Tag: Anxiety

Anxiety Disorder, ACID, and Cash Money

My anxiety spiked bigtime last Sunday. But what does that mean? What does that feel like? Thanks for asking. Let’s look at that together. I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. For me, that means I will just suddenly be in a panic, with no warning, about nothing in particular. The panic will have no specific subject for me. I won’t be panicked about something. Just panicked. I have blogged a bit about this before: Meet Dave: My Anxiety Vampire » Can’t Juggle (cantjuggle.com).

In this post, I would like to help educate those who don’t suffer from this type of disorder; hopefully increasing understanding and chipping away at the stigma that surrounds mental disorders in general. In the process, I am also hoping to help those who have dealt with anxiety/panic, beyond what the more neuro-typical members of our species face, to feel less alone.

We all experience anxiety

We have all experienced anxiety in our lives. When you are nervous before a date or a big presentation at work or school? Anxiety. When you are hosting family over the holidays and feel some stress over wanting everything to go well… Anxiety.

Basically, although perhaps a bit over-simplified, when it makes sense that you are nervous or stressed, and these feelings are an annoyance, but you are able to push through them without too much effort, then you are likely having a neuro-typical experience of anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal response to threat, and the discomfort it creates is meant to capture attention and stimulate a protective response.

“The Biology of Anxiety” page of Psychology Today website

We don’t all have anxiety disorders

If your anxiety/panic doesn’t seem to fit your situation, if it is out of proportion, if you cannot make sense of what it’s about, if it creates major obstacles for your daily life or even forces you to make different life choices in order to get around it, then it is likely not a neuro-typical experience of anxiety.

There’s a huge difference between having sweaty palms and an increased heart rate while teaching a room of 100+ people about databases (been there, done that) and pulling out of public speaking altogether because you feel outright terror about just being in a room with even 5 people (been there, done that).

But too often, the anxiety is excessive, or sustained, or inappropriate to what set it off, and it interferes with every-day functioning—or sets in motion maladaptive behaviors, from avoidance of threat-generating situations to substance use, to avoid the discomfort of anxiety.

“The Biology of Anxiety” page of Psychology Today website

This is not to say that anyone who experiences a period of intense anxiety has an anxiety disorder. Some of us, though, experience them frequently and sometimes for much longer durations that our more neuro-typical friends.

Anxiety is mental AND physical

Anxiety often involves thoughts or feelings, and even sometimes the lack of one or the other.

  • Racing thoughts that come fast and fly by too quickly to deal with
  • A single thought that is just so huge and so insistent that you have no energy of attention for anything else
  • Catastrophizing (those what-if scenarios of impending doom for you or loved ones or EVERYONE)
  • The intense desire/need to defend yourself or run away

All of those and more can be mental experiences of anxiety. Sometimes, our brains (without our conscious decision to do so) may just say, NOPE, and shut out everything so we aren’t seeing, hearing, feeling anything around us (dissociation). This is rather like the “burying your head in the sand” analogy, trying to make something go away by removing it from our lived experience.

From a biological perspective, anxiety triggers several physical changes. This includes:

  • The amygdala perceives a threat sounds the alarm
  • Adrenal glands flood the body with norepinephrine (adrenaline)
  • The pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which controls reasoning and decision make, and usually keeps the amygdala in check, is circumvented
  • [more science stuff]
  • The body prepares all systems for the fight or flight for very survival

The bypassing of the pre-frontal cortex is HUGE. Your brain actually shuts down your ability to reason, think, make rational decisions. This is why it is useless and just plain cruel to tell someone having an attack or anxiety/panic to “calm down.” It just makes no sense and, beyond providing less than zero help, may make them want to beat the shit out of you on top of everything else. Instead, before doing/saying anything, image that person set you on fire and then expects you to do long division. Then, with that scenario in mind, proceed from a place of empathy/compassion.

What anxiety/panic feels like for me

You’ve been startled before. Probably many times. Do you recall that tingling sensation that spikes just for a split second? That very brief, but very intense FUCK! that your body and mind experience? For me, anxiety/panic is almost identical…. except it can last for an hour or two or three… I don’t wish it on ANYONE.

And that is just DURING the attack. Because of the physical aspects of anxiety above, it leaves me utterly exhausted. My body had readied itself to fight or flight for survival; the fact that it didn’t NEED to do that is irrelevant.

ACID

I have never done drugs. So, not THAT acid.

I am a data professional. That means working with databases and tools for helping people make the best use of the information at their disposal. In database systems, there is a concept of a transaction: a collection of steps/tasks that must adhere to certain principals known as ACID in order to guarantee validity, among other things. A full discussion of ACID is beyond my scope here. I will focus just on one:

Atomicity: All the steps, parts of the transaction must either SUCCEED together or FAIL together as a unit.

Cash Money

A common way of learning about transactions is by thinking of a banking transaction. Suppose you want to transfer $100 from your Savings account to your Checking account. There are two pieces to this process:

  1. Withdrawing $100 from Savings
  2. Depositing $100 into Checking

It is really important for BOTH of these steps to occur. If the first step happens, but the second step does not, ACID properties of the transaction, as implemented by your bank, will put the $100 back into your savings. You lose nothing.

