Tag Archives: anxiety

The Doctor

Visiting the Doctor: A Hypochondriac’s Perspective

You walk in. You sign in using the communal waiting room pen. This disgusts you.

You hand the receptionist your insurance card in exchange for an annual wellness survey. You mouth “thank you” and scurry to a dark, unoccupied corner of the waiting room.

You glance at the survey. It asks you to circle any ongoing symptoms or general health concerns. You laugh. Because they have no idea what’s coming.

You pick apart the list of possible symptoms as one might a tapas menu. Mood swings? Sure! Night sweats? Why not? You crack your knuckles and begin to unleash a year’s worth of neuroses. Within minutes, you convince yourself that you’re dying, if not already dead.

You’re soon escorted back to the next holding pen. There, you strip down to your moose socks and don the dreaded cotton gown. Honestly, you don’t really think about the other naked bodies it’s touched. Until you sit down.

Days later, your doctor comes in and you chit-chat. You talk about your family, your health, the news, etc. You crack a few good jokes. She laughs. “I’m on a roll!” you think. And for the next few minutes, you smile like a smug little asshole, blissfully unaware your gown is wide open.

You move on to blood work.

You faint during blood work.

You come to in a high chair, doubled over at the waist with a trashcan between your ankles.

A nurse hands you a lollipop. You accept the lollipop. You get the lollipop stuck in her lab coat as she checks your vitals.

You mumble your apologies. She tells you to eat your lollipop. You tell her it touched her lab coat and now you’re scared to eat it. She hands you another lollipop and a small cup of water. You notice that the cup looks just like those used for urine samples, but you say nothing. What’s the point? Clearly, you’ve lost too much blood to live.

I asked the blood tech to take a picture of in case I died. Here it is.

I asked the blood tech to take a picture of me in case I died. Here it is.

Another nurse comes in. She asks how you’re feeling. You say “weird.” She asks if you have children. You say no. She says, “Well honey, then that ain’t ever gonna happen.” You agree. Wholeheartedly.

You sit in the high chair like a small child waiting to be released from dinner. Once you’re able to stand on your own, you’re cleared to go.

At check out, you’re given a printout of your medical conditions. It reads:

Anxiety.
Asthma.
IBS.

“My God,” you say to yourself. “I’m a catch.”

Things that go bump in the night

I’ve never been good at partying. I spent the first half of my youth terrified of missing parties (skating parties, pizza parties, etc.) and the second half terrified of being judged at them.

I still exhibit some of these behaviors. For example, I taper my germ intake before big life events, and I usually lay low in the days leading up to them. Then, if I’ve successfully avoided all potential contaminants and do manage to attend to the party, I spend the next day kicking myself for the weird things I said or the people I may or may not have offended.

However, there are times I’m able to kick back, cut loose and throw down. And when I do, this is what happens:

The Brunch Plans. This is the first sign my inhibitions are slipping into dangerous territory. My close friends and therapists will know I absolutely loathe making plans with people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of others, it’s that I’m a total commitment phobe. Making plans with people has always been scary for me. “What if it’s weird? What if they don’t have fun? What if they say ‘yes,’ we meet up, we have nothing to talk about and so I bring up meth mouth? Again?”

These are the thoughts that haunt my daytime socializing. The problem is that when I drink, I shed my hermit’s cloak and (much to my own horror) morph into something of a social butterfly. It’s incredibly inconvenient. And it usually happens one of two ways:

In some cases, I will engage in a “let’s make plans sometime!” conversation. You’ve seen the kind. When two estranged friends engage in a sloppy heart-to-heart and decide to rekindle an old flame.

“Oh my god, we should totally get drinks sometime. No, seriously. This isn’t just like a drunk thing. Let’s really do it!”

These types of run-ins are usually benign. Drinks + sometime = never. It’s merely a polite way of honoring your former friendship, but recognizing that you’re both now seeing different people.

But then there’s the second, much more serious kind of social butterflying. The “b” word.

Brunch.

As in, “We should totally do brunch tomorrow!”

Unlike “drinks,” “brunch” isn’t a word you can casually throw around. It sticks. It’s basically the promise ring of plan-making. Which means in my case, it is a cry for help. A plea for some handsome, like-minded hermit to swoop in, cancel all my plans and carry me to the nearest pizzeria.

My hero.

My hero.

And if my knight does not willingly reveal himself, I move straight to The Prowl.

The Prowl. There’s always one point in the night when I think to myself, “I’m going to bring someone home tonight.” This thought usually falls around 11 p.m. – too early for pizza, too late for good decisions.

My bedroom is basically an I SPY book of red flags. How many can you find?

My bedroom is basically an I SPY book of red flags. How many can you find? Answers below.

