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Happy Monday.

It starts slowly. You wake up feeling like something is just not quite right. “I’m just tired”, you tell yourself, and continue going about your morning like you do every other day.

You drive to work expecting to have woken up by now but for some reason you feel distracted. Foggy. You double check every intersection, every lane change, just in case. You realize doing this means you don’t trust yourself to be driving right now, but what other choice do you have?

You try to focus on the music, the morning radio talk shows, the beautiful day. The moment you hit traffic, though, it starts. Your heart starts pumping harder and you feel queasy. What is going on with you today? Luckily traffic quickly clears and you continue to head in to work. You tell yourself that once you sit down and have a warm cup of tea you will wake up and feel better.

You get to your desk and go through the usual motions. Put bag down, unlock your cabinet, check the phone for messages, turn computer on. Turn computer on. Why isn’t your computer turning on?

And then the dread sinks in as you realize your laptop is missing. Your laptop that was locked to your desk. Your laptop which has access to the personnel files of every single person in this company. Your laptop that you are responsible for the security of at all times, is missing.

How is this possible? It was locked!

You report to building security to report the theft. They explain that they had a security consultant in over the weekend and if it was unlocked it would have been confiscated. They return it, but not before emphasizing the importance of securing your laptop.

You feel stupid. Not just because it happened, but because you should have known better. Because you DID know better, and still can’t figure out how this happened.

Sometimes that’s all it takes. Your body finally tells you what it was trying to tell you all morning. You’re anxious today. You’ve been on the verge of a total panic for close to two hours and didn’t even know it. You didn’t listen. You knew something was wrong and you chose to ignore it. Because what were you going to do, skip out on work because of some vague feeling you had?

So instead of being home, you’re in the only quiet space you can find in a busy office building, hyperventilating as tears pour down your cheeks. Unable to explain what is going on, too afraid to tell anyone the truth. Too strong to be weak, too weak to be strong.

You mutter something about taking a personal day to your boss, trying to hide the redness of your eyes as you slink past the security guard who set off this whole episode, and hope and pray that no one asks you about this tomorrow because you know you won’t be able to tell them the truth.

Happy Monday.

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It’s Okay to Have Wedding Anxiety

About a month ago I got married. I was so prepared for that day. I had spent months stressing and planning and I was ready for it. And you know that part of the ceremony where everyone is coming down the aisle, then they all just pause, and you know that next up is going to be the beautiful bride in a gorgeous dress, accompanied by her very proud father? Well at my wedding everything was going smoothly until exactly that moment, bridesmaids were out at the front, groom standing there nervous…. and then the doors closed back up and nothing happened for probably about 5 whole minutes. It probably felt like an eternity, especially to my groom. What not everyone knows is that just outside those doors I had slumped into a chair, sweating from every pore in my entire body, my vision going black as my dad fanned me with a program. Yeah, I had a full-blown panic attack at my own wedding.

Let’s talk about why this matters. As anyone with anxiety can tell you, even very positive things can be stressful, sometimes even more stressful than the positive things in your life. Sometimes your body doesn’t know how to handle all of the feelings rushing through your body, so the only thing it can think of to do is to give you a panic attack so that you are forced to acknowledge your emotions instead of pushing them away. It’s hard to let the feelings in. For days I had been worrying, but I just kept telling myself that it was a good thing and that I’d be fine and everything will go smoothly. I didn’t let myself acknowledge that being in front of people freaks me out. I don’t want to be the center of attention. I don’t want to be trapped at the front of a church where I can’t run away. That just isn’t me. And that’s okay.

Some panic attacks take you by surprise. Maybe the first one, or the first one in a while. And some panic attacks you can see coming a mile off, but there really isn’t anything you can do about them. Maybe that’s the point. Desperately trying to maintain control when I felt like I was being forced into this role that is very outside my character and makes me uncomfortable didn’t help me get through it. I wasn’t able to avoid the panic just by telling myself that my wedding should be happy, that only made it worse. Knowing I was feeling a way I shouldn’t be feeling right now made me more worried about what I was feeling. And fearing my own emotions is what makes it all bubble over.

Pushing away your feelings never helps. Feel the emotions. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be worried. It’s okay to be scared on your wedding day instead of just plain old “nervous”like everyone else assumes. They don’t know the difference between your anxiety and regular nerves. It’s okay. They don’t have to understand.

