Anxiety, Blogs, and Moving Forward

honestyHey everyone! Sorry I have been away for awhile. I’ve been super busy (sometimes with real life responsibilities, other times with endlessly reading Buzzfeed and watching Netflix, let’s be honest), but I also stepped away for a bit to give myself time to process the fact that I’m sharing pieces of my story here.

I know that this blog is basically anonymous and really doesn’t say anything too outrageous, but do know that speaking my truth is a huge thing for me—even in as casual a setting as a faceless, random blog. Just creating this felt like a massive leap of faith! I have had blogs in the past, but always deleted them when the honesty got too scary.

I have spent a lot of my life lying to people or hiding the truth from them. It’s not something I’m proud of, but a lot of it has been out of fear and self-preservation. I have a massive fear of failure, so sometimes I lie about how well I’m doing to make my life seem better than it feels. I omit all the bad stuff and play up the good. I don’t tell people the whole story, and I don’t tell them when something is wrong. I’m working on this.

A piece of why I’m writing this blog is to have some record of my own progress. Like I’ve mentioned before, I have had 2 other blogs where I wrote about my life and recovery, but deleted them both out of mindless fear. In addition, I destroyed all the journals from when I was worst in my ED and when I was first going into recovery. I started worrying what would happen if someone found them and read them–not even just worrying, PANICKING. And so I ripped each page into tiny shreds, and then threw them all out in waves over the course of several weeks, out of fear that someone would find the pieces and then glue them all together to read my diary. Irrational? Yes. Have I always been this anxious and paranoid? Unfortunately, yes.

As far back as I can remember, I have struggled with a strange, overwhelming anxiety that makes me worry about every small move I make and how I will affect others in the world. As a child, I would feel tremendous guilt if I so much as thought something mean. I can remember being 8 or 9 years old and having my mother try to calm me down so I could sleep, telling me that it was okay to make mistakes and that I wasn’t bad. Fast forward to age 21 and I was still staying up til 4am, trying to find peace and remind myself that I am okay. I’d punish myself for things I did in 3rd grade. I would worry that someone was spying on me or planning to ruin my life. I’d deactivate my Facebook and withdraw from my friends.

Now I’m 23 and doing a bit better, but I have my super-anxious days. My therapist sometimes has to remind me that no one can hear my sessions and that she doesn’t tell people what I say. She also reminds me that I am a good person who makes mistakes, not a bad person who hurts other people constantly. I think that pieces of my eating disorder & other mental health issues stem from this lifelong battle. I have tried to think back on what may have caused my anxiety, but it’s possible that I was just born this way (unintentional Lady Gaga reference). Some people are born with very perfectionistic, high-anxiety personalities. Honestly, I’ve stopped caring about the Whys and am focusing more on the What Now?s. What can I do now, today, that will help me manage my anxiety and lead a meaningful life? What can I change? That’s what I care about at this point. If I find a root for my anxiety along the way, awesome. If I don’t, then at least I will still have some tools to lead me into a calmer, happier present and future.

I’m not a scientist, and I can’t see the inside of my brain. I don’t know if my anxiety was caused by an external event or if it’s in my genes. But even if I was born with anxiety, it doesn’t mean I have to live with it. I’m going to keep pushing forward and finding ways to cope–no, thrive. If I end up deleting this blog one day in a wave of fear, I will be disappointed but will keep trying. I’ll start another blog. I’ll open up to someone I trust. I’ll always take another leap of faith. I’ll always ask, “Okay, what now?”

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The Art of Self Compassion

Once again, I love everything from TheLoveYourselfChallenge.

Once again, I love everything from TheLoveYourselfChallenge.

