Mental Health: No, You Don’t “Have Anxiety”

I’m gonna try to keep my cool here because, if you’ve been reading BOB for a while, you know I get fired up about word impeccability.

I’ve known about word impeccability ever since I read the book The Four Agreements ten years ago. It essentially champions saying what you mean and meaning what you say, something that’s not as simply employed as it seems. It remains on my nightstand as a reminder to this day.

I learned about the nuance of word impeccability as it pertains to specific people while working at Special Olympics International down in D.C. People first language, such as “Tabitha uses a wheelchair” versus “Tabitha is wheelchair-bound” and “Frankie has autism” versus “Frankie is autistic” gives agency to the person being described and also eradicates the physical or intellectual disability from defining the person being described.

Shortly after adopting this language I realized its parallels to the mental health community. “Sarah has Bipolar Disorder” versus “Sarah’s Bipolar” or “The psychiatrist says the man may have borderline personality disorder” versus “the man is borderline”. It’s essentially the use of “is” (defining) versus “has” (one descriptor).

Alright, now, where word impeccability gets personal is with the flippant use of the word “anxiety”.

When I was 13 years old, the summer before I went to high school, I went with my family to a sold out showing of a blockbuster. Every seat was filled and the movie was original, visually arresting and, for me, an absolute terror fest.

I was seated next to my mom right in the middle of a packed row mid-theater, ideal seats for most. Except I began to experience anxiety that I would not be able to quickly exit the situation. If I did, I’d upset people by making them have to stand up to let me by (this was long before recliners) and then upset them again by side-stepping back to my seat in front of their view. And then, what if I had to get up again?

Wait, is that an urge to pee? No, wait, I’m going to vomit. Yep, I’m certainly going to vomit and ruin this movie for everyone in seats around me.

My body became drenched in sweat despite the generously air-conditioned theater. I slipped around in my seat and gripped the arm rests. I began to panic, and my mom glanced over me and saw my white face. She had no idea what to do, and couldn’t open up a conversation in the middle of the movie to do a deep dive on what the hell was wrong. She asked me if I was okay, and I couldn’t even open my mouth to respond. If I did, I’d certainly vomit.

What if this is my last moment? Oh, god, I’m going to die in this movie theater. This is it.

My body turned rigid.

Isn’t this how a seizure begins? I’m going to die here in this velour seat with popcorn stuck to my sweat after I fall to the ground. I’m going to choke on my tongue. This is it. This is it. This is it.

My mom pulled papers out of her bag and began fanning me. She didn’t know what to do, either.

What was this?

I might as well not have been in a theater, because my thoughts were solely on survival. My thoughts had literally turned to death. When the fanning cooled me off, my heart began to slow, but the terror of leaving my seat made me stay in my seat until, finally, the movie ended. When the credits rolled people began to leave their seats, the bottoms springing back up to meet their seat backs with a thud, clearing the aisles. As they exited the theater, my body began to relax. I was physically exhausted and dazed as I walked out into the merciless sunlight. Instead of jabbering excitedly about a great movie, I was just working to get my body to the car.

On the way out I saw one of the “hottest” guys from school and we waved at each other. I gave him a weak smile. I was so relieved to be seeing him then instead of when I almost hurled in the theater. Don’t even get me started on dealing with undiagnosed mental illness in the throes of the social stressors of puberty…

People, that is a panic attack.

An anxiety attack is like a panic attack’s more reasonable cousin, as the former usually has an identifiable source. Panic attacks come out of nowhere and I’ve been absolutely plagued by both of these experiences since childhood.

It really upsets me when someone says they’re having anxiety and it doesn’t have anything to do with mental incapacitation. It downplays the experiences of people who truly have anxiety or panic disorders. It downplays the plight that trails me everywhere I go like some hungry, stray dog. It downplays true suffering and further hurts those afflicted.

Being anxious is a normal feeling fueled by cortisol that is a part of our survival mechanisms as humans. It comes and goes in appropriate situations, like job interviews or first dates. You can be anxious, but you’re not having anxiety. You’re not having an anxiety or panic attack.

You. Are. Simply. Anxious.

Someone who actually has anxiety is like their internal jug of cortisol gets dumped over in unsuspecting, often inopportune moments that deteriorate quality of life. In the 90s and 2000s I didn’t have language to describe what I was going through and felt completely isolated. Now that there’s common language for these disorders, people throw it around like a frisbee. Now, when I tell someone I have anxiety, it’s written off because “everyone” has it. That’s incorrect and, again, downplays the very real mental illness I suffer from.

