I’m Cheering You On…From Over Here

As an introvert with unmedicated anxiety, my desire to be supportive of friends and family can be somewhat less than what I’d like depending on the day.

On my best days, I can show up. Physically. In person. When my batteries are fully charged and my anxiety is either low-tide or manageable, I can actually be there for my people. Yes, I am capable of pushing myself for really important events when I’m not feeling my best, but I honestly try to make myself social interaction ready prior to those events. This means as much alone time as I can beforehand along with having my anxiety coping methods at the ready.

However, I can’t always do that. I work in a customer service job. Even part time, I can’t always successfully recharge my batteries. My anxiety can prevent it. Or my depression if it’s acting up.

So, sometimes -most times, too many times- I don’t show up. Not in the physical form.

Most of the time my support comes in a less full-bodied form. Text messages, emails, likes, favorites, retweets, memes, cards. It’s not ideal, I know. But sometimes it’s all I have the energy to do. I want you know that I’m thinking of you, that I support you, that I’m proud of you. Those little gestures are the best I can do and they’re the ones I end up doing the most.

And even with the easiest of these gestures I can still struggle because of my anxiety.

As I’ve mentioned before, my anxiety’s favorite thing to tell me is that people do not like me and do not want to hear from me. This applies to my closest friends and even my family. I have to psych myself up sometimes to text my own sister. Crazy, right? Yes, I am.

There are times, when I do not respond to social media posts even though I want to because I feel like that’s for the best. That my support would best be expressed with a like or a favorite or a share or a retweet rather than an actual verbally communicated interaction because I don’t want to be too familiar and/or bug anybody. And yes, this applies to people I’ve known for years and that I’m related to. I quite frequently backspace.

You’re welcome.

I’m lackluster in a lot of ways. My best is rarely good enough. But I do try. And I do care about the people in my world.

Believe me when I say that I’m cheering you all on.

But from over here.

Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby

In my little world, I categorize my stress into two categories: To Do List Stress and Life Stress. Sometimes they overlap, but they tend to affect me differently.

I prefer no stress, but if I had to pick one of these, I’ll pick the To Do List Stress.

To Do List Stress is the consequence of me overestimating my ability to be productive and scheduling myself to do a whole lot of things in a certain period of time. To Do List Stress is most prevalent in December, but I can honestly do this to myself at any time. I tend to cope with this stress better. Not because I can choose to reschedule the things on my To Do List to be more accommodating (because even if I say I’m going to do that, I never do), but for whatever reason, it’s just something I can handle. Maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn. Who knows.

One contributing factor to my ability to deal with To Do List Stress is that it triggers my “DO IT ALL NOW” anxiety and out of all of my anxiety manifestations, I can actually deal with that one pretty easily. It mostly involves me reminding myself that I don’t have to do it all now and I have it all scheduled out. Do I have to remind myself of this multiple times a day, if not an hour, and does it sometimes disrupt my sleep? Yes. But it’s mild compared to what Life Stress does to me.

Life Stress is everything else in my world.

It’s working short-handed most days of the week. It’s working a customer service job during a pandemic. It’s the constant barrage of bad news. It’s going grocery shopping at any point in time. It’s the ever present strain that never seems to abate.

I’m not great at dealing with that kind of stress, at least not anymore. I think I was better at dealing with it when I was younger and more resilient. Or I was too dumb to stop and realize what I was dealing with. Whatever the reason, after the Massively Stressful Summer of ’18, my ability to cope with Life Stress is basically non-existent. It totally drains me.

Which is not good.

It’s not ideal to go through life feeling like you’re unable to catch your breath.

I think -and this is just speculation- that I might be able to cope with Life Stress better if it didn’t absolutely wreck me anxiety-wise. While To Do List Stress triggers one particular anxiety manifestation, Life Stress triggers several and they’re all the worst.

The general dread that comes with social situations, like going to work for example, goes from barely registering/normal to now dialed up to 11 because every shift guarantees an unpleasant interaction with someone.

And every unpleasant interaction leads to rumination that I can’t stop, whether I acknowledge it or not. Because most days, I just chalk it up to the normal of now and don’t consciously think about it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not pinballing through my brain, off in the background, coming to the fore when I finally sleep and the guard goes down.

