The Day I Learned I Had Anxiety

September 12, 2017 / Meredith Arthur  / 

…And what happened in the following months and years.

In 2015, my life looked textbook-charmed. I’d lived in San Francisco for 12 years — long enough to understand its ups and downs — and worked in tech nearly as long. I had a thoughtful, handsome husband and a wise, funny, five-year-old daughter.

This is what life felt like:

Nearly daily migraines, crippling neck and shoulder pain, and a nauseated stomach that sometimes forced me off the bus to keep me from fainting.

I’d given up much earlier on the hope of finding a cause for these pains, so in July 2015 I went to my annual neurologist appointment ready for dose of confused irresolution. Instead, in response to my hyper-focused research and fast speaking, she diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder. My life changed on the spot.

Why had this diagnosis been so elusive?

Generalized anxiety is an umbrella term, meaning that there are lots of different types of people to be found under there when it rains.rains

The statistics shared on ADAA suggest that 6.8 million Americans, or a little over 3% of the population, has generalized anxiety disorder. (I think that’s massively understated, incidentally).

I believe that the description of GAD caused me to miss the symptoms I was experiencing. “Excessive worry,” the disorder’s most common descriptor, was problematic for me. For 39 years, I didn’t consider myself a worrier.

I was an overthinker with migraines

Since I never used the words or mindset that the health industry used, I found very few examples that rang true when I searched for information about generalized anxiety. Even after my diagnosis, and acceptance of diagnosis (which was lightning fast, btw. As soon as my neurologist said the words, I knew she was right), I had a terrible time finding relevant information about GAD. In person and online, though, I met tons of people who were, in fact, just like me: men and women experiencing physical pain resulting from perfectionism, fear of failure, and overthinking.

The disconnect between how people talk about anxiety and what anxiety actually feels like is what drives me to write and talk about anxiety. Thanks to my diagnosis, what was once invisible now has shape, and I understand the world around me differently.

Was My Experience Unusual?

A few months after going on anti-anxiety medication, I went back to my neurologist at UCSF and explained that my once-daily headaches were now down to one per month. I was grateful. I was also curious to know if my experience was unusual. From what I could tell, it seemed surprisingly common.

But—cue the overthinking—maybe I was overestimating it. Like every good student of anxiety, I had memorized my list of cognitive biases. Was I overgeneralizing? Was my sense that people around me were experiencing physical pain as a result of perfectionism simply projecting my problem onto others?

Was I hearing only what fit my story?

My neurologist listened to my concerns and then replied, “This problem — the problem of perfectionism and anxiety — is getting bigger and bigger every day.”

She described seeing an average of three people a day suffering from some form of chronic physical pain who had one thing in common: perfectionism.

“It’s extremely common in the tech industry,” she said. “These people are very successful. They want to do everything right.” She then said something haunting: “One of the groups that has the hardest time seeing GAD in themselves is psychiatrists and psychologists.”

Diagnosis is hard

In the past, if you had a physical problem, you’d visit a doctor.

If you were having a mental problem, you’d visit an office like this:doctor

Treating symptoms meant sitting in a room with an expert, looking for answers together.

If your physical symptoms spring from your intense pursuit of perfectionism, however, this method is problematic. You can visit doctors of all stripes, and they won’t find anything physically wrong with you. Therapists may enjoy your confessional insights and wit as much as you enjoy sharing them—but they won’t help you when your back gives out again.

It’s Up to You to Connect the Dots

Anxiety, though chemically and genetically influenced, is, at its most fundamental, a system of messages the body is trying to send the mind. It’s similar to an allergic reaction where the body overreacts to stimuli. In this case, the fear of losing control causes an adrenalin and cortisol rush in the body. Our minds work to avoid negative feelings (or the stimuli that caused it). Yet the effort of avoidance ends up creating more fear—and more overreaction. Doctors have long seen a connection between the physical pain that people feel and the emotions they are repressing.

For perfectionists, the mind is trying to tell itself the truth: “I can’t live up to my own expectations.” But inherent in the perfectionist problem is an inability to accept this reality. The mind deflects the message of impossible expectations and literally pushes it into the body.

My neighbor is an example of this. Let’s call him Shane. Shane is an artist and teacher who spends a lot of time worried about what other people think about him. His standards for work are extremely high.

He also has a lot of neck and back pain, sudden bouts of sweating, and dizziness. He takes 3–4 ibuprofen a night for “sore muscles.” He needs a whiskey to help him fall asleep.

He knows that he has anxiety, but hasn’t yet figured out how to listen to what his body is telling him, or how to address the pain.

