Archive | May, 2012

This is what it feels like.

25 May

The other night, someone asked me.. “So. This anxiety stuff. Do you just not handle stress well?”

I very much doubt he meant this in a bad way. (I think if he had been trying to be a shit head, he would’ve tried a little harder. At least.. I hope.) That’s kind of when I realized, if you don’t have anxiety problems, you probably have no idea what it feels like when your body rebels and you can’t control it.

I’m going to do my best to describe it. (Please remember – this is just what I feel. Anxiety is different for everyone, and I am by no means an expert. I’ve got a BS in BS, not a PhD.)

First, it starts with a thought. We’ll use the End of the World example here, because I’d rather not go into what’s been the most recent cause of my crazy. (Also – I say that with love. “My crazy” is the way I describe this to people so they know I’m not gonna break apart in front of them. It’s the same as when my Event Chair calls her Rheumatoid Arthritis her “cooties”.)

Ok, so back to the thought. The end of the world. December 21, 2012. The thought repeats. Over and over, until it’s like a chanting in my head. I can’t get it to go away. All I can hear is “the end of the world” and all I can see are buildings crumbling, people screaming, blood, gore, and death. The people I love are in pain, or gone forever. This plays in my head like a movie. Nothing will make it stop. Not watching tv or reading a book. Sleeping would probably cut the movie short, but there’s no way in hell you can sleep with the pictures in your brain or the thought of the end of the world. There’s no way out.

My heart starts to beat really fast. It feels like it’s going to beat itself out of my chest. I’m almost completely sure at this point that people can see that I’m melting down, and they’re laughing at me. Now not only is my brain taunting me, but everyone around me is, too. My hands start to shake, and my pupils dilate. The extra light is so much brighter than normal.

I start to breath harder – short, shallow breaths that soon turn into almost not breathing at all. I know I’m not getting enough air, but I can’t take a deep breath, because if I do, I might throw up. Sometimes I start to see stars. If I’m standing up, at this point I’ll have to sit or lie down, because my body will refuse to hold me up.

Sometimes my cheeks will flush and I’ll start to cry. The tears always seem hotter than a “normal” cry (which is something I don’t do in many situations anymore, because of the medication). They almost feel like they’re burning my face. This is the breaking point: I’m either going to work myself into enough of a frenzy that my body shuts off, or I’m going to have to take something. If I’ve been able to communicate during period of time, usually my friends know what will calm me down. They know I can’t talk, so they’ll text, reminding me to breathe, to relax, to let it go. But sometimes, they have their own lives and can’t deal with my crazy. This is the part I hate to admit: when this happens, usually the only relief is pharmaceutical. The short acting drugs (think Xanax) are sedative, hypnotic, muscle relaxers. They release whatever has worked your mind into a frenzy, and they let it escape from the grasp of your brain. (In a pinch, a prescription pain killer will do. Not. Recommended.)

They’re also powerful, addictive, and dangerous.

When the drug finally takes hold, I can feel the crazy slipping away. My finger tips start to tingle. I can breathe. I don’t feel like the earth is going to swallow me whole. I’m once again a normal human being. Or maybe just a human being, since I’m convinced nobody really knows what normal is.

Did that help? Or did I just scare the shit out of you?

My Brain is Also an Asshole

24 May

I think a lot of people fall into the category of “I am my own worst enemy.”

In fact, I think I could probably be their leader, I am so good at sabotaging my own happiness.

Women, as a whole, over-analyze things. We’re constantly assaulted by images of how we should look, what our behavior should be, and how we should live our lives.

Add in a little bit of anxiety disorder, and you have a recipe for disaster.

For instance: I have never, ever seen a picture that I feel I look “good” in. (What the fuck does “good” look like, anyway?)

There’s always something wrong. God, I wish I hadn’t tilted my head that way. Fuck, are people gonna think I’m expecting twins in that shirt? Seriously, what is going on with my hair?!  Don’t get me wrong, I know every single person on earth, with the exception of the Victoria’s Secret Angels and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models, hates something about their body. The thing is, I hate just about everything. From my flat feet that make me knock kneed to my ridiculous hair that is never straight enough when I straighten it, or curly enough when I let it do the curl thing I inherited from my (incredibly gorgeous, former model) mother. And the anxiety only makes it worse. It makes every pimple (seriously, I am 27, when does acne end?) bigger, every quarter inch of root three shades darker, every bruise, scrape, or bump a cause for outright alarm (or possibly a trip to the emergency room and/or plastic surgeon).

