Archives for October, 2011
Yesterday, I presented a list of my fears from A through M. Many different types of fears made the list -- from the more serious (like anxiety itself) to the more whimsical (like joke-telling). Now, here are the rest of my alphabetical anxieties: 14. Nausea. It's unpleasant and (unfortunately) quite common for those of us with anxiety disorders. Yuck. 15. Overanalyzing. Once I get started, it's all downhill from there on bad days. Why does my head hurt? Never mind the fact that I just stared at a bright computer screen for three hours and my eyes are fatigued; it's probably a brain tumor. If it's a brain tumor, how will I know? Should I go to the doctor for this? Will I need to undergo tests? CAT scans? An MRI? How will I afford that? 16. Powerlines. In second grade, I was standing outside on the sidewalk with my parents and neighbors after a nasty thunderstorm caused a neighborhood blackout. Hopeful that power would be restored before that night's episode of Full House aired, I pointed with excitement to the top of a telephone pole above that was lighting up. I thought it was a streetlight coming back on...until I heard the snapping and crackling of raw electricity. I ran at the speed of light as the power line attached to the sparking pole fell in front of my parents' house. (Almost 20 years later, I still have a hard time walking underneath the really high-voltage lines.) 17. Quinoa. It's not that the ancient grain itself scares me, but I'm always worried about mispronouncing it again. This is what happens when you read about a food on the internet and ask for it in the store without ever having spoken the word aloud. Excuse me, can I have some kwin-OH-uh, please? Where do you stock your kwin-OH-uh? Why don't you understand me, grocery store clerk? 18. Restrooms. There are plenty of reasons to be wary of public restrooms -- germs, unsanitary toilet seats, the risk of someone stealing your purse from the inner door hook -- but my fear is different. And perhaps strange. And perhaps quite indicative of emetophobia. I am always worried that I'll hear someone vomiting in another stall. I can't stand that sound.
After listening to Roz Chast's NPR interview about her new book of alphabetical fears, What I Hate From A to Z, I felt inspired to pen my own list. It started as an innocuous activity to help me get to sleep, strangely enough, but turned into a very reflective list of fears. It was easier than I'd thought (letters K and Z notwithstanding). Constructing this list allowed me to revisit a few fears from my past and realize a few fears I didn't fully know I had. Please read with caution if any item on the list is personally triggering for you! 1. Anxiety. Yes, I am afraid of anxiety and afraid of being anxious. This complicates all things. 2. Blood. I'll never forget my first (and last) time donating blood to the Red Cross. That big red bag, those glass vials, that gymnasium ceiling, that gymnasium ceiling slowly turning black...and then, that ammonia inhalant. 3. Clowns. See Pennywise from Stephen King's It. That's all. 4. Dentists. I'm not sure what I hate more -- getting needles poked in my gums, dealing with a partially-numbed face, or simply not being able to get up and run away after a dental procedure has begun. 5. Emails. They pile up like dirty dishes, don't they? 6. Freezing temperatures. This might seem like a strange one. But perhaps it seems less strange when you consider that many panic attacks include a shivering or shaking component. When it's cold outside and I start shivering, it reminds me of the discomfort of a panic attack.
Last night, I couldn't sleep. Nothing new or special there. It happens regularly, I suspect, to all of us. The day shuts off, but our brain stays turned on. Usually, when I can't sleep, I like to play the Alphabet Game -- an easy mental exercise that provides me with a simple task to focus on -- in order to push out the circular thoughts that are keeping meu up. You pick a category, like boy's names, and then you go through the alphabet and try to think of one name for each letter. Andrew, Bobby, Curtis, Dylan, Edward. When you exhaust one category (Xavier, Yanni, Zachary), you simply move on to another. Items at the grocery store. Professional sports teams. Religious objects. Diseases. Countries. Units of measurement. (The list is endless.) But, last night when I couldn't sleep, I ditched the Alphabet Game in favor of some technological distraction. I pulled out my iPod, opened my NPR app, and scanned the day's stories. Anything about the war or the economy would keep me awake even longer, so I bypassed anything that looked too serious for 4:17 a.m. I settled on this story from Talk of the Nation. An interview with cartoonist Roz Chast of the New Yorker. Okay, that should be good. Maybe they'll talk about cartoons or drawing or something else that's light and fluffy and happy.