Stress dreams are not fun. And I’m having them a lot more often than I ever did.

This sort of thing has made my baseline anxiety worse. I question every single human interaction I have outside of the people in my house, and still question those interactions on occasion. I cannot wish someone happy birthday without questioning my word choice. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I can have a chat with someone I’ve known most of my life, who knows me and my quirks and my dumbassery, and still walk away from that conversation ruminating over every single thing I said and did during that interaction.

This is the toll that Life Stress takes on me. Is taking on me. Because in addition to just sucking in general, it’s also feeding a beast I’m quickly losing control of.

Now I know that I’m not unique in this. A lot of people have Life Stress issues along with mental illness. Some might argue that I’m lucky because I don’t have the added stresses of a spouse and kids and a real job. But think about it. If I can’t handle what I’ve already got, it’s probably for the best that I’m not dealing with more. I’m hardly coping (not really) as it is.

Do I feel like a complete failure and a total baby? Absolutely.

Will I find a way to cope and/or live with it?

I hope so.

What I Mean When I Say I Don’t Have the Energy

The library has a holiday outing every year. We go out to dinner at one of the local places and then we go to the CH Moore Homestead for the candlelight tour of the mansion. It’s really pretty. We did it the first year that I worked for the library. Last year’s was cancelled due to Covid. This year we’re going again.

I’m not going. I don’t have the energy.

When I say this, people assume that means I’m tired and how can I possibly be tired weeks in advance? That’s ridiculous! Come on! You should go! It’ll be so much fun!

First of all, never pester me about something. It will activate my spite and that’s a great way to make sure I never do it.

Second of all, I’ve been tired since 1994. It’s a permanent condition at this point.

And lastly, what I mean when I say that I don’t have the energy is that I don’t have the energy necessary to do sufficient battle with my anxiety and/or depression in order to allow myself to have a good time.

I’m using this specific example of the library’s holiday outing because as I’ve written many times, this is my least favorite time of the year. It tends to be hectic. Even not having to split my time between multiple family holiday gatherings anymore, I still find myself stressed out over presents and baking and cards and mailing. This is the time of year that my mental illnesses can be more affected due to that whole lack of daylight thing combined with the need to go out more.

Even during with ideal conditions, my energy reserves in December are low.

But I’ve spent the last year plus in a pandemic, keeping up with the changing library policies regarding Covid safety and arguing with people who walk past THREE signs that say masks are required because they don’t want to wear a mask.

I barely have enough energy to get through the requirements of my day. I do not have the energy to do anything extra.

Some people refer to this as not having enough spoons. If that is the metaphor you require to understand me, then that is the one I’ll use. I have no extra spoons. I rarely have any at this time of year. I’d say they get lost in the dishwasher, but we don’t have one.

I know some people feel like this is bullshit. I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I don’t have a full-time job (and if my job at the library was full-time, it’s minimum wage, so it wouldn’t count as a real job anyway). In their opinion, there’s nothing depleting my energy. I should have a plethora of spoons. I’m just lazy.

And to them, I say…I am, as a rule, fucking exhausting to deal with. Even in small doses. Imagine putting up with me all the damn time.

In conclusion, I have no extra energy to accommodate any more requests at this time. Thank you.

Have a Bad Day

I woke up from a dead sleep at 4am with an anxiety attack. It had something to do with the day job, an insignificant thing that my broke-ass brain decided was a much bigger issue and decided to flail about it despite my repeated attempts at logic and reason. It took almost two hours for me to get back to sleep and even then, I ended up having fitful anxiety dreams.

This set the tone for my day. It colored everything I did. How I interacted with other people and dealt with them, how I went about my writing and my day job shift. When I finished my exercises in the morning (because I made myself do them), I sat on the floor with my head in my hands for twenty minutes, inert. I knew that it was going to be a day. I was going to be out of sorts.

And you know what?

I let myself have a bad day.

There’s this idea that bad days should be avoided at all costs. Do whatever you can to not have one. Don’t let that one moment ruin your twenty-fours hours. Change your attitude, change your perspective, other people have it worse, don’t let it get you down.

