I Fought Anxiety (and I won!)

I really hate anxiety sometimes.

Last night, people started posting pictures of an ice skater I like with this girl who is supposedly his former skating partner and girlfriend. Naturally, everyone was having a giant hissy fit and freaking out. Completely overreacting considering it was just a picture and no one knows a thing.

I wasn’t upset. I really wasn’t. I was more concerned that other people were that upset. I found myself reading all over Twitter instead of just quickly checking my favorite hashtags like I’d planned. People were melodramatically announcing they were going into seclusion and never watching them skate again, crazy stuff like that.

So naturally, my anxiety decided that I must feel so much more upset than I do.

Last day of Nanowrimo, Anxiety whispers.

You’ve been feeling really good.

I told you something would happen to ruin it.

You’ll never make it through tomorrow.

See how awake you feel right now? That’s because you’re really upset.

You won’t sleep.

It’s really late. Why aren’t you sleeping?

See, you’re super upset about this.

Everyone’s going to laugh at you because you’re upset.

Just wait until people find out you let a random famous person dating a person you don’t want them to send you spiraling into a mental health crisis.

You’re never going to write all those words tomorrow.

And then when I woke up in the night for a few minutes:

See, you’re so upset you can’t even sleep through the night.

You’ll never fall back asleep.

You’re going to feel terrible in the morning.

You’re so stupid for liking these people so much.

You’ll never enjoy figure skating again.

And again when I woke up this morning:

Don’t feel good, do you? That’s anxiety. Remember anxiety, you hate it. You’re going to feel like that forever now. Or at least so long that it will mess up your life. Everyone’s going to think you’re stupid.

And you will never finish your novel for Nanowrimo. It’s all ruined. The fun is over. You’re a failure and you always wuss out.

I know all these things are a lie. I know it’s just Anxiety messing with my brain. I know it’s my own head spiraling and turning one tiny thing into a huge thing inside of my brain.

This morning I woke up with tingling and cold arms. Which tells me something else that Anxiety doesn’t want me to know: this is merely a poorly timed set of withdrawel symptoms. I lowered my dose last weekend. I was due a day or two of feeling crappy and/or anxious. It has nothing to do with my self worth or how much of a life I have.

It’s just Anxiety on a power trip, poking it’s ugly little head up when it spots a weakness, a crack in the wall I’m building.

But you can’t fool me, Anxiety. You can say all those things, you can make me feel sick and shaky and horrible, but I know you’re wrong. I am not a terrible person. I don’t choose to feel like this.

And I am going to write the hell out of today. When I see the numbers read 50,000 words I am going to remind you just how wrong you were.

Take that, Anxiety.

Update:

This was written first thing in the morning on November 30th. I never intended to post it, I just wanted to get some words out of my head so I could get back to my novel. I came across it when re-reading my Nanowrimo novel and was surprised by how coherent and strong my words were.

How could I not share this with the world?

Normally, I would have given myself a day off. But this was the very last day of Nanowrimo and I’d worked SO HARD. I wrote almost 25,000 words in the last three days. I think I had 8,000 I needed for the final day.

I did it. I fought though Anxiety and reached my goal.

And it was glorious.

Continue Reading

How I Cope on ‘Bad Days’

I didn’t have any orange days in February.

I started keeping a mood chart in the back of my planner three years ago and I love being able to look back at the entire year and see many good (and bad) days I’ve had. Anyway, this year orange is the color for an anxious day and February was completely devoid of orange. Instead it was filled with turquoise (for a ‘meh’ day) and blue (a happy day!).

Unfortunately the streak didn’t make it though March, but it was still a big deal!

I’ve been feeling disturbingly good mental health-wise the past few months. Disturbing because some days it just feels weird and suspicious. Unnatural even.

I wrote this on my personal insta a couple years ago and it still says it the best.

For the first time in, probably a decade, I feel like I’ve really got my life on track. I can finally focus on my physical health more. For so long I had to put my mental health at the front of the line because if I didn’t have good mental health, my physical health didn’t really matter. But now I’m at a point where I can focus on eating more nourishing foods and getting more movement.

I’m having fun.

