Leaning into the curiosity

The sentence “I don’t know.” is enough to make me break out in hives at times. As a person who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I find my comfort in the stability of a good plan, precise information, and the guarantee of something happening. It’s a rigid way to live but it’s been my reality my entire life. I’ve never really noticed this behavior until I started therapy and realized how my anxiety worked. It took a lot of learning to realize that all my behavior was learned and wired rather than something I was doing to myself or someone else. I no longer had to punish myself for being “too much” or “annoying” or the “chicken-shit”, I am now able to recognize that my flaws are moldable and things can be done that can further improve my interactions with myself and others. Anxiety was never my fault, but it is now my responsibility. The power is in my hands to change my ways and learn how to approach life not resenting my anxiety but using it as a part of my identity. I’ve been given the tools to take my power back and use it to my advantage instead of becoming stifled by my disorder.

I find myself approaching my mental health with a sense of curiosity. The use of “what and how” instead of the “why” has been coming up more frequently. What can I do differently to make this task manageable for my stress levels? What can I do to relax when my nervous system dysregulated? What are my “happy spots” and how can I use them to my advantage in hard times? What is my absolute mental limit before I need to ask for help from someone? Reframing the process into a learning experience versus how to eradicate my flaws eases the pressure of perfection. I don’t have to do all things perfect; I can continue life’s path of trial and error. What doesn’t work doesn’t have to be dissected, it can be learned from, and new processes can be created that can foster a better relationship with myself and my world around me.

It has been eye opening to lean into the curiosity instead of always being at war with myself. It hasn’t been an easy road but it’s a road I’m growing to appreciate because I am becoming in a way that I never have before.

An internal balancing act

I’ve spent the last two years solely focused on ‘healing’ myself. I dove head first into the journey of becoming a better me and a more functioning me. How could I do this? What book could I read? What coping mechanism could I utilize? My life has been all encumbered by the act of healing and fixing whatever issue came up in the moment. Some of this ‘healing’ journey been enlightening and changed me in ways for the better. However, a larger portion of this journey has been downright exhausting in trying to fight imaginary battles that never needed to be fought. I’ve spent a lot of time living my life in the context of symptoms surrounding my anxiety rather than being present in the world right in front of me. Anxiety is a real B for that, but I am shifting my focus away from my symptoms and more in the context of my life. The biggest question I’ve been asking myself lately is how do I balance the idea of living in the moment but also managing inevitable anxiety that comes with daily life?

It’s not an easy adjustment to make because often my anxiety screams “DANGER!” when there’s nothing around. The act of doing nothing and living in the context of my life has proven to be the most difficult portion of the work I’ve been doing. I am an intelligent human so I’m able to problem-solve like no other. Asking me to do nothing is like asking me to walk on a path of Legos with bare feet. While it’s the key to slowing myself down, it still feels like an unbearable task. I don’t really know how to just be but it’s something I’ve decided to work on rather than read up on symptoms and cure alls. It’s an internal balancing act to be able to accept my anxiety and all the weird shit it brings and also just be in the moment.

I appreciate the ability to be able to “think out loud”. I’m often hesitant to publish on here because I feel as if a large portion of my blog is my thoughts out loud. I want to deliver content that isn’t always exclusive to me but I hope in my thinking out loud there’s someone who reads it and may feel less alone. Mental health is just as vital as physical health so consider this my 30 minutes of brain cardio for the day.

My not-so-triumphant return to NYC.

The height of the pandemic left a lot of stores, restaurants, and recreational places closed. The hustle of New York City had come to a screeching halt leaving its residents scrambling on what to do next. Just like the rest of the world, we were forced to work and live in our houses on a 24/7/365 basis, and we were clueless for how long any of it would last. Making the best of the uncertainty, my wife and I decided to fill our weekends with as much as outdoor time as we could. Living and working in our four walls was more than enough during the week so the weekends needed to be broken up with fresh air and getting out of the house in the safest way we could find. It became a weekend ritual to walk the property of our local cemetery. It was kind of morbid looking back on it, but I was grateful to be in the sun and grass and trees at the time getting my mind off the present moment and developing a deep appreciation for nature that I’ve never had before.

The cemetery itself stands on acres of land that stretches throughout the neighborhood. You could walk through it and be on a completely opposite end of the neighborhood by the time you finished. It was great exercise but also amazing views of Manhattan in certain areas as well. When Covid felt bleak and my life as I once knew it felt as if it wouldn’t return being there and seeing that view provided a lot of comfort. The city skyline felt like something to shoot for, to look forward to and it was a much-needed reminder of sanity when everything felt rightfully insane.