Anxiety doesn’t give a fuck about ACID properties of transactions. So, when it readies your body and mind for action, withdrawing that $100 from Savings, it doesn’t matter if you end up using that readiness to actually fight/flight for your life or not. It’s gone. You can recover over time, depositing other money into your savings account, but that $100 is lost.

Recovering

When my anxiety spiked last Sunday, even though I had my medication and coping skills to help, it kicked my ass. I ended up missing work on Monday. And I didn’t feel a whole lot better until Thursday. It is THAT profoundly draining. That’s it. I hope someone finds this helpful. And if not, I won’t worry about it… maybe.

Meet Dave: My Anxiety Vampire

Personification and Externalization

I have found great value in personifying and externalizing my mental illnesses and other aspects of the wild ride my brain treats me to. But what the hell does this even mean? Well, dear reader, I shall explain using some very concise and easy definitions adapted from Reid Wilson, Ph.D., Director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center in Chapel Hill, NC, and contributor to Psychology Today. He is also that author of several books, including Stopping the Noise in Your Head.

I adapted the definitions below from Dr. Wilson’s article Wrestling With Anxiety in the Canadian Wilderness from May of 2020. It’s a brief, easy read and I recommend it. Anxiety, hiking, and bears! Oh, my!

Personification is the attribution of human-like identity to something, the subject, that is not a human. It is related to anthropomorphism in that it allows for treating the subject as a person you can address directly.

Externalization is perceiving of a part of yourself as being outside of yourself instead. Rather than being a part of you, it is something in a relationship with you.

Meet Dave

Face of Nosferatu from the 1922 film
Nosferatu

Since my Anxiety burst through the wall of my mind like the Kool-Aid Man a few years ago, I have been personifying and externalizing it in an effort to make it a bit easier to deal with. For me, my anxiety is a ferocious vampire (no stupid sparkling; #TeamAlice) named Dave that stands about 1 inch behind me almost all the time. Because he is so close, if he decides to get me, there is no possible way I would be able to prevent it. I am completely at his mercy.

When I look back at my childhood, and really throughout my entire life, I can see that Dave has been with me almost since day 1. I have always been leery and uncomfortable with my back to open doorways, darkness, or any other place where Dave or other creatures could be laying in wait for me.

What are you afraid of?

I was actually afraid A LOT as a kid. My parents even tried the practice of checking my room for monsters when they put me to bed. But, it didn’t work. You see, MY monsters were wily, persistent little shits; they would just come back as soon as my parents left the room or turned off the light. Nightlights were a huge deal for me; although I never had a blue canary nightlight until adulthood.

To this day, I seldom enjoy horror movies and tend to avoid them altogether. It still takes some effort, sometimes, to walk through a dark room in my house. Being outside alone after dark, even just to bring the trash and recycling bins to the curb, is often a nerve-wracking experience for me. I am able to push through and do what I need to do, but it takes more effort than it does for most people, I think.

Anxiety is not my enemy

Beavis kicking Butthead in the junk
Ouch

As humans evolved over the millennia, we developed fear and anxiety. These feelings helped to inspire caution, and ultimately helped us to survive as a species. It is easy for us to understand, today, that walking up a mountain lion and kicking it in the junk is not a scenario that is likely to end in our favor. But on a more primitive level, before we developed the brains we have today, it was the fear and caution that would have urged early humans to avoid junk-kicking exploits like this. Junk-kickers, those that didn’t exercise this caution, were less likely to be around long enough to procreate, making the junk-kicking trait less likely to pass on to future generations.

Thus, Anxiety, in a very real sense, was a vital asset to our success as a species. It exists as a means of trying to keep us safe. I find it helpful to keep this in mind and take it even a step further: Anxiety is not my enemy. It is a healthy part of me. It is not the fact that I experience anxiety that is a problem; it is the fact that I have an anxiety disorder that is the problem. My brain triggers anxiety far more frequently and forcefully than it needs to in its attempts to keep me safe. It sees more danger in more places or even just DANGER in all the places. Which brings us back to Dave.

Dave is my hero

Dave, as the personification and externalization of my anxiety, just wants to ensure my safety. He wants to keep me from being eaten. So, rather than standing 1 inch behind me to try and get me, he stands there to guard me. He has my back. My Generalized Anxiety Disorder makes Dave way more active than he needs to be. He needs to spend less time crying wolf and more time sitting in a corner with his coloring books and crayons. But he’s on my team (#TeamDave). He, like my Paladin, is my hero.

From Can’t Juggle But Did It Anyway To Just Can’t

X All The Y Meme | CAN'T; ALL THE THINGS | image tagged in memes,x all the y | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

What’s this blog about?