It’s a blessing and a curse, really, the growing commonality of language pertaining to mental illness. While I’m glad people are able to talk more openly about their issues, others casually adopt the wording to describe every day feelings.

As I work hard to linguistically respect others with descriptors instead of definers, I wish to receive the same respect, myself. Please, work hard to respect people by using the correct wording. Everyone deserves that fundamental consideration.

I know this is going up the day before the 4th of July so, as Kevin G and the Power of Three would say after an aggressive performance, “Happy holidays, everybody!”

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Mental Health: Depression Suppression!!!

On Wednesday I got bilateral foot surgery for boring, non-urgent reasons – basically something that was going to get worse with age. My insurance and timelines aligned and I decided to just go ahead and knock it out. I’m set to have my full mobility back in two months, a couple weeks before school starts again.

Before the surgery I did as much as I could physically and tried to postpone all stationary activities for post-op. I raced around to finish a job for Tidy B Organizing, I cooked ahead of schedule for Bummed Out Baker, I went and got ~the final pedicure~. For the first week of recovery I wasn’t meant to walk more than to the bathroom or maybe to the kitchen to grab something (definitely not to stand around to cook), and not much else. Stationary was compulsory. Stationary was good.

The day after surgery, I woke up and relished relaxing in bed all day, watching bad TV, lolligagging on my phone, and housing the cupcakes my sister in-law and brother sent me. On Friday I felt an inkling of stir crazy coming on. How long was I gonna be in this bed, again? By Saturday the dishes had begun to pile up around me and remained far longer than typical me would ever allow (Rick was in charge. Rick is relaxed. Be like Rick). Unwrapped packages littered the desk, random shoes weren’t put away, and clothes were slung over the chair. I’ve never been a clothes-over-chair-slinger, and it was painful to look at. When I managed to hobble into the kitchen while Rick was away working, I was aghast at the damage done without my religious dish-doing and counter-wiping. I hustled back to my bedroom as fast as a foot-bound, drugged up person can and shut the door, hiding away like Quasimodo. I got back in bed and looked around me. Picked up a book, set it back down. Opened Instagram to find nothing new from ten minutes before, swiped up to close it. Got tired of Gilmore Girls, so I just slept. And slept, and slept, and slept. I’m famed among my friends and family for sleeping suspicious amounts, which my psychiatrist has pegged as my emotional escape mechanism, so you’d think this would be my dream (see what I did there). At first, it was. But then I got tired… of sleeping. The pinnacle of my emotional spiral was when Rick made an innocent joke and I burst into tears. #PoorRick

There is no busy work I can do, no collecting Rick’s damn Nicorette wrappers that seem to infiltrate every crevice of everywhere, no bathroom sink to wipe off. I grew terribly depressed in a matter of days and then realized the depression wasn’t new, it was simply emerging from the mountain of unnecessary tasks I typically bury it with. Instead of scuttling around the house doing things that don’t really matter, I was forced to write on Bummed Out Baker, brainstorm marketing for Tidy B Organizing, workshop fellow writers in my collective, organize my digital photos and analog notes, read, write, and reckon. I was being forced to reckon with myself and what’s going on in my head. When there is no choice, there is no excuse. I lean so firmly on busy work to numb my mind that being forced to take a literal seat for weeks at a time has left me with some interesting tea leaves at the bottom of my cup, if you nom sayin’.

these Mickey Mouse feet crack me up every time

Written on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Depression Lies to You
Mental Health: Guilt and Golden Retrievers and Headaches
Mental Health: Weight Gain and Mental Medications


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Guilt and Golden Retrievers and Headaches

Another day, another bout of random, crippling depression.

I texted Rick asking him to please bring Apollo (XXL golden retriever) to the city with him when he comes back from playing golf on Long Island because he brings me great comfort and joy. When I’m having a blue day like today, to hug and snug with Apollo for just one day (before he returns to the wide reaches of a yard a dog his size deserves) does wonders for my mood. When Rick confirmed Apollo was coming into the city for the night I walked around smiling like a nut. In case you’ve somehow missed it in my writing so far, I am, indeed, nuts.*

I woke up with a gnarly headache. Again. I’ve been especially suspicious of booze lately but, save for a 1/2 tablespoon of Triple Sec used in the strawberries romanoff recipe, I haven’t had a sip since a friend’s wedding Rick and I attended last week.

Yesterday evening I had my first visit to an acupuncture / medical massage place that not only accepts my insurance, but that I also have unlimited visits to. After years of being wrecked by migraines that stem from stress and tension, a lot caused by my all night teeth clenching, this was a huge W in an effort to curb my headaches. After my ridiculous psychiatry bill, I feel like my emergency deep tissue massages were our second biggest expense.

