Monday, December 16, 2013

The Anxiety Ferris Wheel



Friends, I've been a very bad blogger. It's been nearly five months since my last post.  It feels rather self-indulgent and dramatic to keep referring to my situation as my "quarter-life crisis", so I will simply say I have been adrift, personally and professionally, for a rather large portion of this year.  Because of this I have felt blocked when it came to writing.

After quite a few months of feeling like I had a handle on my anxiety disorder, it slipped out of my grasp and came at me in full force like a mythical hydra.  Going to battle against this beast, I'd successfully cut off its head only to have two more appear in its place.

It is a terrible thing to fear one's own mind. It is so hard to explain the way it works to someone who has never experienced it.  I described what it's like to have a full-blown panic attack in a post from back when it all started.  What I wish so very dearly is that I could tell you I'm finally on the other side of the mountain, but I'm not. I've realized over the past two and a half years that this is not something that I can go through, get over, and then put away neatly in a box.  There are some people who can, and have conquered their anxiety and live with complete confidence.

But I've come to accept that being anxious is a part of my nature.  At its core, generalized anxiety disorder is a manifestation of the fear of losing control.  It is such an amorphous fear, because no one has control. Not over the weather, not over the actions/attitudes of others, and most especially not over the future. So I become obsessed with the things that I can control: my mood, every thought, action, and reaction to every situation. Consequently, I try to orchestrate the perfect environment in which I am least likely be anxious, so (in my mind) where I go, what I do, and who I'm with are extremely important.

For example, I hate being surrounded by lots of people so I try to avoid any place with a large crowd. This rules out festivals, amusement parks, concerts, airports, and stores during the holidays, among others.  Secondly, I try to avoid spending too long with someone who doesn't know, understand, or I feel would not react well should I have a panic attack.  The unreasonable train of thought attached to this is that if I can't keep control of myself, at least I'll be with someone who can either help or won't judge me for it.  Thirdly, I try to avoid any place or situation where I do not have a clear or viable exit strategy. This is because feeling trapped is a major trigger for me.  The major consequence of all this is that I end up missing out on a lot of good opportunities if my tightly wound brain perceives a "threat" to my peace of mind.

It is utterly fatiguing to be so consumed with oneself.  There are two tracks playing constantly in my head, one being the normal chatter of every day living (i.e."Where shall I go, what shall I do, what will I eat?") and the other being a nervous and bitter critic (i.e. "Don't eat that, you'll make yourself feel ill. You can't go there, there will be too many people. How useless you are today!"). I end most every day with a physical weariness that originates from the marrow of my bones, as though my blood is produced as two parts hemoglobin, one part enervation.

A well-meaning psychiatrist labeled this particular state as major depressive disorder, as though it were a giant steak dinner and the anxiety only a complementary side salad.  Perhaps it is;  the two are so intertwined, it is hard to separate them out. I know that when I am deeply unhappy, I am far more prone to be anxious and vice versa.  But I strongly resist labeling myself as "chronically depressed".  Yes, I have days and even weeks when even the act of getting out of bed takes Herculean effort, but I've never gone to a place too dark to come back from.

At my core, there is a quiet joy in the privilege of simply being alive, of having all my wits and limbs about me.  The mental and physical ability to experience, to feel, life in all its forms and ways is a vastly underappreciated state of being.  It is a beautiful gift that was just handed to me at birth, I did absolutely nothing to deserve it.  This is to say that even in the bleakest hours or moments of incredible inner turmoil, there is always something within that leads me to level ground again.

I could have been born a bird.
Or a hedgehog.
But what a basic and mindless existence that would be.
Instead, I am human. Made of earth, water, and soul. And the ability, nay the vital responsibility, to discover and follow after a higher purpose is what makes makes it all worthwhile.

There is a masochistic intellectual in me that on the very best days is glad that I struggle with anxiety. "There is a reason for this madness. You may never fully understand it, but at the very least, it drives you to keep bettering yourself," the voice whispers.  As much as I hate to admit it, there is wisdom in that thought.  Anxiety will never allow me to grow complacent about my life.  It's like an unwelcome visitor that pops in at always wildly inconvenient times to ask uncomfortable but well-meaning questions: "Are you happy in this job? Are you headed in the right direction?"

Obviously I usually want to scream "GO AWAY YOU INSUFFERABLE COW. I JUST WANT TO EAT ICE CREAM AND NOT WORRY EVER AGAIN." But the visit gets me thinking and gradually prompts a change. Usually for the better. And then the anxiety recedes for a time.

So that's where I am now.  On the weirdest, most frustrating ferris wheel of life.  I quit my job in September and have been taking some time off to think and travel and reconnect with people in my life that I've neglected.  Where am I going next? I still don't know but I'm trying to swallow my fear of the unknown and explore the possibilities.  The grandest part of all this has been the incredible support of my family, particularly my mother who has quite literally held my hand through the worst bits.  I owe them so much.  I love you guys.

