Three Women Talking over Dinner

How 'The Crappy Dinner Party' Helped Me Entertain Without Letting Anxiety Getting the Best of Me

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Once in a while my husband and I will sit down and do a relationship checkup. Just a couple of questions like “how are you really doing?” and “anything you want to do differently?” Kind of like Festivus but without the pole.

He brought up that he’d like to entertain more. Like, people in our house entertain. Sounded doable at the time. Yes, let’s entertain more. Great idea. I’ve always loved magazine spreads showing reclaimed wood tables dressed with linens and adorned with flowers and candles. Cheese trays displayed with grapes, artisanal crackers and those fancy curved cheese knives (I have one and use it for my scratch-off tickets).

Then reality hit. He invited a neighborhood family over.

Immediately I started making to-do lists. Grocery lists. Lists of lists.

As the day approached, I became consumed with how my house looked. The kitchen needs painting. Too many toys on the main floor. God, I hate these chairs…

And as I looked around, I felt like nothing was good enough. How could we have people over with so many scruffy baseboards?

The benefit of being treated at a mental-health facility, though, is they teach me to think differently. What if my house was just fine the way it is? What if I didn’t exhaust myself on the Saturday of the dinner party? Could the evening be less than perfect and still be fun?

Then I went to Google to search “don’t want to entertain too stressful” and like a beacon, the top link shone out: “The Crappy Dinner Party.”

After reading it, I decided not to stress.

I didn’t stress out about the piles of paper here and there. I lit some candles and spent seven dollars on flowers for the table.

The menu was also easy. Recipes I tried out the week before. The only things that are non-negotiable in my world are a clean kitchen (no one gets food poisoning in my house) and clean bathrooms (otherwise, ew).

So I got up on the Saturday, read the newspaper, took the dog for a walk, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms and then had a nap. I had to stop myself many, many times throughout the course of the day when I could feel the anxiety rising. I silently yelled stop! when my panicked mind wanted to take over and cancel the evening. I breathed deeply when my stomach started twisting at the thought of entertaining all night. I did not ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? because my mind is capable of catastrophizing even a casual dinner party. So I walked, I breathed and reminded myself that I was in control, not my thoughts. By the time the doorbell rang, I was relaxed and ready to go. The evening was a huge success and I was able to keep my eyes open past 9 p.m.

I think a few things contributed to success of the evening. Our guests were greeted warmly upon their arrival. I actually said “I’m so glad you’re here,” because I was. The food was good. Not great, but good. Their drinks were refreshed promptly and there was lots to laugh about. A relaxed host makes for a relaxed guest.

Plus, when you face your fears and anxieties head on with a successful outcome, it gives you confidence. I discovered perfection is often the enemy of excellence and that I need to remind myself of that on a regular basis. I realized kindness sometimes involves extending yourself outside your comfort zone. Our neighbors had a great time and I didn’t have the usual fitful night of sleep following a dinner party – wondering if everything was OK. I didn’t have to worry. Our crappy dinner party was really, really OK and I’m OK with that.

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Thinkstock photo via Ryan McVay.

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How Seeing the Humor in My Anxiety and Depression Helped My Recovery

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I remember the first time my therapist laughed at something I said. Her eyes got wide and she quickly told me she wasn’t laughing at me, just the situation I was telling her about. She then said something that was more profound than I realized at the time.

Funny is funny.

Before I continue, let me make it clear that I was OK with her laughing at the situation. I had been seeing her long enough to trust her. I knew she wasn’t laughing at me. I honestly can’t remember what the situation was, but no doubt it was some absurd situation my anxiety twisted into a disaster.

As time went on, I began to see some humor in my anxiety and depression. I started feeling better about laughing during therapy. Before then, I thought it had to be serious all the time. After all, I was paying good money to figure my life out!

I thought my therapist’s office was no place for laughter. However, I began to see there is healing in laughter. I recently had an epiphany in my car and I sent this in an email to my therapist.

“Funny is funny” moment. I took my medication before going into the coffee shop. I felt guilty and thought to myself, “Man, you take these things like drugs.” Then I remembered that it is a drug. So I got a good chuckle out of that.

In that moment, the guilt I felt about taking medication for anxiety left me. I still have moments when I feel guilty about it, but now I have a funny memory I can use to combat the guilt. I have come to enjoy the “funny is funny” phrase. In fact, it’s one of my favorite mantras.

