Anxiety

Worrying Won’t Stop Bad Things from Happening

By now you guys are fully aware of my anxiety issues. I am a worrier. It’s in my nature. I don’t think I am ever going to fully change that about myself. But lately I’ve been noticing that my worrying has been getting worse.

I am becoming a bit of a Debbie Downer. Did you know that almost anything fun in this world can end in some sort of fatal result?

I’ve recently discovered that I really enjoy hiking.  It’s wonderful exercise and the views are amazing. Nature can be pretty awesome sometimes. But do you know what’s not awesome about nature? Bugs, particularly ticks. I have been reading through tons of articles stressing how bad the ticks will be this year on the east coast. With every article I read, the more anxious I become.

Aside from hiking, the summer months also bring a chance to spend hours in the pool. Since my new apartment is connected to my sister’s house, I can spend every weekend chilling in the pool with my sister and my adorable nephews. At five and three, my nephews are at that adorable age where every conversation we have ends in fits of laughter. All of this should be cause for celebration, right? Wrong! Did you ever hear of a thing called dry drowning?  It’s real and it’s terrifying.

Lately I feel like every event in my life comes with a list of ways it could go horribly wrong. It’s as though I have become acutely aware of just how fragile life can be. In an instant things can change for the worst.

I know what you’re thinking: “Chill out Liz!” Don’t worry, I’m not offended. I’m thinking the same thing.

While life is fragile and it’s impossible to stop bad things from happening, worrying will not make any of it better. In fact, my constant worrying and anxiety is just making my life harder. It’s preventing me from fully enjoying things.

It’s time to start enjoying things in the moment. I recognize that things can change in an instant. And in life, bad things inevitably happen. But really awesome, amazing things happen as well. I want to enjoy those moments worry-free* so when the not-so-great stuff happens, I can look back and remember that not everything in life is all ticks and dry drowning!

*Worry-free enjoyment does include dousing myself in bug spray and constantly shouting at my nephews to not swallow water.

Things I Cannot Do Smoothly Because of Anxiety

Most of the times my anxiety is not funny. When I am in the middle of a full blown panic attack, the last thing on my mind is laughing. But there are times when I am able to recognize just how ridiculous I am being.

There’s a constant struggle between two parts of my brain. One part won’t calm the fuck down cause it’s convinced that the world is about to end. The other part wishes it’s neighbor would stop freaking out because it just wants to go to sleep.

There are times when I worry about the most ridiculous shit. Shit that really does not need to be worried about. At times it prevents me from doing basic every day things. I still manage to do these things but it would go a whole lot smoother if I could just shut my brain off.

Here are just a few things that I am unable to do smoothly because of my anxiety.

Small talk with a stranger. Am I being annoying? I’m asking too many questions. Stop asking questions. Wait, what if I’m not asking enough questions. Find something to talk about. Except for the weather. Anything but the weather. “So, can you believe how cold it’s been?”

Have a go-with-the-flow relationship. There’s no “let’s just see how things go” with me. Either we’re doing this or not. I can’t spend time questioning where I stand. Even if you make it obvious, I need to hear you say the words, “We’re together.”

Have any kind of relationship for that matter. Haha, I was totally faking it before. If you do say we’re together, I’m still going to spend hours questioning where I stand.

Straighten my hair. Anytime I straighten my hair, I have this overwhelming fear that I will burn down my apartment. Numerous times I had to call my dad to go to my apartment and check my straightener. Then I started texting myself a photo of my unplugged straightener right before I left so I could reassure myself throughout the day. All of these tactics just weren’t enough. Now whenever I straighten my hair, I bring my straightener with me so I know for sure I didn’t leave it on and potentially burn down everything I own.

Go to sleep at a reasonable hour. You know what happens when I’m trying to go to sleep? I think of every little thing that has ever worried me in my entire life.

Watch any TV show that takes place in a hospital. Since I was little, I’ve had to avoid any TV show that takes place in a hospital. ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy. Can’t watch any of them. I’m a paranoid person on a regular day. If I watch a hospital show, I’ll spend the next 72 hours convinced that I have the Plague.

Read or watch the news. I know keeping up with current events is important. And I do it from time to time so I’m aware of what’s going on and so I don’t look like a complete idiot. But I do not enjoy it at all! The news has always been scary and depressing but right now, it’s almost unbearable.

