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It’s in there, burrowed down deep inside like a parasite.
It’s my mother voice, nasal and deep fried and tainted yellow by cigarette smoke snarking
“You see your Hell here on Earth.”
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*The following is not and should not be used in place of medical advice. If you need help, please see your doctor or a mental health professional.These are just personal habits I’ve had success with.*
Back in the early 00s, I was a wide-eyed, overworked, scared to death college freshman. In my very Mickey Mouse Intro to College class, we had this group activity. It was one of those icebreaker games that’s only freshmen and people at seminars do. The gist was, we had to pick an adjective that started with the same letter our name that described us. Alliteration being a memory helper and all, I suppose. I instantly knew mine. It was a name that I had been carrying with me since I was just a wee little girl.
I’ve never known a time when I haven’t been anxious. As a kid, I cried. I cried a lot. I’m not sure if it was the early signs of anxiety, depression, or the effects of my mother, but childhood was full of teary eyes and snotty noses. I remember once during an elementary school orientation my mother telling the teacher that I was “tender-hearted”. It was a descriptor that stuck with me long past my public school days. All these decades later, that tender-heartedness has turned into full-fledged anxiety.
Anxiety is still a big part of my life. It’s a monster I battle each day. Below are 7 things I do to try to take its power away.
It sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s not. Breathing is one of the hardest things to do in the midst of an anxiety attack. Shallow breaths come easy and fast and can cement you in the fight or flight mode. I tend to hold my breath when I’m struggling. I don’t even have to explain why this a foolish thing to do. One thing I’ve found that really, really helps is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It’s a great way to reset your brain and center yourself. And it’s pretty easy.
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold that breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds.
- Repeat as necessary
It’s really a fantastic exercise to regulate your breathing and bring your mind back from the brink. If the 4-7-8 technique isn’t your style, taking deep slow breaths will also help. The fast shallow breaths that are common during an anxiety episode do more harm than good. Breath deep, from the bottom of your diaphragm. Those long deep breaths are the good ones that will help you center yourself and calm down.
Ask For Help
The only thing harder than remembering to breathe correctly often is to ask for help. It’s painful and frightening to open yourself to others. But we are not islands. We need each other. Find yourself a tag team partner. Someone who will support you and work with you as you navigate the bullshit that is anxiety.
Whether it’s holding your hand, making you lunch, or just reading the words you need to type, having a circle of people you can turn to is so very important. Ask them for help. Let them help you share the load.
Sometimes what you need during an attack is not just a change of space but a change of mind. Going outside can do both. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city or are in the middle of the country, going outdoors is a great way to help bring yourself back. Sunlight, fresh air, and the sounds of nature foster a sense of serenity. Being able to have space and absorb them is a great way to become unflustered.
Some of the best art comes from the darkest places. If you are able to harness some of the power of anxiety and use it for good you might be amazed at what you’ll create. It doesn’t have to be great, just make something! Write some words, doodle some drawings, take some pictures, bake a cake, build a birdhouse! Just put yourself in motion and use your powers for good, not the self-harming evil they can be used for.
The first thing I ask whenever one of my kiddos comes to me with a complaint is “Do you need some water?” Staying hydrated is important. It’s also something that gets overlooked quite often. As someone who drinks more coffee than I should, sometimes just taking a moment to drink a glass of cold water changes my mindset. Water, dirt, fire, and salt. They are all three things that connect us to the planet. They are all things we need. In the middle of our chaos, I firmly believe these things can ground us.
Find a Positive Distraction
We live in a time where podcast, audio books, and most tv shows we love are streaming on demand. We don’t have to wait to for a certain time on a certain day to lose ourselves in a mindless distraction. It’s available anytime we need it. And when you’re fighting anxiety, you need it whenever the episode happens. Finding something positive that you can quiet your mind and enjoy in the middle of a rough time is wonderful to keep you grounded. Some of my favorite things to listen to are podcast. One of my very favorite podcast is Levar Burton Reads. Its Levar Burton and his wonderful voice reading amazing stories. It’s incredibly calming and interesting. Being able to focus a speeding mind on something as enjoyable as Levar’s voice is great calming technique.
Even harder than remembering to breathe and asking for help is remembering to stay in the moment. When your head is playing the highlight reel of every horrible thing you’ve ever done, its hard to remember to be in the here and now. The following is a grounding exercise I use daily to help me focus on what is and what is not:
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.
No matter what methods we use, we must realize that we are stronger than anxiety. While this is a monster that lives in our world, we do not have to make our world about it. It is my hope that some of the tips effect you in a positive way. As with anything, find what works for you and do that.
