Managing Anxiety: Vacation Routine

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Beauty exists everywhere

As per my previous post, my two-week vacation didn’t exactly go off to a good start.  I wanted time to myself, but some family members wanted me to go out more. So now that my vacation is coming to a close, how did it go?

Well, as always, in life, there are some high points and some not so high ones.  However, overall, it ended up being quite a good vacation.  I feel recharged and ready to go back to work.  I thought I’d write about some of the thoughts, feelings, and things that have happened in the last week and a bit.

Setting boundaries

This is an aspect of my personality that seems to be a major cause of anxiety.  I think that over the years, it has gotten better, but it definitely is something that is a “work in progress.”  I am the type of person that will say “yes” to almost anything.  Over the years, it has gotten better and of course, sometimes, the right answer is to say “yes.”  During this vacation, I was able to say “no” to some events I did not want to be a part of and I felt proud of myself.  Even though it is a bit an emotional for me to set these boundaries, mostly due to the guilt, it felt empowering to be able to take control of my life.

Dessert is always a good thing

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Vacation is a good time to do things that will make you happy.  Dessert always makes me happy.  My best friend and I went to this new soft-serve ice cream place, which served some interesting new flavours, like Bubble Tea.  There were even versions that had a roasted marshmallow and cotton candy as toppings.  I chose to have the honey comb one, and it  was delicious!  The element that took this soft serve ice cream to the next level is that they add dried ice to the bottom of the cup!

Ice cream is always a good thing, but ice cream with the dreamy experience of dried ice!  Well, that just takes it to another level! 🙂

Setting small goals

I find it is lovely to have long stretches of time to do just whatever you want during vacation.  It seems great in the beginning.  However, I find that, it also sometimes makes me anxious because I don’t know what is going to happen next.  Plus, I do want to be “productive” in completing some tasks that I meant to do during my vacation.  This usually just consists of errands and chores.  Although, I must note that watching Youtube for hours is still considered “productive” in my mind because it is relaxing and informative.

Usually, I decide to make some small goals during the day.  Planning the day in hours or minutes is just too stressful for me because it predisposes that I will actually complete these activities in the schedule.  Instead, I will tell myself I will complete a task in a certain time period, like in 10 minutes, or at 3 pm.  It helps me feel productive and lets me ease into transitioning to another task.

Anyway, hope everyone has a good week.

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Two Week Vacation = Anxiety Overload

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Spring is here!

I hope I am not the only one that feels this way.  To most people, vacation is a time of relaxation. Something to look forward to.  I started my vacation a week ago and I am sitting down writing this with one semi-meltdown under by belt.

Vacations are hard for me.  I think hugely because my idea of vacation is really different than most peoples (I could be wrong about this).  All I want to do for at least half my vacation is just stay home, veg in front of my computer watching Youtube, and clean the house.  The other quarter of the time, I want to wander the city by myself.  Basically, enjoying the company of myself and I.  And maybe, just maybe, for one quarter of the time, meet up with people for lunch.

This is wherein the problem lies.  When other people ask me what I am doing for my vacation, I usually tell them I just want to relax.  However, when they find out that relaxing means not leaving the house for a day or two, they get worried.

Are you depressed?  Are you ok?  You want to come out, you’ll feel better.

All I want to do, is scream at the top of my lungs, “I am doing fine.  Leave me alone.”  Of course, being the nice and understanding “people-pleaser” I am, I don’t actually say that.  Instead, I say in my “unable to set boundaries” voice, “I’m tired, maybe another day.”

I think the most difficult part of anxiety is waiting for that call that may or may not happen from a concerned friend or family member.  A huge part of anxiety is the anticipation.  The waiting game.  This also sometimes comes with an element of guilt because you should be grateful that someone cares to contact you.  You wish that you could accept that care graciously and willingly.

Ultimately, I think the most difficult part of vacation for me is the unpredictability.  When I am on my work schedule, I pretty much know what the day will be like.  I can visualize the whole schedule for the week.  However, on vacation, there are some parts that are scheduled, but also large parts that are unaccounted for.  The scheduled events might still bring on anxiety because they are not things you do daily.  Vice versa, all the “free time” can also be worrisome because you don’t know what to do to fill them up.  Although, in my case, I have enjoyed some of my “free time” doing things I enjoy.

What do you think about vacation time?  What are some things you like to do during vacation?

