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. 

Feelin’ 32.

On Sunday, May 23rd, I enter my 32nd trip around the sun. I love my birthday to begin with, but this year has me particularly reflective. Life inside of a pandemic has been a tricky one. My mental health has flopped around like a fish out of water, my time with family and friends was grossly limited and life in general was just uncertain overall. I celebrated my birthday last year in a very limited way and it bummed out. While I appreciated the absolute best efforts of my wife and my brother and my sister in law, I found myself with a serious case of the blues. I love people, that’s something that this pandemic confirmed for me so being without all my people on my special day made things a little heavier than I would have hoped they would be.

This time last year, I had already been away from my parents for three months, there wasn’t really a direction to when this pandemic would end, and no one really knew how to continue a daily life. Were we supposed to hunker down and stay totally inside? Could we see people we knew were safe? Should we see people at all? There were so many questions with very few answers. The end looked like it would never come but here I am a year later and there has been glimmers of hope that have left me grateful for time and perspective. While we are far from out of the woods, we now have vaccines available and much better testing protocols. My entire immediate family has been completely vaccinated, which provides me with the ability and utmost happiness to say that I will be spending my 32nd birthday with all my people once more! Huzzah!

I enter this upcoming weekend with much gratitude for the ability to do this and sheer excitement to have plans to look forward to. There have been a lot of growing pains in the last year and there are still more to come but I am learning to love myself in ways I never thought were possible. Compassion and patience have not been my strongest suits but I hope to approach everyday in my 32nd year with those two things in mind and a grateful heart to have the time back that was lost in the hellish year of the global pandemic.

What now?

It’s been six months since my last appearance here and truthfully, I didn’t think I’d ever get the urge to come back and continue to tell my story. October 2020 felt like the end to a burden that I had been facing for a long time. The physicality of anxiety plagued me for longer than anyone knew and now that I had the tools to get past it, I felt healed! A lot of my journey in my mental health had been about completely eradicating the issues. I took on my mental health in the way one would take on their physical health; sleep, rest, and do what you’re told, and you’ll feel better. I did that and the desired result came. I felt better, I was no longer terrified to move and function; I had everything that I thought I wanted out of the work I had done in my CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) therapy. What could possibly go wrong?

November 2020 began a journey into acceptance. An acceptance that this journey was no longer something I could fight away or wish away. My mental health would need to be tended to with the same love and consistency that I had shown for my physical health. Stress began to pile on and I had a setback that hit me like a freight train. I had a very disturbing dream which I now know was an intrusive thought. These disturbing thoughts and fears began to surface while waking and I was thrown back into the spiral that I thought I had escaped. The details of the dream and thoughts are something that I don’t feel comfortable sharing online. If you’ve had this type of thing happen, I’m sure you can assume that the gravity of these thoughts can be very jarring for anyone whether they have experience with this or not. I was forced to come face to face with the mental portion of my journey that I had long been avoiding. I lived my life very one-dimensional. If there was a problem, it was meant to be fixed and moved on from, but this wasn’t going to work out that way. 

CBT had taken me as far as it could. There was only so much I could rationalize before I had to go deeper. Emotions that I had been avoiding needed to be dealt with. A change in therapist was necessary. I found someone who specialized in psychodynamic and relational approaches. At first, I had no clue what that would mean for my new journey through therapy. It all seemed new and scary. I had done CBT so many times in years passed without really touching on the actual feelings and emotions that I was carrying (directly in my body I might add). Through this new approach, I was able to dig further and start to grow beyond just rationalization and realize that every emotion and feeling had its purpose and it was something I no longer needed to be afraid of feeling. There are no good or bad emotions/feelings, they just are. Each one holding its own individual message for me to listen to and embrace as needed. Am I perfect at this now? Absolutely not. I’m still struggling with the fact that I will always have some form of anxiety. I would love nothing more than to wish it away and never have to deal with it again. However, just like my physical health that I spent so many years obsessing over, I am going to have to give this the same level of care (maybe not obsession). 

So what now?

Well, I am down to seeing a therapist one time a week. It’s a new schedule and one I’m still getting used to. I am slowly realizing that sometimes putting down the self-help books, putting aside the therapy homework and just living for each day as it comes is needed. The bigger acceptance is, we’re all works in progress and I will never achieve some pinpointed level of perfection where work will no longer be needed. Change is good and it’s taken me 31 years to come to terms with it. I have spent the last year in fight or flight and I’m hoping to wind down to a place where I can still work on myself but take my life back to some of the passions I set aside to face this journey head on. I miss writing, I missed this blog, I have a novel that’s sitting in the vault that I’d love to get back to. I think the fresh perspective of not having my emotions on level 100 will take me back to the safety of writing again. Writing has always been my way of handling things. I would either take the time to write the words my brain was too shy to say, or I would create the worlds that my brain would daydream about. I am a creative being and I am very excited to play around with that again. 

