Anxiety in love.

whateveroursouls

Well, it’s been quiet here for a few weeks. Two weeks ago, I got engaged and it was a pretty incredible experience. I’m pretty afraid of the coming planning details that comes with getting married, but I am so grateful to have such an incredible partner to stand beside me for all of it. We got engaged in an incredibly special place for me – the White Rock Pier in Vancouver, which holds so many memories of my late dear grandfather. I’ve always felt at peace near the ocean. It amazes me that something so powerful and expansive can be so tranquil and peaceful. I’ve always found it calming to stare out and watch for the ever-changing patterns of the waves, wondering what must be happening in the world below. I’m also in love with The Little Mermaid, so let’s be real here, there’s some daydreaming of mermaids.

In the time that I’ve had to reflect and think about where we have come since our first date over 7 years ago, I’ve been able to see how much of an impact he has on my life. Since my ‘formal diagnosis’, Jeff has stood beside me, encouraging me through all the trials and treatments, and reassuring me that I’m still me, just a little more anxious. He has not wavered from me, and I really believe that we’ve become a much stronger couple working through everything since. We have learned how to really communicate. It got me thinking about how we got to this point since anxiety has been lurking around, and I’ve come with a list of what worked for us. Every relationship is different, but these things really helped us avoid some frustrating fights.

1. Determine a set of ‘code words’ or signals to communicate how you are doing. When I’m mid-panic attack, sometimes it’s all I can do to remember to keep breathing, even if it feels like there’s no air getting into my lungs. Sometimes it helps to have someone talk me through it, hug, or hold my hand, but there are other times when that feels suffocating as well. Often when I can’t handle another person, having my dog, Loki, helps bring me back into the moment right away. We have a simple “you” or “Loki” one-word signal that immediately lets him know what I need in that moment. This kind of communication helps me to think about what I need in the moment, but it also helps Jeff to not feel like he’s making the wrong decision when I’m losing my mind.

2. Figure out what helps to ‘recharge’ you. This took some time to figure out, but it’s important to communicate what you need to your significant other, especially if they have never experienced anxiety themselves. If you are the type of person that is energized by being alone, and would rather have an hour to yourself after a hard day – let your partner know this. I learned that I became extremely introverted the more anxious I was, and I eventually moved my laptop downstairs to the kitchen table (we don’t have cable, so much of our ‘entertainment/quiet time’ at home is online). At first, Jeff was offended that I didn’t want to spend time with him. I learned that I needed to communicate that it wasn’t a reflection on him, I still loved him, but I needed time by myself in order to recharge, especially after being around other people.

3. No, he’s not always angry with you, I promise. I’m still working on this one. My anxiety likes to tell me that I’m constantly doing things to upset him, make him angry or disappointed in me. I’ve had a really bad habit of needing the reassurance that I haven’t done anything wrong, even if I’ve done something that he isn’t too thrilled with (like that last makeup haul… heh). This goes for the anxiety around “am I being too cold lately? He knows I love him, right? Wait, I’m being too clingy now”. Sometimes it’s helpful to ask them what they need. It is perfectly okay to ask your significant other if they need space from you as well, and if that answer is yes, to understand that it is okay. Usually when he wants to have a gaming night with a friend or do his own thing, I find a good show to binge on Netflix, grab some popcorn and some puppies to cuddle. Have you seen Suits, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or Supernatural? No? Go enjoy your binge session.

4. Keep working on you. This is something that I have really kept in mind throughout this whole experience. I know that the days that I try as hard as I possibly can, those are the days that Jeff is most proud of me. When I am able to tell him that I went out to the grocery store, or maybe the terrifying mall, and I was okay at the end of the day? He is extremely happy with me. Even if I tried and I had a panic attack, or I think that I had failed, he is still so proud that I made the effort. So far I’ve been in a spring class and I’ve made it to every class… the look on his face when I said that I went to class again is worth the panic and anxiety I have going – even better if I told him I spoke in class.

Remember that your significant other loves you and wants to see you succeed. I think where we start fights with each other boils down to a lack in communication and understanding about what we need – and what they need as well. It’s okay to have boundaries, but it’s also okay for them to have boundaries with us as well. You’re not a burden, just every now and then we need to recharge on our own.

Freedom vs. Slavery – How my anxiety makes me feel enslaved.

thunder

This is part of my assignment for a class I had this semester where we discussed fundamental cultural assumptions on life vs. death, freedom vs. slavery, wisdom vs. folly, and good vs. evil. I decided to discuss how I felt most enslaved by my anxiety. It was my intention to try to explain what I have always felt was so hard to explain – the way that I feel panic, and how it controls me. I hope you find this helpful, interesting, or… I guess anything else!

Hands shaking, heart racing, vision blurring

Unseen to the unseeing, she can’t escape

Behind bars, caught and captured

there’s no way out

Heart racing, chest tightening

“Breathe”

How do you breathe when there’s no air to inhale?

