Conquering Fear/Anxiety – Last Part

I hate to leave things unfinished or incomplete. I’ve stayed awake all night to finish a book, binge watched TV shows, worked until the very last second . . . all out of a need for a sense of resolution. Stopping in the middle of anything makes me feel restless.

Hence, when I realized that tomorrow is the date I’m meant to return a library book, I made it a point to set aside some time to finish reading it. The book is called the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. I checked it out, because I’ve always had anxiety issues, but they’ve gotten worse since I started working as a nurse four months ago. I started a series of blog posts while reading it, to make sure I was actually reflecting on it. The first of those posts is linked, here: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1.

What I didn’t realize is that the last couple of chapters are specifically about having a child/teenager who suffers from anxiety. Not exactly relevant, to me, because I’m currently childless. That said, I still felt obligated to read the chapters and to create this post to wrap things up.

And it’s worth noting, I suppose, that I did suffer from separation anxiety as a child.

I fought against going to school as a kid, because I didn’t want to leave my mom – she worked evenings, see, so she was only home during the day and after I was already in bed at night. I distinctly remember one instance when she had to call the school’s counselor, because I was hiding behind a recliner and refusing to get dressed for school. I remember the meeting we had, later that day, at the school, but not the outcome of it. I eventually become home-schooled, which suited me much better. It wasn’t until I was thirteen that I went back to public school and event hat ended when I dropped out at seventeen to get my GED.

Honestly, I have already recognized that I do much the same thing now, with work, that I did then, with school. The book refers to it as the “Monday-to-Friday Tummy Aches.”

A child complains of an upset stomach, but miraculously feels better on the weekend.

I was scheduled to work on Thursday. I woke up and started getting ready, but then felt like I was going to throw up. I did, in fact, go into the bathroom and dry heave. I asked my other half if he thought I should call out sick. I fretted, because he wouldn’t be able to pick me up from work, if I did go and became sick again. I hesitated, because it was after our designated cut-off time for call outs and would mean taking points.

He told me to go to work. He said I’d been fine the day before. He explained that I could take a taxi home, if I did get sick again. He reassured me that it was better to go in and be sent home than it was to call out at the last minute.

Of course, he was right, as per usual.

I got to work feeling like a nervous wreck, but I didn’t throw up or dry heave again. I made it through the entire shift and left feeling . . . not accomplished, but at least relieved to have made it through the day.

Currently, I’m working on settling my nerves for tomorrow. I do work again, tomorrow, after having had two days off. There are a million little things I’m anxious about, regarding that fact, but I’m trying to remind myself that I have officially been a nurse for four months. I have not made any drastic mistakes, in that time. I’ve done well, mostly.

I’m getting off track a bit. That said, I don’t have anything else to say that specifically relates to this series of posts. I’m glad that it’s done as well as it has. I hope it’s been interesting or helpful to others. I’m also looking forward to starting my next book.

This is a short post, I know, but it’s as long as it needs to be, I guess.

 

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Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 7

“Once you’ve been bitten by a snake, you are very cautious even of a coiled rope.” – the Dalai Lama.

Logically, of course, you know the rope is just that . . . a rope.

Fear, however, doesn’t generally listen to logical arguments and sees . . . a snake.

The book I’m reading and basing this series of blogs off of is titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. The first post, Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1, is not necessary. Nor are the others, if you’d rather just read this one, but there is some continuity between them all.

You see, the section of the book I’m currently reading involves taking closer looks at anxiety, panic disorders, obsessions, and trauma. The quote above is in the part that deals with trauma. It resonated with me, despite the fact that I don’t really think of myself as having suffered anything traumatic. Which, of course, made me curious and got me to thinking about that. After a little while, I realized that my panic attacks could be considered a form of trauma – at least by this book’s definition of it.

The above quote, in fact, is relatable to me, because of my anxiety and my panic attacks.

I had one panic attack and now anxiously await another . . . to the point where every rope does indeed look like a snake. Metaphorically, in my case, but still.

Another quote, directly from the book, is, “You tell yourself to relax, but it comes out as RELAX, RELAX.” This is accurate. Especially when I’m trying to settle down during an attack. I literally walk around the hospital I work at thinking, “Just BREATH. Just FUCKING breath. In. Out. CALM DOWN, DAMMIT!”

Not exactly relaxing.

Less Dalai Lama. More drill sergeant.

While I understand that the book has good intentions, some of the suggestions for reducing anxiety still strike me as somewhat impractical or unrealistic. For instance, one such suggestion is to, “Delegate as many responsibilities as you can.” Of course, I do agree that delegating responsibilities can reduce anxiety by reducing things like perceived business and pressure to perform . . . but adulting sometimes means that one can’t delegate responsibilities.

Agoraphobia, in particular, can make delegating responsibilities seem very appealing. Reduced responsibilities leads to reduced anxiety, but becoming used to delegating responsibilities, rather than shouldering them, can lead to increased avoidance issues and procrastination tendencies.

Similarly, saying, “No,” to things is often talked about as a learned skill and a solution to the demands that modern society can place on people. Unlike delegation, saying no completely removes the source of the anxiety, rather than just shifting it. Again, like with delegation, I do see how this can be helpful in reducing anxiety, but . . .

