Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Interesting Thing About Anxiety

Meet Obi, my therapy cat. 

My friend John has been writing a blog post a day for the new year. I admire his ability to write something short, pithy and with a moment of illumination. My writing is overwrought and overlong. I back into stories. I do this thing that I'm doing right now.

I wish I could be concise. I wish I could keep it light with a deft touch of wisdom. Hell, I'd even settle for something funny. But when I sit down to write, nothing funny enters my head these days. The only stuff that comes to mind is the tough stuff.

Maybe that means I should just go ahead and write about the tough stuff?

I've been in and out of therapy since I was 14 years old. For the majority of that time, I've worked on what I've perceived as my "heavy duty" issues. Things like depression, suicidal ideation, self-mutilation, an eating disorder. You know. The big guns of mental illness.

But mostly, as an adult, I've conquered or at least learned to manage those issues. The long-term depression is mostly a thing of the past, thanks to therapy and medication. (Yay! Science!) It's only very recently that I've begun to look at anxiety.

Isn't that odd?

Anxiety was never really at the forefront of my mind. Believe me, it's been running in the background   like so many of the apps on my iPhone. But it didn't seem like a life-or-death situation. Hell, it even seemed kind of useful at times.

Anxiety drove me to overachieve. Anxiety drove me to get shit done. Anxiety made my house really, really clean. Hell, anxiety kept me pretty slim, most of the time. What's not to like about a little low-grade anxiety? Keeps you on your toes!

It turns out that's not exactly true.

Maybe I've been avoiding looking at my anxiety because it scares me? What lies behind that anxiety? What causes it? As much as I describe it as an app constantly running in the background of my mind, what I fail to mention is that the app is run by a bunch of Russian hackers and they're stealing all my financial information.

What's even more interesting about dealing with anxiety head on, is that the more I talk about anxiety in therapy, the more anxious I become. Oh Irony, thy name is Psychoanalysis. Lots of people would tell me to just stop talking about it and then everything would be fine.

But the truth is, I'm not fine.

Anxiety causes a lot of panic in my life. I'm sure it's shortening my life by years if not decades. I'll probably drop dead of a heart attack or get stomach cancer because of all the worrying and stressing I do about every little thing. And my body carries the physical symptoms of anxiety. Headaches. Constant neck and shoulder pain. Stomach pains. It's not good.

Living with anxiety is like stepping on the gas pedal of your car while it's still in park. My engine revs, if not screams, at times. But nothing moves. You may not even know I'm so ramped up because my outer appearance is still set to "Park."

But inside I'm burning my motor out.

So I'm talking about it. I'm talking about why I'm so anxious. Why I panic. Why seemingly minor things cause me to freak out as if my world is about to end. It's not comfortable. I don't like any of it. And talking about it is temporarily making the symptoms worse.

That's how it is sometimes. Sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. Maybe that's why so many of us never get better?

It's not easy to walk through the fire. But I have faith that there is peace on the other side. And I also have faith that I'm strong enough to get to the other side. And that, my friends, is quite something. At least for a kid who didn't think anything would ever get better and that no one would ever come to rescue her.

Turns out, I can save myself. And I'm getting kind of good at it.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Experience of Being a Woman


The first time a man flashed his genitals at me, I was about eight or nine years old. I was walking to the store with my friend and a young man—a teenager, I think—called to us and when we turned around, he was shaking his dick at us.

In some ways it's a funny story. I mean, how ridiculous. Right? I remember my friend laughed. But I felt simultaneously angry and sad. I grabbed her arm and pulled her along so we could run away. It felt like a violation. I didn't ask to see his penis. I wasn't old enough to see a penis. And I didn't know what he was going to do next. Would he try and hurt us? Rape us? I didn't know.

It wouldn't be the last time a stranger would flash me. It's happened a few more times as an adult and usually at gas stations. I have no idea why gas stations attract so many sexual predators. But there you go. It's an added experience some of us get as women that men may have no idea about.

When I was a teenager, I was chased by a group of boys on a playground when I was babysitting two children. I half-carried, half-dragged the two kids as fast as I could to my car, whereupon I stomped on the gas so hard the engine revved and the tires threw stones up into the air. In my panic, I still had my foot pressed on the brake, so we didn't move. One of the young men reached the car and punched my window. He left a greasy fist print on the window, but I released the brake in time to get away.

