Practical ways to kick anxiety’s ass

I’ve been wanting to come up with a list of helpful anxiety combatants for a while now. Mostly for me, so that I have something tangible to grab onto when my brain goes into lockdown. But in light of all the mental health struggles being tossed around lately, I realize sharing these personal bits could potentially be useful to someone else.

If your workplace doesn’t acknowledge employee mental health as an appropriate or relevant topic of discussion to be had at least at some point, your business risks being left behind. Fuck, it should be left behind.

When I’m having a full blast anxiety attack, I tend to roll around like dough in bed and wait out the sickness. Every thought that enters my head is incomplete and razor sharp. Full of fear and ill intent. Not a single thought of comfort or relief. These are thoughts I do not want to leak outside my mouth so I chew on them and swallow them. And they jab at me on the inside. They pulsate in my stomach. They run up and down my spine like angry toddlers. An endless stream of them.

I don’t know what to do with myself except wait until my body caves into exhaustion. And when I come outside the noise, I always feel like I’ve just wasted another part of my life. Anxiety is such a waste of time.

I used to be terrified of being alone because this is usually where the 50-eyed monster finds me. So I looked for complete stimulation. All the time.

Being alone was too much of a risk. But over the last few years, I’ve had a lot of alone time. Which means I’ve had a lot of attacks. But this has also given me the chance to get intimate with my disorder. Study it. Recognize when it’s on its way. I’ve learned how to set up traps for it. Sometimes, how to give it a job, make it work for me. But mostly how to accept it as a frequent visitor.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder a little more than three years ago. I’m not on medication, but have considered it a few times. I don’t think people who take medication are weaker or stronger than me. Everyone’s anxiety is different. I prefer to maximize all my outlets, outlets that have been working for me for a while.

Obviously, these activities are useless if you’re in too deep, but if you have studied your anxiety enough, and can get a good whiff of it when it’s approaching, maybe one of these could be of use to you.

Move your ass

Yes, I mean exercise. Give it a good eye roll if you want. I know I did at one point. I enjoy exercise, but I’m definitely not one of those people who is on a constant live or die exercise schedule. After long work days, I often have to outsmart my brain into letting my body exercise. The hardest part of exercise is getting yourself there.

Think about yourself hitting that free-fall point during a good workout. Do you feel animalistic? Strong? Like you’re knocking the piss out of invisible demons? After a good workout, how do you look at yourself? Do you slink around in your clothes? Or better, outside them?

My favorite exercises entail a certain element of risk and freedom. Running outside 30 minutes before the sun drops. Challenges and obstacle courses that demand problem solving. Dance is one of my favorite ways to sweat. Zumba, hip-hop, anything where you can showcase your inner freak or completely embarrass yourself and no one around you will care. Or, if you prefer to dance in the comfort of your living room, then truly no one is around to care.

I have large hips, and I know how to use them, damn it.

Exercise that doesn’t feel like work is generally the exercise I’m most interested in. Machines put me to sleep, so I like to be creative about it. I think a lot of people are in this boat. They don’t like exercise because they find it to be a chore.

I’ve discovered I need exercise. I’m a completely different person when I allow myself to work out three to five times a week. I’m less likely to fall victim to my own head games.

Exercise is one of the best, most scientifically proven stress-relievers and weapons against anxiety.

Do something artsy fartsy

There’s a reason those adult coloring books are so popular. I myself like to draw and write. If it’s not obvious, this website is a form of therapy. Though, sometimes writing in particular can summon the beast, especially if I’m writing about something that’s particularly painful to me. Some people blaze up a guitar. Others knit. I have a friend who has fingers made for jewelry. Another who knows her way around a piece of felt.

Making art, whether you’re any good at it or not, has so many mental health benefits. Not only are you creating new brain cells, but you’re boosting your dopamine levels. And dopamine is delicious.

A few months ago I drew something that took me 13 straight hours. I hardly noticed the time I was so immersed in the different shapes and shading. The second I dropped the pencil, I floated down from whatever dimension I was in. Though a lot of people may argue differently, that’s 13 hours of non-wasted time. There’s a product at the end of the creating. You feel good about doing a thing.

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Also, when you’re creating, you’re less likely to hurt yourself or anyone else.

Lie around in a pool of your own filth

Some days, I don’t want anything to do with art or exercise. I want to sit in a pool of steaming water and think about nothing. These are the days my anxiety is nipping the back of my heels. I need a quick fix.

