A.

Anxiety and Childhood: The Power of Educating

If I see him again I will introduce myself.

That’s what I tell myself about the four-year old boy I saw on the train the other day. He was in a stroller on the station platform, being handled by his father, and I was in close proximity. The child was laughing and having a grand old time. All of a sudden, the train pulled up to the station, platformed in front of us, and his dad pushed the stroller into the train car. In an instant, that child went from innocent laughter to petrified screams. “Get me out of here, I want to get out! I don’t like it in here, I want to be outside!” he kept yelling.

The father wasn’t speaking to him much. All he was telling him was to calm down, that he was bothering everyone on the train, and how they would arrive to their destination ‘soon’ (the next stop was twelve minutes away). The little boy probably heard him, but he continued to scream at the top of his lungs and cry. He was absolutely afraid. And I could feel his fear. Hadn’t the train been so packed full of people, I would have gone over to him and introduced myself (with permission of the parent, of course). I would have told the kid that I, too, didn’t like trains, but that they are how we get to new, fun places. I wanted to tell him that many people take the train everyday and that there is nothing to be scared of. He has his daddy there that loves him very much and no one was going to hurt him; he was safe. But, I didn’t have the chance to tell him that; he was too far. As soon as the train platformed at Penn Station, I ran out to look for them, but had no success; they were lost at sea amongst the waves of morning commuters. And just like that, they were gone.

The Pain of a Stranger; A Child
That twelve-minute commute will be one that I will never forget. All throughout the trip there was a child crying and screaming non-stop. It was the commute where I felt a seemingly close connection and I started to cry. And I cried because I knew this little boy’s pain. I was terrified of trains a few months ago and the feeling was just absolutely awful. I could only imagine what he was going through! And yet, this little boy he was just told to hush down and no one was explaining to him why he shouldn’t be afraid. He had to bury this uncertainty within himself and just take orders. Which then made me think. It made me think about how, perhaps, this boy will grow up to be an adult and have a fear of trains (or closed spaces) and not know why.

I hope someone can explain it to him next time. I know the father wanted to help; he picked up his child and hugged him, but didn’t know that while hugging may help him feel a little better, that speaking to him would make so much more of an impact.  I hope that one day the kid really gets to learn. And I hope that he starts to ask questions. He may only be about four years old, but little kids have the ability to process what you say, connect the dots, and learn, too.

But then, there it was: an odd moment, right when I was crying, of a sudden flashback to my childhood that I must have buried so deep inside myself that I finally recalled it – almost twenty years later. And it was then that my fear of doctors and my feeling of being helpless came into fruition. It was at this time that I finally knew where part of my subconscious feeling of anxiety stemmed from…

Anxiety Stemming From Childhood – Uncovered
I suddenly went back in time and saw myself at about age six or seven. I was at my primary physician’s office (AKA the doctor) and was told that I needed a shot on my arm. I was so afraid of shots. Probably because whenever I asked why I needed them, I was given a mean look and was told “because.” It was kind of sad that no one ever took the time to explain that yes, while a shot would hurt for a very brief moment, it meant less runny noses, less coughing, less fevers and more time to play outside in the beautiful weather. So when the doctor started to rub alcohol on my arm, and it came time for my shot, I started to panic.  There was a need for both the doctor and my mother to pin me down to try to get it done. I was that petrified.

train

Very much like the little boy on the train, I cried and screamed- a lot. Figuring that I just needed a moment to relax and calm down, they took me off the chair and put me down on the floor. And that’s when I RAN [away]. I ran towards the door leading outside… and then I heard over the PA “we need all available doctors NOW.”

Next thing I knew, I was grabbed by four doctors, taken to a room, and was, yet again, pinned down to the chair. Each doctor had a limb to hold: legs, arms – even my hips were pressed down!

My eyes were absolutely blurry from all of the tears just balancing over my eyeballs and my vocal chords, oh my vocal chords, they were just calling it quits from so much screaming. 

