There is this picture of me in kindergarten. It was our class photo where we each sat in rows with our teachers standing beside us. I was sitting criss-cross in the front row. Each face beside my own has a smile, some sort of expression, but nothing like mine. I am easy to spot in this photograph. My hair is in 2 braids, I am wearing a light blue dress with black buttons down the front. I am not looking at the camera. My chubby cheeks are bright red, and drooping down, and my eyes are swollen with tears.
This wasn't just picture day. This was every morning I was dropped off at school. Yes, I was 5, but I always felt that way. I was scared to be alone, "dropped off", to count on myself. I was scared of the unexpected, the unfamiliar.
Starting from middle school, I could not stop talking about college. I couldn't wait, I was just too excited. One day during my early high school years, I was in the car with my mom when she stopped at a gas station. She asked me if I could run in for her and pay. Immediately I panicked.
What? Me? I can't- how do I-?
"Haley all you have to do is hand them the money and say $25 on pump 5 please.."
I started fighting with her. Stubborn, attitude, assuring her I was not getting out of the car. Tears filled my eyes. My mom gave me 'the look', and I felt guilty knowing I was making things difficult, but I was just too scared to get out of the car. Annoyed with my behavior, she grabbed her purse and left me to wait in the car.
I sat and waited feeling absolutely ashamed of myself. When she came back she gave me a talk. I remember her saying,
"You're the one who can't wait to go to college, but Haley, I worry about you. How will you be ready if you can't do something like this I ask of you? What about when you get your license?"
Somehow she found words around, "You need to suck it up."
Of course, now I am in college and I have no trouble paying for gas or other things. At the time, however, her words pained me because they were the words I had feared to believe myself. I had all of these dreams and wishes, but the fear:
what if I can't? Am I crazy to think I can?
About a month ago I got a job here in Boston. And when I say "in Boston" I mean smack dab right downtown where people from all over come to experience this city. I got the job on a bit of an impulse. My cousin told me they were hiring, and I applied for the heck of it. One month later, here I am, taking the T each week to be a hostess in Faneuil Hall.
My confession, that I have honestly been embarrassed about, is that I have not had a job since I was newly seventeen. It is no secret why. 2015 and 2016- I was not in the place to focus on a job. I had 2 things to focus on. First, my mental health, then school. But I had been feeling guilty, being raised in a family that strongly stands for "you earn what you work for."
With time I have grown so much, but I still have been hiding away from taking certain risks. I have developed this fear of getting a job. If you have been caught up with my newsletter, you know that I was so nervous about this job because I was petrified of having anxiety attacks like I had with my old job. In the same newsletter, I recognized that I needed to view each new opportunity as a clean slate. That is not me anymore. I didn't have the tools then to take care of myself and communicate my needs. I do now. And this job, is not my old job. There will be new challenges, but this is also a new me.
Leading up to the interview, I hardly slept and my stomach was in knots. And as usual, afterwards
I recognized I had no reason to be anxious in the first place. Two days later, I got the call that I was on board.
But what if - oh..yeah, THAT-
My first day of training was exactly what I was afraid of. I believe this was karma telling me that if I was going to have anxiety over the unknown, karma was going to give me a reason to worry. I had a bad cold, on the start of bronchitis. I assume that my stress prior to the interview contributed to that. I needed sleep, but I thought it would look poorly to call out on my first day. I took DayQuil and left my campus with emergency cough drops and tissues overflowing my pockets. When I got there, though, I wished I had called out. I showed up for my first day of training expecting to be following someone for the day. (As they told me I would be) Instead, I showed up on a Friday (busy) and the main hostess who was going to train me had gone home sick. The assistant manager greeted me in a rush.
"Have you ever hosted before?"
"Have you worked at a restaurant before?"
"Have you ever used *name of software* ?"
"OK well, we are short staffed today, so..looks like today we are going to throw you into the fire."
I was left alone at the host stand. Not only did I have no idea what I was doing as far as working the computer, I also was dressed in work attire so the general public would just assume I had been working there for a long time. I was asked questions I did not know the answers to. About the menu, directions to places in Boston, making a reservation, and oh god if that phone rings- I panicked and locked myself in a bathroom stall. I texted my mom in all caps and she gave me the most "mom" advice.
no shit .. lol
Luckily my cousin would be coming in later for her shift, but until then it would be me alone for almost 2 hours, and the assistant manager didn't check in on me once.
One of the servers approached me first. He asked if it was my first day (like, can ya tell?) and shook my hand, and told me if I needed anything he would be around to help me out. Thank god for nice people. After him, about 2 or 3 other servers, a bartender, kitchen staff also came by to say hello and check in. Though I was tense and worried, that made me feel so much better. I knew they weren't told to do that, I was just working with adults who just genuinely were willing to help and noticed I was a new face in their work space.
When my cousin showed up she saved me from the 'fire.' I am so lucky to have had her there with me. It was such a comfort. Even she, had been stressed FOR me!
She vented to the others, "They left my cousin alone on her first day!!" One of the servers looked at me and said, "And you stayed?" And you know, it never really registered to me that it was an option to walk out lol. I just bit my lip and pushed through it. I realized that it was just a rough day, and that if I survived that, it would only get easier from here.
My cousin, Lydia was the one to continue training me. Those next 3 days I had a familiar face to ask even the stupid questions to. I could observe, and learn from her, as I've done all my life. I knew she would have my back, and I got really lucky in that way.
The more I work, the more comfortable and confident I become.
I can tell by my smile, my tone of voice, and my improved posture when dealing with people. Some customers bring out my sense of humor, and I can tell I bring it out in them as well. I even handle the lunch or dinner "rushes" quickly, but smoothly, realizing after how I didn't choke, I just did it.
