Tag Archives: Anxiety

The 10 Second Smile

It is not that uncommon for New Yorkers to have some sort of summer cottage upstate (Upstate: anything north of the Bronx), and my family was no exception.

The cottage belonged to my father, and we spent many summers there together in the country side, and I was fascinated with it; there were many people from Ireland who lived there, along with authentic Irish pubs complete with live bands that played traditional Irish music.

So, Luna, how did YOU spend your summer?
I spent it watching ‘Sailor Moon’ and learning traditional Irish dances, betches!

Yes, the kids were welcome into the pubs late into the night; it was a family affair, and even though I’d never witnessed it, the waitresses told us that kids would bring their sleeping bags sometimes.

Talent shows were popular, as well, though they called it something else that escapes me, and I loved those.
One night, dad and I were at one of those talent shows, and it was almost painful to watch; that particular night, it was mediocre act to the next and so on.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you something about me:

There are very few things that I love more than singing.
Before my anxiety disorder kicked into full swing, I was so at-home on the stage, it was disgusting…singing, dancing, acting…I loved it all. I was in a few plays during the summers, had countless dance recitals, played in band, etc.
Once my anxiety disorder was decided that it was panic attack time, the only thing I could do without freaking out on a stage was sing solos; it was the only time the world faded away.
When I tried-out for plays or had to be placed into a section for choir, if they wanted me to sing a song, I’d usually do a song from ‘Annie.’ I’ve known the freaking soundtrack from ‘Annie’ ever since I was a young child; hell, I knew the freaking DIALOGUE to that movie…I loved it.

Back to the point.

I looked at Dad, and he looked at me.

‘I could win this show…I just know it,’ I said.
He smiled.
‘I know you could. Get up there.’
I looked back at the stage, then at him again.
‘I don’t know what I would sing. They probably don’t know any of the songs I’m thinking of.’
‘Just ask. All you could do is try.’

So, I did.
I figured…who doesn’t know ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘Annie?’
Irish guys who are playing a talent show in a pub, that’s who.
But they said to sing, and that they’d follow me.
Ok; that doesn’t seem too horrible. I’ve sung this song so many times, I could acapella this shit.

AMATEUR NIGHT! THAT’S what they called it.
…I think.

Anyway…
So, they call my name.
I grab the microphone.

The sun will come out…tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…there’ll be sun…

…and then, nothing.

I completely blanked out on the lyrics.
They were GONE.
COMPLETELY.

I’d sung that song so many times…in front of people, by myself…I’d never forgotten the lyrics to a song or the lines to play or the routine to a dance (ok, ONE step, ONE time, but in my defense, it was one of the saddest nights of my entire childhood), and here I was, completely silent in front of an entire room of complete strangers, waiting for me to continue.

I do not remember what happened afterward, but I gave up and went back to my table.
And cried.
My only consolation was that I could sit in the dark, away from the eyes of all of the people who’d just watched me embarrass my 12 or 13 year old self.

Little did I know that it wasn’t over.

To my absolute and utter horror, one of the band members looked in my direction and started to talk about me, how brave it was of me to go on stage…
…then asked for a spotlight to be shown on me.

‘Luna, let’s do a 10 second smile! Everybody, count with me! Smile, Luna! Smile!’

Those 10 seconds of absolute hell were spent fake-smiling so wide that my face hurt, despite the tears that ran down my face. But, what else could I do? I felt that it was necessary to go along with what this man was doing because I wanted to regain the smallest ounce of dignity that night…even though I cried even harder afterwards. It was probably the most humiliated I had ever been. And my dad knew it, too.
‘What you sang sounded great,’ he assured me, but it didn’t matter.

As an adult, it is something I haven’t thought of very much; I sang solos all throughout high school, and I know now that it just wasn’t my night. I feel like what he did was kind of…sadistic, though. I mean, not a purposeful sadistic; I do believe that he felt pity toward me and was trying to make me feel better.

Sometimes, the things people do to make others feel better, no matter how good-intentioned, are hurtful. I’m a person who is, more or less, a self-healer…I NEED to be. My anxiety disorder is clinical; when I’m not taking St. John’s Wort and Passionflower, I am in damn-near CONSTANT panic. My organic state is just horror. Imagine that you had to wade through a lake of poisonous snakes every time you emerged from the house…that’s what it feels like. And that’s not mentioning the details of how difficult everything else is, everything that is seemingly so easy for everybody else to do…and everybody’s judgement of you when you are panicking.

I find it frustrating that the once-in-blue-moon that I break down and cry, and tell somebody…
‘You know what? My life is hard. I worked so hard at everything and nothing seems to go my way. And I’m upset.’
…that they come back at me with platitudes and antiquated bits of wisdom.

‘You need a new perspective!’
‘You need to empower yourself!’
‘You know you’re a strong person!’
Et cetra.

