Hatred and Anxiety 

There have been many current events over the last year that have been anxiety inducing for me. It took a few therapy sessions and lots of introspection to get to the core issue.

Events like what happened in Charlottesville this past week are inexcusable and awful, but they don’t affect me personally as a white woman, so why am I so personally affected by them. Why am I fighting off a panic attack daily when hatred is brought to the main stage?

It turns out, in the midst of the abuse I endured at home that shaped many of my core beliefs, the support I received from neighbors, teachers, and strangers shaped a core belief I didn’t expect to hold. I believed that people, at their core, are good and understanding and kind. Sounds like a nice belief that wouldn’t cause anxiety, right? It’s butterflies and rainbows and hope in humanity. I believed in people. What could be wrong with that?

Well, it’s an irrational and incorrect belief, that’s what’s wrong with it. People, at their core, are selfish. We are. It’s not always a bad thing either. Selfishness ensures our survival. After all, if we can’t take care of ourselves who else is going to do it? I’ve written before about how the abuse in my childhood shaped me to be selfless to a fault. I have had to insert some selfishness in my life just to learn to be a functioning adult.

Once I remind myself of this fact I can handle the anxiety that comes with current events. I understand that people believe whatever irrational idea supports their deeply held world views. People as a whole would rather find an incorrect fact that supports their worldview, surround themselves with people that encourage that worldview, and trade stories that enhance that worldview than ever challenge it.

People, like me, that have experienced struggle in their lives ignore any words said after you say the word privilege. They’ve struggled, god dammit, no one handed them a damn thing. It’s programs like welfare an affirmative action that give handouts and they’ve never asked for a handout in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you explain that white people benefit more than any other group in welfare programs. It doesn’t matter if you explain that white women have benefited more than any other group from affirmative action programs. It doesn’t matter how many facts or how much evidence you give. They will not accept anything that challenges their own worldview. It’s too uncomfortable to challenge such deeply held beliefs.

I’m not saying people can’t change. I’ve challenged and changed many deeply held irrational beliefs in the last year. I’m saying they have to want to change and the vast majority just don’t want to. For me to handle my own anxiety I have to come to a place of peace. A place where I won’t ever stop trying to challenge irrational and hateful world views, but where I understand that humans are irrational creatures and I can’t force people to change. A place where I do what I can, with what I have, where I am and am content with the love I’m putting into the world with my words and actions.

I believe that people are selfish, but that’s not always a bad thing. My selfishly caring for my anxiety leads me to use my time and resources to support loving causes that fight the hate.

I still believe in people, selfish and flawed, and have hope that more will choose to challenge their world view and actively fight the hate and racism in the world.

True or False: Only Perfection is Worthy?

Anxiety and depression began around puberty for me, at least that’s the first time I remember having symptoms of both. The abusive home environment I lived in was no doubt the catalyst for my mental health issues, and it is what solidified those problems so they would just grow and become more complex over the next decade. As I near six months in my mental health journey using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat PTSD, Anxiety, situational Depression, and Binge Eating Disorder I am analyzing the root cause of these issues. While many experiences combined to create my mental health cocktail, the overall theme of why I struggle to overcome these issues is my self worth.

For example, two weeks ago I started my two year old son in daycare. I began working out with a trainer at a gym three days a week, I have more dedicated work time so that my work/life balance is less stressful, and I have more time to focus on therapy and meditation and healing. Each of these things is an overwhelmingly positive change in my life, or at least, it should be. So why am I noticing signs of my brain falling into depression? Why do I seem to be self sabotaging these positive changes? My theory? I think my brain is reacting this way because at the deepest of levels I don’t believe I’m worth better. I don’t believe I’m worth my time, energy, and love. I don’t believe I’m worth self care. I don’t believe I’m worth the effort to better myself.

That’s a hard thing to admit to yourself, let alone to other people, but there it is. In analyzing how my self worth got this low, and how it got concrete poured over it to make sure it never moved, it seems to come back to many things I witnessed and experienced in those teen years when my mental health problems began. I want to share some do’s and don’t’s for parents that would have made a huge difference in my mental health journey, my body image issues, and my personal self worth.

DO: Reassure your child that the changes their body is experiencing are normal and all of them is beautiful all the time because their beauty is more than physical.

