I absolutely detest talking about my mental health journey and I’m not entirely sure why.
Maybe it’s because I know where some of my own disorders stem from and I don’t like to think about that.
Maybe because one of the things I deal with causes intense self-analysis and emotional sensitivity and I’ve tried so, so hard to “toughen up” in my life.
Whatever the reason, I almost didn’t write this post. In fact, I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t advertised that it was coming your way. But I’m going to do it the pretblog way–as accurate information as possible, as succinctly as possible.
On a daily basis I am juggling three main ingredients in my mental health cocktail: an anxiety disorder, ADD, and Emotional Overexcitability (Emotional OE).
Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms. -Medical News Today
My own experience with anxiety started a long time ago. I was in elementary school. We were driving either to or from piano lessons and there was a cassette tape (yup…that’s how old I am) of Miss Saigon playing. All of a sudden–out of nowhere–I felt this pressure in my chest and my heart started to race. I felt like if the music wasn’t turned off–I might die.
Can I say that again? Because I think it really illustrates the difference between every day anxieties like worrying about the fallout from embarrassing yourself in public or wondering if you’ll be able to pay a bill–and an actual anxiety disorder.
In elementary school I thought I might die if Miss Saigon didn’t stop playing.
Yeah, yeah…I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere. But while there were events in my life that, according to a psychologist, caused me to have an anxiety disorder–the actual disorder has…no order! There was no reason for me to feel the way I did in the car that day–I’d listened to Miss Saigon plenty of times before!
I’ve gotten panic attacks most of my life and in 2010 I was actually removed from work for a couple of weeks after one that I couldn’t control. It lasted almost 2 days, I couldn’t sleep, didn’t want to eat, and I was so tense that I lost all feeling in my left arm. It was awful. I was put on medication and spent a lot of time in therapy with that one.
But even though I still deal with it daily (just yesterday I had to talk myself down from a panic attack in the car on the way to work) anxiety doesn’t rule my life. I work on coping mechanisms and understanding every day. Sometimes it wins…but I win more.
ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder is a developmental disorder marked by persistent symptoms of inattention (such as distractibility, forgetfulness, or disorganization) that is not caused by any serious underlying physical or mental disorder…ADD may persist into adulthood, creating difficulties in one’s occupation or social relationships. -Merriam Webster Online
I was only diagnosed with this a few years ago, but I wasn’t surprised. When I was a kid it took me FOREVER to do my work. I was so slow that I often had to stay in from recess to get it done–which was a poor plan on my teacher’s part because I didn’t need anyone else to distract me. My imagination was sufficient and I almost never finished my assignments then either.
In my current life it affects me the most in one of two ways:
- I am terrible at prioritizing tasks. My brain is firing on all cylinders all the time and every single thought feels as important as the last. I am only one person–but there are at least 25 things that I feel strongly I should be doing at this moment. The good news is that I am so exhausted from the tug-of-war going on in my head every day that I usually sleep pretty well.
- I am suddenly somewhere else. It is not uncommon for me to be at my computer, and suddenly find myself in the basement with an armful of laundry thinking, “Wait…how did I get here?” When I really think about it I can follow the breadcrumbs back through many, many thoughts that ended with me downstairs–but this kind of thing can make it immensely difficult to stay on track.
But even though I deal with it daily–ADD doesn’t rule my life. It makes my brain feel like Harry Potter trying to catch the winged-key at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone–singling out that one flying thought amongst hundreds of others–but I research ways of staying as organized as possible and I work on helping myself every day. Sometimes it wins…but I win more.
The last, and perhaps most important of the overexcitabilities is Emotional OE–the capacity for emotional depth, attachment to people and animals, intensity, sensitivity, empathy, self-criticism, inhibition, fears, guilt and anxiety. These extraordinary levels of sensitivity do not disappear with age. Gifted adults retain their emotionality and are often perceived as “too sensitive” by others around them. -Handout from a former therapist
The same woman who diagnosed me with ADD also identified this–and I hadn’t ever even heard of it. The definition above is just a portion of a larger text–and when I read the whole thing I cried.
There is a photo of me as a little girl hanging in our dining room and when I look at it I think to myself, “I don’t even know who she is.” That little girl had no coping mechanisms for the things she felt. I was so, so sensitive.
My mother used to tell me, “We have to toughen you up!” She was afraid the world would destroy me.
Since I don’t recognize the girl in the photo–I guess it did, a little. So I cried.
But while I have struggled and (mostly) succeeded to “toughen up” there are some other parts of Emotional OE that I struggle with incessantly. Intensive self-analysis, self-criticism, and the inability to recognize that I have limits are my constant companions. I speak to myself in ways that I would never, ever speak to anyone else.
But even though I deal with it daily–Emotional OE doesn’t rule my life. It’s actually a bit of a double-edged sword. I think that it allows me to feel another person’s burdens more deeply and empathetically–which I think my friends appreciate. And the self-analysis is not just limited to me–it’s like an analysis superpower. I am a wicked brainstormer/problem solver. Sometimes Emotional OE wins…but I win more.
Mental disorders do not usually have quick fixes. And you may need to just learn how to live with what you deal with, as I have. But they are real and they are just as important to act upon as a broken bone. If you identify with anything above or have some other overwhelming thoughts or feelings–contact your General Practitioner or ask a friend for the name of a therapist. You’re not alone. You can get through this. You can recycle your heart.
Turn your demons into art, your shadow into a friend, your fear into fuel, your failures into teachers, your weaknesses into reasons to keep fighting. Don’t waste your pain. Recycle your heart. – Andrea Balt