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.

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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.