I am also a believer in the truth of the expression, “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” This isn’t always true, but stagnation can do a lot of damage. Saying no to everything that may trigger anxiety will – not to be repetitive – lead to the sorts of avoidance issues that characterize agoraphobia. Plus, it doesn’t mean that the anxiety will magically disappear or be “cured.” On the contrary, saying no to everything can actually cause a sort of paradoxical anxiety all on its own.

OCD is – like agoraphobia – something that I didn’t really understand prior to taking a mental health course in college. The media representation of OCD generally involves people who are obsessively clean or who count. Monk, from the detective show of the same name, is one such example, but there are numerous others. Typically, the rituals or repetitive behaviors carried out by someone with OCD involve magical thinking. A person may lock, unlock, and re-lock their front door seven times prior to leaving the house in an effort to reassure themselves that no one can break in.

Interesting, my significant other has told me to let my OCD take over when I start to become anxious up at work. I understand what he means by that. Left to my own pace and devices, I will meticulously double and triple check a thing to convince myself it is correct. This is a good safety measure, for a nurse, but it can also eat up valuable time.

That said . . . I don’t believe I do actually have OCD. Instead, I honestly think that my anxiety and agoraphobia simply combine to make me a person who strives for organization. Honestly, the act of organizing something can quiet my anxiety like few other things can. I am the type of person who likes routines and consistency. Chaos and mayhem stress me out, because of the unpredictability involved.

Hence, part of the original reason I got the book. Working as a new nurse in a large hospital on a busy medical-oncology is not exactly a walk in the park. My anxiety is finding new highs that have led to my crying almost nightly and questioning my personal goal not to use pharmaceuticals as a fix. In trying to learn to reduce my anxiety, I do have to admit that I’m learning a lot about it.

For instance, I did make it through today without tears, despite it being a work day. I managed to discharge one patient, transfer another to a different hospital, admit a third, and still take care of four others. Medications were mostly on time. Doctors were talked with, electrolytes replaced, progress charted. Tomorrow morning, I will go back and do it all again, more or less. I’ll look forward to having two days off, afterwards.

At the moment, I’m going to sit back and watch a super hero movie while my SO makes us dinner. I may also have a Twisted Tea, since it’s a holiday and all.

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 6

How anxious are you, right now, on a scale from one to ten? One being at peace and ten being, “Oh god, oh god, we’re all going to die!” Take a minute. Think about it. Really.

(This is, as evidenced by the title, part six in a series of posts I’m doing while reading a book titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fear and Anxiety. I checked the book out from my local library, because I’ve been struggling with agoraphobia and panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. I’m moving forward in my life, but these things are hindering me and so I thought some self-help couldn’t hurt. The first part in the series is here: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1. You don’t need to read the previous posts to still appreciate this one, but it may be helpful.)

My answer to the above question is about a three.

Mild anxiety . . . butterflies in my stomach; muscle tension, definitely nervous.

I would also consider this to be just about my base-line when I’m at home. There’s the nagging sensation that there is something I need to do, but haven’t. My jaw is tense, my back is stiff. I feel restless and yet mentally worn out. Still, I have the wherewithal to be grateful that I’m not higher on the scale. Especially since I go in to work tomorrow.

Level four is the level at which the book suggests you take action to prevent further escalation. At level four, you are experiencing marked anxiety and may feel “out of it,” have an increased heart rate, tense muscles, rapid breathing, and a worry that you’ll lose control. In other words, level four is not a happy place, but it’s still a manageable one.

It is me, in the car on the way to work. Or in Wal-Mart. Or studying for an exam.

The book suggests removing yourself from the situation that’s causing the anxiety, but I don’t think I agree with that as a tactic, because it seems like the road to agoraphobia. Surely facing the anxiety and coping with it is better than avoiding it? Another questionable suggestion, in my mind, is to do something repetitive. This does release serotonin, but seems like it could lead to the development of an OCD-like compulsion or ritualistic behavior that will also have negative effects in the long run.

I feel the other suggestions offered by the book are more useful and practical.

Talk to someone, get active, focus on your surroundings instead of your symptoms, do a puzzle that requires concentration, indulge in something pleasurable, visualize a calming scene, use positive self-talk,practice diaphragm breathing.

I do use some of those when I feel a panic attack starting or cresting.

At work, in the hospital, I offer to run an errand – such as getting a telemetry monitor or restocking a cart – in order to get moving and focus on something tangible. I also picture my significant other and use positive self-talk . . . when I can calm down enough to. It also helps me to talk with my patients, when I’m at work, because it shifts my focus to their problems rather than my own. On the other hand, charting is a welcome distraction and can absorb some of my restless within the routine nature of it.

The mind and the body are linked. As such, it’s not surprising that the physical and mental elements of a panic attack feed off each other. Recognizing that, the book suggests, can help to reduce or manage both elements during an attack. In that vein, the book provides lists of mental and physical “symptoms” that people experience during panic attacks, has you rate them in terms of their frequency or strength, and then brings your attention to their relationship.

My top five physical symptoms include the sensation of a lump in my throat, nausea/diarrhea, a feeling of detachment, heart palpitations, and tingling of the hands/feet. My top five mental symptoms/thoughts are I’m going to die, I don’t understand what’s happening to me, I’m going to have a stroke, something is really physically wrong with me, and I’m really scared.

I do see how the physical symptoms I experience as a result of my panic attacks (in addition to my general anxiety/agoraphobia) cause the thoughts I have. Feeling as though there’s a lump in my throat makes me fear dying – even thought I know from a logical standpoint that there’s nothing in my throat and that my breathing isn’t being hindered.