Another time, as a teenager, a boy assaulted me at a party. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me into a swimming pool in front of an entire party full of teenagers. Then he jumped in the water and grabbed my head and held me under until some other boys came and had to physically pull him off of me.

Was he trying to kill me?

I don't know.

Would he have let me up soon enough for me to breathe?

I don't know. It didn't seem like it, at the time.

Why did he do this?

Because I didn't want to go out on a date with him.

I was raped by a 50-year-old stranger when I was 17 years old.

I have been cursed at, yelled at, propositioned and grabbed throughout my life. There have been many mornings where I can't fill a tank of gas without having to politely accept some strange man's compliment. If I don't say thank you to all of these unwanted comments, I'm called a "bitch" or "cunt." I've been cursed at while jogging. I've been told, "I want to fuck your pussy" while shoveling my driveway. I've been called a stuck-up bitch for simply ignoring these comments.

If you say thank you, it's an invitation for more. If you ignore them, you're a bitch. If you flip them off, then they'll stop the car and threaten to assault you. I've had all of these experiences personally. I'm sure lots of people will have excuses for them all.

"Not all men" are like that.

"You should be flattered someone said something nice to you."

"You shouldn't have been alone."

"You shouldn't have been there at night."

"You're exaggerating."

"Get over yourself."

"It's not that big of a deal."

And on and on. All of the ways we minimize women's personal experiences because they are not our own experiences. And on and on. All the ways we tell girls and women to be quiet. To be polite. To not cause problems. Just suck it up and smile. Say thank you. Don't be difficult. Don't be a bitch. Why do you have to be such a bitch? Why do you have to be so dramatic? Give me a break. Typical liberal bullshit. There's a lot more women who falsely accuse men of rape and ruin their lives than women who've actually been raped. Why didn't you report it? Why didn't you fight back? Why did you fight back? Why did you say something? Why didn't you say something?

My experience of being a woman is that I can never get it right. I can never guarantee my own safety or protect myself in the right way, in a way that will please everyone, everywhere, all the time. My experience of being a girl and being a woman is that there is no one there to help you. You're on your own and if anything does happen to you, it'll be your fault.

My experience of being a woman is that everybody will tell me why I'm wrong.

I hope I can teach my daughter to have a difference experience of being a woman. That's why I write these words. That's why I say it out loud. That's why I don't care what you say or what you think. I will no longer be silenced or shamed. I will speak up. I will be a bitch and I won't give a damn what you think about that.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

High Anxiety

In paradise with a headache. 

I've been living with anxiety for, like, ever. I was an anxious child and it turns out I'm a pretty anxious adult. I do my best to hide it but I really only think I'm fooling myself. I recall when I was teaching high school one of my students described me as, "Anxious and nice." I was kind of taken aback by that. I like to think of myself as a calm, laid back Buddhist. But the truth is I'm edgy as all get out. Just lay a finger on my neck or shoulders and you'll be like, "Damn girl. I could bounce a quarter off of you!"

I carry my anxiety in my shoulders. They're usually hunched up close to my ears. When I'm driving, I look like an old lady with my shoulders hunched up and my chin jutting out over the steering wheel. I'm constantly having to remind myself to push my shoulders back down. To relax. To chill the eff out. But then—boing! There they go again. They pop right back up to the perma-hunch.

My anxiety has been so high for the past few weeks that I've had a constant headache. For the first couple of weeks of the perma-headache, Tylenol seemed to do the trick. But since last Friday, nothing has worked. I've tried Tylenol, Advil, Excedrin, Caffeine, Claritin, Claritin-D, Flonase, massages and I even went to the walk-in clinic and got a rather humiliating shot in my butt to try and kill the pain.

No dice.

I did notice that the headache did temporarily go away while I got a massage last night. So my therapist suggests that this means it's a tension headache rather than a brain tumor. (You know that's where my thoughts went—worst case scenario.)

It's so odd to me that your psychological state can cause physical pain. Your brain is so powerful that it can induce physical manifestations of your psychological pain. That just blows my mind. (Ha—literally!) And then I wonder—what's the point of all this? Why would nature design us that way? What good could it possibly do for us as a species to suffer physically as a result of psychic trauma? There must be some sort of evolutionary reason this happens, right Darwin?

Maybe attending to our psychic pain is necessary to our survival?

Maybe the only way some of us will take care of ourselves emotionally is if we're practically crippled with pain.

Or maybe that's just me?