DON’T: Say conflicting things about your child’s appearance, even jokingly. Don’t tell them they’re beautiful, then make a joke about eating a second slice of cheesecake “for the other cheek”.

DO: Take care with how you speak to and about other people around your child, making sure you are respecting all other human experiences.

DON’T: Insult and belittle other humans in front of your child (or at all). We notice when you tell us we’re pretty and then call the curvy woman on TV a fat ass.

DO: Teach your child healthy coping mechanisms for stress, and use those mechanisms yourself so they can see it in action.

DON’T: Lose control of your emotions, blame others for your stress, use unhealthy coping mechanisms yourself (like substance abuse and binge eating).

DO: Encourage your child to talk to you and truly listen to their truth. Assure them that their stress and feelings are valid, and help them to find healthy ways of coping.

DON’T: Share your personal problems and stress with your child. They are not responsible for your stress level and should not be made to absorb your problems in addition to their own.

DO: Honor your child’s stress, even if the problem seems trivial to you. Encourage them to feel their emotions and work through them in a healthy and rational way.

DON’T: Belittle your child’s stress or force them to put their emotions in a box. Even if you are in public and feel embarrassed by your child’s tears, do not push your stress of being embarrassed onto your child. If they are going to learn to take care of themselves and not care what other’s think of them they are going to have to see you exemplifying how to do that.

DO: RESPECT YOUR CHILD’S EXPERIENCE.

DON’T: Try to control your child’d experience.

Those of us with mental health issues will most likely unintentionally pass them onto our children. I can already see anxiety in my two year old. The important thing is that we teach them how to cope. We teach them how to handle stress in a healthy way. We show them through example that every person’s experience deserves to be respected. It wasn’t just the abuse that I endured that shaped my mis-wired brain, it was also the abuse that I witnessed. It was the casual hatred for other people, the subtle and not so subtle ways I was taught that only perfection is worthy and perfection is unattainable so I am not worthy. Let us be the generation that ends the cycle of abuse, that ends the cycle of hate, and that begins respecting people simply because they are people.

Judgements and Ego

Just because you can’t see a persons struggle doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because you can see a persons struggle doesn’t mean you get to judge them for it. All of us have something we are working through. Some issue, or vice, or unhealthy habit, or irrational tendency that has a negative affect on our lives. Every single human being has something. Our need to judge other people is just our ego trying to build itself up. It is also our ego that makes us take other people’s judgments to heart. The judgment of ourselves and others have a huge impact on our mental well being and I believe we should all be more cognizant of our shared humanity when we find ourselves judging someone else.

What does this have to do with my current mental health journey? Everything. The anxiety in my mind consistently tells me that I’m not good enough and that I can’t be better. It makes me hyper aware of other people’s judgement of me and their judgments of others. Therapy is helping a great deal and I feel like I’ve made quite a bit of progress. I’ve seen how this anxiety formed as survival instincts during an abusive childhood. I can see how it served me then to think and feel the way anxiety tells me to think and feel. I can clearly see how those irrational thoughts and feelings are only destructive to me and my relationships as an adult. I can see how I formed the coping mechanisms I have, specifically how I developed Binge Eating Disorder as my main coping mechanism. I hadn’t binged in over two months with the help of introducing better coping mechanisms and going to therapy.

Then I received some bad news. Without even thinking about it I grabbed junk snack food at the store and binged on it in the car. When I realized what I was doing the shame I felt was extreme. I again became very aware of people’s judgments of those who are overweight or obese. Today it literally feels like I have made no progress with my self image and the anxiety voice that tells me I’m fat and weak and worthless is quite loud. I mean, have I really made any progress if some bad news takes my mind back to square one?

The answer is yes. Yes, I have made great progress. I know this because I can see this as a small slip up. I can recognize that voice as being irrational and a tool that kept me under an abusers thumb. I can remind myself that I have worth and strength and mostly believe it. I can lean on the people around me for support instead of hiding my struggle. I can feel the anxiety in my mind and write about this issue I face to help me cope with it. I can recognize people’s judgments as their own irrational problem trying to build up their own ego and not as a true reflection of me.

