What you need to know about people with social anxiety

I haven’t been able to answer the question of “How are you?” with a truthful “I’m good!” in about 2 months. I’m never really okay. Sure, some days are better than others, and sometimes it might look like I’m doing just fine because I’m smiling and I still go to work. So clearly, I’m totally okay.

I’m not.

Over the past few months while tapering off my klonopin, I reached a new level of anxiety: completely debilitating social anxiety. No, socially anxious people aren’t just “socially awkward.” It’s a complete fear of other people. Fear of being judged or ignored or disliked.

Just because I don’t answer your text right away doesn’t mean I’m mad at you. I’m just afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Just because I can barely go to the grocery store without having a small panic attack doesn’t mean I’m weird.

Not being able to be around a bunch of people I don’t know doesn’t make me antisocial. It’s just not comfortable.

Dominant personalities terrify me. I go by a script to talk to customers at work and it’s really hard to deviate from that without panicking.

Just because I’m “here” doesn’t mean I’m “here.”

It’s really hard to hold a job. I stopped going to one of my jobs because it made me so anxious and I was too scared to call my boss and call out or quit. I left her a voicemail.

I’m easily irritated. It’s hardly ever personal.

I’m really bad at starting conversations with new people. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you. You’re probably pretty cool and I just can’t think of anything to say.

I’m easily startled.

I really don’t want pity. Don’t tell me I’m falling apart, I know I am.

What am I trying to say here? Society needs to be more aware of how they treat other people. If someone looks like they’re not okay, they’re probably not, so please treat them that way. Quiet people don’t need your dominant personality thrown in their face. I’m not asking for special treatment, I’m just asking for people as a whole to be more considerate of others because you don’t know what someone is going through.

Some days are better than others. Sometimes I can go out and run errands and be okay, and other days I don’t leave my apartment unless I absolutely have to. When I completely stopped taking my klonopin, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at night. Truth is, I sleep like a baby now because I put so much energy into trying to act normal when I go out, that when I get home, I’m mentally and physically exhausted.

I know that it’s just withdrawal anxiety, and eventually it won’t be as bad. But in the mean time, I’m okay with not holding a full-time job and spending my Saturday nights alone.

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Let me paint you a picture

What does anxiety look like? Well, it looks a lot like this

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Yep, that’s me yesterday hiking in Horsetooth park. Now that the weather has started to perk up for the summer time, I decided it’s time to get back outside to remind myself why I came out to Colorado in the first place. So, I did the same loop I did about 4 months ago on Christmas Eve, which takes me through the falls, and then up to the top of Horsetooth Rock. Well, actually I didn’t. This photo was taken about halfway through the planned route before I started having a panic attack and made it to about 15 minutes away from the top and decided that I couldn’t do it.

Moral of that story? Don’t believe that everyone who posts these nice selfies on Instagram and Facebook are “happy.”

So here’s what anxiety really looks like. It started with yesterday, going for a nice hike and overall okay despite the fact that it was my first day without a single dose of my anxiety medications. I was about 15 minutes away from getting to the top of the rock when I decided that I wanted to go climb up another rock to sit and eat my snack and drink my “summit beer” (usually these things happen at the actual top, or the “summit,” and it’s always definitely a good idea to bring something that’s low ABV, which in this case was 4.5%). That’s when the anxiety set in. Suddenly, everything felt different. A sense of dread and everything seemed foreign, despite the fact that I’ve done this hike probably half a dozen times in the past year. I felt shaky and out of my body. Despite all this, I wanted to make it to the top of the mountain since it was easy. I climbed down from my rock and proceeded to hike, and then decided, nope, I wanted to go home. I wanted to crawl into bed in my sweatpants and watch Netflix by myself. And that’s what I did. A really exciting end to that part of the story.

