Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Naming My Anxiety

I'm going to get rather personal for a minute and, in all honesty, I'm quite nervous about it.

Have you ever struggled with a feeling or experience you couldn't really define or name?  Have you ever gone through something, thinking you were crazy or over-emotional or maybe just pms-ing?  I have gone through some less-than-ideal situations over the last five years.  I tried my best to keep it together and roll with the punches (so-to-speak), but sometimes your best doesn't quite cut it and that is more than okay. Figuring just that one thing out took way too long.

Nothing that has happened to me was overly traumatic or devastating.  A lay-off, being out of work for a few years, finally finding a job and suffering through while the situation became more and more unhealthy, watching my Grandmother through her last days with us.  These are things that people deal with every day all over the world, these things and worse.  There's another lesson that has taken me too long to figure out (and still takes constant reminding), my problems were big for me.  They were huge and they were stressful and they caused pain and doubt and fear for years, and that, too, is more than okay. 

Toward the end of my stressful job, I began to be abnormally emotional.  I cried at the drop of a hat.  I had been looking for a new job for 8 months with no hope of finding one.  Work was painful.  I came home crying during lunch breaks just to let off enough steam to make it through the rest of the day.  I was constantly worried I would lose my job, or have to leave to save my sanity, and that would leave me jobless yet again.  I couldn't become an even bigger burden to my family, who supported me through everything.  I was exhausted mentally, physically, and spiritually. I would take bathroom breaks and just sit on the floor, in the dark, and cry uncontrollably until I could breathe again.  Finally, my mom told me to quit my job and move home to help her take care of my Grandmother.  I felt a literal weight lifted from my shoulders. For a moment, I breathed easier.  And I still cried.  A small pebble hit my windshield one day and I burst into tears, thinking of the money it would cost if I had to replace the whole thing.

Then, one day I was driving and listening to Steve Martin's audio book, Born Standing Up.  He describes having a panic attack and it was like a light bulb turned on inside my head.  Again, a weight was lifted.  He described a version of what I experienced and he gave it a name.  And maybe that's the most important thing that has come of this, understanding what a name can do.  I have since heard other people describe panic attacks and the things that bring them on.  Now I have a name and I have several accounts confirming that it's a real thing.  I'm not just sad or worried or stressed or overwhelmed or too sensitive.  All of those things seemed too small.  Depression seemed too big.  Occasional anxiety and panic attacks are super sucky, but manageable.  It's something I could suddenly wrap my mind around and try to understand.

Once I moved in with my parents, I tried to overcome some of these issues.  I realized that social situations were the problem, and now, as they are returning full force, I realize that unpredictability and lack of control are what cause the anxiety and, in turn, the panic attacks.  For a while, I just pushed through, taking very slow baby steps, as I tried to make new friends and make a new space that felt comfortable and safe.  I faced setbacks with the death of my Grandmother and I am facing them again now.  The difference now is that I know what is happening, I can recognize the onset of an attack and I can maybe try to stop it or work through it before it becomes a real problem.  But most importantly, I have friends and family around me who care what is happening and listen to me when I feel crazy for no reason and make me do things that are hard because they know I can do them.

I know I'm not alone in dealing with this.  And honestly, I've told very few people, because (as much as I know this is not true) it still feels weak and shameful.   I'm sharing this publicly now because I also know that the more support and knowledge we have, the easier it can be to work through.  I know what I feel is sometimes more than what others feel.  I know that sometimes my thoughts are just plain wrong and far too self-critical.  I know that what I feel and go through pales in comparison to what some other people deal with.  But maybe acknowledging all of this can help someone else give their struggles a name.  Or maybe it can just help me unload just a tiny bit more weight off my shoulders.  One way or another, maybe this can do some good.


Allison said...

Thanks for sharing! Every so often I have panic attacks, but I realized a while back that for me, it was mostly linked to the severe depression that I also struggle to manage. The depression got very bad while I was serving a mission and I ended up coming home early because of it-- because even in the best situations and with the best companions, there was still a lingering darkness in my mind that I wasn't able to completely fight off, despite med changes etc., and I honestly didn't know the state I would be in if I finished the last bit of my mission. But when I came home, I decided to be honest about it. I talked about depression and the Atonement in front of maybe 6 different wards around my stake when I made the rounds. People came up afterward to thank me, and shared with me their own stories. I also was a guest blogger on A Blog About Love, which was awesome and also helped a lot of people. I don't talk about it much now because it's pretty under control. But it was so beneficial- for me, but also very much for even strangers around me- to talk about it during those few months. So basically, this is good. Thank you for sharing. It's scary, but it is worth it. And best of luck continuing to manage your panic attacks.

Melanie Page said...

Thank you for having the courage to share this. This just shows that we never know what someone is facing at any moment in time. I hope when I met you I was able to help with that change of moving. I had a blast with you and some great laughs, even when we knew it would end when I moved. Truth is you helped me in ways you dont know! Hope you have an awesome day!

Rachel said...

Thank you for your courage. I have a history of (read: it happens but is mostly under control) of PTSD, anxiety, and clinical depression. Please know you're not alone, and that there are so many resources and support for you--once you have the courage to reach out. Facebook me if you ever want to chat, for me to distract you during an attack, or for some resources that I've found helpful.
And hang in there :)

Melissa said...

I've had several discussions with people about this over the years, since I suffered from sever depression in high school. (Another fairly "taboo" subject.) I have a friend who calls it her "Shudder Island" moment in reference to the movie. You are not alone, and your courage to talk about it will help other people in their journey as well. Great job.

Jamie said...

Great post Lindsey - the Brandts love you!

Lin said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. Can't say I felt 100% comfortable putting this out there. But there it is. Thank you for being awesome and supportive!

Megan B. said...

Thank you for sharing this. I deal with mild depression and anxiety. I wish it was easier to talk about. Thanks for putting it out there.