The last blog I wrote talked about the importance of speaking up for yourself when someone else steps on your toes. This week, I learned a related lesson–how to apologize when you are the one who messed up.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait, aren’t you 23 years old? How do you not know how to apologize?” And the truth is, although I have obviously made mistakes and said “I’m sorry” before, I still have a lot of trouble owning up to things and making a direct apology. This isn’t to say that I don’t feel bad–on the contrary, I actually carry huge amounts of guilt and shame with me–but like I’ve said before, I tend to avoid people or shut down when things go wrong. Just as it’s hard for me to say, “Hey, you hurt me,” it’s also difficult to say, “Hey, I’m sorry I hurt you.” The vulnerability is too much to bear. Confrontation and I are lifelong frenemies.

Without getting too specific, this weekend I went out with some friends and ended up acting in a way that is not consistent with who I am or my values. Do you ever look at something you’ve done and think, “Who is that girl? I would never do that.” That’s kind of what this felt like.

Whenever I make a mistake, I have a tendency to internalize everything and send myself into a huge shame spiral. If you’ve ever read any of Brene Brown’s work on shame (highly highly recommended), you probably know all about this. She points out that guilt is saying, “I did something bad,” and shame is saying, “I am bad.” I never realized how steeped in shame I was until I heard this. Even the smallest mistake (like the one from this weekend), makes me feel like a monster. I still struggle with it. After this weekend, I sat down in my therapist’s office, told the story, and said, “I think I’m just a shitty person.”

“You’re not a shitty person,” she said. “You’re coming into your own. You’re still figuring out your boundaries and what your values are. It’s an ongoing process and you’re bound to make some mistakes, but that’s okay. You can apologize, learn, and grow from it. You’re a good person who did a less-than-good thing.” I realized that while I was feeling all sorts of guilt over how the other person must feel, I had forgotten to show a little compassion to myself. I know that everyone messes up and I can forgive others’ missteps, but I never afford myself the same empathy. “And furthermore,” she added, “Shitty people don’t admit their mistakes, feel guilt, or issue apologies to those they’ve hurt. The fact that you’re trying to make it right proves you’re a good person.”

And so I created a plan with her on how I would tell this friend I was sorry and learn how to check myself before I wreck myself in the future (haha).  I ended up apologizing to this friend in person (turns out I had blown the whole thing out of proportion in my mind, and she wasn’t even very upset), and although it was a small step, I really felt like I grew from it. I didn’t shut down. I didn’t punish or hurt myself. I admitted my flaws and vowed to do better. And that doesn’t make me a monster–it makes me a human.

Learning to Speak

This week, me and my therapist talked about the importance of speaking up for yourself. This is something I have struggled with my whole life. I am afraid to let someone know if they’ve offended me or bothered me. I am afraid to set boundaries with people or say no. I am also afraid to ask for things. My brain tells me that if I bring up something uncomfortable, it will escalate into a fight, push the other person over the edge, or result in the other person abandoning me.  It sounds silly to write it out, but when you’re in that awkward spot when you want to say something butjustcan’t, it’s easy for irrational thoughts to take over. And if you’ve ever spoken out before and gotten a negative reaction (as I have; as I imagine we all have), you might be hesitant to do it again.

My therapist asked me, “So, what do you typically do in a situation where you have to let someone know they’ve bothered you or stepped on your toes a bit?” and I replied, “I usually create a really elaborate plan to circumvent having to confront them at all.” She basically did a facepalm.

It’s sad but true–I am more apt to move around huge pieces of my life and create even more stressful situations, rather than just bear a minute or two of awkwardness. I also have a pretty avoidant personality. If something weird comes up, I will probably distance myself from you, cancel plans, skip a day of work, whatever. I’ll try to create passive ways to show you how I feel without ever having to say the words myself. If it’s something painful to talk about, there’s a good chance that I will turn it inwards and take it out on myself, which leaves me hurt and in the same place I was before. It’s as exhausting as it sounds.

But something I learned this week is that speaking up doesn’t have to be a big deal. Sure, there are situations where you’re going to have to break some big news (“I want to break up,” “You’re not the father,” etc.), but in everyday situations where you have to set boundaries or let your needs be known, it doesn’t need to be dreadful. If you are honest, direct, and respectful in the way you communicate it (“I felt hurt when…”), then you have nothing to apologize for.

