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.

The Cycle

Cycle
By Tacy Gibbons

up, down
all around
left, right
where’s the light
spin, spin
twist and turn
try your best not to burn
start to climb
fall back down
slip and slide
you might drown
pouring rain
cut the vein
here we go
all over again

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.

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.

The Truth About Toxicity

I’ve been wanting to talk about toxicity for awhile now, but have put it off because I think it can be a very polarizing topic. For me, toxic people and toxic characteristics are real. They are very real for others as well.

For those of you who feel like you are in a toxic relationship of any kind, I’m here to say it’s okay to step away. You and your happiness matter and sometimes the only way to achieve that is to set boundaries or even completely cut ties with the people who are abusing you.

So what is toxicity? A dictionary definition explains that toxicity is “the quality of being very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.” Toxic traits include, but are not limited to:

Lying
Manipulation
Shame
Using Excuses
Judgmental Behavior
Negativity
Controlling Behavior
Unrealistic Expectations

Unfortunately, I think the word “toxic” is being used too often as an excuse to just cut people out, which diminishes the real effects that some people suffer from actual toxic people. True toxicity is a pattern of behavior that persists without a person acknowledging it or choosing to do anything about it.

Something important to understand about toxic people is that they may not be toxic to everyone. I saw this quote attributed to Tamara Yancosky that says, “Extremely toxic people will only be abusive with a select few; this way their behavior won’t be found out by the majority.” If someone tells you a certain person is abusive or toxic, don’t just automatically brush it off or think they’re crazy just because you don’t see that person as toxic. I have had first-hand experience with toxic and abusive people who seem completely nice and normal to everyone else. And maybe they are nice and normal to everyone else. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t toxic to some.

Just like toxic substances poison, toxic people poison. If I knew something was poisoning my garden or my body I would do everything to remove that poison. It is also okay to set boundaries with or remove poisonous people. I really like this quote by motivational speaker, Hank Smith. He said, “I do not believe in using the word ‘boundaries’ to just cut people off simply because they do or don’t do what you want. That is manipulation. When I talk about boundaries, I’m talking about protecting yourself and others from emotional, physical, sexual, or any other form of abuse.” Setting boundaries with or walking away from toxic people is about protecting yourself from real harm.

Something I have been accused of from toxic people is that I just need to forgive, stop holding a grudge or that I’m only doing it to teach them a lesson. A quote that really resonated with me is, “We don’t walk away to teach people a lesson. We walk away because we finally learned ours.” This is what happened with toxic people in my life. I walked away because I finally learned my own worth and value. I finally learned that I was worth more than the poisonous way in which I was being treated. It was absolutely about me finally learning my lesson and had nothing to do with trying to teach them one. I don’t have the time or energy to spend on something like that. Just like I don’t have the time or energy to hold grudges, which leads into another awesome quote from Hank Smith. “Don’t let someone convince you that you are holding a grudge when you are holding a boundary.”

It is okay to have boundaries, and it is also okay to cut the poison, or toxic people, completely from your life—even if those people are family. I think that is something that is really hard for people in the culture where I live to understand. I live in a place that is predominantly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that families can be together forever. I believe that. The key word in there is can. Never is it stated that families will be together forever. It’s stated that they can be. Much depends on that. But this error in belief, or even acknowledgement of the actual belief (with that word can) seems to make some people think that they have to maintain familial relationships in this life even if they are toxic or abusive. That is absolutely not true. Another belief I, and members the church I belong to, adhere to is that God wants us to be happy. It is impossible to have happiness or joy when in a toxic or abusive relationship. That means that God does not expect us to stay in those relationships, even when they are family.

This is an important topic to me, one I will probably revisit again, focusing on more specifics, but for now I hope this helps others to understand and find their own hope.

Why I Keep Blogging

Lately I’ve been wondering if I should even keep doing my blog. I have over 250 followers, but my posts usually only get a few views, maybe up to fifteen if I’m lucky. Of course I didn’t start this blog thinking I would get millions of followers and thousands of views. I don’t do it with the hopes of becoming famous or anything like that. But it’s still hard to see the point when so few people look at it or seem to care about it.

This got me wondering why I feel the need to blog and why it feels so hard or hurtful to think of ending it. One reason I started this blog was in the hopes that it might make a difference in even one person’s life. Once, a random person commented on one of my posts that what I had written had made a difference. So I guess I did that, and I do feel grateful for it.

Another reason I started it lies in the subtitle of this blog. “Opening a Discussion on Mental Illness.” I really hoped that more people would comment, that this really could be a place to have an open discussion about mental health and mental illness topics and awareness. I also hoped that there would be others who would want to share their stories or perspectives. There have been very few, and often, my husband is the only one who comments. So again, this makes me wonder if I’m really making any kind of difference at all or not.

But I also realized that one reason I keep posting, even though I know I might get let down, is because it is a creative outlet for me. Writing has been a part of who I am since I was ten years old. I shared my writing in English and Creative Writing classes. I had people who actually asked to read my poetry and my stories. Since college I have been in writing groups where I got feedback, interest and encouragement. But it has been years since I have had any of that. Other than a little poetry here and there, this blog is the only creative writing I have done in a very long time. I think about working on my stories again. I think about it all the time, but always talk myself out of it. What’s the point? I’m no good anyway. No one wants to read my writing. Nothing will come of it. So I keep blogging because writing is still a part of me. It is in my blood, something I feel in my soul. I need to keep sharing my writing whether I get a lot of view or not, whether I get any comments or not, whether I’m really opening a discussion or not. It makes a difference in my life. I fear that if I completely stop writing I will lose a huge part of myself and never feel whole again. So I will keep writing and sharing. Because sometimes we need to do things for ourselves.

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!