Why it’s important to keep an anxiety journal

Every time I go to a therapist, I draw a blank on specific topics to talk about. I always have broad topics such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks and so on. But there is always something bugging me that I forget about once I start talking to a therapist. That’s why I just started keeping a journal to record my panic attacks, anxiety, depression and when I have to take klonopin.

The process of keeping a journal challenges me to have a dialogue with myself. I pose these basic questions: What’s causing my intense fear/depression? Is it worth worrying about? If not, let’s acknowledge the anxiety and let it go. What’s bringing me down? What can I do to overcome depression on a daily basis?

But it’s not that easy to “let it go.” Often, the anxiety builds up no matter how much I assure myself that there is nothing to be anxious about. Even if there is nothing to be anxious about,that doesn’t stop my mind from worrying. 

The more stressors in my life, the harder it is for me to function. I just become an emotional rollercoaster going from one extreme emotion to another. It’s important to understand the cause of those emotions in order to come closer to healing.

These are all things to write in a therapy journal because these feelings, thoughts, and episodes are all pieces of the puzzle of your mind. Piecing these fragments together will give you and your therapist a better idea about what coping strategies will or will not work.

That’s another thing to record: coping strategies. Whether they work or not, write them in your journal. Record whether they work or not they work. That will help the puzzle come together easier.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week is coming up May 4-10.  My current home state Philadelphia is participating in a few mental health awareness events.

Philadelphia:

Mental Health First Aid

In Philadelphia, May 6,  there will be an adult Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course at the National Constitution Center located at 525 Arch St. The course teaches community members how to assist an adult who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Also on May8 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. This event focuses on the unique needs of young adults between the ages of 16-25. Join activities including painting hosted by the Mural Arts Program, a photo booth, mental wellness screenings and more.  Music wil be presented by Box of Stars, raising mental health awareness through music to reduce stigma, promote recovery, and save lives. Go here for a performance lineup. 

NAMI walks

A The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) walk is scheduled for tomorrow, May 3 with a fundraising goal of $120,000. So far, NAMI has raised $75, 229 and 773 donors. Let’s root for them to reach their goal. Go here to find NAMI walks by state and region.

Out of the Darkness

Here’s something to look forward to next month. June 28-29 is the 2014 Out of the Darkness Overnight fundraising walk for suicide prevention and awareness. It’s a 16-18 mile walk that takes you from the  Museum of Art, through the Parkway Museums District and all the to University City from dusk till dawn. Register here or donate here.

I can’t keep an eye on all the mental health awareness events in the country or world, so please share some with me in the comments section. If you know of any or are participating in any, I would love to read your experience.

 

Fanfiction proves useful for coping with reality

I spent many years of my life in an ivory tower constructed from my paranoia and feelings of superiority stemming from insecurity and sadness. “My walls will protect me from the laughs, whispers and judgmental glances of strangers,” I thought to myself as I locked myself in my room, scrolling through fanfiction on Quizilla.

RealitySucks

“My cartoon friends will protect me, too. They’ll burst through my window and sweep me off my feet, rescuing me from the family drama,  bullying and the overall humdrum existence of life in the real world.”

That never happened, obviously. But I would drift off into blissful sleep every night dreaming beautiful dreams about the  stories I read and the shows I watched. I savored those dreams and played them out in my head until they faded with time.

My friend, Dianna, and I scrolled Yu-Gi-oh! fanfiction inside flimsy spiral  notebooks in middle school. Regrettably, a lot of my possessions were lost in time, and with them were those notebooks. But I still remember some of those stories very clearly. We created romances, adventures and duels with the two of us and the characters in the show. I read other people’s fanfiction about their romances, adventures and conflicts with characters from other anime. No matter what I read, I put myself in the shoes of the narrator or main character.