I sat in bed trying to drown out my sense of dread and anxiety with Netflix and another beer, really not looking forward to waking up early for work the next day, which I really didn’t want to go to. I just started this job and was super excited about it because it meant that I was able to leave the job I hated and be involved in something I liked: locally sourced food. As a vegan and an advocate for natural, locally sourced food, I took a job in a new market opening up in town that sounded like it could be my new home, where I could thrive a bit being around something that I’m legitimately passionate about. But it’s ended up being a sense of dread because I hate being bored and being around new people and in particular, new bosses whom I’m convinced dislike me. There’s no real reason for that, just a feeling. The anxiety talking to me. Either way, I tried to drown out my anxiety with a Netflix binge, some yoga, seeing D, and trying to get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep.

I kept trying to think of a million reasons to not go to work. Tired. Sick. Klonopin withdrawal. I could find another job. I could pick up more shifts at my other job to get by.  Eventually, the tiny dose I take of klonopin at night kicked in and fell asleep to wake up to the day I dreaded. I tried not to think about it as I got ready for the day, but I still found myself sitting in silence for minutes at a time (good thing I get up early) just thinking and thinking and thinking and wondering how I could possibly get out of going to work, how I could get on with my life, what I should even do with my life in general. Why am I here? Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I out here doing jobs I don’t like to go on adventures that I don’t want to go on anymore and in the end, being semi-broke, hating myself and my life.

Biking to work helps. Except for when I get super anxious when I’m in the middle of traffic and I’m scared that everyone on the road hates “that stupid biker that I almost hit.” I try to drown it out and know that everyone who drives in Fort Collins knows that there are cyclists everywhere. Most of the main roads are bike friendly, but I road through the backroads and neighborhoods to avoid traffic. I got to work and had to take a moment to collect myself while locking up my bike, telling myself that I was gonna make it to 2pm. Only 6 hours, that’s not a long work day. I’ve done worse.

But I got to work and immediately zoned out and couldn’t focus on anything. One of my bosses finally came up and asked me to go to the walk-in fridge/freezer to seal up popsicle wrappers. This basically involved me standing in the walk-in fridge for about 30 minutes using a heat press to seal the ends of popsicle wrappers (my bosses also run a pop shop a couple streets over). About 10 minutes into this, I got really cold. Like REALLY cold. And then I realized I was stuck in there for I don’t even know how long because I’m a wimp and hate cold, and I started to panic. I could feel myself getting sick but didn’t want to say anything to my boss because I didn’t want him to think that I actually was a wimp and couldn’t stand being in a 40ish degree fridge for short periods of time. But I stuck with it, despite telling one of my co-workers that I felt sick and I have a hypersensitivity to cold. She responded with “Do you have bad circulation or something?” To which, because it totally made the best sense and would give me a reason to not be in the fridge, I responded “yeah, I have low blood pressure,” which is actually true.

After finishing up in the fridge, I sat out behind the counter with some hot coffee for a while, feeling light headed, weak, and a bit panicky. I kept wondering how the hell I was going to make it to 2 o’clock when it was barely 10am and I already needed to leave. After a while, I finally mentioned to another coworker that I felt a bit sick from being in the fridge and told her I was probably going to ask to go home. She told me to just go home. So I did. I felt bad. I felt everything and nothing. I hated my job, but I hated myself more. Still feeling legitimately a bit sick, I started to bike home, which really sucks when you feel lightheaded. I was panicky the whole way home. Shaky and barely able to stay in the bike lane. When I got home I crawled into bed and hid. Hid from everything. Myself, my job, my roommates, my entire world. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I stared at Craigslist Jobs and Indeed for about an hour before I stressed myself out even more by wondering what the fuck I was doing with my entire life.

And so ends my 24 hour long panic attack. I’m still trying to figure out how I can get out of work tomorrow, and if I do go, can I make it? I can’t leave work early 2 days in a row. I don’t want people to think I’m weak, because in the hindsight of it all, I’m not. I just feel things more strongly than others. I feel life and its stresses clearer, not always in the best way, but sometimes logical when need be. I know the things I can do, the things I can’t, and the things that I’m still not sure of.

