Facing the Anxiety

The end of Daylight Savings Time is the beginning of winter hell for me. The cold, short days and long, long dark nights always increase depression and anxiety.

Last week wasn’t so bad because we were on a family vacation at Disneyland. The first couple of days were rainy, but otherwise the weather was absolutely perfect. And I love being at Disneyland with my kids! It was also the first time my husband had been in a very long time, so it was fun to share with him. It was one of the best, most fun vacations I’ve ever been on. Coming home to mid-winter temperatures, cloudy skies and inversion was pretty depressing. I feel like I’ve been on the edge of a panic attack most of the week.

A few days ago I got an email from my son’s elementary school with a sign-up to help supervise kids at lunch while they signed a big Thank You banner for the teachers for Thanksgiving. I went back and forth for a long time about whether to sign up or not. I have enjoyed being able to volunteer the past year, as I stay at home now, but was worried about my anxiety. I finally forced myself to sign up, believing it would be good for me. Sometimes we have to push through the anxiety.

However, I had anxiety about that decision in the days after. I kept getting online to view my sign-up, almost canceling. I just about had a panic attack about it yesterday. Then I reminded myself how I’ve really enjoyed every time I’ve gone to the school to volunteer. I again told myself this was a time I needed to push through the anxiety.

I was nervous when I woke up this morning and got ready, but I went to the school, and everything went great! I’m glad I got to see the kids, talk with other moms and say hi to my son.

I recently posted that sometimes it’s okay to avoid things that give you anxiety. I do believe that. I also believe that sometimes it’s best to face it and push through it because you get a wonderful end result. I think it’s about doing what feels right at the time, re-evaluating and then changing or continuing on the path that is best for you. Maybe a day will come when I feel like I can always push through the anxiety. Maybe. That day is definitely not now. So I will do what I feel is best for me and my health at the time, whether it is recognizing that something is too much to handle right now or deciding that I can, and will, be okay to do it.

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Anxiety is Exhausting

Something people may not realize is how tiring it can be for those of us with anxiety, who are also introverts, to be around a group of people. It’s not that we don’t want to be around people (though admittedly sometimes we don’t), but it takes a lot out of us.

I thought about this last week when I was at band rehearsal. I recently joined a community band, and I’m loving it! Playing the flute is something that has brought me so much joy through the years. As I’ve gotten better at identifying my own symptoms of anxiety or oncoming panic attacks and have been able to think about what I can do to help I’ve played my flute more. Even if it’s just for five or ten minutes it is something that has helped calm or stop panic attacks or has helped lessen anxiety.

I have wanted to play in a group for so long, but even if the opportunity came up I was never at a place in my life where I would have been able to join. Luckily, I’m at that place now. We have had three rehearsals so far, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I really do love being with this group, but sometimes it’s hard being around a bunch of people. Last week was particularly hard. Part of it was probably that I’m feeling insecure. Even though I have played my flute through the years, I have mostly played easy, melodic pieces because that’s what I love, that’s what I connect with. I haven’t challenged myself much, and now we are playing pieces that I could have easily gotten in high school, but I’m really struggling with now. Several of the other flute players are much younger, but more recently out of high school and haven’t lost the ability, so I feel rather embarrassed at my skill level right now. Add on top of that other stresses of life, and I was absolutely exhausted after coming home from rehearsal last week. I actually broke down in tears when my husband asked how rehearsal was. I felt kind of stupid because I truly enjoy playing and being in a band again. But just being around so many people spiked my anxiety and took so much out of me.

I guess what I want people to know is that it’s perfectly normal for those of us with anxiety to get exhausted being around other people, even when we’re not expected to talk with them. I also think it goes back to the fact that anxiety can sometimes come off as snobbish or standoffish. But that’s not it. It’s just that it is so hard for us, and it can be extremely tiring and take a lot out of us. So be patient. Realize it’s not you. It’s the horrible anxiety that we have to live with. And we’re trying.

Things That Trigger My Anxiety

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was diagnosed many years ago. Anxiety and being “nervous” are not the same thing. True diagnosed anxiety can be crippling. Unlike my depression that comes and goes, anxiety is something I deal with on a daily basis. I think I’ve gotten better at coping and simply living with it, but it can still get the best of me. I’ve also decided that while there are things I can do to help and sometimes push through it, it is also okay to avoid things that cause anxiety.

Just like symptoms of anxiety can be different for everyone, things that cause anxiety can also be different. This is important to understand for those who live or work with or have any kind of relationship with those of us who have anxiety. If you don’t understand the symptoms or what causes them I understand how frustrating it might be. So I’d like to share some of the things that trigger my anxiety.

