Reaching Out

I finally decided to get help about my anxiety. Despite how it may seem from my periodic blog posts, I actually think I manage my anxiety pretty well. One day I realized that when I think about my life in the future, I assume I’ll quit my current part-time job with the military. Why? That’s a good question. I mean, I love my job. I love the people I work with, the cool things we get to go out and do, the stories I get to tell, the person I’ve become as a result of my service. The only part that I don’t like is my anxiety. And yet, I want to quit because of the anxiety and panic attacks. And I decided that’s not okay.

I always used to think that as long as my anxiety isn’t running my life then I’m doing fine. I still go to work, I still do my job. I just worry about my job before I get there. I plan a couple of days beforehand to avoid anything that could make me anxious. I eat very cautiously the day I have to go to work out of fear that something will make my stomach upset, which will in turn cause another panic attack. I thought all of this was normal and showed that I’m coping well.

But the truth is I’m not. I want to quit just so that I won’t have to face the situations that make me anxious. If that’s not letting my anxiety run my life then I don’t know what is.

So I called the university health center and asked to talk to someone about anxiety. They told me the first opening was in a month. Side note, this is absolutely ridiculous that people with mental health issues are being asked to wait a month to get help. If others are like me, then they don’t call a month before it needs to be addressed. If I’m actually reaching out, it’s because I need help now.

Lucky for me, there was another counselor I could talk to. So I went, and told him about my anxiety. I told him about my fears and rationalizing behaviors. I told him about the panic attacks, and how I’m scared for a few weeks from now when I will be back in that situation.

My counselor is optimistic. He thinks I’ll be able to make a full recovery and not have to quit my job. We are going to come up with a plan to accustom my body to the symptoms of panic so that they don’t escalate into a full-blown panic attack.

He told me that the situations that cause my panic attacks show a lot of signs of the common triggers for people who are prone to panic. He told me that panic occurs when I am introspective about my body signals, and allow them to turn into disastrous thoughts.

But more than that, he gave me hope. Hope that I would be able to get better. Hope that I wouldn’t have to hide this awful secret from the people I work with. Hope that I can heal, and that my anxiety issues don’t define me. And hope that my nerves will heal and in time I won’t be triggered as easily by my anxiety.

And that hope is enough to keep me going and instead of dreading the next time I’m back in those situations, I’m looking forward to seeing whether I’m truly able to heal inside.

The Misfits’ Table

My anxiety is about doubt. Doubt in myself, in my abilities, in my right to be here. I worry about whether I fit in. I worry about what others see when they look at me. I worry that they will see my anxiety and decide they don’t like me anymore. That I’m unreliable because you can never know when my anxiety will emerge.

And yet the strangest thing happened this weekend. All week long I had been anxious about work. I was stressed out because I have a lot of schoolwork right now, and I didn’t know how I’d be able to get it done if I had to work all weekend. I told my bosses this, and they told me it was not negotiable.

Saturday night I’m at work and we take a break for dinner. I sat with a girl and two guys, none of whom I knew other than their names and faces. The girl told us that she got promoted earlier that day. And during the midst of her promotion, up at the front of the room shaking the officer’s hand, she was having a panic attack. Luckily she was able to sit back down before it escalated. Her friends told her afterwards how happy she looked. None of them even knew.

Wait… I’m not the only one who has panic attacks in these types of situations? Being military, having anxiety can get you kicked out. If you have panic attacks you are unfit for military service. And up until now, I thought it was only me who was trying desperately to hide their anxiety in fear of what would happen if they knew.

I told the girl that she isn’t alone. I told her it’s more common than she might think. Then I turned my attention to the two guys who were sitting with us. One told us that he also gets anxious, and he finds that what is most helpful to him is tea. He also told me he had a big travel mug of tea with him at work tonight. I wonder if that means he gets anxious at work sometimes too.

The other guy also joined in. He told us that he has social anxiety disorder. He told us about how groups make him anxious. And that sometimes when he’s with a group of people, even people who he’s known for years and is very comfortable with, sometimes he just needs to get away. He told us about when he was at a barbeque at a friend’s house and even though he should have been comfortable, he had to leave and go to his truck to just sit and be alone for a bit. He just needed to breathe.

