand that I'm not just being a crappy person when I do some of the things I do-- I'm just trying to cope in the only ways I know how.
*These are in no particular order.

1. Personal social situations with people I do not know very well

Example: You invited me to go out to lunch with you, but I have only known you for two years. I feel that I have not known you for enough time, and I will be concerned that there will be awkward silences or that something I say will be offensive. This anxiety stems from a fear of being a disappointment and being unable to get out of an uncomfortable situation. If you know me, you know I like having a car with me. I do not like being a passenger and relying on another person to get me home, because my situation relies on them and I may not be able to escape a situation without making someone leave someplace that they are not willing to leave just then, therefore inconveniencing them. Therefore, given the opportunity, I will always drive.

Anxiety Relief: I will often just turn you down. I am constantly worried about offending people. I am also worried about how my anxiety will be that day, and I will turn someone down on the basis that I may have to cancel anyway and cause them inconvenience. I will also say no because I have such terrible headaches so often that I am always afraid I will get one and have to cancel. This is terrible, and I make up a lot of excuses to avoid putting myself in these situations. You could offer to take me to my favorite singer's sold out concert and I would still probably turn you down and play it off like I don't like that singer enough to go to the concert. Why do I do this? Remember how I said before that people don't always understand anxiety and I feel very self conscious when I admit to people that the reason I don't want to do something is because of my anxiety? Well, here you go. My excuses are my way of satisfying someone's curiosity of "Why?" (because a simple "No" is apparently never a good enough answer for any situation) and, at the same time, relieving my fear of having to tell someone that I'm feeling anxious about something. I also try not to use the anxiety explanation often, because if I used that explanation every single time it was true, people would either think I was a basket case, that I was lying to them about having so much anxiety and my anxiety itself may seem to become an "excuse," or a person will get real sick and tired of me and my anxiety and dump me as a friend completely because I am an inconvenience to them (which has happened many times). I would rather be labeled as flaky than crazy.

2. Being alone in social situations (having no one to "fall back on" if I get caught in a situation that I cannot handle)

Example: I rarely go anywhere without Patrick, or at least a close friend whom I feel comfortable with that I can latch onto. This anxiety stems from a fear of being a disappointment and being unable to get out of an uncomfortable situation

Anxiety Relief: In a way, Patrick is my saving grace, but I also use him as a crutch. Let's just say that if there is a social gathering, I won't be going if he isn't going, and if he and I are both there, I will follow behind him if he decides to leave the room. I rely on him a lot to carry the conversation so that I can just interject at random intervals. This way, I feel like I am a part of the conversation, but the focus doesn't have to be on me. Plus, since he knows me so well and knows what makes me anxious, he can steer conversations in a different direction without my having to say so and he can spot when I need a break and take me aside if need be. Although this can be bad more than good, it is actually helping me learn how to be more social because it is teaching me my social limits and also it forces me out of my comfort zone; if it were up to me I would probably never go to a social gathering ever.

3. Committing to things, especially social situations.

Example: Have you ever noticed that I never RSVP for anything unless I absolutely have to? This is because of my fear of disappointment. I would rather take the heat and get yelled at for not letting someone know I will be somewhere/ that I won't be attending an event than let someone know I will be attending something... And then get anxious about it or have another perfectly reasonable explanation and back out at the last second, frustrating people even more. This anxiety stems from a fear of being a disappointment and being unable to get out of an uncomfortable situation

Anxiety Relief:  Let me first start off by saying I'M SORRY THAT I DO THIS. I KNOW IT IS FRUSTRATING. This entire situation revolves around anxiety. Here's how my brain goes:
1. Someone has invited me to do a thing. I really would like to do the thing, so I can't say no, because what if I'm able to do the thing that day?
2. But what if I'm feeling anxious that day or I have a headache and I can't do the thing?
3. I can't commit to doing the thing if I'm not sure I will be able to do the thing.
4. If I say yes to doing the thing and I'm unable to do the thing, people will be angry at me for dropping out at the last second.
5. I can't admit to someone that the reason I can't say yes or no is because of my anxiety. What if they don't believe me or put any stock into how real my anxiety is?
6. I think I just won't say yes OR no. I'd rather be vague about it than disappoint people later when I can't do the thing.


