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.

Some Things About Depression

First off, depression sucks. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s blinding. It’s like a wet, soggy blanket constantly weighing you down. It’s shame and worthlessness. It sucks.

I’ve come to know depression well in my life. I was first diagnosed as a sixteen-year-old, but when I look back at my life I think it started as a small child. There were times the depression left, where I was good and depression-free, even for years, but when it came back in the form of postpartum depression over fifteen years ago it never really left me.

Some people refuse to believe they have any form of mental illness. Or they acknowledge it, but use it as an excuse. I know I have it and can recognize the symptoms in myself most of the time. Unfortunately, depression often skews our perspective. It can make us believe we’re doing things we’re not, that we’re focusing on things we’re not and vice versa. It can even make us believe things aren’t as bad as they really are. I’ve had someone point it out to me, and I’ve also been able to see it in others.

One of the worst things about depression is that is can cause us to be selfish. Not in a narcissistic way, if that makes sense. We just tend to focus on our own struggles or needs we don’t feel are being met, rather than thinking of other’s struggles or whether their needs are being met. I saw it in myself the past couple of days, and I feel ashamed. It’s not that I don’t matter. I do, and I do need to try to help myself and do what I can to get myself out of this pit I’m in. But I can also think of others and do better to remember how much they matter too.

It might be more difficult to remember or recognize these things in the midst of sucky depression, but it is possible. And it is always possible to do better.

The Strength We Should Admire

Today I saw a cartoon with two pictures. The first was of a person standing triumphantly on top of a mountain with the caption, “The Strength We’re Taught to Admire.” The other was a picture of someone struggling to barely make it out of a big, dark pit with the caption, “The Strength We Should Also Admire.”

I really needed to see that today. My depression has taken hold and strengthened against me significantly the last few days. Today I spent a lot of time in bed and a lot of time crying. Despite how much I wanted to spend the whole day in bed, pretending life didn’t exist, I accomplished a few things. I took my daughter to school and got my son off to school on his scooter. I took a shower, even if it wasn’t until the afternoon, and I never actually got dressed; I just stayed in my pajamas all day. I even made dinner and participated in our nightly family scripture study.

Most days I do much more than this. But today it took everything I had to do just these simple, little tasks. Rather than beating myself up for being so pathetic, I’m trying to feel good about how much I did, considering the big, dark pit I’m in right now. I hope everyone can celebrate those little things too, because sometimes it takes far more strength to accomplish them than it does to climb a mountain.

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.

Healing Through Writing

A friend recently posed a question on social media about writing and if it has helped heal or ever hurt you. I immediately thought about how healing writing poetry was for me in high school. It truly was a form of therapy. Being diagnosed with depression was scary. Living with depression was even more scary, as well as confusing and lonely. Writing poetry helped me make more sense of what I was going through. Being able to express how I felt and what I was living through brought comfort.

Writing, especially poetry, was based a lot on inspiration. I know some people who can sit down and just write a poem. I could only do it if inspiration came to me. One day the inspiration stopped. So I stopped writing for a long time, and it was incredibly painful. Years later, the inspiration started coming back to me, and in the last few years I have written a lot of poetry. Once again it has been therapeutic to me.

I’ve shared a lot of my poems here, but they never get many views and rarely any kind of response. Maybe people don’t like poetry. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a poetry-specific blog. I don’t know. What I do know is the sense of contentment and healing that has come with being able to express myself through poetry again. It may not be good or anything worthy of praise, but I write and share it for myself and anyone else who may have felt the same healing power through writing—or reading—poetry.

Dark Place
By Tacy Gibbons

Hiding out in the bathroom.
Shame, blame, not a game.
Don’t know how to face
the race of time
and the mountains that stand in the way.

Fear, tears.
Just wish I could disappear.
Don’t want to see
who’s looking back at me in the mirror.

Guilt, wilt.
Mom, c’mon, wife, life.
Can’t shake my own expectations.

Get up, get out.
Run all about.
The bathroom will be waiting another day.