That Moment of Helplessness
I remember looking at my mom and seeing such a nervous, sad, and worried look on her face. I was her baby, after all! Realizing that I was in a great mode of panic, she started to approach me.  As she reached out her hand to me, it was quickly stopped by a doctor saying, “No, mommy.  Stop and stand back. Don’t come any closer.” And just like that, I was shown that not even my own mother could help me.

Shortly after, I felt a big, painful pinch on my arm. And that was it… the deed was done. I walked away with two things: some medicine in my body and a mental scar of the moment that I was vulnerable and helpless.

Dealing With It Today
Think about it: if I was educated on just what this shot was going to do for me, if I was just given some time and a little explanation, I wouldn’t have had this thing stick around for so long.  Yet, it is all starting to make sense, now, why I feel afraid and vulnerable at times. Why I, and many people with anxiety, are always worrying about being safe and are making sure that we aren’t caught off-guard. We want to know everything about anything before it happens, and stress out about things being ‘perfect’, because we cannot deal with anything less.  We can’t deal with not being in ‘control’.  It’s a fear we live with and it all stemmed from somewhere.

There may be a link between anxiety and childhood, especially if you are dealing with it as an adult. Many life experiences attribute to who we are today and, to be honest, I am glad that the one I described above surfaced back, because it helped me see what was hidden and buried deep inside of me. And you know what? I now understand better. And that’s what counts. I analyzed the situation, learned that yes, it was unfortunate, but that I shouldn’t live my life based on what happened in the past. It’s time to move forward. We are in charge of our tomorrows and we are the ones to create our own futures.

Even though the boy’s experience was heartbreaking and unfortunate, I was actually at the right place at the right time. The situation opened up my eyes, heart, and mind to understanding something that I felt was beyond my control. When I told my husband all about the experience, I was in tears and kept telling him that I want to be better for our future children. I don’t want my children to go through what I am going through, and will encourage them to ask questions.

There’s no need to look back and blame my mother.  And there is no way that I am going out there and blaming that kid’s father.  They are parenting the best way they know how and, unfortunately, things happen. But it’s knowing that if you come across someone who asks for your explanation, or is in need of one (especially a child), to take the time to talk to them. Even if it’s another adult; take the time to explain to them what it is that they are seeking. You never know how much just one moment of educating and letting the other person understand can help shape their future and confidence. As for feeling anxious, I don’t need to seek for answers from my mom. I know what happened and I, being confident in myself, can take that experience and build on it. On my journey to recovery, I am realizing that it is a lot of taking the past as the past and working on myself in the present. In doing so, the anxiousness of worrying slowly slips away and I live a better, happier, and more stable life.

If I see the little boy again, I will introduce myself.
Loren.

M.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Breaking the Stigma, Accepting Myself

They’re ‘crazy’.  They’re full of ‘issues’.  Someone get them a therapist and keep them away from me.  I don’t want to associate myself with those kind of people.

That’s what many people think of when they hear that someone has a ‘mental health disorder’.  It’s a social stigma and it needs to end. May is Mental Health Awareness month and I want to share my personal story with you about coming to terms with my mental health disorder.

Growing Up
I was raised in a pretty strict household.  The road less traveled always sparked my intrigue, but I could never go down that road while growing up.  When someone asked me how I was, I had to say that I was OK (no one wants to hear a complainer, right?).  I was pressured to always get straight A’s in school and would be reprimanded if I came home with anything other than that.  I needed to get a job that paid top dollar.  I was never allowed to have a boyfriend, yet I was supposed to get married.  And when I finally got married, that’s when I could move out of my parents’ home, or else I wouldn’t be thought of as ‘lady’ anymore.  And when I got married, I should then buy a house, have kids, cook my husband dinner every night, and do all of the chores around the house myself. I should be able to manage all of this with no problem and never with any kind of complaint. In short, I was living a life that was already laid out for me with standards that should never be questioned. I was a programmed robot. And that was my life.

My pressures may have seemed normal to some, but were actually draining to me.  Because the standards were held so high above me, I learned that I could never disappoint. I learned that my every move should be a success and that I had no opinion on what I wanted to do- unless, of course, if it was choosing to be either a doctor instead of a lawyer (which, I should point out, wasn’t the outcome to this pre-planned fairytale anyway).