1. Someone has invited me to do a thing. I'm feeling brave. I will say yes to the thing.
2. In the weeks/days/hours leading up to the event, I start to feel anxious about the meeting because of an aforementioned anxiety (personal social situations with people I do not know very well)
3. I have to cancel at the last second and upset someone because I have convinced myself that the situation will be a disaster somehow and now my anxiety is through the roof and I can't even brush my hair to get ready to go out without panicking.

And this is how it goes. I don't RSVP for stuff and I am so sorry about it. Truly, I am. This is one of my biggest struggles and I have been working on it for years. Believe it or not, it has gotten slightly better.

4. Stuff on my skin, my skin not feeling normal, or things that constrict my body

This is a very all-encompassing issue. Here are examples of the "problems." I have no idea what this fear is or where it comes from.
  • When my skin is too dry or too greasy, especially my hands or face
  • When my clothing is too tight
  • There is some sort of abnormality on my skin (rough heels or uneven skin on the inside of my cheeks)
Anxiety Relief: If my hands feel dry, they actually feel dirty and I will wash them. Which makes them drier. So I carry lotion with me at all times... But it has to be a specific lotion. One that fully soaks in and doesn't make my hands greasy, but also doesn't have a lot of drying, alcohol-based fragrance. I also wear extremely loose and comfortable clothing most of the time. I have a hard time wearing belts, heavily padded bras, tight shirts, or tight pants. I also have a hard time wearing makeup and I can usually only wear it if I am doing something engaging that will prevent me from thinking about it. As soon as I'm no longer moving or doing something, I feel the need to tear my face off to get the makeup off (for this reason I often carry around baby wipes or I will go as far as washing my makeup off in a public restroom). I also carry oil blotting papers at all times. I'm terrified of antiperspirant because it makes the skin feel dry and I am afraid to touch it, so I either go without or wear non-antiperspirant deodorant. I'm just a mess when it comes to this issue.

5. When someone I am close to is ill, in danger, or if two persons I am close to are arguing. 

This one is also self explanatory, and it is a source of anxiety for most people, but I felt I should include it because it does include some terrible side effects, which I will get to down below. There is also not really a "thing" I can to do treat this anxiety other than the situation resolving itself, because I am often not directly involved and you can't just make people do what you want. This stems from the fear of losing someone or change.

6. When a thing changes abruptly or I am not given enough time to adjust to the thing.

Example: When I was in the 5th grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Smith (yes that is his real name). Although I loved Mr. Smith very dearly and I thought he was the coolest teacher, I did recognize that he wasn't the best teacher. His methods were disorganized and he had no lesson plan, and when he thought of something great he would do it without warning. One day he announced that we would be doing projects on an animal of our choosing "eventually." He said no more about it for probably a month, and he was super vague about it from the very beginning.

Everyone had eventually forgotten about the animal project, but one day Mr. Smith announced that we would be starting the project that very day and he handed us a very vague syllabus. The entire project was just that-- vague. As a ten year old child, this was way too much freedom for me. I needed structure. I needed him to tell me what exactly he wanted us to do with the project. I needed him to have let us know a couple of days in advance exactly what we would be doing for this project (because it was such a big project) and what was expected of us to receive a good grade. So what did I do?

I refused to do the project. For days, I wouldn't pick an animal. I wouldn't talk to Mr. Smith. He actually had to call my mom and talk to her to understand what was going on. Even she didn't understand, but she was able to get me to talk about it, and through heavy tears I explained that I felt that the project was sprung on us and that I felt that I did not understand the requirements but I was expected to, therefore I was afraid of 1. Not understanding what was expected of me because the project was so abruptly given to us, 2. Being afraid to ask what was expected of me because I felt that asking would make me look stupid, because all of the other kids seemed to get it and were able to start with no problem, and 3. Ultimately failing to do the project because I didn't know what to do and I was afraid to ask. I am the type of person who won't even try if it means failure, and so I shut down and wouldn't do the project. Eventually, I picked the Polar Bear and I partnered up with Conner Jelonek, a classmate of mine, and it all turned out fine and dandy, but someone had to walk me through it. I'm not good with freedom. I need requirements. If you expect something from me, tell me what you expect, otherwise I will fail.