When the Motivational Posters Stop Working

girls marnie - being inside my own head is exhaustingIf we see someone stressing out over something completely trivial, the first response is to tell them to relax and not worry so much. If we see someone unhappy and complaining about something that doesn’t seem like a big deal, the first response is to remind them how much worse things could be. They should be happy about all the good things in their lives.

We are constantly bombarded with “inspirational quotes” telling us that we are in charge of our own happiness. That if we cannot see the beauty in the world and appreciate the fact that we get to start a brand new day each morning, then there is something wrong with us. Just waking up and breathing is enough to be happy and carefree. By stating that happy people are choosing to live that way, it’s basically stating that unhappy people are making a conscious decision to be depressed or stressed about life.

What people fail to realize is that for some of us, it’s impossible to be completely happy. We want nothing more than to see the beauty in the life we are given and not stress about insignificant problems. Unfortunately, our minds will not allow it.

I suffer from mild anxiety. I refer to it as mild because it doesn’t affect my life on a daily basis and I have (thankfully!) never suffered from a full blown panic attack. But it is still a problem that I have had to deal with for years now.

Sometimes my anxiety will pop up in almost comical ways that my sister never fails to tease me about. Several times in the past I have had to call home to have someone reassure me that I have in fact unplugged the straightener. It’s gotten so bad where on days I straighten my hair, I will text myself stating that I did unplug the straightener. I have to include a picture of the unplugged straightener because a text is not enough proof, I need hard evidence that I will not be coming home to a burnt house after work.

In October 2013, right after my grandmother passed away, I convinced myself that I had HIV. This was a less comical side of my anxiety that I did not reveal to many people. Despite the fact that it had been over a year since my last sexual partner (and we always used condoms), my mind latched onto the idea that I was infected and it wouldn’t let go. For weeks leading up to my test, I had a pit in my stomach that would not go away. When the results came back negative (like a deep part of me knew they would), my mind relaxed for a bit before it found something new to obsess over and analyze to death.

The worst part of anxiety is that there is a part of me that realizes how ridiculous I am being. I don’t want to spend my life stressing about things that are probably never going to actually happen. I don’t enjoy not being able to sleep at night due to shortness of breathe. I don’t like having a normal day and then all of sudden my heart start pounding and being overcome with a feeling of anxiousness for no real reason.

When I see quotes and people making it seem as though a happy, stress-free life is easily unattainable, it makes me feel as though there is something wrong with me. And not the “I may actually be suffering from a mental illness” wrong but the “I’m just a miserable human being who can’t appreciate what she has” wrong. We may have become a lot more accepting about mental illness but there is this underlying tone that people with depression or anxiety could just get over it if they really wanted to.

Even I feel like this sometimes. I grew up with a mother who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. I myself have issues with anxiety and a brain whose thoughts I sometimes have no control over. Yet, I still sometimes think, “This is your body, your mind. You are the one allowing sadness and anxiousness to control you.”

But just how when I’m panicking over something that I know deep down is never going to actually happen, I also know that deep down my anxiety is something I will never fully be able to get rid of. There will never come a day I won’t be filled with dread anytime someone says they want to ask me a question or talk to me about something. I’ll never not think a friend or family member is kidnapped or dead if they don’t respond to my texts within a reasonable time. And I know I’m always going to live with the fact that every once in a while my heart will start racing and I will be short of breathe for no apparent reason.

So all those inspirational quotes and motivational posters are wrong, but they do have some truth to them. Sometimes we can’t just choose to be happy. Sometimes simply choosing not to stress isn’t an option. However, the only thing I can hope to do is control my anxiety. It’s always going to be there but I can work on ways to manage it. And I’m slowly working on ways to lessen my anxiety that don’t include wine and Klonopin (even though both are great options when things get too bad, as long as they aren’t abused).

Focusing on my breathing when I feel like my heart is about to beat out of my chest helps. Deep breathing is key to slowing down my heart rate. When I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack, going for a ride can ease the anxiousness. I think it has something to with my mind having a task to focus on instead of worrying.

The number one thing I’ve learned that helps with my anxiety (and maybe it can help any of you who also suffer with anxiety) is to try and pinpoint what it is that’s making me so anxious. Sure, sometimes I feel a panic attack coming on and it seems like it’s out of nowhere. But trying to focus on what’s making me anxious and what’s brought on the feeling of dread, helps to make me feel like I have a little bit of control over something that normally feels utterly uncontrollable.