Hello again, anxiety…

Hello again, anxiety…

Being a triathlete is hard. Being a halfway responsible grownup is hard. Being both of those at the same time is hard. Being both of those AND dealing with anxiety and depression? Well, it’s hard AF.

Not always. Some days, like a lot of days I’ve had recently, have been easy. I cherish these days, because honestly, I can never predict when they will happen or when they will go away. Having a routine helps. Having an amazing support system helps even more.

I mentioned that the week after the race, I traveled for work. That means a break in routine, which seems mundane for some, but for those dealing with anxiety, a small shift to the norm can be enough to really throw off the balance we work so hard to maintain. I’ve gotten so much better about travel over the last few years, thanks in part to having understanding coworkers who help me through each trip. Yet every trip, I get that wad of dread in the pit of my stomach. I get shaky and nervous…and I ALWAYS seem to forget my anxiety medicine. Ya know, the stuff my doctor prescribed especially for travel? Yeah, that medicine. Usually at home. Helpful, right??

Anyway. This trip I wasn’t traveling with my team, and the flight there was probably the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. I had one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in a looooong time, and was in tears when we landed, my whole body shaking. I calmed slowly throughout the morning, and opted to head back to the room to rest after groups that night instead of going for drinks.

Then the next morning, I had a HUGE victory. The hotel “gym” (AKA smelly cardio closet of doom) was full, but my schedule said to run for an hour with two 15-minute intervals, and dammit, that is what was going to happen. For the first time without knowing where I was going, I ran outside in a strange town all alone. And it was awesome! The rest of the day went well, until it was time to head to the airport. I didn’t have TSA PreCheck, and was the only one in my group without it, so I had to go through normal security in a strange airport alone…as the clock ticked by, I had no idea how to get to my gate from security (there’s a train system at this airport…yay more new things on my own…) and wasn’t sure I’d make it in time. I ended up getting through it fine, and the flight home was much smoother, but was again in the grips of anxiety and had a tough time coming out of it.

Once I was home, I figured all was well. I’d had an amazing race, I survived the trip, everything was fine, right? I felt pretty decent for a few days, even had a KILLER 3-hour hill ride that weekend, and a great 8-mile run.

Then the wheels fell off.

I just started feeling down last week, and could feel it in my workouts. Everything was just hard. Even when I did well at a workout, I didn’t feel good about it. I feel like I haven’t been at 100% at work, I’ve been a super lame friend to everyone, poor Tim has the most boring wife ever, I feel like I’m disconnected from my family…but aside from getting my workouts in, I’m at my max at handling life. I have nothing left to offer. I feel like I require an insane amount of introvert time…I just want to be home. Small changes to my schedule feel huge and burdensome. And even worse, I can feel the tug of depression beneath it all.

It’s so hard to explain how things feel. Anxiety drives me to get everything done that I can, all while worrying it’s not good enough, that I’M not good enough. Depression makes every single little thing feel hugely impossible and pointless. It’s like I have two devils on my shoulder…one of them is a high-strung chihuahua yapping incessantly at me, and the other is an asshole cat just knocking shit down constantly and yowling for naps.

This weekend, I started having recurring nightmares about missing my flight home. I know it stems from the stress of getting home the other week, but how freaking ridiculous is that? What is wrong with my brain that it cannot simply accept that all is well, we got home just fine, and move the fuck along already? It’s incredibly frustrating to be so powerless to control my subconscious mind. And it’s incredibly frustrating for my fears to be able to disrupt my life whenever they feel like it. I haven’t dwelled on the trip, I haven’t worried about it, there was nothing I could do to change a single thing about it…there is zero point in worrying about it, and there’s nothing I can do to keep something similar from happening again, but here I am. Losing sleep over something that never actually happened, because my stupid brain has decided to fixate on what was apparently traumatic (that shouldn’t have been).

