living with anxiety…

When I was growing up as a shy, introverted, and mostly-nervous girl, the word anxiety wasn’t something I heard often. It wasn’t acknowledged or discussed as much as it is these days. But later on – as an adult looking back – I could see how anxiety was always part of my life, always something I struggled against, always something I tried to work around.

And always something I lived with.

During periods of time (sometimes long periods), thanks to combinations of life circumstances and anxiety-reducing-or-coping tools, the anxiety eases a little or a lot. There have been times it hasn’t been much of a struggle at all… And I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for those times.

But mostly, it is there. Mostly, my life has been spent living with anxiety – in spite of all the tools and techniques, the faith journey, the oh-so-many prayers, the coping mechanisms.

And sometimes, the anxiety roars to the surface with a vengeance. The past several years have contained a lot of that. Not constantly or unremittingly. But enough to majorly impact my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I put this on my instagram:

Today looks and feels beautiful, with blue sky and sunshine and 70-something warmth. This was book club day, and there was pizza and brownies and book-talk and general-talk and soooo much hearty laughter. It was good. So good. I’m glad I went, although I was back-and-forth about whether to go or just stay home, and my indecision continued until I actually left the house.

I almost didn’t go because of anxiety – I’ve been going to book club since early last summer, and it’s easier now than the very first time but it’s still not easy. Social anxiety is a real thing. And I almost didn’t go because of symptoms flaring from this long-slow-gradual-med-taper. But my ultimate decision was to go, to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the talk and food and laughter and company of book club.

Some days I can’t go out, even if I want to. But today I could, and I did. And I’m so glad.

When I wrote “some days I can’t go out, even if I want to” I’m referring to health challenges I’ve had for a few years now. Those health issues have led to increased isolation because of not being able to get out as much – and those health issues, plus the increased isolation, have fueled the anxiety… including the social anxiety and agoraphobia-type anxiety, which, in turn, make it more difficult to go out even at times when the physical issues aren’t flaring up.

This sort of thing can become a vicious cycle. And that’s what I’ve been faced with for the last while.

If anyone tells you anxiety isn’t a real problem – or that you should simply be able to get over it, or think more positively, or pray harder (or better) – I’d say that person has never dealt with a true anxiety problem, and has never experienced life with having (or a close loved one having) an anxiety disorder.

The struggle is real.

But when I have those times of inner calm with no anxious edges…  when I can find laughter and love in spite of the struggle…  when I’m able to focus on the joy more than the fear…

I take deep breaths of gratitude.

And I hold on as long as I can.

 

with just a smile…

Sometimes something small – even just a smile – can have more impact on someone else than we might think.

I hear and read a lot about people looking for their life purpose, their mission, what they’re meant to do… (and I’ve thought about these things too)… and I don’t think it always has to be some big or grand “thing.” As we live our life, we live our purpose – and sometimes our purpose on a given day can be something as simple as just a smile.

Yesterday I had a stress-filled medical appointment. Health-related stuff (including doctor visits) is a huge anxiety trigger for me in general, so I went into that physician’s office feeling anxious (and putting my calming tools to work – the breathing techniques, the prayers, the crystals I had with me). I felt self-conscious being out and about with my cane. I’ve been anxious about my symptoms, I was anxious about the possibility of bad news from the doctor, and I was anxious in general because it was a doc appointment so hello, anxiety trigger.

The front desk staff was courteous but curt, and gave me totally different information than I’d received in my phone call to the office the day before – which resulted in having to fill out forms I’d already completed and submitted online. No big deal but it meant I’d been given the wrong time to arrive (or the wrong info on either the phone call or at the desk) and it caught me off-guard. I started to feel rushed and flustered.

The other staff – once I was in the “back” – treated me professionally but it all felt so automatic and rote and non-personal. It’s a big specialty practice with several doctors, most patients aren’t there on a regular basis, and I can understand how it might be challenging to deal with so many patients, so many people, all-day-every-day.