So there we were, four misfits who live in fear that someone will find out about their anxiety. Four misfits who bonded over the thing that makes them worry, that makes them afraid. Just four people, sitting and talking over dinner in a room of 100 of our coworkers. Four people with more in common than you would ever guess just looking at us. Four people learning that even with the stigma, the fear of losing our jobs, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of not fitting in, we are not alone.

Sometimes you just need to know that the people around you truly understand. Not because they can empathize, or they can imagine what it must be like. And if you know someone with anxiety and you help them through it, then thank you for being there. But sometimes you need to talk to others who are going through the same thing you are to really believe that it’s going to be okay. Maybe not immediately, maybe not without a struggle, and maybe not without a few setbacks. But it is. It’s going to be okay.

The Truth About My Antisocial Nature

Sometimes it’s hard to explain what’s going on with me. Some nights I don’t fall asleep, I just lay in bed and let my mind worry until I am too exhausted to continue on. Those nights lead to days of anger. I don’t know why I am angry, maybe its just because it’s easier to be angry than to accept that I’m broken. I want to run away from responsibilities, find somewhere to hide from the fear that follows me everywhere I go. I play off my problems like I just don’t care about what’s going on. I feel isolated because I’m the only one who feels uncomfortable dealing with people. I just wish I could be that happy person who people want to spend time with. Instead I feel shunned by the people around me. I feel excluded, like they only talk to me because they have to. I’m afraid of being vulnerable or weak. I’m afraid of being human. I try to get through everything by myself because it’s easier than admitting that I’m not good at socializing. That it makes me very uncomfortable. That things that shouldn’t bother me do, and that things that don’t bother me probably should. If I don’t care, then I can’t be hurt by failure. If I don’t belong here, then it won’t bother me when I have to leave. Like this is all just temporary and one day I’ll be out in the real world and things will be different. But the truth is that this is the real world. This is the chance to make friends, but I’m too scared and protective to take the chance at getting to know people because I’m scared that if they got to know me they wouldn’t like who they see. So I keep my barriers up and don’t step out of my comfort zone because it’s the only way to keep myself from getting hurt.

The Face of Mental Illness

When you think of someone with a mental illness, what image comes to mind? Is it an old person sitting on a porch in their rocking chair, unable to remember their own name? Is it a girl lying in bed while the depression sucks out her energy and makes everyday tasks seem like insurmountable feats? Is it an unpredictable person prone to outbursts who you fear will become violent?

What about the girl sitting next to you in class. She is smart and works really hard. She strikes you as an over-achiever, but will probably end up with a great career one day. She is organized, dependable, and loves to ask questions in search of knowledge. She is friendly, enjoys talking to people and learning more about them, and being a part of the team.

You probably would never know that she worries. She worries a lot. She tries to protect herself from her anxiety by planning days and weeks around an event that makes her anxious. She works out a lot because she hopes it will reduce her anxiety. She has to watch what she eats some days out of fear that her stomach will be upset, which would only exacerbate her anxiety. She lives in fear of the next time she will have a panic attack, and no matter what she does to try and protect herself, she can never seem to control her mind in those bouts of anxiety and just be present.

When I used to think about what mental illness looked like, I never expected to be picturing myself.

This Too Shall Pass

I always knew that at some point I would return to this blog. It’s been several months and I haven’t been writing. Three years ago this blog helped me to overcome my issues with anxiety by talking them through and reaching out for support. Well, I’m sad to say this, but my anxiety has returned.

A month ago I had a panic attack. It took me by surprise, but I knew exactly what it was when it started. Back when the anxiety began last time, I was afraid of going in to work because I would have to go out on military parades and they seemed to be a trigger. Well this past summer I went on a leadership course I had been waiting for for a few years. I had a great time, and I made a lot of friends. And yet, even though I felt so strong and proud of myself, at our graduation parade I panicked. There were so many officers… so many medals… so many achievements staring me down as if they knew I didn’t belong. The panic hit me quickly and I had hot flashes and went ghostly pale. A friend of mine was sitting in the audience and he noticed right away as it started. I wasn’t myself. Something was very, very wrong.

It was only about a minute into the parade when I started to black out. I knew I would pass out if I didn’t kneel down, so that’s what I did. I took a knee and my instructors came and led me off, supporting me in case I fainted on the way. After I had regained some colour in my face and the nausea subsided, I expressed how embarrassed I was. They didn’t blame me, they just said that I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last. But they were sorry that I missed my own graduation.

