some days my brain isn’t mine

The Good

Let’s start with the good, shall we?

On Saturday, James and I make spontaneous plans to grab brunch after taking Guinness for a walk. Did I mention it was SUNNY?! I saw blue skies, people. I also ate a dutch baby pancake, rhubarb french toast, and patatas bravas. So, points for getting my daily dose of much-needed vitamin D with a side of brunch heaven.

We got shit done, too! Fixed our fake lawn (dogs can still dig holes in astroturf). Bought happy pink daisies for the front porch. Did weekly grocery shopping. Got my eyebrows to look normal. Talked to my in-laws.

On Sunday, we took Guinness on a field trip to the Vancouver farmer’s market. We walked along the waterfront, let Guinness chase ducks, and bought some local honey, asparagus, and a lemon white chocolate cookie.

Seriously?! I get to do these things?!

All-in-all, a win for a weekend.

THE NOT SPOKEN PARTS

If I left my weekend description at that, I would say I had an Instagram-worthy two days. Perfect dog, perfect husband, and perfect weekend.

However, we all know that can’t be the whole story. Good catch, guys!

On Friday, I had an anxiety-ridden day and panic-attack filled evening. I was completely shut inside my brain, snapping at James and Guinness at every chance. I was going back and forth between hating myself for acting this way and crying because I couldn’t stop myself. The self-love shit goes out the window when you manage to obsess for 4 hours about your failures as a human.

James knows. He always does. He kindly asks if everything’s okay or if he can help. I tell him I’m fine. Even as I do my fifth chore of the evening, distracting myself to all ends, I convince myself that I can’t say anything. I can’t admit my brain is spinning. That lack of control is still terrifying to me.

I stay around him all evening. I like the comfort of others, even if I can’t allow myself to talk to them or treat them well.

Want to know what set my brain off?

Me too. It could have been the podcast I listened to about manifesting abundance. It could have been having a slower day at work. It could have been what I ATE. It sneaks up on me and traps me inside with my thought loops of failure, imperfection, and self-hatred.

FINDING GRATITUDE & FRUSTRATION

When my brain decided to calm down around 11 pm that night, allowing me to actually sleep, I was so grateful. Grateful and angry. I think I can be both.

Grateful that I could be myself again–that my fog had been lifted. Grateful to have someone who understands that this happens sometimes. Grateful it only lasted one day. Grateful I was alive. Grateful I hadn’t had any suicidal thoughts.

Yet, I was angry. Angry that I didn’t use my self-care plan. Angry that I closed myself off. Angry that I have this happen.

When this happens, I always say “next time will be different”. I’ll nip it in the bud. I’ll use positive self-talk. I’ll do some goddamn yoga. I won’t let it get bad.

But, I probably won’t. And I probably can’t control it. But I can be honest. I can say I don’t know what’s happening to my brain. I can play with my dog. I can watch a movie.

But I can be honest. I can say I don’t know what’s happening to my brain. I can play with my dog. I can watch a disney movie and eat halo top.

I can accept that some days my brain isn’t mine.

Manic Panic and McNuggets

It caught me off guard.

They always catch me off guard, despite 6 years of experience.

I thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

It doesn’t make a panic attack any less frustrating. less annoying. less inconvenient.

I googled “What to do when you have a panic attack at work” (because, yes, after 6 six years of this shit I still don’t always know what to do). It’s hard to tell yourself “breathe, take a walk, relax” when your thoughts are going so fast you can’t comprehend what’s wrong. I texted James. I ignored the tightening in my stomach. The lump in my throat. The quickening of my breath. I started at my computer screen and willed my brain to keep working, keep plodding. It’ll go away.

Spoiler alert: They never go away. It’s like ignoring a scratch.

Then the crying. Is there anything worse than crying at work? (Okay, yes, TONS of things, but it still blows.) I stay silent and face away, hoping no one hears me or sees me and comes by my cubical. (Cubicles are not ideal for panic-attack crying jags)

I try a quick journal, but it backfires (negative self-talk permeates my panic attacks).

I email my manager and I say I’m not feeling well. I did not say “I’m having an anxiety-induced panic attack about what a failure of a human being I am.” Somehow, I don’t think it would come off as well.

30 minutes later, I’m sitting in a grocery store parking lot as I furiously eat 20 McNuggets and listen to my audiobook. My favorite coping mechanism. (Notice I did not say my healthiest coping mechanism). I drown out the rapid-fire thoughts in my head, reminding myself it’ll be over soon.

I get home. It’s over. I pet Guinness. I fire up my laptop, put on the Princess Diaries, and begin working.

James comes home, bubble tea in hand. He hugs me and says he’s sorry.

I breathe. Another day.

how my dog is helping me with my perfectionism

my dog makes me look like an asshole

“BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK!!!!!!”

That is how my dog, Guinness, likes to announce himself to strangers, other dogs, and weird noises. He pulls. He barks. He gets up on his hind legs and announces his “menacing” presence to the world. Treats do not distract him. Loud noises only encourage him. He is on a mission and that mission is to be as big as possible and defend me. My perfectionist nature the furthest thing from his mind.

