The Anxiety Lens

Anxiety Girl

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Today’s post is about anxiety, and I think it’s only fitting that I feel anxious about writing it. Because if you have anxiety you know that it isn’t easy to talk about. In fact, talking about anxiety usually makes the anxiety worse. But, here it goes.

Last night I made a pretty big mistake at work. It was an honest mistake, no one was hurt, we didn’t lose any money, and though it will take a few weeks to totally overcome the consequences, most of it was cleaned up by 10AM this morning. However, here I sit, several hours after the problem has been resolved, and I am still so anxious about it that my heart is racing. On my drive into work this morning, I was convinced I was going to have to pull over at any second to succumb to the anxiety-induced nausea I’d been feeling since I woke up. This What Have I Done feeling will likely stick with me for weeks… And all over a mis-sent email. But this is what life looks like when you view it through the lens of Anxiety.

I do a lot of work to come across as a very confident person who has their shit together and knows what they’re doing. Even when I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty good at acting like my lack of control is well within my control. But to be honest, not-so-deep down I am usually freaking out about, well, everything.

I had my first anxiety episode when I was 10. My parents were newly divorced, so I had a lot of reasons to be stressed and anxious, but at the time I didn’t recognize the feeling. I woke up my mom in the middle of the night, telling her that I just had this feeling in my chest that something was WRONG. Now I carry around that feeling with me all day long, and though I’ve gotten used to it, I can say with some certainty that at any given moment I am probably feeling more anxiety than most people ever will.

If I ever try to bring this up, people will ask me, “Well, what are you stressed out about?” or “Why do you care so much?” But that’s the catch. Anxiety is not stress. Stress is related to an incident, to a workload, a fight, or a looming deadline. It comes and goes and you can usually look at it and say, “I am feeling stressed because X.” Anxiety, on the other hand, is just a lens through which you see your life. Or at least the lens through which I see my life; a lens that brings that “something is WRONG” feeling into everything I do. It’s an infuriating, helpless feeling, and if you see your life through the Anxiety lens, adding stress on top can be an overwhelming combo. Now, this morning’s event was an something with a beginning and, eventually, an end. It is not an indefinite thing. But it is these types of episodes, things that a normal person might dwell on but which absolutely push me over the edge into borderline mental breakdown, that make me realize that the real problem is that my anxiety is so high on a daily basis, that it can feel like if anything else happens, I won’t be able to cope. And it doesn’t even have to be big things. Unheard voicemails from relatives, the phrase “Tax Season,” hearing my family already start piping in their opinions about my desire to have a January wedding… any of these things have the ability to push me over the edge. Who knew.

So why am I writing about this now? Because over the past few weeks I have really started to think more about my health in terms of everything being part of a greater whole, instead of just having each piece in its place. My body is healthier than it has ever been, but I can’t just say that I eat well and exercise and therefore am healthy, if mentally and emotionally I am on the brink of a freak out at any moment. And though CrossFit and taking care of my diet have both improved my ability to cope with anxiety, I don’t deserve to live a life full of daily heart rate spikes, indigestion, teeth grinding (despite my really attractive plastic mouthguard, which I lovingly refer to as my merthgerd… go on, say it…), jaw clenching, and all the other fun things that come along with the Anxiety Lens.

So what now? What can I do about it? Honestly, after 15 years of feeling this every day, I still have no idea. But I think that finally I am ready to start trying to figure that out. Which is a pretty big deal for someone who can have a hard time listening to a voicemail from her grandmother.

  • Mom

    To be honest, a voice mail from your grandmother puts most of your family members in a panic.
    You are exactly right to pursue good health in all forms. Get that monkey off your back.

    • clairechapman

      Haha yeah I got a text from Peter saying he always deletes Mimi’s voicemails too… apparently it runs in the family

  • Ashley

    I suffer from anxiety too and have never heard it explained in such honest and understandable (to non-suffers). Thank you for writing this! The next time my husband thinks my anxiety is really stress, I’ll have a better way of explaining things to him.