My family medical history reads like a Cause of Death report
Any one of the illnesses I’m set to inherit
Would be the case close decision
For any dead body in any morgue
And if the high blood pressure, diabetes,
And likelihood of breast and/or ovarian cancer
Doesn’t clock me out early and in excruciating pain
Those genetic mental illnesses will
Double dipped chicken fried depression
Enough borderline to go over the line
[see what I did there?]
With more than a dash of attention deficit disorder
And some potential schizoaffective disorder for good measure
And I’m not even including those addictive personality traits
that course through my family tree
Like sap in the spring
Not that I was ever given any assistance
In learning how to deal with these second-hand things
No one taught me about eating right or exercise
Or even addressed calming techniques to quiet
My brain speeding around like an energy drink loving hamster on a wheel
But my mom did teach me
That chewing up Vicodin makes them work faster
And that drinking beer with a Twizzler is super funny
Both of those lessons came before I turned fifteen
I also learned that it’s okay to throw up after you eat
Its okay to do that in the Ryan’s Steakhouse bathroom during a rare family night out
And that its ok to take so many Oxys that you don’t hear your daughter calling
Or remember how to sign your name on her brand practice logs
I know I won’t be inheriting anything grand when my folks die
At most a couple of used cars,
Maybe an old goat or two
And a trailer overflowing with pill bottles and dust.
And that’s okay,
They’ve already given me enough
At 6:58 am, my phone rang. I could tell by the Mariachi music that it was my not-biological-but-pretty-much brother. I’ve curated a family that is no kin to me to make up for the one genetics left me with. I promise you, the Build Your Own Family Adventure is totally worth it.
I was wrist deep in biscuit dough and drowning in breakfast prep so I had to let his call go to voicemail. When I was able I shot him a text to ask what was up. During the waiting between my text and him returning my call, I found out that Chris Cornell had died. When we got on the phone finally, that was the reason for the call.
It was by accident that I found Soundgarden in middle school. I think it was swapping CDs on the band bus when Superunknown found it’s way into my ears. It quickly became one of my frequently played albums. Even when I bounced around, experimenting with genres of music (yeah, I was totally into nu-metal for a long while) Soundgarden and their grunge brethren were with me. When Audioslave hit, I was instantly in love. There were many, many time Chris Cornell and his four-octave vocals held my hand, iced my burns, and sang me to sleep.
It seemed like the news that it was suicide hit as fast and as hard as his death did. Reports seem split on if he had exhibited signs of depression or not. The trouble with depression is that for a lot of us, the “signs” have been around so long they’ve just become who we are. So often we hide behind a mask so thick, it hides our struggle from even those closest to us.
I can’t speak for Chris, I only know my own story. But I know that hiding your true struggles becomes an art form. We live in a world where mental illness is constantly second guessed and made light of. There’s still this stigma that hangs over us. Tell someone you broke your arm and they say go to the doctor. Tell them you feel depressed and they ask if you’ve tried just feeling better. As if it was that simple.
If you’re fighting that fight, please know you aren’t alone. It’s easy to feel that way. At times it’s comforting.But these are not battles you have to wage alone. There are people there to help you. National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day online and on the phone (1-800-273-8255). Here is a link from PsychCentral with numbers for hotlines that specialize various issues.
You are not alone in this. Needing help is not weakness. Asking for help is one of the strongest things you can do. Let’s support each other.
Now please excuse me while I damage my hearing by blasting some Soundgarden/Audioslave/Temple of the Dog.
I fucking suck.
Here’s the deal. I always have these ideas in my head of things I want to do. But there’s this thing inside of my head that prevents me from doing things I like to do. I start and notice how much enjoyment they bring me and I get totally on board with them and then, BOOM. The feelings start. Like old friends that forget you until they need something, they show up. Suddenly, the my inner monologue is being delivered by my mother’s voice and I realize that I’m not good at what I’m doing. I realize that I’m taking time away from my motherly and wifely duties by doing my things. So, I bury a seed in the shame I cultivate inside and stop doing my thing to watch it bloom. Who would have guessed that seed grows into a Venus fly trap and tries to eat me whole?
It’s a constant struggle. Most times, I give in and accept that I am not good enough to warrant doing anything. Why bother when I’ll just fail? Do you know how many things I’ve missed out on because of this? So fucking many.
Guys, I’ve got more issues than something that has a lot of issues. I’m a mess. But still, I try. And right now, I’m plucking those teeth from my skin and getting ready to try again. I need to focus on the things that set my soul on fire. I need to focus on me.
A blog where I talk about myself sounds like a a good idea.
So let’s do this, again.