As for the fate of this blog, I really can’t say what a definite timeline would look like for posting. I’m leaning toward more letting this go and letting it serve as an archive of my journey but I also know how inspiration works and sometimes keeping my mouth shut is utterly impossible. I want to help others. It’s another passion of mine and after the experiences I’ve had in the last year, I want to use my new voice and hopefully reach people who don’t feel like they have their own. I am blessed with health insurance for therapy, I am blessed with a steady income, and most of all I’m blessed with a steady support system to nudge me along when I need it. I know that it’s not everyone’s fate and I hope that by sharing my story, I can reach as many people as I can. Being inside of your thoughts isn’t always a creative means. Sometimes it’s downright scary and if I can pay it forward by being a source of comfort in some way, I want to. Next to writing, helping others is something that I love to do. I’ve gotten myself into some new non-profit work this year that I’m very thankful for. I’ve begun writing letters for The Letter Project, a faith-based nonprofit organization that writes letters to women of all ages whose family members or themselves ask for extra encouragement. I’ve written letters to people in the U.S. and beyond and I have received my own bundle of encouragement that I will cherish forever. I am also participating in a local community program where I will have virtual (for the time being) visits with a senior citizen very soon. I want to be of service to others in any way that I can and I am very excited to be a part of this program and hopefully forged a bond with someone who can use the friend just like I could at times in my life. 

To those who got to the bottom of this post, I thank you. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to read what I have to say is very special to me and I hope that I can continue to tell my story in some way and share with you all down the road. Please feel free to leave a comment on how you’re doing. I’d love to hear from you.

Teachable moments.

I have been MIA for most of 2020. Words on the year just felt like it didn’t cut it. Expressing myself became impossible but I have finally hit the point where I’m able to talk about it, able to embrace myself and my world despite how uncomfortable it can be. I have been working from home in my new normal and the lack of routine has been jarring but the toss up out of my consistent routine turned out to be exactly the thing I needed to learn the most about myself.

I’ve talked about anxiety on this platform and explained my journey within the disorder. I’ve seen anxiety before but I have never seen anxiety of this magnitude. In late August, I hit my version of rock bottom. A low I’ve never touched before. I had a panic attack in what felt completely out of the blue. It was a normal summer day, I was home alone and I was working and cleaning up my house. I just finished cleaning my bathroom and went to put a fan in my bedroom window when the short walk between rooms left me with my heart pounding and in a sweat. I had never felt such a visceral fear like that. I was able to calm myself and wrote it off as lack of water and eating in the heat. I tried to bounce back but only found myself falling further.

I began to obsessively google my symptoms anytime I felt a pain, ache, or random feeling. My anxiety was taking control of my daily life and became the only thing I could think about it. In September, I visited the primary care doctor for the second time this year with concern I drummed up from another google search, and ended up having another panic attack in the office. My heart rate was 122 upon sitting down to be checked and all I could remember was feeling like something was very wrong in that moment despite nothing being wrong. The doctor ruled out any ailments and I was told I had General Anxiety Disorder. I had already found therapy but it was now needed more than I realized.

The entire month of September, I was in a rut. My anxiety started to increase depression symptoms and I hit lows I’ve never seen. I would go to bed anxious, or not sleep at all. I would wake up anxious and spend the entire day trying to run away from whatever panic attack would come my way. I cried more in the month than I have in my entire life. I was navigating not only the scary physical symptoms I was convinced were going to kill me but now the emotions of it all. I was convinced I was stressing everyone out and I was a burden to everybody around me. This episode was so disruptive, how could I not be? There were days I’d keep my Mom on Facetime all day long because I was terrified to be alone. Anxiety was no longer about just simple fear but very what like realistic scenarios that were trying to break me.

Health anxiety had always been an issue for me and one I was embarassed about. I was always the hypochondriac in the group, the one with the unreasonable fears and the overactive imagination. I hated speaking about these feelings but now I was forced to deal with them and other feelings I had buried. The year began with family struggles directly after getting married and went straight into Covid only 2 months after that. There was no break for me and as my therapist explains, the turkey that is me popped and I needed to take the issues out of the oven and address them all. Silly little analogy but it was the truth.

