When it Rains it Pours

My favorite song is called “For Good” from the musical Wicked. This song is about two unlikely friends that came into each other’s lives and have had their lives changed because of their friendship. I like to use this as my mantra and something that leads the way that I interact with the people in my life. I choose to believe that people are introduced to you in times where you need them the most. You can call it fate or luck or good timing, but I consider it all of those.  As I wrote in a previous blog (Why I Don’t Have Friends) I tend to attract people to me when they need help and I am able to provide what they need. This can be in the form of needing someone to vent to, go to concerts with, drink wine and watch trash TV with, or be the person that can brighten their day. I can never predict how long we stay in each other’s lives, but very few have stuck with me throughout the years.

My anxiety causes me to be a lonely person. Social anxiety prevents me from having fun experiences with other people, and always gives me an excuse to cancel plans. Even when I am with a group of friends (or acquaintances) I still feel lonely. Imagine being in a room filled with family and friends that love you. You are having great conversations, maybe drinking some alcohol, but for some reason you have this invisible barrier between you and the rest of the room. No matter how physically close you get to them, emotionally you stay distant. I know this is a defense mechanism my brain has created to prevent myself from getting hurt. Most days it feels more like a handicap and something I need to overcome if ever have dreams of creating lasting friendships.

A great example of what I am talking about is from this past Saturday. I went to the Jesse McCartney concert with my friends Bre and Emily, and honestly had a great time. We had dinner at an adorable restaurant in Dinkytown called Annie’s, and drank cocktails at the Porthouse down the road. In line at the concert we made friends with the girls in front of us, and throughout the night we continued to add to this group. We ended with about 20 girls around us laughing, dancing and singing to all of his songs. Watching my Snapchats and Instagram stories showed a girl that was living her best life. In truth, I was in a lot of pain.

When Bre picked me up to head downtown I was an anxious mess. My stomach hurt, I couldn’t breathe very well, and my head hurt so bad I wanted to vomit. I told myself it wasn’t a life or death situation, but my mind was unconvinced. I felt better after having a few drinks, because the alcohol was able to numb the feeling of anxiety. The entire night I still felt like I was distant from everyone around me. It felt more like an out of body experience and looking back on the night I have very little memory on what I was actually feeling.

I am hoping to get to a point in my life where I don’t need a social crutch to get me through a socially stressful situation. The last thing I want people to think is that I am an alcoholic, because I am not. In reality I do not drink often, but only if I am entering in a situation where it will be helpful to get through (or if it’s a weekend in the summer and I want to let loose).

When I reflect on all of the people that have rotated in and out of my life I realized that I do not give anyone the opportunity to help me. I am so focused on what the other person’s needs are that I forget I have my own. I know I do this because I have always felt that my issues should not overshadow someone else. I feel that if someone is having a bad day and telling me about it, I am not allowed to also be having a bad day and share my feelings. Instead I push aside the way I am feel to focus on improving the other person’s day. What I am doing is incredibly harmful to myself, and as a result the relationship suffers.

For anyone that I have ever let down, I am sorry. For anyone I have ever cancelled plans with, I am sorry. For anyone I have pushed away, I am sorry. For anyone that I haven’t been able to help, I am sorry.

I am so exhausted right now. Maintaining this wall I’ve put up is exhausting. Pretending to be happy all the time is exhausting. I just feel like I can’t let the people down around me, but at what sacrifice to me. If I had any solutions in my brain I would’ve used them already. If you truly are someone that considers me a friend, please do not give up on me. This self-discovery project is incredibly mentally draining, and I am doing the best that I can.

Chaos

As I sit here writing this, I feel like I want to claw all of my skin off. I feel like I can’t breathe and there is something heavy sitting on my chest. I have a lot of pent up anger inside of me begging to come out. My ears can sense the bass of the music and my heart can feel every thump, thump, thump of the classic rock. I can’t get my mind to fixate on something else. I can’t get focus on using another task as a distraction. I can’t hear the TV that I turned up from volume 12 to volume 25. All I can sense, feel and hear is the fucking bass on my neighbor’s music.

