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adventures in anxiety!

Blogger’s note: This post was inspired by this post. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for awhile and that post helped me get the words going. This is also an expanded, edited version of a status on my personal Facebook wall.

As someone with lifelong anxiety, there are things I’ve learned that help and things that don’t help. I’m writing a handy-dandy guide on how to handle your resident Nora, who is fueled by anxiety, caffeine, and spite. Other people may have different reactions and feelings about these things. Anxiety isn’t a one size fits all and while these tips are great for me, they may be not-so-great for others. But I’m hoping by writing out what helps for me will help some others.

NOT HELPFUL: “Calm down!”

If I could calm down, trust me, I would. When you’re just telling me to calm down, it further spirals the anxiety because then I get anxious I can’t calm down. I want to be calm. I want to be collected. But my world is spinning and I can’t control it. I already feel like a failure if I’m panicking,

NOT HELPFUL: “Deep breaths.”

Part of the problem is I’m struggling to breathe from panic in the first place. While what I’m hearing is “take a deep breath”, what my brain registers is “you’re not breathing right”. Which further triggers the anxiety when I feel like I am not doing anything properly. And really, when everything thing is Too Much and I am Fading Away,

NOT HELPFUL: “It will be okay.”

I know, logically, things will be okay. I know that deep down. But in the moment when things aren’t okay, it’s more important to acknowledge that then the fact that things will be okay eventually. They’re not okay now, and that’s, well, for lack of a better term, okay. It’s not a bad thing

NOT HELPFUL: “Are you okay?”

Okay has so many different meanings. And if I’m flipping out over something, obviously, I’m not okay. Things are really sucking in that moment and there’s nothing wrong with that. Asking if I’m okay makes me feel like I’m bad or wrong for not being okay…or maybe I don’t even know in that moment what okay MEANS.

Of course, now that I’m saying all these things that aren’t helpful, people are likely wondering “what the hell can I do then?” Here are some actual, helpful things!

Pointed, concise questions. For example, “what do you need to feel better?” is very overwhelming when you feel like your entire world is caving in. “Would a glass of water help?” is a much better question. “Do you need your Zeke?” (Zeke is my comfort object, for others obviously replace with what works for them). “Do you need a fidget?” “Do you need a blanket?”

NEVER TOUCH SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. I cannot emphasize this enough. When someone is spiraling, unwanted touch can make things so much worse. “Would a pinky hug help?” “May I hug you?” Is a much better approach. Remember, when consumed with anxiety in that moment, that person’s feelings and emotions are what’s important.

“Would you like to watch a movie/beat shit up in a video game/play a board game?” These are concise things that can be done. And while pulling myself out of the “everything is wrong and falling apart” stage can be difficult, sometimes what I need is a little help getting over that hump.

“I’m here for you.” Sometimes, those four words are truly all that is needed. Even if it’s two people sitting in the living room both on their iPhones pretending the other doesn’t exist….sometimes that is all that is needed in that moment. It’s okay to simply be – to watch a movie, to color a photo, to each play a game on their own device.

As I stated earlier, this is what helps me, personally. It’s okay if these things don’t help you. We all respond to anxiety differetly, but my hope is that by sharing what works for me you may find some things that work for you.

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this silence gets us nowhere, gets us nowhere way too fast

 

I remember several years ago being asked what a life without trauma looked like. What a life without depression looked like. What it would look like to be healed. That’s when I first had the terrifying realization – I have no idea what it looks like. I have no idea what life without trauma is like, as my trauma is developmental. I have no idea what life without depression looks like, because I don’t have a frame of reference for that.

I often see people say they want to be a child again, because they didn’t have any responsibilities and being a child was carefree. I’ve always been chronically ill. I’ve always been depressed. Being a child again would put me back in a hellhole and isn’t something I want to repeat. 

I don’t really want to talk about what my trauma was, but the fact it exists should be enough. It doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t a before trauma and after trauma for me – there’s just trauma and after trauma. There’s just learning how to build a life I never had. Some people rebuild – some people build from the ground up. I find it difficult to physically speak about the way these things affect me. 

I often shut down. Shutting down, turning off my emotions, retreating into myself was a way I coped growing up. Either that, or completely melting down. At one point, this is what kept me safe. At this point, my survival strategy is destroying me.

…I sit here locked inside my head, remembering everything you said. The silence gets us nowhere, gets us nowhere way too fast. The silence is what kills me, I need someone here to help me. But you don’t know how to listen, and let me make my decisions…

It’s funny – the same things that keep me going are the same things that destroy me. I feel like so much of me is shaped by my past, so much of me is shaped by what I’ve been… that there’s no way to know who I am when freed of those aspects. I desperately want to know so I’m not merely fueled by anxiety and caffeine. But when your trauma is in your early years, when your depression is lifelong…it’s literally impossible to know what a life is like outside of that.