A common one, I’ve found, in many of us with anxiety is talking on the phone, especially when we have to call someone. Similarly, I also really struggle asking people to do things or sending reminders. Because of this I often put such things off until the last minute. When I even think about it I start to get physically sick to my stomach and breathing becomes labored.

Being in a crowd of people generally doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind being at the airport or a mall or a concert. It’s when I’m in a crowd of people that I know or where I’m expected to socialize and make small talk that sets my anxiety off. I generally keep to myself in these situations, not because I want to, but because it’s too terrifying to sit by someone or just go up and talk to someone. If someone sits by me or starts talking to me I may come off as the socially awkward person I feel like I am, but I’d rather that than awkwardly be by myself.

Another thing that gives me anxiety is Zoom meetings. I know a lot of people like them, especially in comparison to in-person meetings, but for whatever reason, Zoom meetings gives me horrible anxiety. I haven’t been in a lot of them, but I try to keep my camera off. I figure it’s better for everyone else not to see me having a panic attack as I sit there.

Being late is the worst! Everyone else I know who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder also hates being late. My daughter’s band teacher has this saying that goes something like, “Being early means you’re on time. Being on time means you’re late.” I love it! It is one my philosophies now! It’s not that I’m never late. Sometimes I am, but I try so hard not to be because I start to panic when I’m late.

There’s more, but I think that’s a good list for now. My anxiety can also be triggered at different times based on certain circumstances. Some of my symptoms of anxiety are difficulty breathing (sometimes leading to hyperventilating), getting physically sick to my stomach (sometimes leading to nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea), light-headedness, headaches, uncontrollable crying, becoming restless, fidgeting, pacing, feeling the need to hide and tight or painful muscles, especially in my neck and shoulders.

The reason I share this is in hopes of helping others understand anxiety better. It can be easy to judge and make assumptions about reasons why people do or don’t do certain things. Hopefully it will be easier to be more understanding now. Maybe the reason someone isn’t on a Zoom meeting is because of anxiety. Maybe someone is sitting alone or hugging a wall, keeping to themselves, is because of anxiety. Maybe when someone seems unreliable, they’re actually trying their hardest to conquer their symptoms. Maybe they’re attempting to call someone or reach out or send a reminder when they’re hit with nausea, hyperventilating, vomiting or muscle pain or all of the above. I try to push through, I try to cope, but sometimes I need to give myself grace and take the anxiety-inducers out of the equation altogether.

Time Flies

I’m working on normal blog stuff, but for now, here’s another poem.

Time Flies
by Tacy Gibbons

Two kestrels dance beneath a gray-clouded sky,
swooping, swerving and swirling around one another.
A display of timeless beauty,
over in seconds as one bird flies away.

They say the days are long, but the years are short.
Yet most days go by in a blur of have-tos, need-tos and must-get-dones.
The years fly by in the blink of an eye.

A snap of the fingers, and I am old
and no longer dancing like a pair of kestrels.

Yes, More Poetry

Here are a couple more poems because that’s what I’ve been inspired to write lately.

Open Book
By Tacy Gibbons

I am
an open book.

When you see me sitting there
will you read from the beginning,
only to stop halfway through out of boredom?

Will you simply start where the page is open
without bothering to read what came before?

Will you flip through a few pages here,
a few pages there,
then toss it aside, uninterested, uncaring?

Will you close it up, look at the cover
and decide it’s not worth your time?

Or will you read each page,
beginning to end,
sometimes stopping to ponder . . . 
	
wonder . . . 
		
reflect . . . ?

Will you push past the difficult parts
and appreciate the story being told?

I am
an open book,
waiting for someone to read all my pages.
Anxiety
By Tacy Gibbons

Sometimes you sit next me,
constantly nudging me, reminding me you’re there.
When I get up to go you follow at my heels
like a new puppy afraid of getting left behind.

Sometimes I keep you at bay,
glance you in the distance, staring me down.
I avert my eyes and focus on the light, the here-and-now.
I’m happy without you.

But lately you’ve invaded my space, my life, my body.
You wriggle beneath my skin, turn my stomach
and tighten your hands around my throat.
You leave me immobile, paralyzed,
attached to rigid chains and a weight that never lightens.
Prisoner, I am, that can’t break free.

Let’s Be There For Each Other

I’ve been finding myself inspired by quotes lately. It might sound cheesy, but we live in a world where it’s so easy to just post a quote on social media. I have a friend who does nothing but post inspirational quotes on Facebook. Many of them have been what I needed to hear in that moment and some have led me to think and ponder. The quote I’m inspired by today says, “Someone who drowns in seven feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in twenty feet of water. Stop comparing traumas, stop belittling you or anyone else’s trauma because it wasn’t ‘as bad’ as someone else’s. This isn’t a competition. We all deserve support and recovery.”

