Setting Boundaries for People with Anxiety

 

A while back I wrote a review for the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. I love the book, and have seen it quoted in vast numbers of self-help books and articles.  Boundaries are important for everyone. Across the board, no exceptions. Everyone.

I would like to say “especially for people with anxiety”, but that’s not true. Especially for everyone.

I think most of the problems in our lives stem from boundary problems. Not being clear on them, even if you do have them, or letting them be repeatedly crossed, or not having them in the first place.

I fell into the third category. I didn’t really have any concept of boundaries as a real, vital thing until I read the book.

Imagine that most humans are supposed to have a third arm and not realizing it until you read a book. It was kind of that feeling. Then suddenly you see people with that third arm everywhere, and some still lacking the third arm completely, and some with one but sort of half-curled inside them…urk. I think that metaphor is running away from me.

Anyway, it was a revelation.

I’ll speak from my experience as someone who’s pretty darn sure most of her anxiety issues stem from lack of boundaries.

Work

I’m an excellent worker. I was raised with a strong work ethic, and I’m an obliging person. If you ask me to do something, I will do it for you. Whether I should or not, and no matter what I have on my plate at the moment. That’s the problem.

I work really well, but I take on too much. I was no good at saying no. I saw myself doing this, but I always assumed it was my fault in some way. I need to figure out how to handle all of this, I need to be more efficient, not wanting to help that coworker out is selfish, etc.

I remember one day when three separate coworkers, well, two coworkers and a boss, asked me to edit something for them. One was a document for procedures, one was a statement to put in the handbook, and one was a collection of essays from a class to be printed in a book.

I said yes to all three. I spent my free periods that day and next editing for other people projects that had nothing to do with me. Could I have done one of them? Sure. Should I have done all of them? No. None of them were my specific responsibility. I was not getting paid extra. I did them because those people asked.

Later on in my job, I would swing the opposite way where the building resentment had me saying “no” too often, another side effect of lack of boundaries.

This happened in all my jobs to some degree. When I worked retail, I regularly took on the extra shifts just because people asked me, or came in earlier when my boss asked. I even accepted a promotion I didn’t want because my boss wanted me to take it, leading to my first bout with stress-induced health problems.

Relationships

Neighbors

I remember a specific instance when a neighbor asked me to watch her dog for a night and a day. She was going out of town and hadn’t called the sitter or doggie daycare. I hardly knew this person, but I said yes. I thought: I can’t be selfish. It’s only one night. Just do it. She needs help. 

Did I want to? A resounding no. I don’t like small dogs, and I lived in a one-room apartment. There would be no getting rid of any unwanted smells for a while. But I said yes because she asked, and the dog naturally peed on my bed. I didn’t mention it to her, just promised myself I would not accept again.

Dating

When I’ve dated, I’ve let the other person lead the way. I like my men decisive, but frequently the reason is less that than my own obliging nature. You want to watch a movie? Okay. You want to eat there? Okay. You want to kiss? O…kay.

This is one area where I could clearly see the problem, more than any other. Dating should be a shared agreement, in my opinion, of what to do and how to do it. So mostly, my lack of boundaries has resulted in a pure lack of dating, since I won’t do it for fear of falling into my old habits.

Friendships

I’ve had some tough friendships. And the funny thing is, the other person would probably be surprised to hear that. I don’t speak up. I don’t feel I have the right, or, more often, I don’t want to rock the boat.

I’ve had work friends several times, and usually they were fine. A couple situations though always happened. I’d have a friend who would always come to me for a chat, me being such a good listener. They would interrupt my free time, or my work time, if possible, and talk about this and that. And I would let them. Are you free? Yeah, sure, what’s up? I just need to vent. Okay, what happened?

Never mind that I’m not in any mood to deal with another person’s problems. Never mind that I never feel I can come to you. Never mind that you blew into my room like a summer storm in my peaceful afternoon…

I needed boundaries.

Family

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my family has often borne the brunt of my boundaries. I’m comfortable there enough to say no, most of the time. They see me as pretty judgmental and decisive, even stubborn, because all of my no’s I don’t say to other people I tend to say to them, and loudly. It’s an unhealthy balance.