All of the windows in my house are closed, so I know it’s partially our fault for having terrible insulation. I understand it’s 4th of July week so everyone is having parties. I know this particular neighbor likes to listen to his 80s rock music on full blast in his garage with the bass up so loud it syncs your heart rhythm to it. I know everyone has a right to do whatever they want (within reason) because they pay a mortgage to live in this neighborhood too.

You know what doesn’t care about reason? My anxiety. I decided to sit in my basement with Netflix playing at a loud volume next to me, and in the room furthest from the source of the noise. I want to cry and stick something in my ear until they bleed (like they feel like they do already). I know my life is not in danger, but no matter how many times I tell myself this it doesn’t matter.

My anxiety does not care.

The long term solution is to move away from this noisy ass neighborhood with all of my inconsiderate hillbilly neighbors, but I need an immediate solution. I keep telling myself that I’m not dying. I have lived through almost 7 years of loud neighbors causing me distress. Work today was absolutely terrible and caused an increase heartrate all day. Working on projects with impossible deadlines and feeling like I cannot control any aspect of that part of my life. But to come home and feel like my world is further in chaos does not help.

Home is a place to come when you need to relax and unwind after a long day of work. Sometimes the home in my mind is an impossible place to be. I just want to be able to breathe again. I want to be able to sit in silence and focus my mind in the proper direction. I need to feel a sense of peace in a world that rarely allows for it. Right now the only release I have is to cry about something I cannot control.

Fuck anxiety.

Why I Don’t Hit ‘Reply’

I am notorious for being one of the worst people in existence when it comes to replying to texts. I am someone that will read the message and forget to reply for a few days, if at all. I understand how frustrating it can be, because I hate when people do it to me. Did I forget? Am I mad at you? Do I ignore you on purpose? The answer is most likely no. I’m probably distracted or in a headspace where I do not want to have conversations with people.

We live in a world where there are constant distractions and this compulsion to always be “connected” with everyone. I live in a world where being connected all the time causes me to have anxiety beyond what is necessary. My coworkers all have smart watches. While I can understand the ease of seeing an incoming email or a missed phone call during a meeting by simply rotating your wrist over, I find this technology to be in contradiction to my lifestyle. I appreciate a separation of life and work; it is called a life-work balance. Even if you do not have a mental illness, this is extremely important. Being able to shift my brain into different modes throughout my life is important for me to stay sane.

The same headspace issues come into play when I get messages from people. Whether this is through Facebook, Instagram, SMS, Snapchat, etc., I am not always in the right place of mind to hold a conversation. For example; if I am at Target shopping for essentials (lol) and I get a message from someone looking to make plans I instantly get anxious about the pressure to make a decision. My brain goes: “What is this about? I’ve messaged you 3 times prior and now you want to talk. Where are we going? What will parking be like? Who else will be there? Do I like them? Do I have something else going on that day? My planners are at home. Oh my god my shopping list. There are a lot of people here. Move your cart mom with 3 kids. Child stop screaming, it’s not always about you. I wonder what my dog is doing at home. Wow that blanket it cute I should buy it.” As you can see my brain is a busy, busy place to be. My constant changes in thought feel like a defense mechanism to calm my brain so my anxiety will stay in control. In the 6 seconds I have all of these thoughts I have put my phone back in my purse and have completely forgotten to respond.

For those who are not aware, I am also a fortune teller. I don’t use a crystal ball, I use my anxiety and overactive imagination to create and play through scenarios before they even happen (if they ever happen). These fake scenarios usually end with unrealistic conclusions, which in turn cause me to have anxiety over something that is not even real. Well depending on the contents of the message you have sent, it’s safe to reason that 95% of the time I don’t reply I have just ran through scenarios in my head until I reach an ending I deem to be the most reasonable. Don’t act like you’ve never done this in your head, because I know it’s more common. No Shame!

