Anxiety · Gym · Physical Health · Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Braving the gym

I almost let my anxiety run me out of the gym without working out this afternoon. But first, a little backstory.

First, I HATE GYMS. I think they are awful. I’ve yet to meet a gym that I felt comfortable at. So many people I don’t know, so much spandex, I sweat profusely, so much…everything. Did I mention I once passed out in my college gym while on a treadmill and broke my nose? I absolutely hate gyms. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Over the summer I started jogging again both to lose some weight (the Freshman 15 is nothing compared to the Ph.D. 40) and to help with my stress level. I completed the Couch to 5K plan and kept up the jogging for 2-3X/week through the first couple weeks of the Fall semester.

Then, as usual when I’m stressed, my exercise (and self-care) inevitably trailed off until I wasn’t exercising at all. There was weight gain. I’m talking the kind of weight gain that keeps you from wearing 85% of your clothing (at this point, I’ve only got 4 outfits I can wear to work). I was eating sweets every day and using the drive thru with too much frequency. In addition to not looking great, I felt gross and uncomfortable in my clothes. I kept telling myself that when classes ended I would get back to jogging and yoga. Not surprisingly, when classes ended a few weeks ago, I did not start jogging (it’s cold!) or doing yoga at home.

I have a professional conference I’m presenting some of my research at in Washington, D.C. in mid-January. My first one so of course I’m anxious about the whole thing. It’s a requirement for school. Adding to that anxiety is concern (terror) about whether I’m going to have anything appropriate to wear. All my “professional” clothing is too tight. I don’t mean a little snug, I mean that it looks borderline obscene and rips if I try to sit down. I’m really strapped for cash, shelling out for this conference already added over $1000 to my credit card, so I really can’t afford to go out and buy a suit in a larger size.

That’s how I ended up with a gym membership. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make myself start jogging in the cold weather. So, I joined Planet Fitness because they are the least expensive gym in town (see above comment about lack of funds) and I’m desperate to lose weight so I can fit into my clothing. I broke down and did that on Friday (today is Monday). I’ve been each day since Friday (except Saturday – we helped a friend move which counted as my daily workout). The first couple of days weren’t too bad – I managed to find times that the gym was relatively empty. The physical set up is not great for me – I wish there was a set of stairs that didn’t require me to walk across an open floor to get to the second floor– the workout equipment on the second floor is less intimidating.

Today was very unpleasant. It was a bad day at work. I went to the gym as planned, changed into my workout clothes, and looked in the mirror (MISTAKE). I realized that, what was an appropriate workout shirt to wear outside in the August heat, showed more of my body than I was comfortable with now that I was inside of a building with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I wanted to put my regular clothes back on and run out of there. I almost did. It took me several minutes to convince myself to walk about of the locking room. The walk to the stairs was so uncomfortable – I felt that everyone was staring and judging me. Logically I know that most of the people in that gym didn’t give a flying **** about me or my clothing, but it felt as though they were all looking in my direction.

I managed to make it up the stairs and onto an elliptical machine in the corner. Which was fine until ten minutes later when two women started using other machines near me. I heard them and almost stopped my workout and ran back to the locker room. The idea of them being so close when I was feeling vulnerable because of my clothing and crappy day was a lot to handle. I didn’t fully do my cool down because I was so eager to get out of there. I called my sister before I left the locker room, so I didn’t have to make eye contact or interact with anyone on my way out.

So, obviously today was not a pleasant experience for me. However, I want to try to identify some positives in the situation to lessen the memory of my anxiety

1. Despite my mind and my body telling me to run away, I did not. Yay for
me!

2. I managed to walk across the open space to access the stairs to the
second floor…twice. Despite my fear and discomfort.

3. I was able to continue using the machine when surprised by other gym
patrons. My anxiety was present but did not prevent me from
accomplishing my goal.

Tomorrow, the real test comes. After such an unpleasant experience, will my anxiety convince me to skip tomorrow’s workout? It will be a battle between my desire for health and my desire to not be around people. Who will win?

