My Relationship with Anxiety

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My relationship with anxiety began a long time ago.  I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder for years.  This was the result of PTSD from a childhood trauma, but for the longest time I didn’t realize that I was different from anyone else by living in a constant state of worry, fear, and self-doubt.  Or maybe I did realize I was different but I figured it was a punishment for something I had done wrong.  I felt like I constantly had to be worrying and predicting everything that could go wrong and prevent it from happening. If bad things did happen, it was my fault because I hadn’t done enough work to prevent it.  This is how a damaged brain processes the world around it.  Of course, the actual truth is that bad things happen and we can’t control that.  We can only control how we respond to them.

I was first diagnosed with anxiety (and depression which is an entirely different blog post) in 2011.  I went on medication and also started counseling.  At the time, depression was the bigger animal to conquer which I eventually did, but then about three years ago anxiety came out of nowhere and decided it wanted some attention too.  I had had panic attacks before, but they were rare.  I started having panic attacks daily, sometimes more than five a day.  Eventually, I got it down to one a day and then maybe one a week.

I don’t usually talk about my struggle with anxiety, but I wanted to now because I’ve found some strategies that have helped and wanted to share them in case someone might find these tips useful.  Even if you don’t personally struggle with an anxiety disorder, you probably know someone who does in which case, more education can be useful in being supportive and understanding.

First of all, what causes my panic attacks?  I do have some very key triggers that include driving, feeling nauseous, and speaking up in meetings at work.  Unfortunately, life would be pretty limited without driving, feeling nauseous is only so preventable, and not speaking up in meetings limits professional success.  While these are my most reactive triggers I have also have panic attacks as a result of the following: walking, sitting, standing, talking, sleeping, thinking, laughing, eating, doing something, doing nothing, and doing anything.

Here’s the thing.  They can come out of nowhere and your brain is struggling to both tell you that you are dying and simultaneously trying to rationalize with you that you are actually ok.

I decided about a year ago that I wanted to find some more natural strategies for dealing with this disorder other than taking medication.  Here are the things I have found useful:

Meditation, meditation, meditation.

Meditation has helped me with anxiety more than any pill ever has.  I started off with a subscription to Headspace which was useful because it felt a bit like “Meditation for Dummies” because of how guided everything is.  I still do a 10-20 meditation with Headspace every morning.  I also subscribe to the HayHouse Meditation podcast and I will occasionally do a second meditation before bed using this podcast.

I also faithfully listen to Dan Harris’ 10% Happier podcast which is all about meditation.  The variety of guests with different levels of experience and different kinds of meditation has been very educational and useful.

I would say in the year or so that I have been learning and using meditation, I have probably only had three real panic attacks and those all lasted less than half an hour.  Usually now I can feel a bit of anxiety creeping up and I can manage it through breathing techniques.

There are three other key ingredients with this natural remedy: sleep, diet, and exercise.

I might do individual blog posts on these in the future, but I wanted to mainly highlight meditation in this one because it is the one I feel has had the most impact on my anxiety disorder.  I have been off of my anti-anxiety medication for a year now (disclaimer** I’m not a medical professional at all, consult a doctor before discontinuing any medications, I’m simply sharing what worked for me).

I decided to post about this now because I did have a panic attack yesterday.  It lasted intensely for about three minutes and then less intensely for about thirty minutes after that.  I’m not surprised about this either, I’m in a high stress situation.  I started a new job, moved 3,000 miles away, and have no immediate support system available to me.  I think just about anybody would be having some anxiety.  The truth is, my anxiety disorder will probably never go away.  It is a part of me just like brown eyes and an awkwardly short torso (the struggle to find well-fitted jeans is real), so I will not run from this.  I will embrace it and manage through healthy strategies.  Most importantly,  I will never make a decision based off of trying to mitigate the amount of anxiety I anticipate I will feel.  Life is all about choices.  You can choose to let anxiety control your life or you can choose to breathe through it.  You know what also helps?  Writing about it.  Thanks for reading.

The First Week

I’ve only been in California for a week?  I feel like I have been here forever.  My first week was a very busy one and it was definitely overwhelming.  Learning my way around a new area is always intimidating for me and I forgot how lonely it can be when you move somewhere new by yourself.  Despite any challenges, I still feel in my heart that this was the right decision for me and something magical is waiting for me on the other side of the uncomfortable.

After this week, I will be working every weekend until August which leaves no time for exploration so I wanted to take full advantage of my last free-time before the summer season starts.  I decided to visit the Santa Monica pier, but being myself, I wanted to do it at 6:00 in the morning when the sun was just coming up.