Left to fight these mind demons alone, no hero in this story

The crowd turns away,

blind to the battle inside her, deaf to the cries

Hands shaking, mind racing

Unknown and invisible, a wraith rattling along the cage

Screaming in silence

It comes in waves, threatening to push her over the brink

Sinking, drowning, let it bury her

The crowd stands confused, there is nothing there

She’s gasping for air, but there’s nothing there

When thinking of the question: “When do you feel the most enslaved or free?” the first thought that comes to mind is within my anxiety. I tried to think back to the time that I had a panic attack in the middle of Disneyland, during a busy park day. I’m on vacation in the happiest place on earth, and yet I couldn’t find a way to escape the crowd that kept coming at me in droves. My mind raced to all the life-threatening situations that could possibly happen while stuck in a crowd, even things that weren’t possible like a breakout of a zombie virus. I knew deep down that I had been watching far too much of The Walking Dead, and still I felt as if my life was in danger.

I told myself to breathe, but it didn’t make a difference; there was no air in my lungs. I told myself to calm down, but there was no slowing my heart rate. I lost complete control of my body. And that’s how the panic hits you – it relinquishes your control to function. I was completely helpless and vulnerable to the demons controlling me, the ones that I am forever chained to, enslaved to. This is when I feel the most enslaved because I am constantly fighting this war in my head, even in situations where I should feel safe.

Her hair is curled, her eyelashes too

Her eyes are decorated in soft neutrals and a subtle wing

Her outfit, carefully selected

On the outside, this earthly prison is a painted doll

The her that is seen is happy, successful, outgoing


Stripping this painted doll of all these signifiers of

Happiness, success, desired personality

She is hurting and in pain

No drop of blood will you see fall from her flesh

No physical ailment or disease

Her demons are not worn on her sleeve for the world to see

So they must not really exist.

Her expressions are false advertising, a learned practice,

A permanent smile to appear friendly,

A focused gaze to appear listening,

Inside, her mind is in chaos,

trying to keep up with everything she is supposed to be.

The night before she questioned her sanity,

She wasn’t sure if what she was seeing was real.


The unseen behaviours are subtle, but the only way to cope.

She twists the ring on her finger, counting the turns.

She taps each finger on the pad of her thumb

Trying to feel connected to her own body,

in control of its responses.

Her toes flex and point in her shoes

Hiding under the desk, out of sight.

She focuses hard on the wall behind your face,

Hoping desperately that you won’t notice

she isn’t focused on you.

She knows to repeat the last thing you said

To appear to be actively listening,

though her mind is elsewhere.

She is painfully aware of the shake in her voice,

Her body tenses and she draws in a deep breath,

Trying to calm the demons in her mind.

The demons are not satisfied until every inch of her tingles,

Burns,

Hurts,

With anxiety.

Each cell activated in panic, ready to fight or fly.

The adrenaline of imminent danger builds up,

bubbles to the surface.


There is no danger,

no life or death situation.

There is no problem, no issue, no reason to be scared.

There is only you in front of her,

discussing the answers to a question the professor asked.

It is not threatening, there is no right answer.

There are just opinions.

But for her, there are feelings and she is feeling all of them.


The demons inside are controlling the unseen her,

She knows that she cannot fight them,

So she tries to keep her painted doll face on.

She tries as hard as she can.

It is the only thing she has left to control,

but she’s losing grip.

The first few weeks of class I tried to attend as often as I could, and still my mind went back to the fall semester when the class was so full and students crowded the door. I thought to that first class in September when people kept coming in, taking their place by the only escape route in the room. Even though the door remained clear in the beginning of this semester, I knew that it was only a matter of time for more people to join. The class was half over and still the door was clear, but all I could do is stare and anticipate my next panic attack. It was so exhausting that I gave up. I stopped attending classes and tried to focus my attention on going through the material on my own.

This prison also manifests in agoraphobia. I am so aware of everything that moves and breathes when I go outside. In the corner of my eye, I could see my neighbour, and I knew that I had to be more aware of my actions… rushing them to get out of view as quickly as possible. If I was too slow, I might be victim of judgment, I might be confronted about how I live or behave, I might be pulled into a conversation that I have no input in. This mind reading is constant; it never rests. In class, I am sure that I am not writing down enough notes – or maybe I’m writing down too many. If I am on either end of the spectrum, I clearly have no idea what the professor is saying. I must be dumb. I don’t belong here. This snowball of anxiety is always how the panic starts. When the body responses join and my heart rate increases or my breathing becomes more shallow, that’s when I know that this one is going to be the last – I’m surely finished. It’s a heart attack this time, not just the panic.

