Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: anxiety

The Weird Thing About Anxiety

anxiety run rampant.
The thoughts never end.

There was a terrorist attack in London a few days ago, and the NYT decided that the proper headline should be that England is still ‘reeling’ from the attack in Manchester a few weeks ago. It’s sensationalist and narrow-minded, and, frankly, embarrassing, but I don’t expect much more from a paper that hired a climate change denier as one of their op-eds. As to be expected, Brits had a great deal of fun at the NYT’s expense, starting the #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling hashtag. You gotta love the Brits and their dry wit. The NYT did eventually change their headline, but they never should have ran with it in the first place.

This post isn’t about the attacks or the media stupidity, however. It’s about the reaction of an anxious person (me) when the worst-case scenario actually happens. I’ve dealt with anxiety all my life. I didn’t realize it was a thing for me (along with severe depression) until I was in my late twenties, but once my therapist put a name to it, it made so much sense. It’s trite, but true that naming something takes away some of its power. That’s not to say that knowing I had anxiety issues made them go away, but at least I knew what I was dealing with.

I remember when I was in school (don’t remember the grade), my class was going to Valleyfair for the day of rides, games, bad fair food, and other delights. It was near the end of the school year, and it was supposed to be a fun day for all. I spent the whole night before the trip lying in my bed, worrying about who I was going to walk around with, what if nobody wanted to do what I wanted to do, and a various assortment of other minutiae that would never occur to anyone else. I was a loser in school, and I never had many friends. There were many reasons for it. I was a fat, awkward, intellectual, nerdy Asian girl in a very vanilla (in two meanings of the word) Minnesota suburb, and I didn’t fit in anywhere. I got along on a superficial level from people in many different groups, but I didn’t belong to any one group. I was intensely lonely as a kid, and it didn’t help that my mind was constantly worrying about every little thing.

I dreaded going to Valleyfair, and I would have skipped it if I could have found a plausible reason for not going. I also wanted to skip both my high school and college graduations, but I ended up going. As a person with anxiety issues, I can make a mountain out of any molehill. Ironically, though, the averse of that is also true. When a situation is dire, I’m at my calmest. I remember when 9/11 happened, I was living in the Bay Area and pursuing my MA in Writing & Consciousness*. I woke up because I had a phone session with my therapist back in St. Paul, and I had to use the bathroom prior to the session. My housemates were in the living room watching the TV, and it looked as if they were watching an action movie or something. It turned out they were watching the fall of the first tower, and I stopped to watch with them.

My memory is hazy, but I believe we watched as the second tower came down real time. Every channel covered it obsessively, and I watched the towers fall over and over and over again in the next hour until I forced myself to walk away. I was shocked and horrified, of course, but I wasn’t scared or terrified. It caused me to doubt myself and my humanity because I couldn’t get all freaked out as everyone else was. It’s partly because I understood why people across the world might be pushed to their limits by the behavior of America, but it’s mostly because I lived with terror every day of my life. It’s not an exaggeration to say that going to the grocery store used to cause me such severe anxiety, I would put it off for as long as I could.

I don’t know if this is how it works for other people with anxiety issues, but for me, the worse the actual situation is, the calmer I am. I think it’s because I’m always prepping for the worst-case scenario, when it actually happens, my brain is in its element. It’s fucked up, and I wish it weren’t so, but I can’t deny it helps when I have to deal with a crisis. I was in a minor car accident a year ago. I’ve written about it before, but what has stuck with me is how calm I was when it happened. I looked up, saw the car barreling towards me, and I thought, “I’m going to get hit.” Without thinking about it, I relaxed (I credit taiji) and accepted I couldn’t do anything about it. I firmly believe that’s why I walked away with deep bruises and nothing else, and they were from the seat belt/air bag.

That’s neither here nor there. My point is that I didn’t panic, and I didn’t freak out. I stayed calm, and it helped me deal with the situation. In fact, I had to calm down the young girl who hit me because she was freaking out about how her father was going to kill her. I patted her on the back and told her to take some slow, smooth breaths to calm down. She said her father had to go to work and now didn’t have a car. I told her he could get a taxi. The whole time I was comforting her, there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “I’m comforting her while she’s the one who hit me!” The voice wasn’t angry, however; it was just amusing to me.

Back to 9/11. The only thing that terrified me about it was the American reaction to the event. I stopped voicing my protest to the Iraq invasion because I felt unsafe in stating my opinion. I feared my fellow Americans much more than I did any Islamic terrorist. I came to loathe the American flag because it stood for a cheap, easy way to claim your patriotism without actually doing anything. I remember people putting out their flags and getting pissy if you chose not to do the same. I’m always uneasy with walking lockstep with, well, anyone, and I watched our country salute W.’s invasion with an enthusiasm that made me cringe.