You can’t see the anxiety in my mind, but it is there. You can see the binge eating disorder that has helped me cope in the past, you can see it on my hips and thighs, on my chubby belly and flabby arms. Before you judge someone else’s appearance, or someone else’s struggle, look at the issues your own ego is facing and decide to focus on self improvement instead of taking the easy way out and building up your own ego at the expense of another.

Selfishness

It’s a trait that is pretty universally known as a negative. Being selfish means you don’t care about others, that you only care about yourself. At the extreme end some can use it to describe a person that lacks empathy or is narcissistic. Where is the line, though? That’s where it gets fuzzy, and where my anxiety lies. For people raised in healthy homes it seems clear that taking care of yourself and being selfish are two completely separate things. For us that were not raised in healthy environment the two become one in the same. Attempting to learn the difference between self care and selfishness as an adult has proven difficult.

First I had to process what it was that made the line so fuzzy in the first place. For me, and many others like me, it was both obvious and subtle. Obvious things, like getting punished for using your earned income as a teenager to purchase something on a class trip for yourself instead of purchasing souvenirs for family members. Things like being punished for having an emotional reaction to being verbally abused in public. These things would make a developing brain think that what they want or need does not matter and that in order to survive they must put the needs of those around them before their own in every instance. Then there are the more subtle things that groom us to be over-givers and overly empathetic, like never having your thoughts or feelings acknowledged as valid. Like being expected to know the adult’s mood instantly and behave accordingly or suffer the consequences.

For example, I remember at 8 years old or so, that when my dad came home in a good mood he enjoyed walking in and “looking” for us, so we were expected to hide and play the game. If we didn’t do this in anticipation of his arrival he would be upset and make us feel guilty for not wanting to make him feel special after his long day at work. If we did hide in anticipation of his arrival and he came home angry we would stay in our hiding spots until he and my step mom moved their fight out of the living area and then we would scurry down stairs to stay out of sight of his anger. Recalling memories such as this one helped me to see that I was groomed to be self-less to a fault. I was explicitly taught that any thought for myself was a selfish thought.

Now that I know where the wires in my brain got crossed, how do I move forward to straighten them out? How do I recognize the difference between positive self care and selfishness as an adult? How much longer to I have to live with this dissonance while I figure it out?

Right now, logically and rationally, I know that going to therapy is the best thing I could be doing. I know that putting my son in daycare instead of trying to pull double duty working and watching him all day is the best thing I can do. I know that taking time to read, write, get a pedicure, meditate, is a good and healthy thing for me to be doing. Rationally I know this. But instinctively my brain tells me that all of those things are selfish and wrong. It tells me I should be focusing on my son, not giving him to another to care for, no matter how much the double duty wears on my mental health. It tells me that taking time for myself, whether its for therapy or a pedicure, makes me a horrible wife and mother. It tells me that if I wanted to be deserving of my family I would be willing to put myself last at all times and sacrifice my health as needed. Better yet, it tells me that I don’t deserve my family because if I did I would be able to do everything on my own without it negatively affecting my health.

My anxiety is me having to talk back to my brain constantly. It is me seeing my irrational thoughts and not being able to change them. The best I can do right now is to counter my irrational thoughts. To remind myself of the rational reality and to model my feelings and behaviors off of rational thought. That is a big step forward, being able to recognize and dismiss my irrational thoughts, to see where the wires are crossed. It doesn’t make arguing with your own brain any less exhausting, though. When it comes to selfishness and self care I fear I will have to live with this dissonance for a while longer. Some of these problems are so deeply embedded that even after you see them it takes diligent work to affect actual change.

When you see someone who is overly-generous, who is extremely sensitive to the emotions of others, who never seems comfortable doing things for themselves, maybe take a step back and realize it could be traumatizing events and abusive grooming that made them that way. There is a good chance they developed those qualities to survive. Think on how those qualities affect that persons quality of life before you default to it being a positive character trait. There is such a thing as being selfless to a fault and if more people understood this perhaps there would be less stigma around the term “selfish”.

Words Matter

The words we choose to use make a difference. In this journey a few seemingly small changes have made a huge difference for me. 