But I know I can take a selfie and look like I’m doing more than alright.

the end of a 9.5 year era (my life as a psychiatric medication addict)

To be honest, I thought that I was going to officially unofficially end this blog. I only have so many stories to tell, and rants to go on before people get fed up with my uncreative story telling and word usage, and to be perfectly honest, there’s some stuff about my mental health that I’m actually not okay with writing about on the internet. I know this is supposed to be completely uncensored, no bs, etc. etc., but some things are just best left to my own devices (one of them not being a computer). That’s why people have friends.

But there are still things, okay a lot of things. For example, why haven’t I posted jack squat in the past month or so? There are many answers to that question, but the main one being this: I’m officially on the klonopin wagon (I had to google “on the wagon” vs. “off the wagon” because I could have sworn that being “off the wagon” meant that you weren’t doing the addictive thing, but it’s the opposite and now I’m really confused about this phrase. Cause being “on the wagon” sounds like you’re back on the drug of choice, which totally makes more sense and not “yeah I’m on the wagon, I decided to stop drinking.” When you’re off a drug, you should be “off the wagon,” right?)

About a month and a half ago, after being fed up with psychiatrists telling me that I shouldn’t be taking Klonopin long term, that it leads to dementia and Alzheimers and it’s addicting and terrible for you, I finally went to my primary care doc and had him taper me off of it. I noticed my short-term memory going a bit. My anxiety wasn’t really under control anymore and unless I got a stronger dosage or switched to another medication that probably wouldn’t help, it was looking like I was going to be taking psychiatric medication for the rest of my life and eventually develop more brain damage than I’ve already inflicted upon myself and has been inflicted on me by medication.

I still remember when I first started taking Klonopin. It worked almost instantly and suddenly the things that normally scared me were just whatever everyday things. I lost a lot of weight because I was constantly nauseous and didn’t eat more than 500 calories a day and was still exercising daily. And for a while, I felt really great. My self-esteem soared because I finally had the mind and body I had been wanting for years. The nausea went away, but I still kept losing weight, which was okay with me. And I still felt better in general. I wasn’t scared to be around people or go out in public. After a while, I adjusted to it, but I just kept taking it because it was just a part of my daily routine and I didn’t think twice about it besides that it was still helping. And then I decided it was time to take away the safety blanket. No doctor could convince me to stop taking it, I made this decision myself.

After a month and a half of misery, days where I couldn’t walk straight, days I sat in my car before work having a panic attack, days where I couldn’t be around more than 1 person at a time, days where I’d stay in bed all day because my blood pressure dropped down to a borderline hypotension level of 90/58 and I thought I was dying..

I’m now happy to say I’m on my last week of tapering. For this last week of being a pill popper, I’m down to 1/4mg of Klonopin once a day, and then next week, I’ll be pill free. For 4.5 years, I’ve taken 1mg twice a day of Klonopin, always relying on it to keep me calm, cure my hangovers, blame anything that happened that day on the fact that I “forgot to take my meds.” For 9.5 years, I’ve exhausted the list of anti-anxiety, anti-depression, mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, ADHD medications, benzos, and some others that I’m not entirely sure what category they fall into besides the “I feel like a sociopath” category. 9.5 years of side effects and reliance. 1 seizure, 1 overdose, several medication-induced manic episodes, days of withdrawal if I really did forget to take my morning Klonopin, weeks of not eating anything, my weight fluctuating between 100 and 135 lbs, nights fighting with my Dad because I legitimately forgot to take my meds, nights fighting with my mom because medications would make me a mess, days I had to be pulled out of school because I would start crying for no reason, 9.5 years of constant fluctuation of who I thought I was, what was wrong with me, going from on top of the world to begging the universe to let me die while I sleep.

I’ve haven’t been just me in 9.5 years.

