Monday, February 27, 2017

A Typical Day with Anxiety

Photo: https://homlinh.wordpress.com

Since I've started talking about it, I've been realizing how difficult it can be to explain what it's like to have anxiety. Even after I spend hours crafting a long post or filming a video that I feel like accurately portrays what I want it to, I still get comments like "Well, just stop worrying about it." Sigh. So I'm going to keep trying different ways you can look at it to get a better idea of what this is like.

My anxiety seems to manifest itself mostly in social situations and by making me incredibly self-conscious. This post may seem almost comical because even when I look back through it I think "why would I worry about that," but hopefully you can see just how exhausting even mild anxiety is and be more forgiving to people who deal with these thoughts every day.

A Typical Day with Anxiety

Wake up. What time is is? Did I oversleep? 

Check phone. No, I'm OK. Today is going to be a long day. I have a lot to do. I hope I don't get called on in class. What if I do get called on? Do I know the material well enough? Maybe I should study before class.

Look through social media. I feel like everyone is doing fun things and I'm not. I should do more fun things. I should get out there more. I want to join a club or something. But what if I say something stupid on the first day? Everyone will remember that for the rest of the year. Plus I wouldn't know anyone and it'd be weird to join halfway through the semester and what if no one likes me and then I'd have to plan it around my school and work schedule...I don't think it's worth it.

Get out of bed. Shower. What should I wear today? It's going to be cold in the morning but warm in the afternoon, so do I dress for the cold or for the heat? If I wear a sweater everyone's going to stare at me when it gets hot. But if I wear a t-shirt everyone's going to stare at me as I walk to school and wonder why I'm crazy enough to wear a t-shirt when it's cold outside. 

Get dressed. Put on a jacket. Walk to school. Why is no one else wearing a jacket? Everyone else is in short-sleeves. Am I literally the only person on campus who wore long sleeves today?Everyone is looking at me. I should stop and take off my jacket. But then everyone would think that I wasn't smart enough to check the weather this morning. I'll just get to class quickly. 

Walk into class. Only a couple people are already sitting down. Am I in the right class? I know this is my sixth week of school, but what if I'm not in the right class? Or the professor changed rooms today and I didn't get the memo? Do I recognize any of these people? I don't recognize them. I'll sit in the corner so if this is the wrong class I can leave without anyone noticing.

Other people start to arrive. I recognize her. Thank goodness. This is the right class. I hope we don't have to get into pairs for anything. I don't know anyone here. Who should I ask if we have to partner up? That girl looks nice. Shoot, her friend just sat next to her. Oh, please don't make us pair up.

Professor starts teaching class. I have a thought about that. But no one else is raising their hands about it. Maybe it was a stupid thought. Besides, I never talk in class so if I talked this one time everyone would be super surprised. What if I stutter or something? That would be embarrassing. It's probably not worth it.

Nearing end of class: I hope he doesn't go overtime. I can't be late to my next class. I'll walk in and everyone will stare and watch me until I sit down. My professor might say something to me and then my face would turn red and I wouldn't know what to say and that would be so embarrassing. 

Walking to next class: Everyone is staring at me. Is my backpack unzipped? Is my fly down? Is my shirt getting pulled up? Is there something on my face? Is my hair sticking out? Are my jeans too short? Am I walking funny? Do I look angry? Just stare at the ground and keep walking.

Next class: I'm hungry. But if I eat a granola bar the wrapper will be loud and I'l annoy everyone. But if I don't eat anything my stomach will growl and that will be annoying too. I'll just drink a lot of water. But then I'll have to go to the bathroom and I'm meeting someone for lunch in an hour but if I go before I might be late and I hate it when people are late so I can't go before and risk it but I don't know if I'll have time afterwards. 

Next class: It's getting cold in here. I want to put on my jacket but it's in my backpack and I'd have to unzip it what if it gets caught on my zipper or something and people notice? And what if I'm putting it on and I can't find the other sleeve because I do that a lot and I'm this awkward person struggling to put a jacket on and people tell their friends about me after class? I'll just wait.

