The Physical Side of Anxiety

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            While the world still has a strong stigma against mental health, there are more efforts today being made to understand many of the different mental health disorders. Much of the younger generation has worked to help the older generation understand how things like depression and anxiety effect the lives of people who have these disorders. More and more people are beginning to understand the effects of these things on the mind, but what about their effects on the body? How does something that is entirely brain related effect your physical being? These are the things we often don’t think about, unless of course, they are things that affect us personally. Mind aside, what are the physical effects of anxiety?

            When you have an extended period of time where your mind is riddled with anxiety, it can begin to take its toll on your body. I’m not talking about the migraines and digestive issues that are extremely common side effects of chronic anxiety (both of which I experience on a regular), I’m talking about common things people feel all the time… from physical activity. Anxiety is exhausting. All you want to do is lay in bed, because even the simplest of tasks completely wear you out. Your arms and legs feel like you did an intense work out, your feet ache with every step, your neck is sore, your shoulders throb, your back is stiff, and that’s the stuff easiest to manage. Soon after, your heart is racing, your head is throbbing, your whole body shakes and twitches, and you can hear your blood pounding in your ears. Your throat and mouth are dry and your body can’t seem to decide if it’s hot or cold. It leaves you feeling drained, and it seems like there is a fog surrounding you, dulling your senses. All you want to do is sleep, but you’re far too anxious for that. So, there you sit, trapped in your own mind, feeling your own body slowly turn against you.

            Anxiety is far more than a simple disease of the mind; it effects every single part of you. So, don’t say that anxiety is an excuse to lay around all day. Don’t say that anxiety is easily overcome. Don’t say that anxiety is all in your head. It’s draining and exhausting. It’s unbelievably difficult to manage. It goes much further than just the brain. Instead of belittling us for falling down, applaud us for having the strength to get up.

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The Line

When you are the type of person who consistently puts other people before yourself, the strain of keeping everyone happy can wear on you. It makes you terrified to make a decision at the risk of making someone unhappy, which causes you to avoid making them if you can. In those instances that making choices is unavoidable, you triple question yourself before you make one on even the simplest of things. But where do you draw the line? At what point do you put your own sanity first? The problem is, for those of us who rarely put ourselves first, people become used to this, causing them to be surprised when we finally do something for ourselves. But like everything unfamiliar, there are consequences to this. Putting ourselves first comes with a price. Sometimes that price is someone is in a bad mood, sometimes it’s a fight, and sometimes it’s losing people all together.

At what point does your own sanity no longer come before your friends? Is keeping your mind healthy worth the consequence of losing those you care about most? Where is the line, and on what side do you go on? Do you remain on the one side; constantly giving pieces of yourself to others until there’s nothing less, or do you cross the line to save your own mind? Once you cross, how hard is it to cross back? Can you ever go back? Is the consequence of losing your friends worth not losing yourself? Is it worth being happy if the people you care about the most aren’t there to share it with you? Is feeling safe worth feeling lonely? I don’t know. I wish I did, but I’m lost.

Here’s what I do know: I know that my mind is finally at ease. I know that I don’t feel afraid to walk alone. I know that I sleep better at night. I know that I feel safe again. I also know that I am terrified now for a whole new reason. I know that I have lost two of the most important friends in my life. I know that I don’t have as good of relationships with people as I thought. I know that remaining on the other side of the line would have been easier in some ways and impossible in others. I know that I feel more alone now than ever. I know that this is ripping me apart from the inside. I know that losing my friends hurts so much more than I thought.

How dare I put myself first? How dare I want to feel safe? How dare I do something inside of just enduring? How dare I not think of how this would affect everyone else? How dare I cross that line? How dare I think for one second that anyone would attempt to look at things from my point of view? How dare I forget who I am supposed to be.

