It seems that everywhere you look, there is more and more information of what it means to be toxic. There are toxic relationships, toxic chemicals, toxic words. But where did this stem from? Is it abuse? Is it awareness of negative interactions? Or does it stem from our movement toward self awareness?
The very word is defined as: “extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful“, which in itself is a tad harsh. The word itself can leave a metallic and negative taste in my mouth. You know that coppery taste that occurs when you put a penny on your tongue (don’t ask).
So I decided to do a thing. An experiment of sorts. As a therapist, I thought I could benefit from taking a peek at my own life, rather than identifying patterns in other people’s lives. After all, it is always easier to focus of someone else, rather than ourself.
So I took a look at where the negativity was coming from in my life. A cold…hard…honest look. And as I looked around the people in my life, and the conversations we have had, I realized the negativity and toxic comments were not coming from them…they were coming from me.
Right? How can that be? I can recount multiple conversations where someone said something negative to me and I felt absolutely founded in adding those comments up to use against them. However, when I later replayed them in my head without an agenda, I realized those people were not attacking me, per se, they were being honest and I was not ready to hear what they had to say.
So what do you do when YOU are the one saying those negative things to yourself?
Honestly, I was avoiding what anyone had to say because I didn’t want to hear it; and subconsciously, I was blaming my reactions on their words…which is a fricken cop out. I am a grown woman. At some point the competition, the reactions, the power of others needs to stop.
People absolutely have a right to their thoughts and their words...and so do you. You also have a right to how you respond to those words and actions. You can personalize them. You can take them to heart. You can be pissed and feel violated. But at the end of the day? Do those words really matter? If they do, we need to work on strengthening your skin. Because, they are not living your life, nor do they experience what you experience on a daily basis. So stop giving them power over your response.
In many instances, your reactive response, validates their negative thinking. So stop doing that.
And stop reacting to your own negative thoughts. Stop listening to those wicked old tapes that are lying to you. Furthermore, stop lying to yourself.
The break up with my toxic self
After doing some deep thinking and fricken tough analysis, I decided a break up is in order. Not with the other naysayers, but with myself.
If I can’t love myself, how can I possibly expect to spread love to others?
Furthermore, if I continue to put conditions upon my own worth, how can I realistically love others unconditionally?
The truth is this: I can’t.
There is no fricken way I can love others the way they deserve to be loved if I can’t overlook my own perceived flaws. You know what I am talking about…if I don’t fit into the way society thinks I should look or act, how can I expect others to love me? But you know what? They do…and I decided that I am going to love myself also…perceived flaws and all.
Because here’s the thing. This mind and this body have been through the ringer and come out the other side. Not necessarily unscathed, but whole…and stronger for the experiences. Those times may have drained the life blood out of me, but I am still here, (Thank you Lord) and I believe there is a reason.
So I have decided to break up with my toxic self. I also know there will be times where I regress and fall back to those old tapes…but there will be times when I fucken shine. I will share my story and give hope to others who are still hiding in the shadows. I envision a time when we all shine, my friends.
Love yourself…You are worthy.
Anxiety, let’s call it what it is
At some point it is easier to stop fighting and embrace the chaos in your mind while ignoring any goals and dreams you may have once had.
As a child, I was an A student, overachiever and fairly good athlete. Looking back, I was the annoying kid who asked for more homework and was always getting my poems placed on the classroom walls. I enjoyed climbing trees, playing rough and pushing my boundaries. Looking at me from afar, you would never guess that I struggled with severe anxiety.
In first grade, my class was taking a field trip to the local hospital and I cried and cried because I didn’t want to go. At that same time, a classmates mom was dying of cancer and I associated that with the hospital, which in my mind told me I needed to stay away. Furthermore, I would become easily frustrated when I couldn’t do something well. I hated gym class and would often pretend I had a headache to get out of it.