May We Encourage Each Other

I saw this quote recently that really spoke to me. “Your journey is not the same as mine, and my journey is not yours, but if we meet on a certain path, may we encourage each other.” I think this is the epitome of empathy. Empathy isn’t about understanding or the ability to say, “I get it. I’ve been there, too.” It’s about being there for others even when we don’t understand what they’re going through. Empathy is meeting on a path that doesn’t look the exact same as someone else’s path, but still giving encouragment, a hug and saying, “That really sucks. I’m so sorry. I’m here for you. I love you.” I do think it’s possible, even when we are going through our own struggles. What a beautiful thing when two people on a rough, rocky, difficult road can embrace each other, wipe each other’s tears and be there for each other even though their rough, rocky, difficult roads aren’t the same.

Depression can make it hard to look at anything but yourself and your own struggles. I know because I have had depression and had a hard time thinking of anyone but myself and my own struggles. But as I continue to learn and grow I’m trying harder to look outside myself and see how I can be there for others. As I have done so my own depression has eased and I’ve found connection, which is one of the most important things in the world to me. I hope I can keep getting better at this. And I hope we can all pass others on our journey who will encourage us and whom we can encourage as well.

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.

Sharing Some More Poetry

Sometimes life is hard. In those hard moments writing, especially poetry, helps me. It has always been therapy for me as well as a creative outlet. Words are my soul. Words make up so much of who I am. Even though the things I may have felt in moments, days or weeks of depression, despair, frustration, hopelessness, etc. fade the words still mean something to me. And maybe they will mean something to someone else as well. That is one of the reasons I love poetry so much. It can touch someone through time and distance in so many different ways. Here are a couple of poems that may not be how I feel now, but are how I felt at some point and may be how someone else has felt or is feeling.

Honeysuckle Poison
by Tacy Gibbons

Scent of honeysuckle.
Nostalgia hits.

I can see the fence where its white flowers grew.
Smells of heaven and childhood.
Picking blossoms and sucking the sweet nectar down.

Memories now poisoned with the knowledge of your lies,
the truth of what you really were
polluting the sweetness like poison.

Reaching through time and memories,
choking on the bitter reality,
the past now tainted by your toxicity.

Yet, I rise up through the fallen petals,
let the poison fade.
The wave of nostalgia washes over and retreats.

And I am left only with the sweet scent
of honeysuckle.

A Day In the Life
by Tacy Gibbons

I am the captured tiger,
beaten into submission,
thrown into a cage.
My master holds the only key.

Head hanging, shoulders hunched,
sad eyes look longingly for the dream I used to live.
Master asks me to lift my head,
swish my tail and purr.
He needs life to feel normal again.

I sit in patience, surrounded by bars,
lift my head, swish my tail and purr,
hoping to please, hoping for companionship.
Master walks by, smiles and pats my head . . . 
then wanders off,
leaving me to my cage and defeat.

I am the captured tiger,
beaten into submission,
thrown into a cage.
My master holds the only key.

And I wonder—
if he ever lets me out, will I want to go?
Or will the caged life be all I remember?
All I want to know?

Or maybe—will I run?
Run to freedom and never look back.

When Do We Let Our Truth Shine Through?

Father’s Day was a difficult day for me. I knew it could be, but had hope it might be okay. That hope was crushed after something unexpected happened, so I spent the next two hours of church on the verge of tears, fighting as hard as I could not to let them spill out and trying not to let my true emotions show. I then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to be strong for my family even though I was close to crying pretty much the whole time.

Since then I’ve wondered how often other people are experiencing the same thing. How often have I chatted with someone at church, run into someone at the store or talked with someone on the phone who seemed okay, but inside were actually doing everything they could just to hold it together?