Bearing a few minutes of discomfort is worth it if it means getting your needs met and letting your voice be heard. Would you rather say nothing and keep feeling weird/miserable, or tough it out for a few seconds and reach a resolution? You are allowed to have feelings. You are allowed to say that something wasn’t okay with you. Speaking up doesn’t make you annoying or needy. In fact, talking about things openly and honestly can help our relationships grow and improve.

I can tell it will be in baby steps for me, but I’m ready to start speaking for myself.

Stop Waging War on Yourself

Image via The Love Yourself Challenge

Image via The Love Yourself Challenge

“Waging war on yourself won’t fix the pain someone else caused you.”

The first time I saw this photo/quote, it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Like, literally I gasped at my desk at work.

You’d think after years of living in recovery and countless hours of therapy and telling my stories, I’d have realized this by now. I guess on some levels I did, but I never truly saw it spelled out like this. When entering recovery from eating disorders/self harm, my initial framework was that I should stop these behaviors because they were “bad.” Purging was dangerous and unhealthy. Restriction and weight loss led to malnourishment and heart stress. Bingeing made me feel gross. Self-harming was dangerous and physically hurt me.

All of the above are true for me, but I was missing a huge piece of the puzzle: none of these behaviors “fixed” whatever was going on. Sure, they provided a temporary distraction or relief from awful feelings or painful memories, but once I was done bingeing, purging, self harming etc., the feelings and memories were right where I’d left them–now accompanied by a huge wave of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. Great coping mechanisms, amirite? Not.

Don’t punish yourself for the pain someone else has caused you. And furthermore, don’t do yourself harm when you are upset over something you’ve done. We’ve all made mistakes, and learning from them and choosing to improve is lesson enough. Hurting yourself won’t make the pain go away, especially not in the long term.

My advice? Start talking about what hurts. Find a friend or a counselor. Begin a journal. Start creating art. Make music. Start looking for how you can move past the pain in a productive, long-term way. Let it out, but don’t take it out on yourself.

One.

I guess every blog needs a first post.

I’ve had blogs in the past–there was my Xanga at age 15, on which I mostly talked about inside jokes with friends and complained about Driver’s Ed. There were a few vague, pseudo-poetic MySpace blogs. And then there was the secret WordPress blog I had from about ages 17 to 20. Unfortunately, all have been deleted for different reasons, but a piece of me wishes I had kept them so I could better reflect on the many, many changes my life has seen.

Now there is this blog–the blog of a 23 year old woman living in recovery from eating disorders, depression, and self harm. It’s a scary move to make for someone who has spent years fearing things like honesty and vulnerability. But I’m going to attempt to be as honest with myself and others as I can, because I think it’s time to.  Augusten Burroughs once wrote, “The truth is humbling, terrifying, and often exhilarating. It blows the doors off the hinges and fills the world with fresh air.”

I think it’s real what they say, that the truth can set you free. But I think it also sets other people free. When one person tells their truth and shares their story, it empowers others to do the same. It shows us that we’re never alone.

There are hundreds of people whose stories have showed me that the deep, dark feelings I carry inside me do not make me terrible or broken or hopeless. They often make me feel very isolated (oh my god, feelings about feelings–this blog is getting meta already), but in reality they connect me to others. They make me human. But if you never hear another person voice a similar feeling, you’d never know that you weren’t alone.

I think it’s important for our communities (especially the mental health/recovery community) to have as many voices as possible in order to reach across the lines of secrecy and shame we draw for ourselves. Because even one voice, even one “Me too” can change things. I know it has for me.

Not to get all self-righteous, but I guess that’s why I decided to start writing again. Partly for me, and partly with the hope that maybe my story can help someone realize that there is always hope and of course, that recovery is possible.

So, here goes nothing.