Anyway, this is a wordy and serious post but I felt like I couldn't jump back into regular blogging without putting all my cards on the table.  If only to make myself feel better.  If you've made it this far and still want to read my ramblings, I say thank you, friend. Thank you for your patience and for your listening ears.

I feel amazing after letting this all out.
*assumes lotus position and immediately ascends to higher plane of understanding*

Now take some time to fully appreciate yourself and everything you've been through in your life.
I'll be back soon with pictures and stories.
xx

28 comments:

  1. And we love you Ellie! Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts here. Writing is an amazing therapy all of it's own. Can't wait to see your pictures and read your stories, you have amazing talents in both!

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    1. thank you Rebekah. :) Writing is definitely the cheapest and most effective therapy for me!

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  2. You're awesome, Ellie! I absolutely love your blog. I love that you're so honest and you write so well. Good luck in whatever you choose to do next :)

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    1. you are too sweet Karina! thanks for your support. :)

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  3. Very well written Ellie I even had to phonetically look up a word! I'll have to go back and read the rest sometime. You should be a food magazine photographer btw!

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    1. thanks A-Rob! :) I'm flattered you dig my food shots. Feel free to come back for the pictures and not the words, there is usually too many of them. ;)

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  4. You are simply amazing and brave Ellie!
    -Jennie Shafer

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    1. thank you Jennie! I think you're pretty amazing and brave too! ;)

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  5. You, Miss Ellie, are brave, inspiring and a wonderful writer to boot. Thanks for being honest and real. I'm happy to see you are going to be posting again. Not going to lie, I check regularly and have missed the inspiration and humor you share. (No pressure though.:)) Do what you love and keep being true to yourself - That's the most we can do right? :)

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    1. Oh Amanda, thank you! You are so nice to say so. When I stop doing what makes me happy, I stop being happy, and not writing was a bad idea. It's the icing on the cake when there are others who enjoy that which I produce!! :)

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  6. Obviously when I read this post I just wanted to scream I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE NOT A HEDGEHOG!!! your incredibly beautiful way with words blows. my. mind. every. time.... Keep on keeping on xxx

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    1. I am very glad that you are not a hedgehog either, though I think we'd make delightfully cute ones. Thanks for your love and support, my dear!! x

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  7. I've come here often Ellie! Even without new blogs...you were still here...and I could get my fix by re-reading. I've already been through this one twice and each time my heart skipped when I came to the best part...that you feel amazing...because you truly are!

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    1. aw thanks Marlene, you are too kind! :)

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  8. Ellie, I had no idea this was troubling you (not that it's really any of my business)! But now that I know, I''m so glad you shared! You have an incredible gift with words. I want to invite you to this house should your compass lead you this way! It is a snug lil dwelling but if you were passing through to wider horizons we hope you'll stop in!

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    1. Oh Wendy thank you for your offer. Should I be going in your direction, I would most definitely love to visit! And it was supposed to be that way...I spent a good many months deep inside a shell that very few were aware of. There is an unfortunate stigma attached to depression and anxiety. It can be an invisible struggle that some will never understand and even refuse to accept as real. Not that I'm placing you or any of my friends and family in that category but it is just so hard to explain "what's the matter" when I barely understand it myself! But I've found the more I open up about it, the more I discover there are others out there who deal with similar issues and so there is comfort in sharing.

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  9. You are the best. And the bravest.

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    1. xoxo "This one goes out to my girl Julie....she's been on this ferris wheel too. That's right, a round of applause." (if I was a DJ or a beat poet)

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  10. There are so many best parts about being a parent. One is how much we learn from our children. Among other things,I have learned from your experience the meaning of empathy. You aren't looking for a solution or a silver lining, you just need ... someone to just be there with you in that moment. I love you no matter what.

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  11. Dear Ellie,
    I'm ashamed to say I had no idea what you've been going through. I haven't taken the time to write or communicate otherwise and I'm sorry!
    I love reading your blog. You have a great gift for writing.
    Please know that we think of you often and remember fondly your time spent with us.
    Bon courage as they say here. Perservere my dear!

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    1. Julie that's ok! You didn't know because no one did, I kept to myself for a large part of this. But I know you all care, and I know you're never more than an email away! I think of you all often as well and I can't wait to get back there and see you!! :)

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  12. You dear dear girl. I'm very behind on blog posts again so just now read this. I wish I could waft some magic dust your way to make it better or give you some pepper up potion. Sending lots of love and hugs. Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

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    1. thank you so much Anita. Your words are magic dust enough. Thinking of you a lot these days!! xo

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  13. Ps- the post made me cry. Then I read the comments and cried again. Life is so funny, isn't it. We're not alone...but sometimes we are. As others said, you are brave and beautiful.

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  14. Ellie, I can always count on your words to make me smile, cry, and laugh...all in the same post!! xo Rachel

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I love to hear what you're thinking! Thanks for the comment love. :)