Meeting a friend for lunch: Where is she? I'm here at the right time, right? And at the right place? Why hasn't she texted me? Oh no, did I come here on the wrong day? No, it's the right day. Well, I'll just sit here and try to pretend like I'm doing something entertaining and I'm not a loser who doesn't have any friends. I feel like everyone is staring at me again. They probably feel sorry for me.

Friend arrives. Eat and talk: I wonder if I eat weird. Some people look weird when they eat. Am I one of those people? Did I get my reading done for my next class. Oh crap, I forgot. I hope there isn't a quiz. And if there is I hope it isn't one of those where we have to grade each other's work because the person grading mine will see that I missed all the questions and they'll think it's funny and think I'm a slacker or I'm stupid.

Lull in conversation: Oh no, we ran out of things to say. What do I say? Say something. I'm so boring. I bet she only joined me for lunch because she felt bad for me. She probably doesn't want to be here. She doesn't really want to be my friend. She probably goes back to her friends and jokes about how awkward I am. No, that's mean. She's too nice to do that. But she still probably doesn't want to be here.

Next class: I have that movie thing on Friday. Why did I agree to do that? No, I like these people and I should hang out with them. I spend so much time by myself. I should get out more. But I like spending time by myself. What if there are people I don't know? What time should I get there? What if I can't find parking? What if I go to the wrong apartment? What should I wear?

Work: I'm only going to know a few people there I bet. I'll just talk to them the whole time and follow them around. But what if I annoy them? I know I annoy people when I do that. I'm like a child. What will I talk about? What if the people I know leave for something? What if they aren't there at all? What if I have the date wrong? What if I say something stupid? What if I make a joke and no one laughs? What time should I leave? How can I get out of it?

Getting home: Finally. Alone. 

Falling asleep: Hey, let's worry about that party again. *Repeats every thought of the day. Remembers how I raised my hand in class and my professor didn't notice so I had to put it down all awkwardly even though everyone noticed. Thinks about what my interview is going to be like for a job I might apply for in two years. Relives that time I slipped on the ice and fell off the bus in the seventh grade. Thinks about how I'm never going to accomplish anything because my ideas are all stupid. Also thinks about how I'm not working hard enough at my goals so I need to step that up.* Crap, I've been laying here for three hours. I'm going to be tired tomorrow and I have a lot to get done. *Worries about being tired until I finally fall asleep*

Congrats if you made it this far! It's a lot, and this isn't even half the thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis. I know a lot of it is ridiculous and believe me, I spend a lot of time talking myself down from the anxiety highs I get. But my point is that I can't control these thoughts, and neither can anyone else with anxiety. It's frustrating and annoying and exhausting. So just keep in mind that you never know what someone is thinking or going through, so be nice to people. :)

Monday, February 20, 2017

How Living in China Changed My Life in America

Exactly one year ago today I said goodbye to my parents and boarded a plane that would take me across the Pacific Ocean to live in mainland China for the next four months. I was scared and excited and not prepared at all for what I was going to experience.

Living in China was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. At times it left me sick, exhausted, afraid, and missing my friends and family more than I ever had before. But without a doubt it was also one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I wouldn't change my experience for anything in this world. I learned so much about myself and the world in a way I wouldn't have anywhere else. So in honor of my one-year mark, here are five ways living in China changed my life in America.







1. I became more confident in myself and my opinions.

I've always been someone to hide my opinion. Anytime I was in a group of people (who weren't my family or closest friends) and we were discussing anything from where to eat or what we should do a group project on, I was the one who stayed pretty silent throughout the whole discussion and then just agreed with whatever idea I liked the most, even if I had one I thought was better. I have always struggled with a fierce need to be liked by everyone, so I never wanted to share my opinion if I didn't think every single person would agree. 

