Archives for August, 2012
Spiders. Do they bug you out? Last week, we met Jenny Whalen. She's afraid of spiders -- really afraid of spiders, actually. In the first part of our interview, she told us the story about how she once jumped out of the driver's seat of her car while driving through a construction zone...all because she'd spotted a spider crawling around inside her vehicle. S: Have you ever tried therapy or any exposure techniques to lessen your fear? If so, what worked and what didn't? J: In high school, I took an elective course in Psychology. There was a spider in the room one day, and my reaction to it caused the teacher to segue into a unit on phobias and to use me as a guinea pig. We tried a gradual exposure technique and over several weeks, the idea was that I would look at a dead spider in a jar, work up to holding the jar, and eventually take the spider out of the jar, then hold the spider itself. If I made it to that point, we’d do the same steps with a live spider. I was never able to get past the dead spider being outside the jar.
Meet Jenny Whalen. She's a Rutgers graduate who lives in New Jersey with her husband, Patrick, and their cat, Dr. Watson. She works a day job in a corporate office but keeps busy the rest of the time creating and selling handmade products for pets. She loves art, music, cooking, and writing. Jenny enjoys reading and her numerous bookshelves are filled with art books, classic literature, and true crime works about serial killers. She is outgoing, loves meeting new people, and is always up for an adventure. Jenny hates close-minded people, disrespect, and Ugg boots. Oh, and she hates -- hates -- spiders. Summer: So, I understand you're afraid of spiders. Is the word "afraid" an understatement? Jenny: In most situations, I would definitely say yes. If I see a spider when I’m not expecting it, my reaction is complete uncontrollable panic.
As an adult, I definitely understand the logic of how small things sound like big things at night. It's the Contrast Principle in effect: during the day, there are so many sounds in nature that we're unlikely to hear a tiny mouse scurrying near our feet. But at night, with its absence of light, dull orchestra of crickets, and an imagination open wide, tiny sounds get amplified by our minds. As we learned in my last blog post, in a tent full of scared eleven-year-old Girl Scouts at summer camp, a field mouse scurrying through the leaves = a big hungry bear searching for a late-night snack. At the right (or, well, wrong) thoughts and a tiny mouse becomes a big bear. It doesn't necessarily need to be dark outside for our mind to amplify the wrong message. When anxious, small things sound like big things. When sick, small things sound like big things. When depressed. When overwhelmed. When tired. I mean, think about it: when's the last time something small -- say, washing a load of dishes -- seemed like a gargantuan task? Maybe it was yesterday when your nerves were already abuzz thanks to your colicky little one screaming her head off.
If you're new to my blog, I'll let you in on a little not-so-secret secret: I have panic disorder. With agoraphobia to boot. Simply put, I get panic attacks. Sometimes they're frequent. Sometimes (like right now!) they're not. And, sometimes, I find it difficult to leave my apartment and stretch the boundaries of my "safe" radius -- the area around that apartment that doesn't feel threatening. I'm happy to report that my safe radius is ballooning these days, folks. A year ago today, I could barely make it down the street to Walgreens to buy a roll of toilet paper without feeling faint and shaky. And now, I'm camping in the middle of the woods?
(This is the fifteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society,” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) She's been hospitalized six times for mental health emergencies. She's a twenty-something NYC-dweller who enjoys jogging in her spare time. She's got three diagnoses: borderline personality disorder, bipolar II, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. She's also got three lovable dogs. The one thing that's clear from the first two parts of City Panicked's interview is this: it is not easy to manage a double life. In her outer life, City plays the role of a working professional who commutes, drinks coffee at her desk, and excels at what she does. But in her hidden latent life, things aren't nearly as easy: the subway makes her panic, the panic makes her upset, and the "upset" becomes something to obscure from others. To ease the tension between both lives, she started an anonymous blog.
Does watching the evening news make your anxiety worse? As an anxiety sufferer, I try to avoid reading and watching too much news. After all, so much of it is negative. It's like junk food for my brain: a dose of bad news will sugar-rush me into worrying sick about health care or politics or some other major societal issue that I can't control. I'll spin around in a mental tizzy for an hour or so until I finally come back to the here and now. I can't avoid news altogether, though. Here's why: today, a particular news story on my local TV station has me laughing harder than I have in weeks. WNEP-TV reports: Just before noon a body was discovered in the Susquehanna River in the Williamsport area. Sometimes, things are not quite what they seem, and in this case that is a good thing. The body was discovered floating face-up in the river just below a spill-dam, an area that has seen drownings before. Police and the coroner were on scene, fully prepared to investigate a drowning. Sue Hubbard was under that impression, she first spotted the man’s body in shallow water. “I saw him down there all by myself, second thought was oh my gosh,” said Hubbard. You might be questioning my sanity right now. After all, I was cracking up at this story. They found a body! In a river! And it was floating! Not to mention that the body was spotted from a running trail on which I occasionally manage to go for walks. What kind of psychopath am I, laughing hysterically at a news story about a body floating in a river?
(This is the fourteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society,” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Meet City. She's spending her mid-to-upper twenties living and panicking in NYC. On the surface, she's just like any other upwardly-mobile young professional living a busy life in a busy city: she has a college degree, she works in an office, and she loves coming home to her small studio apartment so she can play with her dogs. We first met her last week in this post where she introduces herself and talks about her one two three mental health diagnoses: Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar II and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. City recently tried Pristiq -- an SNRI medication that had previously done wonders for her. But this time around, it made her feel suicidal. From City’s blog: Last week I started having increasingly severe panic attacks which over the course of 24 hours progressed to severe depression and thoughts of suicide. For the first time in my life though, instead of acting upon these thoughts, I went for help. I setup an emergency appointment with my therapist and we decided after speaking that going to the hospital would be best. She called 911 and smoked a cigarette with me until the EMTs arrived and that is when it all went downhill. Summer: What was the hospital like? Had you ever been there before for anything mental health-related?
(This is the thirteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society,” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) They say bad things comes in threes. It certainly can't be the puppies -- no way. Meet City Panicked. She's a "twenty-something NYC-dwelling chick" who loves dogs so much that she owns not one, not two, but three of them. She enjoys the puppies. She does not, however, enjoy any of her three DSM-IV diagnoses. City and I talked earlier this week via the internet. Summer: So, what type of mental illness (or illnesses) are you dealing with? I can tell from reading your blog that you seem to be struggling with more than just one, right? City: Well, I am one of many people with multiple diagnoses. Currently on the roster and up to bat are: Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar II and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. S: How did you get that many different diagnoses? Were they from multiple doctors? And, pardon me while I briefly imitate a psychotherapist, but: how does that make you feel? C: Yes - they do come from multiple doctors, though the last shrink I had an ongoing relationship with had brought up all of them at one point or another. And BPD, being the problem child of the personality disorders, tends to hang out with Mood and Anxiety disorders quite frequently. Frankly, I wish I had just ONE issue to deal with. A lot of medications end up being contraindicated and it is so frustrating.