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!”

Advertisements

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: Psychiatrists

There are some things every person should know about people who seek psychiatric care.

STIGMA

Look, not all of us with mental illness are eating other people’s faces on the side of a highway in Florida. I mean, some of us are, but most people who seek or are in need of psychiatric care are average folks you interact with regularly: your colleague, your grandchild, your mail person, your stepdad, the person two people behind you in line at the grocery store, or you.

Unfortunately it’s common for a lot of people to suffer in silence and confusion. Not only do they need care, but they also often have no idea where to begin in terms of finding the right doctor, are overwhelmed by the expense, and have to deal with the crippling, unnecessary stigma attached to mental health issues. This stigma holds us all back from achieving ideal health and an optimal quality of life.

COST

My psychiatrist, like most psychiatrists, has chosen not to deal with insurance companies due to their overcomplicated nature, but without a psych I am unable to access the meds I desperately need. So, this dissonance then falls on the person in need of care, in this case, me.

Can you imagine that in New York City it costs me $400 to see my psychiatrist for 50 minutes? Aside from our car payment, my mental health is the biggest monthly expense for me and Rick. You may be wondering, “Why doesn’t she just seek out a psychiatrist her insurance covers?” Let me back up a moment.

CONNECTIVITY

Finding a psychiatrist you connect with is like dating, only the stakes are higher. Not only are you looking for someone you get along with personally, you’re searching for the right fit medicinally. You want to be in someone’s care who takes more than 20 minutes every four months to understand the inner-workings of your mind and know what meds would best compliment your brain chemistry. The consequence of faulty prescription can be lethal.

Couple this ideology with the fact that a new psychiatrist means a fresh emotional upheaval. You’re having to rehash everything that may be helpful to the doctor to assess your mental needs, and that requires a verbalized excavation of traumatic experiences. It sucks. The longer you’re with a psychiatrist, the harder it is to leave them because you’ve been so productive throughout your sessions, digging deeper and deeper. The better they know you, the better they can help you. Psychiatrists can brief other psychs on incoming patients, but no memo can take the place of hours spent doing deep dives into your head.

ACCESSIBILITY

HOT SPORTS OPINION ALERT! Another disconnect that, to me, causes an egregious margin of error in the specific realm of medicating mental illness is the psychologist / psychiatrist team up. This model has a patient regularly seeing a psychologist who then communicates their thoughts to a psychiatrist, who then prescribes meds back to the patient. Psychologists cannot prescribe meds and are often cheaper and, therefore, more accessible. It’s certainly better than nothing, but to me this kind of two step care leaves too much room for poor communication and subpar RX.

BRAVERY

It takes a lot of guts to go into a room and figure out how to be comfortable being vulnerable in front of a stranger. It also often takes months to review what a patient may perceive as “obvious” issues before moving onto to unsuspecting things in life, which are sometimes the most insidious and medically informative. It takes time, and it takes gumption. And remember, if the doc is a bad fit, the person seeking care has to start all over again with a new doc. Speaking from experience, this redundant process contributes to mental strain.

It’s so important to normalize the discussion of psychiatric care and to be empathic and encouraging toward those who seek it.

What have your psychiatrist or psychologist experiences been like? Have you had any particular hang ups? Comment below.


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: Dealing With Suicide

TRIGGER WARNINGS: self-harm / suicide

A friend hit me up this week broken-hearted that yet another one of their friends had taken their life. They asked if I might explore the complexities of dealing with suicide and raise general awareness here on Bummed Out Baker and I am going to do my best. Please know that I mean to approach the topic with the utmost sensitivity, and am writing about it not for sensationalism, but in hopes of providing solace or understanding regarding suicide.

My first thought on suicide is that it is, of course, deeply personal. When someone takes their own life, unless you’ve been in their very position, the idea of teetering on that edge between life and death is incomprehensible. However, more people than you might think have contemplated the act, several of whom are the people in your life you’d least suspect.