As always, ending on happy doggie note. Check out the picture of the pup above. He’s so sweet when he sleeps.

Anxiety · Relationships

Significant Others & Anxiety

“Oh, you started a blog? Can I read it?”

NO!

I’m sitting here with a glass of wine (a rarity for me on a weekday) mulling over the above conversation and how odd it is that the person who should know the most about me/my anxiety is the person that I try the hardest to hide it from. My husband. With whom I do everything in my power NOT to talk about my mental health.

Admittedly, this is ridiculous. We live together, it’s pretty hard to hide when your mental health is not stellar from someone who is around you each night. He knows I experience anxiety, particularly social anxiety. It’s what keeps me from wanting to go hang out with our friends on the weekends, what causes me to decline attending his work events (for the first year his work teased him about not believing I was a real person – so now he keeps a picture of our wedding on his desk), what causes me to recoil every time he suggests traveling to see an old friend of his, and occasionally (not proud of this one) what, in the past, caused me to drink too much when I was around his friends to help me make it through an evening with people I barely knew. He’s pretty darn familiar with my anxiety. No doubt he’s been making excuses for years to explain my behavior.

Nevertheless, I prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. I can talk about it in the abstract – that I have it, it’s often a problem, and these are the situations when it typically increases. But, for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to point out my anxiety in the moment. It’s too hard for me to say “I feel really anxious today and I don’t know why” or “my anxiety made it really hard to do ___ today and I did/did not do what I needed to.”  Instead I use code words (I know they’re code words, I haven’t figured out if my husband does) like “I’m really tired,” “I don’t feel well,” or “It was just a tough day.”

I’m aware that this is poor communication on my part. If I had a client doing this I would urge them to work on their communication skills ASAP. I’ve made great strides since moving back to my hometown in talking to my parents and siblings openly about my anxiety (wish I could have done that as a teenager). I can talk to friends about it until I’m blue in the face. But, I hit this roadblock when I think about being brutally honest with my husband. Maybe it’s part of my own denial – if I can make him think that I’m ok then it’s easier to lie to myself when I’m struggling. Maybe I just don’t want to appear weak or needy to him. Whatever it is, it’s dysfunctional and I need to work on it. End of musings.

I’m including a picture of my puppy because he is too cute for words and it’s a happy way to end this post about my dysfunctional communication habits. Tell me he doesn’t have the sweetest face! He’s chilling in my big reading chair in my office, where he usually hangs out while I do my classwork each night. 

Loss

Loss – Personal and Professional

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything. My summer has mostly consisted of getting back into jogging (I’d like to say running but frankly it’s a slow jog that gives the other patrons of the park plenty of time to notice my sweaty, tomato-red face. It may look like I ran a marathon but I didn’t come close), building up my vegetable garden, procrastinating studying for my preliminary exams in August, and work. Things were going along with relatively few hiccups until about 3 weeks ago when my work world crashed and burned.

Three weeks ago today, I received a call from a fireman calling from my employee’s cell phone. One of my clients had passed away overnight (natural causes) and the employee who found the client was too distraught to speak to me on the phone. Naturally I called my supervisor and we all rushed to the program. As you can imagine that morning was a chaotic rush of communication with coroners, family members, employees, staffing agencies to cover staff time off for recovery, etc. After everyone left the program I cleaned the client’s room so that none of my staff would have to do it while they were grieving. Times like this are difficult in work settings because my reactions have to come last. First I have to support my clients with managing their emotions and then I have to support my staff with managing their emotions. Only once I was alone in the client’s room did I finally get to experience my emotions and have a nice cry.

