Monday, September 21, 2015

A Personal Tale of Anxiety

Hi, my name is Anna, and I like to make people laugh. I'm upbeat and lighthearted and bringing joy to others through humor is very satisfying to me. Call me for a good time (not in the writing on the bathroom wall kind of way, in the belly laugh and jokes kind of way)!

This is a truthful introduction.

Hi, my name is Anna, and I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, to the point that it sometimes feels debilitating.

This is also a truthful introduction, and it goes on.

There's a healthy level of anxiety, it makes us get things done and think about consequences to our actions. I typically sit one or two notches above that healthy level. Not to where it interferes with my life, but is mildly uncomfortable.

There are times, though, that the anxiety ratchets way up. Sometimes this is a panic attack which is an explosion of agony, a catastrophic amount of internal pain that feels like it is actually  killing you. Sometimes it is the anxiety sitting right around an 8. The problem with this type of anxiety/panic hybrid for me is that I feel like it's the worst of both worlds. Panic attacks, for me, burn bright and hot but flash out fairly quickly. This perpetual level 8 is a long, hard boil that feels like it will have no end.

You are a prisoner in your own mind and body. Your skin is sweaty and chilled at the same time; pieces of it feeling like they are crawling in different directions. You want to pace, you want to curl up in a ball, you want to do anything to stop the building pain. Of course, your chest is tight and your heart beat is doing something weird (mine actually slows down if it's not a full blown panic attack). You can't totally swallow, there's no room for food. Sleep alludes you and you slowly lose your grip on logic. Every thing in your life looks different - why hasn't this person called? what are those people talking about? why do I feel this way, am I sick? The paranoia mounts to a point where your whole world is washed out in places but piercingly bright in others. Everything feels 32 degrees off, and you are fighting as hard as you can to hang on to the ground. You want to cry but there are no tears; everything feels explosive, yet stuck at the same time. It's like you are the big bang, but got frozen three seconds in.

And you have no idea when it will end. It's the moment before the panic attack, but you never get to the full boil, which is great because you don't end up stuck in a laundry basket, but agony because there is no release.

You try everything. Deep breathing, holding ice cubes, stretching, going for a walk, reading something funny, reading the Bible. You ask for help, you tell others. Nothing helps.

Sometimes you are a therapist and in your own therapy and logically you should be able to beat this. You have the tools, you know the techniques, and you have the insight in to your childhood about why you struggle with anxiety. None of it matters. The anxiety grips every one of your cells, you are a prisoner. You are trapped in the catastrophizing of your mind, chewing up and spitting out everything that is good, and in your body because it hurts so bad physically.

Why am I writing this? To be cathartic. To remind myself that it ends. I will get back to my happy 3 or 4. To help those who don't struggle with this to begin to understand. Largely because people don't talk about it. To let others know they aren't alone. It's national suicide prevention month. Many people don't "get" suicide. I don't totally "get" it on a personal level. However, I do  know how it feels to feel like you are no longer a passenger on your own ship, let alone the captain. I know how it feels to stay silent, because your problems feel too big and too unrelatable. I know desperation, the voice screaming in your head, "fix this! Fix this however you can!" I know silence is never the answer.

So, my words to you are, you're not alone. If you struggle with anxiety or depression or OCD or a personality disorder or any number of mental illness. You are not alone. And you are not broken. I have all the tools and training and support I "should" need to not struggle with anxiety. It doesn't matter, mental illness is not always in our control. I know you don't want sympathy or advice, but I do know that I understand on some level. You are not alone. You are worth fighting for. Your flavor of crazy is not too much for me.  

Hi, my name is Anna, and I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, to the point that it sometimes feels debilitating. But that's not the entirety or the end of my story, and it doesn't have to be yours either.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Woes of Resting Nice Face

There has been a lot of media attention raising awareness of a condition called RBF (that means Resting Bitch Face, mom and dad [sorry for swearing mom and dad {my parents are half my readership, I own it}]) recently. This just basically means that your face looks angry all the time, regardless of feelings. The struggle is real, or so I hear. I have no idea because I suffer from a very different affliction - RNF, Resting Nice Face. I have a round face, pronounced apple cheeks, endearing dimples, and huge anime eyes:

What can I say, I'm adorable, mostly because I have a raging case of RNF. Let me illustrate. When people look at me they see:

via (and, yes, I know, it's a stuffed animal)

When really I feel like so:

There are many disconcerting impacts of RNF. Like, people don't take you seriously: "Oh sweetie, that's cute but let's let the big kids brainstorm." You get called sweetie a lot. People think you are naive, "ear muffs? I'm 28 years-old and you want me to cover my ears? I'll tell you where to put your ear muffs." Sometimes you even get pulled in, "wait a minute. Why am I covering my ears?"

However, it is the, as I call it, Trifecta of Awful, that is the worst part of RNF.

Part 1 - The Assumption: Everyone thinks you're nice. For my RBF brethren/sisteren, the opposite is true. They often have the conversation of:

Other Person: "OMG I thought you hated me, you seemed so mean!"

RBF Person: "No, that's just my face. I'm actually 97% pixie dust."

I, on the other hand, always hear:

Other Person: "OMG I think you are so nice, you seem so wonderful!"