In truth, it’s a very small window of opportunity. I’m generally open to the prospect of coupling for about 15 minutes or so. But then I remember how much I hate sleepovers, and how possessive James gets at night. Which raises yet another concern: the cats. Should I tell him beforehand? Or do I risk a surprise introduction?

He requires full attention.

He requires full attention.

But of course, this last concern is pointless. My potential mate will undoubtedly know I have cats, as I will have:

A.) Offered this information as part of my introduction,
B.) Asked him to follow Joan on Instagram, or
C.) Made a dark and self-deprecating joke about dying alone in a Slanket.

In the end, I decide it’s not worth the risk of having to take him to his car in the morning. And so I move on to the Irish Exit.

The Irish Exit. If the hour is getting late and no one has promised me pizza, I will make a very quiet, very rude exit. I’m a slippery creature. One minute, I’ll be standing beside you, talking, nodding, smiling – seemingly engaged in conversation, yet secretly hailing an Uber.

It’s a learned skill, really. Finely honed between the ages of 26-28. You see, in my early 20s, I could easily be guilted into staying out past my prime hours. But now, if it’s late and I want to go home, I have no qualms with leaving everything and everyone in the dust.

Which brings us to:

The Sleeping Beauty. When I was little, I was convinced people were spying on me in my bedroom. (An early sign of psychosis? Perhaps.) I always imagined my crush – Bernard from The Santa Clause – was somehow watching me sleep, peering in my window, waiting for the right moment to pounce on my lips. As such, each night, I arranged myself like Sleeping Beauty: hair fanned out around my face, wormy little lips parted in anticipation, hands clutched by my pre-pubescent breasts.

Oddly enough, I revert to this mode when I’m drunk. I no longer think men are waiting to pounce on me in the night, but I do enjoy the occasional Sleeping Beauty treatment. It’s a naughty little treat, sleeping fully clothed and made-up. But I love it. And who knows, maybe Bernard does, too.

I SPY answers: Stuffed sloth, stuffed cat, real cat, cat tree looming over bed and, last but not least, blood-red wall paint — a giant red flag in itself. 

The Flu

Thoughts I had while fighting the flu:

Is this what it feels like to become a vampire?

How did this get through my defenses? Has The Fish Taco been lying dormant all this time?

Joan and James are being so nice to me.

JoanieJoan and James are being too nice to me. Can they sense what I cannot – imminent death?

I am going to die alone. I am going to die alone up here in this attic, in this stupid Megalodon t-shirt. (Dying alone has been a recurring fear of mine ever since I realized I don’t know how to perform the Heimlich — to others, or to myself. Twice I’ve chipped teeth while eating too quickly, so choking doesn’t seem too far fetched.)

When will my cool fever dreams kick in?

I had no idea cats could sleep so much.

Dreads

Fever hair.

Is that a dreadlock?

While hopped up on Sudaphed: Why do people do meth?

While crying in the urgent care parking lot: I really need cat litter. And Feeder Supply is right there. But I can’t be the girl who walks in crying, buys cat litter and leaves.

I am the girl who walked in crying, bought cat litter and left.

Should I call everyone I had contact with late last week? Or is that only appropriate with STDs?

What if my boss thinks I’m lying?

Because really, who gets the flu in May?

Maybe this isn’t the flu.

This definitely isn’t the flu.

While searching my body for ticks: I must have Lyme disease.

While searching my body for mosquito bites: I must have Zika.

While searching my body for claw marks: I must have Cat Scratch Fever. Oh, God. What a horribly ironic way to die.

– fin –

27

A year ago, I published a blog post about turning 26. It was one of my more serious posts, as it was the first time I’d ever opened up about having an anxiety disorder. **Cue the line of eligible bachelors**

Since writing that post, I’ve done a lot of work on my anxiety. I’m by no means cured, but I’ve definitely become more lax about sharing drinks with people. I even ate a fish taco off a hotel floor, which, by anyone’s standards, is downright irresponsible. A death wish, some might say. (Full disclosure: I spent the next day googling variations of: “Do microwaves kill herpes?”)

Since writing that post, I’ve been working on myself. Working on the ability to speak my mind, the ability to let things go, and the ability to get up and talk to people, even when I feel like they hate me.

But perhaps one of the hardest things I’m working on is learning how to value and appreciate myself. I spent a good part of last year thinking, “What the hell is wrong with me? What do they have that I don’t? Am I not ____ enough?” I leave this blank because, depending on the day, I’d fill in any number of descriptors. Spontaneous enough, confident enough, cool enough, pretty enough, funny enough, bold enough, open enough, creative enough. I didn’t feel enough. Period. I felt like an inconvenience in someone’s day, an intruder in their “group.” And while these fears have always lived in the back of my mind, I suddenly found them catapulted to the forefront. It felt like everything I’d feared about myself – my lowest, most self-hating thoughts – were proved true. And that felt terrible.