“Words” to Describe Anxiety to Others

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The Best Things in Life are Free

This post was inspired by a comment on my last post from jennymarie4 (her blog is great), who talked about the struggles of explaining her anxiety to others.  I, too, have struggled with this a lot in my life.  Anxiety is such a layered and complex experience.  It is often hard to put in words. Even more difficult, I found, is the task of trying to sum up the experience in a few sentences to another person.

Moreover, since everyones’ experience with anxiety is so different and singular, reading the symptoms off a medical website to another person is also very limiting .  I think, most of us who have anxiety, would agree, it is so much more than those symptoms.  That is why, to this day, I still struggle with a “good” explanation.

I tend to usually, just go for the most simple explanation.

It feels like your worst anxiety but multiplied like 10 times. (or a hundred times sometimes)

I think most people are able to connect to this feeling on some level as human beings.  However, this explanation can be vague, because every person’s level of anxiety is different and to imagine how that would “feel” is very abstract sometimes.

That is why I often will use analogies.  Here is one I use often, inspired by Zoella, a Youtuber, about her experiences with panic attacks and anxiety.

A person with anxiety is similar to a car alarm that will go off even if there is no imminent danger. 

I often use this analogy to explain why I am stressed all the time and how I just have an oversensitive car alarm.

Lately, I have also been working on another analogy to explain how anxiety feels every day to me.  I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Some of the most symptoms include persistent worry, worrying about worrying, and several physical symptoms (insomnia, upset stomach).

It feels like every single cell in your brain is filled with worry.  There is only a small part of your brain that is not consumed by this worry.  This small part allows you to continue to function in your daily life.  However, the rest of time, your brain is just consumed with one repetitive worry or many worries.  When it gets really severe, the small part disappears too, and it becomes impossible to do anything.

This is just my personal experience, but for me GAD, feels like a cloud of worry hanging over me. I can look away for a while, but every time, it still comes back to haunt me.

What wording do you use to describe your anxiety to others?  I would love to know.

Managing Anxiety: Lying to others about how I really feel

I’ll often hear “talk about it, it’ll make you feel better.”  I mean, sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Plus, I think most people don’t know what they are getting into when they say that to someone.  If I talked about every thought in my head, they’d be here for hours.  Plus, it would be super repetitive.

I thought I would just share some of the thoughts I have about this topic (possibly since I was lied last week and am feeling a bit guilty).  Why do I lie about how I really feel sometimes?  Is it good to lie?  Is it ok not to talk about how you feel sometimes?  I am hoping some of these thoughts will help friends and family of those with anxiety to understand what some of their thinking may be like.  Most importantly, why we might lie or not want to talk about how we feel.

It is just so boring and repetitive.  I mean, gosh, I am so bored of it sometimes, let alone anyone else. For me, it is always just the same thoughts running through my head somedays.  It is nothing new, and I just honestly don’t want to bore the other person.

You don’t want to burden the other person.  Well, in my head, I always think I am burdening them. This is a tough one for me.  Most likely, these anxious thoughts have been whirling through my head a million times, and I might only have mentioned it a few times to the other person.  Somehow I feel it still burdens them because most likely they will not have an answer to my problem.  I mean, I not looking for answer, but the other person feels bad because they can’t help you.  Plus, it just makes the other person worry.

Sometimes talking makes me more emotional.  When it is in my brain, somehow it still feels like the thoughts are just “in progress” and maybe they’ll dissipate as quickly as they came. However, once you say it, the truth makes it worse.  Somehow saying the words makes the troubles seem concrete and real.  Consequently, I feel like I have to face the reality of the situation and somehow the tears start coming.

They think I am crazy.  When the anxiety is bad, the thoughts I have sometimes are so negative and self-destructive, that I think it may scare and worry someone.  Plus, there is this part of me that feels that others will stigmatize or laugh at me because of my anxiety.  The less I talk about it, the more I seem “normal” to myself and others.  It is a sense of self-preservation, I guess.

Managing Anxiety: Is it okay to use anxiety as an excuse?

I lied again.  I didn’t show up for lunch with a friend because I was anxious and stressed from the past week.  Instead of telling her truth, I told her I was sick.  Is it okay to use anxiety as an excuse, and why did I choose to lie again?

When I told most of my friends about my anxiety, I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders. Now that everyone knew, and no one freaked out, I could just move on to a life free of secrets.  I no longer had to lie about why I didn’t show up for that Christmas party or why I was suddenly missing for a weeks.  I was free!

