Sunday, September 14, 2014

Breathe, Just Breathe

I struggle with anxiety.

I used to say "I'm a stressed-out person," partly because anxiety is a medical condition, and I've never been diagnosed with it or any other mental disorder.  I recently stopped saying that in favor of the former saying, but in doing so I'm not trying to diagnose myself; for all I know, my anxiety level is perfectly normal.  There is a reason why I changed my verbiage but I'll talk about that later.  The important thing is, I get anxious/stressed out/nervous/worried easily, frequently, and sometimes to a high degree.

For me, stress is something that can either build over time or attack with almost no warning.  I might handle a relatively difficult situation just fine, but then freak out over something as small as not having dinner made, or forgetting to do a chore at home.  Other times, those little things don't bother me so much and it's the big things that get me really worrying.  When I'm under a lot of pressure, approaching a deadline, or just really busy, I'll feel the weight of anxiety on me for a while before I start to crack.  Other times, I'll feel perfectly fine until something happens, and then it's like a flash flood: I can feel it panic coming, and then, before I can do anything about it, I'm already under water, paralyzed and overwhelmed with emotion.  Sometimes my asthma/breathing difficulties compound the problem because my throat will close up and I can't breathe very well, which makes me panic even more.

This isn't fun to write.  But I feel like I should write it anyway.

This may sound weird, but Robin Williams' death really affected me.  I'm not sure why.  I never met him, and I don't follow celebrities or know anything about their personal lives in general.  In a sense, his death was like losing about fifteen fictional friends at once (other bibliophiles will identify with this).  But on a deeper level, depression and suicide are serious issues for my family and me - long story short, let's just say they hit close to home.

When Robin Williams died, my Facebook feed was filled with articles and blog posts about depression and suicide.  I read lots of good articles about understanding mental disorders and the people who have them.  I read lots of good articles about dealing with depression as well.  And they got me thinking.

When I get anxious, I feel out of control.  I don't know how to stop it.  I don't know how to prevent it.  So I decided I needed to do something about it.

When I was in high school, whenever I felt depressed, I wrote poetry.  I journaled every day, but journaling never helped me feel better as much as poetry did.  I think it's because you can stop a journal entry anywhere, but a poem has to finish.  It has to have an ending, and working that out, I guess, helped me process through what I was feeling.  I felt like I was taking something dark and ugly and turning it into something that had a sort of beauty, a work of art.

Recently I've started something different.  I know a little yoga (every dancer does).  So lately, when I feel the anxiety welling up, I get up and do a yoga exercise for a couple minutes.  I've done this a few times, and it really does help.  As a dancer, I'm pretty sure I'm addicted to endorphins, so it makes sense that movement helps me feel better.  On top of that, the slow, methodical progression I do requires some focus, and that makes me take my mind off my problems and my stress just long enough to have a clearer head when I'm done.  Third, breathing is an important part of yoga.  As I go through the exercise, I have to concentrate on slowly inhaling and exhaling, which I think also helps to steady my nerves as well as keep my airways open.

Yesterday something else helped.  I was starting to stress out about some work-related stuff, and Justin very simply asked me what I had done that day.  You see, we had a talk recently about how I tend to feel overwhelmed by busyness and to-do lists, and Justin said that I should make it my goal to do one or two things on my list each day, instead of trying to do everything in one day (which is what I tend to try to do, and then I freak out when I can't accomplish everything).  So when Justin asked me what I had done that day, it reminded me that I had been productive already, and it wasn't going to kill me if I didn't finish everything on my list in the next five minutes.  Especially since it was a Saturday. Anyway, I started to calm down.

I don't totally have a handle on this yet.  But I'm going to give this a trial period, and if nothing changes I'll talk to my doctor.

I said at the beginning that I stopped referring to myself as a stressed-out person and instead started saying that I'm dealing with anxiety.  When I used the former phrasing, I saw myself as the problem.  And I didn't think there was anything I could do about it.  When I decided to start saying that I struggle with anxiety, it meant that it was something I could deal with, something I didn't have to accept as an inevitable part of who I am, but something that I could change.  From a clinical standpoint, I don't know if that makes any sense at all, but it does help me feel more in control of what I'm dealing with, and that in itself, for me, is its own kind of victory.


  1. I had struggled with anxiety for years without knowing what it was. I believed I had asthma for like 15 years, when, as it turns out, I have bad allergies and anxiety. Facing up to what was really going on with me was the hardest thing I've done, because I had to stop believing that one magic asthma med would fix it and open to a more multi-faceted approach. And yoga was, for me too, a major ingredient in my healing.

    So was therapy and some adjustments to meds, but still. I just want to give you hope; this can get better. And the way you're facing it, with resolve and honesty, it WILL get better.

  2. I love this post! I struggle in a similar way. Thanks for sharing!!