But today, more than a year later, I’m able to ask myself why. Why does someone else get to dictate how I feel about myself? Why do they get all the power? All of my power?

I’m also starting to realize that people come and go. Friends, boyfriends, lovahs, even husbands – they come and go. There’s only one person I can count on spending the rest of my life with. And that’s me. So isn’t it about time I came to peace with myself? Wouldn’t it make sense to start learning how to love myself? How to feel whole with myself, by myself?

This has been my focus. Which is why I nearly lost my mind when I came across the following:

meme2

If she’s hot and single, she’s crazy.

???

Now to be clear, I’m not saying I’m hot. I’m saying, as a single woman, “What the fuck?”

This meme hit me so hard because it is, quite specifically, the very thought I spent months beating myself up over. The fact that I am 27 and single baffles people, from my dentist to my relatives. I take this meme — even if it was made in jest — to mean there are those who view my singleness as an abnormality, like my childhood snaggletooth. I take it to mean that men must look at me and say, “Oh, she’s single? Well, what’s wrong with her then?”

Why does something have to be wrong with me? There are so many reasons why a woman would be single — why do we automatically assume that she’s a compulsive car keyer?

Maybe she likes being independent. Maybe she’s focused on other things. Maybe she’s just having fun. Maybe she doesn’t feel like doting on anyone, save her cats, friends and family. Yeah, maybe she got her ass dumped. But maybe he was unfaithful.

Maybe she’s just not into you, brah.

Why does a girl need to be spoken for in order for others to believe she’s cool? Why is a woman seen as worthy, valuable, “a catch,” or sane only when a man deems her fit for marriage? 

I realize this post might have crossed the line (several lines, really) from thoughtful to impassioned. And if you thought you were getting into another post about cats or germs, my sincerest apologizes, as I’ve certainly led you astray. To be clear, I’m not making sweeping judgments about men or any other group of people, and I’m certainly not trying to brand myself as a wronged woman in pursuit of justice. I love being single. I also loved being a relationship, when it was healthy. There’s nothing wrong with being in or out of a relationship, as long as you’re happy.

Happy is what I’m focused on. Not who makes me happy. Just being happy. Period. And if THAT’S what makes me crazy, cool. At least it’s not my cats.

So, about last night.

“Did I say anything weird last night?” It’s a question my friends have become quite accustomed to hearing from me. I find myself asking it on any given weekend morning, whether I’ve had one beer or seven. Why is that?

I know what you're thinking. What's there to worry about?

I know what you’re thinking: “What’s there to worry about? Looks like a normal girl to me.”

I started thinking about this the other day, particularly about the question itself. Why do we ask things like that? Questions that – to be completely honest – you don’t really want your friends to answer completely honestly. Sort of like, “Did I totally f-up that presentation? Be honest.” Or: “Does this haircut make me look like a Muppet? Be honest.” No matter what your friend says, what’s done is done. The presentation? It’s over. Your hair? It’s cut. Ain’t no answer — no matter how honest it may be — that can fix a bang situation beyond repair.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but I attribute my abuse of this question to insecurity. Because – in my big “aha” moment that inspired this post – I realized that I say weird stuff all the time. Day, night, it makes no difference. Whether I’m telling my boss about my cat’s birthday cake, or telling a man at the bar about my career as an up-and-coming apothecary, there is always something regrettable coming out of my mouth. So why do I even ask? Why do I even care? What’s done is done. That story about sea lion cataract surgery? Told it. That pick-up line about his neck veins? Used it.

So if I’m trying to find a point to this blog post, I guess it’s that I’m going to try to stop harassing my friends for reassurance. Because statistically speaking, I probably did say something weird. But at the end of the day, I’d much rather talk to someone about manatees or Megalodon than…well, pretty much anything.

Megaladon

The day I stumbled upon the word “Mockumentary” was a sad day indeed.

26

A few months ago, I turned the anti-climatic age of 26. And while I realize that this by no means makes me any wiser or more qualified to offer advice, I learned a few things in the past year — both insignificant and slightly significant — that I want to share. Before I begin, I’d like to offer a disclaimer on this post: parts of it are a bit deeper than my usual stuff. You–as my mom often does–might find yourself wondering, “Why are you being so intellectual, Jo?” (She asked me this after I told her I was reading The Red Tent). And to be honest, I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, or perhaps its a chemical reaction from all the gray hairs I’ve forcefully removed from my scalp. But don’t worry, I won’t be an intellectual blogger forever.

Hair pills don’t work.
Sometime around the sprite age of 23, I decided it would be a good idea to cut my hair off. I honestly enjoyed my new ‘do (for about 48 hours), but I spent the next two years of my life looking like Thomas Jefferson caught in a rainstorm. I absolutely hated my colonial bob, and so I did everything (short of extensions) to fix the situation.

Here I am in my company headshot.

Here I am in my company headshot.

