What’s Inside?

I like to think that I’ve revealed a lot of information about myself on this blog.

But the truth is, I haven’t. Not completely, at least. The people who truly know me know all of the things I’ve written down on here, or most of them. At the beginning of this journey, it was difficult for me to share my experiences and let whoever is reading this into my heart. But now, months later, as I try and write my absolute deepest and darkest secrets, it is proving more difficult for me to share the most painstaking thoughts – the ones that are consistently swirling around in my head. The ones that keep me up at night. The ones that truly cause me to clam up and shut down completely.

But I want too, because the feeling of keeping these crazed thoughts in my head from the people who are doing their very best to help makes me feel absolutely horrible. I hear the phrases, “Nobody is going to judge you,” or, “It’s really okay. You can let it out,”, and as comforting as those phrases are, the voice in my head is telling me the complete opposite, and this voice is louder than any other sound in the world.

The last couple of years, as my anxiety and panic have continued to skyrocket, have been very confusing and hard for me. And it’s been even more confusing and hard to explain my thoughts and feelings to my loved ones. I’ve become more frustrated when I can’t articulate how I’m feeling, and even more so when I can’t make people understand exactly what is going on.

When I was younger, I used to love sharing my innermost thoughts with my friends. Staying up all night and talking and revealing what we most want to let out – but can’t seem to do so during the daytime – felt effortless. It always seemed to me that secrets were easier to spill underneath the stars and wrapped up in blankets, while the feeling of being vulnerable seemed to no longer matter as the time got later and the sky got darker.

But as my feelings of worry seemed to increase, and the thoughts in my mind proved to be different from others around me, I began to keep them to myself. I didn’t tell anyone what I was feeling and the worrisome ideas that were pushing at the front of my mind because when I did with someone I thought was a friend, I was told, “I can’t help you. You need to see a doctor.” I felt weird. I felt strange. I felt as though I was drifting away, and I was entering something that was the furthest thing from normalcy.

And today, more than ten years later, I have many days where I still feel this way. I do things to help combat my anxious thoughts that people would not understand. I have kept secrets from my therapists for fear of them telling me that yes, I am crazy. And if I hear that from my therapist, won’t I hear that from others as well? My family, my closest friends, people I’m only just getting to know? I’m terrified to my core that my fears and the paralyzations I go through during bouts of panic will prove the people who don’t like me right. She’s so rude, how can she just sit there and not talk to people? Why is she crying? What is wrong with her? I’m glad I made the decision to stay away. Everyone else should stay away from her, too.”

When I studied abroad, I got into this awful habit of setting very early alarms when I didn’t need them. One at 4:45. One at 5:10. One at 5:55. One at 6:20. There had, had, had to be four of them set, and the first and third needed to end in fives, and the second and fourth needed to end in zeros.

I also ended up needed something to distract me at night as I was falling asleep. If I just laid there in bed, I tried to focus on the feeling of my comforter on my legs, the weight of my head on my pillow, the sounds I could hear outside of my window. But that did not help me. If anything, it gave me ample time for my fear to pound loudly in my ears as the rest of the world was falling into a peaceful sleep. So I began re-watching Friends late at night, because if I was being distracted by what Chandler and Joey were up too, then I wouldn’t be distracted by my own thoughts, right?

This seemed to work well for a little while. But then Friends began to bother me. Why? I’d seen it a million times. I could quote it backwards and forwards. It’s not like I was unaware of what was going to be happening in episodes to come.

More sleepless nights continued, and when I went back to college for my senior year, I knew I couldn’t leave my laptop volume on in the middle of the night with a show playing out of it, because I couldn’t wake my roommate. That wouldn’t be fair to her. So I pulled over the chair from my desk, placed it as close to my bed as I could, and turned the brightness down all the way without the screen being pitch black. I plugged in my headphones and searched for distractions on the internet.

I realize now, why Friends, a show I had seen multiple times, was bothering me. It was the feeling of not knowing where the future was headed. The show was about individuals in their 20s, figuring out life after college, life on their own, life with a dream job and an apartment and a significant other, and that frightened me to my very core. So I turned off my favorite show and thought to myself, “What is the opposite of a show about adults?”

I felt like I was retreating, but I just couldn’t stop. I needed to make myself feel better, and the only way I knew how was by going back to my childhood. So that is what I did. I put on shows like Drake and Josh, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Two of a Kind – shows I had watched at nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Not twenty. I felt hopeless. If my friends had known that I was relying on kid television to help distract me and help me sleep at night, what would they think of me? How absolutely pathetic does that sound? I exhausted all of these shows and searched desperately for a new one. The one that helped me most was Lizzie McGuire, my favorite television series when I was in middle school.

When I graduated college, I didn’t have to worry about the brightness on my laptop screen or the sounds coming from my laptop, because I was back at home without a roommate. I continued along my path of letting these silly little shows help me to fall asleep without giving me the time to let my fear take me over. Until one night during the summer of 2015, my mom had seen the light coming from my laptop under the door.

She opened my door and said, “It’s two am. What are you still doing on your computer? You need your rest.” She sounded disappointed, and I felt the blood pounding in my ears as I scrambled to shut it down.

I couldn’t tell her that I was watching old Disney Channel shows. “I lost track of time,” I croaked out, and turned over in my bed as she closed the door. I was wide awake now. I was never going to be able to sleep. After several long minutes of coming up with a plan, I took out my phone and hid it underneath my covers and continued to watch until I fell asleep, only to turn it off when the first of my four alarms woke me up around 5am.

I tried to stop. I couldn’t. If I laid down without putting something on to distract me, or tried to close my eyes before setting my alarms, I wouldn’t sleep, my heart would pound, I would cry. It was painful, and I didn’t tell anyone. Not my family, my friends. Not even my therapist. I was alone in this battle.