Another example is when my parents went to pick out their last car (mini van). I felt that I was not given any time at all to adjust to the situation. One day, we just went to the car dealer and got a new car. Things changed without any time for adjustment and I cried the entire way home in that big, ugly silver van. I'm sure I just have residual feelings from the situation, but I still hate that van. These issues stem from the fear of abrupt change, feeling unprepared, feeling out of control of a situation, and being a disappointment.

Anxiety Relief: As seen above, if something is sprung on me or if I feel I am not given enough time to prepare, I will completely shut down. I won't know how to express my feelings or explain that I am feeling anxious or why, and I will turn off from the world. This is actually really debilitating in the work place because policies change all the time without notice and I will rebel against them until the thing is changed back or someone puts their foot down with me and my fear of losing my job becomes worse than my fear of the thing changing.

7. Not being able to breathe

Example(s): I bought a steel-boned corset a few months back to try waist training, but I found that it would restrict my breathing too much. I could stand it for about an hour-- maybe two-- until suddenly, I was either trying to tear it off of myself or yelling (yes, yelling) for Patrick to come help me out of it. I decided that waist training was not for me.

Yesterday, Patrick picked me up and flung me over his shoulder, but my own body weight was putting pressure on my stomach/chest against his back/shoulder. I immediately started flailing and trying to grab at something-- anything-- to put myself upright so that I could breathe.

My showers only last 5-10 minutes (really, as short as I can get them to be while still doing everything I need to get done as fast as I possibly can-- I have taken three minute showers before). The water cannot be too hot, the fan must be on, and if the shower gets too steamy, I will have to open the curtain and let the cold air rush in so that I can breathe clean, cool air again.

I cannot swim underwater without plugging my nose because my urge to breathe is too strong, so I just avoid swimming because water freaks me out anyway.

Panic attacks are particularly terrifying for me because the lack of the ability to breathe normally terrifies me and makes me panic even more and then my breathing becomes even worse, which makes me panic even more. It is a never ending cycle of badness. Obviously this is the fear of asphyxiation, which is my absolute number one biggest fear.

Anxiety Relief: Being very particular about where I am and what situations I put myself in. I don't swim often. I take short, warm-- not hot-- showers.

7. Phone calls TO someone or phone calls WITH someone that I don't know

Example: If I have to call someone-- even if I know them-- I will have anxiety because I don't know who will pick up and I cannot rely on facial cues and body language to let me know how this person is responding to our conversation. This is especially terrifying when I am calling land lines, because most people have personal cell phones that are rarely answered by another person. As for phone calls with people I don't know, let me explain: If I have to speak to someone at a doctor's office and they are the ones calling me, it doesn't matter. I will still have anxiety through the roof. This is normally more in personal situations, therefore I can be trained in a work environment to make or take phone calls-- but it takes me a long time to be comfortable with them and I need a lot of training and practice to make this a thing that doesn't make me want to vomit just thinking about it. This comes from the fear of being a disappointment and being unable to control a situation.

Anxiety Relief: I am constantly trying to challenge myself on this one because we really will never live in a world without verbal communication. I challenge myself by offering to call offices for Patrick if he is on the road, verbally calling in prescriptions instead of using their automated system, or making phone calls to family members even if I'm not feeling talkative. If I have to call any one (be it a person I do or do not know) and we have a lot to discuss and many points to cover, I will actually open up a Word Document and type out my thoughts, rehearse them so that I don't sound like I'm reading during the phone call, and have my computer open during the phone call so I can consult my notes, make notes of the conversation, or look up any information that I am asked but do not readily know the answer to. However, whenever possible I email people (not text people). Text messaging is hard because it implies that you check your phone often and a response is expected in a timely manner. If you don't respond in a timely manner, an excuse needs to be provided. However, email is checked much less frequently and no response is needed, plus you can email from a computer where all of your thoughts are ready in front of you on a nice, large screen, and you can edit your message as many times as you want/need until what you have to say is perfect. Trust me, I edit my blogs at least three times AND have Patrick proofread them every single time before I post them... And then after I post a new one on Facebook, I will read it one last time while you guys are reading it and change any last minute typos, thoughts, grammar issues, etc.

