Put on the game face and toughen up, Sparky

tiger

“Be tough.”

That’s what I say to myself, out loud, with my eyes closed tight, as if I’m a hermit crab living deep inside this shell of a body.

I like to imagine myself as this motorcycle-riding, world-traveling, not-taking-shit, sexy-as-hell, quick-witted, fire-eating, whiskey-drinking woman who can do anything she sets her mind to.

I am all of those things. I can ride a motorcycle. I have traveled the world. I don’t take much shit. I love whiskey.

But in my day-to-day life, I struggle against what can become a debilitating anxiety I don’t actively and constantly combat against it.

Mental health is not easy to talk about, and anxiety is a whole other ball game. Everyone has anxiety at different levels. We worry, we stress. All that is good, it’s part of our natural gut instinct, it helps us cope with every day challenges. It feels silly that a normal human feeling should feel somehow out of control.

Maybe I’m just weird

I don’t remember how young I was when I started feeling… I dunno… persistently and almost comically nervous.

The first memory I have of these confusing feelings bubbling up to the surface was during 7th or 8th grade math class. I was taking a test, and kind of breezing through it, when all of a sudden I started crying right there on my test.

It was really hard to explain, I didn’t know where it had come from. But it was definitely a reaction to some unexplained wave of sadness. Almost like an allergic reaction affecting my emotions.

I saw a therapist in high school a few years after that incident. But I don’t remember going to therapy because I was feeling depressed, exactly. I just remember feeling everything very intensely, as is expected when you’re going through adolescence.

I don’t remember addressing in therapy the earlier childhood trauma that was probably taking a toll on my psyche to some degree. And after a few months, I was feeling pretty good so I called my therapist and told her I didn’t think I needed to come in for sessions anymore.

During high school and middle school, playwriting and poetry were really useful outlets; they gave me the validation I needed to feel confident and a venue to air out my thoughts. But I still felt overly sensitive about almost everything.

It cost me friends.

Professional and self-medication

 

In undergraduate school, I was diagnosed with social anxiety and generalized anxiety. I went back to a therapist during graduate school nine years later and was diagnosed again with anxiety.

(The only time I had health insurance and time to see a doctor was while I was in school.)

When I feel like I’m feeling irrationally, when my worrying becomes very intense and feels like it’s turning into a tornado about to destroy houses and smash cars, it gives me some comfort to be able to return to my diagnosis.

I made a conscious decision to avoid pharmaceuticals after a bad experience. The side effects and the withdrawal were too much to bear, so I decided to improve my mental health holistically.

I know that there are certain things that work to pull myself out of a hole since my condition is a medical one and it can be treated. The shot in the arm that I always turn to is unrolling a mat and finding a yoga teacher on YouTube to guide some stretches, breathing and meditation.

Going to the pool also works (if I’ve waxed my legs recently). Cooking a meal. Journaling.

The uphill battle

Being a reporter puts a monkey wrench in this process. When a car crash happens and people have died as a result, there’s not one person that picks up those stories, we all do. The same thing goes for any kind of deadly incident. I’ve covered murders, car crashes and drownings and they all take their toll on my already pock-marked emotional state.

It just means I have to work even harder to get strong. And avoid drinking too much whiskey.

I know there might come a day when it will get too hard to manage my anxiety on my own with my own routines and practice. And then I’ll have to see a doctor again. And maybe I’ll have to go on medication if it ever gets that bad.

Until then, I’ll continue breathing in and out, taking the time out to do some yoga and make a meal, pay attention to what my body is telling me and wait for the worst of it to pass.

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