Monday, August 3, 2009

High Anxiety

When I was six or seven years old I started having some weird dreams. There are two that I remember quite clearly, probably because they were very similar.

In one of them, it was breakfast time, and my mother presented me with a bowl of the full sized shredded wheat. (Do you remember Full Sized Shredded Wheat? It was quite large; maybe 2x3 inches and you could break it apart with your spoon.) Only this was not your normal full sized shredded wheat, it was almost as large as the kitchen table. I remember feelings of dread, a feeling of never being able to finish, and on top of that, I hated shredded wheat. It was a bad dream. The second dream was almost the same, only instead of breakfast, it was dinner and instead of shredded wheat, which I didn’t like, it was spaghetti, which was my favorite food. You would think that being presented with a table sized portion of your favorite food as a child would be heaven, but you would be wrong. Like the first dream, all I felt was a severe dread, a feeling of failure because I would never, ever, ever be able to finish eating. Looking back, these dreams almost sound hilarious, but as I think about my life, these dreams really were a sign of the Anxiety that would find its way into every part of my life.

Fear of failure would eventually lead to not even trying in school, which of course would lead to actual failure. It was a horrible spiral, I sometimes wish that I could go back in time and change it all, but then I get to thinking, I am the sum of my experiences, and at 32 years old I think I am a pretty well rounded individual. My experiences, my anxiety, my failures and my triumphs have made me a pretty good person. So, really, if I could go back in time, I probably wouldn’t try to change myself, but I might tell myself that, eventually, it was all going to be OK. I would not die from the fear and anxiety, but I would grow, I would become stronger.

Through the years I have accepted the fact that my brain lies to me sometimes; I have learned how to deal with it. I have been through counseling- twice. For a long time I wouldn’t talk about the fact that I needed counseling. It seems that there is a stigma that comes along with that need. In fact, earlier this year I had a family member (who didn’t know that I had been through counseling) tell me and another family member (who is getting a masters degree in counseling) that they didn’t really understand why the church employees counselors (at LDS Family Services). I don’t remember their exact words, but basically they said something like this “if you are really living the Gospel, you will be OK and you won't need that kind of help”. I found that kind of sad. I agree that there is great power for healing in the Atonement and the Gospel, but there are lots of emotional issues and pains that are not caused by sin or lack of commitment to the Gospel.

I shared my experiences with counseling with them, and now I want to share it with you. The first thing I told them was, that I believe, Good Counselors know that there is a lot of good in Religion and Faith, and that they do not want to take that away from the people they are trying to help. In fact, the very first time I spoke with a counselor I was asked if I was a religious person, when I said that I was the counselor then asked me if I had spoken to my religious leaders and if I was “Right” with my God. I had, and I felt that I was, but I still was struggling with my Anxiety. After talking with him for a while, he told me that he felt I could benefit from being part of a few Group Counseling sessions.

And so I participated in a group, what I learned from that group was that my problems were really not all that bad when compared to 90% of the people in the group. I also found that my testimony of the power of my Saviors atonement grew as a participated in that group because there were people there, who did not share my faith, who were struggling with things that I had easily overcome through prayer and faith. And so I went on my way. I had some tools for dealing with my Anxiety and for a few years they helped me. But about 5 years later I found myself deep in a pit of Anxiety again. I went to my doctor and he told me I was depressed and gave me a prescription for Anti-Depressants. I didn’t want to be on medication, and I also didn’t think I was really depressed, so I decided to see a counselor again.

This time I took advantage of my employers “Employee Assistance Program” and I spoke to a counselor who worked in the corporate Human Resources office. They felt that I would benefit from a few “one on one” sessions with a counselor and they gave me a referral to one that would be covered by the EAP Program.

The first time I met with this counselor he asked me to pick up a new book. I think it was called the “Anxiety and Phobia Workbook”. He gave me assignments to read chapters and then perform tasks. Each week I would return and report on what I had done and then we would talk, just talk. He didn’t try to dig deep into my psyche to find exactly what went wrong and when it went wrong, instead he tried to help me see what was true and what was false. That seems like a really simplified way of explaining his counseling technique with me, but that is what it boils down to.

For me, my anxiety comes from not recognizing and stopping the false impressions. The dreams that I had when I was so young seem very laughable now, but when I realize that I was allowing myself to believe that they were true, that I had to eat a gigantic plate or bowl of food, and if I didn’t finish then I was bad, I completely understand why I would feel the dread and anxiety during and after those dreams.

School was always a big source of Anxiety for me, because I thought that it was true that I had to be perfect, I HAD to get great grades, if I didn’t I would disappoint my parents, and they wouldn’t love me. My friends wouldn’t want to be my friends if I was a failure. I would be an outcast. But then I also feared that I could never be perfect and so I wouldn’t try…. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe. I did fail a few times. Sometimes I failed big. But did my parents stop loving me? No. Did my friends ditch me? No. My thoughts, my expectations, the things I believed to be true, were actually false.