Why We Should Watch 13 Reasons Why

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Many of us remember reading this book years ago, as it stuck with us over the years. It was the first time a book about a hard topic like suicide was in the spotlight, and those of us who read it never forgot it. Suicide has always been a hushed topic, but this book faced it head on. I never thought when I was reading it, I would be facing suicide later that year when my brother took his own life. Recently, that book has been made into a Netflix mini-series. Having binge watched all 13 episodes in 3 days, I can tell you that it sent me through an emotional rollercoaster and brought up a lot of old feelings I had buried years ago. It wasn’t easy to watch, but I’m glad I did. I have seen several articles from people talking about why watching this series is a bad idea. While I understand there is graphic content that is full of triggers, I feel that it is a show worth watching. Don’t get me wrong; if you think it will trigger a bad spell of depression or thoughts of suicide, take this post with a grain of salt. You know your own mind better than I do, but here’s why I think it is more than worth the watch for most.

As someone who has battled depression, I have never seen a more accurate representation of it than Hannah Baker. Media often portrays it as being sad all the time, staying up late crying- and it can be. But more often than not, it’s getting up every day and forcing yourself to smile and appear normal, but feeling empty inside. It’s not something that is easily recognized; it hides inside the person it infests. This is the first time I have ever seen depression accurately portrayed in all its entirety on the screen. Some may disagree, but that’s what my depression looked like to an outsider; like it didn’t exist. The show didn’t romanticize it as the TV world often does; it showed it for what it is, a disease.

The show also shows how much your words and actions have consequences. You know never know when something you do will start a chain reaction or what you say will push someone over the edge they have been desperately trying to back away from. Even the smallest thing can matter to someone. An example of this would be when my best friend told me she hated my laugh, and I never forgot it- it has made me self-conscious of my laugh even years after. Something so small and insignificant to her had a huge impact on me. It is time we teach each other to think before we speak and act, because we have power to hurt someone even when our words seem harmless. How different would Hannah’s fate have been if just one person hadn’t done or said whatever was mentioned on their tape? Anyone of them could have saved her, and it’s the same in the real world. One act of kindness can mean the world to someone.

It touches on how bad schools are at handling suicide. Hannah goes to her counselor for help, and he turns out to be utterly useless. This isn’t a far cry from what happens in schools across the country. When it comes to suicide, administrators do one of two things; they pretend it doesn’t exist or blow it out of proportion. The truth is that it happens and alerting the entire school doesn’t make it better. After my brother died, the school would not allow any kind of memorial because he didn’t die the right way. They didn’t want to encourage kids to commit suicide by making them believe they were glorifying it. This argument only makes sense to people who have never been affected by suicide. Did anyone say this when there was a memorial for the kid who ran a stop sign? No one said this would encourage students to run stop signs because the school was glorifying it. Many commit suicide because they feel invisible, and all this does is validate their feelings. Suicide exists. It’s time schools started recognizing that.

It forces us to think about suicide. Though it is the second leading cause of death in the United States, suicide is still swept under the rug. This show forces us to face it and address it as a real issue. It also helps raise awareness and shows the symptoms that go outside the stereotypical view. Talking about suicide doesn’t cause it; understanding it helps prevent it. Every time suicide is involved, it is shown as a shadow on a wall or a noise off camera. It is as brushed over as it is in the real world. Showing Hannah’s suicide as graphically as the show did has become quite the controversy, as did the violent rapes featured. Here’s the thing about those hard topics; they are graphic. Suicide isn’t heroic or peaceful; it’s painful and messy. Rape isn’t quiet and quick. It’s agonizing, terrifying, and stains you for the rest of your life. Life is graphic and disturbing and saddening and horrific. These topics should be hard to watch, because they are hard to live through. It shouldn’t be easy to watch these things happen, even if it is on a screen. It is time we face that instead of running from it. I’m glad they showed her suicide as graphic as they did, because that it how it looks in the real world. I am tired of it being swept under the rug, because in reality, it makes your stomach turn and your heart ache. I am tired of rape being romanticized rather than showing it for what it is; a violent crime. We need to stop sugarcoating these topics if we ever hope to put an end to them.

