Monday, April 7, 2014

This is your brain on anxiety.....

I feel like I want to sit the world down sometimes and explain to them what it's like to live with anxiety.

I feel sometimes like I need to sit people I know in real life down and do the same thing.

It gets especially bad when well-intentioned people start to give anxiety-ridden people like me advice about how to overcome this affliction I have and have always had. Meaning well is awesome, really and truly, but there are a lot of times that words spoken (or written in this online age) don't actually help, and can actually make things worse.

I've always had anxiety issues. I've always been a worrier, for as long as I've lived. For most of my life I vacillated between thinking there was something totally wrong with me and believing that it was normal to over think things to this extreme. Then I grew up and realized that there really was something wrong with me, that this isn't normal at all and that as much as it is useful at times, it is damaging all the rest.

There are definitely times that being overly analytic by nature comes in handy, don't get me wrong. I can do research like a librarian that never steps foot out of the building. I can formulate intricate arguments on just about any issue, bringing up the nuances that most people wouldn't even consider. I can write complex posts on serious issues without even editing them once.

Then there are all the other times.

Like at 2am when I literally can't shut my brain off, and every single concern that I ever have flies by a million miles a minute.

Like this morning when I was dreading my doctor's appointment. This particular version of anxiety is well-founded and based unfortunately in reality. When you've walked into a totally normal appointment and found out that something is very wrong, later being told that your baby has died and neither you nor your body had figured it worry. That worry doesn't go away with the next pregnancy or the next or the next. It lingers. It fades almost completely after a good visit with a strong heartbeat tracing, then it starts to creep back in, a little more every single day until it is all you can think about in the moments before you walk into the office for the next appointment.

Like when I was told that my appointment was actually scheduled for tomorrow, not today, and all that worrying and waiting would have to be extended for another 24 hours for no particular reason other than some awful miscommunication that doesn't actually affect anyone but the voices inside my head.

Like then. Like right now.

I've unfortunately passed this on to one of my kids, who tests high across the board for generalized anxiety as well as every.single.subtype.

I don't want them to be like me. Not about this anyway.

People like me have a hard time functioning at times. This anxiety goes so far beyond normal worry, normal stress. It takes your sleep, it takes your ability to think rationally at times. It makes you imagine every possible scenario then play them out entirely in your head just so that you can work through what might happen if it ever happens, except that most of it never ever happens.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to not have a place where you actually feel like you can just relax? That there is no place where you can just release all those thoughts? That there is no way to ever unburden yourself from all this stuff that you carry around, shoved into pockets, tucked away from the light because you don't want anyone to see it, and so you cram it down even more?

When I say that my anxieties have anxieties, it's not actually a joke.

I'm sure that some of you out there understand. I know because some of you have reached out to me about it in the past, and I'm sure that some more of you will do it now.

I'm sure that some of you have heard the same things I have heard, and that you've probably done the very best you can to be gracious and take the advice of the well meaning people who don't understand.

I'm sure of it. I'm sure you have heard all these things:

- Have faith.

- Pray. It all happens for a reason.

- Stop worrying so much.

- Don't give in to fear.

- Everything will be fine.

- Life's too short to worry.

I know that I have. All those and more. Most of them just today, in fact, because I am worried about this appointment that I was supposed to have and still haven't had and I am worried because I know that while everything probably will be fine that it isn't always. These fears in my head aren't irrational ones this time, they are based in reality. My reality.

I know that those who say these things are trying their best to help. I know this, and so I do my very best to be gracious.

I thought it might be helpful though to recommend some alternatives, some things that people could say to someone with anxiety that might be more helpful.

- Breathe. Focus on this moment. Tell me what is going well right now. (this is HUGE)

- Stay positive.

- Your fears are legitimate. Let's talk about it.

- I'm sorry that happened in the past.

- I understand.

- I don't understand, but I'm here to support you however you need it. 

- Do you need a hug/shoulder/tissue/chocolate/coffee/whatever?

- Can we go for a walk, get outside? (sunlight exposure helps me tremendously)

Anxiety, post partum depression, PTSD...all things I have dealt with in the past or live with every day. Things that people around you are dealing with right now. Things that you may have to contend with on a daily basis.

They are not things we choose. They are not conditions we want to deal with. They are not things we can just wish away or ignore or shut our eyes to. They are real. They are as much a part of us as any physical diagnosis ever could be.

