When i first saw this cartoon several years ago (thanks hyperbole and a half), i laughed out loud. Then i got teary and nervous, and then i laughed again. Anxiety is a funny thing. Except when it’s not funny. Like whenever it happens. i happen to be writing this while in the middle of a spinning soup of Too Much, and getting it out seemed like a good thing to do.
Oh NO! Another blog post about the topic of MENTAL HEALTH!? It’s ALL BEEN SAID! ALL of it! Every single LAST THOUGHT EVER. Sorry. Needed to let the inner voice yelling that self-consciousness directly into my brain-pan have a moment in the spotlight. Here’s a great first impression, i’m sure. OOPS I’M SORRY I THINK I JUST POURED RED HEART JUICE ON YOUR FANCY RUG! i’m still considering deleting all of this and just writing it on a card to send to PostSecret. Ok sorry done with that part.
Buzzfeed likes to put out entertaining listicles on 10 Things People With Anxiety Know To Be True and while they are funny and lighthearted, they also (embarrassed to admit) really hit me in the guts sometimes. Hidden amongst fauxritcles (new word i just made up, pronounced “foharticles” or “farticles”, you’re welcome) and quizzes on How To Not Be A Basic Bae (?) are some little nuggets of “oh, someone that deals with this actually wrote it.”
On my latest check-in visit with my psychiatrist (yes let’s get THAT stigma out of the way right now pleasethanksokmovingon) she noted that it sounded like i’m doing great and that my “few and far between bad moments” seem to be more hormone induced or situational anxiety based, rather than depression based. i never really thought about the changing landscape of my mental health over the years, but looking at the last few years, i can relate to what she’s observed, and am now left with wondering exactly how to Deal With Anxiety.
Depression, for me, seemed to be a disease that attacked my ability to want things. Anxiety feels like it attacks the ability to sort all the things and decisions (real and hypothetical) that i want to be in control over RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.
i’ve been a constant worrier ever since i was little, i think. Worrying about What Ifs mostly. Things that haven’t happened yet, big decisions that i don’t know the “right” answers to, what i’m “suppose to” be doing with my life…all of those things.
Sometimes, things get to be Too Much and this crazy thing happens called an anxiety attack. i never considered that i experienced one of these little beauties because i’d look up the symptoms and i wouldn’t have all of them–“the feeling like you’re going to die?” “wow”, I’d think, “THAT’S pretty extreme! i must not be having one of these anxiety attack things. i’m just going to stay here listening to my own heart beating and feeling like i’m standing on tectonic plates for a few more minutes. Move along, nothing to see here folks.”
i’ve used the technique of Distraction to help with depression, but distracting during anxiety i’ve found, at least for me, can be counter productive. i jump onto Elephant Journal or some other (sometimes obnoxious but sometimes wonderful) website, clawing for information and justification on WHY I SHOULD BE ABLE TO JUST THINK MY WAY OUT OF THIS. most of what i find is on mindfulness and meditation. BUT I HAZ TOO MUCH FREAKING OUT TO MEDITATE, YOU STUPID WEBSITE! DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS! SHOW ME PUPPIES OR SOMETHING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LOLZ KTHANKSBI.
“Maybe Facebook will have something helpful to say! Uh oh…maybe I should be settling down and having kids like everyone else in my feed! Maybe i should be further along in my career! Maybe everyone has it all figured out!” :::promptly signs out of Facebook:::
So where are these musings coming from?
Today, i thought i was keeping myself pretty well pulled together, considering i’m opening a show on Friday (first preview tonight), moving to a new apartment on the 24th, have hit the one-year-mark at my job (so…is everything still good? when will i be fired? now? no? it’s ok? oh…ok…i’ll trust you…sort of…) and am trying to take care of my various-old-and-new-injuries’d body through a very physically intense show…considering all of those things…i’d actually been doing pretty great! In good spirits even! Helping out! Trying to get enough sleep! Feeling good! Optimistic! Nothing is Too Much! i got this!
And then in the middle of the afternoon my agent told me that she’d submitted me for an audition for something really big (which goes in and out of town), happening next year (it’d start in September, not conflicting with any of my pre-existing shows and things-i’m-really-excited-abouts), and all of a sudden, a Potential Big Decision alarm went off and it’s like my body left my body. My body left my body.
My eyes welled up, i couldn’t breathe, my arms floated away and turned into iron boulders at the same time, i felt like i was going to puke up all the tea i had just enjoyed, and someone made all of my skin too tight. My mind started racing. “what if i need to leave the people i love?” “what if i miss something in the city that i’ve been trying to build a career for myself in?” “what if i get excited and then don’t get it?” “what if everyone forgets about me?” “what if i get sick and all my plans have to change and i disappoint someone?” “what if i actually might want to have that opportunity?”
Thoughts racing like a Japanese bullet train (i assume they’re pretty fast and they look pretty slick and hard to grab onto) and this is ALL BECAUSE OF A HUGE *WHAT IF* SITUATION THAT HASN’T EVEN BEEN SET IN MOTION YET. A hypothetical. An idea. A few words strung together. A potential exciting opportunity. SHUT UP, SELF! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! (YOU WANT THIS WHEN IT’S THE PERFECTLY RIGHT TIME AND ON YOUR TERMS!)
A good friend reminds me to be gentle with myself in these moments and that berating that fear voice won’t make it go away. They are correct. It only makes things feel worse.
So i try. i try to breathe. i try to think rationally about it. What Am I Actually Scared Of. Yes of course all of things floating in quotes above…the What Ifs and Fears (maybe some Fear-Of-Success too)…trying to think rationally about What Is Actually Happening…but anxiety and rational thinking do not go hand in hand.
