Archives for Meta-anxiety


Anxiety As A Big Fat Jerk: Letting Go Of The Rope

We live our lives through metaphor after metaphor.

Now, don't let the word "metaphor" scare you. It might sound familiar -- perhaps from your high school English class -- or maybe you've never heard it at all.

I like the definition from
A metaphor is a situation (generally a literary situation) in which the unfamiliar is expressed in terms of the familiar.
A situation in which the unfamiliar is expressed in terms of the familiar -- say, a foggy brain or a heart of gold. Fog and gold are simple and familiar concepts. They're easy to picture. And so, we use them to describe slightly more unfamiliar concepts -- in these examples, the unclear thinking that might come after a hard day's work (brain fog), or a person who is incredibly good-natured and giving (heart of gold).

Metaphors can also be expressed (and defined) more simply. They're a comparison without the word "like" or "as". Here are a few examples off the top of my head:

War is hell.
Banana cream pie is orgasmic.
Love is a garden.
His brain is a machine.
Time is money.

We know love isn't really a garden -- it's an abstract concept. But, in order to make it more concrete, we compare it to something that's easily to understand. You can plant the seeds of love. If you water your garden (nurture your love), it will grow.


But I'm not here to drone on and on about metaphor. (Hmm -- was there a metaphor in that sentence? Did I just make a metametaphor?)

I'm here, as usual, to talk about anxiety.

Let's see what kind of metaphor you use to describe anxiety. Fill in the blank: anxiety is ______________.
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How Perfectionism Can Ruin Your Recovery

Once, when I was in elementary school, I got a 97% on a test.

Pretty good, right?

I took it home to show my mom. This was fridge material.

"Wow," she said, "not bad..."


"...but you probably could've gotten 100%."

Ugh. As an adult, now, looking back, I know she was kidding. She had to be kidding. Right?

I wish I could go back in time and watch this interaction with adult eyes, detecting the subtle nuances in her brow movement, to prove to myself that it was a harmless joke from a mother who knew her kiddo was on the straight and narrow.

But that pint-sized brain of mine, tucked inside my skinny little body that wore a hefty neon pink and yellow backpack, heard only one thing: you could have done better.
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Anxiety’s Complex Root System: From Green Shoot To Buried Root

Every spring, I start refilling the bird feeder on my back deck with seeds.

As the birds (and, ugh, squirrels) flit around during their meal, they accidentally scatter seeds everywhere. They fall down onto the grass, onto my deck, and occasionally, into some of my potted plants.

Birds are messy. (I should know; I own a parrot who enjoys whipping food – from seeds to fresh veggies – right out of his cage and onto my living room carpet.)

Thanks, birds.


But this post isn’t about birds. It’s about what happens to the outdoor bird seed when it lands into the fertile soil that surrounds my potted plants.

And, in fact, this post isn’t even about that.

But humor me for a moment: the seeds fall. They land in the soil. And, frankly, I don’t know enough about cheap outdoor bird food to visually distinguish between the types of seeds.

But I do know this: when they fall into dirt, they grow into something green that resembles crab grass. A short, green, stocky stem emerges from the soil surrounding my marigolds or my tomato plants.

And I pluck them. To me, they’re weeds. Birdseed weeds.

Here’s the thing about pulling out these weeds: above the soil, they’re small. They look delicate and easily pluck-able.

But when I grab one and yank at it?

I unearth a complex and gnarly root system about five times as large as the weed itself.

And now, to the real topic of this post: anxiety and its hidden depth.
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The End Of The Trifecta: How The Worst Panic Attack Of My Life Ended

(If you missed the first three parts of this story, click here, then here , and then here.)

The scene: a small road off of a two-lane state highway in the woods. The cell phone coverage: first none, then a single bar. My panic state: full blown.

I was laying down in my car, following the EMT-in-training's instructions to avoid sitting up or moving around, and I was scared nearly to death. I shook, I gasped for air, and I palpitated.

I hated every single second that slowly and dreadfully crawled by. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't even conjure up the energy or the clarity of mind to reach for my Ten Rules for Coping With Panic worksheet that lives in my wallet. I was in the middle of nowhere, I was stuck, and I couldn't escape without help. Not only was I about to receive medical help, but I'd had to call my husband and ask him to drive 40 miles to be with me.

Ugh. Failure.

The word kept repeating in my head: failure failure failure.
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The Trifecta Of Fail: Man Calls Ambulance While I Continue to Panic

(If you missed the first two chunks of this story, click here first and here second.)

This is the story of (one of) the worst panic attacks of my life. It happened in the middle of nowhere on a country road, geographically equidistant between my parents' house and my own apartment. Thirty-five miles both east and west of the closest "safe" place, and I felt both physically and mentally unable to complete the drive in either direction.