I felt like a failure. I should have known I would be anxious on parade. I should have planned ahead, meditated and done yoga, slept better, eaten a better breakfast. That maybe if I had worried more I could have protected myself. I held on to those anxious thoughts for over a month, dwelling on my issues and hating that I can’t control my own mine. I blamed myself, but I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Of course the anxiety I felt at my grad parade grabbed on to that fear, and I told myself that this would happen next time I’m on parade. And, lo and behold, on Saturday I was back at my unit and, once again, I realized this is the situation that makes me panic, and I had another anxiety attack.

I can’t ignore my anxiety anymore. I can’t pretend I’m okay. Deep down I’m terrified that if everyone knew how anxious I am and how much I worry, that they would judge me or not want to be around me. Even worse, admitting that parades make me anxious is admitting that I can’t do my job.

I’m not going to let the story end here. I’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve recovered from my anxiety in the past. Yes, I need to take care of myself and I know that meditating regularly helps immensely. Still, I’m not going to let myself be afraid of going back to work just because I might embarrass myself again. Today I went down to the lake and sat on a rock to think. I realized that I spend so much of my time being strong that it only makes sense that my moments of weakness would be powerful too. That’s okay. In the long run I will recover and I will be able to go out on parade without having a panic attack. Yes, I might pass out again, and yes, people may think there’s something wrong with me. I need to accept that pushing away my fears of judgment and trying to appear perfect on the outside is detrimental for my health and happiness. On Wednesday I am going to go out on parade, and I trust that I’ll be okay. Even if I panic, I’ll be okay. I know deep down that people aren’t judging me when I panic. They are concerned for my well-being, just like I am for others when they aren’t feeling well.

The last thing I want to say is that I can’t go on believing that my worrying is beneficial. The attitude that worrying forces me to do the things that help my anxiety is completely backwards. There is a difference between planning ahead and worrying constantly, it’s just really hard for me to tell the difference. I’ve recovered before, and I’ll recover again. And even though I’m terrified of what this anxious resurgence means, I’m just going to have to ride it out.

Like all things, this too shall pass.

Anxiety and the Less Realistic

I have an intense fear of free time.

Before you decide I’m completely crazy, hear me out. I’m very used to being on the go. Some people are just happier when they’re busy. I’m one of those types of people. I need things to do, tasks to take on, a list for the day so that I have a plan. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the thought of not being busy quite frankly scares the crap out of me. After working full time since June, the last 4 or 5 days before the Christmas break were riddled with anxiety and all of the effects anxiety has on my body. Yes, holidays are stressful, but this is a lot more than that. I was genuinely afraid of the several days where James would be working and I would be left here in this apartment alone.

I’ve come a long way with my anxiety. I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in about a year and a half. Things that used to cause panic for weeks before the event occurred now hardly cross my mind. The anxiety is still there, but we seem to have reached an agreement that the anxiety won’t take over as long as I acknowledge it instead of pushing it away and pretending it isn’t there. And yet I’m still afraid to spend too much time alone in my head because my anxiety problems started when I moved into an apartment alone and felt extremely isolated and afraid all the time. Yes, things are different now. And yes, I know that my anxiety isn’t something to be afraid of. But anxiety isn’t always realistic, and you don’t get to decide what you’re going to be anxious about. I guess all I can do now is try to stay in the moment and not worry about the future, which is a struggle for anxious people. And when the mind isn’t busy, it’s easier to be mentally somewhere else…

So The Question Becomes…

I’m facing a dilemma.

On the one hand, I’m thinking of doing a master’s degree. The program I want I could do in one year. But I would have to do it in another city a few hours away.

Or, I could do a different program here that would only take 8 months. And it could probably get me a good job too, just not as specialized as I want to be.

But I’ve only been living in this city for just over two years now. I’m just starting to plant roots, to build a life here with my boyfriend who I’m now living with.

So the question becomes… when do you put the thing you want for the long term ahead of your short term needs and the needs of those you care about? With all of the anxiety issues I had after moving the first time, part of me is afraid to move again. And sure, it’s only about 4-5 hours drive away, and we could easily see each other on weekends if we wanted to. But I know us, and I know we’re both busy and lazy, and I know we won’t see each other as much as we say we will. And I really don’t want to feel like I’m being selfish by focusing so much on myself, even though I know he would support me either way.

I’m just worried that if I don’t do it I’ll always regret not putting my career first…


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