I’ve really been into those bath bombs that have little treats at the center of them. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. There’s a stick of cinnamon or a clove waiting for you at the bottom of the bomb. A little treasure.

I like these guys because they force you to focus on what’s inside. I’ll submerge my hand in the water and watch and feel the fizzle of salt. Until there’s nothing but a small object that I study and twirl between my fingers.

Baths are my way of making my life come to a screeching halt. They’re also where I get some of my best writing ideas. Because thinking about nothing sometimes leads to something.

Build your music playlists

Spotify is one of my favorite things. For two reasons really. One is the Monday feature. New music based on your preferences. New artists who will speak to your soul and talk you through your morning. At the start of every week. A lot of people dread Mondays, and I imagine people with severe anxiety especially do.

A few weeks ago I was curling my hair and listening to the new Neko Case album on Spotify. It was my first week of work. My anxiety has been pretty high because I’m learning tons of new things and meeting tons of new people. The song “Halls of Sarah” started playing, and I leaned into the words and starting bawling. It was a good release to have before the start of my day.

I also enjoy the build your own playlist feature. I’ve been adding to my RUN and Write playlists for years. My Write playlist is for when I’m editing and writing. My RUN list is filled with workout jams. Pretty self-explanatory. But then I also have a playlist titled “Yold,” which is reserved for songs that make me feel both young and old at the same time. Then there’s “Bitch Mix,” which is for when I want to connect to my feminine side. Pretty scary to say, but there was once a time in my life when I listened to very few female artists. Their voices embarrassed me. I turned them down at stoplights. This is how Bitch Mix was formed. All these ladies help me when I’m really struggling with the dark side. They are my mothers and sisters.

Music legitimately saves lives. We all know this. Sometimes I feel intravenous with my music. I need it more than most things, and I’m grateful for it.

Pet a dog

My dog is my hero. She has magical super powers that ooze out of her eyeballs whenever she looks at me. I always wanted a dog. Especially a high energy one that needs a lot of attention. Dogs force you to get up and stop moping. They need to pee. They need to eat. They need you to clean up the tinfoil like object they just barfed onto the carpet. They want to play.

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Some of my favorite days are the ones I’m listening to the rain and lying next to my dog, Maya. She sighs heavily while I write in bed. Her warmth is a reminder that I exist. That I’m loved profusely by a living creature.

Dogs (and cats, etc) are amazing mental health enhancers.

Oh, but there’s so many more

I have a lot of other go-to anxiety fighters: nature walks, orgasms, video games, anything that gets me to laugh my ass off, having a meaningful conversation with another human, and turning off my fucking phone. These aren’t secrets by any means. They’re just reminders for you and me for when we begin to slip under.

What’s your list? If you don’t have one, then that’s a clear sign that you need to clear out some time for your rad self.

your reminder

surrender is a sunset,
that time of day when there
is nothing left to do but to accept
answers from the sky.

this is the trail
where I had a run-in
with a crayfish,
a fury so small
I almost missed it entirely.

I crouched low enough
to see its dewy eyes.
It shook its claws at me
demanding an explanation,
to which I had none.

Hi, I’m always just passing by.

When I was younger
I left three layers of skin
on the pavement here.
the burn was a better
reminder than any timer.

the clouds swirled over my head
like a bruise,
and I dared to be broken.

Fall but please don’t drown

I fell for your mountainous mouth
for the waterfall down the middle
that pours both filth and love,
for the sweet and salt you whisper
into my ear at night while my dog
sleeps between your Greek art legs
or at the edge of your flat feet
that don’t hurt when I pull your toes
backward. Your hands know what I
like and where to find me in the dark.
Their wanting washes over me,
tirelessly surging like waves.
We make love in the hospital bed
that was gifted to me. Ophelia
drowns in a painting on the wall
alongside our transfigured bodies.
Hers was the worst way to fall.

Balancing Act

IMG_0364It’s Sunday. My apartment is clean, and I just made myself a veggie wrap with spicy hummus, red peppers, cucumbers, spinach, arugula and avocado. It’s one of my go-to healthy meals that doesn’t require a lot of energy to make. Despite the kick, the wrap tasted a little dull this time. I forgot the tomato.

A candle crackles in the background while I write today’s blog. I look out my window, watching tree branches bend and bow to each other, participating in early fall rituals.

