Don’t Let Anxiety Destroy Progress

For the past week, my anxiety has been something terrible. While it was triggered by something specific, it’s wedged its way into every facet of my life and crushed my thought process. Every day, I feel like I can’t help going into a downward spiral every second my mind isn’t concentrated on a specific task. And it sucks – to put it lightly.

I was going to write a post about how much this anxiety sucked, but something popped into my head as I started writing. I thought about how this recent bout of anxiety has diminished the progress I’ve made in recent months. It made me feel like all the progress I made recently was wasted. That it was pointless. That I would have to go back to square one when it came to my mental health.

This always makes me think of the term ‘relapse.’ While it’s more commonly associated with drugs and alcohol, I’ve also seen it used in regards to mental health disorders. And while I don’t like to use that term when it comes to my mental health, I couldn’t help but thinking that I was going through a relapse. I was afraid I was reverting to the old me – the one that got sent to the psych unit after a panic attack and suicidal ideation.

What stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of a relapse was reminding myself that my battle with mental health is not linear. I won’t just slowly improve until one day I’m rid of my demons. There are peaks and valleys to my mental health, just like anything else in life. Some days will be good and others will…not. I put so much pressure on having good days because I’m afraid that a bad day will negate all my progress. But is that true? No.

A bad day will get in the way of improvement. It might get in the way of doing some things that I would usually do. But it does not cancel out the months, the years of hard work that I have put in to get to this point. And the same goes for you.

If you work on something – your mental health, a special project, anything – for a long time and then have one bad day, do not discount all the progress you’ve made. You’re not perfect. You’re human. You are allowed to make mistakes. In fact, they are inevitable. So you can either let them get in the way, or you can grow from them.

But while this can apply to all walks of life, I tailor this mindset to mental health specifically because I know what negative thoughts can do to a person. My anxiety works me up into such a frenzy that I don’t think anything else matters besides the anxious thoughts in my head. But that’s not true. I have made progress recently – progress I am damn proud of. And I have grown strong enough to know that one day might set me back, but it won’t take me out of the game. That might not seem like much, but it makes a world of a difference when I try to get out of bed in the morning.

I know it’s easy to say, “don’t let your mental illness negate your progress.” It’s much easier said than done. I can’t even promise that I’ll always take my own advice. But I believe there is bravery in the attempt, and there is power to even have these thoughts in your head. So maybe all this post does is put the idea in your head. Maybe that’s all you need today. That’s okay. Because every day is a new battle, and we should use all the weapons we can get.

Frederick Douglass.png

I Have Bad Habits – and They Aren’t Because of My Anxiety

I bite my nails. When I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, when I have nothing else to do, I bite my nails. I know it’s not a good habit, and I know I should stop (and I’ve tried before). But it’s a bad habit, one of many I know I have – just like most people.

Why do bad habits exist? You can take the scientific approach or settle for something more experience-based, but where you end up is that there’s something that sparks these habits. Take me biting my nails, for instance. What caused that? My instinct is to say that my anxiety is at the root of it all. And while that might be true in this case, it also leads to a slippery slope of blaming everything on my anxiety.

In the past, I have been quick to blame my shortcomings on my GAD. I am not good at meeting people, so I blamed that on social anxiety. I watch too much TV because I told myself I was too anxious to sit down and read a book. I would eat food until I was sick because it kept the anxiety at bay. The point is, I developed poor habits and made poor decisions that I would chalk up to just being an anxious person. And whether you think that’s right or wrong to do (personally I’d say wrong!), it’s not a healthy mindset to develop.

I can’t help feeling anxious when meeting someone new. But I can develop strategies to use when I meet those people, and I can turn to my friends for help. I can’t help but feel trapped in my anxious thoughts. But I can use the techniques I’ve learned from years of practice and therapy to get out of that trap.

I can’t help but have bad habits. I’m human. But I can make sure that these habits are as harmless as possible, and that they don’t threaten my ability to be a good person. I can learn not to blame everything on my anxiety, and remind myself that there is a difference between being an anxious person and being a person with an anxiety issue.

Sometimes self-improvement isn’t always about the things we do, but the things we don’t do. And I’m learning not to chalk up every misstep on my anxiety. It’s one small step toward becoming a better version of myself – anxiety and all.

Will Durant

 

Do The Things You Love

I absolutely love live music. I’m not the most musically proficient person (I played the saxophone in middle school and sang in a boy choir until puberty hit), but something I discovered when I reached adulthood was that I love going to live shows. Since a majority of the bands I like are smaller acts, that meant I was hitting small clubs and intimate venues in tons of cities listening to my favorite bands and songwriters.

I’ve had different concert buddies over the years, but there have always been people willing to go see shows with me. One constant concert pal is Kevin, who I’ve seen tons of shows with. We had a particularly crazy stretch where we saw three concerts at three different venues over the course of eleven days. And it ROCKED.

