Monday, June 16, 2014

From My Journal: Anxiety

Every morning, I rise with an anchor on my chest. When I was a teenager, the feeling would keep me suspended for a few minutes. I’d pull myself out of bed, concerned that I’d miss the first bell and be awarded a pink slip to the dean’s office. As I got older, it became increasingly difficult to do this. It took longer than usual to start my day.

In my mid twenties, it became debilitating. I’d think of the immense task list I’d created for myself, the things that everyone around me needed, and the impending day. A sharp and painful surge would travel from the pit of my stomach to my heart. The pain was so horrible one day that I was forced to let someone know. I called out of work, called my parents, and set out on a mission to figure out what was wrong with me.

My therapist looked at me, with a smile, “Erica, you have anxiety.”

I rolled my eyes, “Doesn’t everyone get that? It has to be something more serious.”

“It is serious. It’s a more severe kind, one you can’t really control.”

After several sessions, we figured out that I’d been remedying my situation on my own for years. I’d run to my journal or computer and write through it. I’d get to the center of what was making me anxious and break down whether it was something truly worth the emotion. This always helped.

I was also told that I shouldn’t be drinking too much caffeine, I should be getting a full night’s rest, exercising regularly, and eating nutritiously. (Well, duh.) However, little did I know, the caffeine was a HUGE part of my anxiety. I’d been drinking coffee, at least three times a week, to stay awake for writing assignments. I also remember one of the best times, of my life, was when I was losing weight and exercising everyday. I was anxiety free, for almost six months. I never made the connection. The endorphins I released, helped my day go by with ease.

I was sitting across from two friends having a conversation. I’d begun thinking of all that I had to write and checked out of the topic. (Damn focus issues.) I was pulled back in, by this sentence, “I have really bad anxiety. I usually compulsively clean, when it’s full on.”

I chimed in, “You have anxiety too?”

“For as long as I can remember. I call my momma, make everything real neat, and then pray, until it goes away.”

I was ecstatic. (I wasn’t happy that she had anxiety. No one wants that; trust me.) I was happy that someone else understood what I was going through and they had similar rituals. I hadn’t realized that cleaning was another remedy. After a really bad anxiety episode, I’d also find myself making things very orderly. I’d convince myself that I could not function, if the house wasn’t clean. I always felt better once it was.

Although I know these things, I don’t always enact them. I find myself skipping workouts, downing lattes, and/or ignoring my journal. Negligence, for the sake of other priorities, is normal. However, I have forsaken my health.

A few days, I found my anxiety manifesting externally. It was a loaded workweek, filled with a ton of wrap-up for the school year’s end. I came home, decided to turn off my phone and spend the evening catching up on all the things that would quell my nerves. I woke up to an open journal, my foot-bath near my couch, my skateboard in the hallway, Pretty Little Liars up on Netflix, a pile of unread comics and magazines, and unfinished tea. I stepped back, from my couch, and looked around the room. Whoa.

The night before, I’d tried to cram every form of relief into every hour. My anxiety was so bad that I searched desperately for an outlet, until I’d fallen asleep.

Sigh. It was time to get it together.

I opened my calendar and canceled all events, which would heighten what I was feeling, for the weekend. I threw on a t-shirt and jeans, adhering to casual Friday, and skipped the angst of picking a suit. I went to work and talked to my boss about feeling overwhelmed. I talked to my best friend who told me that I hadn’t been taking time for “Erica.” I vented to my parents. I took deep, long breaths.

This weekend, I spent time with friends that inspire relaxation. I spent Father’s Day, fishing with my dad and laughing at stupid jokes. I wrote in my journal, I shared it with you. I did absolutely whatever I wanted to do.

I woke up and finished this piece, after eight complete hours of sleep. I skipped the coffee and opted for a spinach smoothie. I’m going to work out and plan an anxiety-free week. Hopefully.

Sometimes, we are our own mountains. I’m taking the steps to carve valleys and bridges, into my psyche. Knowing and understanding your ability to change things is the most powerful remedy. I’m accepting that, one sunrise at a time.

Have issues with anxiety or something similar? Share your rituals/story below.


Toi J said...

I feel like if you didn't write this, I would have wrote pretty much the exact same thing in my journal. I feel like my anxiety really showed itself I'm college. My Olivia Pope handle-it-all overachieving was what I did. Never say no, never call in sick, always help friends or family members who are struggling. I think only now, have I realized that I deserve more of myself. I still take part in my coping strategies: cleaning, cooking, web surfing, reading any and every book that will make me a better daughter, sister, friend, adult. However, I'm learning to take time and make space for myself. As much as this is a long term life practice, I'm particularly focusing on my 25th birthday in 6 months to practice more things that bring me peace and to learn how to handle me first. I've jotted down a few goals, but they are all for my benefit.

Great post as always. I pray you find your peace.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. Anxiety is real and you're definitely not alone. I had a mini melt down this weekend from trying to do everything for everyone (perfectly) and putting myself last on the list. Had to pull out the old school paper calendar and see it all on paper to realize how unrealistic it was to put all that on myself. Wrote out a strict schedule to get everything I need to get done- done so that when someone asks me to take on something else, I can visually see whether or not it will fit in AFTER taking care of me (somehow overbooking on an electronic calendar doesn't have the same effect as seeing it on paper). I hope exercise has the same positive effect on me as it does for you(just signed up for 5 am boot camp- 3 days per week)