Sometimes in Facebook groups, I see people ask if they miss the person they were before trauma. If they miss the person they were before they developed psychiatric disabilities. And that isn’t a frame of reference for me. Which I think is part of the reason recovery is so difficult for me – it’s building something entirely new and unknown. And while it’s a lovely prospect and something I want… at the same time, it scares the living crap out of me.

I don’t know what it’s like not to be depressed. I don’t know how not to be anxious. It’s always just been how things are. And while one one hand, that’s not a bad thing… it just means that my life is different from some people’s. It doesn’t mean I cannot one day find a life without depression, anxiety, and trauma… it just means forming the building blocks to THRIVE instead of merely survive is somewhat different than other people.

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Autistics Speaking Day 2018: Words Can Be Hard

It feels like there’s nothing to say. It feels like so many other people have used the words and used them so much better than I can. There are things that certainly need to be said, but I don’t even know if I’m the right person to say them. I don’t know if I’m qualified enough. I don’t know if I’m smart enough. I don’t know if I’m eloquent enough. Needless to say, I struggle with words often (which is kind of funny for a blogger, I guess).

But then again, maybe for autistics speaking day I should write about how I sometimes don’t have words. Because that’s something I’m currently facing in my life. I feel like sometimes  I gloss over the most difficult parts of being autistic – I talk about how I’m okay with it but I don’t feel like I talk with about what I struggle with as candidly. And so, here I am. Autistics speaking day. Talking about how speaking (or writing) is sometimes hard.

Something that has been noted in my life is that often when faced with having to deal with my emotions – I shut off. I can talk your ear off about Anime Fargo, video games, anime, or just about anything that isn’t related to my feelings or emotions. I will happily babble about what’s easy and advocacy. But when it comes to what’s real, when it comes to what’s raw, when it comes to my struggles… that’s a lot harder. It’s so easy to shut off to try to not deal with those things anymore.

But words. Sometimes there are words in my head, and they don’t match the words that come out of my mouth. I switch my words, I say the wrong thing – it’s almost like autocorrect in real life. The words just aren’t always right, and it’s difficult to accept that and be okay with it. But then when it comes to what’s most important in my life… allowing myself to say those things can be hard. I can often write about them, but verbally saying them? There’s a bit of disconnect there.

And here I am. Autistics speaking day 2018. As usual, I shut down some today when faced with emotions. I’m trying to learn how to navigate these and I’m trying to learn how to control it. It’s difficult and it’s painful – but it’s a part of life. Things don’t always have to be perfect. The words don’t always have to be right. I’t’s okay to struggle, and it’s even okay to not have words at times. Learning to accept that has been difficult for me, but I think in the end, it’s worth it.

 

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i don’t know what it’s like to not be depressed

I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember. It’s a part of me. It’s all I’ve ever known. I actually don’t know what it’s like not to be depressed. Which is a really weird sentence to type. A lot of people think I’m a chipper, upbeat, happy go lucky person. But the thing is, that’s the facade I use to cope and to get through life.

A victim of child abuse, I learned to put up a facade to keep myself safe. Showing emotion, allowing myself to be vulnerable… letting people in to my deepest, darkest moments? Terrifying. I learned to shut off my emotions and act like everything was okay, because it’s what I needed to survive.

I’d have frequent meltdowns because I didn’t know how to cope going up – as an autistic, depressed, abused child I simply didn’t know what to do with my feelings and they overloaded. As I got older, I learned instead to internalize everything. I act like everything is okay with the world so that I can pretend things are okay. The truth is, they aren’t.

I’ve seen so many people say they wish they could shut off their emotions. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. I shut off my emotions because I can’t cope with them, but it’s only a short term fix and eventually blows up in my face when I have to cope with it. Because I’ve spent so long shutting things off and acting like my problems don’t exist, I’m now struggling to come to terms and even talk about things.

I’m fueled by anxiety and depression, a bundle of nervous energy. There’s often so many thoughts and words flying around in my head that I don’t know how to slow down and untangle them. I wish I hadn’t started shutting off my emotions. I wish I had been taught how to cope with things, instead of having to finally learn how decades later.

I literally don’t know what it’s like to be depressed. And it breaks my heart. I don’t know what it’s like to not be this way. So many therapists and doctors have asked me what I thought it would look like not to be depressed, and the hallowing truth is?

I actually have no clue.

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This year, I’m tired.

I keep trying to write something for “Autism Awareness Day”, or what my fellow autistics are trying to change into “Autism Acceptance Day”. I’m trying to write something articulate, something profound, something that will challenge people and make them think. I have so many words circling around in my head, but trying to get them to my keyboard is hard.