It’s always scary when I start to feel this way because I know it won’t last. I could wake up tomorrow and have a bad day. I could have a series of Bad Days. With Anxiety and Depression there is just no way to know.

Over the years, I’ve developed a routine of sorts. When those Bad Days come (and they will), I know what to do. And that makes them just a little less terrible. For me, I know nothing but time will make that terrible feeling go away. I just have to survive each day at a time until it runs it’s course. Having a routine makes those days a little less scary and reminds me that it will end, just like it did the last time it happened.

Here is how I cope on the days when I wake up and know instantly that things are not all right:

  1. “Comfort” Shows.

I use television as a coping mechanism a lot of the time. I find the background noise comforting while I do other things. When I am anxious, the distraction becomes even more important.

I have two main shows that I use on Very Bad days: Psych and Castle. Both are light hearted shows that always make me smile, even when I don’t want to. They are well written (at least the early seasons) and the characters are like good friends that keep me company when I’m sad.

On days that are a little less bad, I have others I add into the mix: The Mentalist, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, Elementary. You’ll notice these are all police procedurals. I find the predictable format reassuring and they all have clever and quirky characters that keep things from getting too serious. (I love Criminal Minds, but that one has to wait until I’m much more emotionally sound!)

  1. Comfort Foods.

When I’m a little anxious, I might eat a pint of Ben n Jerry’s to cheer myself up. But when I’m a lot anxious, I’m too nauseated and sick to eat. However, I also know that if I don’t keep something in my stomach I will only get sicker feeling as my blood sugar gets low.

So what do you grab when you’re nauseous? Ginger Ale and crackers. Sipping Ginger Ale (Canada Dry being my preferred brand) and nibbling on crackers doesn’t make me feel more sick and it keeps me from feeling worse because of not eating anything. There have been weeks where I drank nothing but Ginger Ale because it was a simple comfort to cling to and remind myself that things were going to be okay.

I even have a specific type of cracker for the occasion. My current ones are Tollhouse Foccacia crackers in Rosemary and Olive oil flavor. I buy them in bulk and always have a box on hand. Over time, I’ve come to associate these crackers with the comfort they provide. Not to mention they are delicious.

  1. Distraction.

This can be a tricky one. I need something complex enough to keep my brain engaged but also fairly simple. (TV isn’t enough, I need something to do with my hands.) Bad Days bring brain fog, which makes it hard to focus or concentrate, which is why reading doesn’t make the cut. I also shake, especially my hands, and find that I’m more clumsy and prone to dropping things.

Very basic knitting projects have made the list. One year I joked that you could tell the status of my mental health by how many dishcloths I had knitted. (I made a lot that year) The kind of project I usually find tedious and boring is all I can manage on Bad Days.

One year when a medication change left me really messed up for a couple months, I sorted buttons. My mom who is a professional seamstress, has always had huge jars of loose buttons. As a kid I remember playing with them. That year, I spent the better part of those two months sorting buttons by color and type, stringing like ones together on pieces of yarn. Was it a useful project? Eh, that’s debatable. But the act of sorting and organizing was a simple job that kept my mind occupied.

More recently I’ve added puzzles to the mix. I buy mostly 500 piece puzzles from the dollar store (and thrift shops too) that are small enough to assemble in the top of a copier box. That way I can sit on the couch while I do the puzzles. I buy colorful ones and sort the various colors into special puzzle sorting containers before I begin assembling the pieces. (Any small plastic container work just as well. I used them until I decided to treat myself to the “fancy” version.) For me, the sorting is just as enjoyable as actually putting the puzzle together.

Phone apps cycle in and out of this routine as well. I don’t like anything timed, nothing stressful. Solitaire is always a favorite. (I did grow up in the 90’s with a bulky desktop that only had solitaire and minesweeper on it after all.) Other puzzle games cycle in and out depending on the day.

Those are the three things that I primarily use as coping mechanisms on Bad Days. I’m sure other’s look different, especially people who don’t have the ability to stay home as much as possible when those terrible days come. In many ways I know I’m very blessed, although staying at home has it’s own disadvantages.

What do you do on those days that nothing is going to make the darkness better? How do you power through to the other side? I’d love to hear from each and every one of you.