I was walking back to the T station one night after work and I had to call my mom because I was just so god damn proud of myself. I started to think that inside me is that 5 year old girl on school picture day.
If someone were to tell her she would be working at a city restaurant years later she never would have believed it to be possible. It is crazy to me now, to remember where I was. Now, I deal with customers straight off tour buses, language barriers often, difficult customers, and work in the most populated area of the city. Still, I jump right in, I carry a smile, and live through kindness over any stressor. At the end of the day,
I head back to campus full of pride. That's me. The girl who once feared paying for gas in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut.
"How will you handle college if-" said the voice.
"With time I will get there." I should have replied.
In a recent post, Therapy talk: the importance of using skills as prevention techniques, I had been yearning to find ways to stay grounded in the classroom when anxiety becomes present.
I completed my first week of my first college summer course, and so far so good! I am now on week 3.
In the same previous post, I asked you all for some crystal knowledge, and which stones are best for grounding. My lovely cousin, Lauren was the first to get back to me, finding hematite a popular choice for grounding purposes.
For now, I have been bringing one of my own stones.
I keep it in my pocket during class. Sometimes I will go an entire class forgetting it's there, but I believe it is comfort to have with me.
It is the fact that you have something of a positive energy in the palm of your hand when you need it most. It reminds me to breathe, it reminds me I am supported, it reminds me there is good in the universe.
I remind myself that I am safe. I remind myself that I am okay, and I remind myself to breathe.
My mom and I have been carrying our worry stones [pic below] in our pockets as well. Yesterday she expressed to me that if I see another one, tell her, because she is afraid she will lose hers. I told her about the crystal I carry with my when I go to class. My mom, like me at one point, knew very little of energy healing. I told her what reiki is, and how crystals work, and how different stones have different healing purposes.
We talked for a while about this in our kitchen, and it made me so happy she was just as interested as I am.
now to where the inspiration for this post came from-
our family reunion..
Every year my Papa's side of the family gets together for a reunion. Growing up, it has always been June. We would celebrate my Papa's birthday, the 7th, and my Great Grandma T's the 16th. Since they both have passed, we have continued the tradition of gathering at my Nana and Papa's house for a pool party/barbecue picnic. My mom's cousins come from CT, MA, VA, MD, and NH.
I never know what to expect since my Papa passed away. What memories will come up for me? Will it be weird seeing someone else at the grill? On the drive to Woodstock I asked my Papa to bring us some sun today. "I don't know how much control you have over the weather, but can you bring us some sun? Some sun so we know you are there." Within 20 minutes after I arrived to the party, I saw the clouds slip away and the sun showed itself- even if it was just for a little while. I smiled. Thank you Papa.
I thought a lot during that drive. Often at family events I walk in with enthusiasm, silliness and make my presence known. Eventually, though, I shut down. I slip away from that energetic side of me and I become overwhelmed without reason to be.
Today wasn't like that though. For once, it felt as though I stepped outside myself. I wasn't trapped in my head, I wasn't an intense observer. And I realize why now. I was a healer.
"Haley come on we have to go."
"Cousin ___ is in her car, she texted 'I'm having an anxiety attack.' "
I jumped. "OO, I'm experienced with that!!"
I ran across the lawn and crossed the street, up to the window of my mom's adorable cousin's car. She looked up at me and wiped tears from her eyes.
"Hello beautiful", I said.
I had been waiting to see my mom's cousin all day. I kept asking when she was coming, if she was still coming. I just adore her.
I ran around to the passenger side and climbed in her car. I've never been in her car before. I haven't seen her since- my Papa's funeral? Has it been that long?
We've bonded many times before. Our personalities just click. She's sweet, silly, warm-hearted, and oh, so huggable. She's also struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, and her overall mental health- like me. We haven't talked about our stuff before, but we both had known we could probably relate. And this was my time to go into action and let this precious little lady know how fricken special she is through my own eyes.
She didn't know why it was coming on. And that's the thing with anxiety attacks often you just don't expect them.
There was the internal pressure of "pull yourself together, and smile for the family" and that scared her. She just sat in her car for 20 minutes before entering, and cried.
I put my head on her shoulder and told her I loved her.
My mom exclaimed "OH you're twins with Haley!!"
I laughed and said "YEAH!" assuming she was referring to the anxiety episodes- but nope. Our nose rings. She laughed, and calmed down a bit. Before we walked with her back to the house I asked if she wanted to go for a quick walk before going inside. She agreed. This was our first 1:1 time together.
The 2 of us walked a lap around the neighborhood, just talking. She did a lot of talking, and I did a lot of listening. We talked about how not many people understand anxiety attacks. "You just want someone to understand, but they don't really understand unless they have been through it- but of course, I wouldn't wish this on anyone." She talked about her life growing up, struggles she dealt with, body image, anxiety attacks in college. We talked about therapy, coping techniques, ones that worked, ones that didn't. And we talked about our interests in psychology, sociology, and well, people.
She is in her.. early 40's? and then there I am- but it just didn't matter. I forgot it in that moment because I felt what she was going through, and I knew a walk might just help.
Before you knew it, she was in the house, wiping a few more tears and hugging those so excited to see her. "You're going to be my buddy for the day, ok?" I said. Age just doesn't matter. For me, I have always been an old soul anyway. I just wanted to make sure she was OK, and I wanted to be that person there for her that just "gets it."
I am reflecting now- and I had this caregiver sense in me, and I just focused on her and making sure she was supported, making sure she knew it was okay if she needed a break. My energy remained positive, and hours went by and my light hadn't burned down. I was living. I was out of my own head, I wasn't viewing my life as a movie, and I was living it.