They want so much for that 10 second smile.

Here’s something interesting that they don’t think about:
I need a new perspective, self-empowerment, and every ounce of strength that I may have to even get out of bed in the morning.
Do I whine about it?
Do I fish for pity?
Do I show these people my tears?
Nope.
But once in a while, I need to talk about it.
I am not trying to gain your wisdom on how to try to make myself better because I do that on my own.
I am not ever going to say, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought of it that way before!’
I don’t want your optimism…I don’t want your advice…I don’t even want your pity.

I want you to say, ‘Luna, you’re right. It is not your imagination…things are hard for you, and you’ve every right to cry. It is not that you aren’t trying hard enough…it is not that you lack perspective…it is not that you don’t know how to empower yourself. You’re doing these things, ALL of these things…I know you are…but for some reason, you haven’t moved forward. You do that stupid fucking 10 second smile everyday, and it’s ok to stop doing it. You’ve earned the right to cry.’

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When has it been Easy?

Oh, blog…
Oh, my few but faithful followers…
I have neglected my blog yet, again.

I do apologize.

It was not an easy summer, nor has it been an easy fall…

To address the elephant in the room: I have had some personal projects in motion, and neither have been completed. No, I did not, indeed fulfill my fear challenge or my Jus Sanguinis stuff.

I DID do one of my fear challenges in August, but the other two…well, if you knew what had happened to me, you’d probably understand. Within 10 days, the life I knew was turned upside-down.
I learned who my true friends were, though.

When you have an anxiety disorder, it takes much longer to bounce back; speed-bumps become walls and bee stings become sledge hammer wounds. It takes all of an anxious person’s fortitude, every ounce of it, to pull it together and fight to put the pieces back together.

I fight through perceptions…perceptions of my own, perceptions of others, of what they think I am, of what they think I should be, of where I am, of what I should be afraid of, of what I should be strong enough to endure…along with reality. And, I fight with anger…anger at myself and anger from other people who think I should be able to do this, or should be able to do that and feel slighted when I’m not feeling able to do any of it.

And on top of it all, you need to somehow find compassion for yourself, because if you don’t, you may never find any.

I came to the conclusion tonight that I want to put my Italian citizenship ordeal to rest and find out what happened to my bisnonno. I need to stop running from the truth…to stop procrastinating.

The Things I’ve Never Done: Part 1

There’s something I haven’t revealed about myself on this blog before. I really want to come out with it now, but I’m not quite sure how to word it…

I guess I could say that I’ve suffered from severe agoraphobia.

Let me set the record straight on what agoraphobia actually is, because it’s a very misunderstood mental illness. Most of the time, people believe agoraphobia is a condition where a person cannot exit their house. Even I, before I had it, always thought of the heroine of the movie ‘Copy Cat’ whenever I thought of agoraphobia, but it really isn’t like that all of the time.

The literal meaning of the word is ‘fear of open spaces,’ but it translates into the actual mental illness a bit differently. It’s like this: People who are agoraphobic TYPICALLY (and I say that quite generously because there are some people who ARE literally just scared of open spaces) have a ‘safe spot,’ which is very often their home. If the person should attempt to vacate their safe spot, there is generally a radius outside of it in which they are free to travel without panic, and that’s IT. The safety radius could be up to the threshold of their front door, or it could be 30 miles from their house. Go past the oh-so-holy safe spot, and it’s pure panic, unending.

When I first became agoraphobic, I didn’t HAVE a safe spot. I had a SEMI-safe spot, but I didn’t have a true safe spot.
I panicked in my living room, bedroom, kitchen…and I had to take baths because I panicked in the shower. Hell, I panicked in my sleep; I woke up night after night, gasping for air. I almost did a sleep study to find out why I would stop breathing while I was sleeping, but soon realized that it wasn’t the case. This was in the Spring of 2008, and it all started with a stupid fucking vaccine.

Don’t freak out: I had had a panic disorder long before I got the vaccine, so I was predisposed to panic…it had just morphed into OCD while I was in college, which made it tolerable.

What had happened was I got a letter from my insurance company saying that all women who were younger than 26 were eligible for a free HPV vaccination. I remembered this one very tragic story I had heard about a woman my ex-roommate had known. If I remember correctly, the woman had just gone shopping at the grocery store in the middle of the day, and as she was walking to her car, she got pulled into the back of a van and got raped…and sadly, this horrible story doesn’t end there: It turns out that the rapist was infected with HPV, and passed it on to this woman. Well, it was one of the strains of HPV which causes cervical cancer, and she ended up dying from the cancer.

That put the fear of God into me, and I decided that I should probably take this free vaccine.

So, I went to the doctor’s office after making an appointment. You only visit a nurse or MA when you JUST need a vaccine (most of the time), and that’s what happened: I got my shot, and they sent me on my way.

