Since I was a kid I really liked ginger ale, however, since I try to minimize my sugar intake and it is full of sugar, it’s not something I usually have in the house. But while at the grocery store last week I saw it on sale and spontaneously bought it (thanks to good product placement). So when my teen saw it in the fridge she asked ‘what’s the special occasion?’ jokingly. I immediately said it was on a special, even though I don’t think she expected an answer. No big deal, right? But why did I have to explain why I bought such a simple thing? Would it have been somehow unacceptable had I bought it at full price? Certainly not to my daughter or anyone else I care about.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think of me or my choices, I am apparently still stuck in this cycle of trying to predict people’s thoughts and planning an acceptable response.
I first had a clue this was an issue for me when our kids were little, about 15years ago when we decided to buy a minivan. We only had a small car and it could not fit a 3rd booster seats in the back seat, so I could never drive any of my kids’ friends anywhere (since they use booster seats till they’re almost in high school these days this was very frustrating). That was my justification for the minivan. But when we finally found one that met our needs, it had leather seats. Oh, and they were heated leather seats. How could I justify this? Well, it was a used van with low mileage, in good shape, in our price range and there weren’t many around. But leather? And heated? That seemed like a luxury that was beyond me (at the time I was a stay-at-home mom married to a corporal in the army). My husband convinced me that it was a good van for us so we did end up buying it. But I couldn’t justify it no matter how I tried. So although I didn’t recognize the feeling at the time, I never felt good about that vehicle and was relieved when we sold it several years later. Now that I look back, I can see that the feeling was shame. I had unconsciously decided it was an unnecessary luxury and one I did not deserve. No one ever said this to me, or even implied it, but somehow I did not feel deserving of such a vehicle and therefore could not feel good about having it.
I don’t expect to understand or agree with other peoples life choices nor do I expect them to explain their choices to me. I believe in a “live and let live” philosophy, and yet that’s not the end of the story. I still find myself trying to justify myself even when no one is expecting or asking me to. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that most people really don’t care about what I’m doing or buying, they have their own lives to worry about after all. But knowing that is obviously not enough to end this pattern.
So why am I sharing this? Simply because I can no longer deny it’s impact my overall mental health and I am quite sure I am not alone. This pattern of thought implies that we do not feel worthy just for being ourselves. That we feel a need to justify why ‘we do what we do’ and that our personal feelings are not sufficient reasons. As if there is some imaginary board of examiners that will decide if our choices are acceptable (whatever that means to you) and if we get to keep our ‘good person’ status (or whatever your preferred status is). I know this sounds ridiculous and intellectually I know it’s absurd, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it less real.
Have you found yourself wondering what people might think when making a decision? Or justifying your choices even if they do not affect anyone else?
PS. I am not looking to get your support or seeking reminders that I am worthy. This is just an old pattern I’m aware of and working towards changing.
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).
Since I worked as a counsellor for years, I thought knew what anxiety looked like. I had seen it many times. A person would get a certain look in their eyes, their breathing would get faster and strained, they might get blotches of red on their neck, they basically would look unwell and I thought this was anxiety. But this is only one example of how anxiety can be seen and I had no idea how invisible it could actually be until it happened to me.
One day I went to work feeling quite normal, or as my kids would say, as normal as I get. But as I sat down in my cubicle I thought I was losing my mind. I literally felt like I was floating above my body and wondering how to get back inside. Or worse, I wondered if I even wanted to go back. I watched my body sitting in the chair, staring at the computer screen, wondering what to do. How do I turn it on? What was my password? What would I do once I got it working if I could even get it to work? I remember feeling like my whole body was made of stone and I couldn’t move my limbs. I have no idea how long this lasted, maybe 2 minutes, maybe 30, but it was terrifying. How could this happen? Could anyone tell? Was anyone watching?
A few weeks later I thought to tell my therapist what had happened, worried that this might be the final straw that proved I was crazy. I was shocked when she just nodded and said it sounded like a rather typical anxiety attack. I was relieved and terrified at the same time. Would it happen again? Well, yes, it has happened again and I survived.
A few years after this first attack, I was chatting with someone who said they too had anxiety and so I asked what it was like for her. I was shocked when she described feeling like a statue, frozen in time (why these things still shock me I don’t know, but they do). So just in case you think you’re the only one who has moments in time that you cannot explain, you are not alone. You may not understand what is happening, and there may be no rational explanation at the time, but it helps me to think that I am not the first or the last to experience moments like this.
