Mental Health Matters: Anxiety

I learned the first semester of undergrad that being assigned several tasks at one time caused uncontrollable tension. There was an overwhelming sense that I wouldn’t have time to complete everything. That’s when I developed an organized coping mechanism system. I began keeping an agenda of lists. These lists ensured that I knew where I was supposed to be and at what time. As technology advanced, I not only kept lists, but I also created reminders on my cell phone and included the same events on my digital calendar. My lists had lists.

I’m sure list making is a “normal” task; my issue is that I never veer from them. A friend of mine jokes that she needs to make an appointment to speak with me. But she and I know it’s not a joke. I will not sacrifice a list item for an unscheduled phone conversation to catch up with a friend.

This rule continued as I raised children. My daughters understood that if they wanted me to do something, then they had to tell me at least a week in advance. I’ve missed ceremonies because they told me at the “last minute,” which would require me changing my schedule, sending me into a frenzy where I felt as if I didn’t have enough time.

The rigidity and necessity of my list making surfaced April 2019 when my youngest daughter was in a car accident. Someone hit someone else, who hit her, and caused her to hit a fourth person. She called her dad, who handled the situation and agreed that she was able to go to school. By the end of the day, she’d texted me complaining of headaches.

After an appointment with a DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine), it was decided that she had a concussion and would need further treatment. Additionally, she would have to take pain meds every 3-4 hours and rest for at least a week at home…with me. This meant no screen time and no thinking, just resting. Are you aware of how challenging it is to keep a seventeen-year-old off her phone?

This is when I fully realized another issue. When life is fine, I’m fine. List. Check. Go. When something occurs, especially if it’s traumatic, I begin to feel worried that I cannot handle the task at hand and complete my list. I spiral quickly.

Ensuring my daughter ate food, rested, didn’t watch television, stayed off her phone, didn’t FaceTime her group for a group project (which she did), took pain medications every four hours, all while checking off my daily professor tasks, like grading papers and answering students’ question was…a lot.

But I didn’t realize it until my husband came home.

“Why are you so tired?” he asked.

clocksMy answer? Tears. I was emotionally exhausted. The days’ events had worn me out, and underneath it all I was also worried that our daughter wouldn’t recover soon enough. She was in a rigorous academic program and needed her brain. She had an oral exam in a week and AP exams shortly after. Concussions can take months to recover from. Her fogginess was evident. She couldn’t recall words, like theory. What if she never healed? What if this accident ruined everything? What if I wasn’t doing enough to help her heal? How was I supposed to balance helping her and doing my job?

I never saw myself as suffering from anxiety. I reserved that for other people, like my cousin who had prescriptions for panic attacks or those who washed their hands and cleaned obsessively. Certainly, I wasn’t like them.

I’d even read that people with anxiety chew ice and shared that info with my husband. “You used to chew ice,” he said.

And I thought so what? I’ve never had anxiety. But, I do. My life is peppered with people asking a simple question, like “how are you?” and me crying uncontrollably because I’ve held onto frenetic feelings and worse-case scenarios of a situation.

Last year is just the first time I’d realized it.

Part of the mental health stigma is that issues have to be extreme. This is untrue. You do not have to be walking down the street talking to yourself to have a mental health issue. You can simply have an overactive mind that constantly tells you there isn’t enough time to complete tasks. You can have the incapacity to appropriately regulate your emotions. Or, you can have fill-in-the-blank issue that you’ve kept secret to appear “normal.”

Either way, the first step for any healing is acceptance. I’ve accepted anxiety is a part of a few mental health issues I’ve tried to hide. Next month, I’ll discuss another.

January’s Mental Health Matters 

 

55 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Anxiety

  1. I love how you say that the first step of healing is acceptance. I can relate! I was diagnosed with anxiety in college, and just even being able to put a name on my suffering helped tremendously. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post! I’d like to say, seems that with all the hi-tech, AI developments we are suffering from lists more and more, and at the end – from anxiety. That’s why I don’t allow notifications from any apps on my phone, unless its a time appointment (outside of my house). Also we maybe should learn to go with a flow time to time… (but i love planning too lol its saving lives sometimes 😂).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing!… I use meditation and follow the advice of Roy Bennett; “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” ―( Roy T. Bennett )…. 🙂

    Hope all you tomorrows are filled with peace, love and happiness and life is all that you wish for it to be… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I can see why it took you a while to realize that you have anxiety issues, because you have very good coping strategies in place. But as you say, sometimes life gets in the way of our coping systems, and then we have to admit that there is a problem. Good for you for owning it, and for sharing it with others! Every time one person steps forward and says “I struggle with mental health issues” it makes it that much easier for others to do the same. And that moves us all toward acceptance of mental health issues (our own and in others) and helps erase the stigma that keeps people from getting the help they need!

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    1. I think so Ann. I’ve always been really good about knowing how I feel and not wanting to feel/look out of place/different than anyone else. It’s good that something like “anxiety” is a household term now that we can identify and treat (if necessary).

      I also agree that acknowledging these things privately or publicly is very important. I think it’s because we oftentimes believe we suffer alone that many of us don’t seek help.

