An Ode to Aging….and Anxiety

One looks in the mirror and sees a bright young woman, with shiny hair and a flawless face. Then the next day, THE VERY NEXT DAY, that same “young” woman sees wrinkles, age spots, and grey hairs….and she’s only 39!

Well, I wouldn’t say it is as bad as it sounds, I don’t look like I’m 80, and I don’t look 39 either. People often think I am still in my early/mid 30’s, so I’ll take that.

But when we are alone in front of a mirror, we notice. We notice that the eye wrinkles appeared out of nowhere. We notice our skin is discolored in certain places. We notice we have a new grey hair sticking up in the center of our scalp…..again. No one else really notices, but WE do. And dammit! I was JUST 20 yesterday!

So what is this REALLY about? No one wants to “age.” Yes, it is a part of life, I know, but when you have anxiety, you can’t help but let those aging things pile on top of your worries. AND…..you begin to compare yourself with others of your own age!

Why doesn’t SHE have wrinkles forming parallel lines on HER forehead?! Why doesn’t SHE have imperfect skin? Why doesn’t SHE have this same anxiety that I feel?!

The truth is: EVERYONE has their own story…..AND their own faults, imperfections, worries, etc.

One person may look flawless on the outside, but may be battling addiction of some sort. One person may have beautiful hair and her skin is radiating, but she may be going through a financial crisis. OR…..and this is the best one yet: while you may think someone else can’t possibly be going through anything wrong…..THEY may be looking at YOU and saying, “Wow, I wish I could be like HER!”

You see, we don’t see our good. We don’t give ourselves credit for our positive qualities. Our sense of humor. Our pretty eye color. Our ability to hold down a job. The fact that we are still living and breathing and have people out there who DO care for us

So as an ode to aging and anxiety, I say: I DON’T CARE! YOU CAN BRING ALL THE ANGUISH YOU WANT….AND THERE ARE DAYS YOU MAY SUCCEED IN BRINGING ME DOWN, BUT THERE WILL BE MORE DAYS YOU DON’T!! I am ME…..wrinkles, skin imperfections, anxiety disorder and ALL! I am also ME….funny, smart, a good teacher, a caring mom, and a whole lot more.

Feel free to share your thoughts on aging, imperfections, and anxiety below!

Perfectionism and Anxiety: the connection?

Anyone an only child out there? For those who are, I bet you enjoyed your independence as a child. I know I did! I also developed a lot of habits and beliefs as well, such as needing to be as perfect as possible.

I can’t seem to find a source of why I needed to be as perfect as possible, but I don’t point blame. Yes, perhaps having no other focus but only on myself could’ve done it. Or maybe I had so much TIME to ruminate with my own thoughts that I created a perfectionist side without knowing. That’s not the important thing. It’s the past. Right now, I struggle with an anxiety disorder that I am beginning to believe has a connection to perfectionism.

What came first? Some people will say that anxiety comes first and it creates a form of perfectionism. However, I feel that when one has a perfectionist-type personality, it is a fine breeding ground for an anxiety disorder.

Wikipedia defines perfectionism as a “strive for flawlessness while setting high standards.” Perfectionism involves critical self-evaluation. In a positive sense, it can really motivate people to achieve goals; however, in a negative sense, it can drive one to reach unrealistic goals, which leads to depression and low self-esteem.

Take some of the thousands of symptoms those with anxiety disorders have: persistent worry and tension, restlessness, an unrealistic view of problems, and so on. These seem to be directly tied to what those with perfectionism go through. I find this interesting.

Looking back on childhood again, I can remember striving to always get 1st place in coloring contests when I was six. I can remember in middle school wanting to be the best cheerleader with the highest scores, and when I didn’t get a high score, I would spend tremendous amounts of time figuring out WHY. In high school, I developed an eating disorder because I felt a need to be thin…..even if it meant only eating a bowl of cereal each day.

As an adult, it seems that perfectionism meshed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to create a nice mix of craziness. I used to think that perfectionism was having all of my pencils lined up or being bothered when a picture was crooked on the wall. But in reality, as an adult, I’ve turned it into a fixation on health. Believing that health is defined as an absence of physical symptoms, if I have physical symptoms, then I’m not in good health. Sure, I have anxiety about my children and my job too, but health takes the forefront.

So, the question is: how do you overcome perfectionism or anxiety? Do you focus on one first or both at the same time? Okay, so that’s two questions. Trying to overcome anxiety has been with me for many years. I use many ways to “manage” anxiety, but it is never truly gone. I don’t think it ever will be. Perhaps I need to change my focus then on working with eliminating my perfectionism instead. Or can it be eliminated? Is it something that is simply a part of my personality that has to be managed also?

Feel free to share any thoughts on this subject.

When Anxious, Add Humor

Sometimes people think that we hide behind our humor….or “laugh” off our mental illnesses. However, I like to say that in order for me to sometimes truly live my life and be more present and mindful, I MUST add humor to my day to day life.

As a teacher, and someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I often use my profession as a “vessel” for my weird sense of humor. Fifth grade seems to be a great age to do this with too! It is a great age to add crazy voices to your lessons, strange drawings on the board, and more! Here are some examples!

Show up one day with a different hair color and claim that aliens abducted the “old” teacher….because for a solid three days, they will STILL not be sure of who you are and will stare at you repeatedly.

Pull out random stuffed animals from your desk and make them talk in warped, evil voices to each of your students. This is best when one of your students is not paying attention and you have a Fiesty Pet nearby (those are those stuffed animals that make vampire faces if you squeeze their heads).

Have a microphone in the room, and without them watching (which is rare, because 5th graders ALWAYS watch you), begin pretending you are an airline flight attendant instructing students on the nearest exits and what to do when we lose cabin pressure. They will be very confused and it won’t have anything to do with the lesson, but it will definitely get their attention!

In the middle of a math lesson, randomly begin creating a detailed picture on the board using the numbers you just wrote. Numbers can become people and animals. Again, another attention getter!

When a student asks you a question that you just answered twelve times, turn and bang your head on the board. Loudly. This takes away any immediate frustration you feel toward that student, and it can make them laugh, which can make you laugh. See? Win-win.

Random dancing is always necessary in the classroom. Whether it is while waiting for a student to answer a question that they should know (like, what is 2 + 2?). It is best to do the dances that 5th grade students are familiar with….like those stupid ones from the newest video games. It was sooo much cooler in the 80’s. Sigh.

See…..these are all ways to add humor to your day. Even little things like saying “Sup?” instead of “Good morning student!” can make both you and the student laugh or smile. This isn’t about being unprofessional. I have been in this profession for over 16 years and I know all about when to be professionally appropriate and when to break the stiffness a bit.

Can this be applied to any job? I believe it can. It takes some creativity. I like to think of that movie Robin Williams played in, where he was a doctor and wore the clown nose to see his patients. I also like to believe that if someone else doesn’t like it, that means they are just jealous that you have some kind of sense of humor and they don’t.

When we have anxiety, our minds are usually on something else….or something else is trying to squeeze its way in. By adding humor to our day, it takes our minds off of our thoughts and random worries. It makes you feel better, even if it is only for a few minutes or a few hours. It is worth it.

Diary of a 5th Grade Teacher

Welcome teachers! We’ve all said it before: “I could write a book about this!” Right? Well, a blog is close enough….so here goes!

Dear Diary,

What is that smell coming from in my classroom? Is it a student? I know that 5th graders are at the “age” where deodorant is NOT an option, but this is just something else entirely…….

Oh! Maybe it’s the classroom itself! I can clearly see an inch of dust gathering on the window seal, and some weird hairy substance growing from the sink.

Hmmmmm..……

Dear Diary,

When will they listen? Even after telling the class FIVE TIMES what the word “evaluate” meant, I STILL had one raise their hand and say, “What does evaluate mean?”

Dear Diary,

Is it okay to shout “GO AWAY” every time a student comes to my desk? I haven’t said this yet, but there are times it goes through my head…especially when the majority of the desk visits involve some kind of help with a snotty nose, a lack of a pencil, or a NEED to get a drink of water…and yes, this is 5th grade!

Dear Diary,

Wow…..that smell is back……

Dear Diary,

Girl drama. What is a proper way to express that you don’t care who is mad a who, or who looked at another student funny, or why you were best friends five minutes ago, but now you’re not?

Dear Diary,

I just taught this YESTERDAY!!!!!!!!! HOW is it possible for all brain activity to cease when we do the SAME thing today?