Something I’ve come to learn in life is that no one “has it made”. At least I’ve never met anyone who does. We all have struggles. We all suffer. In this age of social media it’s easy to look at someone else’s life (through the lens of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc.) and think everyone else is having so much fun, doing awesome things and living this great, struggle and trauma-free life. But that just isn’t true.

It can also be easy to think that others must not be struggling as much or that they must be happier because of all the things they have and are doing that we don’t have or don’t get to do. That also isn’t true. The past year-and-a-half I’ve got to travel to San Diego and Hawaii. I even got to go to The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame (a life-long dream of mine) several months ago. We’re building an addition onto our house that is going to give me and my husband this big dream closet. There are good things happening, but there has also been so much hell that I’ve been through as well. It got so bad at one point last year that I tried to take my own life. From the outside looking in it may appear that I am one of those people who does have it made. But just because I’ve been able to travel some and am getting a big closet doesn’t mean that horrible things haven’t happened. It doesn’t mean trauma hasn’t punched me in the face and beaten me to a pulp. Because it has.

As an advocate for mental health I believe it is so important not to judge and not to compare struggles and trauma. Instead, I believe we should be looking for connection and extending empathy and compassion—even when we can’t see or don’t know what someone else is going through. Some people, like myself, are very open about our struggles and seek to educate others on mental illness issues. Others keep those things to themselves, and that is okay. It took me many years to open up about my depression, anxiety and OCD. And even now, there are things I choose not to share or go into detail about—for various reasons. I respect everyone’s choices about what they do or don’t share with others. Through my own painful experiences I have learned that no one has a perfect life and everyone has trials, struggles and suffers through difficult things in life. This means we all have more in common with each other and aren’t as alone or misunderstood as we might think.

My hope is that we can all be more loving, understanding and compassionate with each other. Just because our trauma is different doesn’t mean one is worse than the other. And one of the best ways to help ourselves is to be there for each other.

In a Funk

The last couple of weeks have been tough. For lack of a better description I guess you could say I’ve been in a funk. I’m not sure if it was a recent event that triggered emotions from past trauma, but my anxiety has been nearly paralyzing and my depression, while not as horrible as at some other times, has been a weight on my shoulders. A weight on my heart. I tried to deal with it, told myself I could do it on my own, but finally decided I needed some help and guidance. I felt too lost to keep attempting to navigate the fog on my own, so I tried to get an appointment with my therapist. I felt stupid, though. The whole point of therapy is to get to a point where you don’t need therapy anymore, right? And I thought I’d about gotten to that point. Things have been really good. I’ve been doing good–until a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately, my therapist got sick and ended up in the hospital, so no appointment for weeks. I’m trying to use the tools she gave me to get through this. I keep telling myself I need to stop being so pathetically weak. I need to be strong. Others rely on me to be strong. If I’m not, everyone else suffers. But maybe that’s not strength. Is it really strength to ignore our own needs? To ignore our own suffering? Or is it just the same as hitting your head against a brick wall and pretending the throbbing bruises and blood dripping in your eyes isn’t there as we go about business as usual?

At this point, I don’t have any answers. It’s easy to tell someone else it takes strength to admit you need help or that you shouldn’t ignore your needs; you should take care of yourself, even if that means letting it all out in tears or staying in bed all day or taking a long bath while ignoring all the housework. It’s easy to tell someone else that it’s okay to call your therapist when things crash after being good for so long. It’s harder to tell myself those things, especially when I don’t know how long this anxiety and depression will last.

Live Fearless

I have a secret. Sometimes, when I’m on the back of a motorcycle, I’m terrified. I know, it probably doesn’t seem like much of a secret. Riding a motorcycle can be scary, but I’ve never told anyone this, other than my husband, and I only just told him recently.

Overall, I love riding a motorcycle. I always dreamed of marrying a man someday who had one. And my dream came true! I love sitting behind him on our Triumph, and he loves having me as a passenger. But sometimes, when we’re on the freeway or going around some bend at fast speed, I squeeze him a little tighter, breathe a bit quicker and feel terrified panic course through my body. And when nothing bad happens I relax and enjoy the rest of the ride. And the next time, I get back on that motorcycle again!

See, I’m not someone who believes in living in fear. I don’t believe we should let fear control our lives. I never let it stop me from rock climbing, even though my dad tried to. Every chance he got he would tell me about some accident someone had while climbing or how someone (who was free-soloing) fell and was killed. He used fear to try to control me, to try to get me to stop doing something I loved. Rock climbing was more than just a sport to me. There is something incredibly spiritual about connecting with nature in such a raw, physical way. And there was also something so freeing and ecstatic about sending a route, accomplishing a hard goal. So I never let it stop me. Yes, sometimes accidents happened, but when using good gear and climbing with knowledge and experience it is extremely rare.