Well, apparently, the protocol for administering vaccinations wasn’t being followed at my doctor’s office that day. I try my best not to be bitter about things I cannot change, but it’s exceedingly difficult in this situation, because if that mother fucking bitch had JUST FOLLOWED PROTOCOL, my life may’ve been COMPLETELY different.

The protocol for any kind of shot (for those of you who aren’t familiar with it) is to make a person wait 15-30 minutes after it is administered, because the person MIGHT BE ALLERGIC to what has been injected.

And SUPRISE! I fucking was.

The allergic reaction happened about three minutes after I went through the office door. I was driving home, when suddenly, it felt as if the world was closing in on me. It’s very difficult to explain the sensation, but it’s like you’re in an invisible box that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller…and I HAD to get out. Panicking, which I hadn’t done in YEARS, I called my mother, who is a nurse, and told her what had happened between the desperate gasps for air I was swallowing and saying ‘I have to get out of here! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!’

Calmly, she explained that this was an allergic reaction, and that I needed to get Benedryl immediately. As we were speaking, I pulled into a left turn lane, which was packed with people in front of and behind me, with the lane to my right completely filled, and cars whizzing by in the left lane. If the previous sentence doesn’t sound like a reason to panic to you, imagine feeling like you are in an invisible box you need to get out of WHILE being in that situation. It was one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life.

I eventually made it to a store, and, paranoid as FUCK, found the Benedryl, ripped the package open, popped a pill or two, then paid for it. After making my way to the car, I sat there and smoked a cigarette (ahh, back when I used to smoke), and waited for this horrible feeling to subside.

And wa-la…it did. I drove back to my house and fell asleep on the couch with the cat, and when I woke up, I felt almost completely back to normal.

…So I thought.

Suddenly, I was panicking in stores, panicking while driving…panicking in my sleep, in my house…and the panic feeling was so scary, I would panic when I believed that there may be a situation I was entering that could cause me to panic. I became agoraphobic, and had to move in with somebody else because I couldn’t be alone…I was too scared.

…Hmm. I wonder if I could sue that doctor’s office.
But, then again, what’s the point? Even if I were to win, no amount of money could compensate for how much time I’ve lost.

Anyway…

I think the worst of it came in the summer of 2009, when I completely avoided anything that could trigger panic attacks, yet I still had them. 2010 was in no way fun, either.

I’m vehemently against being on anti-anxiety medication, as I am a staunch believer in cognitive behavioral therapy (I do have a degree in psychology), so I did try to get some help in 2010, but the therapist began to waste my time. He actually yelled at my once when he revisited the idea of medication, and I said something along the lines of feeling like he was violating my wishes in regards to that issue. I’m from New York; I’m used to people yelling, but it was relatively scary to get yelled at in the way he did it. It drove a rift between us on my end, and I no longer felt like I could maintain a good rapport with him, which was actually a very good thing. Having a rift allowed me to be more critical of his technique, and I soon realized that he had no idea how to implement CBT, and he was too lazy to actually go to the store or drive with me to teach me coping skills. The two last sessions I attended, he played movie trailers on Youtube and talked about nonsense for a half an hour before we discussed anything related to panic. I was officially done after that.

In the beginning of 2011, I moved to the town in which I currently reside, and I did a lot of research and found an anxiety specialist. This woman allowed me to do Skype sessions with her at first because I couldn’t drive to where she was; once she taught me the coping skills I needed to do so, she made me drive to her house, and stayed on the phone with me the whole time. She’s even driven with me. I also researched the herbs that are effective in treating anxiety, and I wound up on St. John’s Wort and Passion Flower, which are amazing. Should I find myself having depersonalization (which is FUUUCKING scary), I take two Passion Flower on the spot and I’m typically good within five minutes. There have been no side effects, and I’ve been on St. John’s Wort for about three years, Passion Flower for around two.

[By the way… Depersonalization: Feeling as if one is having an out-of-body experience or in a dream-like state. It can be a form of panic, and it feels like nothing is real or makes sense.]

Like I said, I do try not to be bitter. This whole ordeal has afforded me the opportunity to work out a lot of the issues I should have worked out in my early 20s, but I was so focused on school that I never made time for myself. Plus, being able to find the strength to complete my master’s while having severe panic is something I wasn’t sure I could do…but I did it. I had a lot of my freedom ripped away from me, and I’ve been trying to reclaim it. I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences because of my own fear, experiences that I feel like I really should have.

To be continued.

The Strangest Kind of Blessing

At the very end of last month, I wrote an email to a stranger.

It was a really emotionally trying thing to do, and to be honest, I put off writing it around a year and a half because I was terrified.

What were you terrified of, Luna?

I was terrified that I would pour my heart out to this person, and he would read my words and ignore me, maybe not even read what I had written, or think that there was some motive behind my email that simply wasn’t there.

