“Big Magic” I don’t write my books. Yes, those are my hands typing. Yes, those…
Tea Talk – Anxiety
Oh, this topic again, right?
We talk about it a lot.
But for those of us who suffer, it needs to be talked about a lot.
Because it is one of the biggest parts of our lives.
It is certainly a hug part of mine.
See, once upon a time, I was one of the most zen people you would have ever met. Everything rolled right off me. I never get anxious, upset, angry. I was just level. All the time.
I don’t know what to blame for the switch.
All I know was one day I was blissfully calm and happy, the next I was having a massive panic attack at the mall. I shook so bad my mom thought it was a seizure. I didn’t know it was anxiety at the time. Just thought it was a weird, freak shaking thing. Who knows. The doctors told me it could have been a seizure, that it happens a lot in young women – they have one seizure and never have another again.
But then it happened again at Costco.
And my mom called it for what she knew it was then.
Or, more specifically, panic attacks.
The agoraphobia stemmed from there. Each place I had a panic attack – the mall, Costco, Target, the bookstore, etc – I refused to go to again, worried I would have another panic attack there. Soon, there was nowhere I could go. I couldn’t even walk down my driveway at my own house. I was housebound for months before my mom got me a book that changed how I viewed my anxiety. “From Panic to Power” by Lucinda Bassett – in case you were wondering. It gave me my control back. And over the next year, I worked on exposure therapy until, eventually, I could go pretty much anywhere I wanted. Not comfortably. I was anxious most of the time. But that is how exposure therapy works. You fight through it no matter how shitty you feel.
I started going out with friends.
I got a job.
I was as close to normal as you can be with occasional panic attacks.
Around my mid-twenties, life got hectic. Things spiraled. My panic attacks and agoraphobia came back a bit again. And I this time, life had brought on depression as well. Which strips away any desire to try things. Like working on your exposure therapy, like forcing yourself to feel any worse than you already felt – even if it would eventually make you feel better.
I became a homebody because I didn’t want to have to work so hard.
But I found I liked being a homebody.
And things leveled out.
Until, for some reason, I moved upstate a bit.
Things just… went completely out of whack. Maybe because I didn’t have all my normal “comfort zones.” Everywhere here was new. I didn’t know how to respond to them. My agoraphobia amped up. Panic attacks started more frequently again.
But then something else reared its ugly head.
Yes, they are two very different disorders – panic disorder and generalized anxiety.
Panic attacks are what people think of when they think of anxiety issues. The trouble breathing, pounding heart, sweating, shaking, etc.
But whereas panic attacks are usually “triggered” in some way by something (like going out of the house for me), generalized anxiety creeps into your head and starts whispering ugly things in your ear almost every moment of every day.
Generalized anxiety is what has been bad lately.
It is a newish, persistent foe.
It is what makes me sit in bed, my mind reeling.
Now, to an extent, it is somewhat normal to obsess about past failures, possible future mishaps. To worry. It’s human.
But there is a point where it is no longer a harmless, annoying thing and becomes something else entirely. My people who struggle with a toxic mind know what I am talking about. When you find yourself in bed at night, not sleeping because you are thinking about every “out there” possible bad thing that can ever happen to you. For example, I have a steep staircase leading up to my second floor. I’ve never fallen on these stairs, never had anything bad happen. But I envision tripping, falling over the banister, crashing to the floor, dying. And then – what would happen if I died? What would happen to my family? If they sold this house, would they have enough to get a new house? Would my mom have to work herself to death to take care of everyone? What about my birds? Would they be able to take care of them like I do? Would my dogs miss me?
It is an ENDLESS swirling of awful thoughts.
And they don’t stop.
Unless you distract yourself.
Or find that little bit of self-preservation inside that makes you yell at your own brain ENOUGH, and actively work not to think about those things anymore.
And it’s harder than it seems.
What I wanted to talk about here about anxiety more than anything else was the mind/body connection.
See, when your mind gets sick enough, your body can too. You can literally make yourself ill with anxiety. Like I mentioned in the last tea talk, my stress over writing “faire l’amour” and the public’s possible response to it literally gave me daily, crippling, curled up in bed crying and rocking migraines.
This was an extreme response, clearly.
But it happens in other ways too. You get brain fog, concentration issues, lack of motivation, aches and pains, etc. I can get stomach issues, skin issues (I get hives the moment anything amps up my stress more than it already is). I get back and shoulder pains. My TMJ flares up. I get headaches (clearly). And – this is the oddest of all – I get toothaches… in teeth that have root canals (meaning there is no NERVE there to FEEL PAIN). This is how strong the mind can be. How stressed out the body gets when the mind is out of whack.
My mom and I – when we talk about our anxiety – we always call a bad spell a “spiral.” Because that is what it feels like it does. It grabs you by the neck and whips you in circles endlessly until you can manage to grab hold of something to stop the spinning. This will – of course – be different for everyone. Sometimes for me, time with my pets works. Other times, it won’t until the outside influences in my life calm down.
I’m in a spiral right now. With the mind and body sick connections.
It is thanks mostly to the aforementioned outside influences mostly beyond my control, so I have to try to roll with it for the time being.
When this happens, you have to find ways to cope.
I let myself not write, took that pressure off.
I took a step back from social media, not even answering messages from good friends because the notifications alone started to stress me out.
I go outside.
I try to make myself exercise.
I try to read when I can focus enough.
And it’s getting a little better.
I know before long, it will be back to normal.
But until then, I try to take a little advice from Max Ehrmann who once wrote, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
Does anyone else struggle with anxiety? What ways have you found to help you cope when it gets bad?