Category Archives: anxiety

Reflections on Freshman Year

1496_40445941937_6690_nThis is a hard one for me to talk about but sometimes revisiting a hard past helps in present healing.

In junior and senior high school I would have an anxiety attack every time I would travel away from my hometown. These attacks got worse if I wasn’t around my one of my closest friends and my parents. A ski trip to North Carolina almost got ruined by my anxieties except for having two good friends who helped me refocus on the skiing, one of my favorite things to do. A dance competition to New Orleans the following year was pure torture as I had no friends on the trip and no “trusted” adults.

So imagine me going off to college by myself fall of 1993. The happy picture of me above was taken at Troy State University winter quarter of 1994. I started fall semester at Montevallo University in North Central Alabama. A teeny tiny liberal arts college about 30 minutes outside of Birmingham, AL and about 4 hours away from home.

No friends. No one I was close to. Just me and some of my stuff. No car, just a phone and some stamps (yeah, this is pre-internet/pre-email). I found myself knocking on the door of our residence assistant’s dorm room one too many evenings. I was having panic attacks and not knowing what they heck they were. Really horrible panic attacks. I could barely leave my dorm room much less do much of anything else like getting involved with campus activities. I actually had a panic attack for a new friend because she and her sorority sisters were going to the beach – a three hour drive from school – as part of a welcome to the new sorority sisters.

My parents came to see me a few times and I would beg them to let me come home. I was truly afraid of living at Montevallo. I just knew something horrible was going to happen to me and I was going to die in that backwoods teeny town that was so small it didn’t even have a Wal-Mart. What small Alabama town doesn’t have a Wal-Mart? And if it didn’t have a Wal-Mart it sure as heck didn’t have a hospital, much less a doctor that might understand what in the world was going on with me. The college nurse would give me cough syrup and allergy medicine. It didn’t matter what I would say but panic attacks were just not something that anyone thought of.

The part about mental illness that makes things worse for the person who is sick is the part where we feel ashamed for causing everybody so much trouble. Every time I had a panic attack I relied on other people to help me feel better. I didn’t have a single tool to help myself – I hadn’t been taught them yet – and my sanity depended on other people. The constant crying, the panic attacks, the dependency wears not just on the person with the illness but on the people around her as well. There is a lot of shame associated with having a mental illness especially if it’s undiagnosed and untreated.

I ended up leaving after finals. I transferred to another school closer to home. Being able to be close to the people I trusted helped me feel safe. I was able to enjoy being a college student, to enjoy life away from home. I learned independence. I had my safety – my family were close by in case of emergencies, but I had also gotten well enough to create a new family with the theater students.

This is an unpopular opinion. Not everyone needs to or is ready to go to college upon graduation. Our society forces it – go to college or you won’t get a good job. Go to college or you’re not socially accepted. Much like trade high schools, trade schools, schools close to home, places where the 18, 19-year-old student can feel comfortable stepping out into the world for the first time should be just as accepted as the kids who run off to school half way around the country.

There are so many students I’ve met who are just not ready to be in school but yet they have been told they HAVE to be in school. Have to be. Who says? Is there a law? Sometimes students or college aged people need to just work for awhile, figure out who they are before going to college.

If your student is struggling and is asking to come home just listen to them. Listen to their worries and help them find a place where they can find the strength to get up and get out on their own. Don’t force it on them. And don’t tell them, “This is what you said you wanted.” Don’t make them anymore ashamed than they already are or feel. Find a professional therapist to help too. They can teach everyone – the student and the parents – the tools they need to grow.

 

Being Rude for My Sanity

how-to-get-through-a-panic-attack‘Tis true. Please do not tell me to calm down if I am having a panic attack. I’ll probably hit you or cry. Probably both. You’ve been warned.

I know what I need to do to get me through a panic attack. And that might just mean that I have to walk away from you, not attend your party, go into a dark room and come out when I’m ready.

In other words, sometimes my illness makes me seem rude. But if I don’t follow what I know to get me through my panic attack (and to lesser extent, an anxiety attack) the hurt will rain down on me.

No one likes a friend/co-worker dry-heaving in the car/office.