Of course, as noted in the book and as I’m sure most people who have suffered from panic attacks are already aware . . . sometimes nothing does prevent a full blown attack.

In those instances, the book also has some suggestions for shortening the duration of the attack and lessening the overall severity of it. Many of them reflect the above suggestions for preventing the attack from occurring, but one other struck me as interesting and a kind of novel idea. The book recommends resisting the urge to “fight” the symptoms.

It can feel unnatural, the book notes, but will generally lessen the attack’s duration, because you’re adopting a passive stance rather than an aggressive one. In a way, you intentionally lose the fight in order to end the attack.

Another exercise in this section of the book relates to the diagnosis of GAD – generalized anxiety disorder. Once I learned about agoraphobia and panic attacks, about a year ago, I dismissed the notion that I had GAD. But . . . in filling out this particular worksheet . . . I did score 21 out of 35 possible points. This indicates that I am at least chronically anxious. The question is then whether or not it is due to the agoraphobia and panic attacks or if it is an entity in its own right.

I was inclined towards continued dismissal, but then realized that I experienced all of the same things prior to what I consider the first panic attack and I attribute that first panic attack to my eventual development of agoraphobia.

So, maybe, I do still actually have GAD.

Also, disclaimer, I don’t think that self-diagnosing medical issues – be they physical or mental – is entirely advisable. I should, honestly, go get evaluated.

Helpfully, the book explains that anxiety prone people are likely that way due to a combination of nature and nurture. It explains that people who are genetically predisposed to anxiety may be more sensitive to loud noises, bright/flashing lights, textures. It goes on to note that people who are predisposed towards anxiety tend to see others as disapproving or indifferent and to worry about the safety of themselves/others more than average.

Technically, I’m not finished with this section, but this post is about as long as I’m ever comfortable making them. Instead of continuing on, I’m going to end this post here.

Not only due to the length of the post, but due to the fact that it’s approaching ten at night (which is my bedtime on work nights). Also, my SO wants to sit in my front of me so I can play with his hair and rub his shoulders.

A quote . . . to finish things out.

“It’s no use putting up your umbrella until it rains.” – Alice Caldwell Rice

Mid-Week Shopping Trip

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” – Erma Bombe

While I can’t speak to the factual accuracy of that statement, I do fully agree that going into the store for one thing very seldom entails leaving the store with only that one thing. Even when going prepared to get several things . . . chances are that you’ll still leave with more things than you’d originally planned to get. Despite that, I did persist in making a grocery list this afternoon and actually did manage to convince myself that myself and my other would be loyal to it.

That lasted, approximately, five minutes after we entered the store.

Also, let me note, we don’t usually go shopping in the middle of the week. Somehow – possibly due to the fact that I’ve been off the last three days – we’ve run low on some of our staples. My original list of eight items is below.

  • Milk, OJ, Coffee creamer
  • Mayonnaise, Peanut-butter
  • Lemon Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes
  • Breakfast Burritos

By the time we left the store, we’d also purchased the following ten items . . .

  • Soup, Instant Potatoes, Canned Chili
  • Olive, Croutons
  • Tater-tots, Fish Sticks
  • Celery, Bananas
  • Monster Energy Drinks

Overall, I would have personally been fine with the original list. That said, my significant other did want the other items and I don’t really feel a need to complain about that since he pays half the grocery bill. Plus, if I’m being honest, I will also eat some of the things he added to the cart and he is fully aware of that.

Which is another reason we tend to split the bill evenly . . .

Stitch Fix Review #2

I created a post about six months ago that was, essentially, a review of my First Stich Fix Box. In retrospect, I’m now realizing that I misspelled “stitch” in the title of it. Interesting.

At any rate, I have received a total of five boxes since that post. The most recent one arrived this morning and I’ve already happily delved into it. I don’t actually intend to purchase any of the items in this box – though I will request two of them in the future with the hope of being financially ready to get them. Currently, because of being in the process of trying to move, I don’t have the additional funds to spend on pretty clothes.

No matter how much I may want to. (I may still end up with one of the tops, honestly.)

In this box, I received a good mixture of items – three tops, a skirt, and a dress. I also took a different tact with my stylist in that I linked to a Pinterest board I made for clothes, rather than giving her direct input about what I wanted in the box. As always, I appreciated the personal note that my stylist sent the choices with. It’s also worth noting that I feel the overall packaging makes the unwrapping process fun, even five boxes in.

For continuity’s sake, I will use the same sort of layout I did in my original post, but this time I did actually take pictures of the items I received.

stitchblue

  • West Kei – Julianne Tie Front Blouse – $44. I really like the royal blue color of this blouse, but I’m not crazy about the material itself. It’s a polyester/spandex blend that just feels scratchy on my skin. Also, I’m not really crazy about the waist tie – it can be done in front or in back, but I just felt that it accentuate the wrong parts of me and almost made the top look like a maternity piece.

stitchgreen

  • Papermoon – Fayette Mixed Material Blouse – $38. Again, I really like the richness of this color and I’m sad that I can’t get a picture to do it justice. I can easily imagine this one working for spring, summer, and fall. That said, this is another one where the material is just not winning me over. It is lightweight, but to the point of being sheer, which I’m not crazy about. Also, I don’t feel that this particular cut is flattering on my body type and prefer short-sleeved shirts that are narrower.