Being a support for another, is rewarding for me as well.
I thought of my Papa, and how he always was the light to our family, and a shoulder to lean on. I don't doubt I have those pieces of him within me.
Relatability is such a tool. And it isn't "oh your life sucks? Yeah one time my life sucked really bad too.." haha. No. I had told our cousin about the Thanksgiving I spent crying and shaking in the upstairs bathroom of my aunt's house, and how I had no idea what brought that on either. After the party, I reflected on that memory again. I remember my mom telling me "you did it." I got through the holiday. It wasn't easy, but I did it. I have since learned to celebrate every tiny victory. And I wanted her to celebrate her own too.
In an article on IHeartIntelligence.com, it is stated that social anxiety is linked to empathy and intelligence.
Anxious beings often feel like they have limited control in the world, but that might just not be true.
Without my anxiety, without my struggles, it would've been an even longer road to discovering my passion, and maybe even, my purpose.
If it is control you seek, know you can use all of your power to be a supportive voice, and listening ear to another.
Usually when I step away from the keyboard for a bit, it's because of a lack of new ideas, too much "real world" to attend to, or I'm just ultimately feeling off.
I guess attending to the "real world" has left me inspired with an idea for this post.
I have always been a lip-biter; someone who pushes through the discomfort. Someone who brushes herself off when she falls down. Some may describe this as being "tough."
I have come to the conclusion that life is a test of our resiliency.
We can spend our days at war with ourselves, but some days it's okay to put down the sword, or stop the fight, to protect ourselves.
And this post is going to explain WHY.
As many know, anxiety is a battle between the rational and irrational.
Sometimes we must CHALLENGE the instincts anxiety brings us.
Last week I went out to dinner with my family to celebrate a birthday. I was looking forward to going, and my mom and I were laughing the entire walk to the restaurant. She was wearing a yellow sweater, and I was wearing yellow converse sneakers with yellow shorts. Walking next to each other- we just laughed.. "Mom, we look like a f***ing lemon." The 2 of us were just losing it. I was loud, bubbly, laughing, and well, me. Once our group arrived, I was slowly beginning to notice how out of touch I was feeling. There were many different conversations going on and I was trying to find my way into them. My anxiety had me interrupting a couple times, making a joke, realizing nobody was listening, and awkwardly sipping from my water glass. That night, the restaurant was busy, more like crazy. Our waitress was overwhelmed, forgot to bring out 3 of our orders including mine. I was patient, I felt badly for her remembering my own waitstaff experience. My discomfort was my fault though. I hadn't eaten anything all day so of course I would be feeling sick by this time of night. I became overwhelmed, too. I had been sitting there for an hour waiting for my appetizer, feeling myself becoming fidgety and rubbing my hands on my thighs. I just heard a lot of chatter from different directions, and I just wanted to remember what quiet sounded like. My mind was racing to keep up. I just continued to smile, feeling my body shut down. My introversion, my social anxiety, my need for food? Maybe all of the above. My aunt smiled at me saying "I think Haley is ready for bed." I just smiled back and nodded. I don't like this part of me becoming visible, but I tried not to beat myself up for it too. It is hard for it not to be visible. My 'very Haley' self is very bright, and when I am quiet- those who know me best become worried. I just hung in there, and when my busy waitress came back I reminded her of my meal and she went running for it. Mistakes happen. I ate my meal so quickly, and tried to pass my mom 'the look' that it was time for us to go. She didn't catch on, she continued chatting away. After dinner, I didn't speak much. The entire walk to the car. I just wanted to recharge. I focused on breathing. I paid attention to the fresh air, and told myself I was ok now. Driving back home, my mom started asking me questions and telling me stories and though part of me wished she'd ask if I was ok, I just told her I would like a quiet car ride. She said okay, but shortly after she began talking again and I jumped "I said I wanted quiet!" "Haley, that's rude!" "I'm sorry I don't want to sound rude, I am just really overwhelmed." In the driveway she reminded me (firmly told me) to say hello to everyone when I went inside so they wouldn't think I was mad at them. I hated this feeling. This overwhelming feeling where you feel like you are about to crawl out of your own skin. I wasn't trying to be rude or moody, this was me keeping it together. I wanted to go right to bed. Upstairs, I couldn't find my phone. I knew I had it jumbled in my covers but I became more anxious and shaky and my mind was racing as I tore my bed apart. I just whined to myself, "my phone. where's my phone. i can't find my phone." as I paced around my room. When I found it, I took a breath and headed for the bathroom. One of my siblings was showering. So I stood outside the door as tears fell down my cheek. My mom did catch on. She gave me a hug. Asked if anything happened. No. Just overwhelmed. "It's okay" she whispered, "I get like that sometimes too." I continued to cry and shake just hearing the water running and waiting for it to turn off. I just needed my toothbrush. I wanted my bed more than anything, and until that bathroom door opened I continued to fight off an anxiety attack.
I share this embarrassing anxiety restaurant story for a good reason.
There is an anxiety instinct; when something is uncomfortable and your body responds to that.
- Me waiting to leave dinner so I could finally sit in my car with peace and quiet.
BUT instead, I hung in there and though I cried when I left, I can say I did it. I pushed through the discomfort.
One more quick example of me challenging anxiety:
In high school I had a 504 plan that supported me during my anxiety attacks, when it was especially difficult for me to do oral presentations. Those who helped create my plan, didn't want to take away presentations entirely from me. I was able to say no if it was too much, but I also had the option to try it if I was doing okay. They didn't limit this because they didn't care about me, or didn't believe how triggering they were for me. INSTEAD it was because they knew it was something that would follow me after high school and taking that task away would not help me cope or overcome that fear; it might make it more difficult.