When I began playing softball, I sucked. I struck out nearly every time and would cry when I got up to bat. Ironically, my cousin was the coach and he was absolutely amazing. He kept working with me, as did my brother and my dad and by the end of the season, this crybaby was hitting grand slams. The grown up version of me sees this behavior as a tad over the top. Essentially, if I couldn’t do something well, I didn’t want to do it al all. A tad extremist, right? The pressure wasn’t from my parents, it was totally internal. I was absolutely creating a messed up roadmap for my own personal expectations.
Generalized Anxiety is a real thing
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work. – National Institute of Mental Health.
The irony is that the majority of things worried about fail to come to fruition. People who have never experienced excessive worrying will often tell us to just stop thinking about it. And therein lies the problem, we simply cannot. The more we try to not think about something, the harder it works to stay up front and personal in our thoughts.
Not all in your head
I remember always being tired as a child. A childhood friend once made the comment, “my dad thinks you sleep too much.” Little did anyone know how exhausting my mind was. What they also didn’t realize is that our household was very chaotic and when my parents were fighting, there was very little sleep in our home. I’m pretty sure we were all tired quite a bit of the time.
Physical manifestations of anxiety include:
- racing mind – thoughts that won’t stop.
- pounding heart
- racing heart
- feeling hot
- excessive sweating
- stomach problems
- emotional and psychical exhaustion
- multiple aches and pains
- unexplained symptoms with no underlying reason
- loss of appetite
- inability to catch your breathe
- inability to concentrate, or living in a fog.
This is a partial list as anxiety looks different on every person. Ironically, how you present can actually lead to more physical tests, which in turn increases your anxiety. While exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, it is estimated that 3.1 million people suffer from anxiety each year. The Anxiety and Depression Society of America also states that onset can be anytime between childhood and middle age. Hence, anyone can be diagnosed. The difference between exhibiting symptoms and received treatment is the ability to talk with a provider about your symptoms. Many people are unable or unwilling to do that.
Comorbidity leads to misdiagnosis
Conversely, many who seek treatment may be misdiagnosed. In addition, the comorbidity rate is unknown, however depression, panic disorders, and phobias often occurs simultaneously. As physical symptoms manifest, treatment may occur for the different symptoms, however often, that is just a bandaid on the overall problem. Once that physical symptom is taken care of, another will appear until the underlying issue is addressed.
However, I digress. There is enough information out in the World Wide Web to saturate your need for information. If you are reading this, you are more interested in my experience and my journey. It is in sharing that my wish is to provide you hope for your own experiences.
Give yourself Grace
Perhaps the one thing I have learned over this journey is to grant myself grace. I am my own worst enemy and can be terribly hard on myself when I spiral on this continuum. I am learning to stop, breathe, pray and move forward. Anxiety does not define me, nor does it define you. It takes courage to get up everyday and face your most critical thoughts. Love yourself, my friend. You are so much more than those thoughts lead you to think you are.
I’d love to hear your story. Email me @firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s give hope to others. Remember, we are stronger together.
Ugggg…what a fuckin nightmare. It is different for everyone, yet no one really understands what it is or where it comes from.
I have experienced anxiety since I was a little kid, however, I didn’t understand that was the underlying condition. I could (and still can) rationalize it away. Like most kids, I would be afraid of what was under my bed, or what could be lurking in my closet. However, I took it a step further and began to unplug every electronic device in my room, so a fire would not emerge. Futhermore, I would be afraid when my brother ate alone, because I didn’t want him to choke. Additionally, there were days I went without eating because I was sure I had a lump in my throat. It took the doctor telling me I was fine before I ate some real food (therapist friends, analyze that one, I have).
What you see is not what is happening
Perhaps the biggest and most creative thing I pulled off was the following: One day I was playing in our attic, (which also kind of became a toy room, as it was a small room off directly off of my bedroom)…I discovered we had rat poison in there and I freaked out. From that point on, I would not touch anything from the attic as I associated it with that poison and was terrified I would become poisoned. I associated the rat poison with harm to my own person.