In many ways, this is true.  I felt so relieved that I didn’t have to lie every time I couldn’t attend an event.  Having anxiety and depression was hard enough.  On top of that, having to come up with some Oscar winning performance lie to deceive someone made it even harder.  However, despite all the hardship, the shame of having mental illness, even in my sickest times, gave me the willpower to continue maintaining this “I’m fine” facade.

Was I truly free?  Of course, not totally.  Like most things in life, there are no simple and finite answers. Often, solving one problem, creates new ones.  Presently, my current problem is that I seem to easily just opt out of doing things using my anxiety as an excuse.

Oh, I am having a bad week, I think I’ll pass.  I have been stressed lately, I don’t think I can make it.

Did I really need a break?  I am not sure anymore.  I guess I could have gone, but what if it stressed me out more?  So, the best choice, is just not to go right?  Has my anxiety become an easy “get out of jail free” card?  Maybe.

All I know is that these thoughts go through my head everyday:

Do I need to relax?   Should I go out?  Will it be too stressful?  It feels ok now, but what if the accumulated stress leads to a meltdown?

I feel like I have become my own psychiatrist, but not a very good one at that.  Well, I guess, even doctors are not always right, but at least they have a plethora of experience and knowledge at their fingertips.  I am basing my diagnosis on the symptoms that only I experience.  Sometimes, I feel very inadequate.  Basically, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.  This is very difficult for a person who is a perfectionist at heart.

All I have are a few guiding principles that are sort of the “treatment” plan right now.  Firstly, don’t grade everyday like an exam.  There are no letter grades and no is going to fail you hopefully.  So don’t be too hard on yourself (obviously easier said then done).  If you step back and look at the grand scheme of your entire life, this moment may be very small.  Furthermore, this bad day might be considered a good day in light of your entire life.  Secondly, there are times when you really do need to rest and take care of yourself and that is ok.  If you are saying “no” to many things, than you might to reevaluate what is going on in your life.  Lastly, don’t evaluate whether the moment is good or bad, just experience it.  That’s all I got for now.

Fighting Fortune-Telling: Will they laugh about my anxiety?

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My psychiatrist always says things to me, like “Are you a fortune teller?” or “How do you know that will happen? ” or “You need to stop.”  My answer is usually something like, “I guess you are right,” but “I can’t stop.”

There are some days where these endless negative thoughts will not stop.  However, sometimes, certain thoughts can nudge the negative ones to the curb for a bit.  I guess this what is called CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), which is trying to change these negative thoughts into more realistic and positive ones.

In a similar vein, the following are simply some thoughts that have kept my mind from blowing up with negativity.   The topic this time is dealing with negative thoughts when considering telling others about your anxiety.  Here are some thoughts I try to use to rewrite the negativity in my brain:

People spend very little time thinking of others.  Most people are usually consumed with thinking about themselves.  I mean, gosh, how many hours do I spend obsessing over my anxiety.  They are probably not going to laugh at you and definitely will not spend tons of their time thinking about you.

Confide in someone you think will understand.  This is piece of advice was given to me by my psychiatrist and it has helped me a lot.  I think many anxious people are perfectionist.  We want to make sure everyone likes us, but impossible to do.  There will always be people who who will not understand you, and it is not because they are horrible people.  It might just be because of their background or personal issues in their life.  You do not have to make it your mission to figure that out.  Furthermore, confiding in someone who will understand will also give you more confidence in telling other people down the road.

1 and 5 people have experienced mental illness.  If this statistic is true, more likely than not, the person you tell has either experienced or know someone who has it.  Therefore, there is a great chance they will be able to connect with you at some level.

The truth will set you free.  Telling someone about your anxiety might make you more anxious. However, it also is a great relief because it might help you release the shame that sometimes comes with mental illness.  Furthermore, once you have told one person, it will empower you to tell others.  Eventually, the small anthill of confidence that you gain through telling one person, will hopefully, one day, be as high as Mount Everest.

It is the best of times.  More than ever, more people are talking their anxiety.  Many celebrities have openly talked about their mental illness journeys.  I feel, through social media and even these blogs, there is a greater openness and understanding about mental illness.  This gives me great hope that one day we can talk about our mental struggles as easily as we can talk about what we did on the weekend.

Struggling to Talk about my Anxiety at Work

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Before this year, I would have never in a million years dreamt about talking about my anxiety at work.  In fact, the first time I went on sick leave because of my anxiety, I was petrified that people would find out.  At that time, I thought that anything would be better than people finding out about my mental illness.  Moreover, I remembered reading somewhere that many anxiety patients envied people that had cancer because people usually felt sorry for cancer patients. With mental illness, you are never quite sure what the response would be.  Would they understand?  Would they be scared?  At my sickest, I remembered this reasoning made complete sense to me.  Who would put their bets on a maybe?