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It’s hard to describe what going to a live show does for me. I think the biggest thing is that, for a few hours, it seems like nothing else matters. It’s just me, the people around me, and the band putting on their show. Everything else takes a back seat. All my problems and worries are set to the side while I immerse myself in the music.

An annoying symptom of depression is that sometimes you don’t enjoy things the way you used to. Over the years, that loss of joy has happened with a lot of things. I have fought to enjoy things I once loved, and don’t enjoy certain activities quite like I used to. So when I do find something I love to do, I hold on to it as tightly as I can.

We all have things we love to do – activities, pastimes, whatever you want to call them. There are things out there that make us feel alive, at peace, content – happy. Oftentimes, after we do those things, we think to ourselves I should do this more.

And you’re right. You should. Not just because life is short and you should make the most of your time (though that is a good reason), but because you deserve it. You deserve to do the things you love because it’s another reminder that you’re a human who loves things – just like everyone else. We all deserve it. So what’s stopping you?

I love to travel, write, and see live music. What are the things YOU love to do? Let me know in the comments!

I’m Not Sorry About My Mental Illness

I apologize a lot. I mean, a LOT. I’ve done it so much that it’s like a reflex now – I say sorry without even thinking why I’m doing it.

And I apologize for everything. If I’m running late, I say sorry. If I misunderstand what someone said to me, I say sorry. If I don’t do as good of a job on something as I think should, I say sorry. I know it’s not what I should be doing, but I do it anyway. I don’t even consider whether or not I am actually sorry – it’s out of my mouth before I have time to think.

The one thing I apologize for constantly, and above all else, is my mental health. I say sorry when I can’t meet up with a friend because I’m depressed. I apologize that I wasn’t more social when I’m out because my anxious mind is doing cartwheels. If I have a panic attack in front of someone, I’m more concerned with whether or not that person is okay instead of trying to calm myself down. It’s not good for me – and I want to stop.

I want to stop because of all the people who have told me not to say sorry. They don’t want me to apologize for my mental illness – they just want me to be okay. And over the years, I missed that. I prioritized things incorrectly, and it stopped me from dealing with my mental illness in a healthy way.

Yes, apologize for the mess-ups. For the mistakes you make. But don’t apologize for who you are. I was ashamed of my mental health for a long time, and it held so much power over me. Now that I’m not ashamed, that power is gone. Yes, it’s still something I deal with, but I’m not afraid to deal with it. I’m not sorry. Hope that’s okay.

ann patchett

Five Things to Do When Depression Hits

There’s no doubt about it, depression sucks. Whether it’s having no energy, not enjoying anything, crying for no reason or just wishing you weren’t here (fun STUFF am I right?), there are plenty of symptoms that can be a sign that something is off.

When depression hits, I try to fight it. I’m not saying I’m always successful, but I do make the effort – much more than I used to. And I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about what can help turn a depression day into a (somewhat) normal day. That might not sound like much, but to me, it’s enough. Here are five things you can (try to) do when depression hits you like a ton of bricks.

Get out of bed

Depression can sap you of your energy and make you not want to do anything – even something that seems as simple as leaving your bed can be a monumental task. It’s not always easy, but getting out of bed and interacting with the world can go a long way. It’s easy to stay in bed when you’re tired or you want extra sleep, but when you feel crippled by depression and don’t want to leave, that’s a sign that you might need help. I’ve had many days where I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything, but when I remember that I got out of bed and chose to be a human – that day gets a little easier.

Eat healthy foods

Eating healthily might sound like a pro tip for the general public, but it can also help improve your mental health. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I have the urge to eat junk food until my stomach is sick – making me feel as bad physically as I do mentally. Seeing the link between mental health and physical health is an important step toward self-improvement. If you can improve how you feel physically, that may help how you feel mentally.

Tell someone

It’s important to tell someone that you’re feeling depressed or having an off day. No, they are not responsible for making the depression go away. Sometimes there isn’t anything they can do at all. When I am depressed, I feel like I’m all alone – that no one else is going through what I’m going through. Since in reality, that’s not true, reminding myself that I’m not alone is paramount to getting through the depression. Having someone out there that knows how you’re feeling can go a long way, and make you feel less alone in your struggle.

Exercise

I’ve talked about physical wellness before, but it’s an important aspect of getting out of that depression funk so I don’t want to gloss over it. Please know that when I say exercise, I don’t necessarily mean hitting the gym and lifting weights. Any form of exercise can be helpful to someone who’s depressed. Going for a run, doing yoga, biking outside, or even just taking a walk around the block can help keep those depression symptoms at bay. Try to do get some exercise when you’re feeling down – it’s more important than you think.