We wouldn't tell a diabetic to just get over it. We wouldn't tell a cancer patient that they just needed to adjust their attitude. We wouldn't tell a person with a broken leg to have faith that it will get better.

And yet, our society does it all the time with these other conditions. The ones I write about here today.

It's not easy, writing about these pieces of me, but I do it anyway. I do it in the hope that someone out there might read this and know they aren't alone. I do it in the hope that someone out there who loves someone like me might read it and understand a little bit better.

I do it because the voices inside my head only get louder if I try to ignore them, and because I won't let them win.


  1. I suffer from anxiety too and I really relate to this. Sometimes for no reason, all of a sudden I'll have to catch my breath; I'll feel this horrible pang that something is wrong and I'll be so anxious and nervous. About what? Everything and nothing. My husband thinks I'm sighing at him out of exasperation, when really I'm taking a deep breath to calm myself. It's crazy and seemingly never ending.

  2. Love. LOVE!!!

    Hugs.... breathing.... and I'm with ya.

  3. I feel so much the same way. And trying to verbally explain it to doctors even makes me more anxious.( I recently had to change drs.) The anxiety just grabs a hold of me sometimes. Just takes my breath away. The worries, the what if's, all flying through my mind all at once. And you can't turn it off. :/

  4. You might be interested in this blog hop on anxiety being organized by a blogger that I follow:

  5. Thank you. Just going to add my experience: the reminder to breathe makes me hyperventilate which is counter productive. Offering to be there, talk, or serve as a distraction are extremely helpful.

    1. That definitely can happen with some people. With my daughter, sometimes I literally have to get right in her face and time her breathing with mine to get her to calm down. All about distractions.

  6. Love ! So true for me too!!

  7. Excellent post on anxiety. Not an easy topic to write about. "It's not easy, writing about these pieces of me, but I do it anyway. I do it in the hope that someone out there might read this and know they aren't alone. I do it in the hope that someone out there who loves someone like me might read it and understand a little bit better. I do it because the voices inside my head only get louder if I try to ignore them, and because I won't let them win." You will have helped others who read this.

  8. I have awful anxiety as well and as you say, the ability to think in that way is really helpful at times (like when I'm writing my thesis) but it also makes life nigh on impossible the rest of the time. I've banned the people closest to me from giving me cliches - I prefer it if they ask me to talk about my worries (simply vocalising them lets me see how a lot of them aren't as excessive as I thought they were) or they distract me so I'm too busy doing other things to listen to the voices in my head. I might share this post with them as you've expressed this far better than I ever could.

  9. Not sure how I stumbled upon your FB page/blog. May have been looking to understand what my then 14-15 yr old son was going through. His anxiety affects his mood (very prickly), eating habits (famished and eating anything not nailed down to no appetite), his sleep (again, extremes) to his migraines (I surmise it's his body trying to do a reset). Your writing helps me to understand. While it may be hard for you at times, I applaud your efforts and urge you to continue. You provide me with a service that no doctor ever will. In turn I hope it blesses you to a more quiet place. This morning, my son woke up pissed at the world because he fell asleep early last night and got nothing done. I can see it was from staying awake the 2-3 nights before not being able to shut off his brain to sleep. We're riding the waves and as his mother, I hurt for him. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your perspective. Blessing to all that suffer.

  10. Though I changed my blog name and never post because my life is so ridiculously full of transitions and changes, I can't keep up day to day... I have to say. This. This is so real. I also believe I have always been anxious by nature. I have had trouble sleeping as long as I can remember, I have worried like it was my job, I have lost sleep, tried all sorts of techniques... You name it... But, but even though I KNOW I had PTSD when I was younger, the anxiety attacks weren't triggered until I had a car accident. I had signs and symptoms, sure but I explained them away. Then the gripping fight or flight happened, the physical symptoms song with an increase in the irrational thoughts. It was scary. It is scary. It increases with stress. It makes me talk too much and since I recently changed jobs... My comfort level at work is gone and I talk too much. I can sit here and tell you that I know my brain isn't making sense sometimes. It doesn't matter. I don't know all my triggers. I don't know why some days I can calm right down and others I'm reaching for Klonipin... I'm learning... I know I have an avenue to vent and so many of these thoughts are so true for me as well... But I hide so much from so many people that I'm anxious right now typing. I miss my page. I love my blogging peeps...I felt safe there. The real world is scary. I know I'm babbling, but the bottom line... many people need this. And thank you. You inspire me every damn day woman. I adore you. That's all for the minute.


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