I’m happy to say that I’ve stopped watching television to help me fall asleep at night. It took me a very long time, though – almost three years. I went from television shows to music, to instrumental soundtracks, to peaceful soundscapes on my Echo, to silence. There are some nights when I need the sound of running water or ocean waves playing in the background, but I no longer beat myself up for it. It’s better than watching a show about eighth graders.

When I would leave my house, I would get into my car, pull out of the driveway, and repeat to myself three times the following sentence: “Front door locked, garage closed, alarm on.” If I didn’t say it as I drove away, I needed to stop again in front of my house and say it out loud to myself so that I didn’t completely lose my mind. Except, I felt as though I’d already lost it a long, long time ago.

Now, when I leave my apartment, I have no garage or alarm. But I put in my keys and twist the handle three times to make sure it is locked securely before leaving. When I get out of my car, I hit the lock button on my keypad twice and make sure I hear the beep before walking away. It used to be six. At least I’m making progress, I tell myself.

I went to a wedding over the weekend. I’ve been telling people I had a great time, but I didn’t. It was an absolute nightmare. Panic took me over just as dinner was beginning, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you why. I couldn’t get up and dance, I couldn’t talk to anyone. My whole entire body shut down and I couldn’t snap myself out of it no matter how much I tried. I was feverishly texting my friends who were still awake, looking for some sort of reassurance that I wasn’t nuts, that it’s okay for me to have hard days and that it doesn’t make me a bad person because I have panic attacks. I was searching the internet for other ways people deal with panic attacks to see if their coping mechanisms would help me, too. But nothing was working. I was in too deep, and I was angry.

I got back to my hotel room and fell to the floor. I ripped off my shoes and my dress and threw them at the wall. I slammed the closet doors shut and cried so hard I almost made myself sick. I listened to lullabies as I tried to fall asleep and cried throughout most of the night. I spent hours thinking, “What if they hate me? I was invited by these very, very kind people and I didn’t do a thing all evening. What if they don’t like me from now on? What if everyone is angry? How will I ever get past this?” I felt like the absolute worst person in the entire world. Pathetic and small. Absolutely, positively horrible. I only slept for two hours.

When we got onto the first plane ride home, Kevin said to me, “You have your car keys, right?” I nervously placed my hand against my coat pocket, and breathed in and said, “Yes.” He asked me this before our second flight, when we landed back in New Jersey, and when we got off the shuttle at the parking lot, as well. I wanted so terribly to joke with him and say, “Oh no!” just to be funny, but I didn’t because I was worried that if I said that, my keys would disappear out of my pocket. I am not joking in the slightest, and I am very embarrassed to admit this. I was so unbelievably worried that even if I held my keys IN MY HANDS and joked around with Kevin, they would disappear. Yes, I know it’s stupid and I know it’s very painfully irrational, because that could never happen. And I know how absolutely crazy it sounds.

Something that has proven to help me combat my anxiety has been calligraphy. It is difficult and tedious, but I am so distracted by getting my lettering to look professional that I don’t have another care in the world. But there are certain things I’d love to write in calligraphy that I don’t, because I’ve now found that certain words trigger me. If there is a quote I’d like to letter and there is a word in it that bothers me, I won’t write it, no matter how much I want too. My anxiety is still getting in the way of things I love doing.

I’ve examined this way too closely, and far too many times to count. I haven’t officially been diagnosed by a medical professional, but to me, this sounds like OCD, and that is the first time I have said that out loud or written it down. I don’t want more added onto my plate of “mental health”, but I fear that I may have developed OCD tendencies from my anxiety over the years. This is the very first time I have told anyone about all of these things. I haven’t even told my therapist. I’m still very embarrassed by all of this. What will you all think? Will this drive you away? This has been, by far, the most difficult blog post for me to write and publish.

There are many times throughout the day when I wonder how different I would be if I didn’t have anxiety. Would I be able to sleep normally? Would I be able to make plans and not cancel them? What is it like for someone to not consistently worry about the same things over and over again? I yearn to be able to feel and do those things, and it scares me that I never, ever will. But I can keep trying and keep making progress, no matter how slowly it takes me.

I’ve wanted to show you all what’s inside of me, and I have. People who know me see my smile, my bubbly personality, my laughter. That’s just the surface. In previous posts, I have opened up very slowly and delicately about my struggle with mental health, and have shown you all the feelings in my heart, but I never plucked up enough courage to delve deeply into just what exactly goes on in my mind. But here you are – now you know – just some of the things that plague me everyday.

There are many, many more – many things I am still terrified to say out loud and admit to myself. I was afraid to share these, too, but I was able to admit them, write them, publish them, and let you in. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to share the other ones that are making me tremble. But not today. Today I have given a lot, and I think that is enough.

On the days when I am feeling good and I tell Kevin or Justine or Liz that I am feeling good, they are happy for me, and I am happy that they are happy. But on the days when I am feeling poorly and I tell them that, too, they say to me, “We are here to listen.” They smile encouragingly at me, and I know that they are thankful and grateful that I am doing my very best to tell them what I am feeling, no judgement.

And I’m thankful that they are giving me a safe environment and an opportunity to do so.

The title of this blog post stems from Sara Bareilles’ beautiful song What’s Inside from the broadway musical Waitress. The lyrics of this song gave me the courage to try my hardest to articulate how I am feeling. (Also, this album is just heartbreakingly beautiful).

What’s inside?
Everyone wants to know what’s inside
And I always tell them but I
Feel more than words can say
You wanna know what’s inside?
Simple question, so then what’s the answer?

 

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