First, I stopped separating “child” from “teenager” or “young adult”. If a fifteen year old came up to me today and shared their domestic abuse situation I would immediately think “why would someone hurt this child”, not “this teenager is having a hard time”. So, why in my mind do I default to this separation between arbitrary ages? It’s because it affirms my own self blame regarding the abuse I endured. Calling myself a young adult instead of a child has a way of affirming that I should have been able to control the situation better. That I should have known better to trigger his anger or I should have responded differently because I was mature enough to understand. Simply put, its bullshit. I was a child. Even at 15 or 16 I was a child, just like we all are. I didn’t have any power over the situation and I couldn’t control any of the outcomes. Today, choosing to use the word child when working through these memories is allowing me to release more of the self blame I carry. 

Second, I now choose to refer to abuse as abuse. I do not qualify emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, and physical abuse. It is all abuse and I find that in my mind when I put the qualifiers on it I’m doing so to diminish the damage it caused. When I say I was verbally abused it’s because I’m saying “I had it bad, but not as bad as people that are physically abused all the time”. Learning not to rate my level of abuse has been therapeutic for me. Learning to say “I was abused throughout my childhood” instead of saying “I was verbally and psychologically abused and it got physical a few times” has made a big difference. Accepting the damage that has been done instead of trying to minimize it and make it less than is a healthy change. 

These simple changes in the words I use to refer to my experience has helped me to accept the pain that I feel. It has helped me to stop judging myself for my own damage. It has helped me to be more compassionate to me. Learning to love myself the way I naturally love others has been a hard road, but I finally feel like I’m making progress. 

What I Didn’t Understand About Mental Illness

There are thousands of articles and blogs out there with titles like “10 things I wish people knew about anxiety” or “What I want people to understand about depression.” Reading articles like that helped me to understand mental illness in a way I had never understood it before seeking that knowledge out. Here was my big lesson: mental illness is not black and white. It does not look a certain way or act a certain way on everyone. It is a spectrum, like most illnesses. I went over a decade not realizing that the way my brain functioned was not typical. I genuinely thought every single person out there had the same struggle and they were just better at handling it. Realizing that my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors were caused by a treatable condition changed my world.

Since beginning therapy it has been confirmed that I struggle with anxiety and PTSD, and that I developed Binge Eating Disorder and situational Depression as ways of coping with those conditions. The fact that I am and have always been high functioning does not change the severity of my anxiety, it just means I adapted to hide my symptoms and keep my struggle invisible.

I want to share a few thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that I had during this decade of high functioning mental illness which I never knew were caused by my mental illness. Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of these words and it will help you realize you don’t have to struggle alone and that treatment and healing is possible. Maybe you’ll just gain a better understanding of how mental illness can look on different people and be more empathetic towards those with invisible illnesses in the future. It is my hope that someone will read this and it will help them gain a better understanding of themselves and others.

  1. Every so often I would feel like my life was spinning out of control and I would find a corner to sit in, make myself small, and breathe it out.
  2. Sometimes I was just overwhelmed with emotion but didn’t know where it came from, so I would use an emotional movie or song as an excuse to cry the emotion out.
  3. I would randomly start shaking, my heart beating too fast, my breath labored, without knowing the cause. Or, if I did know the cause the reaction didn’t seem to fit the trigger.
  4. I felt on edge a lot of the time, like I was barely containing my feelings and any little thing could be the straw that breaks me.
  5. I couldn’t focus on simple tasks because my brain was busy worrying about different things.
  6. I fidgeted a lot. Shaking my foot, tapping my fingers, clicking a pen, I just couldn’t sit still and relax.
  7. I constantly feared other peoples judgments and worked to keep everyone as happy as I could.
  8. During difficult emotional times my stomach would be upset for weeks, I could have a tension headache for over a month, and no matter how much sleep I got I was never rested.
  9. I would talk back to my brain often, trying to talk myself off of the edge of a panic attack, trying to counter irrational thoughts with rational ones, trying to convince my brain that there is nothing to worry about.
  10. I would sometimes release my physical anxiety by dancing it out, spinning in a circle, generally moving around in a silly way. Friends would laugh and join me thinking I was being fun and carefree, in reality I couldn’t stop shaking and knew if I didn’t do something to distract myself I would start crying.

Reading this list now it is hard to believe I didn’t see the anxiety that caused these things, but I truly didn’t. I didn’t know crying it out in a corner hugging my knees was a panic attack, I just thought I was emotional and a stronger person could handle that emotion without such dramatics. I didn’t know that my fast heart beat, labored breath, and extreme fidgeting were high functioning panic attacks I formed to mask my symptoms in public, I just thought I was distracted and should be able to focus better. I completely believed it was all just a personal flaw, that other people handled their lives without such “ticks” and I just wasn’t as good as them.