I’ve been fortunate enough (I guess…some days it doesn’t feel very fortunate) that my co-workers feel comfortable coming to me and chatting about their lives. A co-worker mentioned recently that I should have “therapist” added to my job description. Sometimes a secretary is a lot of like a bartender-type therapist. You come to us because you think we know where everything is (usually we do *wink*) and then that leads to some belief that we will also listen to your life stories.

But being so approachable has drawbacks. The big one for me: If you have a stomach ache and feel sick to your stomach and tell me about it I’m probably going to lose my shit. I have Emetophobia: “a fear of vomiting. Most people don’t know that this fear is common enough to have its own name. Yet vomit phobia can be a disabling condition which severely limits the lives of those who struggle with it.”

Yeah, disabling doesn’t even cover the panic attacks I used to have. A large and belly-full belch could incite gagging in me. Seeing someone chew their food with their mouths open would create a panic attack. Emetephobia is a real thing. “Some are afraid that they will vomit. Others are afraid of seeing others vomit. Most have trouble describing what they fear will happen if they vomit, or see others vomit, but vaguely fear some terrible loss of control, a catastrophe from which they won’t recover. They fear insanity, death, endless vomiting, and so on. Most times they can recognize that these catastrophes aren’t really going to result from vomiting. But when they feel that vomiting may occur, then they don’t feel so sure.”

So, please, please don’t take offense if I ask you to stop talking to me about your stomach ache and upset tummy. I don’t want to be rude but at the same time I don’t want to have a panic attack. A co-worker today was quite ill. I don’t know what happened, thank God, but after seeing my co-worker leaving the office looking horrible I started to get those feelings of panic. I was taught how to rationalize what is obviously an irrational fear, but I needed sometime by myself to do it. Which I couldn’t get. So I had a conversation with another co-worker, who luckily did all the talking while I talked to myself in my head, and was able to calm down. I did my best not to run in fear (which I’ve done) when I saw my other co-worker. Later I was able to offer a ginger ale. I keep a stash of them in my desk drawer if I should feel queasy for any reason.

Maybe some day I won’t immediately freak out, even if just in my head, when someone isn’t feeling well.

 

“Overcome Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting.” Overcome Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting. Anxiety Coach, 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 4 Sept. 2014.

Week 3…The Final Stretch

TRIGGER WARNING: I will be writing about my fear of puking.

This is it. This is the final stretch of a good chunk of my anxiety. Then it will just be school and not school and…. I’m feeling pretty chill though after a friend told me of a stomach bug going around the office below ours, which is something I just hate. I mean, sure no one likes having the pukes, but I have Emetephobia: the fear of vomiting.

I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not nearly as freaked out by it as I used to be. It used to be that life shut down if I even thought something might cause me to vomit. Last year my doctor ignored my insistence that one of the meds she had given me was making me vomit. I spent more than my fair share worshiping the porcelain goddess. My doc still insists that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I told her, “Well, no, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about because I have the ER paper work to prove that I actually got dehydrated from the last time I took your med and puked my guts up.” She just shook her head at me. Seriously?

I’m going to be fine. I will myself to be well. Or at the very least – be well at work. That’s where my Emetephobia is still bad. I’m terrified of getting sick at work. Especially if its the vomiting and runs kind of sick that I tend to get whenever I get sick. Such a mess. I’ve prayed that the Lord would let me stay well at work and that if I had to get sick at least let me be home.

But I’m believing and praying that I will be well and not have to deal with this stomach bug at all. Please God, let it skip me! At least, let it skip me through Saturday!

Week 2: Feeling Keyed up

I don’t like feeling keyed up. In fact, the things that make me anxious often tend are things that make me physically uncomfortable. I don’t mean, “my pants are too tight” uncomfortable, but the “I should never have lit that candle because the smell makes me want to barf and I have a head ache now and I want to barf and I’m dizzy too which also makes me want to barf” kind of uncomfortable.

I know I’m not going to barf, but the feeling that I’m out of control of how I’m feeling. The nice thing is that just admitting it makes me feel a little better. That, and I’m going to go to bed in a little less than an hour. I’m wiped.

Why did I light that dang candle? Oh that’s right, in the New Age store it was touted to inspire creativity to the sufferer smelling it. It’s not outside on our porch. I’ll let the creatures of the night take it away – maybe a possum or one of the two strays we feed will want it to decorate their hidey-holes. I will never light that dang thing again. Now I remember why it was sitting in the corner of a room collecting dust – blech!

