Just like depression is so much more than feeling sad, our mental health affects so much more than our mind. Sometimes I feel like it every movement requires superhuman strength; like I’m moving through pea soup and not just air. Sometimes I am not able to coordinate my limbs and find myself tripping over nothing. Sometimes there is a disconnect between my brain and my mouth, so what I say is not always what I intended, or what I hear is not what has been said. So although it all stems from my mind, my whole body is affected.
This morning, while at my weekly riding lesson this became very evident to me. While I was riding, I could not stay in proper position, when I tried to fix one issue, another one would immediately appear. In the past, I would probably have thought I’m just not a good rider and I’ll never get better. But today, after leaving the barn, I could see the connection to my mood. The last few months have been really challenging for me. With my mom passing away in February, and my uncle in March, and today my daughter left for France. Although I am excited for her to have this opportunity, it does bring up a lot of my own anxiety issues. Being close to my kids has always been very grounding for me, and knowing they are growing up is something that I struggle with (even though I am so proud of them and their independence). All of this combined has left me feeling drained this week.
So today, my horse probably felt that my mind was all over the place, as were my limbs, luckily he is always very patient with me, I just need to be more patient with myself.
The default setting for the human brain is usually set to imagining the worst case scenario. For people with anxiety, this can be debilitating. Our brains play tricks on us by providing an overload of options of horrible things that could happen, and it is not a simple switch; ‘to worry’ or ‘not to worry’ (that is a whole other topic for another day). There is a very real grey zone for people like me who are optimists at heart, but when our anxiety is acute, the optimism can eventually get over-ridden by the fear.
My therapist recently suggested I try looking at things differently. What if I examined the worry, aka the worst case scenario and questioned it not only for being possible, which is a common suggestion, but rather I should also ask, how probable is it? When I only ask myself if it is possible, the answer is almost always yes. It is possible I will fall down the stairs and hurt myself, however, considering the hundreds of thousands of times I’ve gone downstairs, it is not very probable. So I can feel safe to keep using the stairs. Similarly, it is possible to witness a terrorist attack in your hometown, however, it is still, thankfully, highly unlikely.
I find this is so much more helpful than trying to ignore the thought, which is like trying to hold a ball underwater; it’s bound to pop up at any moment. So perhaps next time your worrying about something, acknowledge the worst case scenario, then ask yourself if it is possible, and if the answer is yes, ask how probable is it. You may find yourself feeling a little bit more optimistic once again.
If you are eating or feeling squeamish, you may not want to read this now. Anxiety sucks for many reasons, but one of them is that it can give you the runs. Yup, I’m talking about diarrhea. It is one of those subjects that no one wants to talk about and yet we all do it. And for those of us with anxiety issues, it can be really debilitating. It is one of those chicken or the egg scenarios: I’m nervous so I get diarrhea or I have diarrhea and that makes me nervous. Either way, it’s a real problem. And even for people who have specific medical reasons that cause issues with their bowels, the stress (or shame and embarrassment of it) can also cause them severe anxiety.
There are very few people that I have talked to about their anxiety that have not also confided that they have days with frequent trips to the bathroom and have an emergency stash of Immodium on them at all times.
So why do I choose to write about it? It’s simple, if we are going to eliminate the shame and secrecy of mental health issues, we have to talk about the symptoms. There’s nothing worse than intense stomach cramps and need to find a bathroom asap when you’re at the grocery store with your kids. Or when you’re trying leave for work to make it in time for that early meeting, but you can’t even leave your own bathroom. It’s simply not something that you can pretend is not happening, or ‘push through it’ like you might do with other symptoms.
Even those times when I’m getting ready to get out to an event that I am really looking forward to, I often find myself running back to the bathroom one more time (and maybe one more time) before leaving the house. I have also felt incredible guilt while my family is all ready to leave for a special day out and I have to cancel because I’m not up to it (I’m not sick, I just can’t trust my bowels to cooperate with my desire to out).
Unfortunately, I have no solutions. Good eating habits, learning to manage our stress levels and practicing positive coping strategies for our anxiety can help alleviate the problem, but I don’t know of a cure. My hope is that by talking about it, we may feel less embarrassed the next time we have to explain to a friend why we’re running late, or our desire to know where the closest washroom at any new place (or why we have a stash of Immodium in the secret pocket of my purse).