And do you know what is happening? Absolutely nothing. i am a girl, sitting in a chair. My cells are making my body function without me even having to think about it. i’m wearing a sweater with the Superman logo on it and my hair smells like sawdust from the theatre last night. That is the only thing Actually happening.
But i couldn’t get my skin to loosen up. My ribs were still iron bars. What do i do what do i do what do i do. Connect with someone. Okay. Not alone. That’s a good start…
Sometimes, physically getting out of my current surroundings, even standing up and walking around, can be helpful. So what did i do after work today? Before having to leave for the theatre? i stopped at the fabric store to pick up some leather lacing to help finish a prop for tonight’s preview. A store where everything is organized by color and pattern and i found some awesome robot material to sew inside a pair of boots. The thought of a simple repetitive task helped my mind relax a little bit. i tried to imagine all of the feelings in my mind and body not belonging to Me, but belonging to this little buddy monster that is just squeaking and crying in the corner. i felt so bad for him. Poor buddy. i imagined saying “it’s ok little guy. i hear you.” i touched different patterns of fleece in the fabric store and imagined which pattern he might like. i imagined the people i love talking to him in their gentlest voice too, when i started getting pulled in again.
And after a few deep breaths and stepping back from the edge a little, it became very clear that these are Amazing Problems to have. (i have to be careful to not downplay my own worries or compare them to others, because THAT just causes more worry and angst, but this thought was a good logical-feeling moment of clarity.)
Here i am, a relatively healthy youngish woman with lots of options. So many adventures and people to love and places to look at and an opportunity to keep training that little anxiety monster to Just Calm Down Buddy, i got you. We got you. i hear you and i know you’re just looking out for me. But maybe a little less loud next time, eh? Maybe knock with your little tiny fist instead of a hydraulic battering ram. Believe me, i know you’re there. i’m only going to make choices that are good for Us. Here’s some cookies and an extra good video game.
So hi. i’m Sarah. i can do lots of pull-ups and pushups and i love super heroes and robots and owls and italian ice and french bulldogs and my greatest joy comes from helping other people feel good and perfect Just The Way They Are. i want you to think i’m an awesome cool brave bad-ass. And i also deal with anxiety. On my good days, i can see Everything In Front Of Me as a series of incredible adventures where only the Right Things are going to occur. On my less good days, i’m paralyzed by What If’s, Am I Doing It Rights, Never Good Enoughs, You’re So Stupids, and shame around What The Hell Is Wrong With Me And My First World Problemses. i call being in that particular state “going apocalyptic”. Moving through that place is scary, but trying to logic away those visceral feelings is much worse. it never works. i wish i were better at remembering that the sinking apocalyptic place is always temporary. Even if it doesn’t feel like it is.
The following has been written five hours after all of the above.
We’re just a big ball of chemical reactions, aren’t we.
i can see straight again, and i have a few things to thank for that. People, places, and things.
It’s odd to re-read what i wrote, several hours later, after going to the theatre, doing the show for the first time with a small audience (first preview) and seeing How It Went…and having something incredibly In The Moment to focus on. Maybe it’s why i need to do theatre. A forced exercise in Living In The Moment. The thoughts are still there, but i can picture the little monster sleeping in his fleece pile that i picked out for him, and his brow is furrowed but i think he’ll let me sleep tonight.
i took a cab home from the show tonight (because tech=treat yo’self) and instead of burying my face in my phone i spent time looking out at the lake as we zoomed down the Drive. The sky looked like ink and the beaches were covered in snow and ice. The trees were spindly and the way that the streetlights hit them made everything look like an infrared photo. Black sky, white trees, moon-scape. i watched as big waves crashed up and threw water onto big snow drifts, every time it happened it surprised and delighted me. It felt magic. Like i was living on another planet for a few moments. My heart started racing (in a good way) and i felt grateful that i was able to feel so much beauty in that moment.
i think that depression is the lack of being able to feel. i think that anxiety is the feeling of feeling too much. There has to be a happy medium, i’m sure of it.
i catch glimmers of that happy medium when get to watch water from the lake crashing onto snowy shores. When a dog makes eye contact with me and i swear it knows that i think he’s perfect. When i get to share the stage with a puppet and for a moment i’m just sure it’s real. When the layout of buttons on some furniture or electronic device look like a face. The first italian ice of the summer. Hearing someone say “i love you” and you know they mean it. Saying “i love you” to someone and you know they believe you. All of these require equal parts gratitude, imagination, and staying present. Relaxing the imagination simply into What Is Actually Happening in that moment. Not spinning out, not story-telling, no doubt, no what if’ing. No hiding. Reaching out. Being brave. Asking questions. Seeking reminders that everything is okay.
i’m still healing from a bad case of spirituality burn-out (that’ll be a post for another time), but the idea of saying “i want to be happy” and replacing the “want to be” with “am” is really a great practice. Call it zen, call it mindful, call it law of attraction, call it voodoo jedi mind tricks…all the same thing.
As i finish this, i notice that my thoughts have started speeding up a little bit. And i really need to rest. So let’s try in real time.
What Is Actually Happening in this moment?
There’s a very warm cat on my lap, making my hands go to sleep a little as i try to finish typing this. My back and hips are sore but not terribly sore. Inhale. i can hear an airplane go by and the radiators hissing. i am suddenly aware that the new apartment we’ll be moving into doesn’t have radiators and part of me will miss the sound of them (only a little). Exhale. My eyes are heavy. This couch is orange. Inhale. Keyboard clicking. Exhale.