stitchlace

  • Fortune + Ivy  – Adora Lace Overlay Blouse – $40.  This is the one that I’m most inclined to keep out of this batch. It is the same cut as the one just above, but the lace detailing makes it feel like it works better for me. I can’t lie . . . this top really does make my inner goth girl feel positively giddy. Black lace is definitely my cup of tea. I also think this is a good example of how the stylists pay attention to detail, because mine noted that it reminded her of a top from the first box that I loved, but couldn’t afford. This one is more reasonably priced, comparatively, but I still struggle with the concept of spending $40 on a tank top.

stitchskirt

  • Renee C – Elvira Lace Pencil Skirt – $48. I have to admit that I’ve never tried on a pencil skirt before. I felt that their narrowness would accentuate the wrong parts of me. I am happy that I was wrong about that. This is the other piece that I would really consider buying, but don’t feel I can justify getting, because I don’t really have anywhere to wear it. Perhaps, in the future, I’ll have more need for this type of semi-dressy look, but I fear it would just languish in my closet at the moment.  Overall, I liked that the lace, the black, the thickness of the material, and the cut!

stitchdress

  • Kaileigh – Tasha Knit Dress – $48. Okay, so, I would have also considered this dress, but the price point was a little high and it didn’t fit quite right. It is an XL, whereas the other items were L and I’m not sure if that was an oversight or not, but it did feel too loose in the bust region. I like the cross-back detail, the color and polka dot pattern, and that the polka dots actually have some texture to them. I even bought the Kaileigh Feya Knit dress that came in another box, so I now know that I like this particular brand, which is nice.

Overall, I felt that this box did a good job of appealing to my style preferences. The items were comfortable and well made. I love the jewel tones, lace details, and polka dots. I do still think the prices are a bit high, but that’s just my inner thrift-er coming out. I also feel that the boxes have continually gotten better as I’ve given more feedback on the items. I think that’s a key point in getting boxes that feel custom, even more so than providing examples of what you like or asking for specific looks.

Like last time, I’m going to include a link for those interested in trying out Stitch Fix. I will get a credit, if you use it, but no pressure! Also, point of interest, you are able to schedule or cancel fixes based on your needs and budget, so there’s no stressful subscription to worry about, if you don’t want to get a box every month.

https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/16068850?sod=w&som=c

 

 

Conquering Fear and Anxiety – pt. 5

Is the glass half full or half empty? The question is fewer than ten words long and yet the general population – at least in America – tends to view it as a reliable way to determine if someone has an optimistic or pessimistic mentality.

The optimists of the world would claim the glass is half full.

The pessimists would declare that it’s half empty.

Honestly, I’ve always felt that the “true” answer depends on whether or not the glass was empty or full prior to reaching the half-way mark. If the glass’s most recent state was empty, then it’s now half full. If the glass’s most recent state was full, then it’s now half empty. I tend to think of this answer as being indicative of being a realist, but I’ve encountered a lot of individuals – both optimists and pessimists – who say it makes me pessimistic. I am inclined to think that means a lot of people view realism as depressing.

(For those interested, this is part 5 in the blog series I’m doing while reading the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. It isn’t necessary to read the other posts, but here’s the link to the first one: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, optimists reportedly have more self-esteem and feel as though things will turn out alright more often than they will go wrong. On the other hand, pessimists are reported to suffer from lower self-esteem and a belief that the worst case scenario is the most likely one. Of course, in both instances, there are exceptions.

I noted above that I think of myself as a realist and that’s largely true . . . but . . . according to the book, I do have a lot in common with pessimists in terms of how we view successes and failures.

Pessimists, for example, view failure as a confirmation of their inability to do something. As a result, they avoid trying new things, if they’re unsure whether or not they’ll be successful at them. Even when they do succeed, the success is a source of anxiety and guilt, because it feels undeserved, false, or embarrassing. In that same vein, pessimists tend to be perfectionists and will critique themselves much more harshly than an optimist – or even a realist – would.

In that way, I am pessimistically minded. I don’t tend to “take pride” in my achievements, because I usually feel ashamed of how long they took or how hard they were. I am also inclined towards attributing quick or easy successes to flukes or to chance, rather than to myself and my abilities. Similarly, I do tend to focus on my mistakes. It’s not that I don’t see the good . . . just that I blow the bad out of proportion.

I don’t actually view other people’s successes the same way. If another individual succeeds at something they struggled with, I see them as having persevered and think they deserve admiration. If another individual succeeds at something easily or naturally, I appreciate their talent and envy their swiftness at the task. Also, I don’t tend to pick apart other people’s accomplishments the way I do my own.

Another point made by the book is that, when perfectionists are praised for their “imperfect” works, they can feel guilty for “swindling” their audience. They become determined to lessen that guilt by being “better” at their next task. This struck a cord with me, because I do tend to tell myself and others, “I’ll be better, next time.”

For instance, my supervisor will praise me for passing all my medications on time and doing my charting early . . . but I will be focused on the fact that I forgot to bring someone the ice chips they asked for and will feel the praise isn’t truly deserved.

Not only can pessimists feel anxious about succeeding due to an inner belief that the associated praise isn’t deserved, they can also fear succeeding for other reasons.

Mark Twain sorta nailed down one of them when he said, “There’s always something about your success that displeases even your best friends.”

In other words, fear of succeeding can actually mean fear of rejection.

We talk about sore losers, but we don’t tend to have the conversation in terms of the effects on the winners. By that, I mean we talk about the loser’s self-esteem and need to develop good sportsmanship . . . but not about how the winner can grow to regret their win or feel guilty over it or even like they should have intentionally lost. Not only that, but frequent successes can be met with indifference or even exacerbation, despite the fact that the newer successes might have taken more effort than the original ones.

For instance, I have always been an A and B student, but it took more work in college . . . yet my mother didn’t hang my thesis paper on the fridge. A sort of why bother mentality can arise from this type of situation being repeated in various forms.

The last note the book makes about fear of succeeding has to do with sex and performance anxiety. It’s explained, in the book, that performance anxiety in the bedroom is closely tied to a pessimistic world view and a fear of success. What, you may wonder, could cause a fear of succeeding at bedroom activities? Well, you’re setting up a standard for yourself that will need to be met repeatedly (if not surpassed) and you’re also opening yourself up to greater intimacy with someone . . . thus making failure an even scarier prospect.

I think part of the reason I enjoy bondage and submission in the bedroom is that it takes some of this away. I have a fetish for being used/abused, because I feel more comfortable in a passive role than an active one. I do tend to avoid initiating sex out of fear of rejection and it takes alcohol to change that. For me, it’s not just self-consciousness regarding how I look, but fears that I will do something awkward or “wrong.”

Logical flaws in the thinking process are most to blame for the above anxieties related to success, but can affect anyone. I am guilty of three such flaws on a regular basis and particularly in the midst of my panic attacks.

  • Over-generalization. “I will never be able to get everything done.”
  • Disqualifying the Positive. “I know people say I’m doing well, but . . .”
  • Magnification/Minimization. “I forgot to page this doctor about xyz!”

The notion of failure as a desirable outcome is another type of logical flaw in thinking, but it’s not covered explicitly in the book. Failure can feel like the safe option when you consider that success can lead to guilt, rejection, and embarrassment. Deciding not to try to succeed can completely eliminate those issues. Also, for agoraphobics . . .  such as myself . . . avoidance of the source of the anxiety makes the anxiety go away and thus reinforces the notion that failure (or inaction) is best.

All that can seem daunting. How can someone learn to be less self-critical? Or more optimistic? Is that even possible? Where would you even start?

The book attempts to answer these question by pointing to something called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the belief that you have mastery over the events in your life and can meet challenges as they come up. Apparently, this is the key to being the type of person who isn’t afraid of failing, doesn’t procrastinate, and is hopeful about life in general.

Okay, great! Now . . . how do you develop self-efficacy?

The book suggests that you build success slowly in order to avoid feelings of guilt/fears of loss and learn to be happy with not being perfect. Another recommendation is to become your own best friend by caring and nurturing yourself. To that end, the book explains that taking care of your physical and emotional needs is extremely important. As is redirecting negative self-talk.

For example, instead of thinking that I can’t do a task properly, I need to think about how I’ve learned new tasks and done them well in the past.

The negative thought may be, “I’ll never learn to manage my time properly.”

The positive counter-thought may be, “My time management skills have improved since I started at the hospital and will continue to get better with more practice.”

I don’t think – nor does the book claim – that building self-efficacy is an overnight process. It can actually, according to the book, take years of therapy to really make it stick. Which is great, for those who are able to afford that, but less great for those who can’t . . . like me. There is still hope; however, because the concept of self-help does still exist and the internet can be a great resource.

For the time being, I’m going to continue this sort of introspective blog project. I have already learned several things since starting. Here’s a little mini-list to end this post!

  1. I really do match the definitions of someone with agoraphobia.
  2. I actually have a pessimistic world view, based on the definitions.
  3. My fear of the unknown is rooted in a fear of lack of control.
  4. There are things in my childhood that account for all of the above.
  5. Being more self-aware can lead to being able to cope with the above.

 

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 4

Not too long ago, I would have defined agoraphobia as fear of leaving the house. If pressed, I would have explained that my definition was based on the portrayal of agoraphobia in the media and conversations had with my friends about phobias.

“Agoraphobic people never leave their houses,” I would have said . . . confidently, no less.

I would have been wrong. Both in my definition and my assessment of the result.

Technically, the word agoraphobia comes from the Greek language and almost literally translates into fear of the market place. The DSM (a sort of encyclopedia of mental illnesses) further explains it as anxiety about being in places of situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having an unexpected or predisposed Panic Attack or panic-like symptoms.

Additionally, the DSM explains that the individual with agoraphobia handles the fear/anxiety by avoiding the situation entirely. Also, to count as agoraphobia, the avoidance and precluding anxiety can’t be better explained by another condition.

It’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Only about 0.8 to 1.7 percent of Americans have agoraphobia – depending on which source you choose to trust. More women than men seem to be afflicted by it. People who suffer from panic attacks are also more likely to develop it than other groups are. Generally, people with agoraphobia display avoidance of more than one situation and the situations themselves can vary widely. Some people, for instance, even avoid being alone within their own home. Others feel most anxious when in confined spaces – like elevators. Still, there are those who avoid open areas – like parking lots.

Clearly, it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of condition. Though it unfortunately plays one on TV. Which is what led, perhaps unsurprisingly, to my not recognizing that I suffered from it until I took an actual mental health course as part of getting my nursing degree.

