Living in an anxious mind

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Mental health is a topic that has come to light more than ever in the last few years. While the resources potentially needed may not yet be in place, acknowledgement that mental illness exists is a big leap.

One of the most common mental illnesses is anxiety and is something that plagues me daily.

Anxiety is defined by the Mayo Clinic as intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. This definition may sound like stress which is a normal reaction to many situations. The difference is anxiety interferes with everyday life.

Anxiety is something that has plagued me my entire life. I’ve always had poor self esteem and often interacting with other people was a terrifying situation due to fear of rejection. Most often I’d rather keep solitary than be with friends because I’m not good enough and if I try to make friends I’ll be rejected and that’s embarrassing.

I do know that isn’t true and I do have a few friends but that’s what it’s like to be in my head: you’re not good enough and they won’t like you.

Fast forward into career mode. I can’t write my own resume. I sat down with a professional resume writer who asked me what I was skilled in. I stared at him blankly. I’m not “skilled” in anything I thought. He had to pick apart questions from what are my skills? Which was overwhelming to what am I good at? To which I answered nothing. Finally we moved on to what do I know how to do. Hooray! A question I could answer. Listing my “skills” to me felt like bragging and what if someone says I’m not good at something? Then I’m a liar. Again, not at all the case, I do have talents but my brain tells me I don’t.

Over my 18 years in social work I’ve had several bosses. I have switched jobs a few times as have bosses I have worked for. In my experience there have been two types of bosses: ones that thank you and praise the work you do making you want to do more and those that no matter how hard you work it’s not enough making you work to try to please them. There were times that I was highly complimented and I could do no wrong and there were times where I could do no right. I underwent public humiliation, had my peers come to me informing me my superior complained to them about my job performance, I’ve had write ups for not doing things I’m not legally able to do and I’ve had witnesses to these acts tell me I should sue. I’m not singling out any employer as it’s happened on more than one occasion. I’m also not saying I had bad bosses as each boss was an excellent leader, their style just was not effective for me. I would skip meal breaks to work, let my insulin pump run empty because now wasn’t a convenient time to change it, stayed overnight at work to accomplish huge tasks I’d been given with minimal deadlines. I worked myself until I was physically unable to work anymore and on more than one occasion wound up in the hospital because everyone else was more important than my own health. Even then I answered messages from my hospital bed because the show must go on. My brain tells me everyone else is more important than me, they matter more than I do. Truth is, I matter too. I know that I matter yet my brain tells me I don’t.

Dating with anxiety is an adventure. Many I have chased away when they have confessed feelings yet I thought they were joking. Some actually became angry at me. My track record of relationships has been those who have struggled in life. A list of men with substance abuse problems, inability to hold a job, co-dependent on me for survival and unfortunately a couple of times abusive. Money went missing, other girls appeared, there was trouble with law enforcement all because my anxious brain says latch on to who shows me interest even though that interest is in what I can offer rather than who I am. This concept I am still working on. Stable people are friend zoned because I feel they will reject me otherwise while if I dare to proceed elsewhere I quickly sabotage it. I’m told confidence is sexy however I live in awkward.

At one time joining a convent was a serious consideration so I could avoid the whole topic all together.

Now comes the biggest cause of my anxiety. I was diagnosed a type 1 diabetic right before I turned 4. Over 30 years of self neglect from anyone with a debilitating chronic illness and bad things will happen. My lab levels are a mess, my kidneys are working at just 38% capacity making it difficult to flush my system, my arteries are narrowed so I cannot effectively pump blood through my system. These two things mean I’m carrying an extraordinary amount of fluid. My legs swell and sometimes leak. My left lower leg is quite painful always from a bad bout of cellulitis while neuropathy has taken over my right thigh. I have severe obstructive sleep apnea but good luck finding a mask for my C-Pap that doesnt cause a panic attack. I’m told I have asthmatic bronchitis along with the fluid overload so I become winded very easy. I was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in my spine hips and knees. Something in my lower back is out of place and suspicion of some significant nerve compression means I hurt. I hurt a lot and it’s constant. I can’t walk any form of distance and I require frequent position changes through the day. I go from standing a very short while to needing to sit to relieve pressure on my joints to having to lay down and stretch because my joints lock up and my muscles seize. That’s what it’s like to live in my physical body, now my brain has to compute all that. I must fight for improvement while accepting reality this may be it and that’s terrifying.