The final reason I don’t respond to your messages is that I most likely got distracted. I have a creative brain, which causes me to be a little eccentric when going through my everyday life. I like to have multiple tasks going at once (none of them completed) and work on them at my own pace, on my own terms. Where messaging fits into this category is that I could be doing laundry, talking to 3 other people, cooking dinner, watching a murder show on Investigation Discovery, AND trying to make a new playlist on Spotify. All. At. The. Same. Time. This is how my brain works, always. Distractions are a good way to keep my mind from spinning its wheels and getting too preoccupied with shit that doesn’t matter. It also prevents me from getting bored and depressed, because as I’ve stated previously I constantly feel alone in the world even if I am not.

It’s not personal. Very few times have I gotten a message and made the conscious decision not to respond. (If you are a person I do not want to talk to, I am sorry but I do not possess the ability to tell you to buzz off.) If you have ever been a victim of my lack of responses, I am sorry. I am doing my best to navigate this world and I will be more mindful in the future. I have been trying to make an effort to be more aware of how my actions impact the feeling of others (I know very elementary). Please, please, please do not make it personal.

All or Nothing

Mixed messages in the world cause a lot of stress and confusion. The constantly changing trends over body types and what is considered ‘healthy’ is nauseating if you actually follow the information. I have always been a bigger kid (with the exception of a few years of high school volleyball) and as a result have always had poor body image. I remember being a freshman in high school in the best shape of my life. I was 5’3”, 145lbs and could box lift as much as any of the football boys. Even then I felt like a cow compared to my petite teammates that were all tall and skinny. I have an athletic build and I’m not ashamed of it anymore. But the worst memory I had from being that in shape was lying sideways on my couch and feeling my hip bones. I would obsess over that small belly pouch that would be squished against the couch. NEWS FLASH: There was no pouch; I just thought I was fat compared to everyone else around me.

I saw a meme the other day that said “I wish I was as skinny as the first time I thought I was fat”, and that statement made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Being a female today it feels like you need to fit into one of two molds: Be a skinny/healthy fitness model OR eat as much as you want and be praised for your bigger girl confidence. I don’t want to be either of those. Yes I want to be healthy. Yes I want to eat pizza and drink wine. Yes I want to have protein shakes after my workouts. But I don’t want that to be the thing that defines who I am as a person.

I have been on a health ‘journey’ of sorts, for about 6 years now. I gained that freshmen 15 after high school, but it was more like the freshmen 60. The amount of weight I put on in such a short time span still makes me sick. Like most people I was eating my feelings and looking for the quick and easy options when I was busy with work and school. 6 years ago I tried a diet program called SlimGenics. SlimGenics is a plan where you are eating both their prepackaged snacks and preparing your own food from an allotted food list. I lost 45lbs on this diet and I felt like a million bucks. What happened? I gained ALL OF IT BACK.

The truth about dieting for people with anxiety is that your brain can become obsessive. I would skip meals or eat less because I was afraid of not losing weight on the scale. With SlimGenics I was weighing in 3 days a week, and if you didn’t lose anything (I’m talking celebrating .01lbs lost) they would interrogate you on what you were doing wrong. As anyone with a brain knows, your body weight fluctuates A LOT throughout the day. This is due to water retention or waste moving its way through or just being a goddamn human. I hated feeling like I needed to justify what I was eating to them all the time, so I started trying to pee out as much liquid as I could before I went to weigh in and crossed my fingers it was good enough. THIS IS NOT HEALTHY. Nobody should put their body through the amount of stress I did, because you put yourself at risk of doing some serious damage.

I ended up 45lbs down and I was not able to lose any more weight. I hit a beautiful, frustrating plateau. Instead of doing the right thing and keeping faith in the plan by actually eating enough food, my anxiety decided it was good idea to deviate from plan and eat all of the foods I missed. Once I fell off the tracks I was done for. All of the 6 months of hard work were for absolutely nothing. But this is what happens every time I try to “diet”. I get so focused on the results and terrified to go off plan that once I have a “cheat day”, the diet is over.

Over the 6 years (gross I am old), I have tried about 6 or so diet plans including: Medifast, SlimGenics again, Nutrisystem, Paleo, Whole30, and Sensa to name a few. I don’t think I have a problem with the diet programs, I think some of them generally do work for people. Where I struggle is with my own brain trying to adjust to making changes and staying with my choices without getting too obsessive.

