Tabling Our Vices

Is it possible to table our vices for the day? Enjoy waking up in our own beds, the softness of the sheets and warm spot we created from our slumber is enough to bring a smile to our face. That smile spreads as our toes touch the cool floor and our eyes begin to focus on the sun peeking through the shades. Today is going to be a good day: echoes through our thoughts and vibrates through our body. Take a deep breath in, coffee/tea/water/food, whatever nourishes you in the morning is waiting to be unwrapped and presented. Get up, throw your blankets over the mattress to resemble a made bed, then head to the kitchen. Today is going to be a good day.

We have made the first step, and it’s a big step. Knowing today is going to be a good day. What journey will we seek? A movie, a hike, a rummage through a used book store, a coffee or tea at the local joint, a chat with a friend, a game of croquet [because we never play and it might be fun], finding a piece of old furniture to paint, anything that gets us moving and gets us going today. Today is going to be a good day. It might not be a great day, or the best we have ever had in our life. It’s just going to be a good day.

When the sun begins to tuck itself in for the day, we make a final attempt. Today is going to be a good day. The day isn’t over yet. Night may cast itself over our heads, but we are still awake. The journey continues. No matter if we change into our pajamas [maybe we never changed out of them], or we throw on our nice shirt and head out to meet a friend, we know that we are still making today a good day.

Our head finally hits the pillow and the day is done. Maybe we couldn’t table all of our vices for the day, but we made an effort. Tomorrow is going to be a good day. 

Fingers To Sky

Ripple Effect

Today I had one of those “ah-ha” moments in therapy. I think the little pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together for some time, but today it all clicked. Immediately I felt accomplished: I had put something together, how amazing [pat myself on the back]. However, the reality of my discovery sunk in and took me aback. New questions flooded my head, and my over-thinking nature began its devious role.

My current anxiety state keeps me out of most public places when I am not accompanied by someone I know. For example, going to the grocery store alone would result in the wave of anxiety and possibly a panic attack. If I am accompanied by a friend, then the anxiety is significantly decreased, if even a thought at all. This is my hang up; I have owned it for the past 6 years. Prior to this, my anxiety had taken on a different kind of beast where some outside pressures or indecision would leave me in a panic state. The anxiety has morphed over the years. I have been making progress on public places, pretty great progress actually. I take pride and pleasure in this progress and share it with my very supportive therapist.

Today was a hard day though. During therapy, we discussed how I always feel like I’m just on the outside of my extended family (my mom, dad, and two sisters). They all seem to get along so well and raise each other up, where I feel I am judged and kept at arms distance away at times. Often I feel like I am observing them from this distance, instead of joining in on the family banter. I also find myself in situations where canceled plans from friends or family leave me reeling. My brain tells me they don’t want to hang out with me because I’m boring, stupid, or annoying. I then beat myself up about this for weeks or even months. The time they choose not to be around me still eats at me, so when I see them next, I approach with caution. I have come to label myself as an insecure person. Today, however, I found out that this insecurity comes from my anxiety.

It appears that anxiety affects me in more ways than I previously thought. My therapist calls some of my feelings towards people and social situations, “irrational thoughts.” The gears began to turn in my head when she said that. An irrational thought? So, you are saying – when someone cancels plans, and I think it’s because they hate me – that is an irrational thought? Or maybe when my mom invites me to hang out with her and my sister, my thought goes to – they have already had this planned and are inviting me out of pity – that is an irrational thought? I felt this ripple effect in my mind with this discovery; the reaches of anxiety are so much further than I had thought. How deep does it go? Maybe it’s like the universe with no end.