I can’t help compare our collective reaction to that instance of terrorism** with how Britain is reacting to the Manchester/London attacks. We overreacted in a big way, and I think it’s because it’s the first time many of us have ever experienced an attack on our country from outside our own borders. Britain has been attacked before, and they know better how to deal with it. I think it’s one reason I am calmer in a moment of true crisis than perhaps other people would be. I’ve dealt with y terrors ¬†and horrible shit all my life, so I’m not going to crumble under a real threat. My cat, Shadow, is a skittish boy, much like I am. He starts at any noise, and he has nightmares just as I do. However, the vacuum cleaner that most cats hate? He’s not fazed by it. It’s simply not scary to him. He’s seen real horror, yo, and some silly machine isn’t going to get the best of him!

I wish I could be as calm in my day to day life as I am in a crisis. I’m less anxious than I was even five years ago, but I still can obsess over the stupidest things. Hopefully, with time, taiji, and maybe another therapist, I can change that.




*From an institution that lost its accreditation years later. Sigh.

**But not, interestingly, the same reaction we have to domestic terrorism committed by white men.

I’m Having Fun, Right?

worry fear anguish anxiety
Overwhelmed with anxiety.

I went out tonight (last night by the time you read this) to the Acme Comedy Club. I haven’t been to a comedy club in….forever? Damn. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to one, it’s been that long. Anyway, Ian’s friend with the emcee (@ItsTheBrandi) on Twitter, and he asked if I wanted to see her and Dana Gould, his doppelganger at the Club (which is right next to where he works). I said sure, why not? It’s outside of my comfort zone, which is one reason I said yes. I’m trying to stretch my limits little by little, and I thought this would be a good way to do it. I like comedy. I like laughing. Who doesn’t? I didn’t know much about Dana Gould, but I’d heard of him, and he was bound to be pretty funny, I figured.

I woke up with a headache, bordering on a migraine, Tuesday morning/afternoon. I popped a couple migraine Excedrin, then lay* on the couch with all the lights off. I tweeted a bit and watched a Let’s Play on YouTube, but that was it. I felt shaky, and all the colors had bled out the sides of my vision. I didn’t move for hours, and late in the evening, I popped a few more Excedrin. I used to say I had migraines, but given the descriptions I’ve read of them, I’ve downgraded my migraines to really fucking bad headaches. I was sixty percent better the next afternoon, and I popped more Excedrin. Didn’t move much for most of the afternoon. My brother came over, and we had dinner, and I had to pop a few more Excedrin before going to bed. This morning, I woke up about ninety percent better, but still slightly shaky. Both Tuesday and Wednesday, I had a hard time doing my morning routine. I was exhausted by the time I was done, even though I cut it short both times. I felt slightly better today, but still tired. I haven’t done my weight set since the attack of the bad headache.

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Low Self-Esteem and High Self-Absorption: A Study in Contrast

Softly, the rain falls.

I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem all my life. I don’t remember much of my childhood, but the memories I do have are mostly negative. I remember walking home from elementary school, my stomach in knots. There was a much older girl* who would wait for me to pass by, then she would taunt me as I did. I have no idea why she got off on picking on me, but I dreaded the three blocks I had to walk home from school. She wasn’t there every day or even most days, but in some ways, that made it worse. I never knew when I’d see her, which meant every walk home was a chore for the first block. I don’t know how long this went on until one day, I just burst into tears as she yelled whatever it was she chose to yell my way. She immediately stopped making fun of me and wiped away my tears, saying I had pretty hair. She didn’t bother me after that, and to this day, I have no idea why my crying affected her so much. Thinking back, my guess would be that she had an unhappy life herself and took it out on me. My crying reminded her that I was a human being and not a punching bag. Alternately, she might have thought she was teasing me good-naturedly, that we were buddies of some sort, and was mortified when I started crying.

I didn’t have many friends in elementary school. I was always the weird kid who’d rather read than play. In addition, I grew up in the suburbs in Minnesota in the eighties, so I was one of only a few nonwhite faces at my school. I don’t remember many instances of outright racism except the occasion chant of ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these’ with the accompanying pulling of the eyelids, but nor do I remember many overt expressions of friendship, either. I was a lonely kid, fat, awkward, highly intelligent, and hiding a dysfunctional home life. I felt like an outsider for so many reasons, and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be friends with me. I wouldn’t want to be friends with me if I weren’t me, so why should anyone else? I spent as much time in my own head as I possibly could because I hated the world around me. I was seven when I realized I would die one day. It simultaneously terrified and relieved me. I couldn’t imagine being alive, and, yet, I couldn’t imagine living for very much longer.

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