Granted, no one wants to have a bad day, but I think so much of that is because people don’t like dealing with other people having a bad day. It makes them uncomfortable. It’s awkward. They don’t know what to say or what to do. So, they tell you not to have one so they don’t have to deal with it. Which perpetuates this idea that bad days are some kind of failing. To have one means you’re not fighting hard enough to be happy and therefore not burden the other people in your life with your unpleasant, unkempt shit.

In the past, I would have struggled to turn my frown upside down and that struggle would have made my bad day worse. I would have pushed and everything I touched would have gone to instant shit. Like the Midas touch, only crappy. Instead, I knew from the minute I woke up with that anxiety attack that I was going to have a bad day and I accepted it. I didn’t wallow in it. I didn’t take it out on anyone else. I just acknowledged that this was the day that I was having and it was okay. I was allowed.

The result?

My day wasn’t great, but it didn’t get worse. It was bearable. I was more productive than I thought I’d be because I didn’t push myself. I gave myself an out for everything on my schedule. I forced nothing. I took nothing personally and I ate comfort food for dinner. I let myself be, I had my bad day, and I didn’t make anyone else uncomfortable in the process. My day ended up being grey instead of black.

And it ended better than it started.

Two bowls of cereal have that power.

Change the Chant

Anyone who has anxiety will tell you that it’s very real and very dumb. Your brain decides everything is terrible and despite your logical assertions that everything is in fact fine, your brain disagrees. Endlessly.

I have several ways to cope with my anxiety because some days it’s worse than others. With the new day job in retail, learning the specifics of this job (a lot of retail is the same, but every store has their own style), and the drastically increased face-to-face interactions with humans, my anxiety has definitely been worse.

One of the consequences of my anxiety going on a rage is that I don’t sleep and/or don’t sleep well. Sleep is sort of important to my well-being, as it is for most people. Due to my recent health issues, it’s been very important.

One of the ways that I cope with my anxiety is through chanting mantras. It’s a quick and easy way to calm my mind and the anxiety in the moment. It’s also very helpful at slowing down the mental chatter before sleep. The rhythm of the words soothes me and the words themselves plant pleasantness in my brain.

The mantras have been getting a workout due to the new day job and the chaos therein. The Wal-Mart in town is closing, our business has dramatically increased, and it’s been slow going getting more help and more hours to compensate for it. My anxiety has been zinging.

So, it’s no wonder that the mantras I’ve always used have been recently overused and have stopped working.

It’s not ideal, for sure. There is no rest when I come home from a long, hectic shift, go to sleep, and my dreams put me right back at work. I don’t enjoy working the same shift twice.

After a few rough nights, I realized that maybe the solution wasn’t too far from my old tricks.

The old mantras didn’t seem to work anymore. Maybe a new one would? A mantra specifically geared towards releasing the anxiety associated with work. I tried it for a few nights and it…helped? I still dreamed about work, but instead of reliving my shift or fighting not to dream about work, I just let it roll. The dreams weren’t as intense and didn’t last very long before I moved on to my usual dream weirdness (I was involved in a heist that used plastic wrap and wasn’t nearly as clever as everyone thought it was; we all should have been caught). In short, the new mantra has helped me reclaim at least a somewhat more restful night.

Once things with the day job smooth out, it’ll go into the coping toolbox with the rest of the mantras.

But until then, I’ll chant away.

It’ll Be Fine When I Get There

I have anxiety. It’s great fun. I’ve learned to cope with it for the most part. Little tricks that make living with it more bearable. Because anxiety lies just as much as depression, let me tell ya.

I think of my anxiety in two ways: anticipatory and aftermath. The holidays are a great illustration of how this works.

First we have the anticipatory. I literally start having the anticipation anxiety as soon as November starts. I’m thinking of the gifts that I have to make and the places I have to be and the trinkets that I have to buy and the money I have to spend. All of that is pretty understandable. The holidays are overwhelming for lots of people. It’s a stressful time.

But the anxiety means that there’s no release valve. There’s no relief when I get something on the Grinchmas To Do List finished. Is it good enough? Will they like it? Could I have done better? Do they think I’m cheap? These thoughts continually pop up in my head no matter how many times I answer these questions.