This is how I started my time in China. I was teaching with five other girls my age, and we ended up doing pretty much everything together for those four months. This put my in a situation where I had to voice my opinion if I ever wanted to do anything I liked, since I was unable to go anywhere or do anything by myself. Slowly I started participating more in discussions, starting out with where I wanted to eat or what time we should go grocery shopping. Later in the trip I found myself suggesting things like what city we should travel to or what we should do when we were lost in an unfamiliar area surrounded by people who didn't speak English. By the end of the trip I even found myself bringing up suggestions I knew would go against what another person wanted, and I was OK with having that discussion about what we should do. This was huge for me. Even my fellow teachers, who had only met me at the beginning of the trip, said they noticed a change in my confidence by the end of our time in China. 

I'm still shy and pretty non-confrontational for the most part, but not being crippled by the fear of expressing an unpopular opinion has continued to increase my confidence and will help me a lot in life in the future.





2. I became more accepting.

Everyone is different. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the idea that our lifestyle is the best one and that our choices are the smartest. And while I haven't really implemented any of the typical lifestyle choices I saw in China, I feel like I accept other people's choices more willingly now. Maybe it didn't work for me, but it works for them just great, so who am I to judge? 





3. I became more appreciative of the United States. 

I know we have a lot of problems in America right now. We're not perfect, our leaders aren't perfect, and honestly we make some pretty stupid decisions. But I cannot stress enough how good we have it compared to other countries. China is communist (they call themselves socialists so their government's kind of confusing, but as far as control goes they are pretty communist) and while I didn't deal with the government ever, there were things even I could notice. The level of poverty: Our coordinator who worked for the school in China told us the average teacher there made the equivalent of about $24,000 a year, and being a teacher was considered a pretty decent job. The inability to leave the country (it was possible, but very difficult. Most people who are born in China spend their entire lives there). The control over religion: We were told from day one to never talk about God or our religion. Doing so could get us arrested. The whispers when the government was brought up. The control over the internet (all big social media sites and anything Google-related is blocked unless you have a VPN). The times where the internet would crash for days at a time, and when we asked about it we were told quickly that the government controls it and when they are doing something they don't want people to know about they shut it down. How creepy is that?

So yeah, I understand there are a lot of things going on right now that make people want to complain and declare publicly everything wrong with our government. And yeah, if you disagree with something, by all means state it. Freedom of speech is what the U.S. was founded on. But be glad you can. Freedom of speech is not a luxury everyone has. I went to Thailand after China, and if you say anything offensive or negative about their king you will be arrested immediately and maybe even killed. We can't even imagine what that kind of control is like. 

I don't want to go on a huge rant, but we are so, so, so lucky to be living in the United States of America.





4. I became more adventurous.

There's nothing like running around a foreign country for months where no one speaks the same language as you to make you feel like you can do anything. Before my trip going to the airport in general made me nervous. By the end I didn't give a second thought to following a grumpy lady down an alleyway (OK, maybe that's not a good thing?) or getting of a bus at a random stop because why not? I walked across a balcony on the edge of a cliff completely made of glass. I trusted taxi drivers with my life to get my down a mountain at 70 mph. I ATE A SCORPION, PEOPLE. 

I'm still a grandma on the inside (love me an early bedtime and Netflix on a Friday night) but if I got the opportunity to drop everything and jump on a plane to a different country tomorrow, I'd do it. 





5. I became more aware of the world.

The biggest reason I wanted to travel was to experience a different culture first hand. Even so, and being the obsessive planner I am, I studied China like nothing else for months leading up to my trip. I read books, blog posts, and magazine articles about everything from what food to try to what to pack to "Basic Chinese Every Tourist Should Know." I spent hours on the internet scrolling through photos of Beijing, Yangshuo, and Hong Kong. I watched videos of people my age backpacking through the country. I thought I had China in my pocket before I left.

You probably saw this coming, but China was nothing like I expected. In a way it was--the dumplings were fabulous like the blog posts said and it was dirty and crowded like I had been told, but nothing I read or watched could have prepared me for what it was actually like to live there. That being said, I'm not going to try to describe it here either. (If you really want to read some of my experiences though, check out this post about the ups and downs of China, or some of my travel posts.)