My mental health controls my life. It decides the days that are good, the days that are bad. It determines whether or not I go get groceries that day or I show up for the test that I have scheduled. It chooses the nights that I sleep and the nights that I am awake until morning, when I can hear others’ alarms going off to let them know it’s time for a new day, but mine hasn’t finished yet. I tried to control it with medication. I tried to control it with therapy. It is a resistant beast. Yet still, I refuse to fall. My focus is set to freedom from this prison, where I am in control again.

Experiencing derealization for the first time.

distance

This week, I learned that my anxiety and derealization are new friends, and they’re a scary combo. I remembered afterwards that we covered derealization in one of my psychology classes, and I never truly understood how the mind could just forget that the world around it is real. Of course the world is real, this isn’t the Matrix and I’m not really into conspiracy theories.

Derealization and depersonalization are slightly different, in that derealization deals with  “a feeling of unreality or detachment from, or unfamiliarity with, the world, be it individuals, inanimate objects, or all surroundings” (Bressert, 2014). Depersonalization is within the individual and “the individual may feel detached from his or her entire being (e.g., “I am no one,” “I have no self”)” (Bressert, 2014). If you want more info from a quick 1 minute read you can check out the rest of Dr. Steve Bressert’s article here: Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder Symptoms

After I was able to pull myself out of the downward spiral of “I’m going crazy”, I made my way to r/Anxiety to get support from the community again. I asked the community to help me confirm that the world is a real place that I live in and there are others who also experience this disconnect. I had an overwhelming response from the community that confirmed I wasn’t crazy, things are real, and they’ve experienced what I just went through before.

So what did I experience? Trigger warning – if this is something that sets you off, please skip past this paragraph.

After being unable to determine the cause of a spill in my kitchen, I had an overwhelming and consuming feeling that it didn’t exist. I felt like both my brain and my eyes were deceiving me and I felt paranoid that I was going crazy and hallucinating. I went into full panic attack mode, spiraling and snowballing down to dark places while my heart rate increased and it felt like my throat was closing up. I had to shut my eyes tight because I was terrified that I was going to start seeing other things (insert fear of horror movies, paranormal, ghosts, etc. here). I reached for my dog Loki as usual, since he helps me out of more panic attacks than I can count. Loki has an expected response when you scratch his cheek and he will lift his lip in a snarl. It’s not aggressive, just ticklish and usually something we giggle about. He did that while I was petting him and scratching his cheek and I found myself in a moment where I was terrified of his face. It didn’t distort, it just scared the absolute shit out of me – even though it is an expected response. I was glad that Jeff was home at the time, because he helped me back to reality, where it was safe and real. At the end of it all – what was the spill? We determined my other dog, Arya, drank – gulped – water too quickly and it went right through her, making it look like water and not smell like urine. But it definitely was there and I was definitely not crazy.

The feeling of being in my house, but it didn’t feel like my house was a pretty terrifying experience. I never experimented with drugs in high school, but looking back I can imagine things might feel similar.

It happened again the next night when I returned to my house after Easter dinner with my family, though nothing triggered the feeling except being in my kitchen. Even now as I sit at my laptop at the kitchen table, I don’t feel the overwhelming sensation of being in a world that isn’t mine, but after we got home on Sunday I definitely had that feeling.

What helps?

1. Grounding techniques –  something that pulls you out of your head and back into the present.
One that I learned in counselling is called 5-4-3-2-1. You choose 5 things you can see, 5 you can physically feel, 5 that you can hear. Next you choose 4, trying to keep them unique, but don’t get too worked up if you are running out of things. Once you get to 1, the idea is that you have put yourself back in the present and you will feel better. Often when I try this, I don’t need to go all the way to 1, which is a good feeling.

2. Getting a good night’s sleep.
This is a tricky one for me especially, since my anxiety loves to roll around at nighttime. I know that my panic is more active during the days where I am not well-rested, so usually if I have a really bad day, I try to do what I can to go to bed early that night.

3. Other people and/or animals.
Though Loki’s reaction did scare me, after it happened a second time, Jeff put both the dogs on the couch with me and we cuddled and I was able to just pet them. Animals are incredible for people who struggle with mental illness (I’ll probably do another blog post later on all the benefits… just waiting for my social work application to come back positive before I jinx it!!). Jeff also was a major factor in helping me back to the present as he reassured me that what I was worrying about was not real.

4. Distract yourself by keeping busy.
That night, even though I was scared to go to sleep right away, I went right to Netflix and focused on what was going on in the show I was currently binge watching, and it helped. Not everyone will do well with distractions like this and it isn’t good to avoid life and responsibilities for too long, but you just went through a scary thing and it’s totally okay to take a break. Your brain and body is telling you that you need one. Colouring is also a really good way to keep yourself busy!

I hope that this may help someone who has experienced what I did this week before, or isn’t sure how to help a loved one. I know that everyone experiences depersonalization and derealization differently, but knowing that you’re not alone really helps. Remember that it’s temporary, and probably a good sign that you’ve been under a great amount of stress. Practice some positive self-care and remember to take a break if you need it.

Reference:

Bressert, S. (2014). Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder Symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/depersonalization-derealization-disorder-symptoms/

Deciding to use medication and deciding to quit.

besoniceif

My journey with medication and anxiety began shortly after the panic attacks started to explode. I decided to give medication a go because the experience I had with counselling was not working quickly enough for me to be successful in school and I didn’t want to waste too much of my semester. I am not a medical professional, so my next advice is purely anecdotal, but it helps to have some firsthand knowledge when you decide to try medication. Medication isn’t for everyone, but I learned that it was helpful to try.

I have tried citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Cipralex), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and now desvenlafaxine (Pristiq). All but Pristiq are considered SSRIs and are also used for things other than depression, such as anxiety. Pristiq is classified as an SNRI, which acts on both serotonin and norepinephrine, instead of just serotonin like the SSRIs, essentially to achieve the same outcome.

The experience one has with each drug will be largely different in most cases. For Celexa, I had crazy bad headaches and was not on it very long. For Cipralex, I didn’t have any bad side effects, but it didn’t really do too much and I was on it for a few months. Paxil was the best fighter against anxiety for me, but it did its job a little too well and the term zombie was an understatement. I didn’t have emotions on Paxil and I slept a lot, but I don’t really remember having a panic attack. Paxil was also the hardest to taper off of and felt like the worst hangover I’ve ever been on. I was prescribed Prozac to help me taper off of Paxil and it was very similar to Cipralex – good, but nothing really changed. I’ve been on Pristiq for the longest time now (since May of last year) and I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it. As an SNRI, it seems to take my anxiety and make the baseline higher, but the intensities much, much less. My panic attacks don’t feel to be as world-ending, but I feel more anxious all the time than I have on other medications.

With that quick little update on my background with medication over the last two+ years… here are some things I’ve learned about medications and how they affected me:

1. It takes a few weeks to kick in and to get off of it.

The choice to start medication isn’t a sudden fix. It takes a while to find the right one and on top of that, it takes a few weeks for your brain to be able to let the medication do its thing. I really had to convince myself to be a good sport about giving the medication the chance to work for real, but it wasn’t always fun. For the first two weeks, I often felt icky. It was slightly nauseous, slightly headachey, slightly hit-by-a-truck-when-is-my-cold-starting kind of feeling. However, that did go away as my body got used to it. When I would switch a medication, especially with Paxil, it was also really important to taper under my psychiatrist’s direction. I learned the hard way one week that quitting cold turkey because “f this shit” is a really, absolutely, truly horrible idea. Red light, don’t do it, listen to your medical professional.

2. There are definitely side effects.

The side effects I experienced weren’t scary or bad, but annoying. After a few weeks on Celexa, with horrible, horrible headaches, I was swapped off it pretty quickly. That was really the only one that hurt. I would say, for me, Paxil and Pristiq have the most recognizable side effects, but I definitely gained weight a lot easier on all of the ones that I have tried. Paxil made me sleep all the time and I really lost my bucket of f*cks to give. Most of them had sexual side effects that came with them, but Pristiq really made me lose that bucket for good. Across the board, I’d often feel dizzy on bad days, which I self-medicated with caffeine, in the form of unhealthy energy drinks (NOT a good idea – caused pretty much a guaranteed panic attack). I did notice an increase for intrusive thoughts about self-harm, but I’m not completely sure if that came with the medication or the frustration with nothing working like I expected it to.

3. It changed my anxiety and how I experience it.

Overall, there have been a few noticeable changes in the way I experienced anxiety. Sometimes that meant that I coma’d my way through life, which was cool because no more anxiety, but really not because I didn’t accomplish anything. Other times, as in the case with Pristiq – I feel anxious all the time, but my panic attacks changed and I am able to pull myself out of them much more quickly and they don’t last as long. It really is a balancing act with medication and I think that’s why working with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and positive self-care really helps through the whole process of feeling better.

The things that I really feel affect your relationship with anxiety, medication, and feeling better are also included in what is going on in your life currently. At the end of September this year, I lost my best friend from junior high and I haven’t really felt okay since. I noticed that shortly after that emotional blow, my relationship with Pristiq drastically changed. I am caught in an abnormal sleep schedule that I can’t fix no matter what I do, and that lovely change with my panic attacks seems to have lost its touch a good amount. In a situation like this, all I can hope to do is make another appointment with my awesome psychiatrist and see what he thinks. He is an excellent resource and always includes me in decisions about my mental health and the direction I want to go next. At the end of the day, I think that is the most important point: I have the choice to continue or to try a clean slate. At the end of the day, you do as well. I can only hope that my experience with medication relieves a bit of hesitation or anxiety you may be feeling towards it. When I was first making the decision to try medication, I utilized personal accounts on r/Anxiety to help me understand what was going on as well as questions to my pharmacist and health link line. Good luck, friend, you’re not alone.