You can argue my points and refuse to watch the show, but one thing you can’t ignore is that this is the world we live in. People are raped daily, and many go unreported. People commit, attempt, or contemplate suicide every day. We need to open our eyes to these issues and stop pretending that they don’t exist. Hannah isn’t a hero because she killed herself, but she isn’t a villain either. She’s what every person who committed suicide and/or was raped- a victim. When we ignore shows like this or encourage people to avoid them, we are also encouraging victims of rape to stay quiet. We are encouraging people who are suicidal to be ashamed of their feelings. Stop softening up these topics, because they are not soft. They are hard and unforgiving. It’s time we start treating them as such.

Trapped by Anxiety

Knowing what goes on the brain of someone who struggles with anxiety can be a tough concept to understand, because for those who do not deal with the struggle see it as something from another world. How can you wrap your mind around a concept that can be so foreign to you? How can you understand how difficult it can be when many people seem to function perfectly fine? The past two days, my brain has been overrun by my anxiety. This post will give you a look inside my brain when this happening. This is NOT a typical day in my brain (that post will come later), but it IS one of my more difficult days. The days where I feel like my anxiety owns me. The days when I feel its hands around my throat and its grip on my brains. The days I literally feel it’s heaviness weighing on me like it’s something physical. But I can’t touch it, and I feel powerless to stop it. So, I learn to live with it. I learn to work around it. I learn to embrace it and wrap it around me like a blanket. The heaviest blanket in the world. This is what has been going through my head the last two days. This is what goes through my head on my bad days.

I’ve been awake for ten seconds, and already it’s all I can think about. Do I need to go to class? Can’t I just stay in bed? I have so much to do, I guess I’ll have to get up. Well maybe I can take a sick day or something. No, I definitely need to get up, otherwise I’m going to start failing all my classes. Oh gosh, I can’t afford to fail. I’m getting up. I feel like I’m going to throw up. My stomach is in knots. Maybe my shower will make me feel better. The water isn’t hot enough. I need to get it hotter. The knob doesn’t go any further, but I still feel cold. Stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it. Focus on washing your hair, and stop thinking about it. You’re obsessing, you know you are. I need to stop. I’m going to be late if I don’t hurry up and get out. Okay, what do I need to do next? Right, makeup. How badly do I need it? My face looks awful but I don’t know if I have the energy to put any on today. But maybe if I look pretty, it won’t be so bad. Ugh, my face looks awful. I definitely need the makeup. I wonder how bad this is going to be. How bad should I prepare for? Maybe it’ll be something good, but I know it can’t be. I might as well prepare for the worst because that’s what’s coming. Stop thinking about it. I have time; we aren’t talking until tonight. Just stop thinking about it. What was I doing again? Oh yeah, mascara. I wonder if I could get away without drying my hair. But then people would know something is up. They can’t know. I might as well plug in my straightener while I’m at it. I wonder how he’s going to tell me. How do you tell someone you don’t want to be friends anymore? Oh god, stop thinking about it before I throw up. I just need to get dressed, and then I’m done getting ready. And then I can rest. I’m already exhausted, maybe I should just stay home. Maybe if I can play sick, I can avoid it for just one more day. But then I’ll obsess about it all day tomorrow, so I might as well get it over with. Stop thinking about it. Go to class. Class will distract me. Class will take my mind off it.

Why is my heart pounding like that? All I’m doing is sitting, but it’s still racing. Okay breathe, just breathe. Oh my gosh, I can’t breathe. I can’t get enough air in. My throat is closing, I can feel it. I’m going to pass out if I don’t breathe. Okay deep, deep breathes. In out in out in out. I feel light headed. I wonder if my classmates can hear my heart racing. My hands are shaking. I can’t focus. What are we talking about again? We aren’t going to be friends after this, I just know it. NO! Stop thinking about it! Leg stop shaking, leg stop shaking, LEG STOP SHAKING. If I cross my legs, it can’t shake. But now my foot is bobbing. What if I cry in front of him? Will that change anything? No, he’s seen me cry before. Stop thinking about it. Focus on the class. Focus on the class.

