Feeling Tiny In This Big Big World by Rachel Abrahams

I love visiting New York City but have always, deep down inside, been very intimidated by the city. It’s also made me feel a bit afraid as well despite the fact nothing threatening my safety has ever occurred while visiting. I always enjoy myself but usually with an edge of discomfort floating around on the perimeter of my brain.

Something happened on this last visit where I was incredibly comfortable in my skin and enjoyed myself to the fullest while wandering around the city, despite being 5 months pregnant. I walked around alone and never once felt the usual intimidation and edge of fear. It was very freeing. Most would say it was because I have been there enough that finally it felt familiar so I wouldn’t be nervous.

If I am being honest with myself, I know the real reason of this change in perceived fear is because of how my anxiety and depression have been doing these days. It’s not a topic I talk about too often, especially my depression, unless I show how silly anxiety can make me feel. The best way I can describe my depression is I wear it like a backpack. I feel it there, it has a pressing weight on my back, it’s an extension of me, & as long as I keep it in my sights I typically do just fine with it. 

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Park

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Park

It took me many many years (and umpteen therapy sessions) to understand that a lot of my depression is directly correlated with my daily anxiety. As a result, I have worked very hard to teach myself daily awareness, coping skills, and now make decisions to alleviate my anxiety. I have also learned there is no shame in this and I am honest with the people who love me about how I am feeling. I explain the not so great days and It feels like by doing this I don’t let the mountain of negative feelings and sadness build up because I admit to them right away. I don’t bury it deep in my secret shame drawer (which eventually explodes with being overly full and overwhelms me). This seems to do a great job at keeping my depression at bay and just hanging on me like a backpack versus cloaking me in its Darth Vader cape and making me disappear.

When my depression & anxiety does get ahold of me, it can make me feel very isolated and tiny in this big world. I get lost in the idea I am a meaningless cog in the overwhelming wheel of life. I am convinced I am a burden to the people around me. It envelopes me into a fear bubble of a perceived reality that my rational self KNOWS is not real but is too overwhelmed to fix this point of view.

Bryant Park Carousel

Bryant Park Carousel

I have had three very serious depressive periods of my life: first when I was 16, again during college, and then in my late 20’s/early 30’s. These periods didn’t come on all at once. Instead, I describe it as standing on the ocean’s shore watching a tidal wave come painfully slow at you and feeling powerless as it crashes over you and then pulls you off your feet into its murky depths – all happening at such incrementally slow speeds that you are thinking you are ok and then you are underwater wondering what has happened. Then, I fight to not drown and it’s exhausting.

During these times I was fully functioning in both school and work, an expert at performing to my fullest abilities but all while walking around inside my bubble of fear and loneliness. I was not truly connecting with those around me but still looking the part. This is exactly why when people decide to take their own lives it typically shocks everyone around them and comes as a complete surprise. During depression, the light is figuratively on but no one is emotionally home.

NYC Fire Escapes

NYC Fire Escapes

So, what changed for me? A catalyst in my finding a way to keep the depression and anxiety from becoming full blown episodes was watching the Brene Brown TedTalk Listening To Shame where she said:

            “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive”

That statement stuck with me and began a very long and involved process of teaching myself to be honest, owning up to my feelings, leaning on those I trust, and stop living in my petri dish of shame. Some might say I am overly honest these days about my anxiety and depression but it’s the biggest coping method I have to try to fight against the chemical processes of my brain.

Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building

And that’s how I know this is the real reason why I did not feel that overwhelmed stress and fear while visiting NYC because this time I was honest with myself and forced myself to feel empowered during my visit. I spoke aloud my discomforts and fear to my husband and friends who then gave me very rational and emotionally supportive responses. I believed them (no matter how hard my anxiety/depression makeup didn’t want to) and confidently took on the city feeling like I had the skills I needed to enjoy myself and connect emotionally with my surroundings, instead of walking the city inside my bubble of fear and isolation.

I no longer let myself take this isolating bubble tactic in life and it has made my world an incredible rainbow coloring full of love and empathy which helps me to have more good days than bad. It’s the recommended way to live. Trust me.

Anxiety Makes Me Do Weird Things | Getting To Know Me Series by Rachel Abrahams

I am a big believer that our life’s stories shape how we view the world and especially how we create art. I realize although many of you appreciate my photography and enjoy reading my stories, you may not really know all that much about me. Today is my second post in this "Getting To Know Me" series to give you a chance to “see behind the curtain”. You can read thefirst post here.

When my husband married me, he knew (and loved) that there were certain "quirks" about me that came along with the entire package. Things like my penchant for swearing, an overactive imagination (as noted here), the inability to control the volume of my voice while drinking, my obsession with reading books, a nerd culture affinity, my ability to get lost in a paper bag (I thank my stars every day for GPS), and the strong desire to always improve myself.

He also knew there was going to be a third party in our relationship - my anxiety.

