tattoo that reads: say yes

When Anxiety Says No, I Say Yes

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I wake up every day terrified of something. Whether I’ll meet that day’s work deadline. Whether the last thing I wrote was crap. Hell, I worry about getting the girls to school on time. You’d think that since I’ve never missed a deadline and never been fired by a client and consistently arrive at school so painfully early that we have to cool our heels in the parking lot so I don’t have to pay extra for before care – you’d think that I’d “get over” these worries. But history of success is no match for my brain’s ability to envision the worst-case scenario.

This is what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder.

I used to crave a day when I would wake up calm and reasonable — what I imagine life is like for people who seem to ease through their days unscathed by worry and fear. But I’ve given up hope of that. I’ve accepted that anxiety will by my constant companion, my fellow traveler through life. When it comes to my anxiety, I try to manage it mostly with thought control. Over the past two years, since a nervous breakdown left me unable to shower on the regular, what I’ve learned to do is the opposite of what my brain tells me.

Now, if my brain tells me to stay under the covers, to not bathe, to eat Eggos and chips for breakfast instead of real food, here’s what I do instead: I force myself to get up, to make the bed, to wash myself, to fry an egg.

And if my brain tells me to stay timid, to not raise my voice, to give up at freelancing and seek a day job that would be much easier on my nerves than this constant hustle, then I send out more pitches, reach out to more contacts, dive into new projects.

Because for me personally, to hunker down is to “die.” At one point, that death could have been quite literal, as suicidal ideation was my mind’s favorite hobby. Today, giving in to worry would represent more of a figurative death: Death by letting anxiety keep me from living a bold life.

And in 2017, my goal is to live the boldest life possible.

So I’ve been doing the opposite.

Just this week, fate-like, a friend from 20 years past reached out to me with an offer to fill in for a drop-out on her Grand Canyon rafting trip at the end of March. The trip will end with me hiking 10 miles out of the Canyon with a mile gain in elevation.

I’m not a hiker, not a wilderness camper and I’ve never rafted. I can’t tie knots, I don’t cook and I cannot overstate how out of shape I am. “Irregular yoga” would describe my exercise routine for the past year. As in, sometimes when my back hurts from writing all day at the computer, I’ll do the “child’s pose” on the mat behind my desk for like 30 seconds.

I said yes.

I mean, I have a tattoo on my wrist that tells me to do just that: Say yes. To do things even though they terrify me, even though I absolutely hate doing things I’m not good at, hate the thought of letting people in a group down, cried through a humiliating ski trip years ago with experienced skiers, broke my foot getting out of the bathtub, passed out at Universal Studios and spent the rest of that vacation in the Disney World hospital recovering from heatstroke.

I said yes. Even though I spend my days anxiety-ridden about the smallest of small stuff, even though I battle imposter syndrome on the daily, even though I don’t particularly like being wet and/or cold, even though I make a thousand decisions every week simply to stay “sane.”

Because I will not let anxiety defeat me. I will do the things that scare me – the big things and the little things. And I will no doubt wake up the next day still terrified of something, and I will do it all over again.

Follow this journey on Reedster Speaks.

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I Count to 10 and I Still Feel Anxiety

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I feel like I can’t stop moving.

I feel like my insides are churning and my mind is working so fast I can’t even tell what I’m thinking. People ask me what’s on my mind and I have to say nothing, but it’s everything at the same time — like I’m about to burst or explode and my heart might stop, or something. I count to 10 and I still feel it. The movement. I find a way to channel it but it only lasts a short time. I organize my closet. I write a story. I clean the files on my computer, again. I start a journal. I stretch myself out. I text some friends.

I feel like a burden.

Everyone hates me. I cancel plans. I worry. I worry no one likes me. I worry my wife will leave me. I worry I upset someone. And when I do, it is the end of the world. It collapses on top of me and I am unable to breathe. Air doesn’t fill my lungs and I can’t get enough of it, not now. I count to 10 and I still feel it.

Is that a new freckle?

I learn everything the internet has to offer about skin cancer and everyone tells me that it looks normal, that I’m fine. I’m not fine, I’m never fine. My mind keeps spinning and I feel everything bubbling over. Five more text messages, I’m still a burden. My wife is at work and I blow up her phone, thinking maybe she’s mad at me. Isn’t everyone, always?