And then there’s the actual going of places. I imagine most people who have decent-to-good relationships with their families don’t have much in the way of anxiety when it comes to seeing them for the holidays (except for maybe traffic). Well, I do. In fact, I have anxiety any time I’m supposed to see anyone because what if I’m wrong? What if this isn’t the right day? The right time? Am I dressed appropriately? Do they really want me there? Now because I tend to have low level anxiety whenever I go anywhere, this is easier to deal with. I just remind myself that it’ll be fine when I get there. Because it will be. It always is. But I need that mantra.

Then there’s the aftermath anxiety.

No matter how well things went, I am inevitably smacked with this sort of anxiety (it happens a lot after I record a podcast or submit a story). When it comes to the holidays, it means I get home from my merry-making (where I usually have a good time) and the questions start again. Did I say the wrong thing? Did I do this wrong? Did I sound/look like a moron? Was I wrong about something? Did I sound sincere enough when I thanked them for the present? Was I appreciative enough? I have come to depend on meditating to help me purge my anxiety, as I think of it. Otherwise, I can’t sleep and when I do, I dream about it, the distorted barrage of questions invading my slumber.

Between my amped up anxiety and my usual holiday blues, the holidays are a great time. So much of my exhaustion actually comes from trying to maintain some sort of mental health so I can function. A couple of years ago, the blues went into a full blown depressive episode. This year, my anxiety is pummeling everything. At this point, I’m willing to sign a petition to have December cancelled.

But like every other day when my anxiety acts up, like every other year at this time, I remind myself…

It’ll be fine when I get there.

For the Sake of My Sanity

mirroredYesterday was Bell Let’s Talk Day on social media. It happens once a year to raise money for mental health and end the stigma around mental illness. Naturally, I participate on Twitter by using the hashtag. As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, mental health is something I think about probably more than people who don’t suffer from any sort of mental affliction.

I say that I deal rather than struggle because honestly, I deal more than I struggle. Last winter was a struggle with my depression. This winter I’ve been dealing with my depression. I deal with my anxiety far more than I struggle with it. I deal without any sort of meds because that’s my choice. I’m sort of lucky that I have the option to deal without meds because I know that some people don’t have that choice. Meds are necessary for them.

I was first officially diagnosed with depression when I was 20, but there’s no doubt that I’d been suffering from it for several years by then. And here I say suffering because I was truly suffering. I had no concept of how to deal with what I was going through because I had no real grasp that there was anything wrong with me. I thought I was just a shitty, defective human.

Since then, I’ve learned how to deal. It’s been a slow process because I do everything the hard way and I’m a stubborn person. I’ve also had to overcome the fact that I’m prone to self-destruction and a lot of the way I internalize the outer world has led to forming ideals that are harmful. It’s only recently that I began to accept the concept of self-care as something that I deserve.

It seems that in the last year or so I’ve taken a giant step in owning the shit that hinders my mental health. I’ve come into so many situations lately, situations that I would normally subject myself to because reasons and be totally miserable, and instead of doing the normal, I asked myself, “Why the hell am I doing this? It does nothing for me.” And then I’ve excused myself from the situation.

For example, I avoided Facebook for like a month. It was doing nothing for me. My friend’s page looked like a Klan meeting happening at a tent revival while a cryptic Days of Our Lives episode played and the English language was repeatedly mauled. Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were some good things, some funny things, some accurately spelled things. But I had to wade through such shit to get to them. I was checking Facebook multiple times a day because I didn’t want to miss anything, didn’t want anyone to feel slighted if I didn’t like the sixth profile picture in a week or that album of baby pictures or that status about how their life was so great or whatever. It was a chore to scroll my feed. No, it was a stone drag to scroll my feed.

And one morning I asked myself, “Why are you doing this? What are you getting out of this?”

The answer was that I wasn’t getting much more than aggravation out of it.

So, I didn’t check Facebook that day. Or the next. Or the next. Nor did I play the games on Facebook that I felt a duty to play every day because reasons.