I’m sorry, this is new to me today. My insecurities are such a part of who I am. To suddenly think that these thoughts that weigh so heavily on my soul are irrational is thrilling because it gives it a name and it makes sense to me. But on the other hand it makes me realize that ##$!@#$!@bleep bleep%!@#*@#*&! I have a much longer road to recovery than I thought. As a child, I remember desperately trying to make friends, but always feeling like other children (and even adults) didn’t like me or were talking about me behind my back. Fear that friendships were always only on the outer surface plagued me for years and years. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I started to make deeper friendships and connections. Today when I looked back at my younger years, I thought it was age-appropriate to feel that way. Now I realize how early anxiety started to wreak havoc on my life. I was born with this. I was born this way.

I am coming to terms with how long anxiety has been a part of me, as well as how far it reaches these different aspects of my life. I hope this doesn’t mean the road to recovery is twice as long as I had thought it might be. Not that I put a timeframe on any of this.

Therapy is hard. Today was a hard therapy day. Last week was a hard therapy week too. I didn’t think therapy would feel this way, even with some warnings from friends. I thought I would go in and talk about how much I hated not being able to go into public places alone, and how badly I want it to get better, then we’d slowly work it out. I didn’t know that I would feel like I took big steps backward. This is the big picture though. I think for once I see it.

Today was a hard therapy day.

 

The Reasons Why I Avoided Therapy

The summer of 1996 is when my anxiety first started to take its grip. My sudden erratic emotional state was the first sign that something was changing inside of me. Before anxiety started to rule my life I was a relatively steady person, and I enjoyed the unpredictability of life. This all changed drastically in what seemed like a very short time. I began to fear anything that was unknown or out of my control. When my first panic attack struck, I tried to make sense of it. Then it became obvious that it wasn’t the bong hits or the cheap beer I was drinking; it was, in fact, my body turning against me.

The next few months were some of the hardest in my life. Almost every other day I was having a panic attack and I couldn’t figure out why they were happening. I remember talking myself out of a panic attack when I was sitting at the dinner table with my family one evening. My mom, dad, sisters, and the family dog underfoot was nothing out of the ordinary.  In my head I screamed at myself: I questioned what was the matter with me. I forced myself to breathe normally and tried to focus. My family and I were always close – how could they suddenly feel alien to me?

I chose to suffer in silence for 15 years. The past 5 years I have been battling my anxiety off and on, but nothing compares to my current commitment level. Today I am with a therapist, receive regular acupuncture, and have found healthier ways to release tension. There is still a long way to go, but I’m climbing out of this hole. I think my reasons for avoiding a therapist for so long were:

  1. There wasn’t really anything wrong with me. I know how this sounds. Normal people don’t have panic attacks almost every day. But I had closed myself off from talking about my situation with anyone, which left me with no one to relate to or to guide me. I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad.
  2. Excuses, excuses. This was a coming-of-age situation: everyone has probably gone through it. “If I took better care of myself I wouldn’t feel this way.” Or maybe, “It will go away in time.” I continued to play a hundred reasons over in my head to defend my anxiety.
  3. I was unsure where to go. My anxiety began in the 90’s, so the internet wasn’t what we have today and researching my options was difficult.  In recent years, I have struggled to find the right type of therapist. I ended up finding my current therapist through a post-partum online hotline.
  4. I felt safe in my world. I frequented the same places and sought out the same faces. By doing so I was able to avoid panic attack triggers. As a result, I convinced myself that I had overcome my anxiety.
  5. I was deeply ashamed of the anxiety and panic attacks that were a part of my life. If I’m being honest, I still feel this way today. I’m not sure how to get through this feeling. Though I was able to overcome my resistance to therapy, shame still prevents me from making progress and opening up to my therapist.
  6. Modern medicine had not been my friend. I had a several bad experiences with doctors, leaving me to fear any medical practice, including counselors and therapists. The more natural route was intriguing and with time I did find comfort in acupuncture and yoga.
  7. It was hard to find someone in-network who accepted my insurance.  Then, when I didn’t have insurance, the expense was insurmountable.
  8. I placed the blame on others. I attached blame to anyone who had done me wrong in the past. I faulted teachers, friends, boyfriends, parents, doctors… even the news: my list was endless. Some may have been relevant, but I have come to realize that this is how I’ve trained my brain to react. There is no blame on anyone and I have come to realize I can’t blame myself either.

