Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Category: Mental Health

The Ebb and Flow of Mental Illness, Part 2

I didn’t anticipate this being a two-part post, but it seems fitting that since I wrote the first part during a high point in my anxiety, that I should touch on the topic again now that the high point has passed.

I knew that this was going to happen, but somehow I was still surprised and disappointed. After a few weeks of being incredibly productive, making phone calls like a champ, and doing scary things on my own without a feeling of impending doom, the sense of confidence and ease slowly started to dissipate.

I once again began to feel that familiar sense of disquieting, quick heart rate for no discernible reason. Things are once again getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list because I haven’t been able to work myself up to doing them yet.

I am distracted. I feel like I can’t do the things that I want to do because there isn’t time. There must be something else that I should be doing, even if I can’t think of it. I spend a lot of time staring at my to-do list and re-organizing it.

Instead of feeling happy and connected to people after a conversation, I sometimes try to avoid social encounters altogether. The gardener at our apartment is the nicest person ever, but occasionally I find myself walking quickly from the car to the apartment, all the time hoping that he won’t talk to me.

The past few days, I have been obsessing over a number of social encounters that I have had recently. My anxiety keeps telling me that I said something weird, or stupid and that the people that I said them to probably do not want to talk to me anymore.

As Husband and I were lying in bed reading the other night, my brain suddenly decided that we were going to get worked up wondering if the front door was locked or not. Husband and I always lock the door. The rational part of me knew that it was locked. It didn’t matter.

Unable to tamp down the wave of anxiety on my own, I asked Husband if the front door was locked. He said that it was. I felt a little better, but I secretly went and checked a little while later. The door was locked.

One of the most frustrating facets of my anxiety also made an appearance recently. Some part of my mind latched onto an idea of how the day was going to go, without the knowledge or consent of the rest of me. Then, things changed. This small change of plans launched me into a sh***y mood for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t until later reflection that I realized what had happened. In the moment, I was just moody and angry. I didn’t know why I was in a bad mood, I didn’t know how to fix it, and I was frustrated with myself for being unable to fix it. Husband, who unfailingly will take action to make anything better, was also frustrated because he wanted to help but neither of us knew what to do.

Looking back, it is obvious to me that the slight change in plans is what threw me into a bad mood. It doesn’t happen every time something changes, but this has happened before, more than once. Sometimes, I feel a lot of security in being in control of what I am doing. When I am in that place and things don’t go how I expected them to, it can trigger this negative emotional reaction.

Needless to say, this stuff has not been a ton of fun to experience. It never is. I keep trying to find the silver lining in all of this, though.

One good thing is that, even though I’m experiencing a low point with my anxiety right now, the high point that I just left was one of the longest I’ve experienced before. As someone with a background in science, I know that one data point is not enough to say that there is a trend, but I can still hope that the next high point will be longer, too.

Another good thing is that I have an incredible support network of people that I can reach out to. When I was in my more social phase recently, I contacted a lot of people and I was reminded of just how awesome all the people in my life are. That feeling didn’t go away when anxiety decided to occupy a larger portion of my life again.

For better or worse, I know I’ll always be on this roller coaster of anxiety. Through the good and the less than good, I can always keep working toward better and trying to find the positive. At times like these, I feel comfort in repeating the famous words of Dori to myself.

Just keep swimming.

The Ebb and Flow of Mental Illness

I have been super productive lately. I’ve done lots of laundry (and managed to put it away), I’ve kept the dishes from piling up in the sink, I’ve swept all the dog hair off the floor (most days), and I’ve knocked a few things off my to-do list every day.

I’ve even gotten things done on my to-do list that I really really really hate doing. Such as anything involving making a phone call, or going to a new place.

While that might not seem like a big accomplishment to some, it has been for me. Because my anxiety causes me to feel overwhelmed to the point of complete inaction at times, getting stuff done is kind of a big deal.

What’s even more exciting about this is that when I have stepped out of my safe little box recently, things have gone well. For instance, the other day I had to take public transportation somewhere. I hate public transportation due to the lack of control that I have over the situation. Not only that, but I had to take this dreaded public transportation to a place that I had never been before to send a package.

Cue meltdown.

I didn’t know exactly where the building was. I didn’t know what bus stop I should get off at. I didn’t know what the inside of the building was going to look like. I didn’t know how much shipping was going to cost. I didn’t know if they would sell boxes that I could use to send my package.

I didn’t know what the people who worked there were going to be like. Would they be helpful, or hurried, or would they get frustrated with me since I didn’t know their procedures? I didn’t know how busy it was going to be. I didn’t know if they would have a bathroom there, or where it would be if I needed to use it.

In short, there were a lot of unknowns. I was also going by myself, which meant that I was going to have to make all the decisions. This is something that I am A) bad at, and B) hate doing. My anxiety told me that the whole situation was full of potentially disastrous outcomes.

Despite all of that, I went to the post office and nothing bad happened. My anxiety didn’t flare up. In fact, the trip gave me some time to enjoy the beautiful morning that we were having as I walked from the bus stop to the post office and back again. And when I got home, I felt accomplished, strong, and ready to take on the world.

It was a great feeling. But then the reality came crashing over me. I remembered times in the not-at-all-distant past when I would not have been able to overcome the long list of unknowns. Instead, I would have made up excuses about why I couldn’t make the trip to the post office and I would have kept putting it off.

As I remembered this, I also thought about how my anxiety will rear its ugly head again. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when I will feel like I can’t fight through the lies that my anxiety tells me about why I can’t or shouldn’t or won’t do something.

That realization was almost enough to take away the feeling of invincibility that I had when I got back from the post office. I’m not going to let that happen, though. I’m going to hold on to my victories in the battles that I have against anxiety, no matter how big or small they are.

Hopefully, these moments of victory will accumulate, and I can use them to fight back against the negative, worried thoughts that anxiety gives me. Maybe then I will be able to win more of the battles, and the better times will start to last a little longer. Maybe if I win enough battles, the better times will last a lot longer.

No matter what, though, I know that I will have times when my anxiety is better and I will have times when it is worse. This will happen throughout my entire life. I don’t like to think about it, but I know it is true. I know that battling anxiety will be hard sometimes. Really hard. But I will keep doing it.

And maybe that’s the key. Maybe it isn’t the battles won that is the true triumph over mental illness.

The true triumph is simply continuing to fight back.

 

Check out part two of this post here.

What Anxiety (Can) Look Like

I was hoping to wait a while before bringing up the topic of anxiety because, well, I have a hard time talking about it. And the funny thing is, my anxiety-fueled fear of how other people will perceive me is the very thing that keeps me from bringing up the subject. After much deliberation, I finally decided to bring it up because it is something that we need to talk about. In fact, it is something that we need to talk about much more often.

The road that I took to finding out that I have anxiety – and then finally doing something about it – was a long one. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I finally got help. It was then that I also finally got confirmation that what I was feeling passed beyond the realm of “normal” and into “mental illness”. For over two decades, friends and family members tried to be helpful, but ultimately dismissed my concerns that I might have anxiety. They would say that I was just “being a perfectionist” or “it’s normal for everyone to feel that way sometimes.”

My anxiety also did a great job of concealing itself. My anxiety gave me a tremendous amount of concern about what everyone thought of me. I didn’t ever want to come off as sad, insecure, clingy, afraid, angry, nervous, unraveled, or unable to cope. In my mind, the only thing worse than feeling those things would have been if other people knew that I felt them.

What that left was a quiet “perfectionist” who got good grades all the way through high school. But after high school, my anxiety morphed into something that seems a bit contradictory to the picture of anxiety that I usually see. Today, instead of my anxiety making me motivated and productive and organized, I often feel completely overwhelmed by it. Most of the time, I feel so overwhelmed that I can’t get anything done.

I make lists of things that I want to get accomplished in a day or a week, which can be helpful for many people with anxiety. Unlike many people, though, I usually become so overwhelmed by the perceived enormity of the tasks on the list that I become paralyzed. When that happens, I can’t bring myself to complete a single thing.

It carries over into my social interactions as well. It often takes me a long time to respond to a text or an email, or especially a phone call, because I’m so afraid that I will say the wrong thing. And if I have to tell a person “No”? I feel like I might as well be stealing their first born child. To make things worse, if I wait too long to respond to something, I end up feeling bad that I didn’t do it sooner. Responding becomes harder and harder to do, and the pattern of failing to act continues.

Things as simple as spending too much time in social situations or Husband re-arranging the living room can send me into a state of near-catatonic inaction for the rest of the day. Or longer.

I feel like I am always perched at the top of my window of tolerance, where it is easy for little things to push me out of my window. When that happens, I quickly fall from overstimulation into paralyzing inaction.

My anxiety doesn’t look like the high functioning anxiety characterized by busyness and achievement. Nor does it look like panic attacks or insomnia or restlessness, or any of the other things that I feel like it should look like.

I’ve never seen another example of my type of anxiety, which makes me feel like a fraud. At times, it makes me feel like I can’t possibly have anxiety because, if I had anxiety, my anxiety would be perfectly captured in a post or a meme somewhere. But if that does exist, I haven’t found it. It’s incredible how alone we can feel in the face of such vibrant social media networks.

Even though I do have some of the more well-known symptoms of anxiety – feeling nausea in a new situation or one that I feel trapped in, heart palpitations, worrying and obsessing about situations beyond what is normal – I still sometimes tell myself that those don’t really count.

Maybe I do this out of habit from the years before treatment when I tried to justify my thoughts and feelings as “normal”. This does nothing but put me in a state where I am both down on myself, and not framing things in a way where I am able to approach them constructively. If I can step outside of that for long enough and view one of my thoughts, such as absolutely dreading making a phone call, as a product of anxiety, it is easier for me to accept what I am feeling, give myself a little slack for feeling that way, and then push through the discomfort into a place where I am ready to take action.

Is this a ridiculous amount of effort to make one measly phone call? Yes. Do I do it every. Single. Time? Also yes.

I feel really fortunate that I did finally seek help. Though facing certain thoughts and actions can still feel like looking up at insurmountable mountains towering around me, more often now those mountains look like hills. Occasionally, they even look like ant hills. It is frustrating to know that my anxiety will never be “cured”, and that after two steps forward a re-arranged living room could cause one step back. What keeps me striving forward is the thought that I could be happier, and also that I deserve to feel happier.

If I help one person feel less alone with this post, I will have succeeded. If you have been considering getting help, it may be one of the hardest things you ever do but I highly encourage you to do it. If you are already getting help for mental illness, keep fighting the good fight. And if you don’t fall into either of those categories, I encourage you to really listen to your friends and family with mental illness when they talk about it.

Listen, because one story at a time we can lift the cloud of judgment surrounding mental illness, and then maybe – just maybe – it won’t be so difficult to talk about anymore.