Tag Archives: anxiety

Stressed: the New Normal

 

When did stress become an acceptable constant state of being? Oh, you’re a student/mother/father/employee/human being? Of course you’re stressed out. Of course you have high anxiety. What do you expect?

What do I expect? I expect to be able to breathe. I expect to be able to live a life that allows for more calm than chaotic. So I fight for it. I fight to give myself the permission to take a moment, an hour, a day – to find my calm. To remind myself that I need to take care of my mental health.

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.

~Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was not talking about taking a bubble bath or getting a massage (not to say that either of those is a bad thing), she was talking about self-care as an act of political warfare, as a MUST for activists fighting against racism in our society. Now I could go on and on about the complex issues that minorities in this country face, and why Black women are stressed at a level that the rest of us will likely never experience. But I’ll let you go down that rabbit hole on your own. This is a good article to get started:
https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/audre-lorde-thought-self-care-act-political-warfare

I’m going to take a step back. Inhale deeply. And exhale.

Ok. Let’s talk about managing stress instead. As a full-time student, with a full-time career (plus a husband and dogs), finding a way to relax is difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. I struggled for years to balance school, work, and a personal life (there’s a reason I’ve been in college off and on for 16 years). I wouldn’t say that I’ve figured it all out, but I’ve found a recipe that works for me today. So what do I do to decrease my stress levels?

  • I meditate
  • I let go
  • I embrace
  • I take care of my health

Meditation for me was an easy addition, I sort of cheated in this category. As a fortune baby (a child born into a family that practices Buddhism) I already knew one form of meditation. But meditation is not strictly religious. There are tons of tips , videos and apps out there to help you get started on your meditation practice.

Letting go. Easier said than done.

I had to start allowing myself to let go of my stress and to relax. I’m not saying to ignore your responsibilities or to pretend that nothing in the world is going wrong. Instead, I allow myself to take a break from things. Even when there’s another paper to write, another load of laundry that needs to be washed, another client project to do – I give myself the permission to put it away for a while. Sometimes I can let go completely. Does it seem like an indulgence to pay someone to shovel my sidewalk or buy those veggies pre-cut? Maybe, but it takes something off my plate so it’s worth it to me. If I can’t remove the stress completely, I take step away for a bit. I allow myself to watch a tv show, sit on my deck with a glass of wine, play with my dogs. Which leads me to…

Embracing the moment.

My brain is constantly going a mile a minute (which you can probably tell from this rambling post). That’s great at work when I’m trying to juggle a dozen different tasks at one time. But when my head is filled with everything that stresses me out, it’s important that I find a way to “stay out of my mind” from time to time. If I can focus on the present moment, and actually enjoy it, I’m calmer when I need to face my anxiety again. I take a walk with my dogs. If I’m thinking about everything that causes me anxiety I’m likely to grow frustrated when they stop to sniff for 5 min at the same spot. When I embrace the moment, I can laugh and share their enjoyment of our journey.

Finally, I take care of my health. Since this is a large topic all together I’ll share it in another post.

What do you do to cope with stress?

It’s Time to Save the World

“Is my English OK? Is the microphone on?” asked Greta Thunberg, in one of her most recent addresses. “Because I’m beginning to wonder.”

Laughter from the audience.

It wasn’t a joke. No one seems to be listening.

Nine years ago, when I was Greta’s age, I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t politically, globally, socially, environmentally aware. I wasn’t aware of what our biggest problems were–or that I, as a kid, could do anything about it, even if I did know what was happening in the world.

Nine years ago, I was LARPing (live-action role playing). For those who don’t know, LARP is a game wherein you create a character for yourself, dress up in costume, and run around in the woods at night, fighting faux villains with foam sticks. It’s like playing make-believe in the backyard when you were little, but on a larger scale, with maybe a better production value.

LARP comes in a number of forms, but the game I played was mostly like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a fantasy game. Swords and sorcery. Lightning bolts. Storming the castle. All of that.

While I knew that the events in the game weren’t “real” and that the character I played wasn’t “real,” they always felt important. They felt bigger than the small “reality” I actually lived in. I often felt that my character was better than me. She was stronger, prettier, freer. She had more goodness in her; more to give. I wanted to be like her in real life.

This disconnect–the idea that my character was false and somehow separate from me–affected my growth in a number of ways. I could write a book on it. There’s a lot to unpack. But the point here is that even after I managed to quit the game, I had a hard time developing an idea of who I was without that character.

Recently, with the changing of the seasons, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It would be the start of LARP season now, if I was still playing.

I’m still sorting through it, but one of the things that finally occurred to me was that I could be like the heroic character I used to play. I already was like her. She came from me.

But there were still situational differences, systematic differences between that character’s world and mine, dragging me down.

I posted this on Facebook:

larp

And, only days later, the sentiment was echoed by somebody else:

dnd

I’ve been flailing for a solution. Something I could do to help the environment, and reconcile the reality of my apparent helplessness with the idea of once having played at being someone courageous and able to create change.

In this video, Jane Goodall advises people to act locally. “Quite honestly,” she says, “if you think globally, you get depressed.” Break it down, then. Start with what you know you can do. Do something. Even if it might seem small. “We’re all interconnected.”