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It was so cool to visit when it wasn’t packed with people.  There were a few early birds, like me, and also a large homeless population which I hadn’t been expecting (perhaps naively).  I can only imagine what this place would look like just a few hours later, packed with people.  I guess a lot of people might wonder why I would want to visit a place when it is closed.  Actually, I had no interest in eating in the restaurants or riding on the rides (although the Ferris Wheel looked pretty cool).  I was completely content with the sounds of crashing waves and birds chirping.  The lack of a crowd allowed me to hear my footsteps on the wooden planks.  I could appreciate the feeling of the chilly sunrise wind on my face.

I think in six months or a year, I’ll look back on that morning and feel nostalgic for a time when I didn’t know anybody or anything in my new home.  I’ll be driving a route to work that is so automatic it won’t require thought, much less GPS.  Maybe (hopefully)  I’ll have friends or a romantic partner to visit locations like this with.  Until then, I’ll be content with the sound of my beat-up Sperrys on a pier and the only conversation I had that morning was with the homeless man I met on my walk.

Conscious Consumption: What I Read, Listened To, and Watched This Week

I’ve learned in the past year or so to be more mindful about the entertainment I consume.  Not just the quantity of it, but the quality of it as well.  I used to spend so many hours mindlessly watching, reading, or listening to junk that didn’t add any value to my life so I now try to walk a fine line between some fun mindless entertainment and that which truly can contribute to the quality of my life.  My intention is to do a weekly post about what I’m reading, watching and listening to.

What I Read This Week:

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This week I read Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham.  For any Gilmore Girls fans, this is a must read.  She has a lot of fun recollections about filming the show and some behind-the-scenes scoop on the reboot.  As much fun as some of those anecdotes were, I really appreciated some of her insight that she had learned over her career.  One story in particular stuck out to me.  Lauren was in working as an apprentice at a summer theater, trying to earn enough credits to get into Equity when she was called upon to audition for a small part in a show.  The audition required a bare-bottom presentation to the director since this was an integral component to this part.  She reflects on feeling uncomfortable with the audition and learning from it to trust her gut that this part simply wasn’t a good fit for her.  I think this is a pretty classic lesson that can be applied to so many parts of our lives.  We might be tempted by something that sounds good and seems like the first step to making your dreams come true, but if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.  Your time will come.  Be patient and trust the process.  Don’t try to force yourself into a part that isn’t right for you; it never works out well.

What I’m Listened To This Week:

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I’ve been subscribed to Lewis Howes’ podcast for a long time, but I haven’t always listened to the episodes and even when I have they haven’t resonated with me.  For some reason, when I listened to several episodes this week, they really spoke to me.  I particularly got a lot out of the episodes with Eric Thomas and Danielle LaPorte.

What I Watched on TV:

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Ugh, you guys.  I have quit watching almost every single one of the trashy reality shows that I used to spend so many hours on.  Yet, I can’t help it, I love Southern Charm!  I can’t figure out what it is!  Maybe because the cast is so ridiculously good-looking?  Maybe because all of the establishing shots of Charleston are so beautiful?  Maybe it’s because Cameran always looks so good in her Lilly Pulitzer dresses?  Maybe it’s because I want to watch my crush Naomie get even more frustrated with Craig about his refusal to commit to one project?  Maybe it is all of the above!

What I Watched: Movie Edition:

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I love a good classic movie.  This week I rented the 1980s film Falling in Love with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro.  (Side note: I’ve been on a big Meryl Streep kick the last few months since reading The Meryl Streep Movie Club).  The plot of this is pretty simple.  The two characters are married to other people but cross paths taking the same commuter train into New York City.  Initially they strike up a friendship, but this is a movie so of course it develops into more.  Even though this is a movie about an affair, the romance comes across as surprisingly innocent.  In fact, the romance is never consummated, but as DeNiro’s wife (played by Jane Kaczmarek best known to me as the mom from Malcolm in the Middle) correctly identifies when he confesses the truth to her, what they have is actually worse.  It is a movie that is full of characters that you are care about and no easy answers (just like life) and it was so refreshing to be tensely watching the final twenty minutes of the movie because I honestly had no idea how things were going to turn out.  I don’t know if this movie was successful when it first came out, but I’m a pretty avid movie buff and this isn’t one I was too familiar with but I recommend it!

And those are the things that I consciously consumed this week.

 

 

I Live in a Hotel

I’ve been in California for five days now.  I was so grateful to arrive and get (somewhat) settled after basically living out of my car for the past nine days of travel.  During the course of my travel, I got to call the following places “home” for a night or two: the health center of a camp in Kentucky, an air mattress in Indianapolis, a guest room full of sewing machines in Des Moines, an IKEA couch in Denver, and a palatial suite in a mansion in Las Vegas.

