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.
It’s been a few months since I’ve written about the state of my mental health. A lot of instances of my reporting were the high points returning. I have seen a lot more highs lately versus lows but I have also come to terms with the normalcy of the lows that sometimes come my way. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder last year around this time and I am proud to say that I am feeling a ton better since then. This time last year I was desperate to find a way to be cured from my anxiety and never have to deal with it again. There had to be a way to completely shake this debilitating disorder and I was hellbent on finding on it. I hated feeling like I was a constant burden to myself and to my family and friends. Thankfully, I found a therapist that I could be comfortable with and began the bulk of the healing work that needed to be done. I use the term healing because I am a lot better off than I was last year. It is a blanket term to describe the progress I’ve made from my lowest to date to the empowerment I feel through therapy and the acceptance of my emotions that come and go.
Will I ever be fully healed? No, I will not. However, the acceptance that anxiety is a part of the human condition has been an incredible relief. I’ve had too many days and nights thinking I was somehow broken because I couldn’t walk two feet without feeling dizzy or feeling like I would die at any moment. The physical symptoms and intrusive thoughts were terrifying at first encounter but now I am able to name these things and realize that they are something I can handle when they come up, rather than fear the unknown. I am able to use the tools I’ve learned in therapy, the tools I’ve learned in the Dare Program and meditation with headspace and find ways to become grounded at my baseline again.
It’s been a tremendous road of ups and downs and I still have downs some days. Rejoining a world in a pandemic sometimes leaves me terrified but I now have a strength that I never had before. I have the strength that moods and feelings all pass like the metaphorically storm that they are and whatever comes my way will be handled. I am eternally grateful.
I found the Dare Book in 2019 when I saw excerpts from chapters on a high school friend’s Instagram page. The pages I saw were detailed ways to get passed your anxiety and different ways to do it. I was instantly curious after seeing his page and purchased the book to get the full experience of what was written. Within a few chapters of reading the book, I became very intrigued by what was written. My anxiety had begun to peak during planning my wedding and then just stayed at a level 11 after getting fired from a job I was at for four years and having to look for another job while planning my wedding. I needed something to take the edge off of my anxiety and the book became the perfect way to do that without having to partake in therapy at the time. I wrote a full review about the book, I’ll link it here.
The book was just the start of my DARE journey. The book later was accompanied by an app where I was granted access after paying a yearly fee of $59.99 to a full library of different audios to help soothe my anxiety in real time. The author of DARE, Barry McDonagh narrated all the audios and used his soothing voice to assist the users in calming down, help them remember that they are not alone, and explain all the different types of anxieties that people go through to further educate you about each kind. In my case, hearing Barry explain the types of anxieties almost verbatim to what I was experiencing was cathartic. I have always been labeled a hypochondraic so having someone explain how common it was to be feeling what I was feeling felt amazing. It was proof that I wasn’t crazy and could continue to work the steps of DARE and eventually find a stable mental place.
The app resources began to expand over time as more people began to use it. Eventually, Daily Dares were incorporated which spoke about different parts of mental health and how to help combined with a daily guided visualization to help assist in calming your nerves throughout the day. I used these a lot at the height of Covid in NYC. I was very disregulated and having this resource to utilize daily was helpful in attempting to maintain a baseline level of anxiety. The evening winddown was added in months and new master classes around mental health. The app membership also offers monthly calls with licensed therapists where you can ask questions about how to use the resources but also general questions as well.
I think the price of the app is well worth the cost because it provides multiple resources within the apps but also access to group calls with therapists at your discretion. I would personally recommend this app for people who suffer from anxiety. It has aided mine and allowed me to realize that the more resistance you give anxiety, the worst it gets. Let it go and let it flow!
For a long time, I was very much against the idea of meditation. I didn’t see a purpose for it. I thought that I would immediately fall asleep having someone speak in a calm soft voice to me and be instantly bored. However, when I was in the height of my mental health struggles, I was desperate to try anything to find some sort of relief. I tried a few different apps on my phone as a means to relax and get away from social media. I finally found Headspace and was able to get exactly what I needed to help quell my anxiety and assist with the sleeping issues that comes with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Headspace has a detailed meditation library that offers meditation courses, single, live and SOS meditations for your in the moment needs or daily use. Headspace also provides focus/sleep music playlists, focus/sleep soundscapes, sleepcasts, and short videos that are labeled as advice of all kinds to help assist your needs and better your mental health. In my experience, I found the guided meditations the most helpful. I used a variety of meditations centered around calming my body down and breathwork to help my racing mind throughout the day. Some of my favorite guided mediations are Alone Time, the WFH series, Taking a Break, and the Self-Love meditation. Each of these were able to be applied to my exact needs and help me gather my thoughts and feel more grounded throughout the day instead of fixated on worries and the constant need for the control of every thought and sensation that would feel like it would race through my body. All of these meditations are offered by different meditation coaches each providing their own calming cadence and structure to the meditation. I also used sleep mediations to help me fall asleep faster at night. The relaxing voice of the founder Andy Puddicome was able to calm my nerves nightly and get me into a comfortable sleep cycle.
As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I would reccommend this app to anyone who’s looking for a way to calm their bodies and mind. I’ve learned that once both are connected and quieted, it makes life’s daily functions a lot easier and your ability to sleep a lot better.
The term “people-pleaser” is one that I learned in the past year through therapy. It’s a term that feels accusatory but it’s fitting with my anxiety and behavior patterns. This was both alarming but also disheartening to really deep dive into. My need for therapy homework struck again and the therapist suggested the book, The Disease to Please by Dr. Harriet B. Braiker. This book gives a detailed breakdown of habits of a people pleaser, a break down of how it applies in everyday life, and a detailed program created by the author to assist the reader in breaking these habits. I immediately began to overthink things and attempt perfection (which is a whole other beast) in ridding myself of these habits. 32 years of habits aren’t just going to go away over night. I was being driven by shame and anxiety that if I didn’t shake this that I would be further doomed than I was before.
While the anxiety has slowed, I still battle people pleasing. The need to control situations for my own comfort or my need to overprotect loved ones still happens to me. I’d love to sit here and say therapy and a book was the cure all but it’s the application of the tools from therapy and the book that help me with this daily struggle. Finally, realizing why I do some things and that I’m not responsible for the happiness of anyone else but myself is freeing. However, it doesn’t make it any easier when situations come up. I want to help, I want to fix and knowing that I can’t always do that for everyone or even myself with my own emotions is scary to feel. It’s not easy to just let go but I know it’s going to foster better relationships with myself and the people around me.