Is it night class already? Oh god, after this is when it’s going to happen. What am I going to do? What is he going to say? I can’t do this. I can’t do it. I feel dizzy. Oh god, don’t cry. Not in front of the class. I shouldn’t have eaten that food, because now I’m going to throw it up. Stop shaking, clam down, breathe. Remember how to breathe. Don’t let them see you losing control. Don’t think about it. Focus on the professor. Oh no, class is almost over. I need more time. Dinner! I’ll go get dinner. Maybe eating was a bad idea. I’m going to end up throwing up. I haven’t heard anything. Maybe I’m off the hook. But what if he waits til tomorrow? I can’t have another day like this, I need to get it over with. I’ll just text him. Oh god I can’t. I just pressed send. I need some air. I feel like I’m suffocating. There goes my dinner. At least I was outside. He texted back, oh god here we go.

Stop crying. Don’t cry. Stop crying. I can’t. Don’t let them hear. No one can know. How did this happen? I knew this wasn’t good. Why did I do this? Why didn’t I just let it go? Now we aren’t friends. I need someone. I need someone who will understand. He’s working. I’m on my own. Oh god just stop, please just stop. You don’t understand. I’m sorry. Please just go. I’m sorry. Please. I can’t stop crying. I can’t breathe. I’m shaking. When did it get so cold in here? Nothing can make this better. I’m sorry. You need to understand how sorry I am. Stop trying. Stop trying. Just let me go. It’s better for both of us. I’m not strong enough to push you away, so you need to walk yourself. I can’t breathe. I can’t get any air. Stop crying. Stop crying. Just go to bed. Just go to sleep.

I’ve been awake for ten minutes, and I’ve replayed the conversation in my head fifteen times. What could have I said differently? Should I apologize again? No just let it be. I can’t fix this; there was never a chance of fixing this. Can I please skip class today? No I have to work. Work will be good. Just stop thinking about it. Go shower. The water isn’t hot enough; I’m still shivering. Stop crying. It’s a new day. You’ll survive. Just stop crying. Get out or you’ll be late. Just get ready. Should I make coffee? Of course I should, I always drink coffee. I can’t remember the last day I went without it. No I can’t, my stomach hurts too much. Coffee would just make me sick. Maybe I’ll have some later. Just get ready. Ready for what? What day is it? What class do I have? Oh, it’s Tuesday. Maybe I should talk to my roommate about it. No, I don’t want to bother her. I need to stop burdening people with my problems. Maybe I should eat something. No, that was a bad idea. Here we go again; throw it up. Get it out. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Stop shaking. Leg stop shaking. I need to focus. Don’t cry. Stop crying. Someone will see if you don’t stop crying. Find a distraction.

Work. Work is good. Work distracts it. Work keeps me from thinking about it. Concentrate on work. Don’t make a mistake. If you make a mistake, they’ll fire you. Don’t mess up. Make sure it’s perfect. Don’t ask a question. Figure it out. Work is done. What am I going to do? Do I dare eat? Maybe just a salad. I already feel sick. I need food. Hold it down. Keep it down. Stop thinking about it. JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! Make it stop. Make it go away. I’m sorry, please don’t leave me. No, I’m fine. He’s not coming back. He doesn’t need me messing with his life. I’ll be okay. I can get through this. Just. Stop. Thinking. About. It.

Now this was vague on purpose, and obviously, I fast forwarded through a few points, but I think you got the gist. Trying to function in your daily life with anxiety invading the darkest corners of your brain can be nearly impossible. So how do we do it? It becomes part of the norm. You learn to function despite the fog, because you have to. This is just an example of what it’s like when something is on your brain. You can’t help but obsess over it, play out every possible scenario, and replay it over and over wondering how you could’ve changed it. You are afraid to eat, because when you do all you want is to throw it back up. Your head pounds as much as your heart. Your limbs shake and you have to remind yourself how to breathe. It’s like being trapped inside your own brain, and feeling powerless to free yourself. So for right now, I’m just waiting for it to pass.

Anxiety comes up in so many different forms, and it can be ugly. You may not even notice it if you don’t know where to look. The key is to be patient and empathetic when they are finally able to open up about it. Don’t tell them how to fix it. Don’t tell them to stop worrying about it. Don’t make them feel like their worries are invalid. Don’t tell them to stop worrying about it. Don’t be the Devil’s advocate. DON’T TELL THEM TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT. Just be there for them. Remind them that they aren’t a burden. They are fighting a war inside their own head, and all their left-over brain power is going toward acting normal. Anxiety isn’t pretty, so don’t romanticize it. It’s ugly, it’s mean, and sometimes it can even be terrifying. Now you have some insight as to what living with anxiety feels like.