Balancing anxiety and school.

donthavetobeperfect

I am currently working on my application for a bachelor’s program in social work. I applied last year, and due to a reference problem and average grades that couldn’t compete in the program I was declined. I had to tell myself that I had been finally diagnosed that year and I had significant difficulties adjusting – especially with medications. It was okay to try again. I am trying again this year with some boosted grades, fantastic references from some wonderful people and more volunteer experience. My application certainly looks a lot better.

So the question here is – why am I approaching this like I have already failed? I have put off my essay requirements of my application, even though I’ve already done the hard work of asking for references and volunteering with a club on campus that promotes mental health awareness (if you’re on campus, check out their events or consider volunteering! MHA UCalgary). I’ve done the part that requires me to hang up my anxiety for a little while, take a step and ask for what I want or interact with others about mental health, which at first was extremely emotional and difficult to do. And yet, I still discredit my work and knowledge and start the snowball of anxiety every time I sit down to finish the last piece of the application. I had given myself a deadline for the first week of February, and look at where we are now.

I’ve spoken before about letting go of the outcome. In practice, it is a great deal more difficult to accomplish, I understand. If you’re stuck on the outcome like I am right now, here are a few things to remember before you give up.

1. Take a break from it for a little while, but don’t avoid it. Make a cup of tea, watch ONE episode of something you enjoy on Netflix (Downton Abbey, anyone?), take a walk with a furry friend or cuddle them for a little while, write it down in a blog or a journal and get your feelings out in a healthy way, or check out some positive blogs/vlogs that encourage you to keep going. I really feel a lot better after I’ve read something from The Mighty as it encompasses people who are trying as hard as I am – and in a lot of cases, even harder. Other times I’ll watch some beauty gurus like Kathleen LightsJaclyn Hill, or Glam & Gore, who are all talented and beautiful ladies who are open about the importance of mental health, being good to yourself and reminding you how beautiful of a person you are.

2. Make yourself a list of what you have to accomplish, but also include what you have accomplished. Some days, getting out of bed is the best accomplishment that I can award myself, and being a gold star person, you bet your ass I’m going to be giving myself a gold star for that. Remember that any indication that you are trying is going to be a huge step over the days where you can’t try anything.

3. Talk to someone, even if it’s in an anonymous situation. R/Anxiety is a tool I even used last night and woke up to a response this morning of a total stranger reminding me that it is okay and that I need to breathe, remember that if I don’t get in and have to find a job – interviews are hard for everyone, and interviewers totally understand that. This isn’t the end of my life, just a bump in the road. Do you still feel like you have no one? You’re reading this blog right now, send me a message. I’ll be your person.

4. Take care of yourself. If you’re stressed, you’re likely going to forget to eat, drink, and shower. Or maybe you will overeat, drink more wine than you initially set out to, and still forget to shower. Set down whatever is stressing you and grab yourself a shower. I always feel like a whole new person when I get out of the shower, and I spend a lot of time thinking in the shower – but calmly. Being around water seems to really help me and I hope that you will find it helps you too.

This advice may seem similar to what I’ve posted about before, but it’s important to keep repeating it – especially for myself when I feel like I should just give up. At the end of the day, remember that if you give your best, that is all anyone can ask. But you have to be honest with yourself about what your best really is. I know that right now, this empty word document is not my best, and today is a new day, right now is a new moment, and I am strong enough to finish it. Now that my break is done, I hope that you will join me in mustering up some courage to finish this paper off, know that I did my best with it and let go any anxiety about what they will think or if they will accept me because I know that I have given it my all.

Finally having a ‘normal’ sleep.

4amknowsall

My anxiety visits me without fail every night. I enter the battle of snowballing about things I have to do, things I didn’t do, things I should have said or things I should not have said. I am often unable to fall asleep before 3am, and even more often it’s 6 or 7am before I am finally able to fall asleep. Unfortunately, I also crash pretty hard when I finally sleep, so I end up missing the majority of my day. This often results in missed classes, appointments and other social things. I usually wake up in the late afternoon, guilting myself for missing everything I should have accomplished that day and feeling frustrated that I slept through 5 or 6 alarms.

Last night I was able to sleep before 11pm. I wasn’t sure what came over me, but I was actually tired at night. I got ready for bed before my boyfriend had even gone to bed, which is a feat in itself because he usually tries to go to bed early as he works early. I managed to fall asleep fairly quickly and even though I woke up a few times during the night, I was able to fall back asleep instead of waking up and staying awake for hours. I woke up at 9am today and I don’t remember the last time I saw 9am from this side of the day.