Since I was told how I should live my life, step-by-step, I never had the chance to find and be my true self.  I did, though (here’s the grand bonus!), grow to be very critical of my own self.  I was raised to be so ‘perfect’ that I never settled for anything less than that. Imagine that.  Living a life where everything had to be ‘perfect’.  It was hard and unattainable.  But I didn’t know the latter part.  What do you mean life couldn’t be ‘perfect’?  I had no sense of reality.

My Consequences
Life isn’t easy (as you probably know), but when I finally got a taste of liberty and it finally came time to be autonomous, I couldn’t make a decision. I was always very indecisive, over-analyzed everything, and freaked out when I couldn’t come up with what I wanted to do. People would come up to me and say “You are so put together, you are perfect, I wish I had your life.” And while the compliments were great to hear, I could never fully accept them because they didn’t know that I, internally, was struggling. I actually didn’t have it all together. They didn’t know the real me. And it wasn’t until recently that I didn’t even know the real me either.

I grew up so poor- confidence-wise. Approval and direction from others were what I was seeking 24/7. I was nothing but insecure (decisions were so hard, was I making the right choice that would make everyone else happy and keep me ‘perfect’?), had very low self-esteem (I’m not pretty, I was never told that I looked like a model, so I must be ugly), had a super low confidence level (I’m not confident in doing things on my own without direction), and was always worrying about my next move- no matter what it would be- to make sure that it would please others. I couldn’t ‘fail’; that would show weakness and would show that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Standing Up for Myself
With such a pressure to live up to, it’s no wonder that I felt anxious all the time and had mini panic attacks here and there. It’s no wonder that I felt like I was going through crazy turmoil.  But, I could never share any of this with anyone because I would be judged. Those times where I felt overwhelmed and felt like I couldn’t breathe were the times that I knew I needed a therapist or something. But how could I ever tell my parents that?  What would the family think?  No, I couldn’t share that about myself because that meant showing ‘imperfection’. They couldn’t know that. My whole life was about being ‘perfect’; so I had to make sure I kept this ‘perfect’ face on for everyone around me… or else.

And it was skiing back in January in upstate NY that it finally occurred to me: or else what?

What if I let someone see that I’m not perfect? What if I let people know that even those you think may have it all together around you actually don’t? What if there were people out there, like me, that were living with such societal pressures and had no outlet or example, could see that it was OK?

I never allowed myself to fall while skiing; I always avoided it and would tell myself that, if I did fall, I was nothing but a useless failure at life.  But it was back in January that I realized that life wasn’t fun anymore, that skiing wasn’t fun.  So I did something crazy and I let myself fall.  And when I finally did let myself fall back in January, I cried. Not because I hurt myself, but rather because I felt FREE and LIBERATED.  Life had a whole new meaning when I let my own guards down… and it felt amazing.

Being My Own Remedy & Finding My True Self
So I started this blog. Because it occurred to me that living a life of not trying to show that I was perfect was so much more liberating and worth living. I never wanted to see myself as someone who had a mental health disorder, because that meant that I wasn’t ‘perfect’, but you know what, I do. And I came to terms with it.  I came to terms with the fact that I do freak out under many circumstances and can’t think clearly.  I came to terms with that I doneed to face reality, I don’t have all of the answers, I will be judged, and that I will fail.  But all of this is OK. Because if I can start to fix this now, my tomorrow will just be so much better and much truer.

mham

As a result of letting myself fall since January?  I have definitely started to recover and get stronger with every passing day. It’s amazing how ever since starting this blog, I’ve wanted to find more ways to let myself continue to fall and learn from it. My confidence level and self-esteem have both increased, genuinely, because I feel like my true self. I feel like I’m not hiding anymore. I feel like I can BREATHE. Because when you have panic attacks, you feel like you can’t breathe. And you probably can’t.  You’re under so much pressure that you don’t know how to do something as simple as breathe. Freaking out isn’t perfect; it’s deemed as an imperfection. And you can’t handle imperfection. But what if that pressure was alleviated a little at a time with baby steps, once or twice a day, just by standing up for who you really are or what you really believe in?