I was creative before I light the candle. I’ve been pretty busy today. I had two projects to turn in. I was messing around with the background of the calendar I was trying to make. That’s it below. The only piece that’s mine is the bust of the Madonna and Christ child. The sugar skull painting, which I love is one I found on Pinterest.com. I ended up with another background altogether – the guy with the umbrella. The illustration came from The Graphics Fairy (LOVE her vintage graphic stock!). I don’t know why I am stuck on using vintage pictures in the background. But that’s what I ended up with.

Untitled-2  wdeckermiller_pBp1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a day. I’m terribly glad its over. One day down, five more to go and then there I can relax. Until then I will soothe my anxious soul with school work, work work, and flipping between Breaking Dawn 1 & 2 and Veronica Mars Season 2 – I know, I know, don’t judge me. I am mentally ill after all.

The Skinny. The Low Down. The Thing We Don’t Talk About.

I did not go on my trip to see Sarah in Philadelphia. I’ve been trying to figure out how to say that and the reason why for the last few days, only to be spared from thinking about it while I had the worst head cold ever last week.

While I don’t need to justify to anyone other than Sarah and myself, I feel that visibility about how an anxiety disorder can wreck things is something that I should share.

Double Trouble!

Double Trouble! That’s me on the left and Sarah on the right. What the heck am I wearing? A purple tank top? WTH?

Two weeks ago when I picked up my blog again, school being the biggest reason I don’t write in it, I posted a couple of times about the trip and my worries. That week I had also been given some bad news about my health that require huge changes (with little support for how to make those changes by my doctor). So by Wednesday of that week I was so in a tizzy that my anxiety was acting out in other ways besides the usual panic attacks.

This is something I’ve been able to track – sometimes when I’m really anxious about something I will instead project my anxiety onto something else instead of the thing I’m actually anxious about. Why? I have no idea. This time it was school. I’m on the quarter system so I go to school for 10 weeks and then have a couple of weeks off before the next quarter begins. I’ve been going to school since September 2011. All four quarters: Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer.

The stress of school, working full time, and trying to not let that stress interfere with my relationship with my husband is really hard. I sometimes fail miserably and the balance goes all wonky. I was only into week 2 when my anxiety about the trip started. I should have really considered my school schedule along with my trip before I made any plans. But as someone with my disorder, I often feel guilty that my anxiety and depression keep other people from having any fun with me. The “People Pleaser” in me comes out in full force instead of being honest.

So I had crying break down. I did a couple of stupid things – remember I’m projecting my anxiety – and emailed some professors and classmates about the “unfairness” of a class we are required to take. I’m so embarrassed. It was a stupid email. Finally my husband asked me, “What is really going on?” And that’s when I broke. We decided together and later validated by Sarah and my therapist that the trip just wasn’t in my cards just yet. Oh its there, and its going to happen but maybe not when I’m not going to school and working and maybe not after I’ve gotten some crappy news that equally makes me anxious but also depresses me.

So there it is. I didn’t go. I ended up catching a horrible head cold and spent my vacation time in bed. But it was the best stay-cation ever. I really needed the rest and the sleep I got. I’m back at work today. Yesterday I did some homework. I feel a little more clear headed than I did a week ago.

I’m also not stressing about school. The class is crap. That’s how I feel about it. I know several other people in my class who feel the same way, so at least I’m not alone. I also talked to my professor and he knows how badly I’m struggling and has offered to help me as much as possible – as long as I ask for the help. So we’ll see. I’m shooting for a C in that class. It’s not an A or a B but its realistic. Finger’s crossed. Six more weeks to go.

Baby Steps = Mini-Adventures

Today was an amazing day. But I need to back up…

I work in a department that focuses on teaching and supporting service and leadership opportunities to our university students and the community. I’ve worked there since May 2012 and was immediately impressed by the students’ passion for service. My office has several different types of service projects that students can participate in throughout the year. Some are on campus, in our community, and some require travel, even internationally. At the end of the year we hold two awards ceremonies for the students to honor them and the work they do. One is the Presidential Service Award and the other is the Impact Awards (where we honor not only the students but our community partners for their service too).

I started to think about my first time as an undergrad. I never did service. I think I did two service projects but only because my theater honor fraternity, that I was Vice President of, decided to give it a shot. But never sought out service projects on my own. So now I that I’m back in school I thought, you know, I should give this a shot!