While this list is not all-encompassing, it does flesh out the main reasons I did not seek therapy for so many years. It took me several therapists before I found the one I felt a connection with. Therapy is only one of the many tools I am using to overcome my social anxiety, but it is the one that has helped the most in the shortest amount of time. In hindsight, I wish I had sought out help in my 20s when anxiety first took hold. Though if we stay caught up on the “what if” and “why” in life, we simply torture ourselves. I don’t have any desire to run in circles any longer.

Fingers To Sky

 

Today’s Self-Medication: Avoidance

Today’s Self-Medication: Avoidance

Never prescribed by a doctor or other professional, avoidance is an easy drug for those of us suffering from social anxiety. We seem to be fine on the outside, passing our day just like anyone else you walk by on the sidewalk. However, those of us with social anxiety go to great lengths to avoid anxiety triggers. I wear the mask of a confident, outgoing, and fun person. Whenever I am brave enough to really detail my anxiety to a friend they almost always say “You? Really? I had no idea.” The act I put on can be exhausting yet at the same time, when I feel like I’m really doing it right I get charged. This is what normal feels like, I tell myself with stars in my eyes. I breath it in and treasure the moment, because it often only lasts a short time. Being around people I know refuels me, though being around strangers punctures holes in my confidence and will.

As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I have a difficult time in public places; specifically, indoor public places. More definitively, I struggle to enter, places where there is one way in and one way out, which summarizes almost every store, restaurant, movie theatre, doctor’s office, library, and entertainment venue in America. I have avoided going into a grocery store by myself for more than 2 years. I once told this to my acupuncturist and he didn’t believe me: “How do you get groceries?” he asked.

“Groceries are delivered by the grocery store or Amazon. Actually I can get almost anything I need with 2 days shipping -sometimes even faster, with Amazon,” I say with pride. Why this is a point of pride, I’m not sure.

As a mother who stays home with her with small children, social anxiety is unbearably lonely sometimes. I try to plan a week or two in advance to get us out of the house. Finding someone to accompany me and the kids is the only way I will go to an indoor destination. This might be why hiking and going to parks are my activities of choice. The wide open space is freeing, even if my watchful eye surveys the area in 3 minute intervals.

What happens when those of us with social anxiety push ourselves out of our comfort zone? For some of us, it’s like playing Russian roulette. We perceive that we are going to be approaching an anxiety trigger. Sometimes the anticipation alone is enough to cause shortness of breath and an increased heart rate. In this case an immediate u-turn may result. However, sometimes we push through this feeling and venture into the situation with hopes that it will be different this time. Sometimes it is shockingly different: nothing happens. Triumph! Though the reality is we accept this psychological trophy and set it on the shelf to collect dust. Next time we may not be so lucky. I have not discovered a rhyme or reason to why one outing is uneventful and the next has me feeling numb and breathless.

Avoidance always leads to no anxiety, which is why it is so tempting. There might be remorse or self-scrutiny, but no panic attacks. The trouble with avoidance, though, is we are wasting our precious lives away in hiding. This great wide world starts with just one footstep out the front door, and does not end beyond that. Taking one step at a time, finding help, support, and ways to recharge will get us through this. As for me, I have already made tremendous strides. I can take the kids to the library, though I still can’t bring myself to sit behind closed doors in the small room for story time. Finding buddies to go places with is still my most comfortable tactic: it helps me to not avoid anxiety triggers altogether, and to find peace with new surroundings.

Feeling afraid of our bodily reactions to outside stimuli may keep us indoors, but the desire to live a different life pushes us outward. Setbacks happen, the avoidance drug is an easy alternative. We need to push forward not only for ourselves but for the people we love.

FingersToSky.blog: Soul Seardching. Gardening. Aspiring Writer.