And now it’s almost done. I’ve spent years jumping from medication to medication trying to find my cure, but really, I was just trying to find a band-aid. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that medications will not cure you, they will not fix you, and ultimately, they will not help unless you are actively trying to help yourself.

It’s liberating, really. While medications are convenient, they also get in the way of everything. Way too many trips to the pharmacy, too many phone calls to get refills, time wasted in doctor’s offices every month, needles stuck in my arm to get monthly blood testing. And now I can say I never have to do this again.

So that is basically why I haven’t written in a month. I’ve been re-learning how to be human, how to feel emotions somewhat appropriately, and looking all my fears and suppressed memories in the face and saying to them,

“I’m over you. Congratulations.”

*Special thanks to D for sticking with me through this hurricane. And to my few Foco friends who I have put off seeing because I’ve been a mess and I really will try harder to hang.

 

 

find zen in a punching bag

It’s funny to think about where I was a year ago. Actually a year ago I was in a hospital bed trying to convince the doctors I rarely saw to let me go home. But on the other hand, I was also dead set on getting out of Maryland and moving to Colorado. And now, I’m here and I’m not sure why. Funny how something you thought you were so sure about ends up being the one thing you’re completely unsure about.

I was so sure that I just wanted to be here to figure my life out and just work. Well, I am doing that but it’s not nearly as glorious as I thought it would be. I did figure out where I want to be and want to do, but in the midst of that, I realized I needed to make an even bigger decision. Should I stay, or should I go?

Truth is, times are pretty tough. This whole “starting a new life” thing kind of has ended up being financial suicide, which is pretty untimely now that I’ve decided to go back to school. I keep wondering to myself, why didn’t I figure this all out BEFORE I decided to move here? Well, I guess I was just a bit naive. And that’s okay. Sometimes learning things the hard way is the only way. I followed my heart instead of my mind. In doing so, while this whole concept is incredibly freeing, it is incredibly terrifying as well. Staying out here is what my heart is telling me because I am free and I am afraid. My mind tells me to go back to Maryland because I might find myself out on the streets trying to teach my pet rats to do tricks to earn money if I stay here. But the fear and freedom I’ve found in being here in Colorado and finally figuring out what I want to do with my life has made me realize I’ve finally begun to think with my heart instead of my head. As irrational as the heart can be, I now feel free. Decisions are hard. I decided to follow my heart.

And I did make a few decisions. First, I made the decision that it really is time to get off of my meds and handle my anxiety in more holistic ways through meditation, tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, and of course the biggie: limiting alcohol. After dealing with this bitchy psychiatrist that I decided I never wanted to deal with again, I went to my primary care doctor who ACTUALLY LISTENED TO ME. He was completely on board with my decision and after telling him that I’m applying to acupuncture school, he was in complete support of me using acupuncture as an alternative treatment to my anxiety. Coolest doc ever, right? Doctors who actually support the lifestyle that you think is best for you is what every doctor should be, unless your lifestyle is hurting you, of course. He’s also the first doctor who hasn’t tried to scrutinize me for eating a mostly vegan diet by pushing me to take supplements and get my blood tested to make sure I’m healthy etc. etc.

Basically, I decided to take control of my life for the first time. Getting off of benzodiazepines is really tough, I won’t lie. There’s the physical withdrawal in which sleeping seems impossible because you feel like you’re heart is going to thump thump thump its way out of your chest because it’s beating so hard, and then waking up feeling hungover every morning even if you didn’t even have a sip of alcohol the night before. And there’s the mental withdrawal. Always on edge. Always afraid. Finding your anxiety worse than you can ever remember it being. It sucks, but I know that this too shall pass because I now know how to control it. I will be free.