And it doesn’t stop with my appearance.

I absolutely CANNOT listen to myself in any kind of recorded fashion. Because of my job, I’ve done radio & TV interviews all over the place, and I CANNOT STAND TO WATCH/LISTEN TO THEM. Every time I hear myself talk, I cannot believe how I sound. How does anyone take me seriously? I sound like a five year old. I will literally run out of a room if someone is watching or listening to me in a pre-recorded manner.

In college, I took a public speaking course. (Disclaimer: I am a pro public speaker. I was a four year member of my high school forensics club, was in every theater performance I got a part in, and tested out of said public speaking course with a B. I took the class anyway because I knew I could get an A. I have no idea how anyone with anxiety enjoys public speaking, but I would rather give a presentation to 500 strangers than have a one-on-one conversation with anyone but my closest friends.) We had to bring a VHS tape (hi, I went to a state school) to record our speeches on, and then review them and critique ourselves after class.

I didn’t watch a single one. I couldn’t bear it. The embarrassment was absolutely too much. I made review everything up. (I also have a degree in Public Relations, which I tell people means I have a BS in BS, so I got away with it pretty easily.)

In addition, I cannot stand any kind of criticism when it comes to my writing. In fact, when I used to hand in essays, I would look at the grade at the top and not the comments.  I probably wrote close to 200 essays in my college career and never managed to read any of the constructive criticism.

(PS: THANK YOU to everyone who has reached out and said what a great writer I am. I don’t believe you for a single second, but I appreciate your sweet compliments. If I was capable of accepting a compliment in any fashion, I would be over the moon with all the love I’ve gotten.)

Which leads me to my next point. I cannot accept a compliment, and it’s probably one of the (actual) least attractive qualities I have. Normally, I deflect them with either an eye roll or a joke, which never scores me any points with the person giving the compliment. When you truly, truly believe that you are never enough, you are incapable of letting the positive stuff in. I’m working on it. Slowly. And I’m sorry to everyone who has ever said something nice to me and gotten a joke or eye roll in return. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. It’s that my brain is an asshole. Are we sensing a theme here?

 

 

 

Disclaimer – Or: How I Know I Really Am Crazy

23 May

I feel like I need to clear something up.

I’m starting to feel guilty, which is one of my awesome super powers. I can feel guilty about ANYTHING. When there’s an Ozone Alert in Houston, I feel guilty for fucking up the environment. I feel guilty when someone has a problem I can’t solve. I also feel guilty when I buy shoes, but I suspect that’s less because of my superpower and more because I know if I buy shoes I might not be able to eat that week.

I don’t want you to read this blog and think, “Wow, this bitch sure does think she’s got anxiety and depression issues worse than anyone else in the entire world.”

Trust me – I am LUCKY. 95% of the time, I am a normal (well, normal for me) human being. I can function properly. When I take my medication, I am the person you know and love (and that’s me on the meds! Imagine how I was before!!!!!). But when the stress comes, or I find myself in a situation where I’m not entirely sure what to do, hell breaks loose in my body.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten quite a few messages and texts that say: It’s so good to know I’m not alone.

Alone is a scary place. I’ve felt alone for the last 22 years, dealing with this the best I could without really knowing what was going on, and being too ashamed to talk about it, because having a mental illness is BAD AND WRONG.

If you take one thing away from this blog, I hope it’s this: Anxiety and depression are incredibly common. In fact, I guarantee you know at least a handful of people who suffer from one or the other, or both together (if you know me, you fall into this category!) We look like you. We sound like you. We have fun, and go out, and we pretend that we don’t feel like the ground is going to open up and we’re going to fall in. But our insides are in turmoil. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

This isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. And I mean that without a hint or sarcasm or irony.

I would give every last pair of shoes in my closet if no one had to deal with this ever again. But I can’t. It doesn’t work like that. So hopefully, you can find a little peace here. Maybe for a second you can feel normal. And not so alone.

Hello, My Name is Shannon, and I’m an Asshole

22 May

I think there are two types of friends:

The ones you see casually, grab a drink with when it’s convenient, and maybe text once or twice every couple of weeks. These are the kind of friends who will blow smoke up your ass and tell you what you need to hear so they can sleep at night.