8. Going to sleep/no longer being awake *AT NIGHT ONLY*

Example: Every night I stay up later and later. This is because I push the boundaries and will only go to sleep if I am absolutely exhausted. I have no issues like this when it comes to napping, which I do often because my sleep schedule is so messed up. I also have no idea why I am so anxious about going to sleep. I don't experience the anxiety every single night, but I would say it happens about three out of every five nights, possibly more. I just don't want to go to sleep. It's not insomnia. I get exhausted and then I will fall asleep and sleep really well. I very rarely wake up in the middle of the night unless there is a loud noise or I have to pee. I truly don't know where this comes from and I would love some insight if anyone has any ideas. Even with the help of this article, which explains that sleep anxiety is not all that rare, I still can't figure out what mine is caused by.

Anxiety Relief: As previously stated, I push the boundaries. I will only go to sleep at night when I am exhausted. I have also trained my brain to respond positively to a certain perfume that I have, so when I put it on and smell it, I feel more at ease, although I do try to reserve this for really bad nights because I also use it to calm down during the day and I don't want to back-train my mind into thinking that the perfume is a smell I recognize when I'm anxious. However, this helps most nights (and in many situations during the day, too), and if I put it on before the anxiety gets too bad, I will be able to go to bed at a time similar to the night before and not 30, 40, or 50+ minutes later. Right now my "bed time" is around 4am and it keeps getting later.

Please enjoy this picture of my cat being really unimpressed by our selfies and my ridiculous kissy face.

Now that we've gone through some of the worst things that cause me anxiety, let's talk about what my anxiety looks like. We've already discussed how I will avoid social situations or other situations that could cause me anxiety, but once I'm already in those situations and I cannot get out, what do I do?
  • I fidget. Anxiety is not always the reason I fidget, but often I fidget because I am feeling anxiety on the inside that I don't realize I'm feeling. For example, just because I've stopped thinking about a thing does not mean my brain is not subconsciously thinking about the thing. My most common fidgets are chewing on the insides of my cheeks/lips, playing with my phone, or shaking my legs. As I am writing this, I just realized that I am shaking my leg, and I know that the reason is because one of my family members is ill and in the hospital. My cheeks/lips are also particularly raw today for the same reason. I know these drive people nuts, especially the leg shaking thing because often others can feel the shaking or seeing it makes them feel anxious, but I do not mean to do these things on purpose. I don't even realize I'm doing them. I have to make a very strained, conscious effort to stop doing these things, and I only every notice if someone points it out. 
  • I go hide. If I'm feeling anxious, I'll leave a situation and go regroup, often in my car or a bathroom or wherever I can get to to take a deep breath. No, it doesn't take me that long to pee. I just need to calm down.
  • I stop talking. I often can't think of anything to say in a social situation, and that in itself causes me anxiety, but then because I can't think of anything to say I will shut down, and that makes the awkward silence that is causing me anxiety even worse. 
  • I talk about what is making me anxious (possibly too much talking) but not explain that I am talking about it because I am feeling anxious about it. For example, I will often talk about how something I am eating is super unhealthy for me, because I am afraid I am being judged for eating the thing (especially because I am not, nor have I ever been, a skinny gal who should be able to eat anything she wants), but I am acknowledging that I know the thing is unhealthy, and then I keep talking about it and I won't shut up and I try really hard to justify my actions. 
Please enjoy this picture of my cat, who is real pissed that I gave her a bath.

So, that's it for this edition of HOW BROOK'S ANXIETY CHANGES HER PERSONALITY AND HER LIFE. If you got through to the end, I hope you guys enjoyed this post or at the very least learned something! I know it was a really long post about a subject that not everyone finds interesting (me). Again, I'm always open for questions and comments and I love feedback from you guys, so don't be shy!

I will say that this specific blog post is important in opening up a seemingly unrelated topic that I want to discuss with you guys pretty soon. I mentioned having a blog "planned" in my very last post, and the one that I'm talking about now is the same one that I was talking about then. I'll get to it soon, I swear! 

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