Posted by: Hannah | 10/17/2013

on anxiety

So, this is me:

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Except for the evening gown. No one with anxieties would ever wear a dress like that. Am I overdressed? I’m probably overdressed. I wonder if I’ll be able to make it through the evening in these shoes. That slit is really high. What if it rips? What if I go to sit down and I flash my crotch at some people? Do I look fat in this? Are my boobs saggy? I really think I’m overdressed. I’d better go change. Maybe I’ll just stay home. 

I’ve always had anxieties – even before I can remember, my mother tells me I worried excessively over things that didn’t need to be worried about. As I got older, I worried about schoolwork left undone, about things I said to someone weeks before that in retrospect sounded not right, about big problems and little problems in equal measure.

When I was eleven I had the chance to travel to Ottawa on a school trip. Having never even left Nova Scotia before, this was a big deal (and I know my grandparents pitched in to help pay for it). I worried and fretted, and then in December of that year Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. I spent the next five months convinced that my Halifax-to-Ottawa flight was going to be attacked. Not in an idle “huh, that could happen, I guess” kind of way. I obsessed about it. I laid awake at night thinking about it. I wrote out my will and tucked it inside my diary. Make no mistake, people – I was going to die, probably somewhere over Montreal, and the only reason I got on the fucking airplane was because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d have wasted $400 of my family’s money that we could ill-afford.

When I was a teenager I started worrying about Big Stuff. The environment. Animal rights. Nuclear disarmament. Homophobia. Poverty at home. Poverty in the developing world. I spent so much time fretting. I decided I would never have children because I couldn’t handle the thought of bringing more people into an overstressed world.

As I got older my constant worrying turned into depression – or that’s my theory, anyway. I couldn’t get up the energy to worry. I had worried myself into a state where everything seemed hopeless, so worrying didn’t happen. (I’ve noticed that all of my worrying happens before the event; Blissdom really underlined that for me, because I worried about it for a solid five months and then once it actually started I was fine for the whole two days.)

I went to therapists. I tried different medications. I made some changes and worked hard and managed to get my depression under control. I’ve had my ups and downs, but on that front anyway I think I’m basically OK.

However.

My anxieties are starting to be a problem again.

I worry while I’m driving down the road. What if I get stopped? What if I get in an accident? What if an accident happens in front of me and I’m the first person on the scene and I have a bunch of little kids in the car? 

I worry when I’m grocery shopping. What if I don’t have enough money in the account? What if that fish spoils before I get a chance to eat it? What if I forgot my wallet? *frantic check for wallet* 

I worry when I lie in bed at night. What if I can’t lose the weight and I get sick? What if the doctor can’t fix my plantar fasciitis and I get bone spurs and need surgery? What if something happens to me? What if something happens to one of the kids?

I worry all the time, about everything and nothing at all.

It’s exhausting. I’m always tired, and I shouldn’t be, because except for the odd night here and there George sleeps all night. The dayhome kids are older and less physically-draining than they were this time last year (yes, even Louis, most days). The housework is pretty much caught up most of the time and since I’m totally neglecting both the fall yard work and exercising (because of my feet, what if I go for a walk and my feet start to hurt really bad and I can’t walk home again and I’m stranded by the side of the road with four kids and a dog?) that can’t be wearing me out, either.

I think I’m depleting my internal resources with worrying. I think maintaining my constant level of worry is at least partly to blame for my exhaustion. But then I worry about worrying, because there is a lot of mental illness in my family, all anxiety disorders. My great-grandmother was an agoraphobic. My grandmother and her sisters had a tradition of “bad nerves”.

Then I think I’m overreacting, and that if I go seek help I’ll be laughed at.

I end up doing nothing. I’ve been hobbling around with aching feet for FIVE MONTHS because I’m scared of what the doctor is going to say. Something finally snapped, and I called yesterday to make an appointment.

It’s one tiny step. But at least it’s a start.

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Responses

  1. I hear you. Just wrote an email to a friend I haven’t talked to for a while, and threw in the “anxiety really poorly-controlled, as usual”. I had to drive across the border to the UPS store in Ogdensburg yesterday and that almost finished me off. I have a referral for cognitive behavioural therapy, but I guess my brain is like your feet right now – aching and neglected. Orthotics changed my life, so here’s hoping at least that will go well.