Conclusion
The amount of responses to my blog have not only been overwhelmingly positive, but also such a such a blessing. There have been so many people that have opened up to me and I thank them. Because it takes a lot of courage to come out to even one person. And by doing so, you are actually showing yourself that you are ready for a change; you can handle the new you that wants to come out. It is with a community that we can get through this. And while at times we may feel like we are alone, we are not. There are so many others like us out there that have said “enough is enough” and are making small changes already – for the better.

So this month, reflect on yourself. If you are afraid of the stigma, don’t be. And if you don’t want to stand up and say that you have a mental health disorder to the public that is OK! But make sure you most definitely say it to yourself. Because that’s what counts the most. If you have your own identity on your side, the rest slowly starts to fall in place.

My name is Loren, I have an anxiety disorder, and I’m not ashamed. Instead, I am so empowered. Try to knock me down, you won’t be able to. Try to tell me what I should do with my life and you won’t be able to either. My confidence level has been building up, authentically, like a strong house, made with TRUE bricks made up of my TRUE self.  They are no longer bricks made up of what those around me want. Nope, not anymore.

Help Others
If you know someone around you that is going through the same things I am/was going through, please share this with them.  I may not be a big, popular example of someone with an anxiety disorder, but I am an example nonetheless.  I wish I read something similar to what I just wrote years ago.  I wish I knew it was OK.  Things may have been different today.  But we live and learn, right? 🙂

Help Yourself
Do some research, read up on Mental Health Awareness Month, and find ways to start feeling better. Drink lots of water, get active, eat well, meditate, and be brave.  Remember to be true to yourself because you are great. The better you awaits tomorrow. And he/she starts today. There is nothing wrong with you. Absolutely nothing wrong about the beautiful, strong, no-one-expects-you-to-be-perfect you.  Let’s end this stigma.  Everyone is human.  No one is a programmed robot.  Not even you.

Loren.

___________________________________________________________________________
Resources:
Letter from the President of the United States of America on Mental Health Awareness Month
www.mentalhealth.gov
Jimmy Kimmel – Bringing Awareness in This Cute, Funny Video

F.

Fear of Flying: My Sudden, Unexpected Truth

End of July 4th week.

I remember that time last year very well.  I was in San Francisco with my husband watching the fireworks near the Golden Gate Bridge after driving up from San Diego and exploring all of what California had to offer.  It was the first time seeing the west coast and, inevitably, falling in love with it.  Before that, in May, we flew to the Bahamas for the weekend.  In February, we decided to spend some time in Boston and, prior to that, we went to México for our honeymoon.  I’ve flown to France numerous amounts of times (I’ve even lived there for a semester in college), traveled to other countries such as England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Canada (just to name a few).  I took plane rides quite often in my lifetime and felt very fortunate.  I was like a little kid who couldn’t wait to see what was next, was super excited about it all, and day-dreamed about where the next adventure would take me.

Yes, I was quite the travel bug.  I always loved going out to experience new cultures and learn about what makes other countries special and unique (languages, especially, are what intrigue me the most!).

Enter the honest truth.  That trip to California (July 2013) was the last time I got on a plane.  One week after coming back home to NYC, I had my giant panic attack.  I no longer wanted to leave.  I didn’t want to go anywhere far.  I wanted to stay home.  I became afraid.  And just like that, in an instant, I had a fear of flying.  How could it be that someone who loved the smell of airports, the rush of taking off, the excitement of some turbulence, and the eagerness to land and explore new territory was now so afraid of flying?

In November of last year, for my milestone birthday, I wanted to travel but was so afraid.  For my one-year wedding anniversary I wanted to get away, but terror struck again.  And, sadly, a few days after my birthday, my grandfather passed away…in another country (may he rest in peace).

