Friday, March 24, 2017

Another Year Down for this Worry Wart

"Just stop worrying"
"Dear Lord......You're a genius....I've never thought of trying that to cure my anxiety...."
 ...............said no-one with anxiety EVER!!

Tonight is the Eve of my 28th birthday (fine...fine...35th birthday but man 28 was a good year). I'm one of those weirdos that LOVES having birthdays but for some reason when I hit 25 I had a tough one. I had dreams of being wiser and more confident and more useful, so on the eve of every birthday since, i've set a goal for something that I can work towards for my next birthday.  

So what did I work on this last year you ask?.....Have I stopped world hunger? No...Have I ran for office, so that I can stop world hunger? No....I finally dealt with the big ugly elephant in my life called ANXIETY. I decided to share my experience with this damn problem, so that you can be better equipped to support someone who struggles. And believe me helping does not EVER involve telling them to calm down or stop worrying. Just don't say that. Ever.

Anxiety sucks. Anxiety is so much more than what people realize. It's not just "worrying". You are more than just anxious...sometimes you know why you feel the way you do..sometimes you have no idea.....And it is not something you can simply wish away. The absolute worst thing you can say to someone with anxiety is "Calm down" or "Don't worry". Believe me, if they could do that. They would. 

Worrying has always come very natural to me. As my brother once said..most people who are walking along on a cold winter's day would come across a patch of ice and reminisce about playing hockey on a pond as a kid....In my mind, I feel anger at the home owner who has ice on their sidewalk and didn't salt it, because there is a good chance that my child, husband or I, will fall, hit our heads and die. You laugh...I know I can hear you...but that is honestly where my mind goes and it goes there automatically. I can't control it.

I never really knew I had anxiety, or at least I never called it that. I'm sure it was always vaguely present though as I was always a mother hen of sorts. Even now, I have a reputation at work for being somewhat of a meteorologist and highway hotline expert. If I hear the words freezing rain, my back stiffens, my hair stands on end, my heart races and I start to manifest icy highways in my mind and start to panic about getting home ASAP. 

I'm a chronic rule follower. You should hear me yell at my husband for going past the buoys at the lake. It is somewhat of a family joke, but I stand by my view that buoys are there for a reason! And that reason is so that boats don't drive over your head. So NEVER go past the buoys! This is also why I have NEVER been stopped by a police officer (and I'm 34! that's an accomplishment). I don't speed, I NEVER park where I'm not supposed to. In fact, I often experience significant anxiety about parking and if someone offers to drive on one of our coffee dates, I pretty much always let them, simply because then I don't have to worry about parking. 

The first time I identified that anxiety was problem for me was about two years ago. Our two year old son broke his femur at his day home, while I was at work. I had an extremely difficult time dealing with the fact that my child went through such a painful event and I hadn't been there to comfort him when it happened. Sam was a champ and adapted to his monster body cast almost immediately. He never really looked back after we got home. The day that stinky disgusting blue cast came off he was walking around like nothing happened. For me the experience hung on a bit longer. Gaining the courage to go back to work after his accident was the most difficult thing I ever had to do. Anxiety had become a normal part of me by that time.

I've been lucky. I have never had a full blown panic attack, but many people I know have. My anxiety is more of a nagging feeling that takes forever to go away. It shows up as a nervous gut feeling followed by flushing (I can feel the blood drain from my face when it starts coming on). I often feel like I could climb a wall and I have a heck of a time concentrating on what people are talking about because my mind goes a mile a minute. I have learned to adapt and carry on a conversation to hide that I'm feeling this way, but it takes a lot of energy and strength to hide it. Sometimes this can last a few minutes. Sometimes it lasted a few days. Luckily I don't feel like this all the time anymore. It comes in waves and in the past year I have been experiencing it much much less. Thank God.

The changes I made took a year. Tackling this beast was so tough, but I'm so happy that I did it and I did it my way.

What worked for me......
1) I started talking about it and calling it anxiety. A few times I have told my husband what is passing through my mind in the course of two minutes when I'm experiencing my heightened anxiety and he usually looks at me wide eyed and says wonder you're tired. When I feel it coming, I tell people. Sometimes they understand...sometimes they don't, but just vocalizing it seems to take away its power. 

2) I read lots! I've read several books about anxiety specifically, but also about meditation and self love.  If you or someone you love struggles, buy them the Anxiety Phobia Workbook. This book actually changed my whole perspective on life and was the start of me getting better. 

3) I started walking almost every day. I didn't put pressure to do it EVERY day, because pressure was the last thing I needed. I've always been active, mostly with running but since it was moderate-high intensity I only did it a few times a week. This year I changed to 30 min of fast paced walking most days and it has made a huge difference for me. 

4) Restorative Yoga. I'm not going to lie the first time I went, I almost started laughing because it was quite hokey and my mind is very scientifically inclined. If there isn't scientific proof or a peer reviewed study to support something I have a hard time allowing myself to believe things. I had a VERY hard time imaging some bright light was coming into my body through my breath and into my hips and spine and rejuvenating me, but by golly after that first session I slept better than I had in 5 years and my anxiety was gone for the whole week after. Since October, I have only missed 3 sessions. Learning to breath and learning to silence that monkey mind of mine has been life changing.

5) A friend told me about a speaker she once saw. This lady struggled with confidence in her abilities to do things. What she said related VERY well to anxiety. When I get that anxious voice telling me something bad is going to happen. I acknowledge it. I thank it for trying to keep me safe. And then I tell it to sit the F*** down because it is crowding out all the other voices in my head. This has been SO therapeutic for me. It's allowed me to pay homage to my anxiety. To allow myself to feel it (instead of ignore it and get annoyed with it). I can recognize that it does have a purpose and the best intentions, but that it doesn't know when to back off. 

6)  I started some meds. I bucked this for several months, but after many many many phone calls with my pharmacist sister I decided to try it and I really do think it has helped. I think the combination of everything has done wonders. I feel the best I have felt in years. 

7) The final thing I did was really concentrate on taking care of the relationships in my life. I am surrounded by some of the most fascinating and truly lovely people. I always knew that both Brenen and I had great families, but seeing the way they all came together when Sam broke his leg left a mark on me. I have never felt so loved and supported. Parents, siblings, aunts, cousins, friends, coworkers and complete strangers rallied around us. AND THIS WAS JUST A BROKEN LEG! It's so easy for us to take people for granted. I know it's not intentional but it happens. One thing we can be intentional about though, is being sure to spend quality time with them. 

I am so proud of the work I've done this year. I'm so proud that I have been able to talk about anxiety and to recognize that this is something I struggle with. I'm so happy and grateful that I'm here for my 35th year to enjoy all those people in my life. Sometimes I view anxiety as a gift. It allows me to see the value in every day. It allows me to take awesome care of my kids and husband. It forces me to pay attention to what happens around me and how every little thing we do impacts others in both good and bad ways. It has forced me to be more reflective and mindful and to learn about myself and others.

For next year, I might go back to a superficial goal because 34 was a busy (growing my hair out sounds good right about now). Whatever I end up doing.... Cheers to 35!

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