The anxiety cycle begins slowly, and then hits like a freight train. Ability to function drops to zero. Feelings of incompetence and guilt ramp up to a ten. At least I'm now aware of the cycle. Awareness is always the first step, right?
A few days ago, I was exhausted, sprawled on the sofa, tears running down my face. It was the worst bout with anxiety I’ve had in a few months. I’m not naïve enough to think that the anxiety won’t return when it has stayed at bay for as long as it had, but I suppose I’m still waiting for the day that my awareness of my anxiety causes it to feel less powerful. It is still as powerful, but because I now know the cycle, it doesn’t come with the side of hopelessness that it used to come with.
A lovely friend came by the house with a green smoothie “boost” and an hour of his time to sit with me, listen, and just be there. Thank the Gods for generous friends. Just the gesture made me feel better. I was raw enough that in just writing about it now, I feel the tears welling up. I don’t have control over that, and it’s ok. Although I’m feeling better now, the rawness stays for a while.
What made the anxiety attack? Well, a few things. During the first quarter of this year, I have been talking to you a good bit about having trouble gaining momentum. I keep waiting for my high gear to kick in and remove me from this place of feeling stagnant. I write these words now with the knowledge that I have finished 3 paintings this year, sold one, was told my work is going to be on HGTV, and landed an interview on one of the most listened to metal wellness podcasts in the country (more on that later).
I delivered a body of work, 29 pieces of art, to Westport Washington, made a new gallery connection in Newport Oregon, and I’ve been working on my Online March Pop Up Shop, which I swear is coming but apparently 2019 is the year of slow motion. All that, and I’ve kept up with writing my blog, posting to social media and for the most part, staying on target with my calendar. Plus, in dealing with my taxes, I noted that my sales for 2018 were nearly double what they were in 2017. When I think about what I have accomplished in actuality, the list looks pretty damn good.
"Complete and total overwhelm took over my brain, which made making a cup of tea a difficult task."
However, on Saturday, I felt a bad headache creeping in. By Monday, blinded and tired from the multi-day migraine, all I could see is what ISN’T happening and HASN’T been accomplished. From there, I found myself unable to move. Complete and total overwhelm took over my brain, which made making a cup of tea a difficult task. Guilt began to creep in because I had become completely unproductive, thus I felt as though I was failing at life. Around 11:00am, I called my husband and asked permission to take the day off.
I know I don’t need his permission, but when I get into the anxiety-fuck-space that I had plummeted into, it becomes very difficult to think that anything I decide is correct. In fact, it’s the opposite…my perception is that everything I decide is wrong and so I need an outside source to tell me that it’s ok for me to rest. (I can hear my Mom’s eye balls roll as I write this. She tells me to rest all the time.)
The issue is that the actual anxiety attack usually follows days/weeks/months of struggling through mental stagnation and so I already felt as though I was not doing enough. Hell, I've been talking about that stagnation all year. So by the time I could no longer physically move, I already felt as though I was failing. The only thing left to do was to either panic, or turn off. Thankfully, Hubbie told me to bag the day.
I sat on the sofa, sipping green smoothie, allowing the tears to do what they must, explaining to my friend that I knew this would pass and that I just needed to let it run its course. I knew what was happening. I’ve been there enough times to know that I simply needed to stop, rest, watch the documentary on Studio 54, and give myself a general break. I did just that and then slept nearly 11 hours that night. Sometimes, I just need to turn off.
Here’s the deal: When this happens, I know what is happening. However, having that knowledge does not mean that it stops any part the anxiety cycle that happens when I have an anxiety attack. All it means is that I’m better able to surrender and let it run its course, although sometimes I need someone to tell me that surrender is ok. At least now I ask.
Having awareness of the cycle does manage to take away the feeling of hopelessness that used to lead me into a depressive state. I know it will end and that knowledge means that at least the anxiety isn't plaguing me with the "what the hell is wrong with me" debate that used to send me into despair. So there's that.
When I get a physical illness like a cold, I sit down and rest, and I manage to do so without (much) guilt. When I have to sit down and wait the anxiety out, why oh why do I allow the stigma of my mental health issue make me feel as though I’m failing at life ? I know I’m not going to be productive within that mind set. All I'll end up doing to staring blankly at a computer screen or at my art supply shelves in paralysis.
For lack of a better word, it makes me feel incompetent. You know what? Maybe I am for that moment and maybe that’s ok. It’s difficult for me because my racing mind gets so angry at our society that tells me I need to be producing at all times. So not only do I get frustrated with myself, but I parlay that into being mad at the world for the image of the seemingly unattainable wealth and status that equates success within our culture.
The hamster wheel was operating in 5th gear. Soon after getting mad at our capitalistic culture, I thought about moving elsewhere in the world only to get bogged down in the inescapable environmental issues that plague the world, the challenges that I fear my daughter will have, the future, the future, the future…
It has passed for the most part. I woke this morning and motivated to start the day with Yoga (exercise in the morning always makes me feel better when I can actually get up and do it). I’ve also begun preparing for my upcoming work retreat which evolved from a college visit that my kiddo is no longer interested in. She isn’t going, but I had made a few plans and so I’m still going to head down to Southern California for a week of work.
To be honest, I’m not really sure if a geographical change will help with my stagnation issue. I think I know myself well enough to know that after the anxious panic, a surge of productivity follows close behind (although, I have been waiting for it all year). I’m hoping to use the time to myself to dive into that work. It’s a test. I don’t know if it will make a difference, but it’s worth a shot and I’ll be staying just a few blocks from the beach so I can have a morning swim, surf or beach walk and then get to work.
My hope is that the simple change will break me free from the bungees that seem to be attached to my ankles. They allow me to walk forward only to snap me back to where I started. What I would really like is to give myself a mental break. I would NEVER talk to my friends the way I’ve been talking to myself, and I know that is a big part of the cycle. At least I’m aware of it. Awareness is the first step, right? I wonder how many years of awareness will lead to an actual change.
All I can do is try my best to move forward and judge my progress with more kindness. So come on, Girlfriend. You got this. You’re doing awesome. One foot in front of the other.
The photo at top is the productivity that came from deciding to go on a work retreat. It forced me to prep materials, which was a welcome change from wondering what the hell I'm supposed to do next.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes. To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure.