Dear Compassionate Person: Let me help you navigate my Anxiety

I’ve been writing this letter in my head to those I love around me. These people.. positive, compassionate, big hearted people, whom I just can’t seem to connect with some days. The answer to why I can’t may seem silly, but it truly is- just- anxiety.

Dear Compassionate Person,

I know that it was hard the other day, when I told you I was scared. Most certainly, that’s not something that comes out of my mouth on a regular basis. No, not me! I will typically run head first into any conflict, and volunteer to go first on scary rides, or be up for watching a horror movie. Scared is an unusual vocabulary word for me.

But I told you I was. And you began to tell me that it was no big deal, and that it would all work out. Isn’t that how we normally speak? It’s about positive thinking and thoughts. You can do what you put your mind too.

..Well maybe on a regular Tuesday it is. But this was a Blues day.

Blues Days

Blues days are where I wake up, and nothing feels right. I don’t feel like getting up, or working.  I don’t feel like going to hang out with someone, or writing. I don’t feel like hugging, or watching movies, or reading, or sleeping. It feels like I have woken up with a perpetual pillow over my head, but yet I can’t sleep. Instead, I worry. And I turn. And I toss. And I try to find warm places to bury my head.

Blues days are days when I don’t even get a chance to turn things around. The ship has already set sail.

So when I said I was scared, I was digging deep. Here’s why positivity doesn’t always work in those situations.

Positivity is Negated by Anxiety

You already knew that something must be different, if I was being quiet, and stated that I was scared. But it seemed so odd for me, that you just responded in the way you normally would. And on a regular day, I would smile and thank you, or even offer the same advice to you myself.

But on those blues days, or when I am amidst an anxiety attack, the best thing to do is to listen. Not to ask questions, or to try to point out a silver lining. When I have stated that I am sad, the simple question “Why?” can be incredibly overwhelming. The truth is, that I don’t know why. Anxiety does not necessarily meet rhyme or reason. It doesn’t always come rationally. And so, while a question like “Why are you sad?” or “why do you think you woke up feeling that way?” can seem simple, and like the best question to ask, it can actually make things much much worse.

With anxiety, answers to questions do not lead to solutions

Despite the fact that I suffer from anxiety, and sometimes depression, I have often found this the hardest thing to realize. I have asked numerous questions to my friends, especially those suffering with depression. Questions like “Why?’ or a series of questions intended to get down to the “core” of the problem. Its in my nature, and I have a feeling that its in your nature as well, dear compassionate person. You want to fix this person, or help them. You want to be able to ask just the right question so that their eyes light up and they realize that they have been thinking about everything wrong, and that if they just see it from a different perspective, they will get better.

(Also, the answers to the questions you’re asking might not necessarily be accurate. They may be fueled by anxiety, or the desire to come up with some sort of answer to satisfy the person doing the asking. Again, it may seem to benefit you, but in the end, doesn’t truly benefit either person.)

‘Getting better’ is not the objective. Sometimes, the process is more important

I’ll admit, in all of my friendships and relationships, this seems to be the hardest thing for others to learn. Focusing on getting better when I am trapped in those moments of anxiety really doesn’t help me at all. Often, all I want is to do is be better. But if I knew how, I would probably be putting it into action, and not having anxiety. (My anxiety is not rational, so it doesn’t have an A-B=C type of equation.)

So, the most helpful thing I have found is to be listened too. If I am alone, I will often end up writing or recording my voice speaking, because it is myself listening to me. When I am not alone, and I am with you, the most important places for your compassion to go is in your ears and your arms.

Physical pressure comforts me. Its why I almost want to invest in a Thunder Shirt like they make for dogs. Its part of the reason I like heavy blankets and comforters, and have a hard time sleeping or relaxing without them.

The other thing that comforts me, is a non-judgmental presence. One that is not trying to question me or react to me.. Because trust me, I am already doing enough of that for the both of us. 

No, what I really need for you to do, is either sit and listen, or leave me to myself if you really can’t handle the situation. I promise, I will be okay. It just may take me a while. I don’t do the best when people leave, because of my complex around abandonment, but if you approach me later, and let me know why you had to leave, and that you love me, I will understand. I will just need to come back to a rational plateau to do so. I want you to be safe too, or else we can’t create a safe space together. Just don’t leave and then not explain.

Allow me the ability to act a little bit “unlike” myself

If I am quieter than usual, it may just mean that I still need to recharge. Or that I haven’t shaken off the blues just yet. It may seem concerning, yes. But if you’ve asked me if I am okay, and I say yes, than there is a good likely hood that I am. I just might also be comfortable enough with you to where I don’t need to pretend I am more than okay, or awesome, or funny. Sometimes, if you continue to ask me if I am okay, I may begin to feel self conscious, or like I am not. I will begin to wonder why I can’t be better, or have more energy. And that might prolong my state of being.

Being Busy does not equal Being Okay

Sometimes, I have bursts of anxiety or anxiety attacks, and than all of a sudden I seem “okay”. By okay, I mean that I am being very active, and chatting/joking with lots of people, or being playful, and dressing up. I might be doing a million things that all seem like tons of fun. And if you ask me if they are fun, I might say yes.

But that doesn’t mean that I am suddenly okay. Being busy is a coping mechanism for delaying or keeping depression and residual anxiety at bay. Ever heard of “fake it till you make it”? That term can definitely apply here. Some of my most well put together outfits and appearances are the products of  day long anxiety attacks, or insomnia the night before.

This is because while sometimes, being around people can cause anxiety, other times, it provides the perfect distraction. If you can get involved in the lives and events of the people around you, you can create a buffer zone from your true pain. You can avoid it, if not, forget about it for a while.

Despite all of these things, I love you and appreciate you. 

Compassionate person, whomever you are, family, friend, or lover, I appreciate you, and am glad to have you in my life. Anxiety is not an easy thing to navigate. If this letter seems counter-intuitive and confusing, you’ll get a glimpse into why I suffer so much from the progressions of my mind sometimes.

But I still want you as my ally, and I still want you by my side.

Ask me questions about my anxiety when I am not anxious. That’s a huge part to figuring this out together! Don’t be afraid to trigger me, unless you’re being mean or judgmental, which I don’t think you’d be, compassionate one. But don’t pretend that I haven’t warned you either. Anxiety sometimes rolls in throughout the day, with dark ominous clouds, and you know its coming. Other times it just hits.

But the thing is, its always there, in me. I may be working at it, but I’m no magician. I haven’t figured out how to make the white bunny disappear from the top hat on my head just yet.

While these thoughts and ideas do pertain to me, I hope it will get you to start thinking about the way that you interact with others as well. So many people in just this last week have talked to me about their own shattering anxiety. It is one of our society’s most common “illnesses”, yet I liken it to a symptom of greater societal illness.

Let’s start listening to each other. Let’s stop assuming that people will never be or shouldn’t be vulnerable, that they might not always act the same way. Instead, lets begin to combat the immense pressures of handling each day with love and compassion. Are you ready to try?

With all of my love, Kara

Contemplation on Defense and Openness

As I was driving home from my job where I do social work today, I began to think about what separates people from each other, and how difficult it is to really exist in this culture. Capitalism has such a competitiveness nature to it, that it seems like our only options the majority of the time are to be defensive, and protect our limited resources, or to be offensive, and eliminate that which may threaten it.

There is a lot of stigma around mental illness and addiction. It is often a “me vs. them mentality”, when in actuality, I often believe it is an extreme version of something we all deal with. All of us have coping mechanisms.. ways of protecting ourselves. Sometimes, we do this through habits or behaviors. You learn not to make eye contact on the street, to remain silent when someone accuses you of something or raises their voice around you, to move out of the way when someone is walking in the middle of the sidewalk, to have a glass of wine to help you fall asleep. Or, you raise your voice, you beep your horn at someone who cuts you off, you ball your fists when you hear something you don’t want to hear.

Anger and fear are not isolated from each other, and they’re not necessarily easy to navigate either. It doesn’t quite matter what your mental capacity is or isn’t. We aren’t taught to accept and channel these emotions, we are simply taught to repress them. And when others can’t repress them, we see it as something wrong with them.

Social Work is an interesting field, at least for me. Its like plugging in a part of me that already analyzes, that already exists. When you work with people who supposedly “need” your help, there is a balance of boundaries, of compassion, of understanding. You’re not supposed to be judging or taking things personally, and you’re not in a competition for who is better or worse. You just realize that you’re able to help in some simple ways, and do.

Daily life is not like this. We don’t treat “normal” people with these same standards of compassion and acceptance. Instead we hold them to standards, often those produced by our society, and our personal or religious beliefs. What we don’t allow for, or account for, is the amount of anxiety and stress beneath the surface. If someone comes up to a cash register, and argues with the clerk for 15 minutes about a sale on a product, most of think: Geez. What’s their problem? Can’t they just pay and move out of line?

And yes, market places and other business settings, especially in a corporate and capitalistic environment, are supposed to be removed from emotion, or personal connections. Its more of a “Here is the rule. If I break it, I will give you something. If you break it, you don’t get anything.” Its simple, its impersonal, its general. It provides a barrier and mode of interacting that is most certainly more efficient.

But that’s the thing. That person arguing about that sale might not ever cross our mind again. We had to wait for them, and were bothered by their demands, but unless we’re mentioning it to a friend as something that bothered us, we are not going to put anymore energy into them.

But we start to think about what might actually be causing that behavior, things gets complicated. Perhaps they have trust issues from bad relationships with family or friends, perhaps their reading comprehension fell behind in school and they just got by because no one noticed, what if they really don’t have that much money and need the item? Or, even harder to understand, what if they have money, but are afraid to spend it in the fear that they will lose the security that comes with it? It is true that for a person living in the United States, money is power, and security. And power doesn’t necessarily mean influence, it means the ability to survive.

I cannot help but have these thoughts about almost every person I come across who seems disgruntled, or quiet, or a bit loud and pushy, or confused. I want to know why. I want to get to know them so I can speak their language. So I can figure out what they need, and how. I think if we all were able to do more of this, a lot of our problems would be solved. The barriers would come down.

But not at first. No, I do not pretend to dismiss the fact that when the dam is lifted, flooding will ensue. In fact, I think the dam is already bursting at the seams with the amount of anxiety and stress every individual is going through nowadays. “Mental Illness” is only an illustration of that. Its not wrong, and it doesn’t make anyone who suffers from it someone that we should feel superior over, or pity. No, its just a conversation that needs to be had, and some things we can do to interact better with one another.

I dream of a world where we can all be open with each other. I know I personally have a difficult time truly opening myself to anyone, even those closest to me. Peeling layers away reveals more layers, more defenses. But as I slowly undo the layers for myself, and learn to love them, I’m slowly changing the way I’m interacting. To share thoughts about anxiety or other similar matters might seem courageous, but really..I think its just simply necessary. At least, if I want to find some more infinite capacity for love in my heart.

Its hard to be, sometimes.

Written on August 20th, 2014

Tonight, I fell harder than I usually do. I allowed multiple triggers to pull at the barriers I have created, for some reason not heeding the escape mechanisms I usually employ.

Anxiety is like a different language. And sometimes, we want so badly, so badly, to connect with someone, but we have chosen someone who does not understand us. I forgo-ed my instinct to run, or to hide tonight, choosing instead to try and stay. To try and explain, to try to make things better, but it made things worse.

I actually got angry..that’s something that rarely happens. But this anger comes deep rooted in always feeling left out. Always feeling alone. Always wondering why I am the way that I am. Why can’t I just be okay in social settings or with the way other people do things? Why is it hard for me to breath in situations?

I stayed, and I blame myself for the outcome. Because it was selfish of me to remain, and to try to be understood. I know that my rationale becomes more diluted as I fail to communicate, which leads to a never ending cycle.

What is the language of anxiety? Is it something that only those with anxiety can understand? My answer to this would be: Not necessarily. I have had many conversations with others who suffer from anxiety who don’t understand or can’t conceptualize what I am trying to say.

I do my best to communicate through written word, because even in the midst of chaos and confusion, I often have no problem being fluent with written sentences and ideas. They help me to clarify what I most want to say. They help me to release those feelings, to relinquish them to an outside source that can’t accidentally say the wrong thing.

I have common themes when I am anxious. The need to be validated, the need to be held, the need to feel loved and accepted, the need to feel like I am being heard, the need to release. I may say a million things, and may be flustered over a thousand seemingly random things over time, but these all typically hold true.

Expressing these needs in a way that makes sense in the situation, is sometimes the most difficult thing to do.