Tag Archives: mental health

Yes, I’m SOOOO Excited! But I’m Also Anxious as Hell

The wedding is in 5 days, and I am an anxious fire monster.

I have resisted writing in detail about my anxiety because I don’t want it to be misinterpreted by friends and family as doubts about getting married. I have zero doubts. But not being open about my anxiety is, as always, making it worse.

I should know better by now than to sit and stew.

So let me be as clear as possible and immediately halt any possible misinterpretation for those of you who still might not be totally clear on how mood disorders work– this has NOTHING to do with Eric. I have never been more confident in a decision in my life (which is saying a lot, as decision-making, for me, is the ultimate anxiety trigger, and is usually done with 100% haste and 0% confidence). I love Eric with all my heart and can’t believe I found him and get to marry him.

But anxiety doesn’t care if you’re grateful or happy. Anxiety has its own agenda, and the only way I’ve found to combat it is to do the exact opposite of combating it– to accept it and to be open about it. Because when I’m not, it eats me alive.

To be clear, I am excited– VERY excited. But the things is, when you have an anxiety disorder, excitement and panic run through the same pipeline, and, despite the fact that you are happy and really looking forward to something, that anticipation can FEEL very uncomfortable, produce an acute restlessness, make you feel like you’re crawling out of your skin, and just cause you to feel plain bad. It’s a frustrating cycle because you know you are lucky and happy, and you want to just feel those simple feelings of happiness and gratitude, but the nerves take over and don’t let you. They just leave you feeling like you sort of want to vomit, and maybe casually pull out your arm hairs one by one.

About 3 weeks ago, I began to feel like a line of drummer boys entered my body, and started a looped parade through my bloodstream, playing a steady, catchy beat– not altogether unpleasant, often actually fairly enjoyable. Sometimes I’d find myself bopping to their steady rhythm and feeling the flow, other times I was like, “Eh, I could use a little calm and quiet now. Oh, no? You’re not going anywhere? Ok I guess I’ll just drink wine straight from the bottle.”

And then, somewhere around last week, the drummer boys decided that right on top of my heart was a good place for them to all settle in, place their instruments on the floor, and then just start banging the SHIT out of them. Cymbals flying, drumsticks clanking. Even some cowbell. Because every band could use a little more cowbell.

All that being said, I know once this weekend arrives I will be thrilled and full of joy and love. Once all the people I care about most in the world are there, gathered in one space, and I get to marry this ridiculously awesome guy while surrounded by them, it will be incredible. Anticipation is always the hardest part for me. The lead-up is torture. Once the event is happening, the energy takes over and I can enjoy myself. I know I will.

So for all of you who have been so lovingly inquiring, “Are you so excited?!”, the answer is yes, absolutely. But I’m also anxious as fuck. And that’s ok. That’s who I am. And I think as long as I acknowledge that’s ok, to both you and myself, I will be able to at least mildly quell that inner voice asking, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be happy? Why can’t you just be like everyone else?”

Because I’m not everyone else. I’m me.

And you know what? I found someone who can’t even remotely personally relate to these feelings, but who does everything he can to fully understand them, support them, and, inexplicably, love me even more because of them.

Can’t get much better than that.

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A $300 Analysis

Me: “So I think I figured out why I can’t stomach seafood, even though I really want to like it. I try so hard to find seafood I can eat, but I’m just so averse to it. Then this memory came back to me out of nowhere the other day, but it makes so much sense. When I was younger I went on vacation with my family. We left our goldfish at home, unattended, because…well, it was a goldfish, so whatever. When we came back, I was the first one to walk into the kitchen and see, there on the counter, right where we’d snack every day after school, the goldfish– on its side, dried up, shriveled, sad black eye staring at the ceiling. He had probably jumped out of his bowl on day 1, either with a grand plan for freedom or a suicidal death wish, and been crusting over there on the countertop for a week. He was so plastered to the marble that we needed a metal spatula to pry him off. At which point my dad turned to us and said, ‘Fish for dinner!’ Which of course, in hindsight, is hilarious, but at the time I’m pretty sure I was horrified. But anyway, don’t you think that makes so much sense as to why I can’t eat seafood?”

Therapist: “Well do you like the taste of seafood?”

Me: “No.”

Therapist: “So it’s probably just that. You don’t like how it tastes.”

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I Will Never Stop Wishing

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Four years ago, Ari Johnson, an incredible human being and dear friend, took his own life. On this anniversary of his death, here’s a little known story that I’ve never shared publicly, but think about all the time, particularly on this day.

It’s no secret that I struggle with my mental health. There were certainly incidents throughout my childhood that indicated an issue, but my first semester as a freshman at Penn is when things really started to spiral out of control. I was on my own for the first time, and the anxiety was skyrocketing. I cried all the time and felt completely and utterly alone. My sister Steph was a junior at Penn at the time, but she was spending that first semester abroad in Australia. I certainly had some friends on campus who I had known before college, so I wasn’t actually alone– but my god did I feel that way. Because that’s what depression does.

Ari was a very close friend of Steph’s, and a senior at the time. I had met him dozens of times when I was a high schooler visiting my sister at Penn, and he was the best. Just a super chill, friendly, funny, laid back guy. The first week of my freshman year, his fraternity, TEP, had a party, and he told me to come by and bring all my friends. I gathered the acquaintances I knew and headed over to the “TEP Deck.” It was a crowded mob scene, as first-week-of-college parties tend to be. Ari saw me and told everyone to move the hell out of the way and let his friend Emily, and all her friends, come in. It was absurd but fantastic– and at age 18, yeah, it made me feel super fucking cool.