Don’t misunderstand me, mental illness is a serious thing, but sometimes you just need to laugh at your own mental illness. For me, it makes a moment of bad anxiety less intense. It allows me to step back and see my anxiety is lying to me. In those moments, I have hope that my anxiety won’t destroy me. I appreciate the serious times in therapy, but I also appreciate the moments we laugh. I now know both can bring healing.

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Thinkstock photo via MistakeAnn.

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The Harry Potter Creatures That Represent My Anxiety and Depression

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Anyone who knows me knows I have a seriously unwavering love for Harry Potter. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the books or watched the films, I’m a proud Slytherin and I went to a fancy dress party as Hermione (before I got sorted into Slytherin, obvs.) I even want to get my Pottermore wand made for real.

It’s safe to say Harry Potter has a special place in my heart and this magical series has got me through some tough times by being a source of comfort when needed. J. K. Rowling has famously spoken about the fact that she based the terrifying, soul-sucking Dementors on her own fight with depression. The creepy, wraith-like creatures drain the hope and happiness out of anyone who comes into contact with them, leaving them with nothing but the worst experiences of their life. They even have the ability to suck your soul out completely, leaving you trapped in a fate worse than death.

It seems to me that if Dementors represent depression, then Boggarts could be seen as an appropriate analogy for anxiety. Whenever I watch or read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” I try to imagine what would have come out of the cupboard towards me in Professor Lupin’s class. Would it have been a giant spider or wasp? Would it be the cows from the Cravendale adverts? Or would it have been another nationwide bourbon shortage? It might take me a little while, but I’m pretty sure I could find a way to make those things funny and perform the Riddikulus charm.

But what if none of those came out of the cupboard. What if instead I saw my oldest friends turning against me? What if I saw myself being fired? What if I was faced with an older, childless version of me? What if, like Molly Weasley, I saw members of my family lying dead in front of me? How do you make thoughts like those funny? Those are the kind of irrational thoughts anxiety plants in your mind. Then a voice that sounds very much like your own keeps repeating them over and over again until you believe they’ll come true.

Now imagine you’re trying to fight off a Dementor and Boggart at the same time. The Dementor is silently gliding towards you and you raise your wand as you try to think of your happiest memory, a strong memory, but all you can think about is the impressively realistic show the Boggart is putting on for you. As the Dementor gets closer, you feel that eerie chill fill you like ice and you are frozen on the spot. That’s teamwork, that is! And that’s why many people often experience depression and anxiety together. They gang up on you so you feel like you don’t have the strength to fight either.

I have always joked if I were a witch, it would be highly likely that my Patronus would be either a sloth or a koala. Incredibly cute, but no help whatsoever if it came down to protecting my soul from being sucked from my body. What I really need is a Patronus like a unicorn so it could stab those nasty Dementors with its horn. Try as I might, waving around my hand-carved wand and shouting “Expecto Patronum” does not work. No unicorn. Not even a sloth. And I’d take a sloth right now.

You see, last year I found myself back on medication for anxiety and depression. It was the third time in less than five years. When I recover from a bout of anxiety and depression (they tend to visit me together), I have the very best intentions for never letting it happen again. After all, I can recognize the signs now so I can be proactive if I start to see them resurface. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.

This time around, I fought and fought against it. I threw myself into my work which was a great distraction to start with, but as time went on, I realized I was doing my old trick of saying I was fine when I very clearly wasn’t. I’d go into work early so I could cry without anyone knowing. I had to let it out because holding it in was giving me the worst headaches. Then it got to a point where I couldn’t always hold it in.

I didn’t feel that way all the time. In some ways, this was worse because when I’d have a good day or sometimes an amazing one, the next run of bad days would make me feel even worse. Think one step forward and two steps back. By the time I accepted I needed help again, I felt like I’d gone so far backwards that even the starting line was difficult to see.

I’ve been back on my medication for a while now and 99 percent of the time, I feel great. I have the odd day where I feel like utter crap, but everyone does. It’s normal. Even though it is prescribed for both anxiety and depression, I feel like the medication is working as a Patronus keeping the Dementors at bay, allowing me to tell my anxiety where to shove it!

I also made some lifestyle changes which I truly believe have helped. I am eating better and I have heaps more energy. I also made a conscious effort to stop doing things that were causing me stress or I just wasn’t enjoying as much anymore. I now have a completely full diary again, but it’s with new classes, roles and ventures that bring out my creative side and allow me to nurture it. I smile every day. Even if it’s been a bad day, I smile as I get into bed knowing tomorrow is a new day.