Wanting pain to stop is not the same as wanting to die. One may lead to the other, but if there are other options to stop the pain, I believe most people would choose them over dying. Other than giving birth to my two 9lb+ babies and passing kidney stones, my head has caused me the most pain.
I get migraines, well, they are not the typical migraines, but they are very bad headaches that can last for days. They started when I was eleven, I was in grade 5 and I remember thinking there must be something dreadfully wrong with me. They can be so painful and exhausting, that when I have one I want to cut my head off. I used to say this and people would laugh, or pat me on the back and say something like ‘just take an aspirin and lay down for while’ or ‘take a bath’ or ‘have you tried_______ (trust me, I have tried everything)?’ So now I try not to talk about them. Actually, I try to avoid them if at all possible. And if I do say something, it is usually a few days into it, and I can’t hide it anymore.
I know a lot of people suffer from pain that is more debilitating than my headaches, and maybe I even have a low threshold for pain, but that doesn’t make them any more bearable for me. Sometimes it feels like there is a vice around my head that is slowly being tightened. Other times the pain radiates from the base of my skull where I feel like someone just whacked me with a cast iron pan. Everything from my jaw and teeth to my throat and even to my stomach, begin to ache under the pressure, eventually leaving me nauseous and weak. And if one lasts long enough, it feels like my eyes are being forced out of their sockets under the pressure. When I lay in bed, I imagine how I could sever my head from my neck. Would I do it at the base of my skull or at the level of the shoulders? What kind of force would be required? I never want to actually do this, but I never want a headache either.
As I have said before, pain is pain. Emotional or physical, they both hurt. They are both unmeasurable. They are exhausting and can be all consuming. What helps one person may not help the next. What is tolerable to one is excruciating to the next.
So I imagine that when a person is in so much pain and they are not able to see an end to it, dying begins to look like a solution. I imagine this is the kind of pain that someone is in when they commit suicide. Pain that no one seems to understand. No one knows how hard they tried to stop it, but nothing helped or it didn’t last. There is no pill or therapy or magic potion that has sufficiently taken away their pain. So they don’t want to die, but they need the pain to stop.
I wonder if we change the conversation around suicide, by helping people
***If you or someone you know is in pain, please take it seriously. There are crisis lines, therapists, doctors and support networks of all kinds, look for them, reach out. If the first place you look doesn’t have what you need, try the next until you find what’s right for you. In my experience, when we are able to reach out, we are often pleasantly surprised at how quickly a situation can change.
One of the main symptoms of my depression feeling stuck or weighted down. Literally, like being stuck in the snow up to my eyes and although possible to move, it requires considerably more strength than someone who is free. But since it is the air that is thick and heavy, and not snow, getting out of bed when the weight of the air holds you down is exhausting, or even impossible. And yet we’re expected to hop out of bed like someone who is weightless. I believe that it is one of the reasons depressed people often stay in bed, whether sleeping or not, it is not that we want to. We just don’t have the physical strength required to move. One of the most frustrating aspects of this is that at end of the day when we feel like we’ve got nothing done, we have in fact we’ve exerted more energy than most people. Unfortunately, this is not reflected on our to-do list.
In the winter this feeling is often intensified as I feel stuck in my home because the energy required to bundle up, scrape off the car, or walk anywhere is so much more work when depression is already weighing me down. Luckily, the weight is not too heavy these days, but sometimes it still comes over me like a heavy blanket dropped from the sky. I find it hard to see or move and I can feel disconnected from what is going on around me. Like the little Buddha in my garden waiting for the snow to melt, I wait for the blanket to be lifted so I can move freely again, and sometimes waiting it out is all that I can do.
Those of us who have survived depression or other mental health issues are literally stronger people as a result of having to exert the force required just to get up every day.
Last night I was looking forward to going out with my husband. We had tickets to a local live event. It was going to be a fun night and I was honestly looking forward to it (I specify ‘honestly’ as I’ve been questioned about my desire to go, but it is not the desire that is the problem). When the time came to go, my stomach decided it did not want me to leave the house, actually, it didn’t want me to leave the bathroom. I was not sick, but I was in pain. Real, physical, pain.
Luckily, the pain was not so severe that I couldn’t override it. It came close, but because I knew I wanted to go and that I would feel even worse if I didn’t at least try. So I pushed myself out the door and into the car. I could barely stand up straight as I felt like I was being jabbed in the stomach with every movement. It then took another significant push to get myself out of the car and into the event (we actually sat in the parking lot till I could gather the strength to go in).