    • Crossing the border. OH HELLS NO. I don’t think I could do that, right now. I’m curious about the cognitive behavioural therapy. I’ve read a lot about it and I’m hoping that when I get up the nerve to talk to my doctor about the anxiety that I can get a referral.

      Fingers crossed that the orthotics make a difference for me. I’m just so sad all the time because I’m in pain.

  2. Good luck, and good for you making that first step. It may seem tiny right now, but the first step is always the hardest. Good for you.

    Anxiety is a hard thing to deal with – I’ve been fighting both it and depression my whole life. People won’t laugh at you if you seek help; what is making you anxious is important because it’s affecting you this way.

    • Thank you. And I don’t know if I had the chance to say this before but it was so wonderful to meet you at Blissdom.

  3. I have bad anxiety, too. Mostly about sickness, vomiting, and germs. I always imagine horrible situations where I get sick and stranded and can’t get home, or have to be in the hospital, or have to look after sick people with no help (especially when I nanny). I understand so many of these feelings. Anxiety is a bitch. *HUGS*

    • Oh, that must be so difficult, to be anxious about germs and be a nanny! Kids are so sticky… eww. Hugs right back. Anxiety *is* a bitch.

  4. I am wearing this shirt as I read your post:

    As you know, I have anxiety issues too, and I remember when going into CBT wondering how anyone could think in terms of NOT worrying.

    Turns out it’s possible.

    I still struggle with anxiety, but the CBT helped.

    The best things to remember are these. (Actually, don’t just remember them. TRY them. Repeatedly. Because they totally sound like they don’t work and we ALL told our instructor that it wouldn’t work and then it actually effing worked):

    1. If you feel inclined to not do something because the thought of it stresses you out, DO IT. Not doing it makes the anxiety worse. So if the thought of checking your email makes you feel pressured and worried, GO DO IT. If the thought of going to the grocery store makes your heart pound, GET IN THE CAR. Because if you DON’T, your body says “Oh, that worked!” and then the next time you think about your email it will be WORSE anxiety until you end up getting someone to log in for you and deal with all of the horribly overdue stuff you’ve been missing.

    2. Feel the anxiety. We try to push it out, shut it out, STOP worrying. Don’t do it. Instead, sit down and finish the worry out. When you start a what if, follow it to its ultimate what if conclusion. What IF you get sick? Then what? Then what? Then what? THEN WHAT? What I learned is that everyone’s worries all tend to boil down to one or two single worries. Everyone has their own endpoint worry which is actually the root of all other ridiculous worries. For me, mine always boils down to being seen as incompetent and worthless. For others in my group, it always boiled down to ending up alone, ending up destitute, ending up dead. Once you know what you’re truly worried about, it’s easier to pat those little minor worries on the head and say “oh, that’s just my fear of X talking.”

    Also, playing the worry out and letting it deep inside you helps finish it. Worries tend to get put on endless repeat. “What if I get sick? (I shouldn’t think about that)…. what if I get sick? (I shouldn’t think about that!).

    Instead, if you focus on feeling as anxious as humanly possible, letting that horrible cold feeling right into your heart and following that worry all the way down to the end point, you kind of play it out, and stops. The skipping record finally finishes.

    I totally didn’t think it would work. But there was this one terrible memory that kept coming back to me at random times, filling me with shame, and I always pushed it away. So I finally decided to try my instructor’s advice and let myself really feel all of the shame and the horror of that memory… and it was bad… and then it faded… and now it’s gone. When I remember that now, I barely feel a twinge…

    *hug*

    Anxiety SUCKS. But we can beat it.

    • Thank you for all of these suggestions, Carol – judging from the other comments and some private messages I got there are a lot of people this will help, so it’s wonderful that you shared and explained it all so well.

      CHECKING THE DAMN EMAIL YES. I’d forgotten about that one. When I had the contract from hell, checking my email became such a fraught process that I’d need to psyche myself up for the whole morning before I could make myself click on that icon. It took a long time to get over that and I still will have periods where just the thought of checking it makes my palms sweat and my heart race.