Eventually, this manifested into me my touching my food and I even made a game at the school lunch table…I wanted to see who could eat without touching their food. I can’t remember how long this went on, but even as an adult, I can remember how strong those feelings were and how I was sure something bad would happen if I couldn’t control my surroundings. Side-note: I am pretty sure I never stepped foot in in that attic again.
Often, anxiety stems from a lack of control of your world. It’s no secret that life is chaotic and as a child who needed structure, I began to internalize my anxiety, often leading to racing thoughts and dysfunctional though patterns. I would begin to doubt my worthiness, or I would begin to exhibit Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviors. I wondered why God didn’t love me enough to protect me from the things that were happening around me.
As I grew into a teenager, those OCD behaviors manifested. I would draw crosses on my homework, or I would feel the need to avoid certain foods, drinks, or places for fear of something bad happening to me. Little did I understand that I was creating my own little world of negative thinking and fearfulness.
I was typically home alone from the time I got home from school (when I attended) to when I went to bed, leading me to be terrified of something happening. To ensure I would know if anyone ever entered my home and to feed into my OCD, I would place all of our throw rugs a certain way. If they had been moved, I would know someone had entered my home. I remember one day I arrived home from work and saw the first rug scattered by the front door…as I walked trepidisciously through the large, two story home, each rug was moved…I was so fricken terrified that I ran out the front door, only to discover, my best friends parked down the street laughing at me.
I knew my brain was wired differently, I just didn’t know how to handle it. I did the best I could to control those thoughts, but it was exhausting. This once A student and pretty good athlete began to fail classes and lose interest in sports. I began to self medicate with alcohol as it would numb my senses. I slept more. The cycle began and contrary to my own interference, the guilt, self loathing and anxiety continued to increase.
Looking back, the adult me wants to hug the child me so tightly that little me understands she is not alone. This was during a time period when my parents were either working or not home and my brother was trying to figure out his next chapter. I was the lost child. The one that drifted just under the radar and did enough positive things to walk the line. I needed help, but even I couldn’t recognize that, nor could I ask for it. And when I did, or when it was offered, I was not the easiest patient to work with.
Anxiety looks different in everyone
The grown up me looks back and recognizes my delinquent behavior for what it was…anxiety and depression. I was begging for attention, regardless of positive or negative. My interactions with adults were minimal, as my dad worked nights and I didn’t live with my mom. My teachers saw very little of me, as I only attended school sporadically. When I was there, I was apathetic and/or disrespectful.
There is a saying “All it takes is one person to believe in a child for them to be successful.” Fortunately for me, I had a teacher and an associate principal who both saw past my emotional walls and believed in me. I pushed them away and I definitely tried to maintain my boundaries, but they prevailed, and because of them, I did graduate from high school.
Adult versus child perceptions
Conversely, the other thing the grown up in me can see is that my parents were doing the best they could do. Divorce is devastating for all involved, no matter what steps brought a family to separate (I could write another piece on this). We can question the why’s and the why nots, but at the end of the day, we can’t change anything. It’s really fuckin hard to parent when you are struggling to take care of yourself, trust me, I know this for a fact.
Grant yourself GRACE, my friend. I am.
just call me, anxiety girl
Say what? No resolutions?
Come Again? No resolutions? Why not?
Seriously, the New Year is supposed to be about goal setting, right? So why wouldn’t I create my own resolutions for a new and improved me? Perhaps I like the person I am and can accept that I have some issues, but who doesn’t?
Resolution -a firm decision to do or not to do something. For some of us, a resolution is motivating, for others it signifies a set up for failure. We have been told since we were kids to create goals, which will empower us to move forward towards achievement. However, some of us fail from the get go…and we use that failure to create more guilt and excuses to stay stuck. It’s a never ending cycle of excitement – failure – guilt. Just look at the gyms. January is their busiest month and all of the regulars know that by March, things will get back to normal, as the majority of the new members will stop coming in.