I have a tendency to be an “All or Nothing” type of person, and if I can’t throw myself into something 100% then what is the point. But in reality life is about finding a balance and understanding that it’s ok to let the scales tip a little to one side or the other. I try to never compare myself to other people, because we are all individuals. What works for one person, will probably not work for the next person. My currently focus is on educating myself on what to use for body fuel, instead of what is going to give me faster results. Having a full understanding of what my body needs is important in order to be physically and mentally healthier. It’s amazing that once you get used to giving your body proper fuel, anything other than that can drag you down. You start to listen to the messages you are given and can start to make better choices.

I will never be a size 2 and I will probably always have a larger chest. That’s called genetics. My focus is on training my brain to not obsess and to not set goals that are unattainable. As I’ve gotten older I understand that I am a beautiful person, and I have a lot to offer the world and the people around me. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to have that confidence on the outside.

 

Be true to who you are, and never apologize for it.

Welcome to my Hell.

Do you ever get this gut feeling of being alone but you’re surrounded by other people? Like you are so far inside of your own mind and emotions, that you have trouble connecting to the world around you? My high functioning anxiety feels like that. I feel like I’m holding onto a secret that the moment I release it I will lose control. The only way for my anxiety to not manifest itself in different ways is to keep it all inside of my brain. But how much pressure can my brain take before it all comes exploding out? I don’t know the answer yet.

The last few weeks I have been living mostly inside of my own head. I am constantly thinking about a scenario that hasn’t even happened yet, but am already trying to problem solve it. Conversations that I haven’t even had with people, but I am creating the conclusion based on what I know about them (or think I know about them). I have a fear of being wrong or of hurting other people, and this fear makes most of these internal scenarios result in a negative response. Why do I do this to myself? Constantly torturing my mind and running in circles with things that don’t really matter? This is one of the most frustrating parts of anxiety.

I have also been unable to relax lately. Everything that I have used in the past, from painting to playing Sims, doesn’t seem to be distracting enough to keep my mind at rest. I have tried boxing, meditating, baths, but nothing seems to be working quite as I would like. The only time I have felt truly at peace is to be outside or going on some grand adventure. The problem with that is also my inability to unplug from my life. I went to Epic in Madison, WI a few weeks ago for work training. I told myself that I wanted to get away from my life and have new experiences with new people. Well mission accomplished. I was a social butterfly and turned into someone I didn’t recognize. When it came time to come back to reality, my brain was waiting for me. With so many more worries, thoughts, and anticipations. So my week-long escape turned into anything but an escape.

At this point I am so exhausted from feeling like a hyped up Chihuahua, but also internalizing all of that energy. What I want is a vacation from life. A moment in time where everything can just stop, and I can let my brain come to some sort of peace. I wish I knew what that would look like so I could make it a reality. I just feel trapped inside of my mind and I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I keep pushing people away from me with the intention of not wanting to hurt them, but in the process that’s exactly what I’m doing.

My therapist told me to try taking Benadryl when I am feeling amped up. He said that many of the one-time anxiety meds are antihistamines, so I thought I would give it a shot. From my own experience I don’t think it helped. All the Benadryl did was made me really tired and unable to function. Don’t worry, my brain was still fully aware of all of the thoughts, I was just physically relaxed. I still refuse to actually medicate, although lately I have thought about how nice it would be to have that escape.

This post turned much darker than I intended, but this is the reality of anxiety. Some weeks I can handle anything life throws at me, and in an instant I feel like I can no longer breathe. Welcome to my hell.

 

Why I don’t have friends

I have been noodling for a few days on what to write my next blog about. I thought about an anxiety FAQ from things I have answered over the years, but I felt like I wanted something with more depth. Today I went for a walk at Afton State Park to clear my mind and feel a connection with nature. The only time in my busy life that I get the opportunity for silence is when I go there. Being in the middle of the woods, on a walking path, listening to the sound of the wind blowing and the river hitting the shoreline, brings me to a place of true peace. A few years ago if you would’ve told me my favorite place would be outside in nature I would’ve called you insane. But now I cannot imagine a better place to be.

