A (very) Brief History of a Life with Anxiety

I’m ready, are you? Time to get personal. I’m usually not one for flaunting emotions, I keep controversial opinions primarily to myself, and I play it safe when an unknown audience is involved. Therefore, this post, while not focused on a contentious subject, is definitely a new level of sharing that I have yet to attempt (dare?). However, I’m in the moment, I need to write it, and here it comes…

Anxiety.

Starting around the time I was 6, I began having panic attacks. My parents’ first assumption was that I had some sort of stomach issue, since my “attacks” made me feel nauseous and sick. In fact, my panic attacks have always taken the form of stomach aches, or more precisely: the fear of throwing up. Let’s get this straight– no one likes throwing up. However, when I say that I particularly HATE throwing up, please understand my complete detestation of the very thought. My anxiety has always come on in the form of fear that I’m going to be sick to my stomach. Talking with others who suffer from anxiety disorders, I’ve been told their attacks have felt like they were having a heart-attack, going blind, having a stroke, or even just flat-out dying. In comparison, my measly fear of throwing up seems pathetic– What has this girl actually suffered? Fear of getting sick? Childish. Ridiculous. Pathetic.  And yet, in my moments of panic, I promise you that the idea of throwing up is absolutely the most terrifying notion ever. In that moment, I swear I would rather die then get sick. I know it sounds irrational, but isn’t that the whole anatomy of anxiety? It is made up of irrational fears.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the sweaty palms, heart racing, light-headedness, out-of-body experience just like the rest of us chronic worriers. However, as a child, when my anxiety disorder first began to materialize, my fear of sickness had me spending a hell of a lot of time in the school nurse’s office. Some of my most vivid memories of elementary school are of my visits to the nurse– the mandatory thermometer under the tongue that proceeded the usual “well, you don’t have a temperature, why don’t you just lay down for a while,” and then, on really bad days, the final straw when I would desperately ask if I could call my mother to take me home. Most often I would go back to class and be perfectly fine. In my more stubborn moods I would camp out in the nurse’s office, overstaying my welcome and allotted time of occupation on those uncomfortable, puke-green cots. The funny part is that although I know those were traumatic experiences for me at the time, I don’t look back on those days with any sort of bitterness or despondency. I had a good childhood, all things considered– teachers and nurses were kind, despite my constant need for something or other. And, most importantly, I had parents who eventually came to understand what I was going through, and did the best they could to help me with a personal-battle that left them feeling stranded and powerless on the outskirts.

I write this post knowing that in all likelihood it will remain unread, or in a similarly possible situation, someone will come across it and either think “Hey- I can relate” or  “Hey- I know this girl.” If it’s the former: I’m glad. There are a lot of us out there and sometimes it just feels good to know you’re not alone. If it’s the latter, that’s fine too. I’ve never been one to hide my issues with anxiety, nor do I flaunt it. I actually start to feel bad for the people around me when I’m having an anxiety attack. I know they start to get worked up and want to help, and of course in moments of panic the last thing I can really do is give a thorough lesson on why I’m actually going to be fine and it’s okay that they just leave me alone. But it’s not in people’s nature to abandon the infirm, which I’m appreciative for, but also means I often find myself seeking refuge in a bathroom stall.

When out in public, especially with a group, I go out of my way to make sure the whole crowd doesn’t know if I’m having anxiety. They don’t need to know. Why should I spoil their time with my anxiety, especially when, as mentioned before, there’s nothing they can really do? When I was younger, and less skilled at hiding my symptoms, I know some kids in school thought I “did it” for the attention. They didn’t understand and in retrospect I don’t blame them. Many people in my life now know my struggle with anxiety, though perhaps at different levels.  As I said, when  out with a group of people,  I won’t let on to the crowd that something is up, but there is something comforting about having a single confederate in which to confide. Just telling one person what’s going on– why I’m suddenly inattentive, quiet, and escaping to the bathroom with a frequency that would make most wonder about the size of my bladder. Having that one person who “gets it” (at least to a certain degree) and knows it’s happening– I like that. It’s calming.

Most of my friends know about my struggles with anxiety, and usually when anyone finds out about it they try to empathize: “I get anxiety all the time,” “oh I had the biggest anxiety attack over that test last week,” “I had a legitimate panic attack before my big presentation.” I used to inwardly roll my eyes at this– everyone gets anxiety, it’s true, but what they feel before a big presentation or test was not the equivalent of my panic attacks. They had normal, everyday anxiety, complete with cause and effect.  Not that they experienced anything less than anxiety, it’s just that the whole reason I am diagnosed with a Panic Attacks and an Anxiety Disorder is because there is simply no rhyme or reason for when I have my attacks. Normal anxiety is common. It happens. I get butterflies before important events, too.  But it’s no anxiety disorder.