This past September started my return to my so-called “normal life”. I went on vacation for the first time in five years in September. We flew to Disney World for our delayed honeymoon and stayed for a week’s time. Upon our return, I was asked back to work on a hybrid schedule. All this is way more overwhelming than I expected it to be. I dreamt of this day and yet I was so nervous to return to the hustle of the city life. The fear of the unknown was overwhelming to embrace. Who was safe? Who wasn’t? Will I get sick? A million questions flooded my mind. I began to feel guilty about questioning all of it. I was getting what I wanted for so long, what I had prayed for yet I was so paralyzed by the fear of the obvious unknown in front of me. I had this whole vision in my head of my triumphant return to New York City where I would rejoin my beautiful city and relish in everything that I missed so much. When my expectations weren’t met it sucked, and I was devastated and left drowning in a whole new pool of anxiety and all the symptoms that came with it. It was a hard lesson to learn in managing my expectations. We plan and God laughs, or at least my God does. Returning to Manhattan and all the of the life that came with it wasn’t how I imagined it to be yet I’m still doing it even if I feel like a baby deer learning to walk most days.

I’ve hesistated to write a lot about my feelings as of late. I don’t want to appear self-deprecating but I also don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their struggles. We are all rejoining a world full of uncertainities and question marks. We’re being told that the pandemic is “over” and now we’re meant to go about our business like the world still isn’t sporting a giant band-aid over itself. It’s scary, overwhelming, but it’s something we’re all collectively facing so it feels almost remiss not to speak my mind on how what I’m going through. I want to end this piece with it does get better, it has gotten better. Every day presents a new change and my anxiety is never permanent. It’s a state of flow that I’m now hyperaware of which is both helpful and a little jarring. Life is weird but it’s just a matter of getting through one moment at a time.

My experience in finding the right therapist. (And breaking up with one too.)

Disclaimer: I am in no way qualified to give medical or mental health advice. I am simply someone who’s had their own mental health experiences and want to share my processes used for treatment. This post is in no way medical advice.

The process of finding a therapist can be daunting. Often people begin the arduous search for this unbiased resource to help them when they are at the most heightened state creating a miserable search that too many people could get burned out by. If you have insurance, there’s finding a provider that is in your network and then getting the consultation to see if they are a good match for the help you want provided. If you don’t have insurance, it’s even harder because the process often becomes about finding a therapist that remains cost effective to a budget but also suits your needs and gets the help that you’re looking for. Once the initial steps are taken, there are things I like to look for in a therapist to provide the best care for the issue I want to be maintained.

  1. Someone who specializes in goals I want to set or issues that I want to help manage for myself.
  2. Someone who listens to me without judgment.
  3. Someone who can be relatable but also not use the session to talk more about themselves entirely, but focus on the task at hand for that session while providing insight.
  4. Someone who holds boundaries in our professional relationship and doesn’t allow me to become overly attached to them.
  5. Someone who doesn’t blame me or others for my struggles but rather helps me accept myself for who I am in that moment and who I can become along the way.

This list can be added to or even subtracted but it is my baseline set of standards that I used to find my current therapist that I work with. My first therapist in 2020 was helpful but became someone who stepped outside of the standards that I wanted to set for my healing journey. “Breaking up” with this therapist was difficult because I developed an unhealthy attachment to them. After a while, it became apparent that our time together was becoming toxic, and I needed to start over with someone else. It was a scary thing to tell this person, but I gathered my courage and left a short and simple text message that while I was grateful for our time together, I no longer felt that they could help me any further. Thankfully, their response was cordial which eased my anxiety about leaving but it didn’t make any less nerve wracking to do. Change is hard especially when you’re not feeling your best, but it is possible to do. It’s important to stay true to your journey and make sure that you have the appropriate person to help you along the way.

If you have insurance, you can use your insurance’s website data base but if you want a broader search for a mental health professional, I’ve used psychologytoday.com with great success.

More than anxiety ridden [My journey to more]

The first case of Covid-19 happened in New York City on February 28, 2020. The disease was no longer something that was happening in the news, it had knocked on our front door sending my wife and I into a survival mode. We prepared for the worst and bought extra food, cleaning supplies and medication. We both thought it would only last two weeks’ time but less than three weeks later New York City had closed entirely. We both began working from home and started the 24/7 loop of what felt like a Groundhog’s Day of working and dwelling in our three-bedroom apartment together for the foreseeable future.