At the end of October, I can tell you I am doing better. I still deal with anxiety but I am learning to accept that I can do that in a healthy way. Anxiety doesn’t just go away, it’s a common human emotion I’ve learned and not something that I need to run from. I write this actually grateful for my anxiety and the episode over the last two and a half months. What began as a burden became a teachable moment. A moment that reminded me of my strength, that it’s okay to be vulnerable, and that I needed to feel in a big way to fully understand my journey in mental health. Anxiety has a wide variety of ranges and most I’ve been fortunate to never experience. However, in the new experiences of 2020 I feel like I can better declare myself as a mental health advocate, I feel like I can use my journey to help others as well as myself. What I thought could kill me, actually made me stronger and not it wasn’t just the false sense of security stronger you get from reading a two second quote, it was actual strength within me.

I kicked anxiety’s ass. I did it once and I will do it as many times as I may need to along the way and I hope to help others do the same.

New York, New York it’s a helluva town! (No, really it is!)

I was on the train to work this morning and I realized that I’ve spend a lot of time shitting on my city. The crowded subways and busses, the smell of garbage, the overpopulation combined with an endless sea of tourists are all factors that can easily trigger anyone with mental health issues. Without a doubt living in a big city isn’t always the easiest for someone with anxiety but I’m trucking along anyway. While living here can be a lot of stress, I am still very proud to be born and raised in a busy city like New York City. I have been exposed to a little bit of everything in terms of cultures of all kinds and I wanted to share some of my favorite parts about my beautifully urban hometown. All stresses and triggers aside, I love New York. I mean that in the cheesiest most genuine written on a t-shirt way possible.

Without further ado, here’s my list:

The Theater District

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For as long as I could remember, I was captivated by plays and musicals of pretty much any kind. There’s something about seeing something performed live that speaks to me in ways I can’t explain. Glitz, glamour and raw talent are things to describe the theater district. It is the best compilation of musicals, plays, and everything in between. So many people’s careers have come to life on stages in NYC and to the Big Apple has served as the home to so many stars is a treat. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing such musicals as Footloose, Rent, Beauty and the Beast, Rock of Ages, Wicked, Cinderella, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Anastasia and more recently Waitress. With the exception of Wicked, all of the shows I’ve seen have closed or will be closing. It doesn’t matter what you see, if you’re a fan of the theater and big productions, I promise you, you’re going to fall in love.

All the eats!

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It’s a very open title but it’s the only way that it can be described. New York is probably one of the only places in the world where you can find just about any cuisine you want, at any time of the day or night. I think if I grew up anywhere else, I wouldn’t have the love I have for some of my favorite cuisines. New York is a melting pot for all things cuisine but some of my favorites being Asian, Spanish, and Greek food. Other favorite concepts that are found in New York City are food trucks, brunch, delivery and the idea that dessert knows no bounds. Last weekend I was able to get pie delivered to my door. Where else can you get both Chinese food and pie delivered? Seriously.

City Parks

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To any one of my close friends or family reading this, hold your laughter and LISTEN to me! Most of my people will laugh upon hearing this because I am not an outdoorsy person by any means. I’m not even going to pretend to try and be either. However, I’ve had some of the best times with friends in city parks. I’ve seen a Good Morning America concert and viewed their latest movie under the stars in Bryant Park. I’ve had adventures walking, chilling in castles, and viewing the somber Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Also, you can’t forget Union Square Park where all artists and people dwell, not to mention the bomb farmers markets. New York City parks may not be the typical version of nature but they are a little slice of nature in a concrete jungle.

Street Performers

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I’m not talking the modernized version of this where Andy Grammar appears in a Subway Station to release his latest album, I’m talking people who drum on buckets, can barely afford the clothes on their back types. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many of these performers who delivered performances from the heart. I think we lose sight of music in today’s world. It becomes sensationalized by fads, trends and generally what’s cool. While that’s fun and exciting, I can honestly say I’ve heard more genuine voices on a train than I have in some of the highest paid stars. My friends give me such shit because I’ll stop in route of wherever we’re going if I’m moved by people’s voices or instruments, or I’ll give money when most New Yorkers run from those types of people. The sincerity is uncommon and while these types of things aren’t necessarily exclusive to New York, it’s still one of my favorite things about it.

It’s a small list but these are the things that stick out to me the most. I’m sure I could write pages upon pages if I went into specifics of every landmark, eatery, or street performer (some of which I know by name. Shout out to Aiden ;)) but I wanted to keep it simple and concise. Just like anything else there is positivity in New York if you take the time to reflect and really look for it. I’m sure I’ll leave it one day but even then it will always be my home.