I don't want to make this post crazy long, so basically there is a huge world out there and reading about it is not the same as experiencing. I totally get that traveling isn't even an option for a lot of people because of a dozen different factors, but if you ever get the opportunity, jump at it as fast as you can. China opened my eyes to completely different lifestyles, levels of poverty I have a hard time thinking about, squatters, corrupt governments, incredibly generous people and some of the most delicious food I've ever had. Some things I experienced were good and some were bad, but all of them made me more aware of what a huge and magnificent world it is out there.











OK, a thousand pictures, sorry. Lots of love, China. Hope to see you again one day. xoxo

Sunday, February 12, 2017

You Can Have a Great Life and Still Have Anxiety



I have struggled with this concept ever since I first suspected I had anxiety. I still struggle with it. Every day, actually.

I have a really great life. I have a close family that would do anything for me, incredible friends who love me unconditionally, a strong support group in a church I love, and a deep faith in God. I am attending an amazing university to prepare for a career that is going to be exciting and fulfilling for me. I have a job that pays for my necessities and parents who have the means to provide me with anything else I might need. I never had to deal with poverty, serious injuries, unexpected deaths, abusive households, or any of the countless other difficulties so many people are exposed to every day. I grew up surrounded with love and support and people who cared about me and believed in my dreams. 

I can't stress enough how aware and how thankful I am for all of this. But that awareness has caused it's own problem: If my life is so great, why do I have anxiety? What reason do I have to worry and doubt so much of the good in my life?

This is so important to understand: You can have a great life and still have anxiety. Or depression. Or OCD or Bipolar Disorder or any other kind of mental illness. You don't need to have had a traumatic experience or years of abuse to develop something like this. You can grow up loved and happy and lucky and still deal with mental illness.

Having depression doesn't mean you're choosing to be negative and checked out. Having anxiety doesn't mean you're choosing to stress about every little detail in your life. It's the complete opposite, actually, and I cannot stress this enough.

We did not choose this. We do not want this.

Mental illness is really no different from physical illness. You can have a great life and sprain your ankle. You can have a great life and get cancer. And sure, just like there are things you can do to help with your physical health, there are also things you can do that can help with your mental health. I absolutely agree that lifestyle choices like a healthy diet and frequent exercise can significantly improve mental health. Having a positive attitude and being optimistic is also completely legit. Intentionally dwelling on all your problems while watching a sad movie is not going to brighten your mood.

And when you have control over that, great. But you don't always have control. Mental illness is a never-ending war, and inevitably you will lose some battles. There will be times--moments, days, weeks--where you cannot seem to feel happiness no matter how hard you try. You'll have times where you could spend all day with your best friends watching Disney movies and eating cookies and still feel like you'll never be happy again. And those are the feelings you can't just decide to get rid of. Telling someone with depression to "just get over it" is like telling someone with a broken leg to "just walk it off."

Even though you know everything is OK, your mind is constantly fighting to tell you it's not. And your mind doesn't just tell you, it gives you a list of reasons and a very convincing argument that is sometimes too powerful to ignore. It is not you making the decision to be depressed or anxious. It is your mind. Battling mental illness is battling your brain. It is arguing against the negative and sometimes frightening thoughts that constantly run through your head. It is like someone is standing next to you incessantly telling you that you're not good enough, you do everything wrong, and you shouldn't even try. And even when you know you are loved and supported and surrounded by people who care about you, that voice begins to wear you down. It makes you second-guess everything. And sometimes you just get so tired or arguing with it that you give in and believe what it's saying.

This is not your decision. You cannot choose one day to not have anxiety or depression or whatever it is you're dealing with. If you could you would have gotten rid of this long ago.

But you can choose to keep fighting. You can choose to keep living. You can choose to not give up after a particularly bad day. You can choose to try. You can choose to not let your illness win.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bedtime

I love sleeping. I mean, honestly, who doesn't? There are few things in life that feel better than climbing into bed after a long day and curling up with warm blankets and closing your eyes and drifting off to sleep.

Oh, wait. I don't know what that's like. The last part about drifting off to sleep, that is.

If I had to pick the one most frustrating thing anxiety messes up for me, it would be trying to fall asleep at night. I can't fully express how aggravating it is to lie in bed yawning while tossing and turning, desperately wishing for sleep.

So fun.