In a few hours, I will retrieve my dog from her father’s house. In case you need a refresher, I’m a 29 year part-time owner experiencing what I can safely say is the equivalent of a divorce. I almost married my high school sweetheart and then didn’t.

I didn’t move out by myself. My family and coworkers helped me cobble together a plan of execution. I know good people, and I am loved. But I’m responsible for my own pieces in the aftermath. Some days are better than others. Meals—nourishing myself and being creative about the food I make—is something that keeps me going. Music. But that’s always been the case. I’ve been building a fortress of playlists to come to my aid and comfort during even the most seemingly insignificant expressions of emotion.

One of my playlists is titled, “Hey you’re okay, okay?” and I like to listen to it when I’m sinking deep into my own head. There is a lot of this band called Khruangbin on this playlist. They play a lot of earthy, psychedelic tunes. My friend Alexa and I saw them live once at a music festival. Their mostly instrumental, chillax sound is easy to coast into. The bass guitar really does it for me. The bass player is this groovy broad with heavy bangs.

I often feel aimless and purposeless, despite my continuous motion. My identity feels like it’s in a constant state of flux and the best I can do is flow with it and put it into the familiar outlets that I’ve looked to for years.

Lately, all I want to do is curl up into a ball in my bathtub and cry. Or pet my dog and cry. Her reaction to tears is kind of funny, though. She tries to do the same thing to my tears that she does to bubbles or spiders. She tries to eat them. My dog can make my sadness morph into extreme joy in a matter of seconds.

There are lot of things on my to-do list today. The majority of them involve art.

I want to draw a new sketch and share it. I started an Instagram account for my sketches. I have 32 followers and not exactly counting. I guess I should be following others, commenting, and following the trail of hashtags or whatever, but I’m just more interested in getting some content out there right now. Keep moving. Connect with others who are hopefully not bots as I go along.  There are millions of bullshit accounts out there, and I’m not wasting my energy on trying to Holden Caulfield my way through Instagram.

A year ago, I took a night class for drawing. I learned that I don’t plan enough and I commit to the same areas for far too long. I want my own signature style, which avoids the detail-rich realism that requires me to take weeks and weeks to complete one single piece. I still like deep shading and accuracy, but I think I need to focus more on what I feel compelled to draw and less on what seems right.

I also have a writing group I want to submit something for. I created this group with a few of my other writer friends, and we’ve been on and off again about it for years. It certainly has turned into some great pieces from all of us. I really enjoy their feedback, and give my best back. These women have helped me grow personally, and they have even helped me produce material that I have gone on to publish in small indie mags. It’s nice to find a home for your writing.

Writing group meets once a month, and we usually talk and eat a bunch of dips and veggies together. Last group, Alexa’s table spread featured cinnamon pita chips and chocolate hummus. Dear god, if you haven’t had the pleasure, you need to get on that.

And apparently I started getting into singing and tinkering with my keyboards again, which was more of a childhood love, but it’s making a clunky comeback. I’m not sure who is louder, the 10-year-old who lives upstairs from me and sprints from one end of her apartment various times during the day. Or me, as I botch up the chorus line of a song that only has four different chords.

I want one big, fat artistic life in the meantime of trying to support myself. I know I’m not the only artistic individual who knows all too well what this balancing feels like. Maybe you have poor coordination and wobble back and forth like me.

I’ve realized that I’m fortunate because wherever I am, whatever I do, I will always try to find to way to carve out time to be in active engagement with my soul. This need will never die, so I might as well keep feeding it.

Sunday in present tense

I’m so ready for this long overdue entry. A little blast of coffee down the old gullet, and here I am.

Did I mention I’m up to three cups a day?

This is not something to be proud of. I fought the societal enforced drug for years until my second year of college. But there was something about my school library’s picture box views of Lake Michigan that rock-a-byed me into a delicious slumber. Maybe it was the chairs, the way their cushions swallowed me whole while I re-read the same blocks of text.

While I introduced my life to caffeine, others on campus popped their first Adderall. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have a doctorate by now if I would have jumped on that bandwagon.

My second cup of coffee paraded into my life while I was managing two trade publications. Editing down product release after product release on everything from ball valves and PEX elbow fittings to the new state-of-the-art boiler really took me to a new level of tired.

