Thursday, April 27, 2017

I Have Anxiety, But I'm Not Always Anxious

Lately, I've been noticing something. People seem to think I'm always anxious. Always. I'm (happily) excited about something, people tell me to calm down. I'm joking about something, people think I'm serious and try to calm my fears. I post a curious question on social media and people tell me "not to worry about it" "don't stress yourself out over it". And let me say, I do appreciate their concern, truly.

But the thing is, there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of times in my life when I'm legitimately anxious. Because I suffer from anxiety. All too often, I have to deal with the "relax", "calm down" comments from those who don't understand it, because anyone who does knows that you can't just relax and calm down. So when I'm not anxious, it's even more frustrating to deal with this. Not to mention, the fact that I can't even joke around without people going into "oh no she's anxious again mode" makes me feel like people must see me as a giant bundle of nerves who can't ever relax, joke, or have fun. I lately feel like whenever I post something, I have to add an emoji or "LOL" or "J/K" to clarify that I am not being serious.

The thing is, for those who don't know me well, I have a dry sense of humor. So I get that sometimes, especially in writing, I come off as serious when I'm not. Which basically makes me sound like  either a sarcastic ass or a person continually on edge. And sometimes, I am (continually on edge - hopefully I'm not a sarcastic ass). But it's difficult when you feel like you have to clarify every single tiny thing. It's exhausting to have to continually say "I'm just kidding", or to add a follow up explaining what you meant, or that it was a joke. It's frustrating to get all of the comments more or less saying "relax" or "it's not a big deal", when you weren't actually stressed out in the first place. When you were just joking, actually trying to be light.  It makes you wonder "Geez what do people think of me that they think *this* is a serious concern for me.' Do they really think I'm that incapable of handling anything? And I'll be honest, it makes me unable to enjoy the times I am feeling positive, because all of this then makes me anxious.

The thing with anxiety, and all mental health conditions, is that just because we always have them doesn't mean that we are always experiencing the symptoms acutely right in the moment. Think about it this way:  you may have asthma or diabetes, and you may always "have" it, but you aren't always suffering from an asthma attack or a blood sugar crisis right then and there. It might always be a possibility, that it could come on, but it's not always happening right in that moment. Just because a person with asthma coughs doesn't mean they're going to have an attack. Maybe they have a cold. Maybe they're eating and swallowed something in a funny way. It's the same with mental health.

Now, there are certain areas or topics that may make me more prone to anxiety than others. Changes in plans, for instance, especially when they're last minute. Or running late - I *hate* running late, especially if it inconveniences someone else. Or not having control of a situation. Or group.... anything. I know it can be difficult to tell. But please, give me the benefit of the doubt. If I am anxious, I'll usually say something. If I need help, I'll definitely say something. And if you're truly concerned because you see a pattern of posts or tweets or whatever that look... well... concerning, I will be more than grateful if you reach out to check in on me. But please don't assume I'm always anxious. I know my anxiety has gotten worse lately, but especially if you steer away from these topics and situations above, I promise that I can be lighthearted too.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I Didn't Used To Be This Way

When I was in my early to mid 20s, before my diagnosis though not before my illness set in apparently, I was given the nickname "energizer bunny." I've never been sure if it was a legit compliment, a backhanded one, or more of an observation, but still, it speaks volumes. Turns out, in hindsight, I was hypomanic and unmedicated much of the time. But still, I've always had a pretty high level of energy. I also used to think I had a general love of fun, and people. I drew people to me somehow, and I was actually OK with it, though even then I sometimes felt like it wasn't all real - like I was somehow unintentionally fooling everyone.  That I wasn't really as likable or successful or fun as they thought, but that through some actions other than my own (I am no actress and I have never put on any type of front), people thought that I was. But still, I felt fun and social.

Ten to fifteen years later, I have no such illusions. At 37, I spend the majority of my time hoping to keep myself in the cocoon of me, my fiance, our dog, and a couple of trusted family members and loved ones. Now, I'm often so exhausted that people actually ask me if I've taken something to make me sleepy because I'm obviously struggling to keep my eyes open in the middle of the day. And while my medication can make me a little more tired, it shouldn't make my eyelids turn to lead (at least not the one I take). These days, I sincerely sit there on Fridays hoping that we have no plans and can just relax at home. If I make it to 10PM it's a late night. If I manage to put on anything other than pajamas when I get home from work (even on the days when I get home from work at 2:30PM), I impress myself.