I pulled back onto Schoolhouse Road after trying (and failing) to backtrack to the state park parking lot where I'd last had cell reception. I couldn't do it -- I felt lightheaded, the trees and the road and the sky felt cartoonish, and my body was uncontrollably shaking.

I parked on the road between two houses, reclined my seat, and waited. And waited and waited and waited. I periodically checked my phone for service as I tried (unsuccessfully) to quell my symptoms. I managed to find a Xanax in my jacket pocket. I swallowed it with water and, for about a minute, felt a mild improvement thanks to the placebo effect.


Some young kid in a giant white pickup truck rolled up to my window and asked me if I was okay.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I lied. "I'm just waiting for something. Thanks for checking."

He drove off. Had I just missed my only opportunity to get help? My panic level increased.
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The Trifecta of Fail, Continued: Panic In The Middle Of Nowhere

(If you missed the first half of this story, click here first.)

So, there I was: holding my cell phone and sitting in the driver's seat of my car on a small side road in the woods with no reception.



I was shaking like a leaf and I barely had any control over my limbs. What should I do next? I tried to think, but only one thought kept breaking through into my consciousness: you are going to die. You are going to die. You are going to die.

First, because of how lightheaded I felt, I instinctively tugged at the lever that reclines the driver's seat. Wouldn't laying back -- and thus increasing bloodflow to the head -- prevent me from passing out? Yeah, that sounded good. It sounded like a good idea...

...for about three seconds, that is. It sounded like a good idea until the very fact that I was lying down in my car made me all the more aware that I was having a terrible panic attack. It's superstition, I guess: My panic resume boasts some real doozies, many of which involve either driving or being a passenger in a car -- and for the worst of those attacks, I laid back in the seat to keep that light-headed feeling at bay.

The very fact that I was reclining reminded me of other panic attacks, which, in turn, made my panic worse.
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My TEDx Talk: Anxiety — Hibernate, Adapt, or Migrate?

Awhile back, I wrote about how nervous I was to speak at my local TEDx event in Williamsport, PA.

I was pretty scared. Would I get lightheaded? Would I pass out? What if I couldn't remember anything I wanted to talk about?

I wanted to talk about panic attacks. I wanted to talk about how hard it was to work in a call center while dealing with panic disorder. I wanted to talk about those dreadful "inspirational" posters on workplace walls and I wanted to...
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10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #1

(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)


It's time to start working my way through the Ten Rules for Coping with Panic. After all, I want to improve -- I want to panic less and stretch my geographical "safe radius" more. So, here we go, step by step, from the beginning.

Rule #1 -- my giant stumbling block:
These feelings are normal bodily reactions. Remember that the feelings are nothing more than an exaggeration of the normal bodily reactions to stress.
GAHHHH. Where do I even begin?!


I understand that a rapid heartbeat is a normal part of the panic experience. Same with dizziness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, weakness, sweating, air hunger, and hyperventilation.

But they feel so abnormal. They feel so wrong. They feel so threatening. And no matter how many times I repeat to myself during a moment of panic that the dizziness and the weakness and the air hunger are "normal," I can't convince myself of it. What if this is the one time where a medical emergency is presenting itself? If that's the case, and if I ignore these feelings, I could be ignoring crucial symptoms and may fail to get myself help on time.

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Panic About Anxiety Featured as ‘Blog of the Week’ on WBRE’s PA Live!

First things first: welcome, WBRE viewers! (And, of course, to anyone else who might incidentally be finding my blog for the very first time.)

As you (may) know, I was honored to be chosen as this week's PA Live! Blog of the Week on WBRE-TV. (By "PA", I'm referring to Pennsylvania, my home state -- not "panic attack," which, well, is also my home state. Ahem. Cough. Think about it. Bad joke?)

I'll re-introduce myself: I'm Summer. I get panic attacks. A lot. And unfortunately, the panic (and the fear of panic, which is a different beast entirely) has eaten up most of my early, mid, and now late (yikes!) 20's.

I've tried meds. I've tried therapy. I've tried biofeedback. I've tried lifestyle changes. I've tried it all.
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Shared Wisdom: How Do You Cope With Panic?

I ask this question not only for the benefit of my readers...but for the benefit of myself.

How do you cope with the sting of having a panic attack after a long period of panic-free living?

I'm not really talking about short-term coping mechanisms here. I'm not talking about breathing exercises or anything like that. Instead, I'm talking about the big stuff -- how do you deal with feeling let down? How do you deal with suddenly feeling so out of control after a long period of feeling relatively in control? How do you go back to believing that you've only hit a small bump in the road and not a gigantic pothole?

What goes up must come down, they say, and in the back of my mind I've always known that I'd have another "big one" eventually. I'd been doing so well -- grocery shopping, leaving my apartment for hours at a time, and pushing the boundaries of my "safe radius," as I like to call it. Fellow agoraphobes, you know what I mean.

But yesterday was different.

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