    • clairechapman

      Thanks for reading, Ashley! It is definitely hard to explain to people that anxiety and stress are not the same thing, especially when a lot of people use the terms interchangeably!

  • teggem

    Claire: I totally understand where you are at. Everything freaks me out so I guess you could call me high strung. I am a pessimist because I always assume the worst (I tell myself I do this so that if something good happens I’ll be pleasantly surprised but if something bad happens I will be mentally prepared…..) And I have daily anxiety sometimes to the point of having chest pains. I have tried so many things, yoga, “mindfulness,” deep breathing, acting like I don’t care, etc. They don’t really work. What does work for me is healthy food (especially no sugar), Crossfit and a daily Ativan. I know, it’s a drug, but it isn’t addictive like Xanax and it really extremely subtly takes the jagged edge off my anxiety. I can’t feel its effects but I have noticed I have barely had any meltdowns since I started taking it once every morning. It is the lowest dose available I believe (.5 mg.) Something to consider, maybe even try it for a month and see if it helps. Oh, and I also just gave notice at my job which is the source of 99% of my anxiety. :)

    • Shannon

      I’m sorry you suffer so…..but I feel obligated to tell you that Ativan is extremely addictive….it’s in the benzodiazapene family and you should exercise care when taking long term.

    • clairechapman

      Luckily usually my job is usually not too anxiety-driving, but the occasional stressors are unavoidable unfortunately. I have also experienced chest pains and I also can have serious digestive issues. I have never tried a prescription drug for anxiety but I do believe they can be a big help if you are the right type of person for them. Taking the edge off would be nice :)

  • Dive-girl

    Wow, it takes a brave person to write about such a personal topic. I am a firm believer that everyone has anxiety, it just,affects us at different levels on a continuum. I worked in an anxiety research clinic that treated people with OCD and panic disorder. The treatment used was cognitive behavioural therapy and it was highly effective. I wish you much success as you pursue the treatment option that works best for you. You are not alone!

    • clairechapman

      I totally agree–in fact I think you could look at just about every mental “disorder” out there and put every single person on the continuum of whatever it is, be it OCD or ADD or autism spectrum or depression… etc, etc. Some people can just hide it better than others :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kate.mixon Kate Mixon

    This post was just what I needed today! Well-written and right on target. It’s good to hear about other people’s experiences with viewing life through the Anxiety lens.

    • clairechapman

      Thanks Kate! It is super nice to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  • http://twitter.com/SnowfoxBandit Simone

    Okay, you know how we said we were related before? Yeah, now I’m pretty sure we’re twins (except for the merthgerd; that one’s all you, sister). Parents separated when I was 10, divorced when I was 17; anxiety (and from time to time, depression) have been cloooooooose companions for years, especially since college. Woooo….

    TL;DR I love anxiety girl and can basically identify with this entire post. Again. As usual. <3s!

    PS: The one thing I've resolved to do when it comes to anxiety — which I know will go right out the window when I get engaged — is to tell everyone to f#@& themselves when I plan my wedding. I know, I know. But seriously: religious parents-in-law? Sorry, outdoor wedding! Giant extended family? Sorry, small ceremony! People I don't like? Not coming!! Obviously I'm sure I'll eat all of those words when it's my turn, but remember: this is about you, and your guy, and your awesome life together, and it's just a day to celebrate the two of you. Everyone else can come and be happy for you, or STFU. :)

    • clairechapman

      Haha don’t lie, you are totally jealous of the merthgerd :) And I thought I was going to be that way about my wedding too, but turns out that everyone will give you their advice regardless of whether or not you want it! Luckily I’ve been able to talk my dad out of protesting my wedding due to my desire to get married outdoors in the middle of winter, and most of my other family members are slowly coming around to the idea. Apparently there is a balance between doing exactly what you want and being nice to your family… sigh…

  • Jenn Ryberg

    Omgosh, I am so with you here. I actually had lock jaw for about a year due to teeth grinding and anxiety. I still grind my teeth all the time and can pop my jaw. Most of the time, I don’t even listen to voicemails because they stress me out so much and I just delete them!