I believe in trying to be optimistic. I believe in doing what we can to help ourselves find and live for the good. A long time ago I worked with a woman who seemed to have a pretty crappy life. Almost every single day when I got to work she would cry to me, tell me how awful her life was and go into detail about the latest tragedy she’d suffered. Almost every single day. For years. I felt for her and did what I could to be there for her, but it was also incredibly draining. As someone who takes on other’s emotions I struggle to be around negative people. I also recently worked with someone who was very controlling and negative and it damaged my mental health so much I had to quit. So I do believe in doing more than just showing or sharing the bad, difficult, negative, hard things in our lives, but when do we show it? When do we allow the truth to shine through? When do we allow vulnerability out? When do we let others see that it’s okay to not always have it together? That it’s okay to have hard days and let others see? When we do, this gives us the opportunity to help, to serve and to be there for each other.

I’m sure I will have plenty more days that I hold it all in, afraid to show what’s really going on, thinking I have to put on a mask and be strong for everyone else. It’s hard to take that mask off in front of people. It’s hard to be vulnerable. It’s hard to let others see the truth when it’s not pretty and wrapped in a nice, neat package with a perfect bow on top. But life isn’t always a perfect, pretty package. And I think sometimes we should let others see. We should let them know and let them in to help us, so we can also help them on their hard, difficult days. Maybe we can all learn together.

No Respecter of Persons

It is five years to the day since Chris Cornell took his own life. It’s always a solemn day for me. A sad day. He was so talented and had such a unique voice. I still mourn his depression and his death. I wrote this post a couple of years ago and wanted to share it again.

Today I write in honor of Chris Cornell—three years to the day after his suicide.

I first heard Soundgarden, Cornell’s band, when I was in high school. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. Instantly I loved them. And then a couple of years after high school I heard Show Me How to Live and I Am the Highway on the radio. The two singles from the first album of Cornell’s new band, Audioslave. I was hooked! The fact that they could write something as powerful and rockin’ as Show Me How to Live and as powerful, yet soft and beautiful as I Am the Highway was amazing to me. I went out and bought the album on CD as soon as it came out. I listened to it over and over and over again.

Many years later, after Audioslave had disbanded, I heard rumors that they were going to get back together to go on tour. I was so psyched! And then, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news that Chris Cornell was gone. It was early in the morning, I was in the car, pulling up to the gym. The DJ on the radio announced that Chris Cornell had hung himself. I was devastated. My heart ached that such a talented person had been in such a dark place that he had felt the only option was to take his own life. And I finally, really came to understand why people made such a big deal about celebrity suicides—because it shows that mental illness is no respecter of persons. So often, we think people have it made—celebrities, CEO’s, the wealthy, even our neighbors, family or friends. It’s easy to think we know what’s going on by seeing the outside, when really, on the inside, that person is struggling, suffering, dying.

Too often, I think the signs of depression get ignored. Too often, I think depression is minimized because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to ignore or give simple answers. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma still attached to depression. Sometimes it’s because of lack of education. And sometimes it’s because, simply put, depression is hard. It can be hard to understand or to know what to do, as is the case with any mental illness. And it can be hard because it’s different for everyone. And that is totally normal.

But when it comes to helping others, what’s right may be more important than what’s easy. The Mayo clinic has an amazing page about how you can recognize depression in others and ways you can help and encourage them. I can testify that even a simple smile can make a difference. I still remember a couple of girls I went to high school with who made a difference in my life. One of them always said hi to me, always gave me a smile. Another one brought me flowers because she had noticed I was sad the day before. I have a friend who easily could have given up on me because, as I stated, depression is hard. But she didn’t. Even when it scared her, she kept being my friend, and that made a huge difference. My boyfriend is a good example, too. Little things like asking questions and trying to understand what I’m going through helps so much. These things truly do matter.

Chris Cornell made a difference to me. There were so many times I was off at college that I would take off for a long drive in my car when I was feeling sad or frustrated about something, and I would crank that Audioslave CD! It always managed to either help release my frustration or remind me that I wasn’t alone. It still saddens me that I’ll never get to see him in concert. It saddens me that such a talented person struggled for so long with depression—until he couldn’t struggle anymore. But I believe we can do something about the alarming number of people who take their own lives. It starts at an individual level. Learn to know the signs of depression and learn what you may be able to do to help. And remember, a simple “hi” or a smile may be just the thing someone needs.

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