These days, I have so many triggers and anxieties and social fears that it borders on concerning. I feel bad for those around me, especially my fiance, who has to accommodate these on a weekly, and often daily, basis.
  • If it's a group event (as in going with a group), I panic:  I'll have to socialize, which often means small talk, superficial, surface level. It means people actually looking at me. If it's people I don't know (or don't know well), it's worse.  What if nobody else likes me? What if I'm too quiet or awkward or different? What if I actually get comfortable and let go a bit, and then I'm too loud and talkative, as I do, and it annoys everyone. What if they're standing there thinking, "God would she stop talking?" I have this fear almost continually, even with those closest to me. What if they think that because I'm talkative that I'm anxious or stressed or high strung? This happens all the time. When everyone else is energetic and excited, they're friendly and happy. When I am, people think I'm stressed and tell me to calm down, or just think I'm too high strung. Even when I'm happy or joking around. It's SO FRUSTRATING - My anxiety finally eases in a situation and people tell me to calm down thinking I'm anxious. I've become so self-conscious of it that I constantly feel the need to clarify that I'm just joking. People thinking I'm anxious when I'm not actually makes me anxious. It's awful. 
  • If I can't control the schedule or transportation, anxiety is extreme. What if I have a flare up or an anxiety attack or a panic attack and can't leave? What will I do? What if my ME/CFS hits and I get so exhausted that I can barely stand up straight? And then I come off as no fun. I don't want to bring everyone down. I don't want the people I'm with to have to leave because of me.
  • Does it involve a lot of drinking? These days I can't drink much because of how it affects my depression, among other things (fatigue, IBS, migraines, to name a few). And as I get older, drunk people annoy me to no end. I can't see why grown adults need to dedicate a whole days or even weekends to getting drunk. So by this point I'm worried I'll be too awkward or annoying, have a flare up, not be able to leave, and annoyed as shit, and it'll come out at everyone. Talk about a downer. 
  • Will I have to be out late? I know my anxiety over getting enough sleep will not let me sleep in, so then I'll just be lacking sleep which will make me cycle more. And then I won't sleep. And the cycle continues. 
  • The after-effects. Peopling and the anxiety and fear it causes can physically hurt at times. It can take me literally days to recover. The exhaustion, the anxiety, the anticipation even if I don't end up having anxiety when there, the worry over being too loud or quiet or awkward or whatever. It takes so much energy to put on the mask. To pretend I''m ok when I'm not, that I'm having fun when I just want to go home, that I'm not literally sweating from anxiety. It takes so much effort that it's draining. And I hate that my options are to either go through this or affect the plans and social lives of others. 
I didn't used to be this way. I used to be energetic, and fun. I used to go out and have fun and be the person people wanted to invite. And, though I always lacked a little confidence, I didn't constantly feel like people were just throwing me a bone. Like I was included to not hurt my feelings. Now, there are drastically few people (who aren't related to me) who I feel actually want to. And I don't say this for sympathy or for reassurance or accolades. I say it to illustrate how my illnesses have impacted me in ways that those without chronic illness may not think about.

I also used to be more able, more capable. 10 years ago, and this is going to sound super conceited but I don't mean it this way, I wouldn't have taken on projects and just not been successful at them. I wouldn't have done a charity walk for a cause so important to me and have to literally beg some of even my closest friends to give just $5. 10 years ago, I wouldn't have started a blog that I had to beg friends and family to follow (on the blog site, not just occasionally via Facebook posts) and share. I never would have had my advocacy efforts flop so spectacularly, when I put my heart and soul into them. I don't know how I did it, but I managed. It was like I was a different person. And while I'd tend to think that luck, it happened with almost everything from work to school to projects to social life (OK, not my first marriage, but that's a different story), so it must have been at least part me. Now, that probably sounds spoiled, but I worked my ass off for every single thing that I undertook. It was blood, sweat, and tears that got me those things. It was working through what I now know were cycles, and ME/CFS flareups, and IBS, and BDD, and eating troubles. It was going through that and accomplishing all that I did. And yet now, I work as hard as I can and it feels like so little works. It baffles me. 

I did not used to be this way. I didn't used to be so afraid and nervous and cocooned into myself. I didn't used to be so little fun. I didn't use to fail at so much. I didn't used to feel like a burden, like without people helping me wouldn't be able to stand on my own two feet. I didn't used to feel so in need of accommodation. I feel guilty when we have to say no to yet another social outing because of my illnesses. And sometimes I wonder, should I just force myself? But then I try, and it's usually disastrous. I break part way through, and then it's not only un-fun, but probably downright embarrassing for the people involved. And it makes my illnesses flare more badly, and I realize why I don't force myself. 

I know that life could be so much worse. Lack of social abilities and struggling advocacy goals doesn't hold a candle to, say, not being able to walk or breathe on my own; or not being able to digest anything and have to monitor every tiny thing I intake; or having to go through chemo and surgeries. There are so many people out there that are so much worse off and so much stronger than me. But it weighs on me, feeling an unsuccessful burden. And sometimes, I think "I can do it too. I can be strong and feel successful too!" So I get all ramped up and I put every effort into things - social, advocacy, writing, etc - and they crash and burn. And I think, "No, I simply used to be that way."