In a classroom setting, I sat and silently absorbed the fact that the list of symptoms on the white board matched my own. Not in a slight way, but in a 10/10 kind of way. That evening, I called my mom and said, “I know what’s wrong with me. I have agoraphobia.”

She laughed and told me that I didn’t, because she also thought that it was fear of leaving the house and to the best of her knowledge that wasn’t something that affected me.

Trying a different tact, I started listing the symptoms of agoraphobia. By the end of the phone call, she was also certain that I did actually have it. She also observed – as many others have – that agoraphobia can, in a way, be called the fear of fear.

Which makes me, basically, Harry Potter.

If you don’t get the analogy, go watch or read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As per the author herself, Dementors (the villains of this particular book/movie) were her representation of depression, but I do think they also do a good job of standing in for agoraphobia. I was even recently tattooed with the spell that fends off the Dementors – which is the featured image of this post . . . in all of its new, shiny beauty . . . it has since healed up, but it’s a bit awkward to try to photograph on my own.

Now is the time when I refer back to the fact that this post is part of a series of posts relating to my reading of a book titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. I’m currently reading the section about specific phobias – hence my discussion of agoraphobia.

Interestingly, some of the hallmarks of individuals who develop agoraphobia coincide with some of the characteristics of children who develop in what is called the “Insecure Anxious-Avoidant Attachment way (which I discuss in this post: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 2). In both instances, strong displays of separation anxiety as a child and the tenancy towards suppressing negative feelings are seen. So is the development of psychosomatic physical issues – like upset stomachs and headaches.

Of course, as a self-help book of sorts, the book does offer some possible solutions to agoraphobia. The primary one being action. In theory, the act of doing will absorb the anxiety related to the thinking about doing. Personally, I feel that this can definitely be the case. At the hospital, for instance, I usually feel less anxiety once I have gotten report and started the morning medication passes. Or, when out shopping, I make it a goal just to get what I need on each isle, rather than thinking about the entire experience.

My other half frequently tells me to get my brain out of the way of my hands.

I let him have an, “I told you so,” moment when I read this bit of the book.

In fact, the book actually references having a “guardian angel” of sorts. For agoraphobics, the book explains, having a designated safe person can be a help make daily tasks more manageable. Even just having the ability to contact said person in triggering situations can lessen the feelings of impending doom that accompany panic attacks. I think that is an accurate assessment and I have told my other half that I wish I could take him with me to work . . . just to have him sitting in a corner somewhere, in case I need him.

Also, in a real way, my entire dynamic with him reflects these same things. I’ve mentioned in past posts that our dynamic falls within the BDSM spectrum, but I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to delve into that from a psychological standpoint. I mean, I’ve noted that I have a submissive personality and that I’m a people-pleaser at heart, but I don’t think I’ve elaborated on that as it relates to our BDSM dynamic.

I do think that I would struggle in a standard relationship. I recognize that I need and want the security of not having to make decisions in some areas of my life. He – through being the dominant to my submissive, the yin to my yang, the black to my white – gives me that option. I tend to have fewer “attacks” when I’m out with him and he helps me to work through them as they do come up. I know that I can message him when I’m having a random breakdown at work and he will encourage me to breath through it and to take action instead of hiding in the bathroom.

While I could likely continue on in these same veins for another several paragraphs, it would likely be rather repetitive. In the interest of preventing that, I’m going to go ahead and leave this part here. I have, approximately, have the book left to read. Truly, I don’t know how much it’s helping. For instance, I had a panic attack yesterday at work that included hyperventilating, crying, and feeling like I was sinking through the floor.

But! I recognized it for what it was and did manage to finish my shift.

I thought about telling my charge nurse that I’d thrown up, or had the flu, or that my grandmother was dying . . . but I didn’t do those things. Which feels like a win, to me.

Moving Out; Moving On

“Home is where the heart is. Even if you can’t remember which box you packed it in.”

I can’t find who to attribute that quote to, but I found while looking up quotes related to moving. I am, as the astute may have gathered by now, preparing to move from my one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom house. I honestly can hardly wait for it to be made official . . . for the last boxes to be moved over, the last papers signed.

Truthfully, I’m actually getting a bit ahead of myself. The house that I and my other are moving into is still being renovated. We won’t be able to even begin moving things in for another two weeks – which is when the landlord expects everything to be wrapped up in terms of improvements. It is getting wood floors, fresh paint, custom cabinets, new appliances, and new windows. Though built in the 50’s, it will be new for us.

I didn’t anticipate being able to move this quickly. Technically, our lease isn’t up until the end of the year. That said, our landlords have already broken it in several small ways and we don’t expect a fight when we let them know we’ll be moving out. Worst case scenario, we will continue to pay the rent until the lease is up, because we really don’t want to miss out on the chance to rent the house we’ll be moving in to. It isn’t that the house is perfect for us . . . it’s just that there’s no denying the pros of it.

Here, by the way, is our pros and cons list.