In my life I have become used to biting my lip, saying "I'm ok" when I am clearly NOT OK. Because of this, sometimes I don't know the difference between the two. I don't know when to take a break, and when to keep pushing.
I have fought many fears in my lifetime. I saw this quote recently about "my life being out of my comfort zone." It's funny, but it feels true. I am resilient, and there are so many good qualities that come with that. Though, I recently took this personality test. My results...
and on the opposite side with much less of a percentage: assertiveness.
Yup that's me.
Should I be laughing though? Is this trying to teach me something? Do I know when to challenge myself (fighting my anxiety) and when to listen to that feeling (be assertive for myself)
We all have had the "oh I shouldn't have said that" or "oh I wish I had said __" moments.
Recently I found myself facing one of those thoughts, but it wasn't just silly anxiety, it was a red flag.
I knew I didn't want the same thing to happen again so I've been thinking deeply about it.
Do I know the difference between typical anxiety and when to stand up for myself? Do I recognize the difference between those 2 feelings?
Yes, yes I do.
Sometimes we get those instincts that are irrational, "mild" or temporary, so sometimes it's best if we are lip-biters and just push through the discomfort life may bring.
But we also have that "gut feeling", the instinct, for a REASON. It's a much different feeling, and we all have felt it and can probably tell the difference. It is when something isn't right, you don't trust it, or you feel a sense of danger. You see the red flags, and that is the time to LISTEN to what your gut is telling you and get out of a situation.
I've been processing a lot. I felt stupid. I realized that I had become accustomed to sitting in situations that made me feel like I was melting, knowing I can not do a thing about them. In return, I am training myself to do this without realizing I am.
I had to scream these words to myself:
"THIS TOO SHALL PASS" HAS ITS LIMITS.
Every experience, good or bad is there to teach you something. Or, you can learn something from any experience.
I learned that I can accept myself as an anxious being, but I can sure as hell work on being more assertive. I have to. I am in the right direction. I know how to put my hands on my hip and tell someone if something is not okay, I know how to stand up for my needs and my rights. And recently, I didn't. I crumbled like a cookie.
It is important to check in with yourself. "Is this feeling/thought something I should challenge or listen to?"
Do not allow yourself to become hurt. That is not something you should become "accustomed to."
They warned me about spring semester of college. They were not kidding.
I'm not sure what is going on with me. I am having trouble focusing in my classes, I am forgetting things, and it is affecting my work ethic. I'm hard on myself with a lot of things, but one of the biggest factors is my education.
It has just been the week. I felt as though I was disappointing myself, my professors. I know I am a better student than this. I feel as though I'm drowning in assignments. My anxiety is through the roof, and I haven't been good about self-care. In class yesterday I had this continuous feeling like I was on the verge of a heart attack. I couldn't stop scratching my hand, and I was so stressed it hurt in my chest and I fought back tears. I wanted to throw up. Papers, and exams, and presentations, and projects and just 1 month (less actually) left. I'm almost there! I'm so close! I know I can do it! But getting there...feels like hell.
When my anxiety becomes severe, I get stomach sick. I stop eating, I become overwhelmed to where I can hardly motivate myself to do anything. It isn't laziness, it's anxiety.
I am reminded that college is stressful. Being a freshman is stressful. I know I'm not alone. I know I am not the only one overwhelmed at this point in the semester. At the same time, I know I need to take steps back. I know that everyone has different needs, and moves at a different pace. When my anxiety becomes too much, and I don't address it from the start, I can head down a dark road. I know this. I've been there. I know anxiety about college is normal, but my anxiety history creates a different story.
I emailed a professor about missing class in need of a mental health day. I assured her I would get missed information, and work on my assignments out of class. I felt weird typing "mental health day" because in the past I would just say "I'm sick." I wanted to be honest though. I am overwhelmed, and it will help if my professors know that. There is fear that goes along with it. "What if she doesn't believe me?" "What if she thinks I'm just skipping on a nice day?" As nervous as I felt (I hate missing class) I was proud of myself. My counselor noticed that I tend to push through the pain, expecting things to fix themselves. I guess there are pros to that, but I also could be doing the fixing. My anxiety is generalized. I am overwhelmed often because I let things build up into one big gum-ball mess. I have trouble concentrating in class because my body is telling me I am under too much stress, and it is trying to cope.
Yesterday I missed my only class of the day. It was a warm, sunny day, but that is not why I missed class. I need to stop being so go, go, go. I needed a night of extra sleep. I needed a day to relax and catch up, or get ahead of things so I can finish the semester strong.
I asked for a mental health day and there was something weird about that. Why is having a cold more acceptable of an excuse than being under too much stress?
Why am I worried about honesty, when many professors are genuine and understanding?
My professor did reply and was understanding. I heard from other students in my class that my she had decided to push back one of our assignments because a lot of students have been overwhelmed with work lately. It's not just me.
I have made many mistakes recently. At times it feels like the world is out to get me.
Though it has been a rough past few weeks, and my days are more of a struggle than a serenity, I am able to see the good. It's there, I just need to look a little harder to find it.
I wasn't sure what to write about today, because lately what has been consuming my time is: crying myself to sleep, not having the appetite to get a real meal in me, forgetting plans with friends, and missing appointments to take a nap.
They've not been the glorious of days.
I am being honest, though. Just as I was with my social work professor.
This is just a rough patch that I'm fighting to get through right now.
So about gratitude..
I used to do a daily gratitude journal. It was helpful for me to see that even if I only had 1 or 2 things written, there is something good in every day. I haven't kept up with it, but I think it is a great way to end today's post. My week may not be as bad as it seems.