My headaches are unruly and relentless. They’re unresponsive to sleep, caffeine, and Excedrin. They often bring me to nausea and, sometimes, when everything is really magical and the stars align, vomiting.

When Rick and I were in Mexico for a dear friend’s wedding, for whom I was a bridesmaid, one of the days I was completely knocked out due to a migraine. After fighting through a speech, I had to leave the rehearsal dinner early before I hurled or something. We returned to the boutique hotel that had no TV, so I passed out while I imagine Rick just kind of sat there staring into the dark void. Poor Rick.

The first Christmas Rick ever spent with my family, we’d gone to my great aunt’s house and my headache was so bad I had to lay down, leaving Rick with a bunch of people he’d just met. While he enjoyed going to visit my great aunt and uncle’s herd of cattle, a comically exaggerated way for someone to be introduced to Texas, it was still a little uncomfy for him. Poor Rick.

I had a terrible headache the day of my prom and, as the night wore on, it morphed into a migraine. My boyfriend and I had to leave early. He was a metal dude who didn’t really want to be there in the first place, or else I’d say “poor boyfriend”. He was probably thinking about Slayer or Hands of the Few or something, but I was thinking about how crushed I was to miss a chunk of prom.

When I am laid up with a migraine, I get frustrated about missing, well, life, and my mood plummets. I hate to be more high maintenance than usual, which causes me to then become more guilt-ridden than usual. With general clinical depression, I am often plagued by a baseline of guilt. I do my very best, but there are some days when it feels like a herculean task to just get out of bed. No matter how productive a day I might have, I always feel bad about not doing enough. Regularly being laid up with a splitting headache exacerbates this feeling. In my dark moments I try to remember that depression lies.

Guilt, guilt, guilt. Plummet, plummet, plummet.

One time I saw a psychiatrist here in New York who looked like Einstein. He’d written a book about Catholic guilt and kept trying to peg my issues on Catholic guilt, even when I told him repeatedly that I wasn’t Catholic. I didn’t see fake Einstein for very long, but I suppose he was onto something.

Does guilt accompany your mental health issues? If so, how do you deal with it?

*I was singing “You are so Beautiful” to Apollo and he stalked out of the room mid-line. Upon further thought, I don’t blame him.

Written on Saturday, June 1, 2019.

Mental Health: Compassion Fatigue and Hyper-Empathy

Rick is annoyed that I’m self-diagnosing myself again, but I can’t help it. I was listening to a podcast* while getting ready for bed the other night when I burst out of the bathroom to enthusiastically announce my discovery to Rick: “Hey! I have compassion fatigue and hyper-empathy!” Did I mention I get into bed about 1:00am? Poor Rick, all he wanted was to fall asleep listening to inspiring football stories on YouTube. I just get so excited when I gain language for something I’ve been experiencing and unable to accurately put into words for years, especially as a writer. It was like the time I discovered “dual diagnosis” and “co-occurrence” to describe mental illness + addiction. Revelatory.

This study discusses compassion fatigue due to the overwhelming nature of social problems that leads to burnout. It’s from 1996 and is still relevant. The fact that this is a thing shouldn’t be surprising, taking into account the stressful existence of a 24-hour news cycle. Something else that will likely be to no one’s surprise: compassion fatigue is often experienced by social workers, hospice workers, nurses, and psychiatrists. Guess what I’m talking about next week with my psych?! Cause now I’m worried about him.

I worry about government corruption, our oceans and forests, people without quality / accessible medical care, those assholes at Texas A&M who give golden retrievers M.S. so they can do tests on them, violence against women all over the world, whether people next to me are comfortable and me thinking Did I hurt their feelings? over and over, whether the person on the subway next to me has enough personal space and then arranging myself so none of my belongings are in it**, whales in captivity not getting to swim long distances with their family members, the whale pup at SeaWorld who got taken away from its mom who then just sank to the bottom of her tank and audibly cried for days, whether the man running the newsstand downstairs is happy, the time I saw $20 fall out of someone’s pocket in high school and instead of returning it I kept it and now imagine them not eating for days because of me, racial justice and reparations, the guy in front of the subway stairs who’s leg is rotting off (so I called 911), gay people who aren’t included or treated with respect while I get to go off and marry Rick no problem and am even celebrated for it, hurting the feelings of the employees at Jersey Mike’s when I parked in front of their store only to walk next door to the taco shop, that time ten years ago when my dad called me because he hadn’t talked to me that day and I responded “Do we have to talk every day?”, gentle pigs and cows getting shot in the head for unnecessary human food, forgetting to send a gift or thank you note, not saying thank you enough in general, whether or not my parents are okay, whether or not my parents know how grateful I am, whether or not my golden retrievers are dehydrated or hungry or hot or sad or in pain because they can’t talk and tell me, whether I’ve signed enough petitions and done enough to effect policy change, it goes on and on and on.