If you’re reading this and you cannot relate with my troubles sleeping, I don’t think I can put into words how amazing it was to fall asleep at a ‘normal’ time and wake up at a reasonable hour. I opened my eyes to see the light shining through my window as usual, but when I looked at my phone to see the time – it was still in single digits. I felt a rush of relief wash over me because I had the whole day ahead of me to do whatever – even if I just took the day to read and cuddle with my dogs, I had the whole day.

After I reveled in the time of day with the hallelujah chorus playing in my mind, I frantically tried to remember everything I did last night to make myself fall asleep quickly so I can try to replicate tonight. That’s my experience with sleep. It’s often such a battle to quiet my mind so that I can fall asleep, so when I do have a good sleep, I need to remember everything that I possible can about what I did so that I can try my best to do it again. I’ve always had troubles sleeping and I’ve always envied those who can hit the pillow and fall asleep. Especially if they can wake up with only one or two snoozes of the alarm in the morning and still attend things before 11am.

In taking the advice of my recent post – I’m going to celebrate the crap out of this day. No matter what happens today that may stand in my way, at least I was awake to experience it. It may seem like a small feat, but I can’t begin to express how proud of myself I am right now. I don’t have to make an excuse for why I can’t meet up before 3pm if I have days like this.

For when you can’t catch a break.

yourenotamess

Lately, my anxiety has been an unwelcome visitor that won’t go away. I have been stuck at a 5/10 on a scale of no anxiety-all the anxiety and I can’t seem to lower it. This also means that when my panic attacks come, they seem more intense and make me more exhausted than ‘normal’. I have a few go-to tricks for when I’m stuck in this rut and I want to give up.

1. Let go of the outcome.

My anxiety loves it when I’m making mistakes. It will nitpick and laugh at everything I’m doing wrong and will push me right down that hill of snowballing until I am in full panic mode. It might just be that I am cooking dinner, dropping things, burning things, overcooking or undercooking, but that somehow ends up being a reflection on who I am as a person. When I start to notice that I’m really reacting to the mistakes I am making, I remind myself to let it go – cue Idina Menzel.

It’s hard to admit that you can’t control the result of what is happening – because you have either already overcooked your spaghetti noodles or you’re waiting on someone else to act, but it is necessary. I remind myself that this is just a moment in my day, I can choose to fix what has happened, or I can adapt to a new solution, and it doesn’t reflect on me or control the entirety of how my day goes.

2. Celebrate everything, no matter how small.

Since I’m on reading break this week, I had high hopes of catching up on readings, working on my application to social work, and really deep cleaning our entire messy house. I spent most of the day in bed, beating myself up for not being able to sleep the night before and feeling exhausted. But, I managed to get all the dishes that were piling up in massive stacks done. I had to give myself a gold star and be proud that I got out of bed, I did something to improve my environment and that was good. When Jeff got home tonight, I even made spaghetti – his favourite dish and one I haven’t made in a long time. I took a second to look at what I was doing and I looked over to him saying “I’m COOKING!” with a giant smile on my face. I finished off cooking dinner feeling like a badass, knowing that I haven’t cooked a real meal in weeks.

I’m really lucky that I have someone who understands that these little things are giant steps some days and that it’s important to celebrate with me. It took a while for him to understand, but now that we are on the same page, it is so so so helpful. I often make a mental list of things that I did during the day that I can be proud of myself for. Sometimes, it’s as small as showering or taking the dogs out when I’ve been feeling extremely agoraphobic, but it’s important to remember that you are worthy of that little celebration.

3. Reward yourself with things that make you happy.

I am all too familiar with those days where I feel like the elephant is sitting on my chest and making his home there. Getting out of bed, putting on clothes, and attending to responsibilities are way too much to ask on those days, which starts a whole new branch of self-guilting and many unkind thoughts. I try to find something that I look forward to – whether it’s binge watching some bad reality TV, picking up that new lip colour I really, really want, or playing some nerd games. When I have completed something, I will give myself some time to indulge in what I enjoy. I have found a new love for following makeup gurus on YouTube and feel really calm and engaged when I am watching a new video, which encourages me to get out of bed and grab my computer to see if they have uploaded a new video this week. It also often inspires me to go have a shower and try out a new look I just watched. I’ve seen a huge difference in my ability to girl since I have started following them and it makes me proud to see how I can accomplish new looks – and I have been getting so many compliments!

Before I give up and fall deep into that hole of anxiety and depression, I try these things. Most of the time, I will feel a little less at war with myself when I try them, even if that feeling only lasts an hour. Relief is relief, and I hope that any of these suggestions will help someone else who is experiencing the same thing I am.

Healthy anxiety?

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I remember sitting in my abnormal psychology class and my professor comes out with this phrase of ‘healthy anxiety’. I was instantly confused – how is an increase of heart rate, shallow breathing and higher blood pressure healthy for you? What he meant by this was a moderate amount of anxiety that pushes you to perform well at things. Would you have scored that goal if you weren’t a little nervous that your giant opponent coming after you was going to take that chance away from you? Would you have aced your last exam if you weren’t just anxious enough to make sure you studied as hard as you could?