I’ve been worrying myself sick. I woke up today with a sore throat, and a headache, presumably from my newfangled teeth grinding habit. In an anxious, somewhat dissociated haze, I drove to the store for some groceries, just to get out of the house. Everywhere, meat and dairy. Things packaged in plastic. Delicious things that I only felt bad about craving. I bought one of those chocolate bars that claims to help endangered species, and felt doubtful about its impact, but I hoped.

On my way home, it seemed like all I could see was trash. Scattered along the side of the road, accumulating in the ditches, washed up along the curb. Plastic bags blowing in the wind and caught up in bushes.

Enough is enough.

I found a metal stick–one of those garden hooks for hanging bird feeders or little candle pots–and I filed the end to a point on my dad’s bench grinder. I walked across the street to the park outside my house, and I attacked the garbage in the rain garden. I chased it through the foliage, piercing it with my makeshift rapier, collecting its remains.

Maybe this will help.

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Photo by Robert Stuart Lowden

I’m an adventurer. It’s my job.

And for all the shitheads out there who consume without thinking, and leave their trash lying around; for the people who continue to make a mess of the world, I have just one message:

58933430_10218647447926135_8483253600141705216_n

Graduation is Terrifying

As of today, Sunday, the 10th of March, there are 48 days until commencement on April 27th. I have a counter going down on my phone. (Why commencement isn’t after the official end of the semester, I have no idea. Someone please let me know the logic behind this.)

It’s exciting, knowing that I’m almost done with this four-year journey. I feel smarter, more mature. I feel qualified for things, which is great.

But I’m also terrified.

After I graduated high school, back in 2012, my world slowly imploded. I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college, or what I wanted to do for a living. I didn’t have a very good grasp of what the world was really like. I was a kid.

So I followed my crush to his college, a very teenage girl thing to do. It was expensive. It was lonely. It was cold. For the first time, I faced the very real possibility that I might be a failure. I was embarrassed. I was depressed. My parents finally convinced me to come home after that first semester. I’m not sure why they let me go in the first place. I was a kid.

It went downhill from there. I had been told from a young age how independent I was. How I was so talented, and would surely be going places. I don’t know what I was thinking. As soon as I got a full-time job, I moved out of my parents’ house. They would have let me stay, but I felt that I shouldn’t.

Life with roommates was tough. I lived mostly with strangers, and boyfriends who broke up with me before our leases ended. Sharing a bed for months with someone you thought was going to love you is hard. Doing it more than once is heartbreaking.

Our apartments were cramped, split three or four ways so we could reasonably afford the rent and utilities. I was the kid in our first apartment, too scared to take initiative or touch anything that wasn’t explicitly mine. To compensate for the lack of control, I became the mom of my second apartment. I managed the money, drove the college kid to school and her friend’s house when she couldn’t take the bus. I dealt with dirty dishes, and took out the trash, and sorted the recycling. Sometimes I cooked, but often I didn’t have the energy to do more than scramble an egg or pour a bowl of cereal for dinner.

A rash started developing on my neck and wrists. My feet hurt. I was constantly tired. I lost 30 pounds and thought because my body seemed different, I must have gained weight, and started eating even less. I wore larger clothes without noticing how baggy they must have been. I didn’t have much money at the end of the month to put into savings. I was stuck.

Was this going to be my life forever?

I hit the last straw, finally, one day, and decided to go back to school. Community college, close to my parents’ house. As long as I was pursuing a degree, I could live with them, without having to pay rent, or buy groceries. The ultimate form of stability: food and shelter. A clearly paved path forward.

Stress had destroyed my health. As soon as I moved back home and settled in, became a person again, and not a mechanism going through the motions, it was like a dam broke inside my body. It stopped trying to hold itself together. The rash that had been threatening my skin in small patches exploded across my entire body–literally, the whole thing. Showers were painful. Clothes were painful. I itched constantly. It was exhausting. I often woke up in the middle of the night with panic attacks: hands shaking, and a feeling in my chest like the balloon of the world was poised on the sharp end of a tiny pin. I started sleeping with the lights on; it sort of helped.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. I could be here for days, trying to describe the few short years that managed to demolish me from the inside out, and the long and infuriating road to recovery. I might look like an ordinary person now, but that’s thanks to years of allergy immunotherapy, a relatively new bi-weekly immunosuppressant injection that keeps my skin from flaring up, hyperthyroid medication, anti-depressants,  and therapy.

So, after all of that, the idea that I’m about to be done with school again, that I have to try any of that life again is absolutely mortifying. I can’t think straight. My brain is trying to come up with hundreds of ideas at once to keep me safe and on my feet and doing something worthwhile, if plan X, Y, and Z don’t happen to work out. There are so many contingency plans trying to build off of one another that I haven’t been able to pick any one of them to start off with. Focusing is difficult. Writing a coherent paper or blog post has become difficult–which, when you’re a writing major, with a typically very natural affinity for writing, only snowballs the issue.

I don’t want to be stuck working for someone else, especially a large corporation with headquarters far removed from its people. I want to be an entrepreneur, I want to start my own businesses and do my own freelance work–and I know I have the skills to do it now–but the uncertainty is crippling. The idea of being stuck somewhere I won’t have control over my life and my mental health is mortifying. The idea that my plans will tank, or won’t take off in the first place, is frightening. The fight or flight response is getting worse by the day.

I’m nearly 25, but I’m just a kid. A kid with invisible illnesses, and only so many spoons. Worlds and worlds of good ideas, but only so much time.

And I am scared.