    • clairechapman

      Haha I’m so glad I’m not the only one!! I seriously was sitting here thinking, Am I really going to tell people this? What is so hard about listening to a voicemail!? But they’re stressful!

  • http://www.njpaleorunner.wordpress.com/ NJ Paleo

    Wow, thanks for sharing such a personal and emotionally-fraught topic. My mom has anxiety and it’s been crippling at times in her life. None of the rest of us who don’t have it can possibly understand.

    • clairechapman

      Thanks! It definitely was a little nerve wracking to post this but I think it’s definitely helpful to feel like people get how important it can be :)

  • http://twitter.com/fatgirlhealthy Fat Girl Healthy

    Hey girl, mental health is so IMPORTANT. Dealing with anxiety has been very frustrating for me. It’s something that is a bit a recent issue for me, I first blogged about it a couple months ago when I found out I was grinding my teeth. I’ve been giving acupuncture a try and I think it’s helping a bit. I really want to get into meditation to try that out too. I really hope you are able to finally tackle this issue!

    • clairechapman

      Ah you are so brave for trying acupuncture! I have had a lot of people suggest meditating, also–I think that I might need a little groundwork before I just go spend a bunch of time with my thoughts, though! That sounds a little scary… :)

  • http://twitter.com/AngieEatsPeace Angie

    Thank you for sharing, it’s hard to put yourself out there like this.
    I had anxiety as an adolescent till I was an adult. It’s only been in about the last 2 years that it has started to ease up.
    Last March my dad was murdered, and even though this would have otherwise shot my anxiety through the roof, I used it to help myself let go of it through yoga and meditation.
    I was always afraid of something “bad” happening. And then, something really bad did happen, and I am getting though it. Meditation and yoga have really helped me be in the present and experience my grief and pain in a healing way. I think I was always scared and running from pain before and that increased my anxiety.
    I truly hope you find whatever is best for you. <3

    • clairechapman

      Thanks Angie! I’m so sorry to hear about your tragedy but it sounds like you have come a long way. I also think it’s really interesting that you bring up running from pain. I think a lot of my anxiety comes from feeling guilty for being anxious. It’s definitely a vicious cycle.

  • dre @ grackle&sun

    Sending you the biggest hugs ever. I’ve had a post on anxiety/panic disorder (and the major 3 month long episode I’m just starting to recover from) in my drafts folder for weeks—but I’ve been too anxious to hit the publish button. I would add a lol here, but it just kind of makes me sad. There is something very raw and scary about just putting it out on the intrawebz for all to see. But I think these posts are incredibly important not only for ourselves as we explore what having anxiety means, but also as a major source of support to others who suffer from it. You’re so right—it’s not stress, it’s not worry, and it’s not easy to explain to those who’ve never dealt with it. Thank you for posting this, and for giving my the courage to post mine. I hope your anxiety over this work issue eases up quickly, and I hope you start to find answers soon.

    • clairechapman

      I was very anxious to post this too. Finally I had to decide to just let it go and trust that someone might be encouraged by knowing they aren’t the only one out there who goes through life feeling really overwhelmed and a little nuts–and hey, it worked! I would absolutely encourage you to post about your experiences. Even since yesterday I have noticed myself feeling a little better for no other reason than realizing that I’m not crazy for feeling like this!

  • Theresa

    I wish I had an answer for you. Although, wait, hold on….I do have an answer! January for YOUR wedding is perfect!

    • clairechapman

      Haha thanks! I think so too :)

  • Journey to Awesomehood

    I totally understand you… I suffer with social anxiety a lot! I have a very hard to get myself to go out and be social and meet new people. Or sometimes even going to the store by myself… Anxiety is just so consuming and really hinders life. It is definitely worth talking to a counselor or therapist about, though. Talking definitely helped me out, just to get some perspective. I still have freak outs, and over think every little thing, but I have gotten better at not letting it control me. I just say “I realize I am really scared right now, but I know other people have survived this and I will too!”

