Monday, May 21, 2012

When it feels like you are going to die...

Today's post is about anxiety.

The facespace informed me that it's mental health awareness week. I don't usually like to think of myself as a victim of stuff since my life is relatively awesome. This is not a brag, I swear. Here's the thing: I was born in America, my parents paid for my college education, and the worst physical illnesses I've ever had were cured with a pill or shot. My dog and husband adore me and want to be all up in my space, even when I wear sweats all day or forget to brush my teeth until dinnertime. Some of my biggest life disappointments have included being laid off or getting denied to certain academic programs. Sure, there are some dark skeletons in my life whose descriptions aren't necessarily blog appropriate, but all this good stuff has helped to eclipse the darkness in a major way. That's why I feel like a total jerk for the times when I become so panicked, so anxious and completely agitated, that I feel like my heart is going to stop beating, or even that I might be better off if it did.

I think a lot of people say they feel like they are going to have a panic attack. They get really nervous about something or they start to worry and then they say, "Omg, you guys, I'm totally about to have a panic attack right now!" This may be true. They might be experiencing the same type of panic I get from time to time. But I don't tell people when I'm about to have a panic attack because I'm usually too busy trying not to have one. I have to use the techniques I've learned to keep myself from taking the Wacky Train to Crazy Town. I have to control my breath so I don't start breathing so quickly and shallowly that I pass out. I have to remind myself that just because I can hear my heartbeat in my ears doesn't mean that it's going to burst out of my body and shoot across the room. I have to convince myself that just because my chest feels like it's collapsing in on itself does not mean I'm having a heart attack. I have to close my eyes to prevent others from seeing the tears that I'm trying to keep safely behind my eyelids. And then I have to feel like an idiot because the whole reason this nonsense started is that I couldn't find my phone right away because I accidentally put it in the refrigerator.

I had two panic attacks over the weekend. That's more than usual on account of I've been especially stressed lately. The triggers were so stupid. But when you panic, you don't always have control over what sends your world off the rails. The first happened when Rob dropped me off in front of Target so I could make a return. (I'd bought pants on a whim and they were too small. That's what happens when you buy Target pants without trying them on.) I'd left my phone in the car, and I'd expected that I would run in, do the business, and then run back out and Rob would be there. When I went back out, he wasn't there. He wasn't there for a while. It felt longer than it actually was, of course. And I don't know what I thought the worst case scenario was. It was a Target parking lot, for hell's sake. How many different places could he have gone? But I panicked. My breathing sped up and so did my heartbeat. My chest started to feel tight and so did my throat. I had to take myself out of the moment. I had to talk to myself in my head: "Listen, Gretta. He didn't leave you. He'll drive back around and you'll get back in the car and you'll head to Pasadena and eat gourmet hotdogs. This is not an emergency. This is not a disaster." After a few deep breaths, I went back into the store. I asked them if I could use their phone (they looked at me like I was crazy...who needs to use someone else's phone these days?) and I called Rob. Luckily, he picked up. He'd been waiting in a parking spot that I couldn't see, and he couldn't see me waiting in front of the store. I hung up and by the time I got outside, I could see him. Crisis averted. Panic assuaged.

The second attack happened when I couldn't get the parking meter machine to work. After some cognitive dissonance exercises, I tried another machine and it worked just fine. Second crisis averted.

In my brain, I know the situations that cause my anxiety are not even close to as harrowing as they sometimes feel. But my body can't always tell. The panic attacks are fairly rare. But the anxiety is constant. Even though my life is truly wonderful, I live almost every day with the low grade fear that the world will start unraveling because of something I did. I can't tell exactly when this started or why, but I remember having anxiety attacks when I was a kindergartner, and I think it was because my socks weren't the same height.

Am I ashamed of this panic problem? Honestly? Well, yeah...a little. I'm ashamed because I don't want people to think I'm not grateful for the good things in my life. I'm ashamed because the triggers are so trivial and because the symptoms of an attack are sometimes hard to hide from my friends and family and perfect strangers. But I shouldn't be ashamed. For whatever reason, my brain and my body shift in to hyper-drive at weird times. And while I've done nothing to deserve the responsibility of the world, I've always felt that its weight rests squarely on my shoulders. But I'm learning to deal with it. And I shouldn't be ashamed of it. I should just adapt.

I'm working on it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fritz. You're an idiot.

My dog is ... neurotic? He got in a fight with his back foot the other day. Rob was quick and clever enough to catch it on iPhone.

Before I let you watch, I want to offer explanations. I didn't know my fat arm was in the shot. And I didn't know my "undershirt" was spilling out of my sleeve. Furthermore, we don't live in a one-room Eastern block immigrant shanty from the early 1900s. We just put the futon down so my mom could sleep on it while she was here. And then we were too lazy to put it back up. My house is actually adorable in spite of its microscopic size.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Poetry is Laime.

Honesty time! I hate poetry. I haven't read Jane Eyre, I hate poetry, and I'd almost rather be a victim in a Saw movie than grade essays. (I said almost). Also, I teach college English. Have no fear, America! Your young adults are in good hands—good hands that tremble with anxiety and rage.

But I don't hate all poetry. In fact, if the poetry is off-color, sarcastic, or about farts, I really like it. When it's all those things and written on a typewriter, I LOVE it.

Since I started my grad program in literature I've learned two things: 1) my language skills are neither marketable nor valuable, and 2) literature takes many forms. One of my favorite new/old genres is poetry. I've tried my hand at a typewriter poem or two, but I'm no good. I'm novice mode. Elizabeth Laime is beast mode.

I found out about Elizabeth when she played a crucial role in getting us our Fritz. She works with The Mutt Scouts. They save orphaned dog babies in the Silver Lake/Echo Park/Downtown Los Angeles area. On our walk the other morning, we caught her wrestling two little terrier/chihuahua puppies in her pjs. She'd been up with them all night because she is an angel from heaven.

Read her hilarious, almost daily (and sometimes salty) poetry on her Poetry is Life tumblr or follow her on the (@elabyl).