I’ve had anxiety and depression for years, long before I started therapy and began taking medication under the advisement of a psychiatrist. I look back at my teenage and college years and see glaring signs that I was unhappy but didn’t know how to put it into words that anyone, including myself, could understand. Mental illness runs in my family, the most notable example being my dad, who died nearly two years ago from drug addiction, something that developed as a “coping” mechanism for his untreated mental health issues, if you ask me. I’ve taken my mental health very seriously as a result, as I’ve seen far too tragically what can happen if you don’t. I’ve been seeing the same bad ass therapist for eight years now and my prescription for Lexapro, an anxiety-focused anti-depressant, has helped clear the fog so that I can delve deep into the exacerbating issues. I think I’ve made an extraordinary amount of progress in that regard, though I’ve come to accept that a dull, ever-present level of sadness might always reside within me. In some ways, I’ve been oddly okay with that. As an extremely sensitive person, I don’t know that it would be physically/mentally possible for me to exist in this world, with all its terribleness, and feel completely happy. To me, the pursuit of total happiness is a blind one — to actually achieve it, you’d have to be just that. Blind.
With that said, I know enough about my brain chemistry to be aware of when I’m feeling an unhappiness that is outside the realm of what I consider normal. And for the last, oh, eight months to a year, it has become increasingly abnormal. Keep reading »
So if we’re not all clear on the fact that I deal with sometimes-crippling anxiety as a result of PTSD yet, let’s just put that out there now. I tried to cure it by going on a big adventure, thereby exposing myself to constant emotional stimulation/isolation and it turned out to be an unsuccessful ploy that made me want to just hole up at home for several months straight (which, basically, I did).
The thing is, there are still good reasons to travel, on occasion. In June I went to Madison for father’s day; I went to New York last month to see the final weekend of Kara Walker’s Domino installation and meet some writing colleagues in person (note: Amelia and Jessica are cool online but even cooler in person), and then toward the end of the month I went to Colorado for a family reunion (/introducing the beau to the fam). I’ll be going to Austin probably three times in the next year, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and SXSW; and Michael and I have talked about maybe visiting DC and Philadelphia next year because they’ve got free museums and museums are life (OK, that’s my reason if not his).
In other words, I like traveling. But it still makes me feel like I’m drowning, though: When I was in New York I got so overwhelmed by the whole hostel experience that I had to beg a couch from a friend (who was happy to oblige, thankfully), and I had panic attacks in Colorado induced by a feeling of both spending way too much time with the people I love and not being productive enough work-wise (yes, this merits a panic attack — think fear of failure/rejection), in addition to just not being at home, in my safe space. Slowly but surely, the more I travel, the more I’m learning what I can do to enjoy myself and have an enriching experience while not going crazy. Keep reading »
I remember my first panic attack in more detail than I remember losing my virginity or the first time I drove a car by myself. (I guess vivid terror of suddenly not being able to breathe really ingrains itself into your psyche.) It was 1998 and I was watching the “Psycho” remake with my family’s French exchange student. During the infamous shower scene, my throat and lungs tightened inside me like a figure eight knot. I got up and paced around the movie theater, unable to control my body and wondering if I was having a heart attack. I’ve had panic attacks periodically since then, probably due to a combination of biology and circumstance. I’ve made an effort to lessen the conditions that they occur in and for the most part, I live a pretty calm life. My anxiety only spikes in extreme circumstances, such as the rare times I’ve gotten temporarily stuck in a subway underground (I’m claustrophobic).
After a couple of years without anxiety attacks in my everyday life, I’ve started having them again. The stress is related to old stuff resurfacing in my life and the anxiety is pretty much the same, too: my chest tightens, my heart beats too fast, I can’t breathe, and I feel like I’m having a heart attack. (Or, you know, what I assume a heart attack feels like.) I’m 30 now. Panic attacks are still shitty and frustrating, but all the experience I’ve had coaxing myself through them over the years actually does makes them less intense and quicker to get over.
These are my thoughts on what panic attacks are like, how to deal with them, and what I hope other people could understand if they’re trying to help:
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Sometimes I feel totally overwhelmed at the thought of how much I want to accomplish in a given day or week, or how much growing stands between me and whatever distant, self-actualized ideal I hope to someday be. On days when I wake up cranky, thinking about stuff like this creates a snowball effect and suddenly I’m frustrated and calling myself a failure because I’m not living up to some nonexistent hypothetical that nobody else even sees but me — and then I miss out on enjoying all the great stuff that’s happening right in front of me. What I forget a lot is that every second is an opportunity to make a choice that aligns with becoming a calmer, kinder person, or at least could make me feel like more of a “together” person (I’m convinced people who 100 percent have it together don’t actually exist, but that’s another story).
I think one of the biggest reasons we get stuck in personal ruts or find ourselves feeling trapped in routines we absolutely hate is because the prospect of changing our lives sounds gigantic and intimidating. In actuality, epic changes don’t happen overnight. Whether you want to rebuild a relationship, rescue your finances, change the way you treat your body, or just improve your attitude, it will happen slowly as lots of tiny choices start to stack on top of one another. I find that to be a huge relief, because none of us can move a mountain in a day or do things perfectly all day long, but it’s so much easier to make a tiny positive choice in the right direction. Here are a few itsy bitsy changes that don’t always come easily but can make life a bit sweeter. Keep reading »
You probably want to sit down for what I’m about to tell you because it’s going to blow the lid off everything you thought you knew about relationships. A new study done at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology discovered that fear of being single leads both men and women to settle for relationships that don’t fulfill them. Obviously, I am being sarcastic about this being mind-blowing news. Raise your hand if you’ve continued dating someone you weren’t amped about because you watched The Mamas And The Papas “Behind The Music” and couldn’t bear the thought of choking on a sandwich and having no one there to do the Heimlich Maneuver. Raise your hand if you’ve been exclusive with the fist person you met online because you were new to a city and you were afraid they were the only person you’d meet. Raise your hand if you’ve continued to date someone, knowing they were awful, just because you needed a plus one to your best friend’s wedding? OK. All of us? Good. Then this study is for you! Keep reading »
Most of the “scientific studies” in the Daily Mail make me chuckle (new survey from a contact lens manufacturer says that 90% of people feel self-conscious about wearing glasses!) but this one — about low self-esteem, existential angst and stuffed animals — is worth serious consideration. Keep reading »