    • clairechapman

      I love that! I think self-talk is definitely an important factor, because when other people try to say, “Oh don’t worry it isn’t a big deal” that can actually make it worse.

  • Kelsi

    First of all… I LOVE Natalie Dee! Secondly, thanks for being open about your anxiety. While I do not suffer from it, I have loved ones who do. There is a common misconception that it is the same as stress.

    Thirdly, everyone will think they get a say in your wedding. Many will feel their are helping you with their advice, since they’ve “been there before.” NO. NO, IT DOES NOT HELP. You have your wedding where you want, whenever you want, with the number of guests you want, and in any fashion you want, dammit. I’m sure you’ve been to weddings that you enjoyed but it wasn’t your style. It isn’t for the guests; it’s about the commitment you’re making. While planning my wedding, at some point my mother said I needed to invite my grandpa’s sisters. I never see them, and I don’t even know their names! She thought they’d be hurt if I didn’t invite them, but I drew the line. Truthfully, they were relieved at not feeling obligated to buy a gift or to invite us to their events!

    I also got caught up in the planning process. I didn’t want a fancy pants princess wedding, but suddenly I was stressing out about whether or not I needed charger plates. PLATES THAT YOU DO NOT EVEN EAT OFF OF, THAT SIT UNDERNEATH OTHER PLATES. I was freaking out about this. When this sort of thing happens, sit back and remember why you’re getting married. What’s the most important thing? Answer: not charger plates. Or the time of year.

    You’ll want to please your family (I did choose a venue that was handicap accessible for my ailing grandfather) but ultimately this is YOUR day, and YOUR marriage. I’m so excited for the two of you and you are going to have the most wonderful life together… whether the rest of your life starts in January or in any other month!

    • clairechapman

      Haha I laughed out loud at this one! My dad is actually planning his FIFTH wedding and so he keeps saying, “Listen, I’ve planned a lot of these…” I’m like ok that is not reassuring because apparently you do not have a good track record :)

  • anonymous

    I have a lot of empathy for your anxiety…I’ve had problems for years with sometimes seemingly crippling anxiety. Crossfit, running, cycling and a variety of other coping mechanisms have been helpful, but so have medications. I have so much less daily and less severe acute situational anxiety and, as a result, have much greater happiness in life. They’re not for everyone, but I’d encourage you to talk to your physician about your options. Only after trying medications did I realize that I simply didn’t need to live with anxiety, there was more that could be done.

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  • djk010805

    I’m a new reader and I’m going to second, third, whatever the motion for you to look into yoga and meditation. You don’t sit alone with your thoughts, you learn to release them and acknowledge your strength and ability to deal with your anxiety. It will also help you improve in cross fit, believe it or not!

    I actually had a huge long comment explaining more, but lost it and now it’s breakfast time and the kids are hungry! Please feel free to email me if you have any questions regarding yoga and meditation!

    djk010805 (at) yahoo (dot) com

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  • Julie

    Such a great post, good on you for sharing it with us, and better on you for reassuring me (and probably a lot of other people) that we are not the only people dealing with stuff like this. Yay for kicking anxiety in the butt!

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  • http://chloeofthemountain.com/ Chloe

    I found your blog looking for an image on anxiety. Great article. Anxiety sucks. I’ve been having a very bad time for months now. It gets a little bit better, and then WHAMO! anxiety is back.

    Before the age of 42 I didn’t even really know what anxiety was. Now I know it only all too well. Thanks for speaking out loud about it. I am so ashamed of my anxiety. I often come off to others as very confident and self-contained. I don’t think people would believe how often I feel utterly paralyzed by anxiety.

  • KrishaSong

    Yes! This!! Thank you for articulating it so well.

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