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.

DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks (Review)

“The only way out is through.” That’s one of the many positive affirmations given to the reader in this book and it’s the one that stuck with me the most. Last year was probably one of the worst of my life professionally. I was in constant conflict with my managers, always having to look over my shoulder in professional settings and my anxiety was at all-time high. I saw a therapist for a little over six months but my insurance was no longer accepted at the facility. I was out of options and too anxious to try and get to know another therapist. That’s when I found DARE by Barry McDonagh. Social Media keeps me in touch with people from all parts of my life and a friend from high school was posting excerpts of the chapters of this book and I knew I had to read it. Everything on his Instagram stories felt like it was talking directly to me. After doing more research, I found out that author and founder of the program DARE, Barry McDonagh also suffered from debilitating anxiety. Knowing this made me feel less alone and less suspicious about opening my mind to his new suggestions. He had applied his program to his own anxiety and it had worked so I took a chance and hoped it would work for my own.

The book introduces something called the Dare Response, which is a new way to view your relationship with your anxiety. The key points of the response are defuse, allow, run toward, and engage. Defuse shows the mind that you are not in any real danger when you take on a blasé approach to anxiety, “Who cares”, “So what” are phrases that the author uses to allow anxiety to take on a smaller form rather than feel unstoppable. By using the act of diffusion, it replaces worry with power of the situation when anxiety makes you feel powerless. Allow is the means of letting the anxiety come as it wants to. Resistance can make anxiety seem bigger than it is. By allowing anxiety to just come and flow naturally through you, it takes away the fear of what could happen or what is happening to you. You have the control of the outcome. A funny line from this step’s section for me was when McDonagh says to sit down your anxiety and invite it in for tea. The visual created in my brain was exactly what I needed to see that I was in control of my anxiety and my anxiety didn’t control me. I was the one calling the shots and deciding what, when and where anxiety can appear. Run towards is the next step. McDonagh suggests that by running toward your anxiety you can change the perspective of it. He explains that fear and excitement are often the same and when the mind readjusts the feeling toward anxiety, it can reduce its power and change the way the brain views anxiety. A negative can quickly become a positive and instead of looking for the “boogeyman” over your shoulder, you can embrace the present world around you. The final step is to engage. Engage in something that takes up your full attention so the anxious feelings can no longer reel you back in. This felt like the most important step because it encouraged me to focus on my life and stay in the present versus stay in my head with the fearful anxiety. Furthermore, the book details ways to apply the response to several different aspects of anxiety such as panic attacks, health anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and fear of being abnormal. Each section details how to apply the response to the situation but also provides thoughtful insight on his experience with the situation or the experiences of others that he helped. I found several different scenarios relatable and have returned back to these chapters for guidance and help.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Self-help books aren’t for everyone but this method got me through a time in my life where I feared there would be no way out. Applying the DARE response to my life allowed me the confidence I needed to take back control of my anxious mind. While I still have issues with health anxiety from time to time, I have since gotten a new job and thanks to the DARE response I am able to contribute my experience with an open mind and heart to my position and have had a very successful three months at my firm because of that. I think any kind of positive outlet can help mental health issues and I would suggest this book to anyone who wants to reach with themselves and learn to navigate ways to better themselves.