Earlier this week, I had made plans to go hiking with a couple friends. Today, I woke up to get ready for the hike and I felt awful. Racing heartbeat, suddenly not wanting to go out, and still feeling hungover even though I didn’t drink last night (unless I’m getting Buffy hangovers, maybe I’m binging too much, possible?) Still, I wasn’t going to back out on plans because I wasn’t going to give into my anxiety. Once I got outside and we were on the trail and I’m 15 minutes into the hike and dying and hating myself (see JP Sears’ video about Boulder: The Consciousness Capital of the World, which also sums up what Boulder, CO really is like. Goddamn trustifarians, aka rich hippies), I looked out at the mountains and breathed in the fresh air and felt an immediate sense of peace. Sometimes it really is that simple, sometimes not. For me, getting outside and feeling the sun hit my face and breathing the fresh, clean air of the mountains reminds me to just be here, now. Sometimes it isn’t that simple. Sometimes you have to go Buffy on a punching bag until your knuckles are bruised and blistered and your mom yells at you that you’re going to get arthritis to get out that nervous energy. Because that’s all anxiety is for me: pent of energy. I guess also slowly dying on a beautiful hike uses up a lot of the anxious energy too. But hey, the mountains are still beautiful even if you’re surrounded by an entire forest that was completely burned away in a fire about 5 years ago. Deciding to live with my anxiety is freeing, while also being ultimately terrifying.

The other decision I made is that I still want to be here. For a few months, I had convinced myself that nothing was ever going to work out here. The job market out here is horrific and I’ve found myself losing money instead of making money. Finding friends that I actually like in a town full of college kids is pretty hard too, especially when you don’t like people your age. But when I see the red light shining through my window in the morning as the sun rises, and seeing the sun set over Horsetooth Rock after a snow storm, I feel peace and I remember why I wanted to be here so badly in the first place. Maybe not being here in Fort Collins, necessarily, but being in a different place where I’m surrounded by mountains and being away from the place that I had grown too comfortable with is enough. I’m trying so hard to give myself reasons to stay because it is freeing and terrifying and I don’t want my head to make me go crying back to my mom in Maryland because everything out here isn’t working out.

How did I decide that applying for a graduate program in acupuncture here in Colorado was the right decision? Well, I felt freedom and fear. Freedom in the sense that I finally figured out who I really want to be and what I want to do, and the fear of everything that goes along with applying to grad school when you’re pretty low on funds and looking at a $60,000 program.

Here I am now, a year later. This time last year, the only future I saw ahead of me was my delusional relationship with Blob, feeling sorry for myself, not knowing who I was or what I was doing, but only knowing that I wanted to run away, and so I decided to do that. Now, I’m away from everything. Free from my past life, mostly, ambitious to follow my heart and take the next big step in my life and willing to take control of my anxiety instead of hiding it under medications.

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One year ago

I found peace on a mountain top. I found it letting loose on a punching bag. It can be found even when everything seems dark and scary. 23 years later, I am free.

*Most people know JP Sears as that guy who appears on your newsfeed once in a while sarcastically talking about veganism or how to be gluten intolerant. I found out the other day that he’s actually a certified holistic health coach who specializes in self-empowerment. See his video How to Follow Your Head (not your heart).

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Today. Grateful. Free. At peace.

 

I just really don’t trust doctors

I kind of wanted to just leave it at that and not even write a post about it. Let the title be the end of explanation.

But for real, I officially don’t trust doctors.

After driving down to this really sad part of Colorado to see a psychiatrist, I basically spent my $20 copay to get yelled at by a psychiatric nurse practitioner about my health habits. I’ve been taking klonopin for about 4 years now. After I told her that, I sensed the KLONOPIN LEADS TO EARLY ONSET DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMERS rant at which I stopped her before she even started and almost yelled YES I KNOW THAT FROM MY 2 DOCTORS WHO DIDN’T SEEM THAT CONCERNED ABOUT IT. Clearly, my first psychiatrist didn’t seem that concerned about having me on 3 different types of mood stabilizers at once and another time when he had me taking Xanax 5 times a day in addition to taking Klonopin twice a day.