So I finished my second round of counseling and this time I was armed with an understanding of what causes my anxiety, basically my brain lies to me, and with tools to help myself recognize those lies, prove them wrong, and move forward with life.
I really hadn’t had to many problems since then. I would feel edgy at times, but deep breathing and relaxation techniques I had learned would quickly help with that. It has been 9 years or so, and it wasn’t until this last month that I recognized the feelings of Anxiety and Panic in my life again.

The first episode happened on a Tuesday. It was the day of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and Ken and I were having some new Neighbors over for Homemade Pizza and the game. I had worked that morning, but I KNEW that I would be able to clean the house, make the Pizza, and generally present a Perfect Home to my neighbors. I finished work, picked up Baby J and came home. I rested a little and then got to work. The house was a mess, as always, we live with a 16-month-old Tornado, but I had hours to get it ready. My little Tornado followed me around, messing things up just as fast as I cleaned them. Time ticked away and I quickly realized that I was feeling stressed, more than stressed, I was feeling very anxious.

(Here is a picture of my Tornado)

I stopped what I was doing and thought about all that I needed to get done. I wanted to make yummy pizza, I wanted to have a clean home, I wanted people to be comfortable and happy at the party. What was the most important too me? The Clean Home. I decided that I just couldn’t make the pizza…more anxiety….people are coming to my home expecting to eat. But wait, I can deal with this, I already have all the toppings, I just don’t have time to make the dough. Ken got home a few minutes later, he walked in and I bombarded him with my needs. “Ken you have to go to Papa Murphy’s and see if they will sell you plain Pizza Crusts, or maybe a couple of Cheese Pizza’s won’t be too expensive, then we can just add more toppings to them.” After a few minutes of explanation of my anxiety and my plan to overcome it by giving up the dream of the home made pizza, Ken, and Baby J, were on their way to find pizza, and I was alone in the house and able to clean.

The party turned out great; our guests gladly ate Little Cesar’s in a clean, comfortable home, with a laid back and happy hostess. Crisis Averted. When I think about this situation I almost have to laugh, I know that 10 years ago I would have called up our guests and cancelled the party, because it wouldn’t be perfect and as such would be bad, and I could not throw a bad party!

Two weeks later I found myself unable to sleep. I could not stop thinking about a mistake I felt I had made. Different scenarios played out in my mind, I was haunted, and I was scared that I had hurt some precious relationships. And then I wondered, “Is this true? Is it really this bad?” I really didn’t know. I didn’t have all the information, I had made an assumption based on the information I had and that assumption had turned into fact in my mind. I decided that I needed to find out what was really going on, apologize if I had done something horribly wrong and move on. And so the next morning I did. I contacted all the people involved, let them know about my feelings and anxiety associated with the situation and asked a few questions. Within minutes I had my answers. My “horrible mistake” was not a problem at all, all the fear and anxiety I had been feeling, the nights that I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about the consequences of my mistake, they were all caused by a false belief.

I felt so good. I felt free. I was proud of myself; I had stopped Anxiety and Panic in its tracks! I can now see that I really have learned some great skills, and I can control the anxiety. This past month has shown me just how strong I have become. I think that my Savior is just as proud of me. I think my Earthly Father will be proud of me too (I haven’t shared these experiences with him yet). I am also happy because I know that Anxiety is both an Inherited and a learned problem and I truly feel now that I will be able to help my children recognize and over come these issues in their lives. I wouldn't have been able to do any of these things had I not sought help and gone to counseling.

If you have read this entire post, I hope that you found something of worth in it. If anything, I shared these experiences because I am proud of my growth. In the long run, I hope that my experiences will help others understand why some of us need counseling and maybe someday the stigma will go away. In the short term, I hope that you can be proud of me too.


Jodi said...

I would like to recommend a book to you called "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl. This is a great book. The end can be a bit tedious to get through, but you might find the most meaning in the end, so try to stick with it. This book has helped me to "organize" things in order of life importance which has helped me with living with my anxiety issues.

Angie said...

Thank you Kate for sharing. I think everyone can benefit from introspection and help now and then. I'm glad yours has given you tools to carry with you on your journey and I'm especially glad that you haven't allowed any hamfisted relatives to make you doubt yourself!

And on another note, I am so pleased to report after much jealous reading about your food co-op, I finally found some CSA out here in the desert and I purchased my first share yesterday. I can hardly wait for the deliveries to begin. Yeah.

pdwheeler said...

I always enjoy your insights. I tend to be a perfectionist and I am finally learning to let some things go and it is ok. You are learning at a younger age. Congratulations.