Ahh the innocence and motivation
of Haley from August
Best of luck to my other college folks or anyone else going through a tough time.
We will get there.
A quality I have picked up on, and a fault that I have, is my sensitivity to the reactions of others.
In social situations, I easily pick up on everything, if I sense a change in a person's facial expressions or tone of voice I am quick to internalize it. "Did I say something weird? Do they think I am annoying?" "Am I bothering them?"
Though, I do have the mindfulness to know not everything is directed towards me, and from my own experience, facial expressions do not always match what a person is feeling on the inside. They may just be thinking of something else, but aren't saying so because they are trying to be attentive.
Picking up on social clues can be a gift at times. I am aware of subtleties that others miss. I reflect deeply on what I observe. These can be referred to as "healing" qualities, so I feel good about that.
The majority of the time, I forget to think of this as a "superpower." I find it damaging to my self esteem and I assume the negative from these subtleties. Only, towards me.
"How long have you been doing this for?"
As long as I can remember. I was very sensitive to the emotions, reactions of others. As a 4 year old I remember being hard on myself, always assuming I did something wrong.
"Growing up did your parents praise you enough? Did you hear "good job, Haley?" "Do you believe your parents are proud of you?"
Yes, and I know they are.
Did something happen in your early years where you felt overly embarrassed, humiliated, after making a mistake? Something that might have contributed to this?
No..I don't think so.
With a psychological perspective, there is a reason for everything. People may expect these things are self-taught from an initial experience. Maybe it was, but there is also the chance that this quality of mine is inborn. And that- isn't considered to be "normal." It's not that it is abnormal, only it is hard for some to understand.
An article on FactHacker states:
You are not alone, but you are in the minority. There is a specific gene related to sensitivity carried by 15 to 20 percent of people. Also referred to as “empaths,” highly sensitive people often carry a big load of emotions and it can be tough for them. Really tough. If this is you, it does not mean you are a mess. It just means you are highly sensitive.
"That's interesting." my campus counselor said, after trying to find connections.
It was weird talking about these things because they have always been a part of my life, but It's not something I talk about. I think for moment I felt uncomfortable, it made me feel different. I know enough sensitive folk to tell me I'm not alone, but in today's world it's hard to find people who think that way. Many just don't talk about it, or normalize it, and that makes sensitivity feel like a weakness.
Now sharing the fun *sarcasm* piece of my past Monday:
After opening up about this self esteem fault, and intuitive sensitivity, I found myself absorbed in anxiety. Of course, it didn't hit me until after I left counseling. (my life)
My roommate walked in to find me having a breakdown that had been going on for almost an hour. Chest pounding, body shaking, and just waiting for the feeling to subside.
It wasn't that the appointment went badly. I don't think my body (I) liked being that vulnerable. I don't think I liked to admit how I can get overwhelmed easily, and often worry what others think of me.
I spoke of it using a lot of humor and sarcasm and made light of it, and I realize now how much of that was me coping. I suppose I left, and my body went, "ok, so can we throw the walls down..now?"
My first experience with an anxiety attack- wasn't so much with myself. It didn't happen to me. I've mentioned this story before, but I want to really analyze it.
I believe I was 15 at the time. I was in the passenger seat of a 10 hour car ride to Virginia. My was uncle driving, and my brother and 2 cousins were in the back seats. My cousin Erica had just recently seen a girl on her soccer team throw up, and instantly believed it was going to happen to her. She has a severe fear of throwing up. Whenever she felt the least bit "not right" she subconsciously put herself in panic mode, triggering a stress reaction in her body. I didn't understand this at the time.
During the car ride that same week, she complained of feeling nauseous. Half way into the ride she was crying and begging for help. She said she couldn't breathe. She wanted her dad to pull over on the highway. When he was unable to, she started banging on the window "daddy please." I couldn't help but laugh. I could hear my youngest cousin laughing too. To me, it sounded like overreactive whining, and that she just needed to calm down. The "dramatic" scene she had created just made me laugh.
When I had my first anxiety attack years later, I thought I was dying. Anxiety was not a name in my mind. I truly believed I was dying.
I had taken time to reflect. Reflect on my own experiences, and reflect on the car ride with my cousin years before. I felt sick. I felt mean, and I hated myself for it.
I laughed at her.
She felt trapped and scared, none of us understood her, and I laughed at her.
Anxiety plays tricks on you. It leads you to believe words like "crazy" "whining" "wimpy" "attention-seeking" when there is absolute fear involved. Nobody can see it, and only you can feel it.
There doesn't have to be a reason for it to be anxiety.
This is the thing that still makes me angry, because it just sucks right?
There is a term called "fight or flight"
Specific anxiety situation: You see a bear heading towards you. Your heart starts racing, your adrenaline increases, you start feeling warm, maybe even sweating, and your muscles tighten up, you start shaking. You have to make a decision: fight or flight?
That's a normal reaction of anxiety.
But here's the thing that is F'ed up in my opinion:
Your body can trigger those symptoms when there is ZERO danger. Your mind can be 100% wise and know that there is nothing wrong, but your body can lead you to believe something is wrong. With psychological stressors, our reaction can be suppressed and come up sometimes years later when the stressor has passed.
How annoying, right?
It is common to feel fear and threat by these anxiety attacks. It is common to feel that the world is closing in on you, and you have absolute no control over your own body. What you're feeling is a response, and knowing that something else has triggered it (maybe in your past) can you help you learn to cope with it. Knowing exactly what your trigger is can also help you work around the anxiety. Of course, easier said than done.
I have heard comments from many others about their struggle with anxiety:
"My friends don't believe me."
"They tell me to snap out of it."