Here’s the struggle with mental illness and psychotropic drugs: finding one that works for you can be one of the biggest struggles of mental illness. It’s frustrating, time consuming, hard on your body, and endlessly exhausting. When you find one that works, that’s it. You don’t want to change because after all that struggle, why would you want to change? From weight fluctuation, to no libido to insanely high libido, to the seizure I had in high school, the manic episodes from the first SSRI I took, to the other drugs that I just felt like didn’t do anything except make me feel exhausted for no reason, yeah, when I found that klonopin was actually helping me and the side effects were bearable, no way did I want to change. Let’s be honest, who would?

Now there’s this doctor who wants to take away the one thing that’s worked for me and make me change my entire lifestyle after going through the health questionnaire. Stop drinking, don’t be vegan, don’t take the Klonopin, get my blood tested for 8 different things, start a “selective carbohydrate diet” for my IBS, take a B12 supplement… Um. I thought I was seeing a psychiatrist. Not a life coach or my physician.

Somewhere, in every psychiatrists’ education, it has slipped through the cracks that when people find a medication that works for them, that’s it. End of the road. No more trying new medications.

And then there’s my hatred for medications. I would love to not have to take medications. Honestly, I might be able to. I’ve been medicated for 9 years now, so how would I even know if there’s anything actually wrong with me?

After a lot of reading about traditional Chinese medicine, I’m starting to believe that the only way to heal myself, is by myself. Chinese medicine looks at the body as a whole, and how the body connects to nature. It’s not like modern Western medicine where we have separate doctors for each part of our body. Chinese medicine believes in having one doctor that has a complete connection with their patient, mind, body and environment. Everything is connected. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the basic concept of Chinese medicine which encompasses a life force that inhabits both the body and the earth. When Qi is not in balance in the body, the body will become ill. Having the perfect balance of Yin and Yang in the body is what will make the body whole and healthy. When both Yin and Yang are in balance, then Qi flows throughout the entire body and keeps the body in balance.

Some people may think that this whole Eastern philosophy is total bulls**t. But think about it, it really does make sense. When someone suffers from migraines, instead of treating the migraine, we should be looking at what is causing the migraine. Stress in any part of the body can trigger distress elsewhere. You know that whole thing about how depression can cause sleep disruption, appetite changes, and body aches? Well, there’s your proof that the body and mind are connected. Yes, doctors can argue that the chemical changes in a depressed person’s brain can affect the rest of the body. This argument is valid. Having taken neuroscience in college, yeah those little neurotransmitters in your brain can have a huge impact on your mind as well as your body.

But medication isn’t going to fix it. Medication is still only a band-aid and that band-aid can lead to worse problems. See the body as a whole. See the body as part of the earth. The body is an element. The body is a garden. It needs maintenance and care. If you have a garden, you would know. You can’t look at your garden, see that your tomato plants are dying and ignore the rest of your garden while you care for them. The key is balance. The key is balancing the energy in the entire body, not just one part of it.

My Yang is weak, while Yin rules most of my body. Yin gives me quiet and coolness, but in excess, it’s unhealthy. Restoring balance to the heat and activeness (Yang) and coolness and quiet (Yin) is what will eventually heal myself as a whole.

I don’t need medications to find balance. I don’t need a Western doctor to tell me to do xyz and my body will be better. Don’t see me as a brain that needs tweaking. See me. See me as a whole being.

I don’t trust Western medicine educated doctors.

Welcome to Emily’s second quarter life crisis

I think I like changing up my format for how I do my titles now. Or I guess, lack there of. I always hated making up titles for essays when I was in school but since writing a blog, titles can be the most challenging but most fun part because you WANT people to read your blog post. And what’s gonna get people to start reading? The title. Even if it’s irrelevant to the rest of the post like mine mostly am. But hey, that’s just my style. Off topic, random and sometimes not so PG. Continue reading “Welcome to Emily’s second quarter life crisis”