Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, October 16
Last week I challenged you to:
- Find one thing each day to be grateful for, write that down on a sticky or a note and put it in a place like your fridge or bathroom mirror where you will see it and them through the week.
- Share your gratitude with someone in your life.
- Practice kindness.
How did you do?
I did OK… but I didn’t follow the exact challenge.
I mindfully watched for things to be grateful for. I didn’t write those things down and post them – and that’s the intention thing I missed out on. So I will try to do that more this coming week.
Sharing my gratitude… I did OK with this… but I wasn’t stellar at it. The person I see most and often is my spouse. While I did take time to share some of the things I was grateful for – It wasn’t an intentional act to do so. Hmmm…
I did make a point of practicing kindness. I was kind in my interactions with other folks and with myself.
Not an excuse – but I pinched a nerve in my back this week and – well, if you have ever had a pinched nerve in your lower back – you know how – disruptive it can be to your day to day operations… I find that the only position that really gives me any relief from the stabs, jabs and aches is laying down… and I am sooo tired of that… anyway – I know that my sore back did play into my life this week and I won’t apologize for not being up to score because of that – cuz – well, there’s not a whole lot I can do for it… other than the relaxants and what not I am doing already… I am getting better – I can sit and stand for short periods now… but its still pinchy, jabby and sore…
I’m learning mindfulness – and part of mindfulness is accepting pain, circumstances and life… non-judgmentally, lovingly and caringly. This doesn’t make it any more possible to physically stand up – but it does make the acknowledgement that there isn’t a whole lot I can do – until I can actually move – palatable.
This week I would like to share a little about what having anxiety is like. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder a long – long time ago… my first dance with this was when I was 6 or 7 maybe… so it’s been a long, long road.
I can recall sitting in the doctors office, talking to my (the) doctor at the time… an old fellow at that time – Dr. Grynoch. He had patched me up from falls on fences, bicycle accidents, and all that stuff that comes with being a kid… so I knew him. I can remember him asking my mother to leave the room so that we could chat… I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I remember a lot of crying. Like I said – it was a long time ago. I remember that he gave my mother a prescription for me for some kind of medicine. I recall that I took those brown pills and then my mother had me taking some sort of herbal/natural stuff that she got that I have since learned was basically valerian root extract and some other stuff… anyway… the anxiety didn’t ever go away – but the visits with the doctor ended and I went on with my life.
My doctors now believe – feel – posit – that the anxiety was secondary to my ADHD – ADD and I have since had a change in diagnosis to reflect that. The change in my diagnosis doesn’t make me any less anxious, but I understand a bit more about the root cause of the anxiety.
So – I’ve been yapping about this anxiety stuff… what is it? I could give the dictionary definition or the definition from the DSM-V… but I don’t want my post to be a mile long with stuff that you can look up on the web of things…
To me – anxiety feels like fear – but its irrational. Fear is a reaction to a known threat – for instance – I’m out walking in the woods – and a cougar meets me face to face on the trail. In that instance – I experience fear. Anxiety feels the same – but there’s no real threat.
The thing with anxiety is that it snowballs really quickly. My anxiety can be paralyzing – I get stopped by “what ifs”, “I know buts”… and a myriad of other things… I can get so stuck that I turn around and walk away… both figuratively and actually.
So – anxiety for me is different from being scared too. Being scared is a short term – stimulus related response for me. Like when a ladder slips a little and there’s that instant where I’m scared that the ladder is going to fall. When I catch myself – the scare is gone… so being scared is a short term thing for me.
No – anxiety is this irrational sense of fear – “impending doom” – that is persistent and pervasive. My anxiety usually starts out really faint – as I move through my experience this faint pull at the bottom of my gut grows and grows… The sense of fear grows and grows. So – remember that for me fear is a real reaction to a known stimulus or threat and anxiety is a very similar feeling but is irrational in that I can’t tie it to a specific stimulus or event.. I move through my day to day and this fear is hanging around… like a cloud. I FEEL THE ANXIETY. It comes out in my actions and in my person. My wife will sometimes ask what I am anxious about because she can see the “fear response” lingering in me.