Aside from the nightmares, I’m also really emotional right now. I had a nice ride with my teammate and friend Suzie this weekend, then headed out for my T-run. It was hot, humid and the sun was blazing. I felt defeated by the elements and wished I could quit. It was the hardest 30 minutes of running I can remember, and when I got done, I grabbed my recovery drink, sat in the shade and burst into tears. I was, in reality, completely fine, but in my mind, EVERYTHING was wrong. So, like a psychopath, I sat alone in a parking lot and cried.

Let’s be clear about something. I am not unique. I am, however, willing to talk about my struggles in the hopes that some of the stigma attached to mental health might someday go the fuck away. The reality is that tons of people struggle daily with anxiety, depression, both, or other mental health issues. I have fought for years to find the best way to treat mine, and though clearly not perfect, I have found that diligent clean eating, regular exercise that includes strength training and supplementing with anxiety medicine as needed helps keep my anxiety and depression fairly controlled. But these illnesses are unpredictable.

I work every single day to appear to be (fairly) normal. And if I’m going to be completely honest, that.is.fucking.exhausting. After hours of being social, I need time alone to recharge. No, I don’t want to talk to the guy in the next lane about my tattoos. I want to get my swim in and go home and hide from everyone.

You can see how this makes me a super shitty friend. I rarely make solid plans, often cancel the ones I do have, beg to go home early from social outings…I’m super fun to be married to. I’m lucky to have a husband, friends and family who at least try to understand my weirdness and accept me for the hard-to-love person I am. Add Ironman training to my usual social apathy, and you’ve got an even bigger change-hating, routine-abiding homebody to deal with.

So as I set off to fight this current anxiety beast (and its lethargic cousin, depression), I felt like it might help my friends and family to know how best to deal with me.
1) Keep inviting me to stuff, and try not to get upset if I cancel or say no. I will eventually leave my cocoon. Promise. At least for a little bit.

2) Consider social gatherings that take place in quieter settings, like at someone’s house or a restaurant that isn’t insanely noisy. Also, things like street parking, new people and big crowds are extra scary right now. I probably won’t agree to anything with these things involved, and if I do, Tim will have to be there as he’s my human Xanax (lucky guy, eh?). Seriously, he’s the Sarah Whisperer.

3) Know that not missing workouts or not wanting to overindulge in foods that don’t work with my eating plan is akin to someone not taking their meds. While Ironman training in and of itself is extreme, my general need to work out regularly and eat well are 100% my medication. Asking me to miss these regularly is the exact same as withholding medication from someone, which you would never do. So please don’t do that to me. Also, some days are REALLY hard to stay on track, so I can be easily derailed…

4) Even if you cannot fathom why I would ever want to train for and complete an Ironman, just be supportive of the journey. I am fully aware that the torture that is training is 100% of my own choosing and I don’t have the right to bitch about it…but sometimes it will be really hard. I will bitch anyway. That’s what this blog is for – just don’t read that day if you don’t want to. It’s totally fine. We will all live another day.

5) A quick high five or “RAH RAH ROCKWELL” goes a long way. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying they are proud of me to help me push through another day. That’s not just about training. Seriously, sometimes I really deserve a high five for surviving another day. Sometimes I NEED that. Just being alive some days is a lot of work, and hard work deserves recognition. So GREAT JOB ME FOR BEING A REAL HUMAN TODAY!

6) Do not, under fair warning that I may rip your throat out as this provokes me to the core, ever, ever, ever EVEREVEREVEREVEREVER tell me to “just breathe”. Don’t.Do.It. I know it comes from a good place. I know the power of breathing as it pertains to meditation and calming. But when I am worked up, telling me to breathe triggers a level of rage no one needs in their life. I am not kidding. RAGE.

So basically, living with anxiety and depression makes everything harder…for me and everyone crazy enough to love me…but it’s part of who I am. Dealing with these every day has molded me, shaped me, pushed me, challenged me…and talking about it openly helps others understand me a little better, deal with me a little better, or at least know me in a different way. Yeah, it’d be way easier if people never had to struggle with these things, but who do you know who doesn’t have some sort of struggle? We’re all fighting our own battles. Some days are harder than others, but the good days make the bad days more bearable. AND WHO DOESN’T LOVE BEARS??? (Mike Birbiglia, that’s who.)

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