And the time with the doctor was … not good. He kept interrupting me, he got frustrated with me, and I got increasingly flustered and anxious as I tried to answer his questions. He sent me to another part of the building for a couple of tests, then saw me again in the exam room – and in the time between those exam room visits, as I did those tests and sat in a small waiting room before being taken to the exam room again – I had to fight back the tears… and it’s rare (and I do mean rare) for me to cry in public.

Does your doctor ever make you feel stupid? That’s how I felt yesterday. (I know, I shouldn’t say anyone made me feel a certain way because I’m responsible for my feelings, and there’s the whole No one can make you feel inferior without your consent (as Eleanor Roosevelt said) and all that) – but I ended up feeling stupid and flustered, and my emotions were a reaction to the way he handled the appointment.)

This wasn’t my first visit to this office but it was my first appointment with this doctor – my former doc went into an even more specialized area of care and no longer sees patients with my symptoms. I’d heard this guy wasn’t only a good doctor but also a good, kind person… so when my experience didn’t match that, the self-blaming, self-kicking started up – maybe it was just me, maybe it was something about my personality, or maybe I was talking too much, or maybe I was being too sensitive, or maybe it was a case of a physician seeing a woman my age who is overweight and unemployed and honest about being anxious and he was thinking “unintelligent neurotic housewife here.”

Or maybe he was just having a bad day.

I sat in the exam room the second time, nodding at what he said, trying not to let him see how upset I was feeling, and just wanting to get the hell away from there.

And then he left the room and a woman came to guide me to another part of the building to schedule some tests. When she came to get me, she smiled really big and then she said something and we laughed… And I felt better. For a little while, I felt better. We stopped at her work station and she gave me a sheet of instructions for the tests (what to expect, things to avoid) and then she walked me the rest of the way to turn me over to the person who would do the actual scheduling of said tests.

As she left me, she gave me a final big friendly smile and a soft touch on the shoulder.

My thank you to her as she walked away was full of huge gratitude.

Gratitude for her kindness. Gratitude for her moment of connection. Gratitude for her smile helping me feel less stupid and scared.

It reminded me of what I’ve said before, and truly believe.

We never know how much we might touch someone – or what a difference we might make – with just a smile.

calming the anxiety…

For a variety of reasons – some I can identify and probably some beneath my conscious awareness – my anxiety has been amped up this summer.

Some of my usual tools haven’t been helping as much as they typically do. And sometimes I forget to use some of the tools I’ve learned and gathered over the years. (I don’t know why, but there can be times in the midst of ‘stuff’ that I can forget that I know what I know.)

Around a month or so ago, I realized the thing this summer that’s been absolutely calming my anxiety, every time, no matter what, is painting.

Playing with paint on the canvas.

 

Or in the big spiral-bound pad.

Moving the paint on the canvas or the paper as I stand at the table-top easel in my kitchen.

I’m still using the other tools in my “toolkit” of anxiety-reduction techniques that help me.

I’m being more conscious about returning to some of the tools that I’d been forgetting (or had let slide).

I’m focusing a lot on my self-care.

But the sure-fire way to still my inner trembling, to completely quiet my anxious thoughts and underlying feelings of anxiety – for me, this summer – it’s turned out to be painting. More than anything else.

When I realized this was happening, I was sort of surprised. But I welcome the times of total freedom from the anxious feelings.

I’ve known for quite a while that letting myself paint was soul-care for me. Painting whatever colors seem to be calling to me at the time, moving my hand or my brush in whatever way feels good at the time, not worrying about how it looks, not wondering whether I’ll show it to anyone, not being concerned what anyone will think if I do show what I’ve painted.

Just being with the paint and the painting. In the moment. In the flow. In the now.

Losing myself and my anxiety in the calming of painting.

Whatever does this for you – whatever stills the anxiety, whatever calms you, whatever connects you to the flow that helps you find your inner quiet when you need it – I hope you make time for that.  ♥