Continue Reading

Ice Skating

I went ice skating.

I know some of you are thinking, “And?”. Completely understandable. You have to know the background to realize what a huge thing this was for me.

I am possibly the least athletic person in the world, and no that is not an exaggeration. The last time I’d gone ice skating was in my teens (many MANY moons ago) and all I remember is gripping the boards so tightly that my white gloves turned pink from the red paint.

In 2018 I started to get interested in watching Ice Dance. In November I actually took a trip to New Brunswick, Canada to attend the Thank You Canada tour where I got to see a bunch of amazing Olympian skaters including Elvis Stojko and three time Olympic Gold Medalist Ice Dancers Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue.

Photo by ME!

Somewhere along the line, I thought it might be fun to try ice skating myself. You see, the danger of watching Ice Dancing is that they make it look so easy you delude yourself into thinking you can do it yourself. (Spoiler alert: You cant.) I discovered a few instagram accounts of skaters who began in their mid to late twenties and started thinking my thirty something body might actually be able to do it.

But nothing is that simple when you have an anxiety disorder.

Learn to Skate lessons would be nice, but before I invest I want to make sure I actually like skating. That it isn’t like how I wanted to garden and homestead and planned how I was going to do it for years and when I finally had the chance to try it turns out I hate gardening.

Due to the fact that the weather can’t decide what it wants this year (snow one day, in the fifties the next) the pond next door hasn’t frozen over (my first choice) so figuring all this out requires going to an actual ice rink.

In front of PEOPLE.

Those of you with social anxiety see my problem.

Due to my lack of athleticism, I have a lot of insecurities about my abilities (or lack thereof) when it comes to anything active. My brain began swirling with horror stories. What if my ankles couldn’t support me? What if I couldn’t even stand in the skates? What if I couldn’t stop falling? What if I fell and I couldn’t get back up on my skates? (my therapist asked me about the worst possible scenario on this one, which involved me crawling off the ice and literally dying of humiliation.)

Needless to say I had a lot to work through.

I bought a cheap pair of skates at a thrift store and a pair of skate guards on Amazon, my thought being that I could try them on and hobble around the house on them and practice standing back up. So I laced them up and tried to stand.

It didn’t go well. I now know that is because my skates are a size too big and I didn’t have them laced tight enough, but on that day the humiliation (even alone in my apartment) was crushing. This was a disaster. My body was just as weak and pathetic as I’d imagined.

Thankfully, my desire to give ice skating a try kept me determined to persevere. I talked to some skaters, did a lot of research, and started trying to recruit a friend to go with me so I wouldn’t be alone in my shame and humiliation. (My mom and sister both refused. They are dead to me now.)

Enter my nephew’s wife Amberlyn, who gamely agreed to go with me despite her own anxiety and fear of skating. (seriously, she deserves all the cookies, she’s awesome) I’d researched the local rink and knew when the public skate times were. Amberlyn actually drove out from NY to go with me (I told you she was awesome).

With my sister in tow (still refusing to skate, instead she was there for moral support and to take embarrassing pictures and videos, as sisters do) I swallowed down the feelings of terror. I was going to do this, even if it was only once. I was not going to let my fear stop me.

Ready to do this!
Excited and ready to go!

We got to the rink. I rented skates and paid the session fee for both of us. My sister helped me lace up the skates so I could be sure they were tight enough. I stood up. So far, so good. I walked to the side of the rink and stepped on the ice.

THE WORLD DID NOT END.

I was as surprised as you are. My knuckles were white as I gripped the boards and shuffled along, VERY SLOWLY. (The boards were very hard to hang onto. Seriously, can’t they take the hockey guard off? I’m trying not to die here)

I began to be certain I’d made a huge mistake. The rink was HUGE. There was no way I was going to make it all the way around, but I had no choice. It wasn’t like I could turn around (seriously, how do you turn around?!). So I kept going, a very determined (and terrified) look on my face. I know this because there are pictures (that I am NOT going to share) where my jaw is clenched and I look fairly constipated… thanks sis!).

About halfway, I felt a little better. There was no force on earth that could get me to let go of those boards but I no longer felt like I was going to die, and there had been no falls or close calls with falling so I felt more secure. About two thirds of the way, my feet began to protest.