When announcing my presence, I make as little a splash as possible. You won’t find me blasting loud music in my cubicle, parking on the wrong side of the street, or dare I say it–ARRIVING LATE (there’s a great bit from Mike Birbiglia’s special about people who are late and I wholly identified with his annoyance).  I am downright considerate, dammit!

Guinness does not care about my reputation as a considerate human being. He cares about the bunny he saw 10 feet away that he needs to protect me from. Why does it matter to him that it’s 5 a.m. or that the bunny isn’t in his yard? I cringe as he lunges. I hide as he barks. I retreat into the house, giving up on trying to control him.

it all comes back to perfectionism

For others to think I am in any way out of control or unqualified is a stab to the heart. Me?  The one who researched what treats to buy, where to go to obedience school, and best practices for training? The one who got him on a schedule? The one who painstakingly tracks when I’ve washed his toys, when we’ve fed him dental chews, and when he needs new meds?

My anxiety kicks into high-gear. What if they think I’m a bad neighbor? What if he barks all day while we’re gone and secretly hates me? Should we not have gotten a dog? What were we thinking?!

Many times in my life I have gotten stuck in this time warp of what I think others expect of me, what I expect of myself, and the validation that happens or doesn’t happen when one of those areas doesn’t measure up. When all of your validation comes from external sources beyond your control, you’ll feel powerless and miserable. It’s how my depression worsened, my anxiety turned into panic attacks. It’s why I had to leave college two times in one year.

taking it one moment at a time

Then I stopped. I breathed. I took stock. I looked down at my dog staring up at me. He didn’t think he was an asshole. He didn’t think he was embarrassing.

Why do I need to be embarrassed? He’s a one-year-old puppy. He’s learning. His goal isn’t to embarrass me. He’s going with his nature, his instinct to run, play, and protect. So I know that yes, he barks at others. And yes, it’s not ideal. But that shouldn’t stop me from walking him, playing with him, and encouraging him to get better.

Just like my perceived failures or mistakes shouldn’t stop me from trying harder, going against the grain, and hopefully making some progress. So cheesy, yet so true.

Driving and Anxiety: The Joy in Small Choices

 ANXIETY IS A TERRIBLE BACKSEAT DRIVER

Anxiety takes over when I’m driving. Need to change lanes on a busy highway? I’d rather take the next exit and wait it out. Can’t find a parking spot? I’ll drive miles out of the way and walk. Unprotected left turn? You can bet I’ll turn right and find another way. Someone wants me to give them a ride? I’ll say yes, but know that I will spend hours making sure I know exactly how to get there. It is exhausting.
 
I had great friends and family who knew I struggled with this and offered to drive or give me rides (in exchange for great mix CDs of course) throughout high school and college. My best friend even offered to have me follow her the 3+ hours to our college town (Kirksville) when I first got a car. After a few years, I was able to drive without too much fear on two-lane highways and through the small neighborhoods of Kirksville.
 
But, once I started working in the real world, I had to start driving for my job more often. In the nonprofit sector, driving during the day is almost always required. There are donations to pick-up, donors to visit with, and networking events to attend. I’ve always worked in places I’m familiar with or had co-workers who liked to drive.

ANXIETY IS A TERRIBLE CARPOOL BUDDY

When I found out I’d be moving to Washington, one of my first thoughts was not “Where can I find the nearest waterfall?” but “How will I be able to drive around somewhere like Portland?”.
 
My first job in Vancouver was a short, 15-minute drive from our home and didn’t need much driving outside of work. This week I started a new position in Portland. I am in love with this new job.Yet, I am not in love with my new commute of 2 hours a day in heavy Portland traffic.
 
Seeing your Google Maps app filled with red is not great for a stress-free morning. I practiced my new route last Friday and my anxiety lifted. No traffic, I rarely had to change lanes, and I even had a designated parking spot! Fast forward to Monday morning. I sat in stand-still traffic on the highway, my anxiety rising as my estimated arrival inched closer to 9 am. How am I going to manage this twice a day, five days a week, for the foreseeable future?

TAKING THE WHEEL ON ANXIOUS DRIVING

My (usual) first instinct when I’m feeling anxious is to catastrophize: This will never get better. I’ll always feel anxious when I drive. With this situation, I tried to find some new tactics and re-align my way of thinking. Each weekday morning, I receive a Daily Shine text (highly recommend!). One of the texts this week discussed the joy of making “small choices” each day to affirm your free will. By reminding yourself that you have the power over choices throughout your day, you can find moments of joy and control
 
I decided to try this experiment with my commute and wrote down all the elements I can control. My podcasts, the temperature, the route, the app I use, my attitude, and when I leave. I then wrote down the things I could not control. The traffic, the weather, the length of my commute. It was comforting to see that I had more items I could control rather than couldn’t.
 
I put my experiment to work the rest of the week. I downloaded a different GPS app, found an audiobook I liked, left earlier to give myself more time, and kept an attitude that this was personal time for me to enjoy. I’ll be honest, it worked well the first two days! On Friday, with the addition of crazy Friday afternoon traffic, I got a bit more anxious and upset. I then added another tactic to my experiment: always have a snack!
 
How do you handle repeating scenarios that make you anxious?
 
Lots of Love,
 
Caitlin