Each of these aspects have been enough to greatly contribute to my anxiety but fact of the matter is it was there to begin with. I have irrational fears of odd things. I don’t leave my dogs outside in the fenced yard for long because bad things could happen if I’m not watching and I prepare for the apocalypse every time I leave my house. I don’t leave if it looks like rain and most often I just make excuses to not leave anyway.

I have horrible insomnia for the strangest reasons. Example: my cat catching a mouse and being afraid he would bring one to me in my sleep. Sleep offers the unknown and I don’t like the unknown.

Now, a lot of what I’m describing is a fair amount of depression for which I’m also medicated. the combination tends to go hand in hand but the anxiety is what keeps me hindered. I just always anticipate the worst and have to talk myself into better scenarios.

I’m on medication, I’ve used meditation, I put trust in the power of prayer. I have lavender essential oil rollers, several mineral stones handpicked by someone who knows what they mean, my pillow is sprayed with a calming scent. It’s not for lack of effort. Just, in my brain I have to talk myself out of worst case scenario and try to take a chance to live. It’s all exhausting.

I hope I’ve provided some clarity on your friend/ family/ coworker who suffers from anxiety. Although you’d like us to “chill out” and don’t get why we won’t now just know it’s not that we won’t, it’s that we can’t.

Authentic love: a short story

I saw the message request notification on my social media profile. I opened it up to find a very attractive man who called himself John Wilson had written to me. “Hello Gracie” it started “I was looking up a friend when I came across your profile. Your eyes captured my attention I had to say hello” I rolled my eyes and let out a sigh “great another catfish” I said aloud to no one in particular. I was alone after all. The story was always the same. They were looking for something when they came across my profile, I’m gorgeous they couldn’t look away, they had some tragedy happen where they’re all alone in the world looking for love. Except of course they’re on some top secret mission for the military with some crazy high rank. They need money sent right away or their unit will leave them behind. “I’ve never met a 38 year old General with scraggly facial hair and an obnoxiously thick gold chain” I had said to the last one before blocking and reporting the profile. Catfish: someone who pretends to be someone else in order to pull a scam on an innocent victim. The fakes were bad enough but stolen valor irritates my soul with vigor. I knew I should ignore the message but something told me to respond. I knew he was fake for how attractive he was with those bright blue eyes and dimpled smile. There were no fatigues with the name he gave plastered across it but sometimes the military part comes later. “Okay John Wilson we can chat but you must answer me one question.” “Anything doll face” he replied. This is how I know he was fake. The over extensive flattery. My round cheeks dark brown hair, brown eyes and slightly crooked nose did not belong on a doll, maybe a haunted one. Anyway, John Wilson agreed to a question so a question he shall get. “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” I’m a bit of a smart ass but I always said it was better than being a dumb ass. The indicator appeared that John was responding. Then it stopped. Then it started again. Then it stopped for a long time. “Ha! I got him” I again said aloud. I really needed to stop talking to myself. I went and made a cup of coffee and when I returned there it was: “He would chuck, he would, as much as he could and chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” I stared at the screen flabbergasted. He responded correctly. “Okay John Wilson you have my attention” I replied. The saga continued on he told me he was in the army (shocking) but had no family. He never married or had children he enlisted right out of high school and made a career out of it. I listened to him. I listened to every word he said but I didn’t believe any of it. He was still kind of fun to talk to though, he made me laugh a lot. We didn’t chat much as they’re busy overseas (of course. enter eye roll here) but over the next few months I enjoyed my sporadic catfish messages. We talked about everything and anything. I was careful to only allow very limited information what he could see as my friend on my profile. I thought about it showing where I worked but thought meh he wants money not me. The more we were able to talk the more I started wishing those messages were from the real John Wilson. Every time my feelings were stronger I would just pick a fight about him being a catfish. “Ffs Gracie you still don’t believe me?” “Well” I’d respond “I gave you tasks to do in pics and you can’t and you won’t video chat with me so I have yet to see proof” “Gracie these guys already tease me mercilessly about you the last thing I need is some jerk making obscene gestures in the background.” “That’s a flimsy excuse” I’d replied. I didn’t hear from John for a long while after that. I was starting to think I had successfully broken his scam. Then it came : “Gracie I will be returning stateside next week I’d really like it if we could be friends.” Oh boy I thought any second now he will need money to get home. “Gracie please the army is bringing me back what I want is to continue to build what we’ve started here you’re special to me.” The week went by and no request for money. I had broken the scam. He was done. I was in a way sad but still admired my victory that I didn’t give in. I went through my daily duties at the magazine I worked for. Wrote articles, played with products, banged my head on my desk. Yesterday was the day “John” was traveling. I used air quotes to refer to him now. My work bestie Rebecca plopped in a chair opposite my desk and pulled out her lunch. I had told her everything in the last few days. “I’d noticed” she said “you were on cloud nine and now, not so much.” It was then I realized how much I was going to miss what had happened. “I gotta get back before my department kills each other” she headed back towards the lobby to get to marketing. Advertising geniuses could be a challenge at times. I shook my head as I edited the article I was working on. I saw a slow trickle of women head toward the lobby. Some giggled when they walked past. Strange I thought as I shook my head. Just then Rebecca’s voice came over the intercom: “Gracie Johnson you have a visitor in the main lobby!” Odd I wasn’t expecting any appointments today. I got up and smoothed out my skirt as I headed for the lobby. The marketing department was gathered there I could see through the small door window. What on earth? I wondered. I pushed open the door as a couple of the girls let out soft squeals. I stopped dead in my tracks. His bright blue eyes looked right into me as he cracked that dimpled smile. The big bouquet of flowers almost blocked the name tape on the fatigues that said “Wilson” “what? How?” I stuttered. My knees buckled and the squealers stood on either side holding me up. “Hiya doll face” he said “maybe you believe me now?” I ran with everything I had across the lobby and wrapped my arms around him as tight as I could. I couldn’t believe it! My boss appeared then and told me my day was done enjoy my weekend. I looked over at Rebecca who had a huge smile on her face and she winked at me. John took my hand and led me out the door. I’d tell you what happened next but Amanda says this is a PG-13 blog 😉 -Gracie yes Gracie I’m sure we can imagine -Amanda