What had happened was somebody had inspired me with his passion for his career, and it was at a moment when I was in dire need of motivation. The whole situation was so profound to me that I needed to share it with him.

So, when I tried to find this particular man’s email address, I found out that, well…he…umm…how do I put this? In his…field of work, he is kind of a big deal. Well-known. Bumps a lot of important elbows. He’s in such a high position, he could be easily used by fake people if he were to not be suspicious, and many people would want nothing more than to dialogue with him for their own gain.

Me being me, I had no clue as to who he was, and to be perfectly honest, I was so disappointed.
…Scratch that: Depressed. I was so depressed.

I figured that this man was just a ‘normal Joe’ who just loved his job.
That would’ve been a good thing…a very good thing.

If I’m honest, the idea of trying to talk to or form a relationship of any kind with a socially ‘important’ person makes me tired.
I don’t use people: Period. I don’t look at anybody and think:
Hmm…I’d better try to get into their life. Just think of what they could do for me…muwahaha…
But, I know others do, and without scruple. And because of them, there’d be an unspoken rule that I would need to prove that I’m not like that. Besides that, when a person is socially ‘important,’ it seems as if they can only make time for people who are like them; they don’t have time for ‘normies’ like me.

Here’s my take: If I’m not rich enough, important enough, or trustworthy enough to talk to, well…you can fuck right off. I don’t care who you are. I don’t treat people like that, and I sure as hell won’t tolerate being treated like that. The creatures who are important in MY world are important because they’re kind, genuine, and good. There is absolutely no sum of money or anything else that can serve as a substitution for a place in my heart, ever.

Wow. I think I really needed to get that out.

Anyway…
Once I realized who he was, I immediately figured any email I sent him would go unread, deleted, and/or ignored.

Why even bother? It would be a complete waste of time to put the effort and emotion into something he won’t even read or care about.

So…I dismissed the situation altogether.
The Universe, however, wouldn’t let the situation go.

I told somebody about what had happened (somebody who I knew WOULD care), just to get it out of me when I was on the way to work. I trotted in as I normally did, grabbed a box of unsorted historical records, and put on my white gloves to start working. The first thing that I grabbed that morning was an antique booklet, and when I opened it to a random page to figure out what the booklet was about, the man’s name was written in cursive on the top of the page.
“REALLY?” I screeched. “Fucking really?”

That’s just one example. I dealt with a freaking year and a half long case of the Baader Meinhof effect until I was forced to confront the situation. TO MY CHAGRIN.

So, I wrote the damn email. It took me about, oh, two or three hours to do, and it took quite a bit out of me, but at the same time…it felt good. And what do you know? His name and the name of his company stopped popping up everywhere. It was like being told that I did what I needed to do; I had a certain role to play, a wheel to set in motion, and I did it.

Oh, yeah; I don’t mean to be suspenseful. I DID receive a reply…an auto-reply saying that he was somewhere else and would get to answering emails later that day.

There was an unsettled feeling in me, despite the strong intuition that I’d done what I needed to do. So, I explored it:

Why are you unsettled?
Because I knew this would happen…I knew I would be doing something for nothing at all.
So, you’re unsettled because he didn’t reply?
Of course I am! Why wouldn’t I be? It feels terrible to share something important to you with somebody who doesn’t give a shit.
Why does it feel terrible? You’ve unburdened yourself, haven’t you? You told somebody about something they’ve done that touched you…how is any of that bad?
Because I feel rejected, ok? I stayed away from this whole thing because I KNEW he wouldn’t answer and I would feel rejected, and that’s exactly what happened!

OHH.
That’s what this was all about.

I thought of the previous times I had experienced rejection from others: How did it play out, who did it to me, why did I feel the need to put myself into those situations?
And the more I thought about it…I realized that the people who had rejected me…the people I had worried over and put up on a pedestal…they had turned out to be some majorly unhealthy people to be around. I would’ve landed myself in some very bad situations if they HAD accepted me.

It was as if my sense of logic had grown a hand and smacked me in the face: It was suddenly so obvious. This thing that I feared so much and tried so hard to avoid was actually my friend. This monster under my bed was helping me my entire life; it actually gets me away from the people and situations I’d be better off without. I should never be afraid of rejection; it’s an unlikely kindness….it’s the strangest kind of blessing.

It’s been nearly a full 19 days. I haven’t received a reply from him and I’m not going to. And you know what? I’m ok with that. As a matter of fact, I’m better than ok. I wrote one damn beautiful email that I’m genuinely proud of…I followed my intuition and did what I believed was right. I ran at my fears, knowing the consequences. But the most important thing that I can take away from this situation is that I’ve had a friend who I’ve been neglecting for far too long for all of the wrong reasons.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a plate of cookies to push under my dust ruffle.