Tag Archives: anxiety

Learning Patience for Myself OR Making another point using my cat

This is a picture of Rye from the first few months of her being with us. At this point she wanted to be around us, but did not want to interact with us AT ALL. So she lived under the futon and we put a night vision camera under there so we could keep an eye on her.

I’ve already talked once about my amazing cat, Rye. The one who is deeply anxious but through the power of accepting her as she is and her own tenacity and bravery has achieved more than I ever thought she would. I am so very proud of her.

I am also anxious. I’ve had pretty deep anxiety for as long as I can remember. I am medicated for it now and really doing much better, but nothing can make it go away completely. I get anxious sometimes. Sometimes it’s social anxiety, sometimes it’s anxiety about trying a new thing, sometimes my heart just pounds and my breathing is fast and I’m shaking for no apparent reason at all – it’s just aimless, pointless anxiety about nothing. That last one is kind of annoying, honestly. 

I’ve also been very frustrated with myself about my own anxiety. When I was growing up it was often treated with impatience or dismissal or anger, so I learned to be ashamed of it. My being fearful was being “bad” and when I hid my fear I was praised for being “good.” I have a few specific examples I kind of want to trot out, but I don’t want to be excessively depressing and I’m not actually looking to really talk about my childhood right now. Suffice it to say – I learned that being scared was “bad” which translated into seeing MYSELF as “bad” because I was so afraid and I wasn’t able to stop being afraid.

Enter Rye. While her foster mom* is lovely, potential adopters don’t want her because they see how scared she is and don’t want to deal with that. As though her fear is something to “deal with” or is a “hardship” in some way. Well, as I said in that previous post about Rye, I don’t consider her anxiety to be a hardship on me at all. And being a person with much anxiety myself, I know how to treat an anxious cat.

Over time, I started to notice something. The way I treated Rye and her fear was very different from how I treated myself and my fear. I never placed any demands on Rye, but I would make demands on myself that regularly ended in panic attacks or other unpleasantness. I had absolute trust in Rye to set her own pace, but no such trust for myself. I am always incredibly proud of Rye and every accomplishment she makes, but every step forward I take is accompanied by an internal litany of how I still fall short.

Now, I am one of those people who always has stricter standards for myself than for other people. I suspect many of us are like that. It’s not actually something I think a whole lot about, but eventually the double standard on how I responded to myself vs. how I responded to Rye was just too much to ignore. 

I had a few ways available to me to resolve the cognitive dissonance. I could decide that I need to be harder on Rye. I could decide that we just need to have two different standards because Reasons. Or I could decide that I should be gentler with myself.

It probably goes without saying that the first option was no option at all. Not. Happening.

Option two was tempting, but I couldn’t quite manage to create justifications that satisfied me. I really tried, though.

Which left option three. Honestly? It’s kind of working. I really have gotten so much more gentle with myself and my anxiety. Maybe it isn’t bad of me to be afraid, maybe it’s not a moral failing on my part, maybe I’m not actually weak. I see Rye as phenomenally brave, the bravest cat I’ve ever known, because of her willingness to do things in spite of her fear. Maybe, just maybe, my accomplishments are worth praising without also belittling myself. Maybe, just maybe, I’m brave too. Maybe, JUST MAYBE, I can be proud of myself.

Ok, I haven’t actually made it that far. I’m not proud of myself yet. But I am far gentler with myself, and less inclined to judge myself harshly for feelings I can’t control. I’m better at being, if not proud, at least happy with myself when I do things that are hard for me. 

And you know what? This works SO MUCH BETTER. Turns out getting angry with myself for being fearful didn’t actually accomplish very much. Rye taught me a lot about the power of accepting others for who they are. Now she’s teaching me about the power of accepting myself.

* If you’re wondering why her foster mom didn’t just adopt her if she was having so much trouble finding a home, well, I wondered that too. Apparently Foster Mom thought her home was too loud and chaotic for Rye to flourish in, and wanted to find a calmer, quieter home to be Rye’s forever home.

This is Rye in my lap a few months ago. She’s come so far. If I can be proud of her progress, maybe I can be proud of mine as well.

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No Shame in Bailing

I imagine many of you will recognize the title of this post as being from Steven Universe. I want to talk some about how this line hit me and what it means to me now.

When I first saw the episode when this line showed up (S:1 E:28 “Space Race”), the line itself kind of shocked me. My initial reaction was basically “what? No way!” because it is so very very different from basically anything I had ever heard before then.

For a little bit of context for those who haven’t seen it – in the episode, Steven (a child) is about to try riding a little hand-made cart down a hill, and his father (Greg) takes him aside for a few fatherly words of wisdom. Those words of wisdom concluded with (essentially, I might not be remembering this exactly) “and remember Steven, there’s no shame in bailing.”

Whaaaaat?

Since when does a kid’s show tell a child that it’s ok to quit? Don’t we tell children to always see things through? We say “winners never quit and quitters never win!” We say “don’t start something you can’t finish!” This thing, about it being ok to try something you aren’t sure of and just quit if it isn’t working was quite literally brand new to me. Needless to say, I was extremely sure that Greg was saying something bad and he was going to be proven wrong.

So imagine my surprise when shortly afterwards, bailing turns out to be exactly the correct thing to do. Not once, but TWICE! In an 11 minute episode? What is happening? How can this possibly be the moral of the story?

It’s been over six years since that episode aired and being the overly-analytical person that I am, I have spent a fair amount of those six years thinking about that episode and that line in particular. I am now firmly of the opinion that Greg is absolutely correct. There is no shame in bailing.

Here’s the thing – I have anxiety. I have sensory issues. I struggle in group social situations, because group social dynamics continue to elude me. Giving myself permission to bail has opened up so many opportunities for me to try new things that I’m not sure about. Knowing that I don’t have to see something through means that I can try something that might be great, but also might be too loud or too complex or just too much for me. It’s ok for me to take risks, because it’s ok if they don’t work out. I don’t have to risk harming myself by trying to force myself to continue to do something that’s hurting me, because I give myself permission to bail. 

This also means it’s easier for me to make an honest effort to really, genuinely try something new and scary. When I believed I had to see everything through, I didn’t try all that many new things. Because what if it didn’t work out? WHAT THEN? Well, now the answer is that I bail. And that’s ok. 

I really want this to become a bigger thing in our society. I want our children to be taught that it’s ok to quit – it’s awesome to try new things; that’s how we find new things we love, but not everything we try is going to be good for us. And sometimes we won’t learn that until after we try it. And THAT’S OK. 

Go ahead and try a new thing. Go ahead and take a risk. And if exiting turns out to be what you need to do to stay safe, then exit without shame.

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The Power of Acceptance, OR I talk about my cat

This is Rye, having a breakthrough moment by being in my lap only a few days ago. There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s possible that this was the first time she has ever been in a lap at all.

I am a cat person. 

So just to explain more of where I’m coming from when I talk about my cats – I have four cats. My nesting partner and I prefer to adopt cats that are struggling to find homes, which means we do tend to gravitate towards cats who have, shall we say, emotional issues. One of those cats is Rye, a cat I initially adopted purely because nobody else wanted her because she was just too scared for anyone to want to deal with. She’s just not the kind of cat who’s a little shy at first but then you win over within an hour or two of being nice. She needed a home, I know how to deal with anxiety and I didn’t need her to be friends with me, so I provided her with a home.

Now onto the bragging part. In the years she’s been with me, she has absolutely blossomed. Her foster mom warned me that while she is sweet and lovely once she feels more comfortable, there are some things she would just never do. And I was ok with that! Well, as it turns out she is both sweet and loving, AND she has absolutely blown away all of my expectations of things she would never do. I mean, she sleeps on my bed at night, often choosing to sleep physically on top of me. I could fill a whole blog post about how she has come so far in her time with me but that’s not actually the point of this post so I’m going to try to move on.

Sometimes I brag about her on facebook to my friends because of how proud I am of her, and sometimes my friends will comment back about how patient I’ve been with her. I try to just accept the compliment that I’m sure they are intending, but it always feels weird to me. It recently struck me as to why that might be feeling so weird.

See, it seems to me that “being patient” implies that I’m waiting for something. Or, if we go by dictionary.com: “bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like.”

Which is to say – I haven’t been patient with Rye at all. Even a little bit. I’m not waiting for anything from her, and I never was. I’m not bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, or whatever else AT ALL. Or at least, not from her (let’s be real, it’s been a rough time, just in general). 

Here’s the thing – I’ve never asked anything from her. I never wanted anything from her; not really. My goals for her, from the very beginning, were for her to feel safe and happy. That’s it. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t adopt her to be her bestie, I adopted her because I genuinely believed that I could provide her with a home in which she felt safe and happy. THAT’S IT. 

I knew that she was afraid, and I wanted her to be less afraid. But thing is, I can’t force that. So instead, I made the conscious and deliberate choice to follow her lead. She would tell me when she’s ready to try something new, and if she’s never ready, that’s ok too. I made the choice both to trust her, and to accept her for who she was AT THAT EXACT MOMENT IN TIME. Not an idea of what I wanted her to be – exactly who she was, as she presented herself to me. That’s it. No more, no less.

And you know what? IT WORKED. Better than I ever imagined.

When she first approached me to ask for pets, I was beyond astonished. I legitimately did not think that would ever happen. 

When I realized that she likes me, I was astonished again. 

This list could go on for a very long time, so let’s skip to the end. I’ve learned by now that I can never assume that she will never do something. She’s stomped on that assumption more than enough times by now that I’ve learned better. I mean, I can’t apply my own timeline to her – she will do things in her time and in her way. However, allowing her the freedom to choose her own timeline is what has given her the freedom and safety to expand her boundaries as much as she has. 

For years, I never asked ANYTHING of Rye. Literally nothing. Until recently, when she found a way to communicate to me that she likes me so much that she will do things purely because it makes me happy when she does them. (do you want me to go into what happened? I was about to write it out but then I remembered that this isn’t supposed to be a “brag about Rye” post) So now I will sometimes ask her for small things, specifically because it gives her the opportunity to show me that she cares.

She likes me. She trusts me. She feels safe and cared for with me. The reason for this is because I accepted her for who she is. I met her where she was, and I was willing and happy to stay with her there forever if that’s what was needed for her to feel safe. And because I met her where she was, because I didn’t need anything from her, because I trusted her to move at her own pace, she DID move. She has progressed so much more than I ever imagined, and I am absolutely certain that she never would have if I had demanded she be anything other than who and what she is. 

She doesn’t have to meet any timeline to be valid or for her progress to be real. She doesn’t have to conform to anyone’s idea of what a pet should be like to be a sweet and wonderful pet. My patience will never run out because in the end, the only goal is her safety and happiness, and we met that goal long ago. 

Everything else is just a bonus. And I love her for it. 

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My Anxiety Metaphor

Creative commons image of window by Gary McNair on flickr

Image is of a window, looking out onto countryside.

I can’t remember if I’ve actually spelled out this particular metaphor I use for my anxiety before, but I thought I’d give a post to it. Now, anxiety can be described in a lot of different ways. This metaphor is not designed to cover ALL of it, but is a way for me to conceptualize what it’s like to try to do a thing that is triggering anxiety.

Basically, it’s like I have a wall in front of me, with a window in it. The window has some transparent material in it, but I have no idea what that material is. Nor do I have any way to find out, outside of just running straight at it and flinging myself at it. This is, of course, a risky activity, but for the most part it is the only method I have for doing things which make me nervous.

What happens next can generally be categorized in three different ways.

  1. I find out the window was made of shatter glass. When I fling myself at it I go straight through, with no more than a few little scratches. I can keep on running and do what I wanted to do. YAY! This is a victory! The obstacle was not a big deal, and I was able to run right through it!
  2. The window turns out to be made of regular glass. I still get through it, but I get very damaged in the process. Cuts, lacerations, bleeding, pain, overall badness. In this scenario, I can generally still suck it up at least for a little while to do whatever it was I was going to do, but I require a lot of recovery time and self-care afterwards.
  3. It’s plexiglass. Or transparent aluminum. Or something along those lines. Instead of getting through, I bounce off and get a concussion or broken bones in the process. Lots of damage, lots of care required after to recover, and no ability to keep going. In literal terms, this means I got a panic attack or had a meltdown.

The hard part is that the lead-up to all three of these outcomes feels the same, which is why I cannot predict which outcome I will get. At least, not from the lead-up. Deciding whether or not to fling myself at the window is a matter of weighing possibilities and risks. If I’ve done a thing several times before and it’s window has been consistent, I’ll be able to figure that the window will probably (though not definitely) be the same again. So, for instance, a window in front of me when I’m horseback riding is probably shatter glass and I can just go right through it. A window when I’m about to enter in some form of group socialization has a high probability of being plexiglass.

A lot of times, though, I really don’t know. I have to decide if it’s worth the risk to fling myself at it, and if I decide that it is, go for it. It’s also worth noting – waiting for the wall to go away so that I have an obstacle-free path ahead of me is not an option. The wall will never, ever go away. Choosing to wait until I “feel better” is just the same as choosing to not do the thing. As such, I do not have that particular option – I can either try to do the thing, or not do it at all (and if it is an option for you, then you are very fortunate).

My anxiety meds have changed the game, but not necessarily in the way I thought they would. I had thought that I wouldn’t get those walls anymore, but I guess my meds can’t fix me THAT much. I still get them. I still have to leap through windows, hoping they won’t hurt me. The major difference is that now, there is an extremely high probability that the window is made of shatter glass. And the more I leap through windows and find myself ok, the easier it is for me to keep leaping through windows. My chest still squeezes, my heart still thumps, my breath still speeds up, but then I’m ok.

Of course, I still hit plexiglass once in a while. I don’t think anything will take that out of my life completely. But for those instances, I have yet another med – a more hardcore anti-anxiety that is only to be used situationally, if I need it. The tricky part is that I gather I should take it before I actually hit the plexiglass, but it is very difficult for me to tell ahead of time what it’s going to be. But there are still some situations (hello, group socializing!) that are likely to have the worst of the obstacles in their way, so I try to remember to use it for that.

And that, dear readers, is what anxiety is like for me.

Do you use a metaphor for your anxiety? Or depression or other thing that impacts your life? I’d love to read about it if you do, please comment and share if you are comfortable doing so!

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Dental work while autistic

I recently had to go to the dentist to have a broken tooth removed, and I thought it might be worth talking about it a bit from my perspective, specifically from an autism angle.

There were some things I thought they did well and others that they could have done better. To be fair, though, I did not tell them that I am autistic, so I have no idea if they would have done things differently if they had known.

When I first showed up for my appointment, they were terribly busy. So busy that they did not call me back until an hour after I was supposed to have had my appointment. This was very stressful. In the past, I probably would not have made it. As it was I managed to cope, but it was overwhelming and unpleasant. A huge thing that would have helped would have been better communication from the front desk. For instance, a simple comment like “We are really backed up today, you will probably have to wait an extra [amount of time]” probably would have made it easier for me. As it is, I spent the entire hour tensely waiting for them to call me, and eventually fretting that they had forgotten about me.

Once I did make it in, communication was an interesting mixed bag.

I required two injections in my mouth to numb me up. The first one had very little warning, with no explanation of how it was likely to feel. I found that was difficult to cope with. For the second one (given by the same doctor, interestingly enough), he told me about what it would feel like and gave some tips on breathing through it. Knowing what I could expect helped a lot. Apparently most people find the second injection more difficult to cope with than the first, and the doctor was surprised when I told him it was the other way around for me. I suspect the communication (or lack thereof) explains this.

Before getting to work, the doctor did make a point to let me know that I would still feel pressure during the procedure – pain can be numbed, but not pressure. He did not, however, tell me a number of other things I would experience, such as the general physicality of the procedure, or the cracking noises. Luckily, I had read up ahead of time of what I could expect – otherwise it would have been much harder for me than it already was.

One thing I could have done for myself was take a lorazepam (an anti-anxiety medication) beforehand. As they were doing the procedure my anxiety suddenly hit me very hard, mostly manifesting as rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing, along with some amount of physical trembling. Just to be clear – this would have required pre-planning and I would have wanted to clear that use with my psychiatrist first. While anxiety issues are not themselves autism, it is common for them to go along with autism and it can be helpful to be prepared for that.

Aftercare is also giving me a few issues. After dental work it is important to keep a soft diet for a while, but I have texture issues that prevent me from eating anything mushy. This is severely limiting my diet. So far I have been eating jello, ice cream, noodles, and fruit cut into small pieces. Again, pre-planning is helpful in cases like this in order to find the best solutions to multiple issues.

Finally, Nee has been incredibly helpful to me. I did my best to plan ahead of time ways I could take it easy, but (again with communication) I was unclear just how functional I would be after the procedure. As it turns out, I was only barely functional at all. Nee helped get me what I needed so I could just sit or lay down, and also helped me know what I needed to do if I was not figuring it out for myself. Which mostly meant informing me that I should take a nap.

So basically, I would have really appreciated more communication from the dentist’s office. I don’t do so well with things that are unexpected or unplanned, so making extra sure I always knew what was going on or about to happen would have been a huge help to me.

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Anxiety Thoughts

Chest pain

I’ve written about anxiety and medication before but I am wanting to write again. Warning: some strong language in this post, to reflect some strong feelings on my part.

I’ve been on my medication for only a little under a year by now. We’re still tweaking my dose, but things are starting to get settled. I recently had a very brief experience that has reminded me of just how much things have changed for me.

I’ve been slowly doing more local driving in my efforts to get more mobile. It’s going fairly well and little by little, getting easier for me to do. Recently I was driving for an errand (as one does) and had to creep around a couple of police cars that were on the side of the road. It was one of those situations where you had to partly enter the opposing lane as the road had few shoulders to speak of. So I was carefully going past, and just when I got around them I suddenly heard a siren.

HOLY CRAP that scared me. I got one of my old anxiety stabs that I haven’t had pretty much since the meds kicked in. I call them “anxiety stabs” because that is exactly what they feel like – like something stabbing through my chest. They HURT. They make my breath catch in my chest and for a brief moment I can’t inhale. It’s painful and icky and no fun.

And that reminded me – that’s what I used to have to deal with ALL THE TIME. Anxiety was quite physically painful, and whenever something triggered the anxiety (which happened pretty frequently), I would get a stab in my chest. Sometimes it wouldn’t be quick – then it would feel like giant bird talons were wrapped around my chest, squeezing and stabbing with big, long claws. Again, it hurt. For real. Physical pain that would make it difficult to breathe.

I used to think I was weak. I couldn’t figure out how other people could so easily do things that I found so difficult. It seemed that the most obvious answer was that I was just of weak moral character. Now, though… now that I’ve gotten that reminder…

Well, I think I must have been DAMN strong to have done ANYTHING through that shit. No wonder it was such a struggle to get through my anxiety! I was in pain and couldn’t breathe! Anyone would find that difficult!

When I was making plans to get assessed for Asperger’s, my dad decided to do some armchair diagnosing of me, since he thought I couldn’t possibly have Asperger’s (he still thinks that, but that is neither here nor there). He told me that he thought my problem was avoidance – I avoided lots of things, so I must have some kind of avoidance disorder.

Well, he was sorta right. I did avoid lots of things. Then again, it is, in fact, COMPLETELY FUCKING REASONABLE to avoid things that cause you pain. People who get migraines avoid their triggers. People with chronic pain avoid things that trigger the pain or might make the pain worse. I avoided things that made my chest feel stabbed and made it difficult to breathe in anything before quick, little gasps. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with avoiding physical pain, and a whole lot right with it.

So I suppose what this really means is that I forgive my past self. This will probably need to be an ongoing thing, but that was a heck of a reminder. Now the worst I generally have to deal with is a flutter in my chest, which is NOTHING compared to the pain I used to feel. For me, anxiety is physical in the worse way possible. I am very glad to have made the progress I have, and I’m glad that meds are able to help me the way they are. And in a weird way, I’m glad I got that stab. It’s reminded me of how far I’ve come in such a short time, and that’s nice for me to get a glimpse of.

Oh, and to finish up the story – I was on a bridge, and it turned out the siren was from the highway below. It had nothing whatsoever to do with me, and I was totally fine. Yay happy ending!

 

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Strength Within Anxiety

Sometimes I write about strength and weakness, as perceived from within and without. I’m going to again.

Sometimes people see anxiety as weakness. Externally, it’s hard to see the barriers that anxiety puts up that we need to hurdle. What’s seen is often simply that a person with anxiety is having an extremely difficult time with something that most people don’t find that bad. At times I’ve had encountered with people who sincerely believed that I should be able to just do it. That it was weakness on my part that was holding me back. If I say it’s anxiety, they only heard that anxiety = weakness.

I always protested this mentality. It’s simply wrong. However, now that I am finding my anxiety dramatically reduced and I am more easily doing things that used to be so hard, I protest it even more. As much as I tried to protest it, I also internalized it. I thought of myself as weak all too often. That’s crap. I wasn’t weak then and I’m not weak now.

Let me tell you about horseback riding. There is a legitimate amount of nervous-making when pretending that you can control a massive, muscular animal (they *let* us control them, seriously). However, my anxiety was massive. Frequently learning to do new things was more about maintaining control over my body as intense feelings of fear coursed through me than about actually learning the thing. Cantering was a huge challenge. Not because cantering is difficult, but because it’s really hard to be loose when a terror knife is stabbing through my chest.

People say “well just do it anyway!” but it isn’t that easy. I have had many experiences of trying to “just do it anyway” and failing because my limbs refused to respond. I would feel fearful, take a deep breath, decide to do it anyway, send the commands to my limbs, and not move. I had to battle my anxiety just to have control of my body at all. And to ride a horse, to ride the way I want to ride, requires quite a lot of fairly fine-tuned control. I had to battle my anxiety and win, and I had to keep winning and keep fighting, and I had to have enough left over to actually do the thing and do it well.

Expletive’s sake, that’s HARD. You think it’s at all possible to do that when you’re weak? No! It isn’t! But I did it.

And now, now that it’s not so hard due to my anti-anxiety meds… I’m barreling forward in my riding. I do things that used to give me panic attacks with only a minor twitch of nervousness. When I get nervous about a thing, I can take a deep breath and just *do it* when before I would need to fight. The hurdles are so much smaller.

Just to make it clear, I am no stronger now than I was then. These pills I’m taking, they don’t magically increase my reserves of internal strength. I am the only being in the universe that can directly change that. No, my medication shrinks the obstacles. What used to be a brick wall is now just a regular hurdle. This means I have to spend far less effort than I used to in order to get through those obstacles, which means I have more strength and energy left over to move forward with other things. With the things I want to do.

Anxiety isn’t weakness. Anxious people are not weak people. Anxious people are probably strong, because it’s hard to learn to live with anxiety without also developing significant reserves of internal strength.

In fact, I’d broaden that. Fear, in general, does not make you weak. Dealing with that fear, moving forward even when you feel it – that is strength.

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Better living through chemicals (initial impressions)

Ok, on Thursday I talked about the impact depression has had on me. Today, I am going to talk a little bit about my attempted journey away from that.

So, as I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, I have quite a history with both depression and anxiety. The earliest concrete memory I have of anxiety is from when I was four or five – my very first experiences with gym class and my refusal to even enter the gymnasium. I was too scared. The earliest I can concretely say I had depression is from when I was eight – when I first started to self injure. Suffice it to say, these have been very long struggles for me, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that they have been with me my whole life.

In my adult life I’ve had people push me towards medications and I always resisted. I had a number of different reasons that I imagine getting into would call for a blog post all it’s own. Suffice it to say, I am a little leery of brain-altering chemicals. I am also leery of people who push brain altering chemicals on others. I still think my reasons were good ones and I intend to continue to respect my decision to try everything I could to manage myself without meds.

However, eventually I reached a point where I realized that I had gone as far as I could on my own, and I really needed help. The depression and anxiety were impacting my life in serious ways and I really could not continue to live like that. So, I finally decided to try a med that would act as both an antidepressant and antianxiety.

I haven’t been on it for long – a little over a month – but I am definitely feeling the effects and it’s kind of amazing.

Part of my depression was The Voice. The Voice was a constant in my life, screaming if it could, whispering if it could not, flinging a constant stream of hate at me. It would latch onto anything it could use to hurt me and would twist events around to insist that everything was my fault. Depression is a jerk, and The Voice was well and truly horrible. However, I had gotten used to it. If I could keep it to a whisper and lock it off into a corner of my brain, I figured I was doing good. When I couldn’t do that well… that sucked. But it happened.

However, lately The Voice has been gone, almost entirely. Once in a while I’ll get a second or two resurgence, a faint whisper of some of the things it used to say, and then it fades away again. I am able to go about my daily life without that Voice constantly telling me how awful I am, and I don’t even know how to describe the difference. My head feels so different. It’s kind of weird, honestly. So quiet. So still. I try not to think about it too much because I have some trouble wrapping my brain around the change. It’s such a relief, though. I actually, physically, feel like a weight that I’ve been dragging around for years has been lifted or taken away. I literally feel lighter on my feet.

The anxiety is dramatically improved as well. Talking to people is no longer a point of terror that requires working up to even ask “what’s your name” or something. I feel it significantly in my horseback riding – an activity that is legitimately nervous-making, but used to cause me intense amounts of anxiety. The past few weeks I still get nervous, but the level of nerves is, as far as I can tell, far more typical of your average person. Something I can easily manage, rather than needing to dedicate enormous resources to controlling. I like this change. I hope it continues.

Sometimes I hear antidepressants referred to derogatorily as “happy pills.” In my case, at least, that would be a serious misnomer. These pills do not make me happy. They do, however, allow me to experience happiness and joy and contentment in a way I never could before. They take away the constant background drag that had been trying it’s hardest to bring me down. They allow me to feel a healthier range of emotions, without the constant struggle that I had grown so accustomed to. I still have sads and I still feel nervous sometimes – but I don’t feel them ALL the time, and I am able to feel them in a cleaner way.

This is an interesting change. It’s a change I like and I’m glad I was able to reach a point where I could try it. I guess we’ll see where I go with it.

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Anxiety

If only panic always had a convenient button.

 

Along with being on the autism spectrum, I deal with both depression and anxiety.

I have found that depression mostly feels like a void. Depression comes in different flavors (sads and nothings being the two I hear of most often), but regardless of which flavor I am feeling at the time, it always feels like a void. Like some part of myself has just quietly ceased to exist and now there’s just a sucking void where it used to be, trying to pull the rest of me in.

Anxiety, on the other hand, feels more like an attack. I feel it almost like a presence, lodged somewhere in my chest and causing trouble. When it gets bad I sort of liken it to a giant bird claw, wrapped around or embedded in my chest, squeezing and stabbing and making it so I can’t breathe.

I can’t really objectively rate how bad my anxiety is. I was going to say it’s not that bad, but then I realized that there’s a good chance that anxiety has been a huge barrier in keeping me not-so-terribly functional, in certain socially expected ways. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if I got on proper meds to deal with it. Or, well, I’m sure it would be better. Maybe it’s more that I wonder how much better it could get, and what that would look like. Hard to say, really.

Anyway. One thing about anxiety that I want to talk about is that it does not always look the way people seem to think it should look. I have found that if I talk about panic attacks, people will immediately assume that means screaming and flailing and running mindlessly down the street or something. Of course, I don’t know much about what panic attacks look like in other people so maybe that assumption is often true and I just don’t know it. However, it is really not true for me. I have, on more than one occasion, had a panic attack whilst astride a horse, during a horseback riding lesson.

Now, panicking while on a horse is really not the best thing to be doing. Horses are very sensitive to their riders, and pick up on even a little bit of tension. This isn’t a huge thing on a therapy horse, or even a horse for beginners. Therapy horses are chosen for being very very calm, and really not caring a whole lot if their rider is tense or moving in odd ways.

However, I hardly ever ride therapy horses anymore. I ride horses that are supposed to be very sensitive to what you’re doing, so that they will respond to subtle commands. A panic attack on one of these horses can be maybe not such a good thing. However, I panic quietly. Sufficiently quietly that my riding instructor, who is a special ed teacher, will not know that I’m having a panic attack unless I tell her. The horses I have been on, while certainly knowing that something was up, were always willing to let me take a break without causing trouble.

Because my panic attacks don’t look the way people seem to think panic attacks should.

I have found that people interpret my anxiety in all sorts of interesting ways. It’s fairly well known that shyness can look like snobbiness to people who don’t know what’s going on. What seems to be less known is that anxiety can also look like anger. When I was young, there were occasional incidents where I was very very scared. Not of anything in particular, just of lights or noise or having trouble processing what was happening around me – that sort of thing. Sometimes afterwards, people would tell me that I was angry. I, apparently, looked angry, sounded angry, and acted angry. This was very frustrating for me, because if I tried to explain that no, I’m not angry, I’m scared, the people around me would simply dismiss what I was saying and insist that no, it was anger. Sometimes people assumed that I was lying for some reason, and sometimes people assumed that I must not be self-aware enough to know what I was feeling.

The general assumption was clearly that whatever it looks like I’m feeling must reflect what I am actually feeling. Except that what you see is not always what you get, and what you see on my face does not necessarily reflect what’s going on inside. And anxiety does not necessarily look the way people expect it to.

Do you get anxiety? Does it look like what you’d expect to see on TV?

 

 

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Lieutenant Barclay

Lieutenant Reginald “Reg” Barclay

Fair warning – I am about to get my geek on and talk about Star Trek yet again. What can I say, I like Trek.

Not too long ago I read an article on startrek.com that was Jordan Hoffman’s rather negative take on the character Lt. Reginald ‘Reg’ Barclay III, or just Barclay for short. For those of you who perhaps aren’t quite so obsessed with Star Trek (ST) as I am, Barclay was a character first introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Hollow Pursuits. Barclay is a very different sort of fellow from what we had gotten used to in ST. Unlike the legions of perfect people, Barclay is flawed. He is shy, he is anxious, he has phobias. He is awkward, he stumbles over his words, he is deeply unsure of himself especially in terms of interacting with other people.

Hoffman views the Barclay character as a Mary Sue; not as an authors wish fulfillment character, but as the writer’s idea of what sort of character ST fans could or would relate to. “whether it was true or not, the whole endeavor seemed like a network exec was making fun of me. By which I mean us – the Star Trek fans. “Oh, those dweebs who never get picked for the soccer team, man, they’re gonna’ love this guy. A holodeck addiction? He’s one of them!” “ He views Barclay as an insult – especially early Barclay, in his first introduction.

As will probably come as no surprise, my take is rather different. Though I will initially admit – I could, right away, identify with Barclay and his troubles. I, too, am shy and anxious and awkward.

A good, though brief, explanation of some of Barclay’s troubles, and mine, can be found in a conversation Barclay has with Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge:

BARCLAY: Being afraid all of the time, of forgetting somebody’s name, not, not knowing… what to do with your hands. I mean, I, I am the guy who writes down things to remember to say when there’s a party. And then, when he finally gets there, he winds up alone, in the corner, trying to look comfortable examining a potted plant.
GEORDI: You’re just shy, Barclay.
BARCLAY: Just shy… Sounds like nothing serious – doesn’t it? You can’t know.

I know what it’s like to feel those things, and I know what it’s like to have people judge me for them. While he was certainly a rather extreme characterization of these things, it was still nice to see something like this amidst all the hordes of Perfect People we had gotten so far. This is a point I will return to later.

Hoffman comments, regarding the first time he saw Hollow Pursuits, “I instantly knew that the episode was going to end by, basically, everyone giving Barclay a big hug and letting him feel good about himself.” While the episode can certainly be viewed that way, I see it as an over simplification. Throughout the episode we also follow the rest of the crew and how they react to Barclay. Mostly, the react with derision and mockery. They call him “Broccoli” behind his back and at one point, Captain Picard accidentally does so to his face. Clearly, no one knows what to do with this guy, so they treat him as beneath them. As lesser, as unworthy of the basic respect and decency they extend to everyone else. If we are going to talk about character flaws, that sort of behavior definitely qualifies. They are being cruel and at some points, outright bullying.

Much of the episode is also, therefore, devoted to various members of the crew needing to overcome their own prejudices, and learn to look at other people with more compassion and empathy. This is shown beautifully in a conversation that takes place between Guinan, the ship’s bartender/listener and the aforementioned Geordi. (If you’re feeling particularly obsessive, you can read the entire conversation here, scroll down to section 14A)

GEORDI: Maybe I didn’t make myself clear… Barclay, he’s always late… he’s nervous… nobody wants to be around him…
GUINAN: If I had the feeling that nobody wanted to be around me, I’d probably be late and nervous too.
GEORDI: *frowns* Guinan, that’s not the point…
GUINAN: Are you sure?

I think that particular bit of conversation really exemplifies what is going on here. Geordi is looking for reasons to judge Barclay. To take his personal dislike of the man and make it “right” and that Barclay is “wrong,” and Guinan is pointing out the problems with that. So while the episode certainly did show Barclay struggling with and overcoming certain select parts of his own issues, it also shows his crewmates struggling with their own biases and reactions to him. And yes, the episode does end with the crew basically giving Barclay a big hug, but the journey to get there took place on both sides and everyone, even the esteemed Captain Picard, had to take a look at themselves and see the harm that they were doing.

Overall, I like this look at anxiety and social awkwardness. I like the open admission that the blame cannot fall entirely on the person who is anxious, that it is only good and right to meet people halfway, and that even “perfect” people can have prejudices that they need to overcome.

And speaking of Perfect People, at the end of the episode Barclay has made steps forward, but he is not “fixed.” He stays anxious and shy and awkward, and while he matures and improves throughout his future appearances on The Next Generation and Voyager, he is always different and somewhat apart from everyone else. He is also, importantly, brilliant at what he does and whether we like it or not, a valuable member of the crew. I appreciate the nod ST gives to the fact that you do not have to be a Perfect Person to be able to meaningfully contribute to society and those around you. You can have a strong society, a strong crew, without it being made up entirely of those Perfect People. There is room for all of us, and we do not necessarily have to be forced to Be Like Everyone Else.

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