In the book, boundaries are envisioned like fences. Not walls, to keep everything out and everything in, but fences, with gates. Gates to let out the good and the bad. Some people keep all the good in and let all the bad out, some vice versa. I was always vice versa. Keep the bad in, where it can’t hurt others, and let the good out, to give of myself. Except with family, where the gate then swung the other way.

Myself

I’ve never been good at meeting my own expectations. I can meet other’s fairly easily if I’m not in a rebellion phase.

But I could never stick with a self-regulated habit, for the most part. I’m getting better, as I grow to understand myself more. I’ve kept up my new habits well. I’ve written every day for the past few months because I like to make that checkbox go away. In fact, Habitica, the fun online to-do list website I use, is a helpful external accountability partner, but setting boundaries with myself is still hard.

Especially when it’s to stop doing something. Stop eating sugar. Oh boy, good luck, me. Stop letting people walk all over me. Yeah, okay. Right.

Well, this whole recovery journey is about setting good boundaries, so I know I’m not there yet.

Anxiety

Lack of self-control and boundaries has been a major cause for anxiety, I’m convinced. The stress from my job was a direct result of me not saying no when needed and not being clear about what was hurting me or causing me too much anxiety. Always saying yes led to resentment as well, which only added to the mix.

All of my relationships have an element of anxiety for me, because I always assume responsibility for how the other person feels, and don’t want to rock the boat by making my needs known.

And with myself, living against what I want for myself naturally creates internal tension, which has manifested physically. I don’t practice my faith the way I want, I don’t dress the way I want, I don’t speak the way I want…it all creates tension.

What’s Next?

I’m hoping by finding out the root of the issue I can start to build these boundaries I need and heal from the inside out. I don’t want to take medication forever. And I don’t believe I’ll have to. The authors of the book are psychologists, and they use boundaries in their work with patients. I’m hopeful that with therapy and with the knowledge of needed boundaries, I’ll be able to better my relationship with anxiety.

It’ll be tough, but it’ll be worth it.

#buildaladder with boundaries.

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Three Month Check-In: Accomplishments

I left Korea exactly three months ago on December 22. I realized it this morning and thought it was the perfect moment to do a check-in. So hang on, folks, we’re going into the depths of my mind…

Anxiety

Comparing my anxiety now to three months ago, it’s almost unbelievable how much better I am. Now, I don’t believe in getting rid of emotions, and that’s certainly not my aim with anxiety, but physically, emotionally, and mentally I am much healthier. I’m sleeping better, my energy is better, and slowly I’ve been able to do more and more of the things that were lost to me when this all started. When I first got home, the idea of going out was terrifying; I was so afraid it would trigger a panic attack that I stayed at home for weeks. For most of January, I stayed inside, only going to my chiropractor and (I think) like two other places. January was the real recovery month, as I focused on my sleep and actual physical health.

February I started going out more, playing D&D and seeing a few friends, but it was still pretty low-key. I was still worried about having an attack, and still enjoying my downtime at home.

March was when everything started to pick up. I started driving again (a huge fear for me which turned out to be no problem), went shopping, went out to dinner with friends, went to a drop-in D&D session with strangers, and started therapy.

All of this to say that my anxiety has definitely decreased. I still feel anxious (or afraid, as my therapist tells me) about new things, but I’m excited to lean into it and stretch myself, whereas before that fear would have kept me home.

Habits/Accomplishments

So what have I actually done in three months? When I first realized it was already Spring I felt a moment of panic because it seemed like I hadn’t done anything at all. I still don’t have a job, I still haven’t finished a book, and I’m still not healed. Yeah, I expected miracles to happen when I got home. But today, this three-month anniversary, I thought about all that I have accomplished, and I felt proud. Going from what I was (wrecked, quivering ball of insomnia and panic) to what I am now (excited, healthy, curious) is amazing.

I have;

  • been to the doctor twice and gotten on less medication
  • been to therapy three times and learned where my issues might be coming from, which is the first step to healing
  • been to D&D countless times (seriously, I’m not going to go back and count the weekends) and have a solid group of friends
  • been out with friends for dinner (that’s huge when you have agoraphobia)
  • written a lot (short stories, this blog, other story ideas)
  • learned a lot about writing
  • read 44 books (damn)
  • started driving again
  • made two paper masks
  • furnished my office
  • DMed a duet D&D session with a friend
  • exercised every day (holy…)
  • meditated every day
  • discovered what foods I’m slightly allergic to (that’s a whole story, sheesh)
  • been on an overnight trip with a friend

…and I’m sleeping regularly.

This is huge for me, guys. I realized that I have in fact made vast steps forward on the way to recovery, and my expectation that I would bounce back fully and 100% within this time was totally unrealistic.

I’m thrilled how well it’s gone, honestly. I know exactly how tough it was for me those last few weeks in Korea, and I can barely believe how good I feel now.

I still have a long way to go; my whole life will be learning to live with myself, anxiety and all, but I’m okay with that now. I’m ready and waiting to take those next steps.

To anyone suffering from anxiety or depression, I hope my journey will help you in some way. Let’s #buildaladder together!

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BuildALadder Movement

I was first introduced to the BuildALadder idea by Martina Stawski of EatYourKimchi, a great Youtube channel about life in Korea and Japan. Martina has EDS, an invisible illness that affects her daily.

(WARNING: The following videos are really sad, so if you’re not up for it, I recommend watching them another time.)

Her video confession helped me to write my own confession on Instagram and later here. It’s hard to do.

Mental health issues are invisible. And for those of us dealing with invisible issues, it’s hard to feel justified taking care of ourselves or asking for help.

This second video shows exactly how Martina gets through a really bad day by building rungs on her ladder. It’s a difficult video to watch, but it’s also really encouraging for people who are dealing with depression or pain.

Building a ladder means celebrating small victories. It means being positive when you’re in pain. It means knowing that you can make your life better, even if you don’t get better. It means not waiting to feel good to be happy or do what you want. I don’t have a chronic illness like Martina, but I have struggled my whole life with stress, anxiety, and depression, which have often led to serious health problems, and both in times of pain and in times of good health it’s important to build those ladders.

For me, I like to think of it like a literal ladder, visualizing each rung as I reach for it, grip it, and pull myself up. Each thing I accomplish or notice is a rung to help me up. Sometimes I slip, and I need a booster to get me going again. But I build another ladder.

That’s what the movement is about. It’s hugely important to me, and I love that so many people have embraced it. Check out the articles at the end for other people who have been helped by Martina’s movement.

How I Build My Ladder

  • Note accomplishments; doing my daily habits another day, completing a project, asking for help.
  • Find something beautiful; a flower, something I made, a good meal, a heartfelt laugh.
  • Practice real self-care; invest in my mental health, keep boundaries, know what my body and mind are telling me.

Ladders So Far

  • Got my hair dyed, and it ROCKS.
  • Made a paper dragon mask, and it ROCKS.
  • Started another dragon project because DRAGONS.
  • Started blogging again.
  • Started yoga.
  • Meditation streak 100+ days.
  • Wrote 10 new poems.
  • Got health care.
  • Scheduled my first doctor visit.
  • Went to the library and went to town on books.
  • Bought a yellow teapot for all my loose leaf tea.
  • Organized my office/crafting room for full creative expression.
  • Played with two cats at two friends’ houses.
  • Did a ten-day detox.
  • Played D&D.

Some of these were pretty easy, and some were very hard. There are still days where the thought of leaving the house or seeing people sends me into a downward spiral of anxiety and panic, but doing the little things, even if I do stay at home, helps build the ladder. As Martina said, it helps to shine the light outwards, not in. Don’t focus on the inward awfulness, focus on what’s around you and what you can do. Using my yellow teapot makes me happy because it’s a yellow teapot in my room.

Making paper masks makes me happy because I’m using my hands and creating something awesome.

Each rung, no matter how small, is a small step forward.

For those of you struggling, I hope this will help. I hope we will continue to build ladders.

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Tags on Social Media:

#BuildALadder – Instagram

#BuildALadder – Twitter

Articles About the Movement:

The Vlogging Cure

Literally Darling

 

 

Hello, I have Panic Disorder: Beginning a journey of healing

Stripes

(Caption from Instagram) Goodbye Korea! I didn’t think it would be like this. Twenty stripes. Twenty panic attacks in six weeks. That works out to an attack almost every other day. Some days were fine. Some were so, so bad. .