During one of our staff meetings people started to talk about the extra help they could use for various events, and that if anyone not involved in the event wanted to volunteer to let them know. This was really directed toward our graduate assistants and our AmeriCorp *VISTA rep. I emailed the directors and told them that I wanted to volunteer.

Today was amazing. I joined my colleagues and 600+ university students for our annual fall day of service. I went around to the different service sites and took pictures and Tweeted with our event hashtag. Being an event photographer is something that makes me feel really confident. Also, going out and about to places I don’t know by myself on my own is something that would have made me feel really anxious, triggered my IBS, and generally make me feel miserable. My day started at 6:40 a.m., hit the day of service event until 12:30 and came on home.

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BUT it doesn’t end there – I went out and had lunch at a restaurant BY. MY-SELF! Mike was out hanging with some friends and I needed lunch. My friend Rafa has this great quote on his office door. It basically says that if you make friends with yourself you’ll have a friend forever. I took myself out to lunch and enjoyed my own company thoroughly.

This is not to say that I don’t do things myself, I do, but usually its hanging out at home. I rather enjoyed going to the restaurant. I took my iPad and read a book and just sat and enjoyed the quiet time, my wonderful lunch, and treated myself to a nummy dessert.

Overall, I’d say it was a good day. I did somethings I that used to be a challenge that didn’t even feel like a challenge and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is what I want from my life. Confidence. Good times.

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Still Trying

I still have so much anxiety about this trip. I wish I didn’t. It would be really nice to be excited about the trip. I’m debating on making a list of what makes me anxious about this trip. In my head all the reasons are absolutely ridiculous, which makes sense for an agoraphobic. None of our reasons for fears are sound.

Instead of making a list of the things I’m afraid of, at least I’m not making that list tonight, I’ll make a list of things I’m actually excited about. Maybe that will help me feel better.

1. Seeing my best friend. I mean, duh!
2. Getting out of FLORIDA!!! I know that people who don’t live in Florida think Florida is sunshine and beaches and Disney. But my Florida, the real Florida of non-vacations, is oak tree pollen, year round vegetation that blooms and expels this hideous yellow pollen that coats cars, standing water, buildings, anything standing still (even ponds that aren’t still!). And I’m allergic to it. Year round I’m sneezing, I’m itchy, I’m sniffling. At my worst, like this past weekend, my eyes swell up, I get hives, and I’m drugged to the gills with Benadryl and can’t get out of bed.
3. Being in cool temperatures! Florida is still hot in October. Sometimes we will get a nice couple of cool evenings at the end of the month, but that usually happens every other year. Last year was our nice, cool evenings. This year it will be hot. I’ve checked the Philadelphia weather every day and getting excited about having to possibly wear a hoodie or fluffy, fuzzy socks.
4. Chilling out. Vacations are always nice. It’ll be a working vacation as I still have homework I have to do but it won’t be working all day and homework all night….then again

crap this list is becoming less about what I’m excited about and more about the things that make me anxious. CRAP! Okay, okay. Maybe this post should be about what I actually have control over.

1. What I eat. I can control what I eat so I won’t trigger an IBS flare up.
2. Doing my homework. I have this week to buckle down and do the best that I can with my homework. I think I need to schedule office hours with my technical drawing professor because that’s the class that’s throwing me for a loop. Okay, so that’s a good plan.
3. Just talk to Sarah about needing time to do homework. She is taking some art classes herself and suggested I bring my sketch book with me. I guess I thought I’d be doing less technical drawing (it says drawing for design – a lot of us were under the impression that we were taking a graphic design specific drawing class, not a technical drawing class).
4. Make sure I’m drinking lots of water. Been drinking too much soda – a no no for those with anxiety and depression.
5. Call my therapist and talk to her. That’s the first thing I’m going to do tomorrow. She’s pretty cool. I’m hoping she’ll give me some tips. I have lots of tools for calming down in a panic attack and some ideas on how to calm anxiety; but sometimes I just need to re-hear it.

Ugh. I hate this. I hate this illness so much. I hate how it can twist normal worries into catastrophes. Or even non-worries into worries and then catastrophes.