PROS

  • 3 bed/2 bath – extra space for guests/office
  • Garage and paved parking
  • Shed and carport for extra storage
  • Wood/tile floors throughout
  • Open living/dining/kitchen floor plan
  • Dedicated laundry room with more storage
  • Screened in porch off the living room
  • Large, fenced back yard
  • Close to shopping and our jobs
  • We know and trust the landlord

CONS

  • The master bedroom is small, compared to what we have now
  • Despite all the upgrades, it doesn’t have central AC or heat
  • The next door neighbor is a hoarder and her front yard is . . . messy
  • While still close to where we work, it does add about ten minutes to our drive
  • It is at the high end of our price range and costs double what our current place does
  • We will need to actually move all of our furniture and belongings into it ourselves

Overall, I do think it’s plain that it’s an upgrade and a good choice, for us. I’m looking forward to starting to pack and to donating things that I don’t really need anymore. I know, for instance, that I have a lot of craft stuff that won’t be coming with me. Also, some school books and supplies, a bunch of cookware, some clothes and bedding, and god only knows what else that’s at the back of the closet.

Now, in order to help make up some of the moving costs and the difference in rent, I’ll be going back to working part time at the call center in addition to working at the hospital. It’s not something that I must do, but it will definitely help and lets us continue to save money back. In fact, I actually need to leave this post here, because I’ll be putting in two and a half hours at the call center this morning/afternoon.

More to come regarding our adventure in moving, later!

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 3

I am inclined to believe that modern culture – at least in America – pressures individuals to seek fulfillment in all aspects of their lives. The concepts of sacrificing a career for a family, or friends for family, or personal time for friends are seen as ridiculous. Why sacrifice anything? Why not reach for it all?

The average American in their mid-twenties earns about $40,000 a year, lives with a significant other in a rented home in the suburbs, has some college education, and is likely to have had at least one child.

As far as I compare, I’d say I’m pretty average.

I do make about $40,000 a year – now that I’m working at the hospital. I live with my significant other in an apartment . . . but it’s in an urban setting, instead of the suburbs. I did graduate with my AS in nursing and am working towards starting school for my MSN in nursing education. I don’t have a child, but I do have baby fever occasionally.

Incidentally, I’m also one of about 4 million adults in America who suffer from anxiety. Hence, this post . . . the third in my Conquering Fear/Anxiety series. The first two are here (Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1, Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 2), for convenience, but reading them isn’t necessary for this one. I am, essentially, reading through a book titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. As I read it, I’m making notes and hoping to come to better terms with my own fear and anxiety, even if I don’t conquer it completely.

I started this post off the way I did, because something in the book struck me as being particularly true in modern American society. That is, the battle cry of, “Self-reliance! Independence!” I noted that I think most people of my generation are inclined towards wanting it all in terms of a career and family and personal fulfillment, but I also think it’s important to note that I think a lot of us feel the need to do so on our own feet. Asking for help is difficult and actually getting the help can seem impossible.

That said, it doesn’t surprise me that so many adults in America suffer from anxiety – or depression, or another type of mental illness. While my own anxiety issues are probably traceable all the way back to my early childhood, I can’t negate the fact that my day to day life also plays a role. Also, as much as I’d like to believe that I’ll find a magic cure within the pages of this book, I can’t say that I do actually believe that.

Even so, the second section of the book does go through a few different calming techniques and compares different types of therapy. The calming techniques are generic and I can’t help, but think of them as the “bargain bin” fixes to anxiety – sure, they look like a good deal, but the odds of them breaking five minutes after you get them home seem high. These techniques are also – the book notes – best for in the moment mild-to-moderate anxiety issues.

Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, meditation . . . they are the triad of quick fix solutions to anxiety. I don’t know anyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks who hasn’t, at some point, had someone tell them they should try closing their eyes and counting to ten. Personally, I feel that both progressive relaxation and meditation are too much like work to be truly practical when I’m in the midst of anxiety. I can see the benefits of using them as preventative measures, but I tend to enjoy relaxing in other ways, when I have that sort of time that either of the above require (at least 20 minutes).

For me, breathing exercises are the best of the three. I can do them anywhere and they take no more time than I would ordinarily spend breathing. I find that inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of six is usually sufficient to stymie mild anxiety. Sometimes it will refocus me during moderate attacks, or even severe attacks.

Now, the book covers explanations of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, humanistic therapy, systematic desensitization, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Honestly, each of these could be a post in and of itself, but that’s not what I’m about to do. Instead, I am only going to note that both systematic desensitization and cognitive behavioral therapy are the two I find most appealing from my standpoint.

Another thing to note is that the book also discusses different anti-anxiety medications. One line, in particular, struck me as interesting though. It reads, “If you suffer from anxiety, one of your toughest decisions is to swallow the pill or to go drug free.” I don’t personally find this question difficult. I have tried taking anti-anxiety medications in the past and did not like doing so. The act of taking the medications makes me feel more anxious – side effects, judgements, trying to figure out if it’s working. Not for me.

In the final part of this section, the book mentions the relation of diet and exercise to anxiety disorders. Stress reduces your body’s ability to digest food due to the nature of the flight or fight response. Hence, some people with anxiety experience IBS. Additionally, food allergies and sensitivities can lead to increased anxiety. Exercise, on the other hand, can reduce anxiety. Cardio, in particular, is recommend by the book.

Truthfully, I can think of several things that I could incorporate to reduce my daily anxiety levels – healthier eating, more exercise, using the counseling session that are available to my via working at the hospital, maybe even trying a medication. I will, perhaps, find that something as simple as making time to do some yoga really makes a difference. I may also let myself take more time to do things I enjoy – like gaming and reading. Again, I don’t think there will be a quick fix.