The one subject that hits close to home and nobody really asks about (people are probably just being nice), is why I don’t have a lot of friends. The truth is I have had terrible friendships throughout my entire life. I have lost more people from my life than gained and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. I have a tendency to gravitate towards people who are in a time of need or crisis, and need someone to lean on. I am there throughout their journey as a cheerleader, and a source of support. Once their problem is solved or their life starts to improve I get left behind. When I was younger I used to take this abandonment personally, but over the years I have come to terms with my ability to attract temporary friends. Believe it or not I actually get satisfaction out of helping others.

The other reason is that I have a hard time letting people get close to me. I can blame my Cancer zodiac or my introverted nature, but truth is I don’t know why I do this. When someone gets close to me I have strong emotions about it and I feel a tie to them unlike any other, and I will care for them in some capacity the rest of my life. But I only really let people get so close before I put up walls that I need a fake facade to work around. It’s not manipulation or lying, but I have a different mask that I wear for everyone I interact with. We ALL do. I have spend enough time analyzing my interactions with others that I now have the ability to call it out and recognize it.

I will admit it has always been my dream to have a group of girls to go on trips with or have “girls night”. I just can never seem to get myself to let go of the barriers that prevent that from happening. Saying that I have absolutely no friends is not true, but I have a very small group of close people and a large network of acquaintances. Something that I vow to improve in my life through this discovery journey, is to allow people into my inner circle, even though it’s absolutely terrifying.

My social anxiety makes interacting with strangers difficult for me. I hate small talk and I say the most awkward things to people I meet. I am one of the those people that thinks about something I said to someone five years ago and thinks, “Wow, that was dumb. Why did I say that?” I have learned that my sarcastic sense of humor is something that others can relate to. Now that I am getting older and becoming a “real” adult, I realized that it’s less important to impress people around you, and it’s more important to just be exactly who you are.

What is life without a good challenge?

Where do I even begin?

My anxiety has been around for as long as I can remember. In grade school I remember not being able to take timed math tests, because my brain would freeze and I would start to panic. Going on field trips with my class was nearly impossible without becoming sick and spending the entire morning in the bathroom. Therapists have tried to figure out the cause of this, but we have never found a spot in my timeline where my brain chemistry changed. The only thing I can do is continue to explore my self-awareness and only focus on things that I can control.

Fast-forward to high school. My test taking skills had advanced, but now there was a new social element involved that was hard to properly prepare for: Dating. I first want to apologize to anyone I ever dated, I was a terrible girlfriend and for that I am sorry. I was the girl that would call their house 100 times and cry when they weren’t home or were too busy to come to the phone. I was the girl who would drive to your house after you dumped me on the phone, because I didn’t understand why you didn’t want to be with me. I was the girl who obsessively kept tabs on your activities, and when things didn’t go my way I would throw an absolute fit. While I have never been truly abandoned by anyone in my life, the fear of being left behind and not cared for is real. In 9th grade I discovered the art of self harm. In my brain it made perfect sense: Make something hurt worse on the outside than I hurt emotionally on the inside. That’s when I began to cut myself in places nobody would see (inside the leg, across my stomach, etc.). When one of my ex-boyfriend’s found out he told the guidance councilor, and they immediately reported it to my parents. (He will never truly understand how important his actions were, Andy I thank you.) I was treated like a piece of china by my parents for a while, but we never looked for a therapist. This was before mental health therapies were more socially acceptable. Besides required visits to the guidance counselor, I did not seek any further treatment.

When I began college I went to my primary care physician for a physical, and took one of those depression tests. My doctor was convinced by my answers that I needed to consider taking an anti-depressant. At the time my knowledge of self-care and mental health was minimal, and she was a doctor so in my eyes her advice was the most important. So I began taking an anti-depressant but was not referred for counseling or to see a psychiatrist for follow-up. I took the medication for a few years and began to notice that I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like a replicated version of me, but not in a good way. I was emotionally detached from the world around me and unable to express any true feelings. Looking back on my experience I do not remember feeling any anxiety during that time, because I wasn’t really able to feel anything. When I fell in love with someone I decided that I wanted to feel emotions and the other person deserved for me to express how I felt appropriately. Naturally I did what everyone tells you not to do, and I quit the drugs cold turkey (side note: please do not follow my example, quitting your medication without a plan with your physician can be extremely dangerous).