My new employer was generous enough to arrange accommodations for me through the first three months of employment, so I have a little time until I need to find a place to live.  I’m so grateful for this because every other time I’ve moved, I’ve had to find a place right away and that is a tough thing to do when you aren’t familiar with the areas or don’t always know if you are getting the best rates because you are so rushed to find a home!

So, my current home is a hotel.  I suppose I could still feel pretty unsettled because most of my stuff is still packed up.  Plus, living in a hotel is a little weird.  Yet, I don’t feel unsettled for two reasons.  The first is, after living out of your car for over a week, ANYTHING feels better than that.

Also, “home” isn’t just a place where you lay your head at night or where you keep all of your stuff.  I used to have this false equivalency that having my own place and owning furniture made me an adult.  When I was growing up, all of the adults that I knew had places to live full of furniture that they owned.  My house growing up was not only full of “our” furniture but generations of old dining room tables and armchairs that had been passed down.  How could I ever reach full maturity without matching end tables?

Then I realized that all of that furniture is just stuff.  It had no real bearing on my level of maturity.  In fact, it was really a sign of great immaturity since I purchased everything that I did have on credit which meant that I couldn’t even afford what I did have!  I had to break this thought process that equated houses, mortgages, and furniture with adulthood.  Also, I know plenty of adults that have houses full of furniture that are definitely not mature or self-actualized.  That ottoman just won’t do the work for you.

What I’ve come to realize is that yes, I need a place to lay my head at night.  I need clothes to wear and food to eat.  I need some cookware so that I can prepare my own healthy meals.  However, a 30-year mortgage is not a prerequisite for being a grown-up.  The idea of a 30-year mortgage sounds so completely suffocating to me.  I don’t mean to malign this idea for anyone that is truly happy in home ownership and staying in one place.  But just as that person’s coasters and TV tables don’t make them any more of an adult than my lack of these make me less than one, we should all be allowed to paint the portrait for ourselves of what we want our lives to look like.

Right now, mine is set against the backdrop of a hotel.  And I’m loving it!

The Person At The End of Your Journey

When we last left off, I was in Des Moines, Iowa visiting with some old friends.

I ate a delicious meal at Ohana’s Steakhouse with Hailey, Abe, Sue, Bob, John, and Antoinette.

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It was especially great to see Abe (not her real name).  She was my assistant at work a few years ago.  This girl and I are the definition of complementary personalities.  She’s the extrovert to my introvert.  I would love to have more relationships like this in my life.  You don’t have to be exactly the same as your friends, in fact it would be pretty boring if you were, but you have a lot of the same feelings about subjects and personal values.  I need people like this to draw me out of my shell and I know she is a big reason why I had success in my job.  I think it’s also a good lesson on not letting your ego make your decisions for you.  That pertains to both work and personal life, but in this example I’m talking about professionally.  Although I was “the boss” I would often defer to recommendations from Abe because (shocker!) I’m not always right.  If I had felt the need to be right to exert my authority, it wouldn’t have produced the best results at work.    I’m really grateful to have learned this lesson and also to continue to call Abe a friend.

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The next morning, I was back on the road at 6:30am.  My toughest two days of driving were ahead of me.  On Wednesday, I drove from Des Moines to Denver.  This drive involves about 450 miles of one straight line of driving through Nebraska.  There wasn’t much to see.

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However, I did find one interesting sight-seeing spot along the way.

I visited Buffalo Bill at Fort Cody in North Platte, Nebraska.

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It was about 11 hours total before I arrived in Denver.  I stayed with my friend Kristen who I hadn’t seen in five years since we had worked together in Indiana.  It was great to see her again and catch up.  We also met up with Abbie who had worked with us in Indiana and is also now living in Denver.

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I also met Sterling and we were great friends instantly!

Even though I had another 11 hour drive ahead of me on Thursday morning, I made a detour to see the dorm I lived in when I was in AmeriCorps.  It has been ten years since I was in AmeriCorps or had been back to this campus.  It was very strange to be back there.  That time in my life was not a great one so it was an odd sensation to be present in a place where I was not a happy version of my myself, but to now be standing there on the other side of it all.  It truly does get better.

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My drive from Denver to Las Vegas was definitely the most scenic of the entire trip, but I also found it the most stressful.  Driving through the Rockies was not the easiest and I found myself feeling really anxious despite the beautiful views.

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Fortunately, I was feeling much better by the time I crossed over into Utah.  I’ve been to Utah before, but only for a conference in Salt Lake City so I hadn’t seen too much.  It was an incredible drive and even though I wanted to keep driving so I wasn’t arriving in Las Vegas too late, I pulled off about four times at scenic overlooks.