So what are some things that this irrational fear response cause in me:
Violin string neck muscles
Hyper vigilance for ANY threat
Super sensitive to anything contrary
The list could go on and on… I hope I have painted enough of a picture here… I suppose I could suggest – recall or imagine being really scared, fearful. Not the thrill kind of scared… the “I’m going to lose something incredibly important in my life.” kind of scared… Same with the fear – the “there’s a car heading straight for me…” kind of fear. Now, take the stimulus part of that out and just hold onto the gut wrenching, tear inducing, paralyzing cortisol fueled response… and there you have my anxiety.
The anxiety threads its way through my whole life. I know this sounds nutzo… and I get it… its not supposed to be this way – but this is the way I can be for days on end.
So – sometimes people have asked me if this is related to travelling or going to the doctor etc… and the response is – NO.. these aren’t phobias… now – yes – I have a phobia of dentists… not just a dislike – I have a phobia related to going to a dentist… This relates back to an experience I had when I was young.. and I’ve had a really difficult time hauling myself into a dentists office… so – no – its not the same as that.
My anxiety is super difficult for me to nail down because it ISN’T tied to a specific event. I can get an anxiety attack in a store, out of a walk or heck – even sitting in my back yard… I only WISH I knew what turned them on so I could shut them off.
When I can’t get a handle on my anxiety and slow the spin down – I need to 100% get myself to a safe place – I need to be able to disconnect, isolate, and emote if I have to.
The fight/flight response causes the adrenal gland to dump cortisol into the body. Cortisol is the bodies… alarm system… its super useful when you’re face to face with danger… but those same physical responses occurring persistently when there is no danger is not good. Cortisol causes a reduction in the body’s immune response, stimulates acid secretion in the stomach, over time causes the body to dissolve muscle proteins, and a litany of other negative effects. It’s a good hormone for when our bodies need it, but a constant stream of cortisol in the body – is not good.
I recall when I was a youngster – my mother used to say to me – “You’re so touchy.”, “You’re so sensitive.” “Toughen up.”, “Don’t act so scared all the time.”… well – all that – was anxiety… that’s what she was seeing and I could no more “Not act so scared all the time…” as I could stop breathing and live.
I used to go off on my own tons when I was young. I didn’t know why I did, but I know I preferred my own company, my own thoughts, my own space. I understand a little more now why I did that… why I would go off on a hike or overnight camping trip on my own… or play by myself… I was in charge – in control of my entire space… I knew that if I was alone – I wouldn’t be called names or hit or screamed at or have to listen to the same happening in my house. The issue was – I didn’t have much of a choice when I was little – I still had to return to that house… and thinking about it – there’s a good chance that my anxiety grows from those early adverse childhood experiences.
I don’t know what came first – anxiety or depression – but I do know that they are heavily intertwined in my life. I know that my wellness model helps me rationalize both my depression and my anxiety – and I use my model when I am feeling those crazy anxiety emotions… The piece that I have to learn better, is to learn to recognize and feel the anxiety when it is smaller. I am getting pretty good at recognizing my depression when it starts to rise up, but I don’t have the same awareness of my anxiety. I’m a work in progress.
One tool that I have learned is to think of the emotions – the anxiety – in terms of colors. That exercise seems to help me identify it more and then I can start to unpack it and figure out how to deal with it or rationalize it.
I know that I started to self-medicate with alcohol – in part – because of my anxiety. I used booze to numb off the sharpness of the fear. That didn’t work out very well for me… There are prescription medicines that I can use to help me with panic attacks – a very severe onset of anxiety.. and while they are available – I do my very best to stay away from them… that said – this is a personal choice – a personal responsibility that I make/take for myself.
For longer term support for my anxiety – I employ my coach (psychologist), medication that helps with both anxiety and depression and the wellness model that I created for myself. In the end – nothing out there changes and the only person (one) who is going to be able to get me through this – is me. I have to make certain that I balance my approaches to my wellness.
I hope that paints a reasonable picture of what my anxiety can be like. I am so grateful that I don’t experience it as much as I used to, that it is less persistent than it used to be. I am hopeful that I will continue to build my understanding of it and to develop tools for my kit to manage the blood red, white hot, angry green, flame yellow anxiousness that I sometimes experience. I totally understand that strong emotions and reactions have their place in life – just not in all of my life all of the time..
This week I would like to challenge you to:
- Lift someone up. Give praise to someone who is doing their best.
- Just listen. Listen to the quiet. Listen to someone’s story. Listen to your heart.
- Tell three people in your life that you love them. You can use words or act… but let them know you love them.