After my second bout my depression, I started feeling different about telling others.  I don’t think I would ever easily see my anxiety as a gift, but everything has a silver lining right?   As time went by, I finally realized that having anxiety allowed me to belong to a special group of people that have firsthand experience of this condition.  Maybe, I could help others understand how it feels like?  Maybe, I could help ease the stigma around the mental illness by breaking the code of silence that arounds it.

So I decided to tell as many people as I could at work about my anxiety.  Even as I am typing this, I am laughing.  Was I crazy?  I couldn’t even think of anyone who has talked about their mental illness at work.  Why did I think I could I do it?  Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could, but somehow having really dealt with it for 7 years, I felt a little bit more at peace with it.  However, I realized that talking about your mental illness is not like talking about your weekend, you can’t really bring it up in random conversations with your coworkers.

I felt like there were a few moments I was able to bring it up, but somehow I felt like getting the words out were a lot harder than I thought.  I think, first and foremost, will others think I am incompetent at my job if they find out about my anxiety?  Will my anxiety become my only defining characteristic?  Will people treat me differently?  Will they think I am crazy?  Will they laugh out me?  Will they only see me only for anxiety now?  Will they still remember how I was before?

I struggle with this till today, but I have had some success telling a few coworkers.  I will talk about that in my next blog post.

Support Systems – Short-Term Fortune-Telling

I think every person’s support systems are different when it comes to anxiety.  Honestly, I think whatever works for you at that moment, is what works.  It could be anything really.   For me, sometimes, the best thing is just to tell myself to “take one day at a time” or sometimes even “one hour at a time.”  I am the master of fortune telling impending doom.  Every bad thing that could possibly happen to a person I have probably considered.  So, sometimes, instead of fortune telling my impending doom, I tell myself that it is much more realistic, to fortune tell the next hour or the next few hours.  Life, sometimes, seems much more livable that way.

I know it sounds ridiculous to fortune tell that in the next hour you will need to go bathroom or something mundane like that.  Yet, sometimes, just simple tasks like getting up from the desk and going to the kitchen to get a snack are enough you to pull you out of that spiralling tunnel of anxiety.

Sure, this definitely doesn’t always work for me, but sometimes, just sometimes, these short fortuning days turn into long fortuning days, where I am able to begin fortune telling what I am doing next week.

By the way, I am no means, an expert at dealing with my anxiety.  These are just some ideas that have helped me sometimes.  The truth is that I have been writing this blog to help distract from other troubles in my life right now.  Ironically, anxiety is the one thing that not only torments me, but also the topic I feel most passionate and confident writing about.  Life is strange sometimes, isn’t it?

Support Systems – Keep it Simple

I suffer from anxiety.  In my experience, sometimes the most small nugget of advice or inspiration could be enough to be keep me motivated and afloat for a while.  I hope this blog will be that “support system” for someone when they feel like they are sinking.

I, by no means, am an advocate for taking medication for anxiety.  However, I am also not a doctor, who can medically determine what is the right treatment for a patient.  I am just a person that has experienced this condition and this is what has helped me.

At this point, as an anxious person, the thought going through my head is “what if this doesn’t work for me?”  I know for sure, even though this might or might not help you, I know something will and “things will get better,” so don’t give up.

This next nugget of advice, is a support system I use often when I feel like my anxiety is spiralling out of control.  It comes from Tumblr post from the author, John Green, replying to a question from one of his readers.

In his post he talks about how he treats his anxiety.

“I treat my anxiety the same way I treat any other illness: I accept that I am sick, listen to my doctors, pay attention to peer-reviewed studies of what helps in treatment of the condition, and stick with the treatment regimen.” — John Green

John Green’s Tumblr Post

For me, whenever I feel like I am losing the fight against my anxiety, I always go back to basics.  In my case, whenever I can’t win whatever is happening in my brain, I call my doctor and follow the treatment. This usually means taking a walk or taking my medication.

I hate taking medication.  It makes me feel like a loser because I feel like I can’t control myself — by myself.  However, just thinking of my condition as simply a medical condition that needs to be treated by a doctor has helped me tremendously.  We learn that as a child that if we are sick, we go see the doctor, and accept the treatment.  It really is as simple as that.