Like I said, these claims of anxiety, while legitimate, were not in the least bit comforting in their attempts to commiserate. It used to just frustrate me that they couldn’t grasp what I was going through in that exact moment. Now, however, I’ve begun to look at things differently. I’ve come to be almost grateful when a story of common anxiety is shared with me because I know that the individual telling me the story is not trying to belittle my own panic, but rather assist in keeping me feel grounded and, dare I say it: normal. It’s a way to reach out and help someone who is, at the time, nearly helpless. These individuals care, they really do, and while I know the majority of them will never truly understand, their efforts are appreciated. Of course, there are also those that will suffer from a one or two, absolutely terrible and debilitating anxiety attacks in their life. For them I feel especially sorry because at least I have the foreknowledge to know what it happening to me. It has taken me years to be able to tell my anxiety apart from actual physical illness, but I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it. These other people, however, will lack such practice, and for them I feel particularly bad. I would never wish an anxiety disorder or severe panic attack upon anyone.

Those of us in the Anxiety Club (let’s call it a club, that way it sounds a bit more positive) could probably spend hours, even days, comparing notes of therapists, deep breathing exercises, medications, meditation, forms of therapy, cognitive behavior, tactics and tricks. But when it comes down to it, a mixture of these ‘solutions’ is necessary for any sort of ‘recovery,’ and no two regimes will be alike.

I realize how ridiculous this is going to sound, but over the years I have found that the best way for me to deal with a panic attack is to distract myself (obviously) with a simple child’s  game that I play in my head. Honestly, this works wonders for me. When I was a teenager, I would make my mom sit with me, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes on the bathroom floor, and we would go through the whole alphabet:

A my name is ….Anna. My husband’s name is…Aaron. We come from…Alabama. And we bring back…Armchairs.

B my name is…Becky. My husband’s name is…Bill. We come from…Bermuda. And we bring back…Bobsleds.

C my name is…

You get the gist. And let me tell you– 10+ years of this game and I’ve come up with some pretty darn creative combos. Though Q and X are always pretty lame. My one rule for the game is that whatever we “bring back” can’t be a food. Naming foods does not bode well when my anxiety attack has me filled me fears of puking. Nope, not at all.

So there’s my bit of over-sharing. I sometimes feel like I could write novels about my experiences. Everyone who has dealt with issues of anxiety or depression (the two are so often and tragically linked) will know what I mean by this– It’s an every day battle. Sometimes the troops are at rest, there’s no worries for a day or a week or a month. Then– BAM! The grenade explodes. Open fire. Head for the foxholes. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. Anxiety is like warfare in my body, or more specifically my mind. And we fight back with all the force we can muster. Our strategies grow and change as we, in turn, grow and change. It’s a lifelong battle, but it doesn’t have to be a war.

Advertisements

Ode to a Typewriter: Childhood Memories

My own emotional and rambling response to the news that the last typewriter manufacturer had closed its doors for good (though, apparently, this was later revealed to be untrue).

I remember our first family computer. It was a hand-me-down from our neighbors, and thus antiquated even by 1997 standards. Clunky and boxy, I’m sure the old Macintosh computer had some useful quality that, in my youth, I was unable to grasp. Instead, I fondly recall the floppy disks that accompanied our inheritance of this radical feat of modern technology. My brother and I would spend hours playing a highly pixellated, 4-bit Godzilla-rip-off computer game. I don’t remember the actual point of the game, nor am I even sure there was one, but we were entranced nonetheless.


And yet, despite having grown up inundated with computers and advancing technology, I was lucky enough to have a dorky father who went through a phase in his life where he decided to collect typewriters. In my desire to have my own obsolete piece of technology in my room, I one day ventured into the attic to find the coolest looking typewriter (it was blue). I then proceeded to literally drag the machine down the stairs, having been initially unaware that such an outdated mechanism wouldn’t have first been perfected into lighter model, at least not one that my father owned.

After calling the attention of every single person in the house thanks to the thump, thump, thump downstairs, I finally made it back to my room with my prize in tow. I think I spent the rest of the day, sitting at my little fisher-price table, typing away. I don’t remember what I wrote, though since I was only 6 or 7, I assume it was mostly nonsense. I do, however, remember feeling as if I had discovered some great treasure–I wondered why we needed the silly computer when we had this really cool machine that, when you pressed the keys, made fun noises (I still love the sound of typewriters). Granted, I couldn’t play Godzilla on it, but it still kept me amused for hours.

I fondly remember my experimentation with that typewriter. Eventually the ancient ribbon of ink ceased to work and, unsure of how to proceed, I abandoned my brief career as a child stenographer. The typewriter remained in my room for a couple of months after that, untouched and abandoned for newer, more technologically advanced toys. Perhaps this was around the time I got my first boombox, a purple number, just as clunky by today’s standards as that old Apple computer. I don’t know when my mom finally removed the typewriter from my room. I don’t know if I even noticed. Eventually we bought a new computer, and then another one, and then another one. Quickly, each machine became outdated and we moved on to the next big thing, though technically speaking they got small in size. Meanwhile, the typewriters continued to sit in the attic.