I’ve accepted I may experience a relapse, but I will never stop fighting the Dementors and Boggarts that come and visit me from time to time. They are a part of me now just like Harry Potter and his wonderfully magical world is.

Follow this journey on Gloriously Ungraceful.

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Photo via Harry Potter Facebook page.

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19 Tips for When Anxiety Keeps You Up at Night

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Having anxiety is difficult, but it can often become more difficult when anxious thoughts keep you up at night. It’s as if anxiety waits until our heads hit the pillow to start in on the things we still need to do, ruminate on worst-case scenarios and replay things from the day we wish we could do over.

So to help put these anxious thoughts to bed, we asked our mental health community to share what helps them cope with anxiety at night.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “I have to sleep with the TV on. For some reason, by focusing on what’s on the TV, I can block out what I’m dwelling on.” — Ashleigh T.

2.I try and recite the alphabet backwards in my head.” — Be B.

3. “Starting from my toes to the top of my head, relaxing each muscle possible in sections. Also, tightening my whole body for 10 seconds, then releasing.” — Amy P.

4. “I cannot sleep without my white noise machine. I have it on the ocean waves setting because the ocean is my happy place.” — Katie C.

5. “Making unimportant lists!” — Karen J.

6. “I diffuse essential oils with calming scents. My favorite [is] lavender mixed with some peppermint. It helps my breathing and the calming scent of lavender can help me unwind and fall asleep.” — Danielle M.

7. “Yoga stretching, really hot shower, petting my kitten, eating a handful of nuts and a breakfast bar, switching pajamas several times, adjusting ceiling fan, repeating military alphabet.” — Rachel S.

8. “Prayer. It calms me, relaxes me and helps me get to sleep.” — Erin M.

9. “Music often comes with too many emotions, but silence is awful. I listen to comedy TV on low. It helps to drown out the thoughts in my head without potential negative emotions.” –Danielle E.

10. “Listening to Sarah McLachlan. I used to listen to her with my psychotherapist and now, when she comes on, there is a calm that just automatically comes over me. I carry my headphones and iPod wherever I go and if I start to feel overwhelmed or anxious, I’ll go sit by myself and listen to Sarah.” — Shannon S.

11. “For me, it’s normally a long cry and a bath. If I’m not too exhausted then I get up and find something to do that will make me sleepy, like a household chore.” — Katie J.

12. “That text from that special one who somehow has the ability to know when I’m falling all the way down and naturally cheers me up.” — Dang H.

13. “Counting my blessings. Visualization of a happy place.” — Marney R.

14.I lie on my back and tell myself I’m entitled to a good night’s sleep and it’s my time to relax.” — Julie B.

15. “I watch baby animal videos. I can’t help but smile when I see a puppy!” –Hailie H.

16. “Audiobooks set to a timer and soft fairy lights and my dogs asleep at the bottom of the bed. Soft bedding helps and something nicely scented on [the] bedside table. Starting a nighttime routine was important too.” — Edel W.

17. “Listen to my husband snore. It’s actually really soothing to me.” — Bonnie E.

18. “Taking deep breaths and [using a] grounding method. I look around the room and once I’ve gained some control, I walk around and touch five things. It somehow brings me back to the present.” — Anna C.

19. “Hugging my stuffed lion.” — Anita F.

What would you add?

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The Time I Had a Panic Attack at a Wedding (Without Anyone Realizing)

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I was running late. I don’t remember the exact details of why I was late, and they remain an ever elusive blur, but I remember checking my watch while getting my hair done. I had 10 minutes to finish getting ready, and I wasn’t even halfway there. My dress lay un-ironed on my bed, makeup products strewn across it haphazardly. It would take me at least 40 minutes to get ready, which would mean I would be half an hour late. I checked my watch again, smiling nervously at my hairdresser. My mind raced. How did this happen? I counted minutes, backtracking the events of my day, searching for the mistake. Why did this always happen to me? I began feeling lightheaded but brushed it off. I was probably just hungry — being late meant I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, which would be served at the reception.

I raced out of the hairdressers and put on my dress, zipping it up with shaky hands. They began to get clammy, and I wiped them on my dress. “It must be the heat, it’s just hot in here,” I thought to myself. I put on my makeup with great difficulty, the tremors spreading up my arms making the meticulous work of drawing on eyeliner a challenge. I did it nevertheless, checking my watch every few minutes. I was already late, but each time I watched the minute hand move, my heart hammered even harder in my chest. Forty minutes late. What would people think? I strapped on my heels. 43. My mom was driving me there, and she wasn’t ready yet. 44. I knocked on her room door, reminding her for the 10th time that we were late.