You know, I would love, LOVE to hang on to this one thing that makes me excited. I’m a photographer. Well, I like to think I’m a photographer. I love iphone-ography too. I’ve seen some really amazing photographs taken on phones. I use my iPhone more than I use my DSLR. Anyway, I want to take pictures of myself in the airport. In the plane. Of the clouds outside the window. Of Sarah and I at the airport. And then do it all again on the way home. That, for some reason, is something I think is marvelous. A lot of the artists I follow on Instagram take photos of their adventures from start to finish. I remember thinking a while ago how I’d like to have an adventure I could document start to finish. Guess I’m getting my wish granted.

 

Bi-Annual Panic Attack Celebration!

I hadn’t realized until just this evening that I was due for my Bi-Annual Panic Attack Celebration! As soon as I remembered it was high time to celebrate my agoraphobia I put on my party hat and let myself have a whale of a time panicking.

Good times!

I don’t schedule these celebrations. It’s so much more fun to celebrate panic unawares ahead of time then plan for it. Granted, it doesn’t give me much time to decorate or prepare some good eats, but, honestly, when panicking food and decorations is the last thing on my mind. I guess I could look at my on the spot panic attack celebrations as a fantastic money-saving tip.

The only downside to these celebrations is the real panic attack. I guess I should have realized, and probably knew one was on the way, that a panic attack was headed my way. Things have been rough, to say the least; and I’m about to undertake an adventure that I would never have been able to do 12 years ago. Scratch that…an adventure I could not do Fall 2011, which may have even cost me my then job in the long run.

My best friend, Sarah, lives in Philadelphia. Mike and I visited her once in 2011. We had a really wonderful time. It was my first long road trip since my agoraphobia diagnosis in 2001. We had a rough trip to South Carolina in 2009*. But we had one really nice trip to Virginia in 2010*. Our long road trip to Pennsylvania to visit Sarah and my family for Christmas 2011 was really, really good. Not a single panic attack. Not even an anxiety attack. The trip was really wonderful. I road public transportation. Spent a full day wandering around with Sarah and Mike around Philly. Took a mini-road trip with just Sarah from Philly to Williamsport. And then Mike and I had the return trip from Williamsport back to Florida. The whole trip was wonderful. In fact, it was the best I had felt both physically and mentally in a really long time.

Since then we have taken mini-road trips to Savannah to see my parents. I’ve even been able to drive good portions of the way without succumbing to my road-narcalepsy. Each trip I venture out further from my parent’s house bit by bit enjoying the freedom of being agoraphobia free without even realizing that I am at that moment agoraphobic.

But even though I have all these major successes I still have at least one major panic attack every six months. With everything as it is right now my various issues at this time, at that moment came together to create my perfect mental storm.

As the wave of panic flooded through me, the wave of cold sweats and hot flashes through my body, I held on to enough sanity to recognize and evaluate what was happening to me. This is something I’ve only been able to do over the last year. In the midst of the panic I reminded myself of where I was, that I was safe, and that it was actually OKAY to panic right now. I’ve been sick. I’ve had some bad news about my health come up this past week. I have a lot of work to do to get better. I’m about to get on a plane by myself twice! Yeah, lots of stressful things going on. I gave myself the permission to panic, to ride the wave of panic to its end.

In the 10 minutes (maybe even less) from the beginning to end of the attack I nurtured myself. Afterwards, I pampered myself by cooling off with a nice cold rag on my forehead and doing the things I was planning to do before the attack hit.

I’m still going to Philadelphia. As Mike reminded me, there is nothing to be afraid of by going to see the second most trusted person in my life. A couple of weeks ago I admitted to Sarah my fear she simply said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be at the airport.” Mike and Sarah are my heroes. Sarah recently flew to India by herself to see a friend of ours get married. Mike travels a lot for his job.

It’s not just important for me to go to Philadelphia to see my best friend, its important to go as part of the ongoing process of curing the agoraphobia. Sure, I’m “cured” when I’m in my safe place. But to keep getting better I have to move beyond that. So I am going to Philadelphia. I may go under the influence of Clonazepam, but I am getting on that plane to see Sarah and getting back on that plane to come home to see Mike. And I’m going to not only survive this adventure, I’m going to enjoy it!

*Dates might be screwy because of my agoraphobia and depression – each have the tendency to create a Swiss cheese effect in my memory.

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Post panic attack – tired and disheveled