Practice Coping Strategies

We all have different coping strategies for dealing with mental illness. Over the years, I have found what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to my depression and anxiety. But that came after a process of trial and error. Use this time to practice coping strategies that you’ve learned from friends, therapy, the Internet, wherever. They might not all work. That’s okay! You practice them so you can see what works for you. Everyone’s different and oftentimes, it doesn’t matter what you do to cope with depression as long as it’s healthy and keeps your feelings at bay.

i am bent, but not broken. i am scarred, but not disfigured. i am sad, but not hopeless. i am tired, but not powerless. i am angry, but not bitter. i am depressed, but not gi

Being Decisive While Having Anxiety

By nature, I am an indecisive person. Whether that’s a genetic trait or something I’ve taught myself over the years, it’s true. Painfully true. Whether it’s a massive decision or the tiniest little thing, I overthink just about every single thing in my life. From deciding where to live or what to eat for lunch, each moment of decision comes with a thousand other thoughts. I weigh all possible outcomes, and think about how they will effect me now and in the future.

Being indecisive isn’t fun. It’s even less fun when you have GAD. While I do think my indecisiveness is a personality trait, I know having an anxiety disorder doesn’t help things. So how do I make decisions? There seems to be a simple answer (you know, make them), but it’s taken me years to figure out a way I can – somewhat – be decisive.

The most important decision I make every day is to get out of bed. It might be a reflex for some people, but for me it’s always a choice. I choose to take on the day and its challenges. Some days, it’s easier to leave the bed than others. A symptom of my depression is a severe lack of energy. On days where it’s particularly difficult, I don’t – I can’t – leave my room. This symptom used to be much more prevalent in my life, but it doesn’t hold as much power over me as it used to.

So I make the decision to get out of bed. I make the decision to get dressed. I make the decision to be a person that day. And that changes everything.

Those decisions at the beginning of the day are the most difficult ones for me – but they have the most impact. After that, all my other choices seem easier. What to wear, what to eat, what to get done at work. Those choices pale in comparison to the massive one I’ve already made that day to be me.

Before you get the wrong idea don’t worry, I’m still indecisive. I can’t change overnight! But the decisions I make don’t have as much staying power as they used to. I still agonize over the decision but once it’s made, I move on. Because by being here, by choosing to be a person and interact with the world, I’ve already made the most important decision I can make. Nothing really tops it.

Making decisions while living with an anxiety disorder isn’t easy. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it is possible. I make the decision every day to get out of bed, put some clothes on, and try to be my best self. And to me, that’s the most important decision I’ll ever make.

 

 

 

I’m Thankful for My Mental Illness

A few weeks ago I was sitting in therapy (more on that next week!), and something occurred to me. My therapist said she’s amazed how I’m able to get so many things done despite my mental illness, which made me think of two things.

The first was that yes, I am high functioning despite my depression, but it took me six years to work up to that success. The second thing was that I’d rather be a motivated person who didn’t like himself than someone who had a ton of confidence but never got anything done.

And as we turn to a season of thankfulness and gratitude, I often think about how grateful I am for my mental illnesses. Sounds weird, right? Stay with me.

Living with depression and anxiety has taken a lot away from me. But it’s also given me so much. It’s given me strength. It’s taught me resiliency. It’s taken me from being plagued by my mental illness to becoming a force in the mental health community, and an advocate for everyone like me.

My mental illness has taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you have a chance. It might not be the best chance, or an opportune one, but it is a chance. And it’s what you do with those chances that counts.

I’d like to add that this viewpoint didn’t happen overnight. I’d knowingly lived with mental illness for more than six years before being where I am today. I’ve had highs and lows that I honestly can’t even believe. But I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world.

It might be confusing to read that, and it’s kind of confusing to write, but it’s true. I’ve long held the belief that everything happens for a reason. Most of the time people have that belief when good things happen to them, but I think of it more when it comes to adversity.

So this Thanksgiving, as hard as it might be, try to be thankful for everything. Every good thing, every bad thing. Be thankful that everything that’s happened to you has made you the person you are today. I’m thankful for every bit of what life has thrown my way. It’s made me the person I am – a person I am damn proud to be. Happy Thanksgiving.

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A Vacation from My Mind

A few months ago, I went on vacation. Or at least, I thought I did. I wasn’t at work, I didn’t have a set schedule, and I was sleeping in (well, as much as I could). But did I feel on vacation? From what I understand about vacations, it didn’t really line up.

On vacations, you’re not supposed to be stressed out. You’re not supposed to be worried about things, back home or otherwise. Vacation is a break from all of that.

But I was stressed, anxious and yes – depressed. Though I still had an incredible time on my vacation and enjoyed myself immensely, I didn’t have a break from one thing that I had really hoped I could take a break from – my mind.

Imagine being trapped somewhere you don’t like. No, I won’t paint this imaginary place as the worst place on Earth. But let’s say you don’t like it very much and would rather be elsewhere. Now it’s easy enough to get up and leave – in fact, that would be my first piece of advice to you. But what do you do if you can’t?