I woke up this morning to the sound of a text message alert. After getting up and checking my phone, I grabbed my iPod Touch at 7:40 a.m. to check my email, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. (It's habit.) If it weren't for that text message chime, I probably wouldn't have gotten up so early. After all, I'm freshly unemployed. There's no good reason to get up early for work if work no longer exists. No longer is there a gray fabric-covered cubicle with my name on it, with my rolling office chair tucked into its tight confines, waiting for my body (if not my mind) to occupy it at some early hour. I do not yet know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes, I sit back and compare my day-to-day life with the day-to-day life of my parents when they were my age in the 1970's. They didn't wake up to the sound of text messages. They didn't grab a digital device first thing in the morning -- well, maybe they smacked the snooze button on their split-flap display clock on the nightstand, but does that really count? A basic electric clock doesn't deliver any email messages...let alone provide you with a nearly endless stream of social media updates or compelling news stories. Social updates were received via land line telephone. And perhaps from the "Lifestyle" section of the local newspaper. Uncle Jerry is in the hospital. Kathy bought a new pair of boots. So-and-so is engaged. When their electric clocks buzzed, my parents got up and went to work. My father worked in a factory, but earned a good wage and made a fair living. My mother worked as a clerk at a car dealership. We might say that we're lucky to have all this newfangled technology. We have cell -- er, wireless -- phones. We have MP3 players. We have video game consoles that multitask and stream Netflix and play Blu-Ray discs. We have cable boxes that display on-screen menus. We have high-definition televisions. If we define our society by technological advancement, us twentysomethings are winning the game. Right? Aren't we more awash in the luxury of electronics these days than we were in the 1970's?
Being sick is no fun. For the past two or three days, I've had a fever, the aches, and a wicked sore throat. As a result, my brain is a worthless pile of mush. For just about everyone, having a cold or the flu is a bummer. But for people with anxiety disorders, it can be extremely unpleasant. If you're easily triggered into a panic by physiological changes, then it goes without saying that a fever or the mildly elevated heart rate that often accompanies the fever can be very difficult to deal with. And I won't even get into the horrible Catch-22 of cold meds and decongestants. They can easily fix one problem (say, congestion) but produce another unrelated problem (the jitters or spaciness) that can ramp up your anxiety level. (For the record, I'm popping plain old Tylenol tablets -- nothing else.) But at least I'm too out of it to be swallowed up in worry about the old anxiety standards: my agoraphobia, driving, money, work, the meaning of life, and so on. Ugh. It's been a long three days.
I'll be honest: I sort of hate the word "awareness". It's a popular buzzword these days. There are awareness bracelets. Awareness magnets for your car. Awareness bumper stickers. Awareness ribbons. Thanks to all this memorabilia, we're so aware of so many diseases and injustices. (And honestly, I can't pass that Lupus Awareness billboard on I-476 in eastern PA without thinking that I've got lupus.) We're practically saturated in awareness of diseases and injustices...but are we doing anything about them? A satirical book called Stuff White People Like sums up my rationale for disliking the word. From their blog post on the subject of awareness: ...they firmly believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness.” Meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, and then magically someone else like the government will fix it. This belief allows them to feel that sweet self-satisfaction without actually having to solve anything or face any difficult challenges. Because, the only challenge of raising awareness is people not being aware. In a worst case scenario, if you fail someone doesn’t know about the problem. End of story. In other words, awareness is cheap. It's a simple way to feel like you're advancing a cause...even when you aren't.
This is my very first outdoor blog post. I am typing from a sunny deck that overlooks a yard full of green grass, yellow and red trees, and brownish-gray squirrels. The sun, sliding westward, is warming up the left side of my face. The finches, flitting nervously, aren't disturbed enough by my presence to fly away from the bird feeder that hangs in the closest tree. A hawk circles above in a cloudless blue sky. A tiny spider just ziplined down a single strand of silk from the deck railing to the ground. A family of crickets works the wrong shift, but their raspy drone is still soothing in the daylight. Honestly, I'm surprised that I can see my computer screen in this kind of light. And I am thankful for it. I've always tried to keep a wall of separation erected between nature and technology. On my most recent camping trip, I left my iPod at home and my cell phone in the car. I made my fiance leave his new iPad at home. ("No, we're NOT going to want to watch an Angry Video Game Nerd episode by the fire," I told him. Also, let it be publicly known that I started the fire on that camping trip with a single match and without using gasoline to cheat, thank-you-very-much.)
Last week, I wrote about how certain mental health-related quips and jokes can sometimes be hurtful. Comments like "take a chill pill" run the gamut from innocuous to downright insulting -- depending on who is delivering the phrase, who is receiving it, and the context of the communication act. So, to counter all of that, here's my favorite piece of panic attack-related humor. Today, I erupted in giggles when I re-watched one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches called "Group Therapy". In the following scene, Penelope (a peppy gal who compulsively one-ups everyone with ridiculous tales, played by Kristen Wiig) disrupts a group therapy session led by actor and episode host Neil Patrick Harris. I won't ruin the fun by explaining the scene any further. Just watch it before reading on!