It can be hard to do things that scare us, especially when we have anxiety. But I believe it is good for us. Sometimes I still let fear stop me, but I’m trying more and more not to let it. I’m trying to teach my kids not to live in fear. My daughter used to be scared of rollercoasters. Then, one day, I made her and her brother go on a new roller coaster at the amusement park we live by. After we had gotten on and were just waiting to take off both of them started complaining, saying how they wanted to get off, they were scared, they needed to go to the bathroom. Like any good mom (hahaha!) I just laughed at them and told them it was too late to get off. They both looked terrified, but after we got off the rollercoaster they were both grinning and asked if we could go again! I’ve told my daughter many times that it’s good to do things that scare you. And now, she loves roller coasters! And I’ve seen her confidence shine through in so many instances over the last couple of years. Confidence can help with anxiety too.

So I challenge all of us to ride the motorcycle, climb the rock, go on the roller coaster. Go to that party that you’re scared of because of social anxiety. Go on the trip you’ve been planning even though leaving your house makes you nervous. Don’t let fear stop you from living your fullest life. Live it fearless. Live it to the fullest.

Doing Better

It has been awhile since I posted. I’ve been doing pretty well. I truly think going to a therapist has helped so much. I usually only go every other week now, but having a person I can talk to, who can help me work things out, who is very solution oriented has given me the tools I need to heal, cope and live has made such a difference.

There have been some really difficult things going on, though, as well. It seems like almost every time I go to my therapist I tell her, “Well, the drama of my life continues.” I definitely hope that the day comes that I don’t need to see a therapist anymore, but while the difficulty and trauma continues I will keep going to see her, even if I feel that I’m doing better now.

One of the worst things we can do when we have mental illness is say, “I’m all better. I don’t need to keep going to a therapist,” or, “I’m all better, I don’t need to keep taking my medication,” or, “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s everyone else!” Sometimes, we do get well enough to stop going to a therapist or stop taking medication, but it isn’t something that should be done without serious thought and consulting a therapist or a doctor.

My daughter was on anti-depressants and was going to a therapist for her depression and anxiety. Luckily, she was able to stop both. She still has some anxiety, but she is able to work through it thanks to the tools her therapist gave her.

Unfortunately, too many times I have seen people who quit doing the things that were helping only to crash and go right back to where they were before they got the help. And the vicious cycle repeats.

Some of us may need to be on medication for our mental illness our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to see a therapist our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to exercise, do yoga, use treatments like EMDR or ART our whole lives. That’s okay. If I had a broken bone that just wouldn’t heal, I wouldn’t stop wearing a cast or wrap or sling or whatever was helping it. It may not be fun to have to wear one forever, but if it helped me live a better life, if it helped me accomplish what I needed to in life, I would wear it forever.

I’m doing a lot better. But I know I still need help with the difficult things going on right now and with past trauma that I haven’t completely worked through yet. Until then, and even after if I need to, I’m going to continue going to therapy. I’m going to continue to recognize and acknowledge that I need help. That’s okay too.

ART

I’m trying yet another kind of therapy to help with trauma from the past that is still affecting my present, in the form of anxiety. It’s called ART, or Accelerated Resolution Therapy. It is similar to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in that it uses eye movement and visualization, but the results are much quicker.

I liked it because, while my therapist guided me, I was really the one in control. I didn’t even have to tell her anything I was seeing or feeling unless I wanted to. And yet, the session continued. I was pretty drained and very tired, after, but I also felt lighter, like this weight of burden had been lifted off of me.

There is this tiny of seed of doubt at whether one session could really have worked, but I also have faith because I’ve experienced the true effect of EMDR. My ART session focused on something that doesn’t necessarily affect my everyday life, but rather certain circumstances that sometimes arise, so I can’t say for sure, yet, how much it helped, but I have noticed that when I think of those memories associated with the trauma I no longer feel any sort of anger, frustration, fear, sadness, depression, etc. That, also, is incredibly freeing! And it adds to my faith that ART really does work.

I truly am amazed at how far we’ve come in regards to help for mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager, over twenty years ago, it seemed like the only thing you could do was take medication or use talk-therapy. Both of those things can work, but there are so many more options now, as well, which makes me incredibly grateful. As always, it’s about remembering that what works for me may not work for you. It’s about finding what does work for you and sticking with it. We deserve help. We deserve healthier lives. Because we are all worth it!