If you have a mental illness, you’re all too familiar with this imaginary place. It means different things for different people but for me, it’s my head. There are days – plenty of days – where I wish I could take a vacation from the thoughts in my head. The song “Migraine” by Twenty One Pilots is something I think of often when I can’t take that vacation: am I the only one I know, waging my wars behind my face and above my throat (I really like Twenty One Pilots. I’ll have to write about them one day!).

How do I combat it? I choose to stay busy. Whether it’s working on this blog or doing some other type of work, writing keeps me very busy and my mind very active. So I do that a lot (arguably too much, but that’s another story). When I’m not busy is when things can become frustrating and often, quite sad. I mean actual sad, not pathetic sad. I long to one day take a vacation from the negative self-talk, and constant anxiety, but I also know that I am fortunate in that I know how to fight against this – though it took years to learn.

If you’re like me and can’t really take a vacation from the thoughts in your head, don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone. If you can do that, let me know what it’s like, because I’m curious about the experience!

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Problems Based in Reality

I had a blog post all set and ready to go last week when some things happened. For one, rainwater leaked into my apartment and ruined my computer. Then, that same rainwater pooled up in my ceiling and caused a portion of it to collapse on my bed, ruining my room for the foreseeable future. As I type this I am sitting on a mattress with a gigantic hole in my ceiling with a time TBD for when it will be fixed. This came on the heels of having my car towed and getting a speeding ticket. I know, I know, that’s a lot of shit to be thrown at someone in a week and a half. But I’m okay. Truly, actually, I am fine.

With a well-documented history of mental illness (re: this blog), I feel like it would be understandable for these kinds of problems to freak me out. If I have anxiety about nothing, wouldn’t I feel worse when something bad actually does happen? I thought it might. But it didn’t happen. Instead, something interesting happened: I actually became calmer. I was more accepting of what happened to me and took each necessary step to correct these missteps and fix what was broken. Why did this happen? I have a theory.

As someone who lives in their head constantly, these problems threw me headfirst into reality. I had to deal with real problems that have real consequences, and therefore I had to come up with real solutions to solve them. I emphasize the word ‘real’ because oftentimes, my problems are not reality-based. They are fictitious concoctions that I spend my days thinking about, and while they may have real consequences they are, in another sense, my own machinations.

However, taking up residence in my head allows me to better attack real-world problems. It’s funny, I think nothing of waiting in line for hours at the DMV or having to sleep on my floor for weeks, which might bother the hell out of someone. On the flip side, some people go through life without negative thoughts about themselves and I…do not (you have to smile at that – I personally think it’s pretty funny). But these real problems remind me that I’m human, that I’m a real person that has real things happen to him. And for someone who can spend his days living inside his head, it’s nice to be jolted out of it every once in a while. So I might not be entirely happy with my situation, but I am grateful. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m a person sometimes. We could all use that every now and then.

Muhammad Ali Quote

Why I Care What People Think

If you Google the question ‘should I care what others think?’ You’ll be flooded with tons of different articles. Some consider the question, but most of the results are listicles about not caring what other people think. For some, it’s a life hack. For others, it’s a motivational technique. Lord knows the Huffington Post has done a piece or two on it.

Honestly, it’s a nice message designed to help people feel more positively about themselves. But what if you aren’t so kind to yourself? What do you do then?

I used to tell myself that it didn’t matter what people thought of me, only what I thought of myself. If someone didn’t like me? Oh well, their loss. If someone made fun of the way I looked or acted? It didn’t matter, because what they thought about me didn’t matter as much as what I thought about myself. And this philosophy carried me through most of my childhood even though I was ignoring one crucial element of my mindset – I didn’t think I was all that great.

It wasn’t a big deal at first but as my mental health worsened and my opinion of myself sunk lower every day, I contemplated why I never cared what people thought. What was my reason? I talked to some of my friends about what they thought of me as a person and – since they were my friends they might have been biased – I was told that all in all, I’m a pretty decent person. But that didn’t matter to me.

I realize this approach of not caring what people think is to combat people’s negative opinions more than their positive ones, but I don’t think that distinction is made often enough. No, you shouldn’t care what others think of you if they think negative things. But if someone thinks you’re great? That you’re a special person, and you’re perfect the way you are? Embrace that. Don’t forget those things that people say about you that are good. Because on those days when you aren’t feeling so great about yourself, when you’re struggling with self-doubt and self-worth, maybe you won’t have to only rely on what you think of yourself to get you through that difficult time.

This is very much me talking the talk when I should be walking the walk (and I’m sure my friends and family tend to agree with that), but I think that even if this isn’t always achievable, it’s still something we can strive for. So yes, you shouldn’t always care what people think. But there are people out there who think the world of you; it can’t hurt to give them a listen.