Dear Diary,

It’s January, and we’ve been in school since August. Why don’t my students know when lunch is yet? Even with the schedule on the board…..since August. Please make them stop asking me.

Dear Diary,

Do students think I was born yesterday? I can tell the difference between a 5th grader’s work compared to the work of a 35 year old parent!

Dear Diary,

Is it okay to ask for students to make a “choo choo train” since they seemed to have forgotten how to get in a line?

Dear Diary,

If I hear “What do we do when we are done?” one more time, even after I wrote the instructions on the board, I’m going to break something expensive…..

Dear Diary

How hard is it to write their name where it says “Name?”

Dear Diary,

That smell…….

Let Me Be….ME

We constantly evolve in life. Age changes us. Life circumstances change us. Our environment and who we hang around with can change us.

As I have gotten older, I have learned more about priorities in life that matter. I’ve always been an anxious person….seeking out plans ahead of time to “be sure.” I’ve always sought perfectionism and certainty, even as a child.

When I had my own first child, I experienced a shift in my beliefs, as well as my priorities. Don’t we all? What once matters to us doesn’t anymore. Instead, we have a tiny life that depends on us! The pressure!

My anxiety reached a new level when my second child came along and there was a tragedy in the family. This had me re-evaluating everything. What I ate. What I did. What I thought. I turned into a basket case and I am still one!

I’ll get to the point here. Too often, people who experience bouts of anxiety and/or depression try their hardest to not let others see this “weakness” of theirs. They slap on a smile, continue with their daily routine, and hope they aren’t asked if they are okay. And if we are not okay, it bothers the other people. It’s as if we are not allowed to experience a mood change, or have some fear or sadness. It’s as if we must have a valid reason for these feelings, even if we can’t put those “reasons” into any words.

Here’s the truth: I will be moody. I will always have anxiety. I will go through roller coaster after roller coaster of emotions in one day, but may be fine the next. This is me. I may not always want to be chatty. I may not always smile. I may just want quiet. On the other hand, I may have days where I feel silly and want to play. This is me.

I can only be me. I can’t be who people WANT me to be. I will always be changing and evolving. Let me be….ME.

Dear Spouse: A letter to help deal with your loved one’s anxiety.

Dear Spouse,

Know I love you. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of anxiety and again, and you’ve seen me here one too many times. I am like a broken record…..repeating many of the patterns that serve me no good.

You are frustrated. I can understand that. I am frustrated that I keep finding myself back here.

Know that is it not you.

I do not like to be tangled in this mess of mine. I do not like to feel trapped in my head.

Know I love you.

What can you do? First, you must know that I will always have anxiety. It doesn’t just leave. Second, you must know that there is no immediate cure all, and taking medicine and seeing a therapist will not produce a quick fix result. It will take time. Lots of time. Third, I will have good days, great days, bad days, and horrible days. This is important to know.

I’m sorry you are on this roller coaster ride with me. Please continue to listen to me even when I sound crazy. Please surprise me with random hugs and kisses, and make it a goal to make me laugh. These are little things that go a long way. These things help me not feel so alone. These things also bring my focus back to YOU and the present.

Know I love you. It may seem like there are many days when I am only focused on me. Please know that I still have to take time for me too. Just an hour or two a day. It is NOT about getting away from you. It is about self-care and working on being a better ME, so I can be better with YOU.

And please, again….know I love you.

The Battle in My Head: A poem about health anxiety

Symptom? Is that a symptom?

Yes, I think it is!! A symptom of that God awful deadly disease that I’ve read about at some point.

I MUST have this disease now! Even though I have only one symptom.

Even though I have a symptom that could be one hundred other things.

Even though my symptom is almost always the result of too much anxiety and overthinking.

Maybe I’ll see my doctor….even though I just saw her a few months ago for that different symptom.

Maybe she missed something.

Maybe the symptoms are connected.

I know! I’ll push for an MRI or some invasive test to BE SURE!

Doctor says I don’t need the testing….that it is likely stress.

Okay then. I feel better…..for a day or two.

Oh! The symptom is still there….and I KNOW it is getting worse. I know it! I know this because I keep THINKING about it.

That’s it! I’m going back to the doctor and demanding that scan/test/reassurance!

The doctor gets frustrated and gives in and I feel relief. For now…..until the cycle repeats again…..

Symptom? Is that a symptom?