Kill Anxiety: One Zombie at a Time

February 24, 2016 LifepsychologyThoughts  No comments

A few weeks ago, I talked about how I often find myself in a place of freak out and anxiety because I’m trying to figure out how to solve a problem before it even becomes a problem

And as frequent as my large-scale life/identity/existential crises have been lately, it’s my run-of-the-mill, everyday anxiety about routines and tasks that is the more common antagonist in my life. 

And my anxiety these days is nothing compared to how it used to be.

The first times I can remember feeling anxiety was in middle school. Everyday after school, on the bus ride home, I would get this searing pinpoint of pain in between my shoulder blades like clockwork. (At the time, I didn’t know that it was a physical manifestation of anxiety.)

This is also about the time where my mind started to constantly race through the day’s to-do list. I was always working out what time I needed to complete each task in order to have time for the next one. Chores, homework, and working out all had to be done before I could take a shower and watch tv/read and relax. 

But I never really could account for all the daily interactions and distractions that inevitably happened. Things like when Mom had dinner ready, how long dinner actually took to eat, last minute errands, all the normal things that happened throughout the day. 

And that’s not even taking into account all the unknown and unknowable variables that could take place. The up-ending events and intense periods of disruption that could fall down from the sky without a moment’s notice. 

Again, what I was mostly trying to do was circumvent bad things from happening. So that, in the end, I was okay. 

I think, somewhere in my mind, I thought that if I could have everything planned out, that if I could accomplish all the things that needed to be done, I could somehow stop those unsettling, distressing things from happening.

(I couldn’t. Still can’t.) 

The racing thoughts and compulsive circumscription only got worse as I went through high school. With more homework, more demands, more social events, more responsibilities, more things to juggle. 

And when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything in? When I realized that no matter how much I rearranged and moved around and grappled with my schedule, I couldn’t accomplish all the things I needed to accomplish? Panic set in. 

I was constantly on edge. I had little room in my life for spontaneity or just having fun — which is really sad because I was a teenager. And a girl. And girls just want to have fun, right? 

Apparently, not me.

Junior year, in my first period English class, I was reading a really huge part of The Crucible out loud when I felt like someone had jammed a pen down the back of my throat. Almost as if I had been chewing on the end of the pen and it slipped from my grasp, hitting the back of my throat. 

I had no idea what was happening. My throat just felt sore and thick and swollen and throbbing. But I kept reading out loud until the end of the class period, where I went on to my next class and the pain eventually faded. 

It took me a good six months to figure out that I’d been experiencing a panic attack. And now that I look back on it, I can remember it was more than just the throbbing pain in my throat. It was the tunnel vision. The struggle to focus. Trying to breathe. 

It was all I could do to keep enough focus on the words to read them. Honestly, I’m impressed I was able to read out loud at all. 

Anxiety took on a whole new level of excitement during my senior year of high school and freshmen year of college (periods of HUGE transition). 

By then, anxiety looked a lot like severe, sudden, swift-assaulting panic attacks that left me clutching at my chest like I was having a heart attack. They were terrifying and painful and crippling. 

I’ll never forget Christmas evening of 2008. After a day of opening presents and dinner at Grandma’s house, I sat on the family room couch with Andrew and one sibling or another watching Elf

A panic attack ascended so suddenly and so agonizingly that for twenty-four minutes all I could do was try to breathe, try to make it from one moment to the next. The pain in my chest was so bad, so tight, that I couldn’t even talk to tell someone what was happening. To date, that was the longest one I’ve ever endured. 

I went on Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication, and Zoloft, an anti-depressant, for about three-ish years. 

During that time, my anxiety dropped. I didn’t care as much about all those tiny little things I’d cared about before. Those little dominos that could upset and disrupt my entire day. Didn’t work out? Oh, well. Didn’t finish homework? I’ll do it tomorrow before class. Laundry needs to get done? I’ll get to it later. 

That attitude carried over a lot once I was off the medicine. But there are still times when I feel like I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet and I’m worried about how I’m going to finish everything I have to do and still have the energy to make it to kickboxing class in the evening. 

It’s like I’m brushing my teeth, but in my mind, I’ve already did my makeup, got dressed, meditated, started laundry, made coffee, and have started work. 

So, a very long-winded explanation later… this is what I tell myself to keep my mind engaged in the present and not worried about what’s coming next: 

One zombie at a time

You can only worry about killing the zombie that’s right in front of you. Because if you’re too focused on the one behind it, and the twenty behind that one, you’re going to get bitten. And then you’re going to die. (A bit extreme, but it works.)

So, you have to kill the closest zombie first. Than you can kill the one after that. Then the next one. Repeat, until all zombies killed. 

Whenever I start to get caught up in the panic of if I’ll have the time or the energy or the fortitude to make it through the day, I just remind myself that I’ve gotten this far without getting killed — that is to say, that I am capable of handling the zombies (tasks) as they come. That I’ve had the strength before, and I’ll have the strength now. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.41.46 PM

And if I don’t get all my tasks crossed off? Well, that’s what white-out is for. I just white-out whatever I had down for that day, and it’s gone, just like I never had to do it in the first place. 

It also helps to have realistic expectations. To not over-schedule yourself. And to give yourself pockets of empty space throughout your day. 

One zombie at a time. 

Until next time, farewell & may your life never cease to be filled with wonder and curiosity. 

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