Then there are the ones who play Devil’s advocate, who make you thankful you have unlimited nights and weekends, and will bail you out of jail in Mexico if necessary (or at least call your Dad, so he can do it). They answer your stupid questions, review your texts before you send them so you don’t look dumb, and tell you if you really do look fat in those jeans. These are the kind of people who will tell you when you’re being an asshole.

As you can imagine, the second type is a rare breed, and you aren’t allowed to take them for granted, even when they tell you things you don’t want to hear.

For instance, I recently learned that I am a Grade A Asshole (sometimes).

I kind of already knew this. Sarcasm has been my shield since those shitty girls in high school made me feel like I needed armadillo armor (also, since I live in Texas now, I am the world’s number one authority on armadillo…s… armadillion? Ok, forget I said anything) to live on this planet, and it hasn’t really come off since.

But I can be downright mean. And I forget that. Sometimes, when you don’t know me that well, I make a joke and you think I’m serious. I’m not. I’m rarely serious, 95% of the time I’m just being sarcastic and trying to deflect the attention away from me so everyone looks at you instead and I can try to be invisible.

I don’t mean most of what I say, unless they’re nice, complimentary things (not accompanied by an eye roll). When the “nice” part of you gets taken advantage of and you find yourself beaten down, you tend to try to protect yourself. That’s all it is.

Let me tell you, when you find the people who can look you in the eye and tell you that you’re being a shit head and you need to stop – hold onto them with all you’ve got. They’re your real friends. They’ve probably seen you at your very best, and at your very worst.

After all – you can’t let them go. They know too much.

 

 

Chapters Four Through Seven – Atlanta, Milwaukee, Houston

22 May

Ok, I’m starting to get bored with my own life, which is either because it’s boring or because I also have ADD in addition to anxiety. Either way, I’m condensing the next 5 years of my life.

I moved to Atlanta. Strangely, moving to a city I’d never been with no money, no job, and an unpaid internship didn’t bother me. I worked for Atlanta Motor Speedway, first as an intern in marketing and promotions, and then as the Club One Coordinator, which is a fancy name for I took care of the rich people and gave them what they wanted on race weekend. (Trust me, they wanted a lot.) They also crushed my spirit. I needed a change.

So I moved back to Wisconsin. Having a long term boyfriend who issued an ultimatum about how he was leaving Atlanta to go back to Wisconsin had nothing to do with this decision. (I told you, I can lie worth a shit.) I moved to Milwaukee, where I lived for three years. I started work for the Wisconsin Chapter of a national non-profit you’ve heard of but that I can’t name, because I still have friends who work there (ok fine, I have one friend who still works there) and aside from two wonderful ladies, one being my boss and partner in crime, I hated it. The day I got laid off in 2009 when the economy took a shit was the best day of my life.

In late 2008, my ex-Uncle committed suicide, and I took the news like a lead anchor in the ocean. Everything spiraled out of control. I was already unhappy about being uprooted from my very happy life in Atlanta, and I was bitter than my then-boyfriend had made me come “home.” (I use the term “home” loosely. Milwaukee never felt like home, it felt like a lay-over.) I began to think of new and creative ways to get away from all of the pain I was in emotionally. I got a kitten. I can say without a shred of sarcasm that she saved my life. I had someone who needed me.

I also found a therapist, because I had begun to truly scare myself.

My moods would go from perfectly fine to out of control within seconds, and without warning. I could pick a fight over ANYTHING, simply because I was bored. Nothing felt good enough. I was never happy. I forgot what happy felt like. I was drowning.

My doctor put me on an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication that at the time was fairly new. It’s called Lexapro. The first week, I felt like my tounge was too big for my mouth, that my throat was closing up and I couldn’t breath. HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY MAKE ME LESS ANXIOUS? I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TO DIE.

Two weeks after I started taking it, the sky was finally blue again. I was able to leave the house on days I never would’ve been able to before.

We moved several months before I lost my job, into a house that my then-boyfriend bought. I got another kitten. Life was ducky.

Then I got laid off, and my boyfriend and I broke up. All within a span of two weeks. Hey, when something in my life gets fucked up, I do it big.