Ari totally took me under his wing that first semester while Steph was away. He could see that I was kind of struggling, and wanted to be the surrogate older sibling in the absence of my sister. This was certainly not his job, but he made it so. Because that’s just who he was.

I started confiding in Ari more and more as the weeks went on, because he was one of the few people on campus I felt I could relate to. While he never explicitly said it, I sensed a darkness in him. An underlying, inner battle. There’s a certain kinship that exists among people with mental health issues– we can sense it in others, even when they haven’t sensed it yet in themselves. Something about the conversations Ari and I had led me to believe that deep down, he was struggling, too.

But I never asked. I didn’t feel it was my place, and I sensed he probably didn’t want to discuss it.

Words cannot express how much I regret that.

About a month into freshman year, my anxiety and depression began to take the form of bulimia. I was living each day grasping at strings, and bingeing and purging was the only method I had for feeling in-control (the ultimate irony, because nothing says “out of control” more than eating a meal for 5 and then shoving your finger down your throat). By the second month of college, I was making myself throw up 3-4 times a day.

One day I just grew weary. Shortly after a purge, staring at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror, I got so damn tired of carrying this secret. It was at that moment that Ari sent me an instant message (remember those?!) asking me what’s up. I responded, “I think I might be bulimic.”

I told him everything. He responded with immediate, genuine concern, and told me I needed to get help at the student health center. At the very least, he said, I needed to tell my family. That’s when I panicked and tried to backtrack. I didn’t want my family to know. I didn’t want to disappoint or worry anyone. I just wanted to tell Ari so that I could get it off my chest– but really, I was fine. 

I was 100% not fine. But I tried to downplay what was happening. I told Ari it wasn’t that big a deal, I was just having a bad day, this was all under control. I begged him not to tell my sister. By the end of the conversation, I was sure I had convinced him that a little bulimia was not really a genuine health concern, and that I’d be fine.

But Ari was no idiot. And he had too much heart to sit back and do nothing. He did exactly what he should have done– he told my sister. And then, immediately after telling her, he told me that he had told her. And that was the first step in my realizing that this was a real problem, and that I needed help.

Knowing that I now had no choice but to take action, I immediately confided in another friend of mine, and she took me to the student health center. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been evaluated for the state of my mental health. Needless to say, I did not pass. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. The doctor was amazed I had made it this far without doing something truly drastic, seeing as though I was waking up every day hating myself and feeling so utterly alone. I was put on medication and set up with a doctor for talk therapy. I have been in treatment ever since, and can’t even fathom where I’d be today if I hadn’t taken those beginning steps to acknowledge and understand what was happening to me.

In that sense, I truly feel I owe Ari my life. I wish I could have told him that while he was still alive. I wish I could have told him that in recognizing my pain, taking it seriously, and putting me on the path to getting the help I needed, he did more to save my life than he will ever know.

And I will never stop wishing that I had done the same for him.

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If you know someone struggling, say something. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. There are no wrong words– if you think someone is suicidal, ask them. Urge them to get help. Remind them that you care.

If you’re looking for a way to help someone today, there are two links to fabulous causes below. The first is for Active Minds, a mental health organization that is extremely dear to my heart, and whose ultimate goal is to change the conversation about mental health, creating a world where no one has to feel alone in his or her struggle.

The second is a link to the Ari Johnson Memorial Scholarship– started by my family, this scholarship will keep  Ari’s memory and impact alive, and will be awarded to a student at Penn who shows dedication to overcoming adversity and disadvantage, including but not limited to the area of mental health challenges and advocacy.  

Active Minds Giving

Ari Johnson Memorial Scholarship

Sometimes I Forget Who I’m Talking To

I spend my work days almost exclusively with children and no adults, so sometimes I’m tempted to have a more intellectual conversation than they are capable of having.

After reading this segment of a larger article on how pioneer children entertained themselves….

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Kid: “Ok…but then what?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Kid: “How is that a game? They’re just swinging a button.”

Me: “Right…well. I think that’s the point of the article. To compare and contrast how pioneer children entertain themselves with how children entertain themselves now.”

Kid: “Oh my god. I feel so bad for them. They must be so bored!”

Me: “Ironically and interestingly, I don’t think they were. Because they had to work harder to entertain themselves, they were probably better at it and more content than today’s children. Having to work harder for your entertainment makes you appreciate it more.”

Kid: (blank stare)

Me: “Ok, never mind. That might have been a bit over your head.”

Kid: (blanker stare)

Me: “Sometimes I overanalyze and put more of a psychological spin on these things than is necessary.”

Kid: (blankest stare)

Me: “Let’s get back to the article. What was the main idea?”

Kid: “Pioneer kids’ toys SUCK.”

Me: “Ok…not exactly….”

Kid: “I’m going to send them some better toys!”

Me: “But…you can’t send pioneer children toys…”

Kid: “Because they live too far away?”

Me: “No…”

Kid: “Or maybe their parents don’t let them take stuff from strangers?”

Me: “Stop talking and put down the pencil.”

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A Little About Myself

I got a referral for a wedding hair stylist and gave her a call…

Stylist: “So tell me a little about yourself.”

Me: “I am a sweaty, frizzy-haired Jew. I have lots of anxiety. I feel prettiest when I wear my hair down, but, due to my aforementioned sweat problem, that might not be an option for the wedding. But the idea of wearing my hair up is giving me anxiety, because I never wear my hair up for special occasions. And now I’m starting to sweat just thinking about it.”

Stylist: (laughs) “Ok…”

Me: “Sorry, was that not the information you were looking for?”

Stylist: “Well most people start by telling me their name.”

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