Please be kind to others. We don’t know what people are struggling with, and sometimes they don’t know it yet either.

The image posted above is the HAM-A Anxiety Assessment that is used by some therapists to diagnose severity of symptoms. The GAD-7 is a great screening tool to use if you believe you may suffer from anxiety.  https://patient.info/doctor/generalised-anxiety-disorder-assessment-gad-7 

Blame, Entitlement, and Healing

Emotional work is hard. It has this unique ability to drain all of my energy without my having done anything physically. Opening old scars, processing old wounds, attempting to straighten out twisty wires in my brain is some of the most difficult things I’ve done in life. It is so tempting to just leave things buried instead of doing this work, but I would be leaving myself with this anxiety wired brain that just seems to get worse by the year because of all this unresolved emotional work. I know the juice will be worth the squeeze as my brain starts to learn new ways of thinking and my anxiety continues to lessen. Still, ish is hard.

One thing I struggle with during this work is blame. Because this work is difficult it is often in my thoughts that I wouldn’t have to do this work at all had I been blessed with a healthy childhood. My anxiety is pretty much all nurture based, unlike others who have nature based chemical imbalances. Mine is learned behavior. Learned behavior that developed to help me survive the abuse of my childhood. It’s hard to not dwell on the blame factor. The people at fault for my needing to develop these survival mechanisms. The idea that I am somehow entitled to a healthy life is a toxic one for me. Each time this thought process comes up anger and anxiety follow directly behind.

Should all children be raised in healthy environments that provide love and support and teach them how to be a functioning adult? Of course they should. Was I provided this? Nope, not a bit. I was provided a roller coaster ride of narcissism and substance abuse, emotional terror, manipulative actions, and occasional physical abuse. Objectively that is in no way a healthy environment for children. As an adult, though, dwelling on this idea that I shouldn’t have had to deal with these things as a child does me no good. It does not lessen my pain. It does not ease my burden. It just leaves me with a giant chip on my shoulder about how what I experienced should never have happened.

For me to be the best me I can, for me to make progress with my anxiety, for me to successfully rewire my brain to default to rational thinking I have to let go of the blame. I have to let go of the entitlement. No one owes me anything. My life was what it was and is what it is and the only thing I can control is how I move forward from here. I can build the life for my son that should be given to all children. I can choose to build healthy relationships. I can choose to focus on processing the pain of my past without adding the burden of guilt. This journey is about me, after all, it is unapologetic-ally selfish, probably the first time in my life I am making choices based only on what is best for me. What is best for me is to focus on my journey and how I can heal. There is no place for blame or entitlement in my healing.

Building your own Family

When I started this journey I fully expected working through my childhood abuse to be painful. I knew that scratching open those old wounds would make me bleed, but that processing it would help me heal. What I didn’t expect was to feel pain over what I lost. It’s easy for me to say I think/feel this way because x-y-z happened in my formative years and connect the dots on that pain to find the root cause. It’s harder for me to say I think/feel this way because x-y-z didn’t happen in my formative years. The grief and pain I feel over my lack of a childhood was completely unexpected. Every time I probed into it to try to find the cause of my emotion I became overly emotional and anxious. My general anxiety was up and I couldn’t figure out why. I chose to actively distract myself from it until my next therapy session since I was having a hard time processing it on my own. (On the plus side I finished reading the entire Game of Thrones series which was a great distraction from my anxiety.)

At therapy yesterday we dove into this intangible pain. The fact that I have always been the person who took care of others, even at the age of five came up. The memories of how tears were seen as a weakness and met with the response “I’ll give you a reason to cry” came up. The unhealthy relationships I witnessed and my role as the emotional support for the abused (even though I was 10 and they were an adult) came up. The overarching theme seemed to be that I am more than comfortable sharing another persons pain and lifting them up. I am not at all comfortable sharing my own pain.