      This past Monday we had to have physicals to apply for new life insurance (our ten-year policy is about to expire). My blood pressure is normally on the low side – 90/75 is average for me. I tested at 126/84, 124/82, and finally 118/80 – because I was anxious that we wouldn’t qualify for life insurance, and that somehow Michael and I would both die, and the kids would be left with nothing. THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THAT ON THE FORM.

      • So, what if you didn’t get insurance? Then what? Try to figure out your end point. You learn a lot about yourself when you figure that out.

        I am still terrible for email. Even as I wrote that advice, I haven’t checked my shared dig training mailbox in over a week, justifying it with the fact that I have paused my dog training anyway…

  5. I’m glad you’ve made an appointment, that is a big step! I had CBT and it helped me a lot (I’m back to regular talk therapy at the moment and the jury’s still out on that one until we’ve had a few more sessions) so I definitely recommend that. I promise you that no doctor worth their salt will think you’re overreacting. And if they do, just throw the salt in their face.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences, May. I have a very good family doctor right now so intellectually I know you’re right… I want to try CBT because so many therapists I’ve dealt with want to delve into my (admittedly complicated) early family history, and that takes up hours of sessions, and then I run out of money. 🙂

      • I don’t know yet, since I’ve not had many sessions, but I suspect that delving into early family history is not as helpful for me as the CBT was. It’s much more empowering and forward-facing. I’m sure there’s still a value in exploring the roots of the issues, but in the meantime it helps to gain tools to deal with the fallout from those issues! There’s lots online about it too.

        • Yes! This exactly. Therapists don’t believe me when I say that I’ve made my peace with my early childhood. Do I wish it could have been different? Sure. But I don’t obsess about it.

  6. I have suffered symptoms very similar to these. And I am ready and willing to talk about this with you whenever, wherever, friend. I get it.

    • Thank you, Sarah.

  7. All I can say is good for you for making the call. It is a first step. Take care of yourself friend.

    • Thanks, Misty.

  8. I’m glad you called the doctor. Small steps add up to cover big distances. xo

    • YES, THIS.

    • I kind of want this on a t-shirt. xo

  9. So glad you called the doctor. I suffered situational anxiety both times my husband was laid of. First I woke up at night worrying about paying the bills and then I started to wake up worrying about everything: bills, work, my kids’ schoolwork, Oldest’s soccer, the laundry, belly button lint, everything. Finally, a friend basically brow beat me into talking to the doctor about it and I got medication while I needed it. It is such an ugly cycle: I have anxiety, I should talk to the doctor, but then I’m anxious about everything including about going to the doctor so I don’t go, anxiety gets worse, lather, rinse, repeat. So glad you are breaking the cycle. Anxiety sucks.

    • It *is* an ugly cycle, and every trip around that circle the intensity ratchets up. This sounds so familiar.

  10. Small steps are still steps moving forward.

    I’ve been lucky and have avoided most of the families odds and ends of issues (SAD, etc.), but I have a few hang ups (I often discretely, but frantically checked for my wallet, even if I can distinctly remember it being in my possession) and I was borderline agoraphobic a few years ago when I was at my heaviest. Most of my anxieties are social (will they like me, am I going to say something stupid, do I look fat), but I think they mostly stem from the fact that I’m a closeted people pleaser in a world that keeps telling me that fat = worthless/ugly/lazy. Small peas to what you and the other commenters have had to deal with.

    Good luck with the appointment. I hope the issue is small and easily fixable. And, good luck with working on the anxiety. If I were in town, I’d come and give you a big hug.

    • God, the wallet thing. What *is* it about the stupid wallets??

      None of this sounds like small peas, and I’m glad you’re doing better, my friend.

  11. I don’t have any good advice about anxiety. I DO have good advice about plantar fascitis though, since my husband had it.
    1) Stretch your calves a lot. A great stretch is to stand on a step, hang one heel off the step, and stretch the calf that way. Do it several times a day, working your way up to holding the stretch for a minute or two.
    2) Strengthen your feet. In the shower, put a washcloth on the floor of the shower. Pick the washcloth up with your toes and release it. Do this several times for each foot, and do it every day. It only takes a couple of minutes but it will help.
    3) ORTHODICS. Get fitted for them and wear them all the time. Mr even has orthodic sandals that he wears in the house. He’s never barefoot and that helps.
    4) Take some anti-inflammatories for the pain.