One day, about 6 or 7 years ago, my family had a tag sale. It was a miserable day– rainy and gross. We ended up having to move all of our knickknacks inside the garage. Few people showed up, and even fewer people bought anything. It was perhaps halfway through our unsuccessful sale that my mom, who was eager to get rid of just about anything and everything to anyone willing to pay a dime, decided to bring a couple of the old typewriters out of the attic. Dusted free of cobwebs, she placed them on the garage floor and almost immediately we had an interested customer.

That day I saw my clunky blue typewriter sold away. I don’t think I was overly emotional about it at the time. I was more concerned that my old barbies were going to a happy home. I don’t even remember what the man paid for the typewriter, or why he wanted it. While I’ve certainly thought about the my typewriting phase since then, as I have all my childhood memories, it was only today that a great wave of nostalgia seemed to hit.

The news was initially reported that the last manufacturer of typewriters had closed its doors. Updates since have confirmed that there are still minor international companies that produce typewriters, but the initial shock was enough to get me thinking. I guess it makes sense– why would we need typewriters? No matter the advancements made on those antiquated machines, they remain obsolete. With our tablets and iPods, laptops and blackberries– what possible need is there for a typewriter? In many ways, I’m surprised the industry hadn’t been shut down long ago, but I’m relieved it wasn’t.

Someday I hope to own a typewriter again. Sure, it will probably sit right next to my MacBook Pro on a desk cluttered with modern mechanisms of hyperconnectivity, but it will be there nonetheless. I think I’ll use it for writing letters, or just for fun. Just to listen to the clatter of the keys and the ringing of the machine as it hits the end of a row. I won’t be particular about the model of typewriter, I’m not in the antique business. I do, however, hope it will be blue.

Barbie & Ken Rekindle…online

They are the Ross and Rachel of toys. Will they or won’t they? Their indecision has plagued us for years…and the intrigue has just gotten even more compelling.

Many might recall that back in 2004, Barbie and Ken, the idyllic couple of our childhood imaginations, decided to take a bit of a romantic break. Perhaps these two ‘plastic celebrities’ decided they each wanted to spend just a bit more time on one of their numerous careers (i.e. rocket scientist, professional dancer, veterinarian). Whatever the reasoning, Mattel, Inc. split the two up.

And now, on the eve of Ken’s 50th birthday (wow, he looks good for his age– think he had some work done? plastic surgery maybe? sorry lame joke), Mattel has launched a digital marketing campaign of epic proportions in an attempt to reunite the two lovelorn dolls.

A jack-of-all-trades, Ken’s next greatest challenge is to win back his true love. Since the break up, Ken has been undergoing an image overhaul. Now he’s ready to show his new self off, and he’s using the power of social networking to do so. Consumers are encouraged to check out Ken’s profiles, as well as the hub site barbieandken.com. You can even vote in an online poll asking, “Should Barbie Take Ken Back?” Leaving no viral stone unturned, other social marketing sites being utilized include Facebook, twitter, foursquare, and YouTube. Fans can follow the love story as it unfolds, with both of the dolls actively engaging in socializing through these sites. Ken has been known to tweet anything from nostalgic memories about times with Barbie to his favorite articles in contemporary mens’ magazines.

So why the campaign, and why now? Well, besides the obvious excitement over Ken’s birth-aversary (that’s birthday and anniversary combined), the release of the latest Ken doll is also causing quite a stir. The new “Sweet Talking Ken” doll  is described as being “the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion,” praising his ability to say “whatever your want him to say!” Certainly sounds good.

Also in the works, in attempt to gain further notice, Mattel has started a web series called “Genuine Ken.” The series, hosted by Hulu,  is looking for the literal equivalent of the toy company’s newest Ken doll. The contestants all compete for the title of “The Great American Boyfriend.”

Another clever scheme is the product incorporation within the campaign. Ken be seen promoting any number of products. For instance, he uses a Macbook while browsing Google Chrome.

All in all, the concept seems pretty great. The famous dolls’ relationship spans generations, and by using the internet, the company has successfully targeted the modern youth. What do you think? And more especially, should Barbie take Ken back?

Reverting to Childhood

Sometimes, when I’ve had an especially bad day, I want nothing more than to crawl into some fantastical pillow and blanket fort (See Photo Below).  Today was one of the discouraging days when a little bit of childhood regression, and a whole lot of child-like imagination, would have made me feel a bit better. To compensate, I’ve decided to turn to an old childhood favorite movie instead– Peter Pan. Because we do have to grow up, but we don’t always have to like it.