We absolutely know what we need to do to be healthier.
- Move your body – stop being a couch potato. Honestly, your couch may miss you, but it will welcome you back when you return. It may even enjoy the time to itself. Take the stairs, park far away from the door, walk around the block, walk the dog.
- Eat well – this is a no brainer. For me, I have learned that sugar and carbs are not my friends. Too much of them and my joints swell, causing pain throughout my body. I have never been a great nutritional eater, so I rely on supplements that I trust…those with no artificial fillers and are plant based.
- Drink water. Yes, water. Coffee doesn’t count, nor does alcohol. Aim for 1/2 your body weight in ounces per day.
- Sleep – now that’s a tough one. While I personally love to sleep, my body isn’t very good with getting the REM that I need. This is a continual challenge.
We know this, so where is the disconnect?
It begins in the mind
Mine is multifaceted. First and foremost, I want to keep up with my boys. Furthermore,I don’t want to be the mom who sits on the sidelines, just watching. I want to play, bike and have adventures with them. I also know that I FEEL better when I eat better. Additionally, I have anxiety, and working out helps that energy to focus in a positive way. Not to mention, genetically, we have heart disease in my family, and after losing my brother and mom to this disease, I want to fight back.
You have to be self motivated. External motivation will not last. You can’t get healthier for someone else; you need to do it for yourself. And you know what? YOU ARE WORTHY of being healthy and happy. You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself, after all, YOU Can’t Pour From an EMPTY cup.
Personally, I love affirmations. They are all over my office walls. I wear them on my wrist and I have an app on my phone that I love, called I AM. In my younger days, I thought affirmations were a joke. Now, my older and wiser version knows better. All behaviors begin with your thoughts
Furthermore, I have some kick ass music play lists. When I get ready to ride, I plug those suckers in and get lost in the beat. Recently, I rediscovered biking and it took me back to my childhood. Once I finally learned how to ride a bike, I was never far from one. I still love the freedom, the road crushing under my tires and the feel of air rushing my face.
I may also be a tad competitive with my Apple Watch friends…and myself.
As I was looking back on FB memories, I was taken aback by how many times I had documented that this next year would be MY YEAR…that each next year would promise something amazing! And while those amazing things may have occurred, the opposite also happened. The deaths of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the passing of beloved pets.
Life happened. And it took the wind out of my sails. My external motivation was removed, as was the internal motivation. Defeat, depression and despair were prevalent and I had two choices: Keep moving or stop.
I choose to keep moving forward.
After all, this is a lifestyle that begins new every day, sometimes every minute. It is not a resolution, as I deserve more that an annual goal.
Girls versus Women
Do you remember when you were a little girl and you wanted to be friends with everyone? And I do mean EVERYONE. Furthermore, it didn’t matter what they wore, where they were from or what they looked like. When we were little, we didn’t care about our differences. We only cared about finding a common connection.
So what happened?
Girls learn to compete
At some point in our lives, we learn about our differences. And we give them more power than what holds us together. We begin to notice that others get more attention or adoration than we do and therefore, we tell ourselves that we are inferior. Furthermore, rather than embrace that other person, we allow our insecurities to control our thinking and we begin to shun others.
We begin to question ourself, and ultimately, we begin to question our own worth. This is the point of no return and from this point on, everything becomes a competition. Often resulting in the questioning of motives from other girls who want to become friends with us. The level of untrustworthiness we often subject others to is ridiculous, and is the energy we spend on it.
My Own Experience
Recently, I had an opportunity to utilize the services of someone I had not spoken with since high school. Keep in mind that we are talking decades (don’t judge me). Initially, I blatantly refused to contact her because we despised one another during our high school years. In a moment of wisdom, my husband not so kindly told me to get over it and we called her. Allow me to say that she was amazing to work with and we even had a few laughs over our ridiculouslessness back in the day.