"They said to just let it go."
"They said I'm making a big deal over nothing."
"They say I'm being dramatic."
"They said I'm milking it."
"Just be strong"
It can drive a person into a depressive state- to believe that they are misunderstood, and that nobody will ever believe what they're going through on the inside.
You can't just "snap out of it." It takes work. Sometimes years of work. Being told "just be strong" only convinces you that you are weak in those moments, and that this should come easy to you. Anxiety can make you feel week, but it does not make you weak. Fighting an anxiety attack- that is true strength. It has taken me a while to realize that.
It's hard not to get angry. That was me. I was the one laughing at my cousin for behaving "crazy" when she was experiencing one of the scariest days of her life. I've apologized. It's in the past. But it's not okay to me. I was completely oblivious and confused to how she could be feeling like that. It's not just me. Serious change needs to happen where we can no longer make these assumptions about others. The term "anxiety" is thrown around too carelessly. We all have experienced anxiety in our lives. The anxiety itself isn't so difficult to understand. Misconceptions and judgements arise when the panic attacks occur and anxieties consume one's day to day life. With understanding mental disorders, comes learning mindfulness. Being mindful with yourself, and others. Anxiety disorders are not the same as typical anxiety, and you can never be sure what someone else is really going through, when it is invisible.
Ok so that photo is a little dramatic, but it gave me a chuckle so I was hoping it would do the same for you.
I am going to be 100% honest:
2 weeks ago I was walking back from the store with 3 of my friends. I was swinging my grocery bag around and being a "typical Haley" by telling my story a mile a minute, probably not getting a breath it. I didn't finish my sentence when a buzzing sensation moved from my lips down, and my vision was blurry. Dizziness consumed me. I stopped dead in my tracks and just looked up and said, "whoa." My friends asked if I was okay. The feeling passed so I continued my story and kept walking, but was still a bit concerned.
Since then, this has become a "thing." I would be walking to class and it would start with a weird feeling in my face, and then I would feel lightheaded. Me being self-aware, and a psychology student immediately thought: anxiety. But no because I'm not anxious, that makes no sense. I've been dizzy from anxiety before, but it didn't feel like this. Me being a hypochondriac, yes..you guessed it...googled my symptoms. Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Brain tumor, etc etc. The list went on. Days continued and I would find my limbs going numb along with the dizziness. My entire arm was numb, it felt like there were bricks resting on the back of my neck when I was standing and so I did some more research, and increased my paranoia. "I don't know what's wrong with me." My suite-mates continued to hear me say. They offered to take me to the clinic, just to reassure me I wasn't dying. Instead, I curled up in a ball and let my anxiety take over me convincing myself I was experiencing early stages of paralysis..
At night..I've been having nightmares. The counselor I've been seeing here suggested I look for a "common theme" but nothing about my dreams are commonly related. Accidentally killing people with my car, getting attacked by a whale in a swimming pool, and putting out a fire in my house (childhood home) with a lighter? And even more twisted things.. My roommate tells me I've been whimpering in my sleep.
What the heck is going on with me?
I've been bringing a stress ball to class.
*Shoutout to the campus counseling center for providing those*
I couldnt make it to a mandatory event for a class because of an anxiety attack. (My professor was extremely understanding, and supportive..but still.)
Annnnd I've been needing emergency bathroom trips more often than I would like to admit. yay IBS yay
I see my counselor here every Thursday, but it was a Monday when I had my anxiety attack and by then the center was closed.
The next day, I brought myself to this magical thing the counseling center provides called "walk-in hours" and was ready to let out my problems to WHOEVER was available. Thursday couldn't wait.
With anxiety attacks, unfortunately, there is not much you can do in the moment to make it stop. You have to ride it out. And with me sitting there with a counselor like a confused Nancy Drew, trying to solve this mystery as to why the hell my body is behaving against my mind, I learn there is not much to solve with the missing pieces in Generalized Anxiety. Little bitch. Why can't I have a fear of spiders? That'd be easy to determine.
What I learned is that even though college has been going swell for me, it is still an adjustment and a change for my body. My body is telling me it does not recognize this change, and it is sending messages that say it's time to panic. I was reminded that this is still all very new and very different. I'm on a different schedule, I'm living with new people, eating new foods, and as okay as I feel about that, my body doesn't understand what's going on.
I'm dealing with this damn battle as I wait out these stubborn symptoms. After many panic attacks, tears, and showing my roomies my ugly side, I was able to calm down today. I find that I can reach air after counseling. I know anxiety is normal, I know I am not truly going crazy, but sometimes I just need to hear it. I needed to be able to sit with someone and tell them I've been happy, but my body isn't following that and it scares me. I needed someone to sit there and provide genuine empathy and apology that these feelings are scary, but reassure me as well that it is normal, and it will pass.
She used an example of self-talk that made me smile a bit. "Okay, Haley girl, it's okay to take a break." She stretched the importance of self-care during this time. My body is telling me it has reached it's limits when it sends me those uncomfortable signals. I need to respond by taking care of myself, instead of pushing myself.
I always say that change doesn't scare me, but now I think my subconscious does not agree with me. Anxiety effects can be residual, and very confusing. Anxiety and panic attacks can even create the same symptoms as a heart attack. Whaaaaat?
My anxiety disorder is a learning experience, and I am still learning just how it works. Not just with me, but in the general human body. I know I can not let my physical symptoms trick me. I am okay. I am safe. I am happy. Self-care is crucial for me, especially now.
The wrap up:
Listen to the cute little dinosaur thingy.
When I was in 4th grade I remember my teacher asking me to do her a favor. She asked me to go to another 4th grade teacher's room and ask him something. (I clearly don't remember what that something was.) But why ask me? Probably the quietest kid in the class. I know she really liked me, but- why me?
I remember leaving the room for my "quest" and standing in the middle of the hallway, petrified. My mind drew a complete blank, almost as if I was unable to form words.. even in my head. I turned around and went BACK to my classroom. I remember approaching my teacher and saying "Wait, what do I say?" I wanted her to put words in my mouth. I wanted her to give me a line (almost like a script) of what I needed to ask him. Even if it was just to say 5 words.
I needed the confidence of what I was going to say before I was going to say it.
So here is what I've learned about myself:
I am a very social person, who is socially anxious, who has little confidence socially, who hates social situations, who loves talking to people, and loves people in general.
Wait What ?
Trying to figure myself out is like walking through the world's biggest corn maze.
I had been diagnosed last September with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, with many of my symptoms relating to Social Anxiety Disorder.
It was then where I had to understand that social anxiety and "shyness" are completely different things. I am not shy. I am very personable, in fact. When I'm not anxious :-)
I have also learned that I am extremely confident socially when I am familiar, interested and engaged in the conversation. Recently, I was at the kitchen table with John's sister and his mother discussing the social work career. Boy was I talking. Something that I am passionate about, and I even amazed my mom from the other room with how I held the entire conversation- eye contact and all.
Discussing stigma, mental health awareness, issues in society...Now that's where I can spend a conversation. (Reasons why I will probably kickass in my college classes) Things that matter to me, and that I am knowledgable in of course.
But try small talk with me or ask me questions I am not prepared for (even simple ones) and you can find me relating to the socially awkward penguin memes ..
So this is what confuses me:
I have no issue walking into a store at Hampton Beach and asking a complete stranger behind the counter if any places on the boardwalk did body piercings,
today I was panicking (in real tears) over the fact that I would have to check-in by myself at my dentist appointment. My mom had to come in my room, first ask me what was wrong, and then say "Haley, all you need to say is "I'm here; Haley" and they will say okay thank you."
What I have pieced together is.. in many ways it has nothing to do with my social skills. It is not shyness, or social anxiety.
It is a lack of confidence, and a fear of making mistakes.
Speaking out loud is not my problem, it is being confident enough with what I am saying.
Remember that quote I frequently use? "I write better than I talk."
When I am speaking or being asked direct questions that require a little thought, my brain freezes up. It feels like a boulder is on me and I just feel very very heavy. My cheeks could be drooping down to my shoulders. My mind is thinking about what to say, without even thinking at all.
I am not very good with a quick response, most of the time. I like to take my time and make sure I am presenting my thoughts accurately through my words. When I struggle to do so, I am very hard on myself.
Tonight, I was reminded that we all have a different process. We all have a different way of doing things, strengths and weaknesses, how our brain functions, and we all have things we wish we could change about ourselves.
Tonight, I needed it to be drilled into my head; A reminder of the real me.
I needed a reminder that I am a person who puts a lot of pressure on myself, and who sometimes needs a little time to process things. However, I am a person that proves that once I do reach that process, my words are more than meaningful and understood.
To become strong mentally there are a lot of things you need to gain, and a lot of things you need to let go.
I have challenged myself to separate my feelings from my self worth.
Now, I need to work on acceptance. I need to accept who/how I am, even the things that may frustrate or embarrass me. If I am learning self care, self respect, and self love, I must accept my flaws.
I may struggle to present myself at times. I may struggle to put my feelings into words, and I may struggle to put descriptions to my feelings.
But I have writing; my tool to process everything that runs through this head of mine, word by word.
And I have my jumpy mind that is always filled with thoughts, and my skill to focus so much time on a thought, where I am bound to discover every aspect of it at some point.
Everybody is different, we all have something.
If any of you can relate to "beating yourself up" I challenge you to take the challenge of acceptance and perspective with me.
Good things can come from our flaws, and sometimes it is our flaws that hold the talent within us.
The title says it all- I am blogging from Hampton Beach! More than 15 of us are all on vacation. Those from my household, John's mother, John's sister + her kids, and a couple others.
This past week before we got to NH has been interesting. My mind has been racing 24/7 with memories good/bad, either or. So of course- I have not been sleeping well.
The first day we arrived at the beach house it was raining out. We were all tired from the drive (and lack of sleep) and used our time to settle into our rooms, unpack, and rest. My stomach had been bothering me all day but I figured it was normal considering the lack of sleep plus a road trip. As time went by the symptoms intensified. At 4pm the kids all went to walk the boardwalk and beach, and I was in bed-extremely weak and in a lot of pain. I fell asleep and refused to eat dinner. I woke up a couple hours later at 9:40 pm. After that I was awake ALL NIGHT LONG. I was tossing and turning and stressing and feeling terrible inside. I warned the family by morning that I was either going to be very sensitive, extremely goofy, OR a major bitch that day.
I spent the 2nd day of vacation in bed as well, curled up in a ball as everything made me feel sick. I was able to eat 1 plain waffle for breakfast but just that "activity" sucked the life out of me and I was back in bed completely weak.
I was practically overdosing on digestion meds and I could tell I was already losing too much weight. I panicked. I wasn't sick. I knew I wasn't. This was all too familiar. Is this anxiety? Or what if it isnt- is there something wrong with me? The paranoia kicked in. When I wasn't sleeping I found myself googling all my symptoms that were not making sense to me. What the hell is wrong with my stomach? Why can't I digest anything?
I was practically in tears. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but physical health can also affect mental health.
