I’ve written about my mental health for GeekMom on several occasions. I have mild to moderate depression and anxiety. My more current mental health struggles are partly connected to a miscarriage I had three years ago and the eventual discovery that I had PCOS. I’ve also discussed my journey in realizing I needed therapy for my mental health challenges, the challenges with finding a therapist, and a peek into the early stages of therapy. Last week, thanks to Facebook Memories, I realized that I had reached the one year anniversary of participating in therapy and somehow it only seemed natural to write about it too. While I feel that I must note that each person’s mental health situation is individual and things like symptoms and treatment will vary by individual cases, I am willing to share a peek into my situation in case it helps you or someone close to you.
Learning your physical symptoms is step one.
In my earliest sessions, I was asked to track where in my body I felt my anxiety in particular (it usually runs higher than my depression). It seemed like a strange question, but I figured the point of therapy was that I was seeking the assistance of someone who knew more about mental health than I did, so I went with it.
I learned a lot about how my anxiety works. Over time, I have come to recognize the physical signs of my anxiety as well as categorize them as lower or higher. I now have a 1-5 scale I can use to measure where my anxiety is based on my symptoms. As a result of this I can recognize when I’m trending high and how fast I am trending upward. It makes it easier for me to catch those trends and redirect them in productive and healthy ways.
Another interesting result is that I have caught some patterns on when my anxiety has spiked, which gives me a head’s up on what situations are more likely to cause my anxiety to flare.
COVID has set my Mental Health Journey on the Hard setting.
I’ve heard a lot of people state that if you were not familiar with what dealing with anxiety feels like, there’s a good chance a world-wide pandemic has given you a crash course. I had done about six therapy appointments when Stay-at-Home orders first went in to place. The disadvantage was I already had anxiety issues going into a situation that is very anxiety inducing. The advantage was I had already lined up a support system for my mental health. This does make me feel like I am learning to manage my anxiety on a Hard setting, but the truth is my anxiety would have still been kicked into overdrive by COVID, I just would have been trying to manage it with no support system.
My anxiety does better when my mind is engaged.
I have to maintain a careful balance of knowing when to give my brain a break and when to keep my mind engaged, otherwise my anxiety is like an unsupervised toddler who is too smart for their own good and very good at being opportunistic and making the most of short periods of time. While doing remote learning with my kids has been stressful, it has kept my brain engaged. My anxiety is more likely to run off and get into unsupervised shenanigans when the kids are on a school break, and that quickly makes my down time not feel like down time. I recently caught on to the fact that I have had a larger anxiety spike at times the kids were not in school, so as Spring Break approaches I know I need to look out for that hazard.
Another really vulnerable time for anxiety is when you’re trying to sleep. A lot of anxiety brains like to take that time period to run a playlist of all your anxieties at once. I recently purchased a Bluetooth headband with speakers in it from a company called Dormi (I use the Dormi Dream version of their headband). I like to run audiobooks with it as I drift off to sleep so that my brain has something to latch onto that isn’t my Anxiety Playlist.
Anxiety does not like a vacuum.
A lot of people think that if an event that’s been driving your anxiety passes, you should see a decrease in your anxiety, right? Oh, I wish. Your mind and body can get so accustomed to working at a certain level of anxiety that when something that has caused a lot of anxiety passes, they seem to panic and try to latch onto a new source of fodder for your anxiety to keep the levels where they were before. It’s like they’re trying to keep returning to the anxiety buffet table to refill the plate. If one type of food is no longer available, they just look to find something else to fill the plate up. I recently came off a month where several anxiety sources were cleared off my plate and I found myself working to transfer what I still have onto a smaller plate before new anxiety sources could get added in. It involved a lot of making an effort to keep my brain engaged and self-monitoring my anxiety symptoms, but I’m existing at a much lower end of my anxiety spectrum right now.
Overall, my takeaway has been that therapy has been really good for me. I’m getting better at reading and gauging my symptoms as well as trying to troubleshoot different scenarios for redirecting my anxiety. It’s not a mastery that can be gained overnight. Here I am one year in and I’m still learning new things about how my anxiety works and how to manage it. I am making progress though.