Writing about fictional worlds  helped me cope with the nonstop paranoia and fighting between my mom and brother at the time. I was sick of hearing about how my brother thought Mom was poisoning us, and for awhile I believed him. When my brother moved out to live with our grandparents in Michigan, I was alone without a best friend at home. Of course, the tension only grew with his departure. Mixed feelings toward Mom conflicted in me. On the one hand, I wanted to love her, but it was hard when I was so upset about her  separating us.  I felt nervous talking to my grandparents and my brother on the phone out of fear that my mom was listening.

As a result of this stress, I allowed manga, anime and other books sink their tendrils deeper and deeper into my psyche. Fanfiction became my biggest hobby and distraction when I wasn’t playing video games, watching or reading anything. The appeal of imaginary worlds was so tempting because I felt more in control over everyone’s emotions and reactions than I did in the real world. I felt so out of control of how my mother acted and reacted to things. Her anger was unpredictable, and that scared me. I wanted predictable and happy in my life. My imagination could create  predictable scenarios, control characters’ reactions, dialogue, actions, what they wore and everything else.

I remember struggling constantly everyday throughout high school for my own inner balance and peace. Not until college did I realize that balance had to come from a physical separation from my home and family. So, I applied to colleges in Upstate New York rather than locally in the city. My wish was granted. I was accepted to SUNY Plattsburgh, one of the most removed areas from the city. I’m not much of a wilderness person, but I found peace in walking along the trails in the local woods or along the Saranac Lake behind campus. My imaginary friends were replaced by the little forest critters skittering about along the lake.

I guess that dark time in my life can be attributed to my needing to feel in control over  things I cannot control. The emotional duress I’ve been through stole that sense of security from me. As a result of my mom’s volatile temper, I’ve developed a fear of people becoming angry over things that only my mother would be upset about.

Admittedly, those were fun times. I had fun locking myself in my bedroom on the weekends or at night after school, scribbling away in my notebooks and sharing those scribbles with my friends. Diving into worlds of make believe are still fun to me,  but I enjoy the life I live and the person I share it with. While little monsters from my past still haunt me, I know that I cannot control certain things, so I need to let them go. Therapy and medication has made that possible. Most of all, I have Will, the one constant force in my life who does not judge me for my feelings or actions.

Anxiety and Depression collage

Anxiety and Depression collage

This is a collage of different thoughts and feelings that occur inside me on a daily basis. They range from not so severe to debilitating. The panic attacks are the worse. When I have a depressive episode, I hurt physically and mentally. It’s hard to describe to someone who has never experienced depression. But let me put it this way. Imagine being so sad you feel like you are fading away and trapped in a void of never ending sadness? You feel sluggish, achey, unmotivated and cry.

Panic attacks are even scarier to me. I experience chest pain, breathing difficulty, blurriness of vision, dizziness, sweaty palms and a need to run away from a scary, invisible force.

Because people cannot see into our heads, I encourage those of you with mental illnesses to create a collage like this. Sometimes people don’t understand how you’re feeling just by speaking about it. Images remain strong in our minds because humans are visual creatures. Show your collage to your loved ones. Ask them to look at it and how they feel when reading it. Do they have a better idea of what you go through now if they didn’t before?

What would Freud think?

This is the current issue of Adbusters. The hole in the middle represents the psychological we feel from living in a capitalistic society.

This is the current issue of Adbusters. The hole in the middle represents the psychological we feel from living in a capitalistic society.

“We are currently living through a new epidemic of insanity…one that’s far darker, more vast and troubling than anything the pioneers of psychoanalysis could have imagined.” — Stefanie Krasnow, Adbusters

This is a quote from an Adbusters  article about the collective insanity consuming our society. Krasnow questions how  Sigmund Freud would psychoanalyze Western culture in 2014. When Freud observed European society, the one word he used to describe it was “neurosis.”

By 1929, Freud’s masterwork Civilization and its Discontents was published, and he not only diagnosed individuals, but culture. He realized it was the modern world that was making everyone neurotic.

Freud thought we were sexually repressed, and it was driving us insane. What about now?

Freud thought we were sexually repressed, and it was driving us insane. What about now?