I have dealt with health issues since I was born. Now, in writing i don't want it to sound like I'm over exaggerating because i am ultimately grateful for my health knowing what some kids go through every single day. There was always something with me, though. I never felt 100%. In my younger years it was my asthma and heart condition. As I got older we discovered my thyroid condition. Anxiety and depression can bring symptoms such as insomnia, change in eating patterns, fatigue, etc. With me, it has always been hard for my doctors to fully know what is causing what.
I became frustrated this week. I have been happy. I have been feeling so strong mentally. I am on vacation with a large group of people (which is huge for me), a whole new place, and I'm happy to be here. I'm happy, but I'm so fricken tired. Why is it always a "this or that." My mental health is strong, but then my physical health can bring me down.
Since I was not sleeping at night I spent the hours doing loads of research.
I googled one question. A word-for-word "why does my__________" and the first article that came up was about a woman who discovered she was gluten intolerant. I related to how she was describing the way she was feeling and I became very curious. I took an online test (just for a general idea) and noticed that the questions described how I feel better than I could.
I thought, okay, what if I try being gluten free for exactly 1 week just to see if I feel any better?
I have limited meal choices while I am away from home but I have been making do, and my stomach problems have improved.
I had also read that gluten sensitivity can cause anxiety and depression, as well as rapid mood changes. I had this beautiful dream in my head that IF gluten was a huge source of my problems, and IF I go without it I will become energized, and happy, and not needing to take a nap or two just to get through the day. A life where I wouldn't have to worry about my physical and mental health anymore. I have a come a long way as well as working on skills to do my own part in helping myself. I still have a way to go, but I know if I felt better physically I would be able to live a little more.
So that's what's new with me! I'm at the beach for the week, hopefully getting sun, hopefully not getting burnt, and I'm on a gluten free trial.
So far so good!
I caught myself during a time where I wasn't busy AND wasn't tired, so I'm catching up on the blog!
Did I mention I have 2 new articles published? :-)
7 Short Mantras That Help Me Get Through Stressful Situations
One Helpful Thing For When You Are Dealing With Depression
To start: I'm blogging from Martha's Vineyard! I arrived yesterday and so far it has been great catching up with family and friends and overall being in a place that has always been a sanctuary for my mental health.
This past New Year's Day I was driving to the Vineyard for the weekend and ended up in a horrific car accident just 45 min from the ferry boat.
Being a 17 year old and having this be the farthest I would have yet to drive, my mom had good reasons to question my anxiety with my accident and when I would get back on the road again.
This trip, I did not drive, but I was ready for it. My mom was willing to meet my grandmother halfway instead. Looking at how far I've come this year (for many reasons) it feels good to see how I am prepared for a challenge. I know that I can handle the drive, I had just ended up in an unfortunate circumstance before. I know that it will be easier for me once I am able to prove to myself I can do it. Which I will :-) Maybe next trip..
I was thinking about "advice" to give about things I've learned from suffering with anxiety. The first thing that came to mind was: speaking up when I am anxious.
As I have mentioned in other posts, as a kid I hated to ask for help. I hated to complain, and I always wanted to appear tough and in control. My anxiety was a wimpy embarrassment to me.
I realize at this point in my life how people handle their anxieties in different ways. Someone close to me expresses her anxiety in an outward panic. She repeatedly talks about her fears- out loud, where as I am known to hold things in and run over my worrisome thoughts in my head.
No way is better than the other.
I'll call it "verbal" and "thought" anxiety just for my own comparison..
Pros: Speaking up, getting attention and understanding from others
Cons: By speaking through only worries, it is hard to stop and allow yourself to calm down or convince yourself you will be okay.
Pros: By being quiet you are also fighting it. You may be anxious, but at the same time you are trying very hard to be okay.
Cons: You are holding it in, and that is hurting you much more.
Either way, if you handle your anxiety in an obsessive "internal" fashion, or an obsessive "external" presentation, it is important that you speak up.
What I find is a major contradiction.
It helps tremendously when I talk about worries. When someone else is aware, it brings me comfort, even if nothing is becoming solved. I want support, I want someone to know I am struggling so that a weight is off my shoulders and my anxiety will lessen at the fact that I don't have to try so hard to appear okay.
The contradiction comes along with who you present your worries to.
Anyone with anxiety knows someone that helps or hurts their illness, whether those people intend to or not.
We have all experienced the "just snap out of it" "it's all in your head" "Just calm down" "You have nothing to be freaking out about."
Those comments can lead us to feel we are annoying, crazy, and that our feelings are invalid.
But we know that what we need most is support, and in a weird way our anxious blabber that we throw on others- helps us.
So what do we do?
What I've learned in my "struggle moments" is that certain people can handle it perfectly, and certain people just can't. That's okay. I have anxiety and I still don't understand it, so how can I expect others to understand what I'm going through as well?
Acceptance is key. Accept your struggle. Accept you are doing the best you can.
By doing this, you will be less likely to shut down when a comment is made with such little support.
So a message from me, your fellow anxious friend: It is okay to be afraid to be speak up, but don't let that stop you. You may worry about annoying others, or worry about what they will think of you. If you want to babble your anxious worries in the present moment to help yourself, go for it.
I have discovered support that I never knew I could have, just by opening up about my biggest insecurities.
Anxiety occurs in everyone's life at times. However, anxiety disorders can lead you to feel ashamed with yourself.
You should talk about your anxiety because you aren't alone, and you will definitely realize that the more you speak up. You should talk about your anxiety because you never know what help could come along.
I am not suggesting this because it was easy for me, I am suggesting this because it was beneficial.
Don't hold back from babbling away, asking for help, letting someone know when you "can't", and speaking up about your fears.
We can only hold on to so much. It can only help a little, if we share a little.
A Boston social work student, using writing for healing. Sharing the peaks and valleys of an empath's mental health journey.