The Feather Appeared

I had a dream, not a famous one but an ordinary dream. A couple of dreams, actually. In those dreams, feathers appeared. Now, I’ve always heard the quote “when angels are near feathers appear,” but I hadn’t seen it until now. In my first dream, I shared a meal with my parents, who have both passed on. I was whining and carrying on about being sick and tired of being sick and tired and not being able to get up and go to work. I had gotten very ill in January and wound up septic in the hospital for a week. Following hospitalization, I was primarily on bed rest due to a leg wound that required me to elevate my leg as much as possible. Due to lack of activity for three months and not being in great shape, to begin with, I lost a good deal of muscle tone in my legs. I had also advanced into stage 3 chronic kidney disease and am carrying around a good bit of water weight. Doctors recently discovered I have degenerative joint disease in my spine, hips, and knees and something in my lower back is not where it should be. All of these make minimal tasks very difficult for me. Mom looked at me from across the table and said, “if you cannot get up and go to work, then work sitting down,” and with that, they were gone. I was left in the booth by myself, and when I ran my hand along the top edge of the stall, I felt something metal. I picked a carved metal feather with ribbon on it, a bookmark. I knew the feather was significant, but I didn’t know why at first. My medical condition has left me in a state where my former employer no longer held my job because I could not do it at the end of my FMLA time. I can’t commit to any 9-5 right now with the number of doctor’s appointments, medical tests, life-changing procedures to follow, and the like. I started to research work from home positions, and the same consistently caught my eye: writing. A light went off in my head, and the metal bookmark reappeared. It’s a feather from heaven with a message: books. I decided to write a book. I needed a subject. Some thoughts occurred but seemed more short story type than a book. Enter dream number 2. There’s some background to this. For a very long time, I have been dealing with anxiety. Not normal pressure, no mine is wake up in the middle of the night in complete panic and never want to leave my house anxious. It stems from stress regarding medical issues, having so many complications of my condition, being unable to work, figuring out how to support myself, jobless roommate and pets when I just have savings, not feeling well ever, and finding normalcy in a completely abnormal situation. An excellent friend helped me develop “my happy place.” A place I create in my head where I imagine myself being when the stress gets to be too much. Shortly after the book idea, I began to worry about all of the above, and I went to my happy place, and I fell asleep. I remained in my happy place in my dream and at my favorite resting point was a feather. I woke up and said I’m going to write a story with my happy place as the setting and the ideas sprang forth. I’m doing it. I’m writing a book. At the time of this blog, I’m 20,000 words in, and I’ve just begun. I realize a book is a big undertaking and won’t happen overnight, so I’m looking for some other projects too. This blog will be one of my projects. It will showcase my thoughts, my struggles, my health, and life journeys and, at times, feature some short stories or random things. It’s a jumping point to bigger things. Even being gone all this time (1994), Mom still gives good advice.