When I learned about my generalized anxiety disorder, I started with the treatment path of medication (Lexapro, 10 mg every day), meditation (Headspace, 20 min every day), and communication (writing, talking, all the ways). Treating perfectionism meant I’ve been forced to stop comparing myself to other people, especially on social media. I’ve had to learn how to turn up the volume on my own voice of confidence and creativity. I did this by creating a project that looks at perfectionism from a bird’s eye view.

Beautiful Voyager was born

Since late 2015,  I’ve been working to create a place for perfectionists to meet and learn stress relieving techniques from each other. It’s called The Beautiful Voyager.

My goal with the site was to create a space where it was OK to be imperfect. I threw my real, far-from-perfect self, out into the world for everyone to see, hoping that other people like me might find comfort and common cause in my struggle. It’s like training wheels for social interactions. As confidence builds, pain subsides.

The Only Map is Buried Deep

I used to think, “There’s no map to understanding anxiety.” But that’s not true. There is a map. It’s just that each person’s is unique and buried deep inside of them. It takes a long time to navigate your own internal terrain. I created the site because it helps to have other navigators around during the map-hunting process.bevoya

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms like those on this list from my neurologist, take a closer look at how anxiety isn’t always what it seems.

  • migraines
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • back pain
  • neck pain
  • tingling
  • chest pressure
  • palpitations
  • light-headedness

This is one epidemic we can do something about, but we have to work together. So as you go out into the world, or deep into the world within, in search of the map you need, know that you’re not alone.

I’ll meet you there.

Part 2 – The Tale of Two Men

September 26, 2017 / Danei Edelen  / 
phone

Two

Shortly after “coming out of the closet” about my mental illness, I was contacted by another male friend. “You’ve been there, one way or another. I appreciate your courage,” he said. I told him we are all in this together. He responded, “Yeah, our family motto is you admit no faults, hide your feelings and emotions, don’t talk about problems. Makes you weak… Have spent some time on the edge: bottle in one hand and a gun in the other.” As we continued the conversation, he told me he was getting help and on medication. I told him to stay in touch with me. He was very appreciative.

A few months later, my friend contacted me, “I am struggling today.” I told him he was not alone, he is uniquely wonderful and deeply loved by his family. He appreciated my words but was still struggling. His “inner demons” were winning that day, but he wasn’t giving in. By the end of our conversation, he felt better. I will always remember the “you are a life saver” message I got from my friend a few days later. “This time I was there to help,” I thought.

(more…)

Part 1 – The Tale of Two Men

September 19, 2017 / Danei Edelen  / 
cousins

One

The first time suicide impacted me directly was when a male friend committed suicide. He was a boy I saw cracking jokes and doing pranks, and who I watched grow into a wonderful, dedicated man. I can still see myself at work, wearing my green suit, when I learned he had committed suicide. A twin bomb of shock and guilt exploded in my heart. All I could think was, “If I had only known.” I was shaken for days. In fact, I wasn’t able to go to the funeral, but I wish I had. I wrote his family a long, heartfelt letter saying everything I wish I could have said to him. No one can ever fill the special place he had in my life. 

(more…)

Feeling Happy Can Be Hard But Clap Anyway

September 7, 2017 / Amy Krolak  / 
happy

“Not every day is filled with complete happiness, but every day is filled with moments of hope, love and possibilities. Every day is filled with resiliency and strength—and that, is my happiness.” Source: NAMI

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)
If you’re happy and you know it,
then your face will surely show it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)

FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT

Acting ‘as if’ is a common prescription in psychotherapy. It’s based on the idea that if you behave like the person you want to become, you will become like this in reality:

  • If you want to feel happier, do what happy people do—smile.
  • If you want to get more work done, act as if you are a productive person.
  • If you want to have more friends, behave like a friendly person.
  • If you want to improve your relationship, practice being a good partner.

Too often we hesitate to spring into action. Instead, we wait until everything feels just right or until we think we are ready. But research shows that changing your behavior first can change the way you think and feel.

There are trials showing how important it is to take action toward a more positive way of being. “Trying to be happy, the research suggests, could be an effective way to achieve the numerous health benefits that come with greater well-being and a more positive life outlook. Happiness has been associated with improved physical and mental health, greater relationship satisfaction, lower rates of disease and increased longevity.”

A Harvard researcher Laura Kubzansky, an American health sociologist working at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Fellow of the American Psychological Association, posits that “psychological states such as anxiety or depression—or happiness and optimism—are forged by both nature and nurture. ‘They are 40–50 percent heritable, which means you may be born with the genetic predisposition. But this also suggests there is a lot of room to maneuver.’”  She dreams of preventing anxiety and depression by instilling emotional and social competence in children. She imagines this prevention with the support of parents, teachers, pediatricians, sports coaches, etc. This joint effort could promote both mental health and long-term resilience.

