For Me, A Big [and difficult] Decision

Ever since I can remember I have been involved in extracurricular activities in school as well as additional hobbies outside of school.

Between 1st and 12th grade, I remember being enrolled or a member of gymnastics, dance, soccer, Concert Band, Marching Band, Environmental club, Science Olympiad, Gay-Straight Alliance, German club, and a sort of anti-genocide/genocide awareness club. Starting in 10th grade, I also started working after school and after marching band practice.

At age 15, I started juggling school from 7am-3:45pm, marching band practice from 4:30pm-6:30pm, and when I didn’t have marching band, I would instead go to work from 5pm to 10pm. In between those three activities, I tried to hang out with friends and family, but it was a lot.

It’s seven and a half years later, and I’ve never slowed down since then. Today, I am enrolled as a full-time student with 6 classes, I hold a 35hr/week job, and I commit to working weekends at my uncle’s bike shop, as well as dog-sit/house-sit for my grandma when needed. Among all of these activities, I am also trying to make time for family and friends, as well as a new person in my life who is very special and important to me.

Yesterday, for the first time, I was told that I didn’t have to deliberately put such a heavy load on my schedule. When it comes to family and friends, I think they see me somewhat as invincible- and I think I tricked myself into believing that as well. Sure, I can put all this on my plate and I can get through it- but at what cost?

So, after my meeting with my (1,000th??!!!?) advisor next Monday, I will formally withdraw from my Marketing class. It’s not a difficult class, but it has added a lot of extra “stuff”. I will also be telling my grandmother that I cannot dog-sit/house sit in October; the drive from her house to school and my work is too much to do for one week. When I am at her house, it also requires me to work more from home since I have a dog to take care of, and that isn’t always ideal. Lastly, I will probably tell my uncle that there are a few Saturdays that I cannot work due to school.

The main point here is that I don’t know how to slow down. I don’t know how to say no to family. I don’t know how to budget my time so that it involves leisure and fun. I don’t know how to make myself accept that I am, in fact, not invincible, and that I don’t need to put myself through this all the freaking time.

So, I’m figuring this out. I’m going to do my best to put what I learned in therapy to use. I’m going to learn how to not be so hard on myself. I’m going to learn how to budget “fun” into my schedule and make it mandatory. I need to accept that saying no does not translate into being weak.

It’s a tough habit to break, but here’s to slowing the fuck down.

My Anxiety

My anxiety always feels like I can’t take in a full breath. It always feels like yawning and then not hitting the “top” of your yawn. It’s a heavy weight on the top of my chest. It’s shallow breaths. It’s a fear of not being able to breathe and not having anyone there to help.

Once on the brink of a panic attack, my legs and arms get tingly/partially numb. Everything around me begins to sound like white noise.

From there, it goes one of two ways: either I sit down somewhere and ride it out or I start trying to implement my coping skills and hope it goes away.

I have a few coping skills/tools and some of them are silly, but when you feel like you can’t breathe, there’s not much you won’t do to relieve it.

  • sitting down/squatting in an almost fetal position seemed to calm me
  • applying makeup, specifically eye liner or mascara that would require more concentration
  • eating food
  • brushing my teeth
  • shaking my hands and arms to get feeling back into them
  • podcasts for distraction
  • calling someone on the phone
  • writing in my journal

I also have collected prevention tools over the years and I don’t use them all, but I’m sure it would help.

  • When I first went into therapy I was told to use something called the Alpha Stim SCS.
  • Since the end of May of this year, I’ve also been trying CBD oil. Honestly, I haven’t felt much of a difference, but I also haven’t been taking it regularly for the past 3 weeks.
  • I’ve been drinking more water and eating more healthy foods.
  • Sometimes I take lavender pills.
  • I try my very best to get good sleep and enough of it, but that has been a lifelong challenge that I can expand on in another post.
  • I do not consume a lot of alcohol, and when I do, I limit myself to a single glass of wine or beer.
  • I stay away from caffeine.
  • I’ve been trying to move more through stretching, just getting up more at work, and actual exercise, but I’m lazy and sometimes I can’t be bothered even though I know it would probably help immensely.
  • I continue to push myself to do things that make me a little uncomfortable because you have to conquer the things you fear to overcome that emotion.

My anxiety has never kept me from going on adventures or living my life, but it has limited how far I would travel for those adventures and it gets annoying when all you want to do is enjoy yourself, but these “what if” questions won’t stop buzzing.

It’s a struggle, yes, but yesterday’s therapy session felt promising. Read more about it here.

Why Therapy?

I went to therapy for the first time when I was about 9 years old. It was shortly after my parents divorced. I had my first panic attack around that time as well. I think most of it stemmed from separation anxiety I had when my mother wasn’t close by.

When I got a little older, I didn’t continue therapy because I didn’t notice much change and I was also told that I would probably “grow out of it”. To some extent, I think I did. I don’t have separation anxiety anymore, but I do have anxiety towards other things.

Not dealing with loss and grief has been a huge issue for me that I was recently made aware of by my current therapist. If we define “loss” as the “ending of something” (not necessarily death), then I have experienced a lot of loss in my life that I have chosen not to emotionally or mentally process/deal with. As a result, my body stores those emotions as anxiety and it gets periodically released as symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks.

For a while, I thought I was able to track my triggers (loud music, crowds, thunderstorms, tornado sirens, yelling/shouting), but over time, the attacks seemed to be more random.

I was able to count the number attacks I had during 2018-2019 on one hand up until the end of May of this year. As I was looking for a home, a job, and I was also dealing with (I actually wasn’t dealing with it at all) a fresh breakup, I found myself hyperventilating at the nail salon. The old familiar feeling was back in full swing.

2 weeks, a house, and a job later, the panic attacks and anxious feelings subsided. I’m 99.9% sure that my anxiety was caused by the stress of not having a home or being employed.

Let’s fast forward to today- to today’s therapy session to be exact. Today was one of the best sessions I’ve had since starting. I’ve discovered a lot of things in the past 2 months. I’ve also acknowledged a lot of things in the past 2 months.

  • I am hard on myself.
  • I have a fear of failure.
  • To me, setting goals+achieving said goals=success/life purpose

Today was the first step of me including all parts of me in an acknowledgement. What that looks like is: “I acknowledge that when I think about [insert whatever makes you anxious/scared here (for me it was elaborate solo travel)], I get scared and nervous, but I also have powered through similar things that have also made me scared and nervous.

Instead of saying “X makes me feel scared”, I’m including the fact that yes, I feel this fear, but I’ve also fucking powered through fear before.

I’ve shut parts of myself down over the years. I’ve shut down Grieving Megan. I’ve shut down Angry Megan. I’ve shut down Sad Megan. I’ve even shut down Excited/Hopeful/Optimistic Megan because I have a fear of getting my hopes up and then being let down and feeling stupid for letting myself get them up in the first place. I’ve silenced all these parts of me and the voices that belong to them. Today was a step in letting them be heard.