Anxiety Flies Free

Note: This blog was written last week. No airbag sickness bags were actually used, lol

I’m on a plane as I’m writing this, on the way to enjoy a much needed getaway with my husband, but I just can’t get in vacation mode because of my brain. Always my brain.

I’ve been on at least 20 flights in my life, and they’ve always gone smoothly. But that doesn’t stop my anxiety from putting a damper on the trip. Apparently, anxiety flies for free along with my bags.

Here I sit arguing with myself whether the plane is going to crash. This is what people misunderstand about anxiety — these aren’t fleeting thoughts I have as I’m boarding. No, this is my brain telling me over and over again that I’m going to die despite part of me knowing I’ll be just fine. It causes a physical reaction, and my body becomes full of tension. My head starts to hurt, and despite the comfortable temperature, I’m sweating. I look for the air sickness bag but can’t find it..

I did find a seat in the exit row because my husband wanted more leg room, so then I worry that I won’t be able to get the door open in an emergency. That I’ll accidentally touch the door and get sucked out into the air, and again, die. That’s not a logical thought, and I’m clear enough in my thinking to know it’s illogical. But I can’t stop that stream of thinking. Even with three anxiety pills I may or may not have taken.

I kid, but it’s important to know that anxiety takes over your thoughts and catastrophizes. It’s not like I’m nervous about a job interview or going to the dentist. This is my own treasonous brain, betraying me and making me wonder how my kids are going to live without me with every bout of turbulence.

I can learn tricks to distract myself. I feel I have an arsenal of coping mechanisms, but it’s still hard. My anxiety doesn’t just manipulate me when it comes to death and disasters. There are times I hear that nobody likes me, I’m unlovable and unworthy. It exploits me in almost every aspect of my life. And at times, it’s debilitating.

I can do everything right when it comes to being mentally healthy, but my anxiety will still be there, waiting to pounce. I haven’t been able to escape it since the seventh grade.

Anxiety is all-consuming and causes pain. I know being a friend to someone with anxiety is at times exhausting. I know those struggling need lots of reassurance, among other things, but please know they’re needy for a reason — it’s uncontrollable and scary. Please know that people with anxiety almost always have another diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some estimates show that 60 percent of those with anxiety also have depression. Some of us are dealing with a lot of demons, and patience and understanding is a must. It isn’t always talked about, but it needs to be.

And just like that we’ve cleared 20,000 feet, and it’s smooth sailing. It’s peaceful, even. A brief respite. I can see everything on the ground, looking so small and far away. I’ve stopped sweating. Worry has loosened its grip on me as we cut through more clouds clouds. I can finally look forward to my vacation.

Right after we land.

Being Sick is for the Birds

I used to love getting sick. To me it meant all my troubles melted away while I sat around in my jams and watched TV. When I was in school, it was easy to catch up with what I missed. But when I started working, I met with resentment from coworkers and hostility from bosses because I missed so much work. And I was sick a lot, and sometimes I was faking for the down time or because my depression was so bad.

I wrongly thought that the world stopped when I had a migraine or virus (or when depression hit). I welcomed being ill because I thought it was a Get Out of Jail Free card, and now I know it wasn’t.

A lot of that was the depression talking. I didn’t always care who was inconvenienced by my illnesses, and now the one who is most inconvenienced is me. Go figure.

Today I woke up feeling dizzy and nauseated, among other things. I asked my husband to take the kids to school, but he couldn’t. I asked my mother-in-law to pick them up after camp, but she had an appointment. Some things can’t be helped, and it’s a reminder that now I HATE being sick because there’s only me to take care of the kids. And that’s fine. It sucks sometimes, but that’s the way it is. (Although usually I do have help with my kiddos).

When you’re an adult there’s not always someone to pick up the slack, and there’s nobody to wait on you hand and foot — believe me, I’ve looked everywhere as I love being waited on and adored.

I don’t mean to complain about adulthood (we can do that another time), but my point is that I don’t like being sick anymore because I’m not as depressed. I don’t have to fake a migraine or other illness to get some “me” time. I generally feel good and every morning I’m ready to get up and get going. It turns out, I like being healthy, and I love being happy. I’m truly miles from where I was just two years ago when I was at the psychiatric hospital.

This is progress! I welcome it because it makes me appreciate all the things I’m able to do now because my depression is managed at the moment. And I celebrate that — or I will when I’m feeling better.

To all you moms out there who don’t have help with the kids, I see you and admire you.

Thanks For Not Canceling On Us

Last night I had a movie night when two of my girlfriends. We didn’t get to hang out much last year (Covid), but we’ve had about two movie nights this year, which is better than nothing. Time with them is something I need. We eat junk, talk through whatever movie we’re watching and laugh. Laughter is the thing I need the most.

Three friends watching romantic movie on tv sitting on a couch at home

At the end of the night, one of the girls texted that it was fun and thanked me for not canceling on them. For about two seconds my feelings were hurt, but then I realized me canceling plans is status quo. I do it a lot. There are many times I feel good so I make plans but by the time the date rolls round, I’m feeling terrible, depressed and need to conserve energy in order to take care of my kids.

I imagine it’s not fun being cancelled on so many times, but my friends seems to take it in stride. They know what’s going on with me now as opposed to a couple of years ago when I wasn’t always honest about my depression and anxiety. It took a psychiatric hospital stay for me to be upfront about what I was dealing with. The stigma of mental illness kept me quiet before. And since telling them the truth, they’ve been so supportive. I’m lucky to have them. They check in with me to make sure I’m doing OK, and if I’m not, they ask how they can help. And I know they really mean it.

So I read my friend’s text again after climbing in bed and mulled it over. My friend was NOT trying to hurt my feelings. She knew I had a rough week and was acknowledging the fact that I kept our plans despite struggling (and having a migraine). That’s never really happened before. I feel like it’s a sign that I’m miles away from where (and who) I was. I’m better now and I’m coping. I’m not letting depression run my life. I’m evolving.

Depression may win the battle from time to time, but I’m winning the war. All the literal blood, sweat and tears that have poured out of me has been worth it. I look at my life, and I’m so grateful I’m where I am. I fought hard to get here, and I’ll have to be dragged away kicking and screaming.

I’m perseverant, and I have grit. And I’m not going any damn where.

In a Nutshell: My Week In Review

Getting ready for a cowboy/western themed fundraiser.

I was sick this past week, but I’m starting to feel better. The most exciting part of my week was a woman from the local NAMI chapter contacting me, asking me to be a speaker at their suicide prevention symposium. They’re also going to feature my blog in their monthly newsletter. I’m so happy! I feel like I can reach a lot of people through my writing and this is a great step toward doing that.

Also, I went to a fundraiser last night and several people — strangers — stopped me and told me they appreciated my column in the paper and how I was removing the stigma from mental illness. That made me feel so good. It’s nice to know there are people besides my family reading, lol.

This coming week you won’t see any new blogs because I’ll be on vacation — I’m very excited about that, too. I hope you week goes well, and as always, stay in the light.

Don’t I Deserve a Break?

Last week was a good one. I started eating healthier, I worked (jogged) three days I week, I drank fewer Diet Cokes, replacing them with water and I kept up with personal hygiene. It wasn’t a good week, it was great.

Those kids of weeks don’t happen often, not for me. I caught myself thinking about it as a fluke, some hormonal gift that was sure to fade away because doesn’t it always?

I haven’t had more than one of those weeks in years. I didn’t want to get attached to the idea of it for good reason. Depression has reigned in my brain for too long. It always comes back, and it’s hard to beat.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a small part of me saying, wait — isn’t this what we’ve been working on? What we’ve trained for? I haven’t modified my behavior, taken all these pills and gone to therapy just so I could tread water for the rest of my life, because damn, isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Getting through the day, weeks, months and even years to only keep from drowning? NO! I have not. I want to live, really live without the ball and chain of depression and its comorbidities.

If I’m happy now, it better not be a fluke. I’ve worked too hard. There’s been literal blood, sweat and tears thrown into my recovery and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Please tell me this isn’t an accident.

I want to believe it’s real, that it’s not hormonal or manic phase. I want to believe that sometimes I can catch a break, at the very least an intermission from the pain and heartache my treatment-resistant depression and anxiety have caused me. And not to mention my family and friends.

I want to live and not just count down the minutes until I’m unconscious again. To wake up and literally smell the roses. I want to be happy and enjoy everything I’ve been given. Some may ask, can’t you do that with depression, and the answer is yes. But having depression is like only seeing in black and white when you know others can see color, that you once saw color. It dulls all your senses and sometimes, a lot of the times, you can’t feel anything at all except for loss. Heavy, penetrating , overwhelming loss.

I don’t want to feel that anymore.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Anxiety Sucks

When I start my day, I go into autopilot and make breakfast for the kids, get them dressed, pack their lunches and drive them to school. I usually have errands to run afterward, and I try to stay busy.

I look forward to hanging out with my husband (my favorite human), eating dinner and talking about our days. I try to relax, but it doesn’t always happen.

At night after the kids are asleep and my brain is temporarily relieved of keeping small humans alive, my thoughts start to race. The voice in my head is full of self-doubt, telling me I’m not worthy, that I’m a screw up. So I stay busy – I don’t like to be left alone with my thoughts because demoralizing and exhausting. Sometimes I eat to distract myself from those thoughts, to make myself feel better. Sometimes I binge, only enjoying it briefly before regret and pain set in. It’s a compulsion and it’s hard to control.

In addition to all that, I’m sensitive to noises – loud noises freak me out and make me irritable. I snap at my kids and husband over little things.

This is anxiety, what it looks like to me anyway.

Yesterday I made lunch plans with a friend, and we picked a restaurant I haven’t been to in about a decade. I wanted to seem easy-going, up for anything so I said yes and immediately looked for their menu online and choosing what I would order. I started to get anxious about going out, so I asked my friend to pick me up. I was worried about parking and whether I’d get there first. It’s just easier if I’m not alone. It irritates me though that I’m like this. I’m constantly planning and rehearsing what I will do or say in my brain before (sometimes if) I do it. Sometimes I cancel plans because I get so overwhelmed. I hate change and trying new things. That doesn’t keep me from trying, though.

For instance, next week’s menu is comprised of all new recipes. I don’t have my favorite foods, my comfort foods, planned. And I’m already dreading it.

I’ve been this way since I was in middle school. I was plagued with anxiety but didn’t know what it was, assuming my nervousness and habits were normal. They were not. I had intrusive thoughts, which I still get today. They would be things like my family is going to die, that I was going to die, and included worst case scenarios. It was hard to deal with then, I was just a child.

They’re still hard to deal with. I’ll be interrupted by the thought of my husband or kids dying or that I’d get a painful, terminal disease. Most of the time I’m able to stop the thoughts and reset my thinking, but they leave a gross residue in my mind that’s hard to clean up. A lot of the time, my anxiety manifests as irritability or rage.

I’m not trying to bum you out. My goal is to point out that anxiety is not just being nervous about something. It affects my daily life and sometimes paralyzes me from getting things done and living a somewhat normal life. Others have it even worse. Anxiety presents differently people, so it’s best to be compassionate and empathetic to others who suffer.

To sum up, anxiety sucks.

Unruly Neurons Celebrates 200th Blog Post

My last blog post (read it here) was officially my 200th blog post since I created it in 2018. I didn’t write much when I first started; I have the pandemic to thank for posting regularly and getting into a groove. And it’s led to me being a regular guest columnist at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, one of my dreams come true.

Thank you so much for reading, leaving comments and sharing my blogs. I’m so grateful to each one of you who has aided in the small successes of this site.

I created Unruly Neurons after fashion icon Kate Spade killed herself in June 2018. Her sister gave an interview saying that Kate suffered with depression and didn’t want to seek help or speak out because she was afraid of hurting her brand. Something inside me just snapped, so I started writing Op-Ed pieces on mental health to the Caller, not knowing that within a year I would be in a mental hospital for six long weeks.

When I came back from the Menninger Clinic in August 2019, I was a bit embarrassed at first then realized that I had to talk about it. I had to be honest in my struggles and in my journey. I was hoping to free myself from the shame and silence depression and my other mental disorders had bred inside me, but it wasn’t just about me either. So many of you reached out to me, confiding that you suffered and how my writing helped you feel less alone.

If I never do anything else in my life, that’s OK. Knowing my blog helped someone, even just one person, is enough for me.

I’m proud of the work I’m doing, and I know it’s been good therapy for me to vent and talk to others going through the same thing. So thank you — all of you.

If you’re not quite ready to talk openly about depression (and other mental disorders) that’s OK. I know you’re brave and a survivor because that’s what mental illness is — a battle with yourself every single day, and it’s so hard! I just want you to know you’re not alone.

I’m going to keep writing, because I’m still battling my demons, too.

Unruly Neurons By the Numbers:
– 12,500 blog views
– 8,246 visitors to the UN site
– 200 posts
– Most viewed post: Emotional Pain
– 31,897 words

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I haven’ written one of these updates in a while; I’ve gotten off my normal posting schedule since starting my column in the Caller-Times. Which reminds me, the Caller does a “Best of the Best” contest where people can vote for their favorite Mexican restaurant, etc. There’s a category for Best Columnist, so if you have please take a moment and write my name under the Media category.

A few weeks ago, my oldest graduated Kindergarten, and they had an amazing graduation. I’m now buying new clothes, shoes and school supplies for her new school. I know I have a couple of months, but I like to be prepared. She’ll be a first grader at the gifted/talented school, so we’re all excited.

During the summer we’re going to visit some museums in Houston and probably visit my parents in Dallas. No major plans. I am, however, really looking forward to the Olympics, which start in July.

After school starts in August, I’m thinking about having a hysterectomy. I don’t love the idea of it (because of the anesthesia), but I think it’s the best decision. If you have any experiences you’d like to share, drop them in the comments.

That’s about it in my world. I hope y’all are doing well, and as always, thanks for reading!

Stay in the light.

Love, Heather

10 Bad Habits of a Depressed/Anxious Person

Let me preface this blog by stating these are my experiences only – not all depressed people are the same, nor do they experience depression/anxiety in the same way.

When I first wrote this blog I didn’t have a problem with the title but now I do. Labeling the following as “bad habits” implies to me that these actions can be prevented but these things are uncontrollable side effects of depression and anxiety.

So let me say, “10 Things That (Almost) Every Depressed/Anxiety Person Does”

1. Cancels plans – I cancel plans a lot, and I feel really bad about it. When I’m feeling good I reach out to my loved ones and make plans but when the time comes my mood and demeanor have changed. It feels physically impossible to hang out, especially if it’s in public. My depression/anxiety is so unpredictable, and because of this, it makes it hard for me to maintain some friendships.

2. Sleeps too much – When I’m in a depressive episode I can’t get enough sleep. Mostly because I feel extreme fatigue, but I also don’t want to be awake much because it’s too much work. I get overwhelmed, and it’s painful to be awake, so I go to sleep early and take naps during the day. This is a problem because it can intensify things like obesity, headaches and backaches. You miss out on things, and it’s just not healthy. It’s definitely not a long-term coping strategy.

3. Isolates – As I mentioned earlier, when you’re depressed it’s so much effort to be awake and functioning. This includes socializing with family and friends. Even texting seems hard, so it’s easy to just withdraw but this too is dangerous. Feeling alone can increase feelings of depression — mainly loneliness and despair — which could lead to suicidal thoughts.

4. Neglects personal hygiene – Sadly, this is a huge problems for me. For a long time, I could only shower once a week. I also have trouble brushing my teeth. It seems silly because these tasks don’t seem hard but if you’re depressed, they’re an impossible task. I would feel gross, slovenly and even worse about myself.

5. Overuses drugs and alcohol – I abused my anxiety meds because I wanted to feel anything but the pain and discomfort depression and anxiety were making me feel. So I took pills to feel loopy and out of it. This obviously doesn’t aid in recovery of depression, and it can kill you. Using anything to numb the pain is dangerous, whether it’s prescription meds, drugs or alcohol. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, please reach out to your doctor.

6. Dissociates – I just wrote a blog abut this, check it out here. Dissociation is common to those who have depression. It’s one way the mind copes with too much stress or trauma. Experiences of dissociation last hours or days. That feeling that I’m detached from my body is why I like to binge eat or take pills — it’s just a feeling of escape. It doesn’t happen often with me, but I totally understand why.

7. Doesn’t eat enough or eats too much – I have Binge Eating Disorder, where I eat until I’m uncomfortably or painfully full but don’t purge. Overeating like that isn’t much different from me abusing medication — I just want to feel “good” for awhile. The problem with bingeing is that I only temporarily feel good. The aftermath and effects are terrible, but I seem to forget this when I’m bingeing.

8. Snaps at loved ones – Sometimes anxiety can manifest as anger or rage. I didn’t know that until recently. When I start snapping at my husband or yelling at the kids, I know it’s my “check engine” light coming on and I need to take a break or practice self-care.

9. Overthinks – This is called rumination, and it’s hard to stop. I’ll get a thought in my head or replay a scenario and think about it for hours, even days. It’s hard to control, and it causes me to feel shame and guilt. Believe me, I don’t need anymore of those.

10. Worries too much about the future – Sometimes I’ll get caught up on the future. I’ll worry excessively about it (and even ruminate), even though I know it’s irrational to do so. Mainly, I’ll think about finances or my husband dying. It’s unpleasant and just causes more anxiety. This is also hard to control.

Any others you can think of? Leave them in the comments.

You Might Have Anxiety If…

Anxiety presents differently in people, so my list may be different from yours and that’s OK. There are also different anxiety disorders that I didn’t mention: generalized anxiety disorder (me), social anxiety disorder (also me), panic disorder and separation anxiety. You can have more than one, unfortunately. Everyone at some point experiences anxiety, but you need to seek help if it’s significantly interfering with your life.

This list is supposed to be lighthearted, but anxiety is serious and can make life difficult to get through the day. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please contact your primary care doctor, find a therapist, join a support group or talk to a trusted friend. You’re not alone.

Do you have anything to add to this list? Drop it in the comments. Stay in the light, my friends.

Please note that I am not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose anxiety through this blog.