When I was thinking about starting a personal blog about my experiences with mental illness, namely, Depression and Anxiety, I wracked my brain for something interesting to call it. I wanted it to be memorable. I wanted it to be short. I wanted it to imply that there would be some humor thrown in. And I wanted it to have some meaning for me, preferably on more than one level. I’m pretty happy with where this landed. “Cant’ Juggle” accomplishes every one of those goals. Besides, Hippopotamus was taken. In this inaugural post, I will share the story behind the title; and hopefully give you a preview of the content you will find here if you choose to stick around.

Years ago, when I started working as a data professional, I got to attend a lot of conferences. Almost always, I was a speaker as well. I loved standing on a stage and teaching people about various tools and technologies and making them laugh while I did it. Some of these events would have community zone areas for just hanging out that were strewn with beanbag chairs. It was a great place to spend time between sessions, on meal brakes, etc. I met great people here and made friends.

Can’t juggle

At one particular event, I was in a community zone with several other folks, but it was largely empty. Many of the beanbag chairs were unoccupied. I decided to see if I could juggle them. Why? Was anyone else juggling these vacant beanbag chairs? Of course not. What moron would even think of such a thing? It certainly wasn’t because I could juggle. I could not. Maybe I figured the attempt would be fun and might even garner a few laughs.

So I thought, fuck it. Without a word, I walked over to a group of chairs, grabbed three, and moved to an open area away from anyone. Then I went for it, trying to figure out the mechanics of juggling as I went. The first bag I threw sailed about twelve feet away and hit the ground. I went and grabbed it and tried again. And again. And again.

Wow! Mark’s an AMAZING juggler! Just top notch!
~ No one. Ever.

It was hysterically bad. I never even came close. I spent far more time wandering about picking up the chairs I threw beyond my reach than anything else. But it was indeed fun and it did indeed garner some laughs, including from me. Then it became a mission. Whenever I was not in a session or when the community zone was sparsely populated (so my colossal failures didn’t hurt anyone), I could be found tossing beanbag chairs around like an imbecile.

Nothing personal, but….
Fuck this guy and his stoopid juggling.

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash

But did it anyway

Then it happened. With two chairs in my left hand, I threw one up. While it was coming down, I threw up the one in my right hand just before catching the chair that was already airborne. Then I did the same with my left hand and so on. Once. One full revolution, before it all went to shit. A few seconds of outright victory that tasted so sweet. Kind of like Fortune Bubble Gum from the 1980s. Wonderful for a few seconds and then death. I wasn’t aware of how racist the packaging, etc., was at the time. I was just a kid. But since I do now, I chose to just link to it instead of putting an image in here. Growth.

Did I stop there, having conquered a small corner of the beanbag chair juggling world? Did I end on a high note like when John Elway won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos in 1999 and then retired? Of course not. I kept at it. In all my attempts at subsequent conferences, I never succeeded again. I never successfully juggled anything else either.

This is not a cautionary tale about juggling beanbags or any other barely jugglable objects. This is not really a cautionary tale at all. But it does establish the kind of outgoing, fun-loving person that I was. I loved making people laugh. And sometimes I would try ridiculous things to make people laugh. And I loved it. I was presenting at conferences, and emceeing company meetings at the consulting firm I worked for, and being told (more than once) that I should hire myself out just to attend parties and functions because I brought so much energy and fun and humor with me wherever I went.

Just can’t

X All The Y Meme |  CAN'T; ALL THE THINGS | image tagged in memes,x all the y | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

So, when I tell you that I have spent a substantial portion of the past 3 years afraid to leave my house; afraid to leave my basement office; afraid to be near people; near ANYONE; I want you to understand my full meaning.

I started having such soul-crushing fatigue from Depression that I actually didn’t know if I could keep breathing; actually despairing, “FUCK. I have to breath again in a few seconds…. How am I going to do that?”; or being perfectly still and getting so exhausted from it that I thought if I could just lay down, it would be better, only to realize I was already laying down; I was already doing NOTHING and it was too much (by a LOT). I was too exhausted to move, just from EXISTING. Too terrified of EVERYTHING to be near my family. From Can’t Juggle But Did It Anyway to just Can’t.

Where do we go from here?

In subsequent posts, I will walk through this descent in more detail, including some of the childhood trauma that had a major impact on me, even if it took a while to bubble over. I will also share how I came back from the mouth of the abyss. I’m back to work now, and have been for quite a while. I still have bad days, but fewer of them, and the ones I have are less bad.

I think that’s enough for this first post. I dug the foundation that future posts will be based on. Gave an inkling of the kinds of experiences I plan to share. I hope you will stick around for it. I’ll keep writing anyway. But if I can have this energy expenditure pay off by helping people, then so much the better.

One last thing. I have never heard of anyone else ever juggling beanbag chairs. So, I have to entertain the possibility that I may be the greatest beanbag chair juggler of all time. Just… you know. Just saying.

Addendum

My good friend, Doug Lane (blog|twitter) not only witnessed many of my beanbag chair juggling exploits, but even recorded some back in November of 2012 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, WA. You can now see videos of my beanbag chair juggling, including my one an only success on my new page The Tiniest Bit of Juggling.