When we heard the news that evening, everyone in my family gathered together, purchased plane tickets, and boarded a plane to the Caribbean the next day.  Everyone left.  That is, everyone but me.  I loved my grandfather so much and wanted to see him one last time, but I just couldn’t get on a plane.  I was afraid of panicking, not having enough oxygen, fearing another terrible attack, and passing out.  If I was all the way up in the air and needed medical assistance, it would take a while to land and seek help.  It was better for me to stay grounded and have an ambulance take me to the nearest hospital ASAP (if I needed it).  I debated with myself: “Loren, you can do this, it’s your grandfather, just suck it up” or “Loren, you are not ready yet, you don’t know how to control your anxiety, you will just make things worse.”  In the end, I didn’t end up going.  And until this day it brings me to tears to think about how something like a fear can stop me from very important moments in life.  Another one on my list: my cousin is currently pregnant and is expecting her first baby girl down in Florida.  I want to go visit her so bad, but I am afraid of getting on that plane.  And while I would want to beat myself up, I don’t.  Because it’s OK to listen to your body and your mind.  It’s about knowing that balance between knowing what you want to do and what you have to do.  And for me, I had to stay.  I had to continue on my slow moving road to recovery.

There have also been so many times that I have randomly broken down and just cried.  I cry because I want to feel my toes in the sand.  I want to go zip lining in Costa Rica.  I want to go on a Safari in South Africa. I want to travel to New Orleans and eat amazing food.  I want to be with family when they need me the most.  I want to be present at very important moments, be it sad or happy.  But I’m being held back.  By my own self.

I know that the fear of flying is common. In fact, there’s a great percentage of Americans that cannot deal with it.  But, it was once something I loved to do.  I’ve always had a passion for it.  And it’s something I want to continue doing.  I know not many people may care for it, and that’s OK.  It’s not for everyone.  But, if it’s causing me to breakdown and cry, then it’s saying something.  Something BIG, something LOUD, and something CLEAR.  It’s something I love to do.  And I still love it.  From afar.

I made that trip to Washington, D.C. last month and broke down in the car sobbing because it was a big step for me.  This big panic attack last summer made me afraid to travel.  Afraid to leave NYC.  Even afraid to leave my apartment.  But because this is something so important to me, I am determined to work on getting back to where I was mentally in the past.  No, I will get there and be even better.  I think my next step may be an even longer car ride (more than 4 hours).  Maybe go to Canada.  I’ve always wanted to visit Montréal.  And then, maybe I’ll continue to build courage and allow myself to finally fly.  It’s all about baby steps, right?

FYI, I’ve been told that there are pills I can take while on a plane to calm myself down or knock myself straight to sleep.  Personally, I don’t want that because I feel like it’s a temporary relief for something that will always remain alive until you confront it.  I’m on a journey to be brave.  I am on a journey to confront myself, find myself, and love myself. My true self.  Naturally.

I can’t believe that I look at planes like someone back in the 1600’s would; how does that heavy thing fly?  Where are the aliens?  It may be funny to hear, but it’s such a truth.  And it’s such a sudden truth because I would have never imagined myself to be like this.  But, I think it’s all about educating yourself.  Asking questions and finding out the answers.  If you do, there is no room for speculation.  You will not stress out about it.  All will be understandable.  I’m getting there, slowly but surely.  I have to stop crying about wanting to fly and just work on my confidence, and maybe, one day, I’ll fly again.  I’m determined.

oneday

When I look up at the skies, I compare myself back to last summer. I do feel stronger than I was back then, but I know I’m not ready.  Not just yet.  But, when the day comes that I do fly (which I will definitely share on here, and obviously continue sharing my journey to get back on it), I know I will cry.  But they will be happy tears.  Ah, I am excited for that day.  But for now, I know what I have to do.  I have to wait.  Before I take it to the skies and fly, I have to take it by ground.  Isn’t it funny, though, how something happens all of a sudden?  Never would I have imagined this; however, I do believe that everything happens for a reason.

I used to be the little travel bug that could.  I’m currently the little travel bug that can’t.  But know that, one day, I’m the little travel bug that will.

Loren.

ps: If you have any tips or advice on how you successfully travel via air, I would love to hear them!  Please share in the comment box below :).