So, I spoke about having some anxiety last week and and how I work through that. Going to therapy is one of the tools that I use to keep me afloat and doing well. It is, for me, a safe space to contain thoughts and feelings that otherwise don't get a chance to escape my mind or my body. I honestly look at therapy as an oil change for my brain - even when things are going well I still need to get that oil change. I make a point to go regularly.
Not all therapy is meant to dig up tough stuff. While it can be helpful to understand the way we are because of the way we were or the way things went, a good therapist will not re-traumatize you or lead you somewhere you don't want to go.
That's the key learning I took away from today. I walked up the steps to my appointment and thought to myself "Hmm, last time I was here I was really struggling with anxiety and yet today I feel like I've released that and can focus on the positive work that I'm doing in this world." I realized that by writing about the anxiety and sharing it with you, as well as the Gratitude Challenge from last week that I had made space for new and better things to talk about and work on.
Today there were no tears. There were no anxious feelings. I wasn't worried about leaving the baby with Nana today. And I am a firm believer it's because I TALKED ABOUT those fears, worries and anxious thoughts that I was having. (Talked about it, wrote about it, was open and honest about it and finally - moved OUT OF IT.)
The more we release these things that no longer serve us (but that may seem taboo or unmentionable), the more space we have to create joyful projects and meaningful connections with others. I did realize though that people are not used to, nor are they trained to respond when you open up about having anxiety.
I'd like to offer some suggestions on how to respond to someone who might open up to you when they are having a difficult time:
Sometimes people with anxiety don't know that is what they are dealing with. So, if you notice a friend or co-worker having a hard time coping with stress, maybe just do a little something to lighten their load without asking them what they need. (Sometimes they don't yet know what they need) An example of this might be, bringing them a tea or another random act of kindness. Just asking how they are doing. Maybe tell them a funny story or joke. Whatever act of compassion that you can do could just help that extra little bit.
Finally, if you or someone you know needs help on a clinical level please know that there is no shame in seeking help. We take our cars in when they need maintenance. Our brains deserve regular maintenance too! We would never tell someone not to get their blood pressure checked if they felt it was out of whack so we ought to be more understanding of someone seeking help for feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
But most of all, talk about it. Write about it. Sing about it. Dance about it. Paint about it. Express it however works for you. And if you happen to be the person that someone talks to about it - try using some of the suggestions above.
Once you release the struggle you allow space for the magic to happen (I think of this like letting the fizz out of the champagne - once the fizz is out and has settled a bit you can get to the delicious tasty treat) In that space you can work on creating new passions, new hobbies, feeling good, exercise, eating well, connecting with others - whatever it is that you feel great doing.
So this week I started a Gratitude Challenge. Which means I'm obviously the most grateful, happy, cool, calm and collected person on the planet right?
This week I think my anxiety hit a high note. It hasn't been this out of control in a long time. Probably since back in 2015 - but that's a story for a different post.
This could possibly be "postpartum-lack of sleep-hormonal rollercoaster-broken back and wrists-anxiety" , but as I'm not a doctor nor am I in my scope of practice to diagnose - this is simply what I'm calling it.
Anxiety rears it's ugly head when the nervous system is taxed to the max. When you're so stressed out either mentally, physically or emotionally - that's when those anxious gremlins come a knockin'. (As you're reading this is your jaw clenched? Theeeere you go, relax baby.)
Anxious gremlins? What are those? Those sound like muppets....(that's how I picture mine to be truthful).
They are those little thoughts that creep in and sound something like this:
"You can't do that..."
"Who are you to do/think/say those things?"
"The world is terrible and there's no point in doing the things I love..."
"No one understands me..."
"I'll be judged if I do or say what I really love to do..."
"Why did she look at me like that?"
" Stay home don't go out and socialize with the people who lift you up because it's so much cozier here at home in your misery pyjamas...."
"I'm afraid that XYZ will happen to my child so I'll just bubble wrap her three times and never watch tv let alone go anywhere."
"I forgot everything I had planned to bring because I was rushing and couldn't think straight, ugh what's wrong with me?"
"I'm afraid I'm not good enough at XYZ so I am not going to join the club, or speak up in a conversation..."
"I cried about that stupid thing in front of soandso, why can't I get it together?!"
"What's wrong with me!?"
Any of those sound familiar?
Those are the anxious gremlin muppets (like the evil muppets not the cute ones) and they love to take over your thoughts. (And sometimes not even thoughts but just actions) And guess what? The more attention you give to them - the more you feed them. The more you give in to those scary gremlin thoughts the more they grow. They can get so big that you literally can't move because the gremlin muppets have gotten so fat that they are now sitting on your chest and your heart is pounding because it feels like it has no room to beat.
The baby hasn't been sleeping, she's teething and I have been on the go visiting family all week which has been exhausting. I can feel myself slipping down a slippery slope when I snap at my husband, can't take a joke or cry for no reason. (I mean don't get me wrong a good cry is needed once and awhile ammaright?) I've been having nightmares and paralyzing fears that something will happen to the baby if we drive somewhere or if I leave her with someone or or or....it's exhausting. And I know that they are irrational thoughts but man it takes a ton of energy that I don't have to talk my mind back on track (everything's fine, she will be fine, just drive safely, she's in good hands etc etc. )
Thanks a lot anxiety. You are sooo fun to deal with. And man do you ever pick the best times to come out and play like, oh I don't know, family holidays, after the birth of a new child, in the middle of report card season, on the way to the Santa Claus parade or, sometimes they do all their work behind the scenes and jump out at you in the middle of a lovely dinner and you're like "what and who the hell are you?!" (This is where I kind of picture Animal Muppet)
They're crafty those gremlins.
So this week - the Gratitude Challenge week OF ALL THE WEEKS - this is when my gremlin muppets decided to come out in FULL effect. And I'm supposed to be leading the gratitude challenge. Efffff.
In part though - I think that they came out to show me that I am likely not the only one. And that maybe being honest with you about this struggle is a way for us to support each other and maybe I can even help you understand and name what you might also be feeling. In fact research has shown that being able to name it - ANXIETY GREMLIN MUPPETS (there I did it!!!!) can actually LOWER the symptoms of said anxiety. So, there we go, one step closer.
Gratitude is also such a powerful tool to combat those gremlins. When they show up to be all like "everything sucks and the world is shitty and climate change is real and I can't do anything about it" you can respond and be like "Actually not everything is shitty because I have (name and count your blessings) and yes climate change is real but there are actions that I can take everyday (recycling, compost, eat less meat, walk/bike). And guess what happens when you do that? That gremlin starts to shrink a little bit because you've taken away some of his fuel so he can't keep getting bigger. (See - this is where the muppet visual is useful).
I could honestly write a blog post on each specific tool to use to combat anxious thought gremlins (and I still might) but for now I am going to just make a list of suggestions that you can use and that I find to help calm my nervous system the eff down.
I hope that it was helpful to you in some way either if you are dealing with anxiety yourself or perhaps to understand what's going on for a loved one.
I guess this is where I finally understand the meaning of "make your mess your message."
Sending you support and empathy,
PS. We can all support each other at the My Gratitude Attitude Facebook Group HERE.