This meant taking an obscene amount of hair pills and vitamins that, when combined, promised me Kardashian-esque locks and frighteningly radiant skin. For a couple of months, I convinced myself that the results were worth the investment. My hair felt smoother, my hands looked slightly less scaly, and my breath was only mildly fishy. But one afternoon, my mane-and-tail cocktail didn’t sit too well with my delicate stomach and I ended up getting sick in a coworker’s office. To explain my cold sweat and sudden exit was awkward, to say the least, and so on that very day, I wrote off hair pills entirely.

Yogis aren’t all that crazy.
Until a few months ago, the closest I’d gotten to yoga had been by way of an extensive collection of black stretchy pants. To be sure, I never wore said pants while performing the actual act of yoga (or during any stretching, for that matter), but I appreciated their universally flattering fit and, like any 20-something, how well they complimented my Sperrys.

Then, a few months ago, someone told me that yoga is one of the best exercises for people with anxiety, and that she’d highly recommend it for someone as neurotic as myself (high praise, indeed). While I doubted it would bring forth the peace and tranquility she promised, I figured it was probably due time I learned how to touch my toes. Thus, I began an unlimited package at a yoga studio.

I showed up at my first hot yoga class feeling insecure and skeptical. Not helping my cause was the fact that I was the only person wearing athletic shorts, or that I’d brought an american flag beach towel to dry off with. Everyone else was clad in an assortment of spandex and tattoos, and no one — I mean no one — had a beach towel, let alone a towel as visually assaulting as my own. My skepticism only grew as the class went on, as the instructor proceeded to list the benefit of each pose as it related to the organs. I highly doubted that the compression from “wind relieving pose” (a ridiculous name in itself) would massage my descending colon and flush out my pancreas. Nor was I buying that by placing my forehead on my knee, I’d improve my metabolism and relieve depression. But as I’d already paid for a month in full, I carried on without complaining.

My next few appearances were much the same. With each subsequent class, I learned more about my organs, breath and glands than I had during my sadistic addiction to Web MD. But around my third week (around the same time I stopped wearing athletic shorts), something miraculous happened. I realized that I did feel better. I felt more balanced, more confident and more self-aware. I’m not saying I bought into any sort of lower-intestinal-massage powers, but I recognized a significantly positive difference in my body and in my mind. So, as it turns out, I guess yogis aren’t all that crazy.

And now for the intellectual stuff.

Anxiety doesn’t define me.
For years, I’ve joked about my anxiety. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I often make light of my germophobia and hypochondria. I get it. It can be funny sometimes. And until recently, I’ve found that joking about it has been the best kind of therapy. But a few things happened this past year that, quite frankly, aren’t all that funny. And they’ve made me realize that my anxiety (no matter how comical it can be at times) has completely run–and at times seemingly ruined–my life.

At the incessant urging of my mother, I won’t go into too much detail about my anxiety. But at some point, I plan to write about it because I think it’s a condition that more people need to understand. Generalized anxiety disorder isn’t worrying about passing a test or being late for work. It’s taking a fear or an insecurity (whether that be rational or completely irrational) and turning it into an obsession. It’s worrying about EVERYTHING — relationships, work, weight, body image, MRSA, germs, receding gum lines, typos, cancer, perfection, social awkwardness, what someone said about you 5 minutes ago, what someone said about you 5 years ago, etc. — to the point where you’re unable to “wake up” and check-in with the world around you. To the point where your mind is so incredibly clouded at times that it blocks any and all external thoughts — no matter how important it, he or she may be. Having anxiety means that routines are religion, and to deviate from them is almost unbearable. It means feeling debilitatingly insecure and inferior and, at times, it means feeling completely detached from everything and everyone. As a result, it means your friends, family and loved ones can’t understand why you’re so distant, so frustrating, so indecisive. They feel insignificant to you, even though they’re anything but.

For 25 years, I’ve done a pretty good job of masking the severity of my anxiety (except for all my bone cancer blood screenings, of course). And I managed to do so, in part, because I didn’t realize the full extent of it. But I’ve recently realized that my anxiety and insecurities have dictated far too much of my life, and that it’s time to make a change. So–with a little outside help–I’m learning that I don’t have to live like this anymore. And that feels awesome. I’m learning that my anxious actions are not who I really am. That they don’t define me. I’m realizing that being open and honest about my anxiety is far better than keeping it to myself, and that laughing at myself has been (and will continue to be) one of the best things I can do.

I’ve debated whether or not to publish this blog post for quite some time. It’s not exactly flattering. But after months of editing, re-editing, deleting and re-typing, I finally said screw it. At the very least, I hope it’ll help people understand me (and why it takes me 45 minutes to pick a beer) a little bit better. But most of all, I hope it’ll encourage those who struggle with similar demons to finally get some outside help, because it truly makes all the difference.