That’s not to say I don’t talk about my painful memories, I have and do and it helps to a point. The key here is that I only talk from a place of strength. I don’t share the pain of those memories, only the strong person who survived them. I have dear friends and family that encourage me to share my burden and lean on them so I don’t have to hold all my pain alone, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know unconditional love or judgement free relationships. I have been in situations where a group of people see me vulnerable for a moment and offer overwhelming support and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. A life that includes people who truly love and support without conditions is just not a life I know.

Many good people have tried to love and support me. They have tried to be there for me and lift me up, but I couldn’t let them. I only let people get so close. If the idea of the scared little girl who just wants a loving and supportive family brings me to tears just to think about how could someone else not judge me as crazy if they see her?

Here’s my challenge, I have to be vulnerable with people. I have to let people see my pain. If I want to build the loving and supportive family I have always longed for then I have to allow myself to be loved and supported.

Thank you to everyone who has tried to love me. Thank you for trying to support me. I’m sorry I couldn’t let you. I promise to push through the uncomfortable feeling and allow myself to be vulnerable with you, to trust you with my sorrows and my joys, to build the relationships that I want to have.

To everyone who has past pain they are trying to work through, remember you are not alone. There are people who would love to share your burden and support you through your journey. It’s one thing to be the strong survivor because it gives you hope, it’s another to put that face on because you don’t feel you have any other choice. We have to trust again. To build the family we always wished we had we have to let people in, let them see, and let them love.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233

The Rabbit Hole of Anger

Anger. It’s an emotion like any other, though some say more dangerous. For me, it’s one of the most difficult emotions to process. Unresolved anger bubbles up in an instant turning a seemingly small slight into a problem so big that it can’t be solved. Unlike grief or fear, when anger is triggered it is harder to keep anxiety from taking that seed and growing it into an entire forest. It’s harder to see where the line between rational reactions and irrational ones lies. Here’s an example of how anxiety takes control when anger is triggered.

Say a parent figure in your life told a harmless lie, like saying they didn’t do the dishes when clearly they did. Rational thought may be upset at the lie, because is seemingly has no purpose, but would put it aside as an annoying character flaw and move on.  In my poorly wired brain this is what the rabbit hole looks like…”she said she didn’t do the dishes, but I know this isn’t how anyone in this house loads or unloads the dishwasher so it had to have been her. Why would she lie about something so meaningless? Did I do something to make her think her help would be unappreciated? Is she upset with me for some reason? *scans recent memory for things that may have upset her* *gets annoyed* *switches gears* What’s the goddamn point to telling a lie about something so small? Why do people feel the need to prove they are untrustworthy? Why do I keep trusting people that aren’t trustworthy? Trustworthy people don’t lie, especially about something as small as dishes. When will I stop falling for this trap that people can be trusted? When will I stop believing people are actually loving and supportive? Why did I ever think anyone could love or support me? I should know better by now.”

See how quickly that spun out of control? That is what anxiety is. That thought process began and ended in under a minute and left me with my heart racing, tears in my eyes, and hands shaking. Those physical symptoms of anxiety alerted me to the fact that I was being irrational and what my brain was telling me was irrational. From there I took a time out, did some deep breathing, and headed off the panic attack that would have followed had this happened a year ago.

Through therapy I have trained myself to see the seeds of anxiety before spiraling down the rabbit hole with many triggering situations. With emotions like fear and grief, when I’m having a self image crisis, and when I’m feeling socially anxious I have made great strides. Anger still eludes me. It’s as though any time I feel angry it is compounded by all the anger in my past that I haven’t fully worked through and by the time I even realize what emotion I’m feeling I’m already mentally out of control and on the verge of a panic attack. Anger, betrayal, and shame haunt me still, feeding my anxiety before I even see what’s happening.

Rationally I know that the people in my life today are not the people that damaged me in the past. Rationally I can separate the past from present. When anxiety takes over there are no lines. There is no distinction. Past wounds are opened without hesitation, bleeding over onto the tiny scratch made in the present, making the whole scene look hopeless and lost.