Now, when people think of anxiety they get this image of a trembling chihuahua hiding under the covers of the blanket with only their eyes peeking out. Although, yes I've done this when someone unexpectedly knocks on my door and I don't have a bra on, that's not exactly what anxiety overall looks like.

The best description I can think of is I have an extremely rational side that does a daily battle of the wills against my anxiety gremlin living in my brain. As I've gotten older, I've worked very hard to learn tools and activities to Hulk up my rational side so it will be less exhausted and can stand tall against the anxiety gremlin, therefore winning more of the battles, but I am definitely far from perfect. My rational side can get exhausted and will sometimes even quit on me and then the anxiety gremlin, like a toddler, runs rampant with the freedom to just color all over the walls, the couch, and the dog of my brain.

Here are some examples of things I do, which I KNOW with all of my rational self are dumb, but when anxiety wins I can make some very odd decisions.

Weird Thing #1: I will drive to a grocery store that is completely out of my way in order to lessen the chance of running into someone I know. I already cannot stand grocery shopping (who can I pay to do this for me? I am completely serious) and the idea of running into someone I know and being forced into the awkward "Hey, how are you? How's life? How's your parents? How's the job?" conversation makes my right eyelid twitch and my palms sweat. To avoid this, I drive 20 minutes out of my way, wear headphones, and scurry in/out so fast I feel like The Flash. If I forget anything, too bad/so sad, I will make do without it until the next time I am forced to go to the store (that's usually when I run out of toilet paper and don't want to buy the 4 pack at Walgreens. Yes, I will check Walgreens first).

Weird Thing #2: While sitting in a group of people bantering back and forth, I will want to jump in but my anxiety gremlin will barrel in with guns blazing and all of a sudden my adrenaline will skyrocket like I am in fight-or-flight mode. When I do choose to jump in my brain scrambles the frequency and my response will be something like "Farfegnugen" or I will just laugh overly loud like a hyena and make everyone look at me like I am an alien. I have learned I am much better conversing one-on-one and when I am in a group, I stop beating myself up for not participating. I try to sit back and enjoy the show instead.

Weird Thing #3: I will sometimes rehash conversations I had with people years ago and cringe in embarrassment and think of a million different ways I wish that conversation had gone. When I was younger, I would even write down in my journal "next time, I will do x, y, and z instead", like I was prepping for a life strategy battle. I am better about it now and have adopted the "F**k it / it is what it is / quit yer whining" attitude more often. There are times where I get sucked back into that vortex and have to really push to stop remembering the dumbest perceived mistakes I think I have made. I try distracting myself with things like snapchat or acting silly (or snapchatting myself acting silly).

Weird Thing #4: The old me used to say yes to anyone and everything and then I would spend days agonizing leading up to whatever I agreed to do trying to figure out how to get out of it or psych myself into wanting to do it. I spent most of my 20's coming down with a lot of random food poisonings or illnesses. It's a wonder my friends didn't label me a hypochondriac, demand I find better places to eat, or disown me altogether. Being older (but not necessarily wiser) I say no more often now. I check that inner gauge to see how much panic it induces inside me to agree to something and (most of the time) I listen to it and respond with a proper yes or no. There are still times where I say yes, because at the time it sounded awesome, but when the day comes I feel like latching on tight to the door frame with my hands and feet like a cat does when it doesn't want to go into the bath. The greater the number of people expected to be at an event, the higher my barometer of insane anxietygoes. One on one, people - I do better mano y mano. Street parties, festivals, and parties are rare for this gal anymore. When it happens, it's like seeing a pig in a tutu. Better appreciate that shit and let's go full tilt into it and make some memories. Otherwise, I am sitting at home texting you the day of with the excuse peacocks attacked my car and now I have to fix it 

(FYI - That ACTUALLY happened -  3 months after buying my first brand new, never been used, car 2 male peacocks attacked the car because it was black and they thought their reflections were another competing male. I kid you not).

Weird Thing #5: Some weeks are better than others. Most of the time, you can label me a fully functioning "adult". But there are times I will plan all week to go home on Friday and then come back out on Monday. I call it my hermit weekends. On Friday, I will stop at the store on the way home, stock up like the Apocalypse is coming, and rush home to my pajama's and AppleTV. I am fully aware that's not necessarily the most adult way to handle things but sometimes I get a sensory overload and it's how I recalibrate my energy.

Maybe this helps explain me more. Maybe this helps others know they aren't the only ones who do this stuff or feel this way. Maybe this makes you think I am even weirder (than you did already). All I know is, I am fully aware my anxiety can make me act like such a nincompoop and I am, slowly but surely, becoming ok with it.

My new motto?

Most weeks I am rocking it and just trying to keep up the fantabulousness but when I want to go home on Friday and not come out until Monday - that's ok. The Anxiety Gremlin wins and gets to color all over the place until my rational side can get it back together.