      Anywho, thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Khaya! I guess that’s part of my point. Some of us have one idea set in our minds, which creates a stereotype and a flurry of other effects, such as people who need help, not seeking it.

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  5. I think it is a more common ‘condition’ then people realize. Structure AND build-in time to relax will be very helpful. And self-compassion is crucial; it IS ok if a task needs to be postponed to the next day, because a far more important responsibility comes up.
    Great post, dear Katherin. Sharing these kind of experiences are much more helpful than the info out of books (which are often no longer relevant).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Patty! I’ve had to learn those things you’ve mentioned over time. I’ve also started saying, “I have enough time in the day to do what I want.” It kind of relieves the pressure of feeling like I don’t have enough time.

      And thank you for saying that. I agree with you that if we all share a little more, then maybe we can stop relying on scripted one-size fits all approaches to these issues. They don’t work for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes! List-making is actually pretty common in people with anxiety. I definitely do it, too. It helps us have some sense of control over our lives. And, just like avoidance/procrastination (which I just wrote about and posted today!), it works really well….until it doesn’t anymore. Those lists keep the fear of forgetting or missing something at bay, and having a plan absolutely reduces fear in unknown or unfamiliar situations (or familiar ones, too). But then something like your daughter’s accident happens, and our fabulous coping mechanisms are thwarted or stop working. Like you, I usually find myself overwhelmed and exhausted by these types of situations. Rest assured, you’re not alone. There are many, MANY forms of anxiety, and they aren’t all the extreme kinds of cases that make for good tv/movie drama!

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    1. Thanks for this comment Lori! So, that part at the end is exactly what I’m saying. Media has really warped our sense of what it means to be anxious. I mean I get why it has to be so extreme. It wouldn’t sell (maybe) if it wasn’t, but these portrayals haven’t served us well, other than to keep things hidden.

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  7. Totally relatable. I’ve had high levels of anxiety since childhood worsened bybnot having anyone to talk to about how I felt or even to realise there was somerhing that needed healing. I’ve seen the whole spectrum of mental illness in my family. While my parents focused on the more jarring presentations of mental illness in my brothers, they put huge pressures on me to continue to be ‘normal’ and achieve ‘success’. In a way I think I lucked out navigating it on my own as my brother’s lives are still so entwined with my parents who continue to infantalise them and compound the issues. I have made friends with my feelings now, anxious or otherwise and appreciate the guidance they give me on what to change or hold onto in my life.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for saying this out loud! What you’ve said is a huge part of what I’m thinking. Because you’re/we’re able to control certain aspects, people like us are expected to do just that…be quiet, suffer in silence, and and then accept being largely ignored because sometimes it is controllable.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I can relate to this. My daughter has generalized anxiety disorder which means she is ANXIOUS. I operate at a low level of anxiety at almost all times that demands a baseline level of order and abhors spontaneity and abrupt changes of plans. When I spoke to my former therapist about this, she said that I have an adjustment disorder that comes out of a form of PTSD (which is the result of being raised by alcoholics). So, you know. It follows.

    The show Alexa & Katie deals with this in the latest season. Katie keeps saying she’s not anxious but the therapist points out that her behaviors track even if she doesn’t think so. It was interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Feeling like I’m not alone in this is helpful Akilah. So, thanks for sharing these experiences.

      Also, “that demands a baseline level of order and abhors spontaneity and abrupt changes of plans” THAT PART!

      I definitely get how this is a result of how one was raised. Being raised by alcoholics is one, and I can’t imagine how many other situations could be anxiety producing.

      I’ll have to look for and check out Alexa & Katie. Thanks for sharing about it.

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      1. It’s the most recent season; I want to say episodes 1, 2, 6, and 8 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing. (I know not everyone is as into the teen stuff as I am :D)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. This just further proves the point that you never know what someone else is experiencing below the surface. I think a lot of us with mental health struggles can be pretty good at putting up the front the world expects to see from us, only to be drained and overwhelmed behind closed doors!

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  9. What you wrote really resonated for me, Katherin. I went through many crises with my children. I was able to be rational and drop everything in the moment, but the shock waves followed later on – it felt like PTSD. And the anxiety that followed was a reminder that anything could happen again and I was on alert. I’m thinking of health issues like what you went through with your daughter. I went through a lot with my cardiac child and my parents.
    My situation was situational, and I have a son with severe anxiety – his is more of a chemical imbalance in his brain. I suffer with him.
    Overall, recognizing it and seeking support and understanding made a difference for me. I was grateful for support from friends and even support groups.
    Thank you for sharing your own personal experience and shining a light on such an important topic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Judy, I understand exactly what you’re saying and thanks for differentiating chemical vs situational anxiety because there is a huge difference!

      Also, the way you’ve described it “like PTSD” makes sense. Because I’ve gone through something before, I’m definitely on high alert that something could happen again, which creates a cycle.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, too. I think it’s important to know and understand the range of specific issues.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand what you’re saying, I think, but I don’t want to rank challenges. For me, both are pretty challenging. And of course, you cannot shift behavior unless you accept it first.

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