Out of the Woodwork.

You know how when you buy a new car, it seems that suddenly, everywhere you look, that same car is there? It’s strange, but as soon as you slapped your insurance sticker on the licence plate, you realize that you’re not the only one who had your idea.

You probably chose this car because it’s unique. Maybe it’s flashy, or maybe it’s understated – either way, you chose it because it’s uncommon on some level. You’re exceptional and not like everyone else, so you chose that car to parallel that.

But it turns out that you’re not the only one with that car after all. There are tons of other people just like you, who didn’t choose a Mazda 3. Those fuckers.

As soon as you think you’re the only one, others like you come out of the woodwork.

Same goes for mental health issues. You think you’re the only one, but the reality is that you just weren’t paying attention. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of people out there just like you. You just have to be deep within it to notice the numbers.

Damn, girl.

I felt very alone before I started writing here a month ago. It’s just as well that I have social anxiety, because misery hates company anyway. But as I delved deeper into this online world, I learned a lot. If I look up the hashtag “anxiety” on my blog reader, I find hundreds of blogs on the subject. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with them all! And when I started my Instagram account? I was blown away with how many similar accounts are out there. Mental health warriors like me are out there – they’re everywhere. Maybe they’re in the deep end of the anxiety pool like I am. Its omnipresence is overwhelming and interlaces itself into every aspect of their lives. Some just throw out a #panicattack after an acute flare-up. But look for it, and you find that people everywhere are struggling. They’re everywhere.

Recently I learned that my go-to esthetician wasn’t working full time anymore. We aren’t friends per se; since I’ve been seeing her for years, we do have a bit of a relationship. We have chatted about our personal lives a fair bit and I do think she thinks of me as more than just a client.

But her new schedule struck me as odd because she was previously a cyborg who was working 15-hour days and had a management role in the salon. My mental health radar was beeping.

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I thought I’d drop her a text. Just in case something was up. If nothing else – was she working elsewhere? My eyebrows are very important to me.

When this girl text me back, I learned I had been right: she was working part time due to work stress and burn out. I obviously will not get into her story here, because it’s not mine to share.

I offered her my words of support and told her if she ever needed it, I can be a good listener. She thanked me politely and graciously.

When my appointment time finally rolled around, I was a little nervous to see her face to face. I was freaking out that I had overstepped a boundary. Who am I to barge into her life, assuming she’s not happy or something is wrong? Did I make her uncomfortable? Did I make it awkward? Would I need to find a new eyebrow girl?!?

My need for great eyebrows is apparently stronger than my anxiety.

Once we were alone, I timidly asked her how it was going. A nice, gentle, normal conversation opener. She also took the safe route and asked me a similar question. I realized quickly that this was 50/50. How could I expect her to feel safe if I lied and told her life was great and everything was “fine”? If that’s how I would proceed, she would surely follow my lead and the mere exchange of pleasantries would be the extent of our conversation. There’d be no depth. We’d do nothing but grimace behind our masks and add to the stigma that the tough shit in life is something to be ashamed of. That we need to convince everyone that everything is fine. That talking and being real is not okay.

That’s not real life. I wanted her to feel safe. I wanted her to feel normal, and not alone. So instead of telling her things were “fine”, I took the first scary step forward and told her things were going okay….. but that I was off work and on stress leave so things were not perfect.

At least I got to do this while laying on a table with my eyes closed. Which was awesome since eye contact is fucking impossible for me.

To my relief, she took the same scary step and opened up. She spoke about what she was going through too. I think perhaps it evoked a sense of relief for her as well. Our conversation was not long, but we both rattled off such a mirror image of thoughts that it actually made me smile. We even tentatively made plans to get together for coffee or wine and have a real girl date.

I was on a mission for the greater good and her wellbeing. But an amazing side effect was that I ended up feeling better about myself. I hope she did, too, but it made me realize I am not the only one in my life going through tough times. We all know your 20s are for learning and making mistakes, but apparently your 30s are for falling on your ass. And if you’re brave enough, talking about it. Opening up about it. And that can lead to healing and growth.

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Do Not Insta-Stalk.

It’s 5:30a and I have been wide awake for a couple of hours now.

This isn’t too unusual for me these days. When my head is spinning and I can’t sleep, I usually read for a while, and if I still can’t turn my head off, I will venture into the living room (so Boyfriend can sleep) and watch TV until I fall asleep on the couch.

Tonight, though, I did something really really stupid instead.

I Instagram-staked an ex.