I feel like the things I say are controversial, and they shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be controversial to say don’t abuse us, and yet it is. In the past week, I’ve read grizzly stories about abuse toward autistic children (I am not sharing the details. They’re unnecessary. But suffice it to say they’re horrific). I’m tired of defending children’s right to exist.

I’m tired. I am so tired, and I am so worn out. Advocacy is my passion, activism is what gets me pumped. I’m tired of having to fight for my right to exist. I’m tired of telling people that their awareness campaigns are acutely harmful. I won’t stop – it’s impossible to shut me up, but dammit, I’m completely worn out.

And so. This year I’m asking for compassion. For understanding when my words jumble. For supporting when I burn out . 

All I’m asking is for you to listen to our voices. All I’m asking is for you to amplify our voices. We’re telling you what we need. We need acceptance, not awareness.  We need you to help us fight against rampant ableism, because we’ve been doing it for years and we’re ALL TIRED. Because we’re autistic, we’re silenced. And that’s not okay.

This year

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The concept of okay

As someone with psychiatric disabilities, something I’ve been asked a lot is “Nora, are you okay?” That is such a loaded question. Like, how do I define okay? What is okay? When am I not okay? How do I know if I’m okay or not? Are there levels of okay? What if what is okay one day is not okay another day?

I am so used to saying I’m fine, to saying I’m okay, to saying everything is awesome when in reality, it’s not. It’s hard – like, I may not be in acute crisis, but I also may not be okay, you know? Dealing with my brain, dealing with depression, dealing with anxiety… it’s just so hard sometimes.

What is okay?

What is fine?

How do I learn to define these things? I mean, it isn’t like my okay would be my best friend’s okay because okay is so relative.

And why are we so quick to jump to these things that are so abstract and near impossible to define? When okay can be fluid? When okay is literally impossible for me to define?

I don’t know if I’m okay. I don’t know if I’m fine. I don’t know what those words mean in context of my mental health. And I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing?

There’s so many layers and feelings wrapped up inside the word okay. I’m a constant ball of anxiety, fueled by depression. I always feel like I’m teetering on a dangerous balance beam and the smallest little stub of the toe can send my entire world collapsing. There’s so many variables that are essential to my world being survivable – and when they’re not things quickly pile up.

I hate the weight of the word okay. I hate that I feel I have to be okay. I hate that I feel I have to have all my crap together and know what these things mean. Right now, I’m existing. I’m surviving. It’s what I am doing right now. It may not be okay, it may not be fine, but it’s where I am at this point in my life and that alone is enough.

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That’s where my demons hide

We all battle our own demons. We all have our own fights, our own struggles, our own turmoil. And lately? Honestly? Things have been really hard. It’s hard for me to admit I’m not okay, it’s hard for me to admit things aren’t easily. I’m able to talk openly and candidly about my physical health. Talking about being autistic? That’s easy, too. But when it comes to my psychiatric disabilities, talking about the alphabet soup in my brain… that’s so much harder. I can allude to things and I can say things here and there, but being truly open and candid is hard as hell.

It’s becoming a problem in my day-to-day life. You see, my method of dealing with my emotions and feelings is the “fuck everything and run” method. I stuff my feelings down; I pretend my emotions don’t exist. While there is a time and place for that way of coping, it currently isn’t a good strategy. It winds up in things getting worse, spiraling more and more, etc.

And so here I am, being vulnerable. Admitting that right now? Things are hard. Things suck. Depression is kicking my ass, and I’m struggling to talk about it and the reasons why. Anxiety is consuming me. I feel trapped. I feel stuck. I’m afraid to be open. Why? The reasons are likely bullshit. It’s just my brain playing tricks on me. But I’m terrified to let people – even the ones I care about and the ones who care about me the most – in. I’m afraid of being judged, I’m afraid of being weird.

I hate that I feel I have to hide my demons. I hate that I feel I have to keep my struggles silent. I hate that so often, I try to downplay my mental health and not admit how things really are going.

If you feel like this, if you can relate to me, you’re not alone. People care, and people want to help. The thing is… we have to let them. I know, “Nora, you’re telling me to let people help when you’re admitting it’s hard for yourself!”

Well, yeah. It is hard for myself. But it’s something I’m learning that is okay to do, trying to get better at, and truly allow people to help me.

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When doing the thing seems impossible

I hate how hard things are some times. How I balance two extremes – when faced with extreme emotions, I even break down or shut down. There’s no middle line, there’s no balance. It flips from one to the other, and it’s so frustrating for both myself and those around me.

I hate how simple things are so overwhelmingly hard. Like household tasks, simple self care, etc. There isn’t even a way to articulate why it’s hard because even that is, well, too hard and too overwhelmingly lazy.

To those outside, I look lazy, I look selfish, I look like I blow things off and don’t care. But I do care, and I do want to do things. I want to be productive. I want to do the things I need to do in life, instead of doing, well, nothing. But when you have poor executive function, it just seems so impossible.

I break down tasks to try and make them easier, but it doesn’t always work that way. I have other people help me when possible, and it still seems so overwhelmingly. I so quickly go into disaster mode that it makes it such a delicate act to try and even do the most basic tasks.

I don’t even know why I’m writing this – I don’t have any profound advice on how to do the thing, I don’t have anything new to say that people haven’t heard before. But maybe it’s to show other people that the way they’re doing things isn’t weird or isn’t wrong – that for some people, it’s just HARD and that’s okay. Finding your own way of doing things is fine, Doing things in an unorthodox way is fine.

It’s just too bad society seems to struggle with those who don’t do things in the traditional cookie-cutter ways, so it’s those who need to break out of the mold the most that suffer as a result. Because while our ways work for us, society nopes out of them. But there is nothing wrong with our way, even if it’s not “normal”.

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If there’s any hope for love at all, some walls must fall

Some walls are made of stone,
Sometimes we build our own
Some walls will stand for years,
Some wash away with tears
Some walls, some walls

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a ball of nerves and anxiety. Most people know I have a fairly traumatic past, albeit  bits and pieces of the details. And many have asked how the heck I survived  it. They’ve asked how I’ve gotten through. I’ve always just kind of shrugged – I kind of survived to prove the whole world wrong that I couldn’t (want me to do something? Tell me I can’t or tell me it’s impossible. I WILL prove you wrong.)

I survived by building walls. It wasn’t safe to cope with things as a child, it wasn’t safe to let anyone know how broken and upset I was. So I built walls. For years, those walls have kept me safe. It’s how I survived a painful childhood, it’s how I coasted through college. I wasn’t in a safe place to cope, I wasn’t in a safe place to deal with with everything being thrown at me.

Some walls are lined with gold
Where some hearts stay safe and cold
Some walls are made of doubt
Holding in and keeping out

And so, I built careful walls to keep myself safe and to, quite literally, survive. I didn’t know who was safe and who wasn’t. I’d been backstabbed so many times that the thought of letting anyone see past the walls was terrifying. I’d break down the walls, little by little, and then realize it wasn’t safe and go back into hiding behind the walls.

After so many years of hiding behind careful walls, it has a tendency to blow up spectacularly  in your face. You see, those walls have been up to keep my heart safe. To make sure that no one can hurt me. But here’s the thing.

How will you ever know what might be found
Until you let the walls come tumbling down
If there’s any hope for love at all,
Some walls, some walls must fall

It took years for me to build the walls, years of closing people out and pushing the world away. I don’t know how to let the walls fall. Everything has been cooped up, pushed in, so tightly protected for so long that while the walls need to come tumbling down, I am absolutely terrified of what will happen if I start breaking down the walls. It feels like a dangerous game of Jenga – that if just one brick is removed, things may stay stable but if too many bricks are removed, everything comes crashing down out of control and I won’t be able to stop.

But yet…if I want love to win, if I want to ENJOY my life, if I want to THRIVE, the walls have to come down and I need to deal with the reasons I built them in the first place. If I want to live without fears, pain, and anxiety consuming me…the walls need to come down. I just have so many fears of what will happen if I let the walls come down. But what is scarier? Living with the walls I know and the familiarity of depression and anxiety  or finally seeing what is beyond that? Which one is more worthwhile? I just don’t know how to bring the walls down, but I think I’m finally ready to learn.

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the very same fear that makes you want to die, is the same fear that keeps you alive

From the very same fear that makes you want to die,
Is the same fear that keeps you alive

It’s kind of weird. I don’t know what it’s like to not be depressed, to not be anxious. Because I was so young when my trauma started, I don’t know what it’s like NOT to have depression, anxiety, what my life was life Before Trauma. It’s weird, in a way – because this is what I know, the thought of getting better? The thought of not being consumed by things? It’s absolutely terrifying.

I’m not currently suicidal, though I have been in the past. But it’s odd. I was terrified to stay alive. I was terrified that things wouldn’t get better. I was scared to death that things would never change, that I would never see a difference. But at the same time, that very same fear is what kept me going.

Fear often fuels me.  In both good ways, and bad ways. At one point, fear is what drove me to the brink of despair, it’s what drove me to self injury. It’s what kept me from moving on with my life. But yet? At the same time, fear is what inspires me to keep going. It’s what keeps my fire burning because I want to see what happens next.

So often I’ve been told that fear is a bad thing. But I don’t know that it always is. I don’t know that fear is always a horrible thing. Fear is often what kept me safe as a child. Fear is often what made me determined to prove the world wrong. It’s ultimately a matter of what we DO with our fear that matters, not fear itself.

Lyrics from War on Drugs by the Barenaked Ladies