The real turning point in my life was a few years later after my husband and I were married, and I started a new job working with amazing people. Well, it was a retail job to help get me through my undergrad degree, but who cares. I wanted to advance at that company badly, and I worked my ass off to prove what I was worth. The further I climbed the ladder, the more staff I was directly responsible for, and the more my anxiety began to fight with me. Towards the end of my employment with that company I was being considered for a promotion to department manager, and I really thought I had a chance. When I was passed over for the opportunity for someone that had kept getting promoted before me, I felt absolutely worthless. I began crying at work more frequently, and unable to focus on my duties as a supervisor. I let the drama and my anxiety run the show without a second thought. My direct assistant store manager and the newly promoted department manager sat me down and asked how they could help. They pointed out that I was not well, and they wanted to know how they could be supportive. It was then that I realized how drastic my entire demeanor became. At the time it felt like someone had slapped me in the face and I finally started reflecting on my actions. During my self-reflections I realized that the work environment had become too toxic for me and it was time to take a risk by branching out into the career path I actually wanted.

After I transitioned jobs I began seeing my first therapist. John was an absolutely lovely human being, and we got along so well. Many of our sessions ended in tears and headaches, because he really challenged my thought process. We would talk about topics such as, school, work, friendships, relationships, etc. John created an experiment for us where I would externally name my anxiety and create an invisible friend of sorts. Being 24 years old I thought this to be strange, but I agreed and named my new anxiety friend Bob. John and I would talk to Bob throughout our sessions, and I began confronting Bob on my own when I felt my life getting out of control. As weird as it sounds this actually worked well for me. I began to finally get control of my anxiety and identify triggers for when it was going to happen in order to prevent myself form spiraling. After 2 years of working together John and I decided that I was ready to “graduate” from his services.

For a while after therapy I was doing great. My relationships improved, I started doing more things for myself, and I was very self-aware of my anxiety and how to analyze my brain. About 3 years after I “graduated” therapy, I began to notice a shift back into myself. My coping mechanisms (breathing exercises, workouts) were not working as well as the used to. At some point I lost sight of Bob and he probably moved to an island to get away from me. I began to become exhausted from fighting with my anxiety every single day. I eventually started to let my anxiety control me again, because it just became too much to manage. I had recently graduated college with my undergrad degree, and began working on my chosen career field requiring a lot more stress and focus than previous jobs. I knew I needed to seek help again, because I could see the shift in my demeanor begin to turn negative again.

Currently I am seeing a new therapist, his name is Ben. I have been in his services since fall 2017, and we have been working great together. Identifying my triggers is still a struggle, because sometimes I don’t even understand why I feel the way I do. I still get sick on a weekly basis about going on new adventures or having stressful tasks to complete at work. I still have problems with my relationships/friendships, because I have the underlying fear that I will be unwanted by the people I love. I still cry almost everyday, because the stress of my anxiety needs an outlet. I still get nervous when I am having a conversation with someone and they don’t respond fast enough, I immediately think they hate me (even though that’s not true). The one big difference for me now compared to 6 years ago is that I understand the importance of self acceptance, and self care. I am far from a selfish person, and was raised with Midwestern values to help others before helping yourself. But in the crazy, busy world we live into today self care is the MOST important thing you can do to care for your mental health. Taking time from your week to breathe, go running/boxing, go hang out with friends, buy something you’ve always wanted. The key is to not allow yourself to feel guilty about it. The only thing in the world that we can truly control is ourselves. I choose to talk about my experience, because I am not unique. I am not the only person in the world struggling. I am not the only person with missing brain chemistry that cannot regulate their fight or flight instinct. But I am unique because I have a true understanding of what my mind, body and soul need to be healthy.

The one phrase that keeps replaying in my head over and over again is: Your anxiety will never fully go away, but it’s how you manage it that is important.