I have plantars fasciitis, so I was expecting pain. This was a whole different kind of pain. I had no idea there were so many muscles in the ball of your foot and how much they could hurt. I took a break in the penalty box where my sister asked how I was feeling so far.

Not so sure how I’m feeling now!

I felt good. I was actually having fun. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make more than one loop around the rink, but if I could I thought it would go well. When my feet stopped throbbing I got back onto the ice to complete my lap. My sister took video (not posting that either). She said I looked like I was doing better. I made it back to the beginning an exited the ice.

I did it!

I paid $18 to do one lap around the ice. And it’s been a long time since I was that proud of myself. I’m going to go back, this time by myself. But not until I do some ankle and foot strengthening exercises.

Next time I want to do two laps.

Continue Reading

#MakeChesterProud – One Year Later

(From a series of posts I made on Twitter on the one year anniversary of Linkin’ Park frontman Chester Bennington’s death; placed here as a  permanent memorial.)

When I got the email last night from @TheMighty about the anniversary of Chester Bennington’s death I didn’t think it would impact me. My first thought was to wonder why people kept track of the day. Today I put on the playlist #themighty put together and I understood.

Last year when I saw the news that Chester Bennington had killed himself and read about his history with mental illness his death hit me in a way few celebrity deaths do. Suddenly I understood why Linkin’ Park’s music meant so much to me as a teenager. Why those songs meant what they did to a scared, anxious kid who didn’t understand why her mind was hurting her.

When #LinkinPark first came out with “One Step Closer” I was 15. To me their music was a complete game changer and I probably listened to Hybrid Theory a thousand times. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. When I was frustrated at the world I would pull out my Walkman and put my headphones in, blasting the album until I calmed.

Today my heart ached as I listened to “One More Light”. I realized how much of his music I had never heard. When “Leave Out All the Rest” played my jaw dropped in amazement. How eerie it is to listen to on today of all days. We all fear never making an impact on the world or the people in it, Chester put it into words.

If I could say one thing to Chester Bennington today, it would be that he did make an impact. That his music made a difference in so many people’s lives. He will not be forgotten. Even through his death, he’s helping. #MakeChesterProud guys.

Continue Reading

Missed Dose

I feel like such an idiot. It doesn’t happen often. Being on antidepressants for over a decade kinda drills the routine in your head. 

But it happens. My routine changes, something knocks my world off it’s axis, just a minute amount, and it slips my mind. 

I wake up the next morning and something is wrong. My stomach twists and my arms are tingly and cold. I feel the panic begin to rise. My heart beats faster. Hands shake. I haven’t felt this in some time and I begin to struggle to breathe. I feel the anxiety attack rising. 

There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my head. This doesn’t make sense. I’ve been better. I though I was stable. I want to sob. I don’t want to have one of these days. I have weekend plans, for once. 

An idea drifts to the surface. I did take my pills yesterday, didn’t I? I can’t remember, although that doesn’t mean anything. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. 

Breakfast holds no appeal, so I grab the bag of mini donuts I keep for this very reason. Two tiny chocolate covered pastries help me swallow the five tablets in my pill case. I say the colors to myself as I take each one, to make sure I don’t miss anything. Two maroon, then blue, white, yellow. 

I’ve developed a routine for days like this. Step one is a comfort show. I choose Castle, putting the first disc into my DVD player as I think once again how much easier it would be if it was streaming somewhere. 

The first season has 13 episodes and I know all of them nearly be heart. The familiar theme plays and I breathe a sigh of relief, feeling my anxiety recede just the tiniest amount. 

I drink my coffee, more out of routine than for pleasure. The pilot episode plays and I can’t help but smile at Nathan Fillion’s antics as the playboy novelist Richard Castle. 

I know how this goes. At best, I will feel “off” for the rest of the day. Periodically there will be little zaps to my brain, unpleasant but not painful. That will ease as the day goes on. I probably won’t get much done. It’s entirely possible that I’ll finish season one by tonight. 

I struggle to not yell at myself and call myself names. I know it won’t help. I’m not perfect. This has happened before and it will happen again. I know what to do. I take deep breaths and pull out a coloring book while Castle quips on the screen. With any luck, by tonight I will feel normal again, or at least my usual baseline “normal”. 