Finally, we were in the car. 49. We reached the venue. 63. By the time we had reached, my mom and I had gotten into an argument about why we were late and whether she could have gotten ready sooner. I felt faint and dizzy. “Must be the low blood sugar,” I thought. I was an hour late and hadn’t eaten yet. I stumbled out of the car and slipped into the ladies’ room, smoothing out my curls and touching up my lipstick. My heart was racing so fast, it felt like a robotic hum in my chest. “Must be the excitement and the stress all rolled up into one,” I thought.

I walked into the reception hall, spotting a table of friends and acquaintances sitting together. One of them waved, and I walked over briskly, smiling and waving back. I said hello, my voice a pitch higher than usual. I babbled on about how busy my day had been, how lovely everyone looked and how beautiful the venue was. I bent down to hug one of the seated friends, gripping the back of her chair as I felt my knees weaken. My knuckles turned white. She grinned and told the girl next to her how characteristic it was of me to be “bubbly, excited and full of energy.” I was full of energy all right. Nervous energy.

I stumbled around the room meeting people and making small talk, feeling like an untethered balloon. I couldn’t sit still or stand in one place for more than a few seconds. The lights were bright. I looked at my watch. 75. I felt disoriented and suddenly overheated. Why was I still counting? It struck me that I had a plate of food in front of me and I hadn’t eaten a bite yet. I didn’t remember being served or what I chose. I blinked, confused. 80. I suddenly felt cold. I held a shaking fork up to my lips and felt it drop.

Months later, I looked back and realized I was having a panic attack at that wedding, and I didn’t know it. People met me, told me how lovely I looked and how nice it was to see me. I laughed and talked so they wouldn’t see the turbulent emotions I felt inside. I told myself it was hunger, low blood sugar, excitement. Nobody else seemed outwardly perturbed or distressed, so I mirrored their calm and tried to hide it not just from everyone else but from myself. I realized later that being late made me anxious, and on that day it built up and turned into a panic attack.

To others, I looked excited and eager to mingle. Sociable, chatty. I had on a fancy dress and expensive shoes. They didn’t see the shaking hands, the sweaty palms, the weak knees. They couldn’t see the disorientation hidden by fake smiles and small talk. They couldn’t hear my racing heart and ragged breaths or the battle I was fighting with my thoughts. On the outside, I looked like I was enjoying myself. On the inside, my mind was spinning out of control. I buzzed around the room, exuding nervous energy people mistook for confidence.

I see now that I might have been too scared to acknowledge what was happening. I’m not scared anymore because I realized I’m not alone. I still get anxious, especially if I’m late to an interview or big meeting, but now I try to pay attention to the feeling and notice it building up. Each time I notice it and acknowledge it, I feel it lessen, and that is something I don’t want to hide.

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Thinkstock photo by Hill Street Studios

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Floating Balloon In The Air

When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me

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Living with anxiety for me means living every day with the constant worry that everyone in my life who means something to me will one day up and leave me. It means needing to insistently talk to and interact with everyone in my life. I feel like I am holding a bundle of helium-filled air balloons, and the more I talk to someone, the tighter my grip on the string gets, and the less likely they are to get away.

Yet, life and experience have taught me this is the exact thing that makes people want to leave even more. The more I smother and pull, the farther away they get. My constant insecurity of being alone drives me to push people out of my life. Now isn’t that ironic?

I’m scared to be alone because that means I will be alone with my thoughts — the worry and the constant running to-do list that will never be finished. My anxiety makes me high maintenance, and there is nothing people hate more than dealing with someone who is high maintenance. It is exhausting, I have to live with myself every day.

This downward spiral of not wanting to be alone has gotten to the point that if I don’t talk to someone every day, I have accepted the fact that they hate me and have rid me from their life.

However, reality has taught me people just get busy — for days, weeks, or even months at a time, and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you anymore. You don’t need to talk to someone 24/7. It’s smothering. My goal is to start living in the moment with myself more.

My goal is to try and start controlling my anxiety and channeling it in different ways than tethering myself to everyone around me. I want to be able to let myself fly away sometimes. Let myself worry but talk it out with me. I want to be able to start troubleshooting my own problems and trust myself to be alone again. I want to be able to enjoy being alone, entirely and solely in touch with myself and how I feel. I’m hoping this will start to allow me to trust others more and believe in myself.

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Thinkstock photo by rubatos

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