Now, I’m basically a walking stereotype of a copywriter with high-functioning anxiety and impending carpal tunnel. The moderate stream of coffee fuels both. Needless to say, I’ve been finding myself needing to give the old wrists a break every now and then.

How are you? I hope you did at least one thing today that made you feel alive. If you don’t know what that means, I recommend morning orgasms. Adult coloring books. Going off script while preparing your next dinner. A little extra spice or a bit of honey helps everything. I promise you’ll feel good about selecting the option: “yes, I’ll donate 1 dollar to a homeless pet” on the register.

Speaking of pets, I talked to my grandma today about her dog who had to be rushed to the emergency room after a seizure. She said she thought her beloved spaniel was just “plumping out” for the winter, but it turned out it was the internal bleeding that was causing her belly to bloat. My grandma’s voice was hoarse, like every word was too painful to speak. She told me the money it would cost for a blood transfusion and how she’s hoping that the medicine the vet gave her will be enough. I hope my biggest hopes it’s enough too.

I looked at my dog lazing on the floor in the pile of fluff she ripped out of her stuffed narwhal, and I couldn’t help but feel helpless. She wouldn’t be able to tell me if she was bleeding from the inside either.

A few days ago one of my closest friends told me she agreed to have her 3-year-old fur child put to rest after learning about the cancer that spread too quickly through its little body.

Losing a pet is like no longer having a shadow. My heart still surges at the memory of my bird, who flew out the sliding door one stormy February day. For months, I searched the skies for her. I taped pictures of her to poles throughout the neighborhood. I explained in the description that she could be lured with pizza crust. And that there would be a handsome reward for her return. I did all of this instead of facing the obvious. Because the obvious was too painful for me to face.

A dog’s love, in particular, is one of the most powerful, tangible forms of unconditional love and surrendering it never gets easier.

Shaken and empowered by her mortality, I shoved Maya in the back of my Mazda, and we rode with all the windows down to one of our favorite spots. It’s been a while since we’ve visited.

It was a pretty uneventful trip for blog standards, but I will comment on the standout moments anyway:

• A kid sprints down the biggest hill, his hair plastered to the sides of his tomato red face. His brows are furrowed in seriousness. There’s a blue hand towel tucked into the back of his shirt like a cape. I wonder which hero he is.

• The second cup of coffee caught up to me, and I realize I can’t control my bladder any longer. That moment when your ass is hanging out in the woods and hovering over poison ivy—it’s freeing. A few drops of my own urine splash against my leg, and I shiver with disgust. Maya seems taken aback that I can pee how she pees.

• I see the largest daddy long legs spider I’ve ever seen creep across the gravel. And what looks like the tail of a garden snake curl up and slither into a tuft of grass.

• Every person I pass says hi to me, and I say hi to them. There’s something about being outside in the sun that makes people genuinely want to say hi to each other.

• The smell of wet moss. The silent sanctuary of elms. The decaying fruit of the black walnut tree. The reassuring breeze.

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I take the wrong exit three different times on the way home. Maya doesn’t know any better. The longer we’re lost, the longer she gets to stick her head out the window and sneeze when there’s too much wind.

I accept this simple day for what it’s worth. The low-sodium spaghetti sauce was a bad choice. The extra Parmesan didn’t help. Not even Sriracha could save it, but I ate all the pasta anyway. Because I don’t like to waste. I still don’t own a TV. I’m trying to be present.

Happy Sunday.

 

Here’s to the unknown

I got up and made myself a piece of toast with garlic hummus, tomato and avocado at least three times this week. Who has time to do this in the morning, you may ask?

I do. I live 7 minutes away from work. I don’t have kids, just a part-time dog, and I recently left an 11-year relationship and called off the same engagement for the second time.

Yes, you read that correctly. The same engagement. Twice.

It may sound like bragging, but I’m definitely not. There’s a gaping portion of me that makes me feel like a complete failure and piece of shit who doesn’t deserve millennial toast. But I rise in the morning and nourish myself nonetheless.

Thank god for work flexibility and also that I’m an overachieving ferret who refuses to let her work quality plummet due to an unfortunate life circumstance. Because yesterday I walked into the office at 10:30 with wet hair streaming down my back and dampening my t-shirt and still somehow managed to get my shit done decently.

I won’t dwell too much on my relationship because I actually really loved the person I grew up with and almost married, who I was basically already married to. And I respect his privacy. He was the introvert, and I was the introverted big mouth who adored him openly but who also crossed a hell of a lot of lines.