13 Incredibly Smart Tips To Be Happier From Mental Health Experts

  1. Realize that happiness doesn’t mean having everything you want and being problem-free all the time.
  2. Cut “should” from your vocabulary, because it basically guarantees whatever you think “should” happen, won’t.
  3. Remember that your negative thoughts are not true. They’re just thoughts.
  4. Start your day by reminding yourself one positive thing about your life.
  5. Anyone can benefit from therapy, so consider making an appointment for a checkup.
  6. Don’t think about your work responsibilities at home, and vice versa.
  7. Stop checking your smartphone randomly. Instead, give yourself specific times to catch up on social media and email.
  8. Make keeping up with your friendships a priority.
  9. Actually take the time to plan short-term pleasure AND long-term goals — aka actively make your life what you want it to be.
  10. Treat yourself with compassion and lots of love.
  11. Don’t forget that your physical health has an impact on your mental health, too.
  12. Several times throughout your day, take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is OK. Eventually, your brain will get the memo.
  13. Make a conscious effort to take care of your mental health the same way you would your physical health.

Get Happy Now

Something that I came upon about sabotaging your happiness spoke to me quite strongly. Our bodies will reflect what we feel and if we ask our bodies to show the positive, our minds will follow. The following negative behaviors can be fixed with the “Get happy now” directives. If you find yourself acting in the following ways, practice these get happy now actions.

You slouch when you walk.
Get happy now: Lift your chin up and roll your shoulders back to keep your outlook on the positive side.

You take pictures of EVERYTHING.
Get happy now: Focus on your subjects when taking pictures—or, better yet, just sit back and enjoy yourself.

You don’t exercise.
Get happy now: Just get out and move. It doesn’t need to be for long—walking to errands if possible, taking the stairs—but any activity will help keep your mind moving.

You procrastinate.
Get happy now: Before you finally tackle your problem head-on, do something that helps you ease stress: listen to music, go for a run.

You take life too seriously.
Get happy now: Seek out humor every day

You don’t sleep.
Get happy now: Try to figure out why you aren’t sleeping and then take the steps to create a restful environment.

You’re never alone.
Get happy now: Schedule an appointment for you time. And more importantly, keep it

You don’t actually talk to anyone.
Get happy now: Make sure to schedule a date with a friend, family member, or partner at least once per week.

You can’t live without your mobile phone.
Get happy now: Create an electronic Sabbath, where you abstain from all devices once a week, even if just for half a day.

You multitask.
Get happy now: It’s simple, really: put down the phone, turn off the television, and pay attention to what you are doing and what is going on around you. Allowing your brain to process everything that is happening to you in real time (and not broadcasting it to your social media followers) may be the best thing you can do for your mental health.

Pass It On

When you are happy, you want to pass it on! Go ahead and spread the cheer. Smile at strangers! Life can be too short to not stop and smell the roses.  Happiness is contagious. A perfect example for me is watching my children laugh at their favorite TV shows. Humor really helps with happiness. My family likes to tease me that I have no sense of humor but really I do. I like physical comedy, slapstick but not the violent kind like the Stooges. What makes me laugh and I go to when I am feeling down is when Bert wears penguin pants in Mary Poppins or the scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding in the restaurant with Dionne Warwick and the lobster claws. 

For me, happiness can be as basic as experiencing something as a child does. For example, if you remember playing in the mud as a child, it creates pure joy. Other examples are a baby laughing, eating a melting ice cream cone, and what always makes me laugh out loud is puppies at play.

HAPPINESS IS A JOURNEY

“Most importantly we need to realize that happiness is not some far off destination we arrive at. It’s more about the journey that happens along the way and this is the everyday moments that are in fact our lives. We need to let go of our limiting beliefs and what is holding us back and embrace our own power within. This is how we create a life we love and cultivate our own happiness.” Source:  Project Happiness

Your Inner Strength

September 5, 2017 / Alex Hanna  / 
inner strength

With suicide prevention awareness month upon us, it is important to understand our inner strength. What is inner strength? It is more than “sucking it up” and doing what needs to be done. It is also about recognizing and appreciating how far you have made it in this world. Being able to look in the mirror and be proud of who you are. This world is difficult…very difficult. But you have made it this far. And that should be celebrated.

(more…)

RECENT POSTS

View More Results…
Skip to toolbar