People change, my friend…hopefully, you are one of those people who has changed. I know that I am NOT the person that I was in high school and honestly, I thank God for that. The years have shown me patience, experience, and grace. Hopefully, I can let go of my own fears and see past my own insecurities while embracing others for who they truly are.
We need other women
As we grow older and potentially wiser, we realize that most women are facing the same internal struggles that we are. We recognize their insecurities in the quick oneover glance, or the fake wave followed by, “I gotta run”. The signs may differ, however we all tend to have the same fears of being rejected by one of our own.
The years have taught me otherwise. I have learned that most other women are doing the best they can…just like I am. We need other women to reinforce our strengths and to remind us that we are not alone in the battles we face. Women understand women and we need those connections to lift one another up and call us out on our bullshit.
So, thank you to all of you who are in my tribe. Those who light up my world when I let the darkness in. Additionally, thank you to all of you who call me out when I begin to believe my own bullshit. We are stronger together.
Actually, you don’t. I understand are two words that I fucking hate to hear someone say to me. Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe those words are said with love and compassion. But let’s get something straight…You Don’t Understand. And to be honest, I don’t understand what you are going through either.
I understand is something we say when we don’t know what else to say. It is something to fill in the uncomfortable silence when we get too close to someone else’s tragic circumstances. Too often, we say “I understand” when we have similar experiences and want to let other’s know they aren’t alone.
Your experiences shape your understanding. Considering this, there are no two people in the world who will experience the same event in the exact same way. This is one reason that law enforcement doesn’t give too much credibility to witness statements. If ten people are interviewed about an incident, all ten statements will differ in some aspect. People focus on events based on who they are. Smells, sights, sounds, and even tastes may change based upon who is experiencing them.
And if an experience induces a feeling of trauma, all bets are off. Emotions will dull your senses as your fight or flight kicks in and you will be in survival mode. Many times when a loved one passes away, those left behind are blinded by their own pain. They forget there are others hurting and often personalize the behavior of their family and friends. Everything becomes about them and words and actions are often miscommunicated. Thus the reason that many families drift away after the loss of a beloved matriarch or patriarch…it appears that everyone feels slighted by others. Unfortunately, this is not the intent, it is the by-product of grief.
How to help a friend who is grieving
When I lost my brother, it was devastating. He was my rock and the one who was supposed to outlive us all. I had no idea how many people I knew had lost a sibling and when they began reaching out, I realized I wasn’t alone. Were our experiences the same? No. However, we all became part of a club that none of us wanted to belong to and we realized we were not alone. We could bond over the loss and share our experiences, both positive and negative.
For me, some of the kindest things others have done is to just be there. I have one friend who knows that I hide away when I am struggling and she leaves messages for me, knowing I will call back when I am ready. I have other friends who often ask how I am doing and they call me out on my bullshit when I tell them I am ok.
I often joke that as a social worker, I suck at my own emotions. Truthfully, I am more comfortable with helping others, which are totally forms of denial and avoidance. So just let me know you are here. Let me ramble. Listen as I tell stories. Empathize with my situation, just please don’t tell me that you understand.
What helped me
I love the book “It’s Not Supposed to be This Way” by Lisa TerKeurst. It resonated with me. For so long, I have been stuck within my grief. Within a short time frame, many influential people in my life passed away and each one left a feeling of emptiness. However, as I explain to my children, this is the circle of life and as hard as it is to understand, it means we felt deep love. That is a blessing for I cannot imagine living life without love.
Prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. I have seen God work through people and I know He is with us. Furthermore, I believe we will once again be reunited with our loved ones.
Being honest about how I am feeling. This is a kicker for me because as I mentioned, I suck at this. There have been times in the past few years that I have been treading water…simply treading. And occasionally I find myself back in that same place. I expend energy but I don’t move forward.