Friday, May 2, 2014

Keeping Laura Sane

I try not to talk a ton about having an anxiety disorder. It sucks, but I live with it. This week I was talking to my aunt, and she mentioned this thing that happens when she is peacefully sleeping, in which her body wakes her up--fully--and leaves her unable to sleep ever again (that night...presumably she can sleep again at some other point in time).

That reminded me of me, because that happens to me often, except instead of just feeling fully awake, I feel as though I am about to die on my own or be brutally murdered, and I lie awake in the dark in sheer terror until I either manage to calm myself down or just get up and do laundry.

For a while this happened so often that I finished all the laundry and moved on to working out a solution. It took some creative thinking, but now I did it. I now have a method of dealing with the panicked wake-up thing, so I told my aunt. Basically, I play this song in my head:

If you listen to this song, you will notice that it's very easy to pick out the meter. So easy, in fact, that you might find yourself tapping your toe involuntarily when the song is playing. Try it. Musical people don't have to. You already know what I'm talking about.

Here's the trick: play the song in your head. Only instead of playing it as quickly as Julie Andrews sings it, speed up or slow down the tempo to match your heartbeat*, or match it to the sound of a ticking clock in your room. Focus on that, and only on that, and you can fall asleep again. It has never failed me. This trick beat jet-lag in Europe. If it can do that, it can do anything.

I also have other panic-attack reducing tricks. Most of my panic attacks are related to not living up to someone's expectations of me, or a feeling of lack of control. This is sort of handy, because there were a few things I could do right away to reduce the amount of sobbing and shaking I had to put up with everyday.

I know this weekend is going to be anxiety-inducing, so I thought I would share my tips with you, in case they might help you the way they've helped me.

Basically these are what my once-upon-a-time therapist called "healthy boundaries," a.k.a., rules to set to keep you from shaking in the corner, certain death is around the corner**.

The five simple rules are as follows:
  1. I never agree to do anything unless I am certain I can do it. No knee-jerk agreements to commitments that I will freak out about at the last minute when I realize that I'm terrible at public speaking, at math, at caring for infants, you get the idea.
  2. I tell people NO. This is related to #1. All my life, I have been a people-pleaser. I still have a hard time refusing to do something when someone asks, so I have started telling people I'll "check my schedule" or "think about it and get back with you" when someone asks me to commit to doing something. Then I can calmly decide whether the thing is something I can really do, and then I will be able to plan out my refusal so that it isn't just "NO STOP CALLING ME I WON'T YOU CAN'T MAKE ME." 
  3. I won't agree to any last minute project or major responsibility. Say someone calls and says, "I need a poster for the front of this room, and it has to be done tomorrow..." Nope. I know I can't deal with not putting a lot of time into a craft project. I will worry, obsess, stop sleeping, skip meals, cry, and have several panic attacks to get a simple poster finished by the time limit. I also won't run an event if asked last-minute. Nope. Not happening.
  4. I offer alternatives. If someone needs help and I want to help but don't feel as if I can do what they're asking, I will offer to do only part of the task.
  5. I don't pick up all the slack. In school, if I was in a group project and the group wasn't working, I did all the work myself. If four of us were writing the paper, I wrote the entire paper when other students didn't turn in their portion of the work on time. I have stopped doing this. It took me ages to realize that the work other people fail to do only reflects on them, and not on me.

None of these are easy to do if you're a perfectionist over-achieving people-pleaser, but I promise, with practice, they are something you can accomplish.

I only know one person who has a problem with me saying no, not jumping in at the last minute to fix everything, and not doing their job for them. The hard part is knowing that that's their problem, not mine. It's tough not to back down, but every time I stick to my five rules, I feel better about life, the universe, and everything.

Plus it means I can keep going without being a puddle of misery and endless sorrow, so that's awesome.

If you're ever in charge of anything, and you want to keep your subordinates happy, remember this little axiom for me (I promise more people will love you if you do): "You can't delegate if you procrastinate." It's a good rule.

More people should follow this rule.

* If you are having a panic attack, you will probably be able to hear your heartbeat just fine. If your heart rate and blood pressure are normal, find your pulse on your neck or wrist.

** Sometimes healthy boundaries mean you keep destructive people at arm's length. Sometimes they mean you don't sign up for a certain committee because Person X is on that committee and they trigger anxiety.

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