Tag Archives: anxiety

If I Can Talk To CNN, I Can Talk To You About High-Functioning Mental Illness

I recently had a chance to talk about something I’ve never discussed on here — my exercise addiction — with CNN. If you have a few minutes, I really encourage you to click over and give it a read, because it gives a side of anxiety, depression, and OCD that not many people take seriously.

I’ll wait…

Are you back?

Great! I trust you clicked over so I don’t have to expand on it here, but long story short, it rules my life. It’s exhausting, and each night I lie there in bed in dread knowing I have to do it all over again the next day — because yes, it feels like I have to do it all over again the next day. 

It’s a routine of desperation, not trying to change the way I look, but trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in my head.

I bring this up because it’s part of something I don’t hear about all that often — high-functioning mental illness.

High-functioning mental illness doesn’t look a certain way. Yes, sometimes depression is huddling in bed and crying for days on end, but sometimes it’s that person who appears to be doing it all, but can’t muster up the energy to make a dentist appointment.

Sometimes anxiety is panic attacks and nervous energy, but sometimes it’s plowing through a huge workload while battling that voice in their head that says they have to do more, more, more that never quiets down.

Sometimes OCD is hand-washing and counting, but sometimes the rituals and the routines are things that might look harmless to those on the outside, but that hold that person in a prison of their own mind.

They’re pulled between wanting to do it all and wanting to do nothing at all — sometimes in the same minute.

I can tell you that while it’s not often talked about, high-functioning mental illness is real, because I live it, as do many other people out there.

The obsessive thoughts carry over into my work.

I pride myself on my work ethic and enjoy the work that I do. But much like with exercise, I have never taken a full day off, not even when I had blood transfusions.

Like the thought of not exercising, the thought of taking time off — even for a weekend — terrifies me. I constantly worry that I’m not working hard enough or being enough of a team player and that I’ll be filing for unemployment.

But honestly, part of it is that a day off from work doesn’t mean a day off from my own mind. I would still have the obsessions, the exercise, the same thoughts — I can never. get. a. break.

All I want is a break from myself.

But yet…

On paper it all looks okay — modest professional success, a clean house, bills that are paid. But if you look close enough, you can see it in cancelled plans or plans that are never made. In pictures never taken because I look so sick. In days alternating between anxious energy and waves of fatigue. In the panic that flashes through my eyes when anything changes that might affect my routine.

Oh, the routine.

It’s all about the routine.

I feel like if I slow down, I’ll lose something — my job, my grasp of control, my ability to get up and do it again — because I always feel like I have to get up and do it all again.

But behind my ability to do all these things I’m struggling to breathe, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, struggling to make it through the fog of depression each and every day.

I don’t know how I can be high-functioning, I just know I am.

So why dust the cobwebs off my blog and ramble here today even though I’ll probably regret it and obsess? 

Good question.

I guess because sometimes I high-five myself for mailing a bill or washing my hair. Sometimes the best thing that happens is that I made it through the day. Sometimes I long to crawl back into bed to try and escape myself.

Because it is all-consuming and exhausting.

Because it’s hard enough holding it together, but it’s even harder when people misjudge you when you when some days you just want credit for taking a shower, and sometimes you just want someone to know.

But mostly because sometimes I read something that reminds me that I’m not alone, that I’m not (that) crazy. Because maybe this post can do that for someone else who is struggling out there.

Because it’s real, and it’s okay to not always be okay every day.

It happens to the best of us.

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It Can Always Get Better

“How often do you have to come for chemo?” The woman hooked up in the chair next to me–a grandmother with a kind, yet tired face –asked me about two hours into my transfusion.

I looked up at the tubes attached to my arm, blood slowly and mechanically dripping down into the IV.

“No chemo for me,” I said, nodding my head up at the machine. “Blood transfusion because my hemoglobin was dangerously low.”

I was almost embarrassed, humbled by not only that woman, but the other people in the room who were also getting their chemo. I was lucky. I was sick, but I didn’t have cancer.

It could always be worse.


At this time last year I didn’t have a job.

Even though I dreaded returning to one I had gone to every day for seven years, that loss of security seemed like the end of the world. Every day was spent frustratingly looking for work, dealing with the unemployment agency, and trying not to let what was already a years-long deep depression completely sweep me up in the current.

