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.
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.