I am a failure.

I’m 25 and this isn’t what I wanted my life to look like. I like my job but it’s not what I’m passionate about. I live in my mom’s house while I wait for my wife to get permanent residency in Canada. I miss my friends. I miss my sanity. I miss myself. I miss the way I used to feel inspired every day to do something bigger and better. I miss thinking I could do anything. The world seemed bigger, once.

I am exhausted.

I stay up late every night because panic fills my chest and I can’t bring myself to stop moving. I go to work like a zombie but I put on a happy face every day, like a mask I wear with my lipstick. I am a contradiction. I move constantly, needing to find the quickest way to distract myself at every moment, but I am so tired I can hardly see straight.

I am anxious.

This is what anxiety looks like. I am a ball of panic most of the time. There is always something new, nagging at my ever moving mind. Sometimes, I feel like my brain is filled with little buzzing flies, zipping around nonstop and I can’t silence them. I count to 10 and I still feel it.

I am hopeful.

It is worse now than it has been in a long time. But it’s also better. I believe in myself, because I know there is a light at the end of this frantic tunnel. I accept the days when I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I accept myself as someone who breaks down once in a while, because recovery isn’t always smooth sailing. I accept myself for my imperfections, because we all have them. No one is perfect.

I am working on accepting I am my best self.

In the moments when I don’t know if I’m good enough, I will remind myself that I am a good wife, a good daughter and a good friend. That when I make mistakes, I always try to correct them. That when I hurt someone, I will always apologize. That when I feel like I’m not living up to my perhaps impossibly high expectations for myself, I will set new goals, and tell myself that life means having small setbacks here and there. That when I don’t think anyone likes me, that I like me. And that when I don’t, I look for the good parts. Because they’ll always be there, even when I don’t see them.

I will breathe.

Because as my partner reminds me constantly, it all starts there.

Just breathe.

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The People Who Threw Me a Life Raft When I Spoke About My Pain

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There isn’t a day I don’t feel anxiety to a varying degree. It could be a whisper of existence while I walk into a store or a loud thunder when I have to drive somewhere out of my comfort zone. It could be a breeze like flutter that blows by when I have walk into work from the parking lot or can be a crashing wave when I’m home all alone with my thoughts.

My anxiety is like two opposites.

I have days where the light, sunshine and warmth radiate happiness and I can live with the low level static noise of anxiety. On those days I just might feel a flutter of butterflies in my stomach if I have to make a phone call. It doesn’t really affect me. I’m happy and thriving, loving life and “high-functioning.”

I have days that feel dark and lonely and full of fear. On these days I feel like I am being attacked with irrational thoughts and fears. I just do my best to get through each day one thought at a time. Often during these times, I am staying close to home, spending longer times meditating, reading and doing what I can to get through. I’m talking to people in the Mighty Community and trying to just keep my head above water.

What I always try to remember during those days is “this too shall pass.”

Living and thriving with anxiety is just something I have gotten used to. It is part of who I am.

It has helped me be compassionate and caring to others who have anxiety. It helped me to be supportive and encouraging while I was a counselor. It continues to allow me to offer insight and awareness to others trying to understand what it’s like.

It has brought me valuable meaningful friendships with others who “just get it.”

I can’t tell you how many times I am able to recognize the silent symptoms of anxiety. I understand the language of fidgeting, hair twirling, feet tapping, avoidance of eye contact many people with anxiety get. We have a silent language people with anxiety learn.

This knowledge is a gift. I never used to feel this way, but anxiety has made me a kinder person. It has allowed me to take my experiences of the hardest days I have survived and be a cheerleader for those feeling hopeless.

I trust others who have lived through similar experiences more than someone who just tries to understand from reading a few books or taking a few courses. There is much to be said for the phrases “I understand” and “I know what it’s like.” They offer a deep sense of relief.

I never used to talk about or share my days of struggle. Then one day I was drowning in my own despair and a kind stranger from the online Mighty Community threw me a life raft when I spoke about my pain. They said things like “me too” and “I know how you feel” and “you will get through this.” I believed them because they opened up and shared similar thoughts, feelings and stories of survival. It gave me hope.

In this moment, I realized the value and importance of not just shining bright on your good days, but letting yourself be vulnerable enough to be seen on your bad days.