Healthy anxiety pushes you to perform well. Where we go wrong is when it stops you from doing well. My anxiety changed from worrying about my grades on a test to being unable to even study. I felt cross-eyed and I couldn’t focus on any of the words I was reading in my textbook, even if the concepts were simple. I had to read the same sentences over and over again to even comprehend what the topic was about.

Since my experience is within an academic setting, I can only suggest methods of alleviating some anxiety that relate to resources available for students. Also input disclaimer that I am not a medical professional, so my advice is simply based on my experiences. But here’s what worked for me:

1. Ask for help.

What I first did was gathering the courage to speak to my family doctor. Here in Canada, I was able to make an appointment with her and get the referrals I needed to focus on mental health. I signed up with my school’s student accessibility services, had my family doctor fill out the required forms, and the SAS was able to make accommodations for me. They are there to help you, and are usually extremely creative to find out what works for you the best. My accommodations were things like having a program that reads my textbook for me, so I could focus on listening to the words instead of reading them. I also write my exams in a distraction-free environment, where I am able to take breaks if I get overwhelmed and they won’t count against my time. Things like these accommodations really took a load off.

2. Let music pull you forward, but not distract you.

The things that I did outside of school to help my anxiety really helped as well. I created a music playlist of songs that had no lyrics, were calming and had a steady, slow beat. Studies since the 1950s have looked into the detrimental effect that high tempo music has on studying and reading comprehension. Music has the ability to influence your emotions, and when you’re dealing with anxiety – you really don’t need anything else that is adding an obstacle. These studies have shown that soft, relaxing music has no obvious change to performance in studying and reading comprehension, but can help with mood. (If you want to look into this more and do not have access to a scholarly journal database, you can check out this article).

3. Take control of your environment.

Another thing about those who struggle with anxiety is that we are often stressed out by our environments. When I can’t control my environment, my desk is out of control or I am completely disorganized, I can’t focus and I get both irritated and even more anxious. The best thing that I can do in that situation is clear off my desk, sort out my books, articles, writing tools, etc. in a way that they are all easily accessible and light a candle or pull out my essential oil diffuser. Aromatherapy has done wonders for my anxiety. I began looking into it after wandering in to a store in a mall one day and haven’t looked back since. I do not ingest the oils, but I simply have pleasing blends diffused throughout my home so that when I get particularly anxious, I can take a deep breath and focus on the smell.

4. Build a support system.

Because I had kept my diagnosis quiet at the beginning out of fear of being stigmatized, I felt like I had no where to go except to my boyfriend. A friend directed me to Reddit to get involved in the r/Anxiety community. I read threads of other anxietybrain-type people and started to feel like I wasn’t alone. Soon enough, I made posts of my own and managed to get a lot of advice through their community. This support group helped me get through a lot of obstacles that I was going through in a way that offered outside/third-party advice. Sometimes I convinced myself that Jeff was telling me what I wanted to hear instead of what I needed to hear, and I would often bring the concern up in r/Anxiety and 9 times out of 10 got the same response. It was a way to deal with what I was going through with people who also were going through the same thing. Though I lean on Jeff a lot, r/Anxiety was always there when he was at work, when it was late at night, or when I just needed the opinion or advice of someone who is going through the same thing.

The biggest thing to remember is that you’re not alone. There are resources out there that you don’t even have to leave your bed to use. That knowledge in itself will help a great deal.

Every story has a beginning.

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Maybe you can relate. I was always a high-strung, worry wart kind of child, but the first clue should have been the chest pain that started when I was 12. It would come out of nowhere – the sharp scalpel ripping through my lungs, making it harder and harder to inhale. I always felt like I was going to run out of air, like I was drowning on land.

I’ve had tests done. All the tests; tests on my lungs in small glass rooms, tests on my heart with cold goo, and all the X-rays I could dream of. My doctor kept ordering these tests to figure out what was wrong with me physically. Of course she asked if I felt stressed or anxious, but no – no I was normal. I didn’t have anxiety. I was a young teen and I just had normal young teen problems: my crush liked the prettiest girl in my class, I just wanted to be kissed and I was constantly running out of black eyeliner.

When I started dating Jeffery and the episodes would happen, it always seemed to help when he rubbed my back or gently wrapped his arms around me. I had gone through 5 years already of these chest pains and finally something made going through them a lot easier. Even still, no one clued in. I had gone to emergency several times, short of breath and feeling like this time was it, I’d be finished. Each time I had a new suggestion of where the pain was coming from. The muscles in my chest were spasming and I should just take ibuprofen. I slouch too much and I’m overextending my muscles. It’s a symptom related to my Asthma. They always made Jeff sit in the waiting room, a precaution in case he was abusing me. That was the worst of it, though. Hospitals and I are not the best of friends and my person was separated from me.