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Holes

While climbing the mountain called life, we now that there are a lot of dips along the way; sometimes you go down a little before you continue to go up. This is normal- we all have our ups and downs, but as long as we keep fighting for the top, we end up okay. The problem occurs when you find yourself in a hole. Sometimes it is a slow descent and other times you fall so fast, you don’t realize it until you are at the bottom. About a month ago, I was in that whole. I fell so fast and so far, I didn’t know if I was going to make it out alive. I was down so deep, that nothing could get to me, no one could help me out, because no one get there. I was alone at the bottom of this hole that I had somehow walked into, and it seemed like I just kept falling. One thing after another went wrong, and I just get kept digging myself in deeper. I felt trapped, and I didn’t know how to claw myself out. I was stuck in a deep pit of my own despair with no idea on how to return to the surface. But the key point to this story is that I refused to stay there. I let myself have a few days at the bottom, but then I started climbing.

I’m not going to lie- climbing out of those holes is hard! It is one of the hardest things you will ever do, and it’s so much harder when it feels like no one is there to help you, but is possible. You just have to start clawing towards the top. This can take days or years, but you have to keep climbing, even when you fall back down again. You cannot stop fighting to make your way out, because no one else can climb the mountain of your life. I know it easier said then done, but I can promise you as someone who has been very deep in the hole before: you can make it out. You just have to remind yourself of all the things you are fighting for, and then just keep climbing.

Feeling Worthy

As I do most Wednesdays, I had rugby practice this morning. We picked teams for some “flag rugby”, and I was, of course, picked last (which I took much better than last time now that my hormones have been stabilized), however I happened to score three or four tries (I don’t exactly remember I was just happy to make one). I’m not usually one to gloat, especially when sports are involved, however I have to admit that it felt amazing. It was nice to finally show both teams that I’m not the awful player they all seem to believe I am. I know I have my faults, and I know the list is a mile long when it comes to rugby alone, however it is my belief that no one needs their faults and shortcomings spelt out for them, because we are all aware of our own. Rugby is no different- I am aware that I am very far from being the best player on my team. I don’t think I could even be classified as a good player, however I show up to practice whenever I can, and give it my all. I work as hard as I can, and play the best game that I am possible of playing. It saddens me that even though I put my whole heart into the game, my team as well as the boys’ team doesn’t seem to believe in me (even though they all say they do, they never show it). It hurts to see my team looking down on me, like I’m not good enough to be a part of the team. I’m sure this is not their intent, however that doesn’t make me feel any better when I walk away form practice or a game at the end of the day. Usually they get under my skin to the point where I start doubting myself, which, of course, affects how I play. As far as this morning goes, it was nice to not let them get to me, and actually accomplish something during our little morning game. I felt like I was actually worthy enough to be playing with my teammates. For the first time, I felt like I was out of my head and just playing the game I fell in love with. I’m hoping that after today, I won’t be seen as the liability that no one wants on their team, and maybe just maybe, next time I won’t be picked last for once.

Remember people, you are worthy. Don’t let people take your self-worth away, because you know what you are capable of. Just because others don’t see your inner beauty, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. YOU ARE WORTHY. Keep being your perfectly imperfect selves.

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The Power of Exclusion

Being left out is never fun for anyone, however it is something that we will all inevitably go through; some of us much more than others. Exclusion was my worst enemy growing up. The thing about it is that it is the kind of bullying that no one does anything about, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Whether it was gym class or a game of hide-and-go-seek tag with my closest friends, I was always chosen last. I don’t think I can ever recall a time when I wasn’t chosen last, even when it was an in class game. I was the smartest in my class, so you would think people would actually want me on their team, but I was still always the last chosen when it came down to it. After a while, being everyone’s last choice (is it really even a choice? It’s more like whoever is stuck with you) should become expected, and it did. As soon as it came time to pick teams, I knew I would be the last one picked. Many times I can laugh it off and pretend that it doesn’t hurt. But yet, even after all these years, it still stings each and every time.