I can now throw this life raft to many others on days people feel they are drowning.

Together we get through this. When I’m well, I am source of strength for others and when I am struggling, I look to others to hold me up.

This is the Mighty Community.

It’s what we do. It’s how we are able to face our mental illness without shame and gives us an opportunity to pay forward the support we have be given.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Anxiety Is a Lot of Things. But It Isn't Your Stereotype.

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Anxiety is a lot of things, but it isn’t always what you think. It isn’t always huddling by a tree outside the nightclub, arms wrapped around my knees, shaking and sniffling as a friend rub my back, telling me it’s OK to get overwhelmed. It isn’t always flashing lights, shouting partygoers and pounding music that pulsates through my eyeballs and drives me to the street, abandoning my drink and thoughts of dancing. It isn’t always electricity shooting through my veins with my limbs and extremities tingling with it until I collapse, exhausted by the stimulus my own body can’t interpret the way yours can.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

It isn’t always waking up with a rock in my throat that doesn’t dissolve no matter how hard I swallow. Coffee doesn’t help. Orange juice doesn’t either, although the acidity feels nice burning past it. It doesn’t always dissipate with deep breathing techniques I’ve learned through years of choking on my anxiety. It isn’t always unexpected and unwelcome. Sometimes it’s as sudden as the common cold and as subversive, sneaking into my body through my psyche.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

It isn’t always an unkind word or offhand comment turned around and around in my feverish brain until it’s as smooth and polished as beach glass. It doesn’t always slither in through text messages that probably mean nothing, arguments blown out of proportion, words, phrases and looks to be dissected like so many laboratory table frogs. I can’t always add those slights to my collection in the cement-mixer my brain becomes when it’s time to go to sleep. It isn’t always there, rattling me from restfulness.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

Anxiety can be all of these things or none of them. Its insidious appearance depends on the person who presents it. Mine can be as subtle as snapping at my husband over nothing – that is, nothing he did or said except the thing that touched off a circuit in my brain that has nothing to do with him. It can be thunderous and stormy, a cacophony of shaking and crying that wracks me as physically as it wreaks havoc on my brain. An episode anyone could see and say, “that’s what a panic attack looks like.” But it could also be silent stony faces, retreating behind my crowded room mask, walking quickly to my car so I don’t have to speak and betray my mouth is full of cotton.

So when you think of what anxiety is, let yourself hold many moments in your mind at once. Let yourself think of it as a many-headed beast and remember it regenerates each one it loses. Let yourself listen to the person whose anxiety you’re thinking of and let their individuality be OK. Anxiety is as unique as each of us. The only thing we may have in common is that anxiety always, always is.

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How I Made Anxiety My B*tch at Work

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This morning, I woke up OK, went upstairs, started making coffee… And was blindsided by an anxiety spike.

After a few breathing exercises and some groovy music, I was in enough control to finish getting breakfast ready and start to get ready for work. On the following drive, I could feel anxiety trying to worm its way back into my mind, grasping every foothold possible. Pulling into my parking space at work, I knew I was in trouble. I texted my support squad, let them know the situation, asked for help to make it through the day and steeled myself for a long, frustrating battle.

As work began however, I quickly realized that I could turn the tables and make anxiety work for me. Instead of focusing on the fear and panic, which is how anxiety works, I try to escape it by focusing on something else. Usually, I focus on a TV show or babble with someone to distract myself from an anxiety spike, but at work, I don’t have that luxury. What I do have is work.

So I took all of the fear and panic and stress and poured myself into my work, pushing the envelope, always asking for things to do after my responsibilities were fulfilled. It wasn’t the most exhilarating day, but it was by far my most productive since starting there three weeks ago. When anxiety tried to destroy me, I turned it on its ear and made it my bitch.

Today was a victory day. Hopefully, I can use this tactic next time anxiety tries to attack me at work. Finding ways to make your demons work for you is not the easiest. It’s taken me years to have a day like today, and I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll get a second one like it. But knowing that I was able to defeat my anxiety, and make it work in my favor, is huge.

I wish you days like this, fellow warriors. Days of victory, of success. I wish you all the hope that you will find ways to make your demons your bitches too, and that you will know how strong and empowering a day like today feels. You can do it. I know you can. Even better than that, I know you will. I did it, and so can you.

Stay strong, warriors.

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