I continued to live with my ex in the house I considered partially mine from September to January. If I didn’t find a job, I was going to have to move home and live with my Dad. For those 4 months, I think I was completely numb emotionally. I didn’t care to deal with the feelings… so I didn’t. I slept a lot. My anti-depressant dosage was upped. It didn’t make much difference. I was always tired. If I wasn’t asleep, I was either on the couch watching tv (my TV drug of choice was Law & Order SVU, because no one on that show got a happily ever after, either) or I was drinking.

In January, after the painful realization that he had started seeing someone else, I moved out. I got a tiny apartment where I lived happily with my cats, waitressing at a bar downtown. I finally got another non-profit job, which was nothing short of a miracle. Through that job, I made new friends – again, the kind you can call in the middle of the night when you’re crying.

Somehow, over the next year, I was a pretty stable human being.

In March of 2011, I threw a monkey wrench into my own plan, uprooted my life, and moved to Houston, where I took a job with yet another national non-profit.

It’s been a weird year. So I guess now that we have the boring old background out of the way…

(PS I just realized this should really be chapters 4-6. I’m terrible at math. It’s charming, in a “wow, you really went to public school, didn’t you?” kind of way.)

Chapter Three – You Ain’t Leavin’ till Yer Heavin’

22 May

I promise you – this entire blog is not going to be me whining about how I get panic attacks in inappropriate places.

In fact, this post is entirely about how I spent four years of college getting drunk with my friends. (Sorry Mom.)

So we got to the part where my high school boyfriend dumped me, right? A few months later, my parents separated. I learned this from a voicemail on our answering machine at home one afternoon, when I was back from college.

Needless to say, I was completely unprepared to deal with any of the emotions that were flooding me. I’d had such a shit freshman year of college (who knew that you couldn’t make friends when you went home every weekend to your high school boyfriend?) that I was ready to transfer to Arizona State University. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s send the pulsating ball of nerves across the country at 19 years old when her only coping mechanism is crying.

And then… I discovered alcohol. And we became friends. Very, very good friends. With alcohol, I was as smart, funny, beautiful, and graceful as I’d always wanted to be. Alcohol didn’t judge, and it certainly didn’t pass mean notes about you in class. Oh yes, it was the start of an outstanding relationship.

The thing about alcohol was… I started to use it to protect myself. And when I couldn’t drink (which wasn’t often in a tiny college town where the only entertainment we had was beer and Wal-Mart), I protected myself from pain by being outright mean to people. I was convinced that I was hilarious. The truth was, I used sarcasm to mask the pain that didn’t seem to go away except when I was drinking. It was my armor. I hate to say it, but it still is. (More on that later.) I hurt a lot of people, and I didn’t care, because I had blonde hair and blue eyes at a school that was 80% male, and I could’ve gotten away with murder had I chosen that route. (I would’ve looked terrible in orange at that point in my life.)

I wish I could tell you that I met the friends I have now and my whole life changed and I became a wonderful, upstanding member of society.

Remember how bad I am at lying?

I did meet some amazing people. People who made me feel like being ME was ok. I was always good enough for them. I still am. They’re my rocks. They’re the people I could call in the middle of the night in tears, the people who helped me moved, changed my oil, walked me home from the bars, and protected me. They’ve moved me across the country, visited me across the country, invited me to be part of their weddings, families, and lives. And I love them.

So a lot happened in college. We partied. We threw up. Our cell phones fell in toilets. And I became the popular girl I wanted to be, protected by a shell that fed on hurting people like vampires drink blood. (But of course, I had better shoes and slept in a queen bed with 400 thread count sheets, not a coffin.)

Pardon the Interruption

22 May

But I need to make one thing clear.

If you think anxiety is something society made up so that insecure people could put a label on themselves and feel better, I need you to click the little “x” at the top of your screen and get the fuck out of here. I’m. Not. Joking.

I’ve spent far too much of my time being told I was a “worrier.” There are days when going outside terrifies me. When I can’t stand in a crowd of people. Or I have to be alone RIGHTNOW because I cannot take another second of noise. Three days ago I was in the middle of Ann Taylor and my heart started racing. I started to see stars. I couldn’t breath. THAT IS NOT NORMAL.

(Also, Ann Taylor is a terribly sophisticated place for someone to have a panic attack. Luckily, I’ve gotten incredibly good at hiding them.)

If you made it this far, and you still think I’m a wacko, I encourage you to go here. Then report back if ANY OF THIS sounds like fun.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml