Sunday, August 24, 2014

shhhh'ing the demons

I've heard it described that it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest and that sounds a bit right. Sometimes two or three elephants. It's hard to get a full breath in. Little tiny shallow breaths accompany a thumping, racing heart. I'm afraid. I'm forgetting something. Something terrible is happening. What is going on? I don't know exactly why I am feeling this bad. Obsessive thoughts swell and fill my brain. They run on a loop. I repeat a situation, a fear, a thought over and over again. Maybe I have to "think it through" until it makes sense or doesn't hurt, and although that never works, I keep doing it. I torture myself, frequently when trying to fall asleep. The demons like to come out at night. 

I have high anxiety. I like how that sounds better than "Generalized Anxiety Disorder", which sounds a little too clinical for me, but it's the same thing. Starting a medication called Effexor helped tremendously, but I still have to work to keep my constantly moving mind in check. I was talking to someone about my anxiety and they said- That's understandable- you must have so much going on with two children with autism. That comment didn't sit right, but I couldn't figure out why. 

I thought about why it made me sad despite the fact that I know it was said with kind intentions. First of all, I've had this condition? Disorder? for years. Well before I was a married grown up with children. I remember obsessively thinking as a little girl. Crazy things. We went to church every week at the Catholic School I attended. I remember every time I saw someone walk up onto the alter I pictured them naked. Yes, even the priest. It's kind of, almost funny now- but then I was mortified. I was certain it was a direct line to Hell. The more I thought about NOT doing it- the more I felt compelled to do it. I felt so dirty and weird and awful. And any time I thought about my nose, I had to scrunch it up or touch it. I tried to do things in fives. Walk five steps to get to the door, swallow five times in a row, turn the light on and off five times. I didn't tell anyone about my obsessive thoughts. I kept my brokenness inside. I was afraid they would realize I was unlovable. 

Second of all, I don't like the comment okaying anxiety because I have children with autism because it's kind of like saying you are ALLOWED to have high anxiety IF you have a traumatic life event. However if you do NOT, then you aren't allowed to have ANY mental health disorder. That implies that it's a sign of weakness. I don't see it that way though. I honestly see it like any other medical condition that can strike anyone in it's path. Hard life conditions can certainly exacerbate anxiety- but isn't necessarily the cause of it. We must look at it as a condition that must acknowledged and researched so we can find ways to cope with it. And yes, of course sometimes the Demons tell me otherwise- that I am weak. That I am not normal. That I am a freak. But I've come far enough to know those thoughts are fleeting and they fade away. I am strong. Thoughts are not- they fade away.

You don't have to have an actual disorder to still suffer at times from unhealthy and negative thinking patterns. I want to highlight some common thinking distortions- You may see yourself in some or all below. (Taken from Psych Central). It may give you a new, kinder way to look at your beautiful life.

Cognitive Distortions
Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions.

1. Filtering: We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.

2. Polarized Thinking: In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

3. Overgeneralization: In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.

4. Jumping to Conclusions: Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.

5. Catastrophizing: We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).

6. Personalization: Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.

7. Control Fallacies: If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”

8. Fallacy of Fairness: We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” — things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.

9. Blaming: We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.

10. Shoulds: We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.

Psychologist Tamar E. Chansky defines anxiety as “the first reaction of a sensitive system that is wired to keep us alert to danger and protected from harm.” Chansky writes a book on freeing yourself from anxiety and focuses on the following steps:

Pause and Re-label or don’t believe everything you think.
Get Specific or narrow down the problem to the one thing that really matters.
Optimize or re-think what’s possible and broaden your choices.
Mobilize or don’t just stand there, do something.

Everyone is going through something. Everyone has their thing. The thing they hide because they are afraid of how it will be received. Their totally imperfect- I hope you still love me -thing. I share my thing with you because it's more important for me to be honest and connect and be human than it is to fake perfect. Sometimes letting the light in is the best way to scare away the dark.

Big Hugs,



  1. I love you because of all those qualities. You are truly one of the funniest and amazing person I know.

  2. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well. I'm going through a rough patch and these words really helped. Thanks for writing. Lisa

  3. Please please please don't take this as a negative comment. It is meant to be helpful. I am making this comment because I have a daughter with autism which manifests itself tremendously in very high anxiety and OCD. And I know from 16+ years of reading and studying how to make her life the best it can be for her, there is a genetic component for both the anxiety and the OCD. You probably share in your sons' world more than you realize because you share genetic characteristics. And that can be kind of wonderful. You can see and feel more from their perspectives than anyone else. You have a unique bond that is not present in all relationships. You are special like they are special. You celebrate so much about their "specialness." You should be celebrated in the same way! In a much lesser way you probably live on the same spectrum as those precious, specially designed boys. You are wonderfully made!

    1. Don't worry, I took it with the love it was written. I totally believe my anxiety helps me relate so much more to the boys than if I too were "typical"! I'm right there with you.

    2. I absolutely believe there is a tight connection between the autism spectrum and anxiety disorders. My son has many characteristics of Asperger's and high anxiety. My daughter has severe GAD and my husband also has high anxiety. They all 3 have sensory issues that exacerbate the anxiety and in my son's case make him display more of the traits you would see on the autism spectrum although when he is not on sensory overload he seems much more "typical". I'm guessing there's a lot of shared genes or regulators for these kind of symptoms. It is absolutely true that their shared traits help them to understand and empathize with one another. I've had to learn slowly and imagine what it is like to be freaked out by loud noises or gentle touches or have one bad incident spread its fear to anything even remotely related. When I've had a severe episode of anxiety about a specific event, I think oh my this is how they are feeling most of the time. It really helps me to be more patient and kind.

  4. Thanks for writing about this topic. I discovered my OCD as a child (my specialty was checking to see if locked doors were really locked--pull, pull, pull. And church stirred it up for me, too. What's up with church? Too much fear of damnation, I suppose.), but it has subsided some as an adult and I'm able to manage it. I'm glad we can talk about it openly now because it can really take a toll when you think you're the only one.

  5. the older I get, the more grace I try to extend as everyone has stuff they are dealing with.sometimes we just need a smile instead of judgement! Thank you for your honesty.

  6. Funny, I knew we connected in more than one way, and it is through this anxiety with which I feel a real connection. I've battled for most of my life as well. Just a few years ago I finally went to the doc about it. It's funny, because all along I knew most people didn't or couldn't think the way I did. Other people seemed to cruise through life and for me it's tough. My older son has son obvious OCD with anxiety and my younger son may…not sure yet. It's definitely hereditary. So glad you got some meds, it helps tremendously, but doesn't take it all away. Here's to us!

  7. Lisa from TennesseeAugust 26, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    Really???? Well, let me go right out and flush my meds down the toilet. Thank you SO much for clearing that up. And you do have first hand experience to back this up, right? You have felt the pain of depression, or the anxiety Chrissy spoke about, or lying in your bed knowing that you just made the rounds of your house and all your doors are locked, but maybe you missed one and you better damn well get back up and make those rounds again if you want any sleep, or any of the other experiences people have posted above. So you KNOW that if you just "act right" all will be fixed? No? Hmmmmm Then if you haven't walked in the shoes of anyone who has experienced these thing, you have NO right to come here and spew your beliefs and post your useless links. You have a right to those beliefs, but to come here and post those links is an insult to all of us. I am here and alive because of the MEDICAL SCIENCE of psychiatry and the literally life saving medication I'm on. Go somewhere else and post your garbage.

  8. Thanks for writing this. We need so much more information, sharing, and openness where mental illness is concerned. Living with 3 high anxiety people, everything you wrote resonates with me especially the feeling uncomfortable about the comment that it's okay for you to be anxious because of your boys. My daughter was born with high anxiety, diagnosed with generalized anxiety (very severe at the time) at age 7. Even though age 7 was when it got so bad she could no longer function in the world. Her brain was wired that way right from the start. As a newborn she even slept with her muscles tensed. Family members commented on how she almost appeared to be hovering in the bassinet, often her feet wouldn't even relax and touch the mattress. There was never sleepy limp baby time with her; but instead we soothed her constantly day and night just to get moments of sleep and happiness. Her brain was clearly formed to be on high alert at all times. I so wish others could understand it is a medical condition and not just because you have a tough life although traumatic and stressful events do ramp up the symptoms. Imagine on normal run of the mill days feeling like your loved one is in the hospital in critical condition because I think that's what it's like for people with severe anxiety so when something bad does happen they may not be able to cope at all without medication, counseling and a support system. Plus people with severe anxiety often mask it quite well which is why it's always good to treat people carefully. You never know when the person you're talking to is hanging on for dear life with nonstop obsessive and anxious thoughts swirling through their head.
    By the way, anytime I hear of an adult with GAD who is married or raising children or enjoying a career, it gives me hope that my daughter and son will make it too even if their road is particularly hard. Thanks for giving me hope today, Chrissy.

  9. I needed this so!

  10. Thanks for sharing your thing. It's my thing too. It's scary and hard. I can totally see why people like us never want to leave their home. I am making BIG efforts to combat anxiety and not let it rule my life. My special daughter also has high anxiety and a couple years ago completely shut down and couldn't function. Together we are learning how to not be so afraid and to go to the One who casts out all fear. I have a song I play on repeat when I'm having a praticularly hard time called, Peace Be With You by Chris Lazott. It is an amazing song that helps me calm down. Life is hard, anxiety is hard. I'm right there with you.

  11. "Everyone has their thing" so very true! & such a great reminder for when it feels it could be just us.
    Thankyou for sharing your story with us.