It’s just one day.

Continue Reading

My Stolen Imagination

imagination photo

When I was a kid and a teen I had a huge imagination. I had so many story ideas I couldn’t write them fast enough. I kept

lists of novels I wanted to write, ideas that I wanted to explore.

I loved going to bed at night. I would close my eyes and daydream, usually about members of boy bands meeting and falling madly in love with me. Or I’d pretend I was one of my characters and mentally write scenes that were yet to come and exactly what I would write down the next day.

But when I got depressed, that all ended.

I stopped writing, except during November of each year, for Nanowrimo. But I never wrote new ideas, only ones I had come up with years before. I chipped away at my list of novels I wanted to write. When November ended, I turned off my laptop and never went back.

I didn’t daydream anymore. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything to daydream about. My life was so dark and colorless that daydreaming was pointless. Instead, when I went to bed I read fanfiction for endless hours. The familiar characters comforted me. I didn’t like reading original fiction anymore. The idea of reading about new people made my stomach twist into knots.

 

alone photo
Photo by My name is Randy

 

When I finally admitted my depression and went on medication to fight it, everything started coming back. First was my motivation. I wanted to do things again. I cared about my surroundings. People didn’t have to drag me out of the house. I had things I wanted to do.

When we moved here two years ago, I made a rule for myself that I could only read fanfiction at night. No more going back to bed after meals and doing nothing but read fanfic and nap. I had the ability now and I was going to take advantage of it.

Then came reading. I’d never stopped buying books, but they’d sat unread on my shelves. I bought books I knew I’d have wanted before I was depressed, and they were all sitting on my bookshelves, dusty and waiting to be opened.

Lastly, my imagination came back.

For the first time in years, I have new novel ideas. In fact, I’m starting to build up a list again of things I want to write. As I read, ideas pop into my head I need to jot down, complete scenes, characters, little blurbs for future books.

It hit me today how much I’d missed my imagination. Depression had come like a dark cloud, covering up all that was beautiful in my life. It had done so so slowly that I didn’t even realize what was gone until I came out on the other side.

Every day I see a little more of ME come back. And I swear on everything I love that I will never forget to be grateful. Because when the black days come back, I know that the bright days will return.

And the bright days make everything else bearable.

Continue Reading

Why Turtles All the Way Down Was Really Hard For Me to Read

I’m not a rabid John Green fan. I like his books, but I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for his next novel.

Until I heard it was about mental illness.

After reading a short interview with the author, I opened up Amazon and pre-ordered myself a copy of Turtles All the Way Down.

The package came right on the day of release. The dust jacket was colorful and coated in something soft that made it impossible not to pet. I eagerly anticipated cracking it open.

The next day I did. I was immediately sucked into the story, into the journey of Aza and Daisy and Davis. But after reading about a third of the book, I had to put it down.

You see, reading this book was hard. Not because it was boring or pretentious, but because it was real.

I not only read but FELT Aza’s pain. My stomach twisted in knots as she worried away at the callous on her finger until it bled, feeling the pain of myself picking at hangnails and my lips in such a similar way. My eyes filled with tears as she isolated herself, both literally and figuratively, from her family and friends.

My fears are not Aza’s fears. But intrusive thoughts? I’m no stranger to them. I know what it’s like to have your brain take one passing thought and send it down a twisted path so fast you get mental whiplash. I know what it’s like to yell at yourself but be unable to listen to your own good advice. I know what it’s like to be so involved in what’s going on in your own brain that you can barely see what’s going on around you.

John Green has stated that he also suffers from Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He clearly poured himself into this book. He took his own fears and thoughts and applied them to Aza in a way that explains them better than any other book I’ve come across.

Turtles All the Way Down was an amazing book, beautiful and touching and honest.

But it was really hard for me to read.

Have you read Turtles All the Way Down? Do you intend to? Did you like it? Have you read other books about characters with mental illness that were difficult to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether or not you suffer from mental illness also. 

 

Continue Reading

Why I Medicate My Mental Illness

Why I Medicate My Mental Illness*

pills photo
Photo by .v1ctor Casale.