See, not every wedding is going to go smoothly. No matter how much you plan, something will go wrong. And stressing about making everything perfect won’t make it happen. When that moment comes to walk through those doors, you will feel a whole range of emotions. For me, it was excitement about getting married, eagerness to see my groom, fear for all the eyes being on me, worry about being afraid, and then helplessness as the anxiety overtook me and I felt like I was about to faint. And nothing I planned for could have stopped that.

Luckily for me, everyone around me was amazing. My wedding coordinator fetched me a glass of water while my dad fanned me with a program. My organist just kept looping the song he was playing while everyone stood there waiting. The pastor came out to make sure I was okay, and someone let my groom know I was just having a fainting spell. And most importantly, my groom knew of my panic attacks and instantly understood. Having a panic attack at the moment my wedding was supposed to being didn’t mean I was having second thoughts or backing out. It didn’t mean we are clearly not supposed to get married, like some sort of bad omen. No, all it meant was that I was feeling overwhelmed by all of the emotions I was feeling, and needed to take a moment to acknowledge them.

In the end, the panic subsided. I wiped the sweat from my face as best I could, and gave my dad a hug. He didn’t know I struggle with anxiety and panic until that moment, and he didn’t love me any less because of it. Even on my wedding day, I was still his little girl, and when I needed him, he jumped into action. Then he offered me his arm, I gave him a firm squeeze, and we opened the door and walked down that aisle together just like we had always planned.

When I used to imagine how my wedding would go, my anxiety definitely wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t know that on the day of my wedding I would be standing at the altar trying to casually wipe the sweat off the back of my neck. I didn’t know I would feel like I was having an out-of-body experience, or that I wouldn’t remember the words I said in my vows even a moment after saying them. I didn’t know that while there is supposed to be a space between me and my groom as we stand there saying our vows, that I would be reaching across to grab his hand because I needed him to steady me and reassure me that everything is okay on what is supposed to be the happiest day of my life.

And even though none of this was what I had planned, it was still a beautiful wedding. There was so much love and support all around us. No one cared that I took a few extra minutes to compose myself before the wedding started. No one cared that there was sweat making my hair stick to my neck, or that there was snot dripping from my nose during prayers because I was crying.

Anxiety sucks. I wish I didn’t have to deal with it at all. I envy people who can do the things that make me anxious without panicking. But at the same time, anxiety is part of what makes me me. And my groom decided to marry me despite it. He married me even though I left him standing awkwardly at the altar alone. He married me even though I’m going to continue to struggle with my anxiety probably forever.

And that’s why I know we are right together. He had the chance to leave me when my anxiety got bad. There are a lot of people who would have. But he didn’t. He stayed. He made a choice to live with my anxiety, which is a choice I was never given. And every day we work through it together, hoping tomorrow will be easier, but we never really know. He has taken on my burdens as his own, and together we are fighting them bit by bit, hoping that one day we won’t need to fight anymore. Hoping we won’t need to be afraid.

People have told me he’s lucky to be with me. They have no idea how lucky I am to be with him.

A question for anyone who’s listening…

Does there ever come a point where it simply isn’t worth it to keep fighting your anxiety anymore?

This is the dilemma I’ve been facing lately. I keep reading supportive messages about how it will get better. About how the panic attacks will end and I’ll be able to cope just like I did before the anxiety took over my life. About how I’ll be able to enjoy my job again, not feel anxious, do the things that scare me and get over the negativity that environment fills me with.

But lately it hasn’t just been those situations that trigger my panic attacks that make me anxious. It’s anything to do with work. It’s seeing those people. It’s feeling like they don’t support me. It’s knowing that I’ve done everything they have asked of me and more, outperformed my coworkers and gotten the qualifications, but still not received the promotion I’ve earned.

This is a part-time job that was great while I was in school, but I really don’t need it anymore. It has been a source of pride for me, though, and I love the opportunities I’ve gotten. I just don’t want to have to live with the idea that I gave in to my mental illness if I leave now.

I guess this is my question to anyone who’s listening:

If you remove yourself from the thing that triggers your anxiety, does that mean you are letting the anxiety win? Or does it just mean you’re taking positive steps to your own mental well-being?

I would love to hear what you think.

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 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.