I would lie in bed those unemployed months and make bargains with myself and some unknown higher power. “If I can get this job, I promise I’ll get the help I need for my (insert depression, exercise addiction, OCD here) and really make those big changes.”

“OK. That one didn’t work out. If I can get this job, I promise I’ll stop (insert maladaptive behavior), finally gain those needed 30 lbs, and dig myself out of this hole.”

Then eventually I landed a job I couldn’t have written up more perfectly for myself, one that’s the complete opposite of everything that made my last job so miserable. On even my worst work day, I always tell myself, “Remember how things were. Remember how grateful you are that this happened.”

Things could always be worse.

Yet many days are still a struggle. All those promises I made to myself, all those changes I no longer had an excuse to make are still there. For awhile, the newness and excitement of the job did distract me a bit. Then the OCD got worse, the fog got a little bit thicker. I made up new excuses to distract myself from the problems and continued to literally run myself to the ground, my body taking the brunt of my mind.

I conveniently ignored the signs, but I couldn’t ignore my mom crying about how sick I looked, the nights in my bed when my heart felt like it would either flutter out of my chest or stop, and then the phone call that I had to go in for two blood transfusions as soon as I could.

Sitting in that hospital chair, I had time to do nothing but think.

Everything I had been given could be taken away–the job, the freedom, even my life–because I refused to admit that I couldn’t outthink my physical and mental illness, that doing the same things wouldn’t land me in the same exact place.

Where it landed me was in the hospital with an IV running blood through my arm for eight hours, making small talk with a woman who had been dealt a deadly illness she was valiantly fighting. I again made all those same promises to myself that this time things would be different, that this is what it would take to finally get myself healthy.

And then when I was feeling better a couple of days later, I went back to the gym and all my old habits.

After all, it could be worse, right?


“Well yeah, it’s not cancer and it could be worse,” said my doctor a week later when I gave her my tired excuses. “But not much.”

There it was in black in white in the form of my lab results. There it was coming out of the mouth of a professional who I couldn’t negotiate with like I could–and do–with myself, which is why I’m rambling here.

Because the fact is you can’t negotiate yourself out of physical or mental illness–the latter of which is often suggested to be a choice. After all, if we know what we can do to “get out of it” but still engage in behaviors, that means we’re weak, right? I mean, we have so many good things in our lives that it’s ridiculous there are days that taking a shower is a major accomplishment.

Well, it’s not a choice.

Sickness is sickness, and I’m pretty sure that if we could get hooked up to a machine and have an IV drip some cocktail cure-all for mental illness into our arms, most of us would sign up in a second, no questions asked. It’s not that easy–nothing about it is easy. Wishful and willful thinking alone can’t cure cancer, low hemoglobin, depression, addiction, etc. or the guilt that sometimes accompanies these.

So for me–and for you–here’s a reminder.

It’s not a choice to be sick, but it’s a choice to admit that you are.

It’s a choice to do what you need to do to be healthy, even if it’s really painful in so many ways.

It’s a choice to reach out for support.

It’s a choice not to feel guilty.

I don’t know if I believe that myself most of the time, but I don’t want to know just how much worse things can be.

Because while it’s a choice to believe that “it could be worse,” it’s also a choice to believe that it could always be better.

better

It can always get better.

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zazzle.jpg

A Moment in the Sun

We were lucky that Easter Sunday this year was picturesque in terms of weather. For the first time since October we reached 70 degrees and had sun, something we could only fantasize about during the harshest winter in history.

I took advantage of the opportunity and spent part of the afternoon working outside before sitting in the sun on my deck, listening to the ballgame on the radio and watching the squirrels perform Cirque du Soleil moves on my half-empty feeder.

squirrel

As I sat there, I remembered scraping the ice off my windshield on those subzero mornings, driving 20 mph to work on icy roads and shoveling feet of snow. At that time, all I could think about was a) where I could move and b) how much I would appreciate days like we were having that day—warm, sunny and safe—if the frozen ground ever thawed.

But then eyes closed, sprawled out in a chair like an albino lizard on a heat rock, I found my mind going right back into my routinely obsessive thoughts on work, money, food, writer’s block, exercise, what I “should” be doing that day and in life, etc.

That moment in the sun with no obligations had suddenly turned into the storm in my head that so often clouds up my mind. And in some ways I was more present in the middle of winter fantasizing about the warmer weather than I was present in that moment actually sitting in the warmer weather.

It was then I overheard the neighbor kids say, “Poke it and see if it’s dead.”

 At first I thought they meant me, but since it came from the other side of the fence I assumed it was a small woodland creature. And while I’m sorry it took it’s probable demise to  bring me back to the present moment, I’m kind of glad that it did.

Because I do this all the time.

Part of me gets excited for or works towards something, and then when it happens I’m already moving on, dismissing it as something to check off a list instead of enjoying that moment. I don’t feel accomplished or calm, but rather wonder, “Okay, what’s next?”

It’s easy to fall into that trap in today’s society of “more, more, more.” Sitting around reading or listening to the ballgame isn’t always as “admirable” as doing, doing, doing all the time. There’s that constant need to know just what is next.

But as one warm day in the sun reminded me, I don’t have to fall into that trap.

I can choose where to place my attention and my intention by saying “yes” to a moment and “no” to worrying about that next thing all the time. If my mind would get out of my way, maybe I could relax and remember this more.

After all, the temps are back in the 40s with rain this week—Mother Nature is a cruel, cruel shrew at times—which proves how fast moments can pass.

Just ask the critter cadaver next door.

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Quote me on it

I’m a big quote person. I love quotes.

quotable

This is one in particular that I keep forcing myself to come back to for a couple of reasons, the obvious one being that I tend to keep past actions/feelings/discomfort in the back of my mind. There are times I  hold onto them far too long, almost by force of habit.

While I’m getting much better at this, I still have a tendency to act impulsively when I get uncomfortable—physically or mentally. I will obsess over what led up to that point, how I can prevent it from happening again, how I can make it go away right that second. These are the times when I need to take a deep breath, let it go—whatever “it” is— and take the next positive step forward.

Easier said than done, I know. But Emerson was really onto something.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

It’s actually the last part of this that speaks to me quite a bit.

Have I done everything I could have/should have done? If the answer is yes, then there should be no guilt or regret when I lay my head down at night. All of those feelings are unnecessary self-judgments, and as long as I do what I know I can do—for myself and for others—then there’s no reason to look back and feel regret.

“Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can.”

Well, that’s an understatement.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel like I should have zigged when I zagged at least once. When  anxiety or uncertainty creep in, I have a tendency to default to my unhealthy coping mechanisms and fall back on those for relief. Although it feels right at the moment, I often look back and regret that I didn’t do what I could have/should have done.   

But I also have to leave that behind and not obsess over things I can’t change—food/exercise choices, something said, a blog post with no response, work stuff.

Forget it, learn from it and move on.

“Tomorrow is a new day.”

This really isn’t related to anything, but I think that’s why I love breakfast so much. It’s a brand new day and a new chance to start over. This doesn’t explain why I could eat breakfast food all day, but I do like the prospect of starting things new. Now I’m rambling. And I want oatmeal.

“You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

I’m not always happy, especially when taken out of my normal routine, but it’s up to me to deal with whatever situation I am faced with.

june

Uncle June and I are going on another business trip (this Thursday until Monday) and I would be lying if I said that I was excited about going. It’s the same trip we’ve done the past couple of years and it’s a really big deal with a really big amount of work.

And wherever I go, there I am. 

My issues get packed along with the Lysol, but I will try and remember the quote. I’m going to forget my past experiences and not use them as a springboard for any assumptions going in. Just because I tend to self-destruct and restrict a bit on trips doesn’t mean I have to do it this time.

Because let’s face it—more often than not, situations are less than ideal, not just with work but with life. I only make things worse when I allow myself to be “encumbered by my own nonsense.”

Side note: nonsense should be used more often. I kind of like it.

So I will finish today and not worry about the things I can’t change. If I screwed up, I can try again tomorrow. If other people screwed up, I can figure out a way to make the most of it, if only for my own sanity.

And if things still suck, I can finish the day and be done with it.

Then blog about it later.

Do you have a favorite quote? This is my most recent one, but I have a million that I like and I find more all the time.

I know I’ve asked this before, but do you like traveling?  Favorite/least favorite parts?