I talk honestly and openly about my experiences with mental illness, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome through the lens of feminism, fat acceptance and process theology. I also do recipe and book reviews. My mission is to spread the message that hope is always real for a better life, despite living in a world that is often very harsh.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Hard Truths of Anxiety

"There is nothing perfect, " August said from the doorway. "There is only life." 
(The Secret Life of Bees)

I hate anxiety.

I mean, I really, really, really hate anxiety.

I know I often talk about the gifts of my disorders but it doesn't mean that I enjoy them in the moment. I have been experiencing some pretty hardcore anxiety the past few days. The kind of anxiety I experience makes me incredibly indecisive-it's f*cking frustrating. The only way that I have found to combat this type of anxiety is to do something, anything. I wonder if normal people just go ahead and do what they need to do instead of mulling the thoughts and all its possible consequences for hours.  I would get so much more done if I didn't spend so much time thinking about my thinking.

I'm currently reading the book, F*ck Feelings, by Michael and Sarah Bennett and I am loving it. It's written by a psychiatrist and his standup comedian daughter, so while it contains good advice, it's also hilarious. If I could summarize Dr. Bennett's point of view, it is that life is not fair, we all have limitations, we all have hard feelings, but it is up to us to learn how to manage and work with life's unfairness, limitations, and hard emotions. While this is not Eckhart Tolle, magical mindfulness, feel-good, I appreciate Bennett's logic, because of course, he is right.

There are so many things that we all want, but almost none of them are actually in our control. I appreciate when someone has the balls to tell us like it is. Bennett spends a lot of time breaking down what things are unrealistic and uncontrollable and what things are in our control, after all. Here is a top wish that I do wish could come true:
To stop anxiety, depression, and self-harmful urges [due to childhood trauma] 

When I read that, oh how my soul ached.  I really, really would like to be able to say that if I use enough skills, or get the right kind of medication, then my anxiety will go to the level of a "normal" person, but I know deep down that that is wishful thinking.  In order to have a good life, I have to accept my limitations and just keep trying to make a life worth living anyway.
Not all abuse victims are troubled by negative feelings, but most must carry some burden of pain, anxiety, and mistrust that doesn't disappear, even with good therapy and loving friends. When they can endure those feelings and nevertheless find a reason to live, love, and restrain negative impulses, they've truly overcome their trauma.  The negative emotions may still be powerful enough to linger, but positive actions are what matter.  (88)
It's funny but him telling me that my "burden of pain, anxiety, and mistrust" may never disappear was actually very validating.  A lot of people have anxiety issues-I am not alone. It also means that I have not failed. I want to be the success story that proclaims that because I am in remission from my disorders that I can now work a full-time job, but it is not true. I am a success not because I no longer feel paralyzing anxiety but because I endure those feelings and still "find a reason to live, love, and restrain negative impulses."


Now that is doable. I may not be able to make quick decisions or not have negative thoughts and impulses, but I can find meaning in my life. I can seek a better way when overcome with negative emotion; my negative impulses can still lead to a positive action if I am aware and mindful of myself.
Take pride in what you've accomplished, despite continuing pressure to despair and hurt yourself and your relationships (89)
Thank you, Dr. Bennett, I think I will take pride in myself! Despite experiencing hardcore anxiety and some disassociation today, I managed to finish cleaning my desk, put away the dishes, go to the dentist, and write, write, write.

Perhaps I should stop being so hard on myself?

Or perhaps I should realize that I will most likely always struggle to an extent with my personal expectations and just be glad that I get things done anyway. It is so easy to tell people to stop being hard on themselves, to love themselves more, but the truth is those things take time and they are never fully done.

A deep part of myself is resentful over the extra burden of anxiety that I almost always feel but a deep part of me is also grateful that I have other talents.  I may struggle with energy but I do not struggle with heart. I may struggle with time management but I do not struggle with compassion or creativity.

Often times when I read self-help books, I love what is said but I also feel like there is something wrong with me for not being able to achieve the inner peace and wealth advertised. It is oddly reassuring to hear someone say, no, there is no magic cure and no way to absolutely turn yourself into the complete opposite of who you already are.

Life is better when I accept life as it is and give myself credit for the things I've done anyway.  A lot of my therapy has been behavioral and sometimes people tell me that they feel like behavioral therapy does not get enough to the root of the problem-well, I can tell you that knowledge alone does not made my life better but having the skills to keep on going does. When I experienced an urge to self-harm earlier today, telling myself why I was feeling it did not really help.  However, telling myself that I could withstand the urge by lying down and cuddling with my cat did help.  The feeling was not fun in the moment but I was right that the emotion did eventually pass. The fact that it passed without leaving a physical scar only made the ordeal that much more victorious.

I am in remission from BPD not because I no longer have urges to self harm but because I no longer act on those urges.

To recap, life is unfair, we all experience hard feelings, and we all have limitations, but this is what makes our persistance so wonderful. I wish I could stop my anxiety but I can't. No amount of mindfulness or self-help magic is going to cure me, but that is okay. My wishes might not be able to always come true, but my life is still full of miracles and successes anyway.

I'm holding a blackout poetry workshop at my house on June 30!  Blackout poetry is a simple art form to learn. Sign up if interested.

View the June Hope Is Real Newsletter

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Push Through or Surrender?

May Jesus himself and God our Parent, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.  (439, The Message Bible)

“When life gets hard, just push through,” the speaker tells the room of people in recovery. “Michael Jordan was sick and yet he pushed through and was able to score his team to victory.”

I raise my hand, “Shouldn’t we stop to take care of ourselves when sick? Isn’t forcing us to push through dangerous?”

I’m not trying to be argumentative - it’s a genuine question.  To me, telling people to push through sickness feels like he is telling us to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.  

There is a dialectic here.

The truth is that in some ways we do have to push through, no matter what.  To not push through is to commit suicide.  It would be to follow through with an impulsive, self destructive thought or desire.  Last year, if I hadn’t pushed through the panic attacks and called my doctor, I might not still be alive.

The truth is that my pushing through was also a surrender, a stopping, a refusal to keep pushing.

An event a month prior unsettled me and set me apart from reality.  I tried to deny it by requesting more hours at work, by giving unasked for advice, by trying to do everything and more that I had been doing before.  Memories and extreme insomnia had pushed me to the limit. I could not push through my denial and continue to work any longer.  To push through would have been to commit suicide. It would be saying that the only option besides appearing “normal” and as a good, productive worker is death.  How ridiculous.

I pushed through panic and called my doctor.  I surrendered self reliance.  I pushed through fear and went to a hospital I didn’t want to.  I surrendered to my own intuition.  I pushed through embarrassment and texted my boss, telling her where I was going.  I surrendered the act of keeping up appearances.  I pushed through pride and called HR to ask for what I needed.  I surrendered to the fact that I am disabled and I do need help.

Does that last sentence bother you?

We must fight the able-ism that says having and accepting disability is bad.  Disability is simply a fact of life.  It is not bad to have limitations, as we all have limitations.  It is not bad to need support, as we all need support.  It is not bad to need medication or therapy, as we have no stigma accepting those things if physically challenged.  (Of course, mental health challenges are also physical challenges.)

When I accepted that I need to work less hours, I rejoiced because I had more time to create art.  Trauma therapy freed me from many of my traumatic memories and paranoias.  Ironically, accepting my disabilities allowed me to thrive.

I can’t push through disability and be something I’m not.

However, I can push through my fear and be my best.