As a result, I had more time. When I wasn’t playing the games or refreshing my feed every thirty minutes, I suddenly had this abundance of time that I never felt like I had before. It was much easier for me to focus on my work when I wasn’t suffering from eye strain from rolling my eyes so much and I wasn’t half-pissed from repeated exposure to the ignorance and hatefulness and inability to work a fucking homonym. My overall mood and peace of mind improved.

I felt better.

Now, I check Facebook once, maybe twice a day. I scroll for a bit, like a few things, play one of my games, maybe wish somebody happy birthday, and then I’m done. Sorry if I miss your stuff, but I’m better off if I don’t hang around too long. I’m sure you understand.

Except I know there are people who don’t, friends and family members who’d gladly tell me what a fucking wuss I am and I need to suck it up and deal with it.

Good news! I am dealing with it. Been dealing with it for years. I’ll be dealing with it for the rest of my life, thanks. I’d apologize for not dealing with it to your satisfaction, but I’m not sorry. You can fuck off.

My mind is a fucking hellscape most of the time. It’s loud and messy and some days it doesn’t work worth a shit and other days it works overtime. This is my normal. For me, being comfortable in my own head is my sanity.

My mental health has, rightly, become one of my top priorities.

If that makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you should check in on your own.

I Took My Anxiety to Chicago

The frog no doubt was evil, but that's a different story.
No doubt the frog was evil, but that’s a different story.

Anxiety is just another fact of my existence. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t really think about it much. Having a low level of social anxiety coursing through my veins when I leave the house is normal for me. It’s so normal, I don’t even have to think about what to do to cope with it. I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s unconscious for me. Most of the time it doesn’t interfere with my functioning.

But, like my depression, my anxiety will occasionally flare up, sometimes for no identifiable reason.

That’s what happened this past week.

I was planning to spend a few days in Chicago. Aside from dinner with friends both nights, I was going to spend most of my short stay in my hotel room, writing. I was going to drive up there, leaving between eleven and noon, making my usual pit stop for gas and food, and get to my hotel right around check-in time. It’s been a few years since I’ve made the Chicago drive, but it’s one I’ve made often enough that I know it pretty well.

I anticipated a little anxiety. I usually have it on the Chicago drive. No big deal. I also anticipated my anxiety to spike when I got into the city, even though I knew my hotel was easy to find, just because driving in Chicago always makes me anxious. It has to do with not being exactly sure where I’m going and not wanting to look like an idiot.

I did not anticipate my anxiety being high when I woke up that morning. Coping slowed me up considerably and I ended up leaving later than I wanted to, but I left, reassuring myself that I’d be fine once I got on the road.

When I got to my pit stop, I still wasn’t fine. Normally, I get gas, go to the bathroom, grab something I can eat while I drive, and get back on the road as quickly as I can. This time, I lingered, eating in the parking lot, reluctant to resume my drive. But, I did, once again reassuring myself that I’d be fine.

By the time I got to Chicago, I was wound up tighter than three-day clock. I know I looked like a complete and total moron when it came to parking and checking in at the hotel, but I couldn’t stop myself from being anything but flustered. Failing to interact with fellow humans like a competent person did nothing to unwind that spring between my shoulder blades and by the time I got to my room, I just wanted to cry and then go home.

Instead, I chanted and coped and journaled and unwound that spring little by little. By the time I left for dinner, I was feeling better. The anxiety still had a weird edge to it, but it was back to what I think of as normal levels. And it stayed that way until it was time to check out.

I found myself once again lingering and I had to force myself out the door to the elevator because my need to not check out late is a serious drive. Once in the car, I programmed my phone’s GPS (even though I really didn’t need it), took a breath, and drove out of the parking lot. Anyone who might have seen me driving those few blocks through the city to I-90/I-94 or on that stretch of Interstate probably questioned my sanity (as well they should; sanity has never crossed my mind) because I talked to myself the whole time. Out loud, telling myself what a good girl I was, how good I was driving, how proud I was of me. A constant stream of praise that didn’t stop until I hit I-55 and felt “safe”.

Crazy? Sure. But it worked. I couldn’t hear my anxiety over all of the compliments. And because I couldn’t hear it, it couldn’t get the best of me. The drive home felt like every other drive home from Chicago, easy peasy.

Anyway, it’s not like my anxiety could complain.

I did take it to Chicago, after all.