We did little things to cope. We had zoom nights with friends, watched a lot of TV, played video games, and drank more than we should have. Every day we’d sit by the TV and watch Andrew Cuomo give the latest updates on the city’s status to a potential return and every day we became more disappointed and disillusioned with the outcome of his press conferences. We’d try to find the little wins in everyday but for me it began to be increasingly difficult to see. I was away from the routine of going to work that kept me sane and the family and friends that I missed desperately. I was always a hypochondriac, so being in a constant state of fear of catching this deadly disease felt crippling to me. None of the things that usually helped me cope were available, and I was drowning in the fear of the worst. Summer 2020 offered a little bit of relief. We began to capture whatever normalcy we could. We outdoor dined, we walked for miles around the neighborhood, we saw family when it was safe, and took a trip to Salem to see my best friend. The distractions were good, but they had only masked the unbearable mental pain I was carrying around. My mental state still took a downward turn. I knew that outside help was now the only option. I began therapy in early September 2020, after convincing myself I had gotten Covid-19 from a fork at a restaurant because it was metal and not washed by the staff properly. The general paranoia of sickness had become too much for my wife and I to handle on our own and we both knew that I needed therapy now more than ever before.

The journey to heal felt like it would be long one and would never come to a reasonable end. I thought something was inherently wrong because I was experiencing awful physical symptoms in my body. I was dizzy all the time, my heart raced, and I felt like it would pass out at any moment. I thought I was ruining my work and home life because I spent every day in a perpetual state of doom strapped to my couch in fear of moving at all. I was convinced that I was one anxiety attack away from death’s door and there was nothing that could be done. I went through a month’s worth of insomnia, more crying than I’ve ever done in 31 years’ time, and the unlocking of feelings that I never wanted to deal with to begin with. My first therapist worked with me through Cognitive Behavior Therapy. I began to learn the tools to rationalize the outcomes to some of my greatest fears and realized that physically I would be okay. I began to cling to the logic until I couldn’t any longer. January 2021 began my journey with the second therapist. This therapist was trauma specialized and explained that while the CBT was helpful that I needed to go deeper into what hurt me and really break a part all the lies that my anxiety had created. The first few weeks were hard, we’d have a breakthrough and I’d feel like a million bucks and then fall into a panicked state again and think the whole process was futile. It was those weeks that taught me that recovery in general is linear and won’t just heal like a broken limb. I needed to dig deep and do the painful work of realizing that anxiety was never the problem; it was the lack of acceptance of myself.

The initial weeks, I was being seen two times a week and working through all the nooks and crannies of emotions that I had long buried with distractions, writing, and finding love in my wife. I was vulnerable and terrified because I turned the light onto myself and looked inward to what was bothering me beyond the circumstances of a pandemic. Therapy was a long-time coming, but the pandemic thankfully broke me enough to put my best foot forward to invest in myself. Two times a week, became once a week and I found myself in a state of a baseline anxiety that my therapist taught me was a positive way to live. I was no longer paralyzed by the fear of my physical symptoms, I was navigating my fear of my mental health, and realized that I was never just anxiety ridden. Anxiety was not an identity but rather a state of mind that I wasn’t forced to be imprisoned into. I am more than my anxiety; I am so much more.

The last few months, I’ve come on here and gave little breadcrumbs of my journey out and a positive spin on all of it. Before I say goodbye to this version of my writing and embark on a new chapter as a blogger and writer, I wanted to tell the whole story of what led me to my conclusion and introduce my new identity to the followers that have seen me through the last seven years. I entered this blog also terrified and not sure of what to make of these feelings. I wrote about what came to mind, experiences I went through, and my metamorphosis outside of my parents’ child and being an adult. I made friends along the way and followed their stories and took inspiration from them into my own life. Specifically, Dawn from Tales from the Motherland. I read your letter to your adult children and your feelings on them leaving the nest and found so much comfort and understanding in your words. You gave me a window into my mothers’ feelings and an empathetic approach to our new world together. I will always be thankful for that. Not to mention, the clear name rip-off that you were always so graceful not to mention.

I am more than anxiety ridden and I cannot wait to show you the depth of my journey and the writing that comes along with it. The domain will be changing, and I will do my best to give this site a face lift to introduce the next chapter for me. Mental health is still going to be a huge part of the journey and I will always advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves but I am excited to show you a broader picture of my life as a writer, fan girl, wife, dog-Mom, New Yorker, and everything in between.