Let’s back up a little bit. Back in March, I realized I hated social media. I realized that it did nothing but rob me of the joy I should feel when I think about my life and all I have. I can’t fathom how many hours I’ve spent looking at photos of other people’s lives and felt that my own was inadequate. Every day, every photo, it was like I was chasing a new dream that I had never even known I wanted. I’d see some beautiful girl who seemed to run around Europe in beautiful clothing for a living, not a care in the world, and feel horrible, wondering why that wasn’t me. Or I’d see the gorgeous, perfect homes with flawlessly designed rooms and perfectly tidy kitchens, and suddenly find that my own home and furniture was totally wrong. Perfect families. Perfect meals. Perfect pets. Perfect trips.

When I was dating (before I met Boyfriend), I would obsessively check and re-check my dude-du-jour’s profile, searching for hints that he was seeing someone else. Hoping he would allude to my existence in his life so I could feel confident in solidifying things. Looking up beautiful ex-girlfriends and comparing myself to them.

I started to post more and more of my own life’s moments. I posted gorgeous photos of my own travels, hiding the fact that I was actually sunburnt and had suffered from heat exhaustion that day. I didn’t post anything about the cost of the trips, and the incredible backload of emails and work I returned to. And I didn’t share the fact that I spent more time hoping people would feel envious of my trip rather than enjoying it in real life as much as I should have.

I posted selfies that had been perfected by apps that cleared the bags under my eyes and wrinkles that had been beginning to show around my eyes. I hid the imperfections of my body or the parts of my outfit that didn’t match the way I’d hoped. I didn’t post the 10 test photos that didn’t make the cut.

I posted a sting of ‘amazing’ events I was attending that suggested that my life was something everyone would want. I hoped to evoke thoughts from people… “Oh look, she’s at a gala! Oh, now she’s on a boat! Oooh, a golf tournament! Wow, that tiny corner of her house with the perfectly staged chair must mean the rest of her home is just as perfect!” I didn’t post the reality that 90% of my time is spent cleaning, working, watching TV, and grocery shopping like everyone else.

I posted photos of my work trips overseas, glamourizing my job and hoping to impress everyone. I didn’t showcase the fact that I was deeply homesick. There are no photos of the fact that I had the flu during a good portion of one of the trips, and spent hours in a hotel bed suffering. There was nothing there to suggest that the work itself involved long hours, stress about the events’ success and the impact it would have on my job, or the fact that some of it was incredibly boring and no better than being strapped to my desk in my home town.

I began to realize that I was doing what everyone else was doing: posting the perfected snippets of my life that suggest it is something more extraordinary than it is. Even though the other reality is that my life is wonderful, and that I don’t need to post stupid photos about it to prove that to myself.

Most importantly, I started to realize that I was hoping that people would feel horrible feelings when they saw my profile: I wanted them to feel jealous.

That was not a good feeling, and it made me feel deeply ashamed.

Without thinking about it for more than a moment, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram (I don’t have other accounts).

I thought I would miss it, and I thought I would eventually creep back. Perhaps I’d log into Facebook for a few minutes one day (since I know it’s actually impossible to actually delete Facebook). Or figure out how to reactivate Instagram to catch up.

But I never did. Since I wasn’t posting, I didn’t care much. And since I wasn’t dating, there was no one I cared enough about to check up on – everyone in my life now is actually present in my life.

Ever since I began this blog, I have had an Instagram account. I feel like it’s a good way to connect with others in the same position I am in. 100% of my @hashtagpanic account has to do with anxiety and depression. I don’t look up celebrity accounts, I don’t have anyone from my personal life on there, and I certainly don’t go looking for trouble.

Until tonight.

Since I couldn’t sleep, I began to scroll through Instagram, and liked some relevant photos. I peered into a couple accounts who’d begun to follow me, and looked up hashtags that aligned with my own interests on there.

I don’t know what it was that made my type in his handle. I wasn’t even thinking about him. I don’t even like him.

But I did it. I stalked an ex. And it did me nothing but harm.

I began to feel all of the horrible feelings I had felt when we were dating. Feeling inadequate, not good enough, lied to. Trying and trying to make a relationship work. God knows I’d had enough of them at that point – I was desperate to make something work, even if, in hindsight, the relationship was terrible.

It led me to see he had a large number of “likes” on one of his photos, and I wanted to see who was paying so much attention to him. I saw links to accounts of girls I recognized but didn’t actually know in high school. They present themselves as having perfect, beautiful lives now. The feelings began to pop up: inadequacy, envy, dissatisfaction.

Then I saw the girl the ex might be dating (who I actually know), and saw that he commented red hearts on a few of her pictures. He never did that for me. I began to feel more jealousy, shame (since she knows I used to date him), and I started to feel like I could never show my face anywhere near this girl again. Anxiety was bubbling up.