As Freud analyzed his patients, he concluded that collectively and individually repressing our sexuality has caused us to go insane. As we became more modern, humans repressed primal urges leading to sexual frustration which in turn lead to insanity. Freud no longer saw madness as individual, but a species-wide dilemma.

Krasnow brings Freudian analysis to the present United States. “What would Dr. Freud have to say now, in 2014?” she asks. If Freud were alive, he would be influenced by Marx and McLuhan rather than Nietzsche and Darwin.

Freud would no longer blame Victorian and Christian values, but the “technophilia of our capitalist empire.” Krasnow writes that capitalism constantly fails to keep its promise, therefore  “we are reduced to ‘psychical infantalism,’ crawling desperately toward the mirage-like horizon of satiety where riches, happiness and self-actualization remain forever just out of reach.”

Wow. That is powerful. Because the current economic system continues to fail us, we are constantly working, working, working to make ends meet. When all debts seem paid off, more debts arise forcing us to work more. It’s a vicious cycle. No wonder so many of us have depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

To put this crisis into perspective, Krasnow provides mental health statistics.  Right now, 60 million people in the United States, approximately a fifth of the population, are suffering from mental illnesses ranging from mood disorders, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, OCD, ADD, PTSD and so on.

She writes, “Though the symptoms differ, it’s no longer possible to diagnose or treat this collective insanity at the level of the individual. There is a madness in the air affecting us all.”

When I read this, all I could think was, “Yikes.”  What is this collective insanity she speaks of? Have I become mad, too? What if my depression and anxiety is a result of this mass insanity? Is our madness a hole in our psyches caused by gluttony and greed more, more material items? Going in a cycle like that rat race would drive anyone insane.

This  rat race would drive anyone insane.

I also thought about the people in my life with mental illnesses. I thought about my brother with PTSD caused by the military-industrial complex he works for.  Our military uses propaganda to persuade youth that joining a war will pay for college. The recruiters obviously leave out the “if you survive” part.

Approximately 7.7 million American adults 18 and over suffer from PTSD, and it makes me wonder why we still have faith in a system that’s only consistent in failing the people reliant on it. Our military and economy is destroying our psychological landscape . Why do we allow this to continue?

The answer is simple. Capitalism is the new opiate of the masses.

Krasnow continues,

 The DSM-V named dozens more mental illnesses into existence this year but we still don’t have a word to describe the collective insanity we’re stewing in, nor any insight into where it’s coming from, nor how to get out…Looking at America’s symptoms–obesity, hoarding, eating disorders, addictions of every kind from cigarettes to pills–it’s clear that we remain hopelessly orally fixated. Remember–everyone in Rome got fat before the empire fell…”

Chilling. If it’s not sexual repression caused dogmatic religion, it’s severe addictions caused by mental illness.  I wonder, is our empire about to fall, or has it already fallen?

Introduction

As an anxiety and depression blog, What’s My Damage? will explore not only my experiences with panic attacks and depression, but also news and articles from online sources and publications I read related to the topic.I hope to share how I’ve dealt with panic attacks, anxiety and depression, what has worked and has not worked for me and what I am still learning about it. Readers are encouraged to share their experiences with me in comments or via email. I don’t want to make this all about me. I want to share what I am going through, but I also want to hear from others to share information about depression and anxiety from all people and sources So far, I have ideas for a lot of posts lined up. Some include  how to approach loved ones with depression or anxiety, ways journalists can overcome social anxiety one step at a time, how being creative can help anxiety, advances in mental healthcare, article from Adbusters on mental illness and so much more.

Fresh perspectives from readers are always welcome, since I can’t think of everything myself. Feel free to submit ideas in the comments or via email. I won’t mention your names if you don’t want me to. I’ll be discrete and refer to you as “a reader” (or something like that) if you request that I not use your name or username.

So, here it goes. I hope this blog to be a success. Baby steps.

P.S. I am not a trained therapist. My occupation is a writer, so do not mistaken me for a doctor. All information in this blog will be based on my experiences, readers experiences and information from articles and books I read.