Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The 100% Not Guaranteed Cure for Anxiety

Not to brag, but I got into crow pose once (that's not it)

Being very open about my issues with anxiety doesn’t bother me much at all, but lately, I have felt like it is becoming my identity. I had recently seen one of the very popular Jen Gotch necklaces on a friend and almost purchased the “anxiety” one before deciding no, I’d claimed my anxiety enough.

We get it, Patty. You have anxiety! There is a medical diagnosis on my file, several posts on this blog/my Instagram and conversations I’ve had with almost anyone that back that theory up. I’m not ashamed of it, and I think being open about it is important and helps other people not feel so ashamed.

But the necklace I wanted from the Jen Gotch collection (which I actually can’t get because I’m allergic to artificial jewelry, which makes me a very high-maintenance girlfriend but then again I’d always prefer a loaf of bread to jewelry) (FYI, fellas) is resilience. I love that word. I even facilitate a workshop on building resilience! (I'm including a snippet of an exercise from that workshop below!) So what am I doing focusing on my anxiety when I should be focusing on my resilience?

Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve "cured" my anxiety over the past year or so and became much more RESILIENT.

Physical Activity. I’ve already talked about this, so I’ll keep it short. I was afraid of going to group yoga/barre classes because I thought I’d get made fun of or be way behind everyone else. Turns out, that’s bullshit. Everyone in the class, whether they’ve been doing it forever or just one class, is struggling through practice. That’s what yoga is… practice. You’re not supposed to be an expert, you’re supposed to be learning. Barre is a workout, not a choreographed dance. (I think I have that fear instilled in me from the time Aunt Viv took a dance class in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.) Your thighs are supposed to burn. Planks are supposed to be hard to hold. But the goal for everyone's the same: stick to it, get better and get stronger.

It is my anxiety-saver in so many ways. Not only did changing my mindset help, but actually going to the classes 3-4 times a week is a tremendous help. I feel refreshed and energized every single time I go which helps me get through anything and everything. It’s the easiest money I spend all month.

That wasn't that short.

The Dentist. FUN FACT: In 2012, a dentist poured bleach down my throat during a root canal. He said he didn’t, but I tasted it… and I also immediately vomited. So... needless to say, I’ve had major dentist-related anxiety since then. So much so that I stopped going for 7 years. Because of this, my anxiety caused me to believe that my teeth were rotting. I would have teeth-related dreams that woke me up in the middle of the night. I would change the subject whenever anyone else talked about going to the dentist (because I just wanted to avoid the topic completely.) I kept prolonging it because I was afraid ALL of my teeth were dead and it would cost me $5 million.

This year, I decided enough was enough. Well, one of my teeth decided that for me. It broke, and it hurt a lot and I had to do something about it outside of giving up sugar (which actually helped for a long time!) I did some research, found a dentist that looked trustworthy and went. It was no big deal. They were great. All of my teeth AREN’T dead, there are just a couple of issues and we have a plan in place to fix them. (In fact, we’ve already fixed the worst of it!)

A huge weight was taken off my shoulders and despite the happiness knowing that my teeth are okay and I can go to the dentist without being poisoned, I felt empowered by taking control of a situation that was causing me such stress. I had no idea how prevalent it was in my day-to-day until it was addressed.

Getting a Dog. For years, I have wanted a dog. I almost got a dog when I moved to L.A., but instead, I got a cat. I thought it’d be easier for me since they’re so low maintenance. I’m obviously very glad I did that because I love Ruthie more than I love myself. But… the reasons for not getting a dog were completely related to anxiety.

How would I take care of it? What if my schedule wouldn’t allow it? What if I was bad at it? What if I couldn’t go out anymore and always had to come home and take the dog out? What if I never trained it right and its bad habits lasted forever? I decided this year that it was all bullshit and I was just afraid! I was afraid I wouldn’t be a good caretaker (which I know that I am) and I was afraid of changing my schedule/routine even a little bit.

So I got one, her name is Billie. She is THE BEST. But, as expected, she has turned my world and routine completely upside down and has brought on many smiles but also lots of crying fits. But guess what? As time goes by… it gets better and easier to manage. It’s only been a week and some change, but we’ve already made so much progress. It’s hard fucking work, but at the end of the day I rescued a dog and I get undying love and attention!!!

Basic Communication. The biggest trick I’ve learned to become more resilient is addressing things head on. Instead of assuming something, I ask what’s going on. Instead of being weird and shy about something, I say what’s on my mind. Instead of being repressed and withholding, I’m open and vulnerable.

I read a book that said anxiety is one of the more productive disorders to have because it keeps you safe. That’s good for times when I’m walking down a dark street at night and cross the street when my gut tells me the guy on the corner in a trenchcoat is up to no good. But it tends to lead to more harm than good when I pull further and further away from people and make stupid assumptions based on nothing. Yes, our gut tells us a lot and we should listen. But an anxious gut also makes up crazy stories sometimes like, “Your boss isn’t responding to your email because he hates you and you’re getting fired.”

So, to counteract all that crazy, I try to be more patient (by waiting and not making up stories) and then address things when they become valid concerns instead of letting tension or weirdness grow.

Say Thank You, Not I’m Sorry. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for waiting. Thank you for moving out of the way for me. Thank you for holding the door. Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for bringing this to the top of my inbox. Thank you for letting me vent. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for giving me the time. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being there. (Those last 2 were just lines from a Linda Belcher classic Thanksgiving song.)

All are good ways to reframe: Sorry for dumping all of this on you. Sorry for making you wait. Sorry for existing in your space. Sorry for not getting back to you. Sorry for being a shitty friend. Sorry for being stupid. Sorry for taking your time. Sorry for putting this all on you. Sorry for making you do this.

(Obviously, there is a time and place for apologizing. But that is not when you're walking down a hall and someone moves out of your way, or when someone holds the door for you, or if you're me -when SOMEONE ELSE DROPS SOMETHING.) 

Those are just a few examples, even if they seem silly and obvious. To a person with anxiety, they're all huge deals. But an exercise I'd like to share (introduced to me by my colleague and best pal, Judith) is this: Identify 3 times in your life when you've shown resilience. Arrange them in order on a timeline. Take a step back and look at your timeline. What do you see?

Likely, you see a person who overcame a whole lot and grew in some way from every single experience. How can you use that to motivate you to take more risks and push yourself even further outside of your comfort zone? Can you use that perspective to get yourself through a current anxious or tough situation? 

Obviously, there is no one cure-all for everyone. But I have alleviated a lot of my general anxiety and become far more resilient through all of this (and a once-daily pill!) I try to push myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible in order to learn that doing new things, shaking up the routine and heading towards the anxiety is the way through it.

Even if it involves a $250 co-pay for a root canal. That’s nothing when your brain makes up a story that it’s going to be $5 million!

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