I realized that once in the door of the venue, it wasn’t the show that was the problem, or leaving my house, but the people. People that I didn’t know. I’m sure they are great people and were out to enjoy their evening, but it my head they were the enemy. An enemy that had the ability to see inside my mind and erase any sensible thought. I felt like I didn’t know anything, I could barely remember my name. All I could think was not to be sick, or trip and land on my face, or say something so ridiculously stupid that the room would go silent and everyone would know that I was an imposter. I felt sure it was obvious to everyone that I did not belong. They could surely see blood pounding in my veins. People would soon agree that I should be escorted out the door and back into the safety of my home. But I know enough not to believe everything I think. I know my thoughts deceive me at moments like this. So I stayed put. I breathed. I reminded myself that everything was going to be ok. I said my mantra “I am a strong and worthy person”. I tried to look like I belonged (however I don’t really know what it is to ‘look like I belonged’, but I tried).
For those that have never felt this, or anything even resembling this, I can understand how it could sound ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous as I write it. But please trust me when I say I am not exaggerating. The pain is real and the fear palpable, even when there is absolutely no reason behind it. Also, if you are curious, this does not happen every time I go out. In fact, it rarely happens anymore.
The show was thoroughly entertaining and I found myself laughing out loud. However, intermission was painful and it took every ounce of energy I had left in me not to run for the door. So the end of the show, I knew that I didn’t have anything left to even attempt conversation. Luckily, my husband knew this and we were the first out the door. I was beyond exhausted; I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained.
I am sharing this story as I know I am not alone. As much as my brain tells me I am the only crazy one that this happens to, I know that I am not. So if you, or someone you love, has physical pain even if there is no known reason for it, it does not make it any less real. Pain is pain.
So please proceed with kindness. Kindness towards yourself and anyone affected. No one needs a pity party, but respect and kindness are always appreciated.
PS. This is not to say I advocate for becoming a hermit or pretending that everything is fine when it is not. But it is just another example of how we never know what is happening in someone else’s mind or body at any given moment.
One day, or one moment, I feel pretty good. My head is clear to think, I have the energy to do the things I want to do and I feel confident in my ability to actually get things done. This feeling can last for hours, or days, sometimes even weeks. But then in another moment, I feel a change in the energy around me, a wave coming, I pray it is only a small one and try to dig my feet into the ground. Sometimes it passes over me like a smooth wave that washes over my feet, but sometimes it knocks me over. My feet get swept under the current and I lose sight of where I am and I have trouble breathing. I am not in control of my movements as the power of the wave is too strong and I have no choice but to go with it, hoping that I will be able to bob up for air and my feet will find the ground soon. Sometimes I manage to get back up before anyone even notices I went under, because very possibly, I actually did not move an inch. Other times, I am sure that everyone sees me flailing in the rough water and yet no one comes running to pull me up. Sometimes I hope it’s because no one is looking my way, so just maybe I can catch my breath and pull myself together without having to explain what happened. But other times I desperately want someone to grab my arm and pull me to the safety of solid ground.
Sometimes it starts with tingling in my hands, my heart tightens, I get a lump in my throat and I feel like I may be sick. Other times I am completely numb till the wave is gone, and then I just sit stunned, my body achy from the invisible struggle. In these moments, I am left completely drained and my muscles are sore. I just want to sleep and to cry, but usually crying too exhausting.
I have tried to figure out why these waves of anxiety keep happening because I’ve been asked so many times, but I have no answers. It’s like asking why the waves on the beach keep coming; It’s the tides, the currents, the weather and a million other things that affect our planet. My anxiety is the result of a million little things that I will likely never even know about. The expectation to know exactly what causes anxiety is a heavy burden that I am now trying to let go of. I used to think that I would eventually figure it out. I will read, journal, track my moods, my diet, talk to my psychologist and do all the other things that are recommended. I will eventually know all my triggers. I will learn to control my environment so I avoid those anxiety-inducing events and thoughts and I will be able to see any sign of an attack well in advance in order to change course. But that expectation in itself causes me anxiety. How can I possibly know what is going on in my unconscious mind? We don’t expect anyone else to explain how their unconscious mind works, why do we ask that of people with mental health challenges? So, I am going to try to let go of this expectation and just continue to ride the waves however they may be.