I started doing poorly in university. I began my academic journey strong, a student of Psychology, with high hopes of becoming a child psychologist. That soon changed to an elementary school teacher. But then my grades began to slip. I felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest most of the time. Sometimes he would make my chest hurt and make it hard to breathe, but most of the time he just made it difficult to get up. My grades fell dramatically, mostly because I wasn’t attending classes. Finally I just gave up and quit.

I really don’t remember much of that year. I do remember my friends graduating. Photos were shared across Facebook of proud young students holding their shiny new degrees, excited for the promise of what was in store for them in the next few months. Many of them were entering the professional world, moving out and starting to figure out who they were as adults. Many were taking their end of university trip around the world. I was stuck in bed. Social media was like another elephant that sat on my chest and weighed me down, reminding me how much I had failed.

Jeff and I fought a lot. He accused me of being distant and lazy – which to a great extent I was. I was jealous, I felt like he was going to leave me at any second. I was stuck in a loop of worst-case scenario all the time. I started to try to make more of an effort, but it was hard. It was like trying to run underwater. We decided to get a dog together and we adopted a rescue mini Aussie that we named Loki.

Loki began to make a difference in my life. He was extremely aware of my emotional state and often came over to me with kisses or asked to play when he knew I was upset. I went everywhere with him and enjoyed every second I was with him. He followed me around like a lost puppy and we seemed to be inseparable.

I started to feel a little better. I signed up for classes again and was determined to finish my degree. I had changed my degree so many times, each time going to easier and easier programs. I was now in a communication and culture arts degree with no direction, but it was something and I would work to get back into psychology. I met up with an academic advisor with high hopes and bright determination. I knew that the requirements to get into psychology were higher now, but I was determined that after this semester, I’d be able to get back into it because I was going to go back to my A-student, gold-star ways.

The academic advisor told me that I’d have to get an A in every class in order to even think about getting into psychology. I started to panic. That was a lot of pressure. I was still hopeful and I lifted my chin and took on the challenge. But then I got my first test mark back in Brain and Behaviour. It was a B. The advisor told me I had to get an A in every class and all I could look at was that mark – it was a B. That wasn’t good enough. I thought I was panicking before, but nothing could have prepared me for the spiral of panic I was about to go down.

I started freaking out at every mistake. My anxiety began to develop in ways that I hadn’t recognized to be anxiety. I lashed out easily, irritated and angry. My brain didn’t have enough space for anything but the constant snowball I was in – If I don’t get an A on this test, I will fail this class. If I fail this class, I will fail this semester. If I fail this semester, I won’t get into psychology. If I don’t get into psychology, I won’t amount to anything. If I don’t amount to anything, I’ll die alone in a hole with rats because no one will love me.

I decided to see a counsellor at the wellness centre. It wasn’t working. I was panicking right now, but he was focusing on my life history. He focused on my family issues: living with a sick mother, who later became bound to a wheelchair for the foreseeable future. My issues with my father and all the fights we had. This wasn’t helping the now, though. I was panicking right now and my grades were failing and I was snowballing all the time. I left my psych midterm half blank because I was so caught up in the snowball. I gave up and went to my family doctor. Maybe she could help me.

Immediately, she put me on an antidepressant, got me registered with my student accessibility services for anxiety, and referred me to a psychiatrist. Officially, I was diagnosed with panic disorder, social anxiety and OCD. And it was scary. I grew up with mental illness in my family and knew how quickly they were ostracized. “She did well despite her issues“. “— isn’t doing well today, Erin. Be extra kind”. It was a disease to tiptoe around and make excuses for. And all I thought about was that I was going to become my diagnosis, and I would stop being me.

Jeff really stepped up to the plate. He became my rock and learned how to help me calm down from my cycle of panic. It was a work in progress, but it was helping. Loki also picked up on my struggling and he began to help me as well. We started to teach him to also help me come down from a panic attack, and it was like he already knew what to do. He would come over to me, give me kisses, nudge me, and eventually come up for a hug. Often he would try to get me to lay down and he’d lay on my chest, which offered a release from the anxiety loop I was stuck in.

Although this beginning has been long, it was a real testament to how easy it is to shove aside mental health as the root of the issue. Now 24, I spent nearly 12 years trying to figure out the cause of my pain and the reason why I wasn’t keeping up with my peers. Though my journey isn’t finished yet – as it has been over a year since I was diagnosed and I’ve been on a whirlwind of trying out new medications, therapy and figuring out what works, I can at least put a name to it. I hope anyone out there in internetland who managed to stay with me through this long-winded tale and is struggling as well can feel a little better knowing that they aren’t alone. I hope to use this blog to offer my opinions, resources and be real about my anxiety, even if no one else reads it. I tried to write things down in a journal, but I feel more at home with my laptop where I can write as quickly as my brain is going – which let me tell you, it goes a mile a minute.