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.

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.

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.