Yes, five minutes of anxiety is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and it shows great progress from where I began. But it also shows how much work I still have to do. It shows that there are many more things in my past I need to process. And in reality, that five minutes ruins an entire day, it brings things up from my past that I can’t ignore unless I want them to continue causing more anxiety in the future. I have to take the time to process them, and emotional work is exhausting. That one simple rabbit hole brings me back to having a can of green beans thrown at me at 9 years old because I should have known to grab two cans instead of one. It makes me feel the sting of the belt when my brother and I were caught lying about a childish game we played chasing each other around throwing salt and pepper, a moment of carefree fun that was so very rare for us both. Every pleat in the pants I didn’t get right, every time I didn’t remind him to grab his wallet, every shoe and sock I had to put on his feet at 12 years old because as a grown man he thought it best to force his daughter to care for him instead of caring for himself. The anger that I have within me is coiled so tightly that even typing these few things out makes me overly emotional.

This a journey to healing, not a sprint, and these things take time. The anxiety I struggle with will continue to lessen as I process my past and am more aware of my present. Just know, please, that just because someone looks like their life is beautiful does not mean that they don’t struggle as well. My life is beautiful and I could not ask for more, but I struggle every day. Never be afraid to share your true struggle, it is healing to know you don’t struggle alone.

Learning Healthy Coping

I, like many of us I am learning, was never taught how to cope as a child.  I was not taught how to process my emotions or how to handle a trauma in a healthy way.  Lacking actual education on the subject I learned through example. My example taught that when you are upset you do one of two things.  You can lash out and put all of your emotions onto someone else or you can bottle it up and swallow it down with a big helping of dessert. In my early twenties I learned that lashing out is not beneficial to anyone and gained better control of how I displayed my emotions outwardly.  I thought that was all the work I had to do, if my emotions weren’t effecting anyone else then how I’m coping is not a problem, right? It took until a couple months ago to even realize the other method was a coping mechanism I relied on heavily.

Binge Eating Disorder is thought to be the most common eating disorder. It can be simply defined as Eating-Your-Feelings-On-Steroids.  Links at the end of this blog can provide you with more information.  Many people don’t know that this is a diagnose-able and treatable condition.  I know I didn’t. After opening my eyes to the fact that this disorder has been my main coping mechanism since my teenage years I had an irrational amount of shame to work through.  The perfectionism that comes with my anxiety makes me hard on myself, and this was no exception. Why had I not seen it previously? Why was I able to spot and steer clear of other destructive behaviors I witnessed in childhood, but not able to see this one? I would think back on particularly stressful moments in life and could remember the binge episodes that followed. I beat myself up for each and every one. How could I not see it?

Here is where I could get on a soap box for a while, I’m not going to, but I have to make one point. When we are inundated with a culture that encourages you to eat your grief and markets things like a “chocolate hug” for those single on Valentines day it’s easy to see why someone who struggles with the actual disorder would not notice their disordered eating. It’s hard to see the line between what society says is “normal emotional eating” and what is actually disordered eating.

Since seeing my disordered eating for what it is I have taken steps to minimize my use of this coping mechanism and began learning new, healthy ways to cope. I cleared my home of all foods that I would binge on, I set my finances up so I would not be able to swipe for fast food without my husband seeing it (and helping keep me accountable), and I began to write. Writing is quickly becoming the best coping mechanism I have ever used. I can write out my feelings and read them back to myself so I can easily spot what is rational and what is irrational. I can write out traumatic memories and read them back to myself to desensitize the impact they have. I can write out my successes and read them back to myself to remind myself what I am capable of when I have a low moment.

In addition to writing I practice mindfulness and meditation. Forcing myself to be fully in the moment helps keep me out of my head and lessens my anxiety in day to day situations. Meditating on specific triggers, traumatic memories, or overwhelming situations helps me to fully process my emotions and get to the root cause of them so my emotions do not effect my behaviors.

Developing healthy coping mechanisms is something that is not easy as an adult.  Unlearning what you have learned, breaking bad habits, working through long buried traumas is extremely difficult work. It is work worth doing. For every moment that you feel raw and exposed you will have a moment of relief and peace. Every overwhelming memory, every emotion you felt but never processed, every grudge you don’t even know you are holding do not have to burden you forever. You can process them now. You can feel them now. You can work through them in a healthy way and find peace now. I strongly recommend doing this work with a qualified therapist to guide you as I am. But, if you walk away from this post with nothing else I want you to know this: There is no shame in having unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is not too late to learn how to cope. Peace of mind is possible, learning healthy coping is the road to healing.

Visit the Binge Eating Disorder Association’s website for more information on diagnosing, treating, and supporting loved ones with the disorder. http://bedaonline.com/