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The sun was setting when I pulled into Arizona and had completely set by the time I made it to Nevada.  These are both states I have never been to before, so we can cross those off of the list now!

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I got to Las Vegas around 9:00pm.  It was very dark as I was driving along the interstate and then, seemingly out of nowhere, this oasis of neon lights appeared.  It was so incredibly massive I couldn’t believe it.  Even though I thought I would have preferred to get in earlier, I ended up being glad I got in after dark because the effect of this never-ending city of lights was amazing.  I arrived at my Airbnb and was fast asleep in no time.

I realized as I was driving why I was feeling anxious and uncertain about the day’s travels.  Every other stop I had made so far had had a friend waiting to welcome me and give me a home for the night.  Although my Airbnb host is an angel sent straight from heaven (she will get her own blog post at some time, I’m sure), it isn’t the same as having an old friend waiting there, looking forward to seeing you, and ready to catch up and reminisce about old times.  I let myself lean into these feelings for a couple of hours until I realized I needed to reframe my thoughts.  There is someone waiting for me at the end of this trip.  The person waiting for me…is me.  The best version of myself is on the other side of the long hours of driving, the fear of the unknown, and all of the uncertainty.  The choices that I am making every day are adding up into the person I am going to become.  Think about that when you go through your day.  Every decision that you make is a deposit into a savings account of what you want your life to be and who you want to become.

Visiting with old friends is amazing.  As social creatures, we must have those relationships to enjoy life.  Yet, the most important relationship will always be the one that you have with yourself because at the end of the day, people come and go for a multitude of reasons.  No matter where life takes you, there will always be one person there at the end of the road.  That person is you.  Now, who do you want to become?

Midwest is the Best

Day 3 of my journey began in Indianapolis.  I said good-bye to Olivia and her cat, Phoenix.IMG_1227

Phoenix never really did decide how she felt about me.IMG_1229

It was an early morning to make sure I could get to my destinations on time.  Indianapolis was just coming alive.IMG_1236

The states I went through that day were Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.IMG_1238

I met up for lunch with Ashley.  I’ve known Ashley for going on five years, although I haven’t seen her in about three.  When I first knew her, I was supervising her at work and she was still a college student.  It was so great to see her, now moving along in her career, and see how much she has changed and grown into a camp professional.  I’m super excited to see where she goes with her career.  We had delicious Mediterranean food before I had to get back on the road.IMG_1241

The weather was terrible for my whole drive through Iowa.  It was rainy and gross, but that didn’t dissuade me from stopping at a historic landmark!  I didn’t intend for so many of my stops to be presidential birthplaces, but I happened upon another one!  Here is the Herbert Hoover birthplace.IMG_1242IMG_1243IMG_1244IMG_1245IMG_1246IMG_1247IMG_1249

I made it to Des Moines a little before dinner time.  I am staying with my friend Antoinette and her husband.  What I like about Antoinette is how open-minded and accepting she is of everyone.  We met as co-workers and I learned so much from her in a professional environment.  She is never afraid to call out behaviors that she doesn’t like or that aren’t professional.  We’ve stayed in close contact even in the two and a half years that we haven’t been co-workers and I think we will be friends for a very long time, no matter how far apart we are geographically.    She cooked dinner for me and I even got to spend some relaxing time in her hot tub before falling into a deep sleep after a long day of driving.

 

I had planned an extra day to stay in Des Moines because I knew that I would want to see so many of my old friends from here.  It has been a great day of catching up.  Everyone seems to be doing so well and it makes me really happy for them.IMG_1266

It’s funny that I said in my last blog post that I experienced the most personal growth and self-acceptance over the past two years of living in Delaware.  I still agree with that statement, but my time in Iowa was a major developmental stage in my life too.  I don’t think I even realized that until the last couple of days getting to visit my old haunts.

I moved to Iowa about five years ago.  I literally packed up my car with my belongings and moved here.  I didn’t know anyone.  I made it a home.  I also made a ton of mistakes. I don’t regret any of the decisions that I made because it brought me to the person I am today, but it just makes me think of the quote from Nelson Mandela:

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

I am so grateful for my time in Iowa.  It was so great to be reminded of the things that I loved about living here.  It was so great to see the amazing people that I used to work with.  I am also grateful for the experiences here that helped me develop into the person that I am today.  I’m feeling a little sad about leaving tomorrow, but I know that this place was a chapter in my life that has come to an end.  I will remember the time fondly and visit again in the future, but there is a new chapter for me to start and I can’t wait to see what happens in that one.