Leaving a good person who loves you is a hard thing to do

And I don’t entirely recommend it unless it means that you’re being true to yourself. Leaving him doesn’t feel like I won some kind of battle. I wasn’t degraded, belittled or starved for attention. I carried out my own ambitions and activities a majority of the time. It’s just that as we grew older, we had less and less to talk about and connect over. The silences were uncomfortable, but they were filled with their own truths. And finally it occurred to me that we were on two separate journeys that I had been trying too hard to jam together.

In the end, this was the right thing to do, but I don’t feel self-righteous about it. I feel sad. And every morning that I’ve woken up this week I’ve asked myself the same question:

Why are you fucking do this to yourself?

Answer: Because I want to feel like myself again. And I want to connect to my purpose. I don’t want to openly say “God’s plan” at the risk of God’s people filling my life up with their own agenda of what they think God’s plan is for me. I am a spiritual person, but I’m very wary of sentimental, fact-denying groupies and people who overly project their spiritual endeavors onto me. There is a lot of that lately.

But yes, I am doing this in a big part for spiritual journey/personal growth reasons. To connect with the activities, people and groups I get excited about and who make me come alive. I’d like to share some of my juju when I am ready and a little past my current heart sickness. And to make whatever mediocre difference I can on this rapidly decaying planet.

It’s a very uncertain time in history that we’re currently in, and how do I experience it fully if I’m hiding away in something I don’t wholeheartedly believe in? I just want to embrace the bigness of my life. Even if right now that means taking small steps to the toaster. Or taking my part-time dog with me on long walks.

I have my part-time dog with me this week. She’s a two-year-old coonhound mix. One fellow trail walker once told me she looks like a beagle on stilts. And the description fits, so I use it.

Anyway, I’m going to cut this short because I think it’s about time I take my beagle on stilts for a walk. Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Friend

I want to say that I’ve been hiding
on stable grounds and in warm beds.
It’s okay to want these things,
but I’ve been cooped up
in the kingdom of “you and me”
I’ve built for everyone.
And I’ve been an outcast
staking inside windows,
watching birds build nests,
passing up friends who make me
feel the massive depths of myself.
If you were still sitting across from me,
Franco who likes men and M2M,
Anny Banany, the aspiring missionary,
Jess who helps animals give birth,
and all the other healers of my life,
I’d tell you that I’m an accumulation
of our memories, that no one is anyone
without sincere friendship.

Flamenco

Guitar strings rattle like a snake uncoiling into song,
an improvisation meant to summon and conjure.
Spirits wait patiently at the back of a singer’s throat
until his mouth erupts into sounds from the underworld.
The sound rises like smoke and avalanches like rocks.
It ricochets off theater walls, splattering them
with messages told over a thousand years.

This song is a birth cry, a reckoning of searing loss,
and an unrequited love that singes the insides.
It conveys both vengeance and remorse.

The dancer is a woman who spends most days
in the shade, preparing for this moment in the sun.
Her fellow travelers urge and dare her to move.
They know the words she’s been waiting to say,
the mimicry of waves she’ll use to free us all.

Their cheers escalate, and we see the dancer rise
like a peacock, hands bent toward the dim lights.
Her back arched like a feline ready to fight,
this is her uprising. It’s a build up of targeted taps
that meet the song’s eerie tone, the whiplash of guitar.
Her teeth chatter while the chorus claps their palms raw.

They call out to her and chant their encouragement.
She calls back to them, though it’s hard to distinguish
foe from friend in the haze of faces when she spins.
She spins and explodes into a fury of pointed limbs.
Every muscle in her face carved by defiance.

Seconds before the kill, she pulls a cloth of surrender.
It’s pure anguish to see her writhe against the unresolved.
Nearing complete collapse, she staggers to her feet.
This is the face of stark survival, a refusal to look away.

Mundane Lemonade

Two girls and a lemonade stand.
One has overalls with lace flowers
on the pockets. I want to tell
her how pretty they are, but
she’s not making eye contact.
It appears her mother taught
her about stranger danger.
The whole fire department
pulls over to the curb.
We’re all heroes supporting
homemade business. I’m trying
to hold onto the liquid light
swirling around in my cup
like a sun. It’s not as sweet as
it could be. I don’t need pills.
Just a squeeze of humanity.