Every morning I take four pills. Three for Anxiety and one for Depression. I’ve been taking the first three for nearly a decade. I have no plans to stop.

Medication for mental illness is a hot button subject. Everyone has an opinion, including people who have no experience with which to form said opinion. Some are for it, some against it, and some think it only should be used in the direst situations. 

I, for one, am pro-medication. That doesn’t mean I’m a pill pusher, or that I think it’s the answer for everyone. It just means it’s worked well for me and I would never advise someone to avoid it.

A year or so before my seventeenth birthday I had finally hit bottom. The anxiety disorder I didn’t know I had had been stalking me for over a year, manifesting in near constant nausea and the inability to focus on anything but the unpleasant physical sensations that were plaguing me. I followed my mother around the house, terrified to be alone. At that point, it was obvious something needed to change.

My doctor prescribed Paxil. It was new to the market, the new miracle anti-depressant. I was so convinced there was something physically wrong with me that I agreed to medication without even realizing what it was for. It wasn’t until I left that I realized she had prescribed me something for my anxiety.

Paxil was like a miracle to me. Within a month not only had I been pulled out of the deep hole I’d been living in, but I felt better than I ever had in my life.

Suddenly, my whole life made sense. All those little eccentricities I had as a kid? Anxiety. The strange fears that cropped up? Anxiety. The way I’d never been able to handle anyone being angry at me? Anxiety.

I remained happily on Paxil for a few years until the side effects prompted me to find an alternative. On the second try, we found one that worked for me nearly as well as Paxil had.

I take that medication to this day, along with the two others that were added over the years (if you’re looking back at the first paragraph and wondering if one of the side effects is losing the ability to do basic math, I take four pills but only three medications. Two pills are the same drug.).

I am one of the lucky ones, someone who responds well to most medications. They don’t cure me, they don’t change me, they just give me the ability to get up in the morning and be me, not Anxiety.

I will take these pills for the rest of my life if I need to, the same way my father will likely take heart medication for the rest of his life.

And I will never be ashamed.

 

*in addition to therapy, which is an integral part of treating mental illness. I’m very lucky to have found a great one. (Hi Julie!)

 

Continue Reading

Introducing LydiaEWinters.com

Welcome to An Anxious Author. I am said anxious author, Lydia Elizabeth Winters. I thought I’d take a few minutes with this first post to give you a little background information and a mission statement of sorts for this blog.

Biography:

I was born and raised in Southern New Hampshire. I currently reside in a small town on the Vermont border (I can see Vermont from my window!). I have an upstairs apartment in a house I share with my parents and the memories of my tempermental kitty, Mr. Muggles.

Mr. Muggles
October 2007-May 2017. You will be missed.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. An avid reader from a young age with a big imagination, it was a natural transition. As a teenager I began writing fanfiction, something I’ve continued to this day. I ran a website for many years where I posted all my writings and where I made a lot of good friends I still keep in touch with.

LitTrip 2015. Wish I could have been there!

I’ve never been bored a day in my life. My current hobbies include knitting, spinning (as in yarn, not on a bike), memorizing the Nations of the World song from Animaniacs, reading, and of course, writing.

One laptop for writing, one for procrastination.

I’m a thirty-something proud aunt of five and great-aunt of three who is trying not to feel ancient when I remember those things. My mom is my best friend in the world and we are freakishly close.

Youngest Nephew is getting married in July. See? Ancient.

My apartment is full of geeky memorabilia, including my large Funko Pop collection. My bookshelves are overloaded.

old pic of the collection

Goals:

1. I admit, starting this blog is at least partially in the hope that a little accountability will help me keep in a good writing routine. After all, if I don’t write anything, I won’t have anything to post!

2. Making some new friends. You can never have enough writing friends. People who understands having a search history that could probably get yourself on a terror watch list.

3. Share what it’s like to live with chronic mental illness and how that impacts my daily life, including how it impacts my writing.

4. Generally be an outlet for myself to talk about life and whatever else is on my mind.

If you made it this far, I’d like to say thank you in advance for giving my little blog a chance. Please forgive me while I figure out what the heck I’m doing.

Continue Reading