    I do know that chronic pain doesn’t help any mental issues or sleep issues, so if you can control it that’s at least a little step. Honestly, all those things really helped Mr and he doesn’t suffer from it any more. Hasn’t for many, many years as a matter of fact. It’s PAINFUL so I know that getting control of that will at least help a little.

    • Thank you for the exercises. I run up and down the stairs to the dayhome many, many times a day so I can see that stair-stretch exercise coming in really handy.

      And you’re right – chronic pain *doesn’t* help. Just admitting to myself and my family that I’m suffering from chronic pain right now was really, really hard… but freeing, too.

  12. Many years ago my sister-in-law taught in a rural school in northern Alberta. A group of high school boys were presenting themselves as gangsters using lingo and fashions and music they’d picked up from media. But they had zero first hand exposure. One evening they decided to tag the school with their gang name: The Warriors. Except they misspelled it. So the graffiti read “Fear the Worriers.” I still find this funny.

    I use to worry a great deal as a child and it was dismissed out of hand by my parents. In retrospect, this was not a good thing and so I’m pretty vigilant about making sure my boys don’t repeat the pattern. I remember roiling stomach aches that kept me awake for hours.

    My big trigger now for anxiety is noise. Particularly deep bass rumbles. During the summer I had a really bad time with it (fuckin’ shitty new neighbours were eventually evicted), but it was a month of high anxiety for me. I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but when I’m aware of loud noises (particularly music) I wonder if it will ever be quiet again. And I spiral up into near hysteria. On twitter several people mentioned that anxiety can be related to hormone changes, in particular with relation to peri-menopause.

    But I definitely think you are brave for dealing with this head on.

    • “Fear the Worriers”?? BWAH HA HA HA HA I LOVE IT. 😀

      Anxiety is related to peri-menopause, huh? Hoo boy. That’s an angle I hadn’t considered.

      As to the noise thing – I get it. Even the bass thing, I get. Our neighbours used to be pretty bad for that and I would pace the house ranting because I just couldn’t block it out and yeah, on some level I was terrified that it would be every night, all night, forever.

      Thank you.

    • NAN. The Worriers. Ha!

      But seriously, my husband has these Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and they are truly amazing. I highly recommend them to anyone.

  13. I have no words of wisdom, but I wish you strength, courage and hope as you work your way through this. Hugs to you, my dear.

    • Thank you, my friend.

  14. My husband and I both tend to struggle with anxiety. I don’t have a lot of faith in a lot of the New Age-y stuff, but Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower is how both of us made it through the last four months. For reference, those months included my water breaking at 28 weeks, hospitalized bedrest, a new doctor, no more midwife, a cancelled move, a lost income, a failed job search, a three day labor, a month in the NICU, a baby on a home respiratory monitor, many fights with insurance over tens of thousands of dollars, and a cross country move with all the assorted job and house changing hassles.
    So, the stuff works. I have recommended it to other friends with anxiety. They agree that it’s helpful. I get mine at Whole Foods. Avoiding being barefoot and deep calf massages helped my plantar pain. I’ll send you happy thoughts.

    • I don’t even know what to say about everything your family has been through. Any one of those life events would cause a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention all of them happening at once. I hope your baby is doing better now, and that things settle down for you soon.

      I looked up the Rescue Remedy stuff and it is available in Canada via mail order. Thanks for the suggestion. I’d never heard of it before but it’s definitely worth a try!

      As for the deep calf massages, I’m showing this to my husband and telling him to get busy. 😉

      • Oh, we are settled in a lovely house, hubby is working, I’m starting a small dayhome, and our healthy four month old has quadrupled his birth weight. Life is as normal as it gets with a little one who is developmentally two months old. I belatedly realized that looked like a cry for sympathy. Oops. Just wanted to illustrate the situational anxiety that the drops helped manage!


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