I’ll begin by laying my cards on the table. In 2008, before I was properly medicated under the supervision of a good psychiatrist, I hoped for death most every night. I was 19. I feel like chronic depression (or other mental illnesses) are like addiction / sobriety, in a way. If you’re an addict who doesn’t keep a close eye on the maintenance of their sobriety, a trigger that leads to a slip could sneak up on you. (In this vein, I can’t help but think of the tragic death of the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman. Read the moving piece from his partner here.) Mental illness is similar. Sometimes brains need a medicinal switch up, and if you’re not monitoring the effectiveness of your current (or absence of) RX, dark thoughts and ideas can begin to infiltrate your psyche and then start to seem reasonable. Something else to be aware of is that suicidal ideation can be heightened in the first several weeks of taking a new medication. A medication can also blatantly make things worse – the whole thing is a precarious trial and error to be treated with sensitivity and care. While my thoughts of death still come and go, with therapy and medications I am able to better manage with self-talk. Like I’ve said before, I don’t know when the cloud will left, but I know it eventually will.

I believe suicide to be about interiority, something happening on the inside that feels irreparable, a drought of hope that can never be replenished due to circumstance or chemical imbalance. After the initial shock, denial, and guilt, some people believe suicide to be selfish. An English teacher of mine in college opened my eyes to an alternative idea when she likened viewing suicide as selfish to wanting someone to walk around in shoes that are killing them with blood and blisters for the rest of their life, simply because it would make you (another person) feel better. When you think about it, of course that’s not something anyone would want for a loved one. But feeling that there is no way out is also something no one would want for a loved one. One of the hardest things to accept is that someone else’s suicide is not your fault. The layers of complexity continue.

When I was in high school in the early 2000s, we had about one kid a year die by suicide. Another kid would’ve gone to my high school, but he took his life while still in junior high. Kids. While this was post-Columbine, it was before the violent normalization and seemingly general acceptance of mass school shootings and before the internet loomed over every young person, a constant highlight reel produced by their peers. Social media is like a mutant toxicant that’s arrived to plague people in their formative years, a time that’s already painful enough. There is incredible pressure to be or look a certain way, and much of online presence is edited and curated to portray an idealized façade. I am 30 years old and cannot imagine that kind of weight, so I can’t fathom what it’s like to be a 15 year-old today.

While some people with suicidal tendencies are proactive towards death, others are indifferent, not trying to die while also not caring if they, in fact, do. This is different from the fleeting feeling of invincibility that typically couples with adolescence. It’s a step beyond, a matured nonchalance rooted in numbness caused by depression.

Suicide is often discussed in private, hushed tones with tearful words recounting the devastating circumstance of a self-inflicted death of a loved one. When we openly talk about suicide and self-harm, though, we make it okay for people to come out and talk about issues they may be having, which can lead to life-changing help.

While it may sometimes seem suicide may be the only route to relief, it’s simply untrue.

What can you do?

  1. Create community by normalizing the open discussion of thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Delay judgement. Open yourself to people and be receptive to what others have to say. Talk about it!
  2. Call any applicable government representatives to voice your concerns about prioritizing mental health resources and accessibility to the general public.
  3. If you have the means, donate to mental health nonprofit organizations. These orgs often provide resources, community, and solace to those in need and are unable to find elsewhere. At this point in time, these operations are a societal imperative.
  4. This is a bit pointed, but snuggling and talking to beloved pets, especially dogs, lowers BP, is calming, and helps pare down stress. There’s a growing body of research that points to mental comfort of being with your pet. (See: Harvard Health) I often tell my golden retrievers “You bring me so much comfort and joy!” while giving them belly rubs and ear scratches and I don’t know if they know what I’m saying, and I most certainly sound nuts (spoiler: because I am), but it sure does make me feel better.
  5. Always, always remember, if you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

I’ll leave you all with this touching music video. It’s a couple years old, but remains important. Also, Logic looks like Steve Brady. Bonus!


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.