I have lost clients before (my population dies, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population) and the loss of this client did not count as my most traumatic experience with client death. Nonetheless, I was very fond of the client we lost and had always felt a special connection with her. She was a client of mine in the job that I had before my current one. When she entered our program I met her family and realized that we were neighbors when I was a child. Due to the age difference between me and the client we didn’t know each other back then. However, it was very likely she saw me riding my bike or playing in the front yard at some point. The client had gone through some major struggles but had been doing wonderfully in the past several months. The family said the client was acting the way she did years ago when she was healthier. That made her death particularly poignant. To struggle for so long and work so hard to be healthy, only to pass away before getting the opportunity to fully enjoy your health is tragic. She had so much more to give the world.

Three weeks later my staff is still grieving her loss. The other client in the home has many questions and is struggling with being without roommates. The employee who found the client is having difficulty processing everything and has taken time off to cope with the experience. The program is just trying to stay above water. I’m struggling to reconcile two sides of myself: the social worker side who wants to be infinitely patient and understanding vs the administrative side of me who has to make sure that the remaining client is taken care of and the program continues to run as smoothly as possible. The temptation to treat your employees as clients is strong at times like this. The therapist in me wants to provide counseling and treatment but a good supervisor has to realize where the boundaries are. I can’t be their therapist – that is not my role in their lives. I can be supportive and understanding but the needs of the program also have to be kept in mind and balanced.

The loss of a client is never easy. I don’t know if our clients ever realize how much we care about them. I still think about some of my clients from my first social work job and worry about how they are doing. When a client passes away you always wonder – could I have done anything different that would have changed this outcome? The first client I lost nearly broke me – the circumstances surrounding the finding of that client’s body were horrible. I had trouble with flashbacks and intrusive thoughts for several months. I blamed myself for the death and was convinced I could have changed the outcome somehow if I had just been a better social worker, a stronger clinician, checked on the client more often, etc. Each time I lose a client, a part of me flashes back to the loss of that first client. It took me a long time, and help from some amazing supervisors, to heal from that experience.

Now I want to be the amazing supervisor who helps their employee through a traumatic experience. I’m worried I don’t have what it takes. I’m worried the program will continue to spiral down and I won’t be able to save it. I’m worried about a lot right now.

(Did I mention I have a massive 4 hour examination about statistics and research in 14 days and if I don’t pass it that I can’t continue with my doctoral program? No pressure)

Oh, and I’m making the featured image for this post my (still growing) puppy because he is silly and make me laugh. He is super long when he stretches out!

Education · Social Anxiety

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is mental health awareness month! I know we have a couple of days until that officially starts but no time like the present to delve into these things. This is a great time to take a few minutes and brush up on your mental health knowledge. Even if you are already knowledgeable about mental health (sometimes it feels like I have TOO much mental health knowledge, though I know there is no such thing) it can be helpful to seek out personal accounts of others’ struggles.

I find listening to the stories of others to be helpful in two ways:

1. Mental health concerns present in so many different ways. No two people experience things exactly the same. I find it incredibly interesting to hear about the variety of ways people can experience the same concerns. I feel it gives me a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of mental health concerns.

2. I find it validating to hear that others struggle with the same things I struggle with. Even though I objectively know that I am only one of many who experience anxiety, it is helpful to hear my thoughts and feelings echoed in the experiences of others. It brings me comfort and occasionally it gives me ideas about a new way to approach dealing with my anxiety.

I just found a page on Huffington Post with a compilation of articles on mental health. I expect that as the month of May gets started the list of articles and links there will grow. In addition, you can always check SAMHSA, one of my favorite websites for mental health information. You can even order some of their pamphlets and publications for free (including delivery) or download them. I have stacks of their publications at my office to share with employees or interns who want more information on a specific topic. Their information is great to share with family or friends (or anyone!) who want to know more about mental illness.

These are just a brief taste of what is out there to help those coping with mental health symptoms or trying to learn more about them. Over the month of May I will be sharing other online resources for mental health information. Right now, it’s been a REALLY long week and next week is looking to be even longer so I’m going to go practice some self-care for my own mental  health and work on my vegetable garden. The picture above is of my chives, who knew they were so pretty when they blossomed?!