Mental health is never easy to talk about. Never easy to admit to having trouble with. I don’t know what caused it. Maybe it was something that built up over a long period of time. Maybe there was some unknown trigger that started it all. The doctors couldn’t say for sure. Maybe I’ll never know. .

Panic attacks. Anxiety disorder. Insomnia. Paranoia. Claustrophobia. Agoraphobia. In the past few months I’ve run the gamut. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed either. It happens. People get sick. I’m lucky I can go back home to heal. I’m sad to leave Korea in this state, when it’s unavoidable, but I will be bringing with me many happy memories.
Thank you to everyone I met, everyone who impacted my life. I’m grateful for the lessons learned, the experiences, the good times and the bad. I’m living, I’m growing, I will get better.
Here’s to you, Korea, and here’s to me, and a brighter future!

It’s funny that the last post I had up on here was on October 10th, the day my life went all to pieces. I think I had it scheduled because what happened at 3am that day would not have let me post it in any kind of frame of mind.

Let me back up.

On October 10th, at 3am, I woke up having my third panic attack in my life. It had been nearly four years, so I’d forgotten what it felt like. And because panic attacks make you PANIC, I thought I was having a heart attack. I was convinced if I didn’t get medical attention at once I would die.

So I went to the ER. Nothing showed up on the EKG or any other tests, and by then the panic had subsided and I figured I must have had some kind of attack. I was given some medicine and told to see a psychiatrist. O-kay.

I didn’t go to work that day. I went the next day, had a panic attack that night. Had one the next night, and then three over the weekend. Cut to December 22nd, the day I came home, and that number had reached 20. Twenty panic attacks in just over two months. Not a fun time. Especially as I decided to work through the end of the semester.

I got on medication about a month before I left, which helped, but also didn’t help in learning that addiction to those medications and coming off of them can be just as terrifying as going through life with the attacks.

I don’t like talking about my mental health. I don’t like admitting I have a problem I can’t handle. I made the above post on Instagram and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to post something like that so publicly.

But I think I was also really brave to do it. Mental health still gets a bad rap. People on feel-good medication are still treated like they’re just not trying hard enough. I bought into that until I dealt with depression in my teens and early twenties, and even then the measures I took were by half. So my anxiety ripened and got worse.

Here’s the thing though. I’m INCREDIBLY grateful this happened. Like, so, so glad. I was in a position I didn’t like, doing work I didn’t feel committed to, living in a way that didn’t let me pursue what I wanted. I had a lot of pent-up emotions and anger that had never been expressed. But I wasn’t doing anything about it. I was too scared/lazy to change jobs or move anywhere else and was seriously just going to stay at the same job for another few years. Exactly the trap I had been so adamant about not falling into.

I had been praying for direction but had turned my face to the wall. So I think God gave me a kick in the pants and, well, let the consequences of me not facing my anxiety or issues EVER happen to me. I’m an HSP. An INFJ. An empath. Repressing things makes my body not well. Eating poorly and not exercising makes my body not well. Internalizing the negativity of the culture around me makes my body not well. Having no boundaries with my self or others makes my body not well. I didn’t listen until I had to. So I’m glad it happened.

Yes, I’ve had to move back into my parents’ house and start a process of healing. I’m going to have to go to *gasp* therapy and figure out what’s causing all this crap. I’m going to have to admit this to you all, which is very, very hard.

But so is dealing with agoraphobia, insomnia, claustrophobia, panic attacks, and anxiety of many kinds.

That’s why I have been offline since, well, the Day.

But I’m happy. Happier than I have been in a long time. I’m home, I get a chance to get better, really get better, and I can have some downtime.

I’m sharing my journey to recovery because while I was waiting to come home, I read a lot about anxiety, and hearing people’s stories was encouraging. I hope mine will end well, and I hope it will help anyone it can.

I’m building my own ladder, one rung at a time, celebrating the small victories and eating all the Mexican food I can (verified therapy food, right?).

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