Here's the catch. You can't say, "No, that's just my face. I'm actually 97% angst, judgement, and disdain." So, you just nod and smile (because you are always smiling) and die a little inside.

Part 2 - The Talking: Since everyone thinks you're nice, they think you want to talk about all the things, hear all the secrets, and braid each others' hair all the time. The things I've heard.

What I say: "oh yeah, great, awesome, wonderful, fantastic." What I'm thinking: "who are you? No, seriously, who are you? Is this real life? You do know we've never met, right?"

Part 3 - The Touching: Since they believe you are nice and they've already told you their life story, you are obviously BFFFFFFFFFFFFs, so of course you need to hug it out.


How I feel (and I swear the face I make):

What people obviously see:

There is little I hate more than being touched. If you ever need to torture me for information, just bear hug me and I'll sing like a canary in about 10 seconds. There is also nothing RNF communicates more than, "Hi! I love you! You should come hug me, pat me, squeeze my arm, or rub my head so that I know how much you love me too!" 

That is never what I mean. Ever. 

What is your resting face? Is it accurate? Does it get you in trouble?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

International Travel Explained by Mean Girls

I just got back from a life-changing, wonderful trip to Ireland and Scotland, so I'm tired and pinning. Tired because the return travel part of international travel is pretty much the worst. Fun fact, we went through security eight times on this trip. And by fun, I mean I can probably sue someone now for x-ray poisoning. Pinning because I love being in foreign countries, and coming back to reality is a rude awakening. I want to be frolicking in the Scottish Highlands, drinking drams of whisky in pubs, and petting dodgy livestock on the side of the road, NOT reading books about assessments and studying for comps. All though, let's be honest, I've read one chapter today and spent three hours looking for jobs in Scotland and reading about visas to live in the UK. Which is, discouraging, to say the least. Let me love you United Kingdom!

I have spent my whole life traveling, and I love it. However, no matter how many trips you've been on, there's always things to learn. This go round I have decided to sum up my life lessons in Mean Girls' quotes, because I'm jet legged and procrastinating.

1. "Don't let the haters stop you from doing your thang." 

Fundamental to any trip is that you do what you want, the end. We traveled with another couple, Princess Consuela and her husband, Not Crap Bag (on the chance you don't watch Friends, I decided against calling him Crap Bag since people would misconstrue that). PC just wanted to see native wild animals. Now, the puffins did allude us, aholes, but we had a chance to pet Highland cows. And she did it with gusto. It was one of the highlights of her trip, and if she had been trying to be cool or something ridiculous like that, she would have missed out. Instead, it was adorable.

PC and Hilda (yes, I know, using a pseudonym is dumb when you put the person's picture on your blog, but they're so fun. Stop hating, I'm going to do my thang)

PC and Augustus. Perfection.

Travelling is not the time to be too cool for school, you'll regret it. 

2. "Is butter a carb?" 

Any foreign country you go to, no matter how much in common it has with your home country, is going to have food that you do not have in any shape at home. For example, Scotland makes sausage out of oats and cow blood. Fun fact, this blood is taken from a cow while it's still alive, they're tapped like kegs. And who hasn't heard of haggis? Lamb intestines, chopped up and stuffed in to the stomach. I'll admit, it sounds horrifying, but we tried it. And I thought it wasn't bad!

Granted, my face here is not a resounding endorsement, but that's just my face. 

Also just my face. 

You don't go to a foreign country to continue your normal life. It is for adventure and disruption of the tedious norm, eating cray cray food is  part of that. 

3. "She doesn't even go here."

You're a tourist. You will not fool anyone to the contrary, so stop trying. Embrace it.

If you want to pretend to be Nessie at Loch Ness, awesome. 

Fake duels at Tom Riddle's grave, fantastic.

Have fun, sometimes at the cost of your dignity. I dare you. 

4. "I can't help it that I'm so popular."

This goes along with the last point, and possibly contrary to the first one. I don't really care, it's my list. Often times you will read blogs or reviews that poo poo famous sites; "it's so over done," "you are so typical if you do this," "you only experience the country if you hike to the top of this mountain and brew your own coffee." Getting off the beaten path, that's great and leads to fun experiences. That said, famous places are famous for a reason. They are often the things that leave the deepest impression. Go to them if you want, don't avoid them just because everyone does it.

Cliffs of Moher, millions of visitors a year. Best part of our trip to Ireland.

Titanic Belfast. Fairly cheesy, but I can say I stood where the Titanic was built, which is mind boggling. 

Get off the beaten path, but don't be afraid to go to landmarks. They didn't become landmarks by being boring.

5. "You can't sit with us!" 

On our final flight yesterday, 3 of 3, we were sitting in the first row of economy with a birds eye view of first class. Also, right by the economy bathrooms. Three times people from first class came back to economy to use our bathroom. 

"You have everything, free booze, comfy seats, weirdly obliging flight attendants, and your own dang bathrooms. There's 20 of you, and hundreds of us. Leave our bathroom alone. You con't come back here. YOU CAN'T SIT WITH US!"

This was my thought process every time. I was tired and possibly delusional, because the return trip is always hard and tiring. You've used all your energy adventuring and are not looking forward to returning to reality. The return trip stinks. Always. Accept it, this to shall pass. 

If you're lucky, you'll have a friend who documents everything.