So what is the point of this melancholy post? I can promise you it isn’t simply to whine about how “hard” my life has been (I use quotes because I am quite aware that many people have much bigger problems than I). There is, surprisingly, a lesson coming up. Today, I was once again chosen last. The girl with no sense of team spirit was chosen before me. The girl who has been to one practice this season was chosen before me. As much as I am used to this, it still stung. More than usual, because I have had a horrible last couple of days, but also because I thought I had finally found a team that saw me as an asset rather than a burden. Perhaps that is true, however it didn’t feel true this morning. The lesson here is that it may not have been personal- it may have just been the luck of the draw, or maybe I’m just cursed. It probably wasn’t met to hurt me, or to be taken so personally. However, to me, and others that have been excluded all their lives, it is always personal. It hurts every single time. Think of that person and how it feels to be everyone’s last choice next time you are lining people up to pick teams. Even if it isn’t personal for you, for that person picked last, especially if they are picked last most of the time, it is always personal.

The Pursuit for Perfection in an Imperfect World

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Being a perfectionist is never easy. When things don’t end up perfectly, it’s hard not to feel like a complete failure. Most people would love to get a 95% on a test, however a perfectionist sees this equaling an F. Anything below 100% just won’t do. So many things happen in your brain, and so many things bother you and you don’t understand why. Neither does anyone else, which makes it hard to relate to people sometimes. The best part is when you’re angry for not doing something perfectly, and then you get mad that you think it has to be perfect, but you’re still mad that it wasn’t perfect, and AHHHHH! The cycle just goes on and on and on. Of course, we all know nobody is perfect, but that doesn’t seem to stop the pursuit to perfection. In my brain, if it isn’t perfect, I have failed. Many times, when people get a B on a paper, they are satisfied with that. Me? I see the paper and complete and utter crap. This mindset forces me to constantly ask myself, “Why am I never good enough?” because of course it’s always me, and never anyone else. My friends and I had a fight? Yep that was my fault. I broke up with my significant other? That’s all on me. The teacher took off points on my paper? Well clearly it was the worst paper ever written, and I should just stop trying because I’m a horrible writer.

So where does this come from? Why am I forever trying to be perfect? According to a recent therapy session, it has come to my attention that maybe it stems from my fear of abandonment. In my brain- if I don’t do something perfectly, it’s a failure. If it’s a failure then I’m a failure. If I’m a failure, then I’m not good enough. When I’m not good enough, people leave. And when people leave, I feel alone. So to avoid feeling alone, I try my hardest to make everything perfect. But are my friends really going to leave if I don’t get an A in my Gender Issues class? Probably not, but part of my brain seems to think that that is true.

As frustrating as perfectionism is, it probably is coming from some other underlying issue that you are using perfection to avoid. If you sit and think hard enough, you can find it. And when you do, the perfectionism is that much easier to deal with and maybe even let go of.

Noise

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Lately in my pursuit for a healthy brain, I have noticed noise. Often times the noise seems to be too much. There is so much noise that surrounds us every day, but why is it only too much some of the times? Sometimes the loudness of a party is something I crave and love. I love the shouting and the amount of people and the overall loudness of it all. But other times, even the simplest of noises is too much. Someone is talking or playing a video, and seems too loud for my brain to function. Many times I can read books despite the noises around me, other times I can’t even get through a sentence with the T.V. on. I feel so overwhelmed with all the noise around me that I can’t even hear myself think. So what can you do when the noise is too much? What do you do when you want to scream out “SHUT UP!!!”  The simple solution is to simply move somewhere quiet, however that is not always possible. My advice is this: take a deep breath and relish in the quiet moments. When the noise starts again, just close your eyes and breathe. Do your best to focus all of your energy on something until the noise isn’t so troubling anymore. Noise is all around us, so rather than running to find a quiet place to run when the noise is too much, learn to live your life hand in hand with the noise that surrounds you. Because a world filled with noise is better than a silent one.