I worry about people, animals, our planet, and whether I’ve upset anyone CON. STANT. LY. Like a tick, I feel the overwhelming need to interject to apologize or explain long after everyone’s forgotten about what I’m even talking about. I cannot focus until I clear the air of things perhaps only taking place in my brain.

My parents joke that I sleep so much because I’m emotionally exhausted at the end of each day. I chew through mouth guards, subconsciously toiling away about all the problems in the world, real or imagined. To remedy, I try not to feel bad about having a cocktail and turning my brain off to watch Real Housewives of Atlanta and Beverly Hills. In the podcast* they call this type of activity “babysitting your brain.” You know, just let my brain sit over there for a while. Meanwhile I’ll be over here, strong cape cod in hand, in case it needs me.

Fun fact: hyper-empathy and compassion fatigue can be linked to borderline personality disorder. 🎶 Learn something new every daAaAaAy 🎶

Does anyone else suffer from hyper-empathy or compassion fatigue? Do tell. Revisiting all of my pet worries was extremely tiring to write, so I’m gonna go sleep for three days straight, now.


*Listen to “Too Much Empathy” from the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You here.

**The other day I sat on the subway and the man next to me elbowed me twice in the side and, without looking at me, said “move over, you got all that space.” There were several inches between us, our bodies weren’t touching, and someone else’s stuff was on the other side of me. I am so conscious of other people’s space that I went home and burst into tears and told Rick I’d never be enough. Poor Rick 2: Electric Boogaloo.


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Saying No in the Spirit of Self-Care

I have a hard time saying no to people.

I don’t know if my trouble saying no stems from a fear of being disliked or seen as cold (often socialized in women, like our nauseating habit of over-apologizing*), or from PTSD of other people not being there for me or showing me mercy when I needed it most. I am still learning that I cannot be everything to everyone, or even something to everyone. Sometimes, for the sake of my mental health, I have to simply say no. It’s hard!

Rick started telling me that I emotionally give myself to everyone else and then, when I get home, I have nothing left for him, which breaks my heart. My allocation of energy is wrong if my MVP, my husband, feels shorted. It’s unfair that a friend or even acquaintance gets top shelf Bailey, and Rick is served up the dregs. Rick doesn’t deserve Everclear-in-a-plastic-bottle-Bailey, he deserves Belvedere-Bailey.

As a person who battles severe depression and anxiety, my energy is truly finite. I liken it to a gas tank, especially in regards to social situations: I only have so much to give before I need to go home, be alone, and refill my tank. There are very few people in the world I can be on empty around, which, for me, means I can be blue without questions or expectations to be acting otherwise. These people are mostly just Rick, my parents, and my brothers and sisters. And, that’s okay! One time my brother-in-law found me crying the bed in the dark while clinging to (and probably scaring) Apollo, the family golden retriever. He offered to make me a cocktail and then proceeded to sit in silence with me and watch Shrek. Just sitting there was all I needed. What a guy.

My psychiatrist and I joke that if me and Rick have a kid I can just be like “GOTTA-GO-CHASE-MY-KID BYEEEEE!” to anyone hogging my energy resources. (Don’t worry – no babies will be harmed in the making of my sanity.)

Overextending and overcommitting myself has become a nasty habit of mine. After feeling the muscle rocks that have formed under my skin on my shoulders and back last week, my horrified GP told me that I had three responsibilities: Rick, school, and yoga. Everything and everyone else must take a backseat. She then offered me muscle relaxers, to which I despondently replied, “all the world needs is another white woman on a bunch of pills”. My doctor, a WOC, laughed and didn’t deny my claim, but she didn’t not deny my claim. She gave me a topical ointment instead. Lol. She then reached out to me one week later with my blood lab results which indicated that I’d just had mono. MONO! I hold the world record for the oldest person to have ever had mono.

My call to action is to say no when you need to, and to be unapologetic when it comes to prioritizing your well being (or “well bean” as I like to say) over someone else’s perhaps insatiable desire to take, take, take with minimal or no return. It also doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Sometimes you’ve got to say no to going to that party, committing to that dinner, or doing unpaid work for a friend. If someone is a true friend, they’ll understand. Take stock of the people in your life, and then cultivate and invest in true blue relationships. Simply, protect yourself before you wreck yourself.

*The other day I apologized to a backpack. A BACKPACK!


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.