I began to think about how this link to him was something I needed to sever – and that the link was through her and only her. I immediately started thinking about all of the things I’d have to change in my life: find a new ladies’ golf group for next year, not attend a mutual friend’s baby shower, steer clear of any event in his industry (it’s a big, trendy industry in my city) so that I’d never have to see them together.

I wasn’t thinking clearly. I tried to calm myself, and think of all these feelings as passing clouds, detach from all of the conclusions I was coming to: they’re dating, he loves her, other people have perfect lives, my life isn’t good enough.

It was just too much. I couldn’t stop the overwhelming overflow of emotions. There were too many, and I was too alone. I nudged Boyfriend, and he hugged me, saying “you having a rough one?” (which is what he typically says when I’m panicking), but he was just too sleepy to really soothe me like he usually does.

So now I am here, on my computer. Getting my thoughts out, trying to see things for what they really are.

Jealousy, Fear, Shame, Inadequacy. They’re all here this morning. Those guys are keeping me company.

But those are just feelings – they’re floating by, and they don’t make up part of my essence. They have nothing to do with my soul. With Me.

I’m trying to take comfort in that, this morning. I’m trying to ignore the tightness in my chest and just quietly observe the crazy thoughts of needing to overhaul my life because of all of these conclusions my Ego has come to.

Because really, all I did was see a couple of pictures. All I did was feel a few feels.

I belong here, in my cozy house. I can feel my cuddly, purring cat curled up next to me and feel needed and important. I feel love when I think about Boyfriend snoozing away blissfully down the hall, and that he’ll still be there for in the morning, not judging, loving me just the way I am.

Love is here. And it’s so much stronger than the other guys.

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Tinfoil.

There is a reason I have tinfoil as my backdrop on my page.Β It’s not my attempt at conveying my love for 90s kitsch design.

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Fun prank: tell a friend this is a Magic Eye picture and watch them struggle with it for 10 minutes.

Although, forgive me, it is a symbol for something, and that is just as lamenting.

I’ve mentioned that I have a wonderful, compassionate partner in life: Boyfriend. We’re not married (yet – we’ll get around to it one day), but we live together. We’ve built a home and life together and are truly committed to one another. His love for me includes all of my flaws – including my anxiety and depression. He is my best person.Β 

It wasn’t like I revealed everything about myself on day one of our relationship. I managed to keep my crazy in check for months and months, actually, and it was a long time before I felt comfortable enough to share this side of me with him. Mental health isn’t something people tend to talk about in general. It can take a long time to gauge whether or a person is someone you can trust and rely on. Whether they are wired with that element of sympathy or empathy that’s required of something to be lean-on-able is not always obvious.

Realizing someone has the capacity to be your “rock” doesn’t happen in a snap, either. It is a series of learning, of reading your feelings and emotions in symphony with their actions. You just kind of slowly discover that yes, this person is a good one. You can share your secrets with him or her, and you are safe. This person is a cornerstone. Your counterpart.

When I first explained to him that I had an anxiety disorder (admitting to multiple disorders seems like a lot to swallow, so I like to start with just one), I was able to recite to him a brief canned address that allows most people to understand anxiety on a beginner level. I never expect much of a response, or even many questions. It’s just something for them to digest. He digested it well.

Like most decent people, his response was positive and supportive. It was a good first step to handling the unhinged bag of loose screws I can sometimes be. It provided him a bit of a warning that I could, at any given moment really, have a full fledged panic attack.

Which did eventually happen, of course.

The first time I had a panic attack near him, he was the supportive person I’d hoped he would be. I couldn’t have asked for better. That doesn’t mean he 100% understood what was going on. After I had calmed down, I did my best to guide him through what it really feels like to have a panic attack.

The best way I was able to explain the epicentre of my anxiety attacks is to think of the heart as being made of tinfoil. It keeps you alive by pumping blood through it effortlessly and rhythmically. It is reliable and steadfast. But it needs to be handled with care: in reality, it is vulnerable, delicate, and intricate.

Now imagine that your fragile tinfoil heart is physically being squeezed.

It takes literally no effort to crush that tinfoil into a hard, compact little ball. All of the life is squashed out of it. It cannot function properly in this state. It feels tight and tense and tiny. It hurts.

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It feels irreparable.

And the rest of your body is useless when that feeling takes place. Every sense is affected: your vision seemed darkened and blurry, your hearing is muffled. You are shaking and sweating. Your breathing quickens. Your mind is out of control.

The only thing you can really concentrate on is the fact that your heart, once open and light, is now dense and solid. Nothing passes though it with ease. The heart centre you’d thought of as your axis of stability isn’t there. This stupid little crushed ball has taken its place.

That’s what an anxiety attack feels like to me. Like my heart is made of tinfoil, and it’s being crushed. It’s kind of hard to un-crush a ball of tinfoil.

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