Which is maybe okay. In today’s society, I think we’re inclined towards quick fixes, even if they’re temporary, but that doesn’t mean everything will line up with that all the time.

I’m going to end this post here. I am also going to aim for my next post to be unrelated to this “series,” because there are also other things happening in my life and it’s good to mix things up a bit, I think. So, until next time!

 

 

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 2

“The fears we don’t face become our limits.” – Robin Sharma

I feel like this quote is particularly relevant, to this post. This is – as evidenced by the title – part two of my Conquering Fear/Anxiety series. Here is part one: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1. You don’t really need to read part one to appreciate this part, but be aware that these posts are reflections on a library book I picked up. The book is called the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. I checked it out yesterday, because it practically jumped off the shelf as I was scanning titles.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more mentally unwell than I have in previous years. I started a new career as a nurse and landed a job with a busy oncology/med-surg unit at a large hospital. The position is amazing – great hours, supportive co-workers, amazing benefits, nice environment, ect.

It is also incredibly stressful to find myself responsible in no small part for the care of up to six patients at a time. My anxiety and depression are both reaching new heights.

As such,  I’m reading through this book. I’m not an idiot (at least, I don’t think I am), but I must admit that this book is already bringing new perspectives to my attention.

For example: we wouldn’t expect someone with arachnophobia to comfortably hold a tarantula, but we do often expect someone suffering from anxiety to continue to function “normally,” despite having an attack. Even the person suffering from the anxiety tends to hold themselves accountable for “getting it together” and can become distraught when they can’t do so as quickly as needed. I know, at least, that this is true in my own care.

Fears are usually straight-forward, relatable, and socially acceptable. What person doesn’t at least know one person who is afraid of spiders, or heights, or public speaking? Anxiety, on the other hand, isn’t generally viewed with the same leniency.

There is also anticipatory anxiety, which occurs when you get worked up over something prematurely and which is usually viewed with even less leniency than anxiety about something that’s actually occurring. People can sympathize, usually, with someone who is anxious the morning of a test. . . but it’s harder to sympathize with someone who is anxious about the mere thought of taking a theoretical test.

This is a concept I’m intimately acquainted with and is the reason I love a particular quote from the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Newt Scamander, the lead of the movie, says, “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.” I can’t express how much that resonates with me. It is fundamentally true and I keep a little Newt Scamander figure on my key-chain to remind me of it when I’m out and about.

I have agoraphobia, so leaving the house generally makes me at least mildly uneasy. Which is an interesting juxtaposition to my love of traveling and seeing new places.

While it’s helpful to recognize that you have anxiety, it’s more helpful to recognize things that can exacerbate it. I think of it kinda like my allergies – I know I will begin sneezing if I pet dogs and so I try to avoid petting dogs. One of the things in the first section of the book I’m reading is a list of things that people have found trigger their anxiety or make it worse. Included in these are caffeine consumption, steroid use, balance issues, florescent lights, and heat . . . all of which are personal triggers, for me.

In the book, there is also a list of common fears and a rating scale. One represents mild fear, two is moderate fear, three is extreme fear,  and four is terror. I was actually surprised by the amount of things I labeled as “extreme fears” of mine. Those things are: being criticized, bridges, darkness, driving, falling, insects, riding a Ferris wheel, riding a roller coaster, speaking in front of people, and worms. In comparison, I only choose four things from the list as inspiring “terror” in me: dead bodies, deep water, losing control, and large open spaces.

No wonder I find modern life stressful, huh?

The last segment in the first section of the book that I’ll go over relates to why fears and anxiety develops. The book views this matter from a behavioral psychology standpoint.   I was personally skeptical as to whether or not I’d find the magic answer to why I’m  anxious within a book that was selected at random from a library shelf, but I kinda did.

I know I did, actually, because typing it makes me feel oddly uncomfortable and exposed.

Insecure Anxious-Avoidant Attachment.

That is what the book categorizes the path that led to my anxiety as.

A major factor of this path is the development of emotional inhibitions – a sort of fear of feeling – that’s created by having one’s emotions continually criticized or negatively reacted to at a very young age. This path can lead to sleep issues, nail biting, rocking, excessive masturbation, nightmares, headaches, and undefined illnesses. Usually, people who develop this way end up being people-pleasers who never feel good enough. It’s not uncommon for anxiety to fully manifest for these individuals after high-school. Sometimes, they also develop IBS, TMJ, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

I would never have written the above paragraph about myself . . . but it does some me up pretty exactly. There is a certain guilt in admitting that, because I love my parents without reservation, but do have to admit that both of them treated my emotions as inconvenient and undesirable. I was made to feel, from a very early age, that sadness and anger weren’t appropriate. Also, that physical illness would bring more comfort than emotional distress.

I missed a lot of school as a kid due to “stomach aches” that just wouldn’t go away.

Now, this has, I must admit, been a bit heavy. I’m a little leery, honestly, about continuing to read this book. I’m only 68 pages in and already cringing as I’m investigating the cause of the cause of my anxiety. I noted, in the last part, that the majority of my anxiety comes from a core fear of the unknown. In turn, I can see that rising from a fear of losing control. And that fear, maybe, developed as a result of not wanting to display – or really ever become – angry or upset or sad due to the negative consequences of it.

It’s interesting, honestly. And I’m curious about the next section of the book.

The next section, by the way, is titled, “Making it All Better.”

Oh, the irony. Really, that’s all I want to do, after all.