Anxiety, can you handle this?

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A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how I manage my anxiety and depression. She had recently started having minor panic attacks and was curious how I worked through mine. During the conversation, which included Moscato (obvs), we also talked about how my year went after I confessed earlier in 2017 that I was regularly seeing a therapist and working through what felt like a literal shit-load of stuff. I only brought up a few ways I’ve learned to cope with anxiety and depression, mainly because it was our annual Ladies White Elephant Gift Exchange, and I didn’t want to damper the mood too much*, so I thought this post would be an opportunity to share what I do when I find myself in a scary place.

As stated above, I’ve been seeing a therapist for a little over 2 years, and that has been the absolute, number one best gift I have given myself. Energy-centered, with a beautiful office located in a historic hotel, my therapist provides the non-biased support and ultimate safe-zone when I’m feeling, well, anything. With this constant mental and emotional series of “workouts”, I find myself being able to differentiate between bouts of depression and panic attacks.

For me, panic attacks mean not being able to breathe well, muscles tightening and the inability to do anything but basic tasks (cleaning the house, showering, watching mindless television…). And the weird, and still frightening thing about my panic attacks is that they can come out of NOWHERE. Sometimes, I’ve had a stressful day and these symptoms pop up. Other days, everything has been going swimmingly, and then suddenly, BAM!…I can’t breathe and I think I’m going to die. When this happens. I have my go-to’s; the things that bring a sense of safety to my chaos.
During work: 
1) When a panic attack occurs, I don’t want to be alone, which is difficult because I work in a relatively professional environment and don’t want to cause a scene. But thankfully, a group of coworkers have a small office space that they share, and, since we all get along pretty well, if I’m having a panic attack, I ask to sit in their space and work on easy tasks for a little while. They are incredibly understanding and no one else knows whats going on because I’m still working.
2) I keep a few healthy snacks at work (dark chocolate, peanut butter, CHEESE!) and stop for 5-10 minutes to make a snack and listen to a comedy bit on my phone.
3) I immediately stop drinking caffeine (if I’m doing so prior to a panic attack) and chug a bunch of water or my favorite tea.
4) I mentioned only being able to handle simple tasks, so if panic attacks happen at work, I work on anything to do with numbers, data and list-making – it’s easier and I don’t have to worry about how I’m responding to emails, calls, etc. or how I’m presenting myself to the general public.
At home:
1) Home is a bit different, because I live with my family. Therefore, I’m rarely alone, which is quite wonderful and makes me feel incredibly safe*.
2) Along with healthy snacks and H2O, I make sure that I’m wearing comfortable clothing that keeps me warm. I take off all my makeup and put on clean, fuzzy socks. It’s such a basic action, but calms me down nonetheless. Same with putting my hair in a massive bun, keeping all hairs away from my face. I’m compulsive, and having these things be part of my choices, I feel the chaos a bit less.
3) BRITISH PANEL SHOWS ON YOUTUBE. Honestly, British panel shows have been my lifesaver over the past few years and I’ve discovered some amazing comedic talent because of it. I stumbled upon 8 Out of Cats Does Countdown one night and was down the rabbit hole within days. But not in a Netflix-binge kind of way. I was fascinated with the new (to me) comedians, show formats and how these shows made me feel, as I was laughing out loud (literal lol’ing) at my computer. I felt happier, lighter, more free. For me, it’s: 8 Out of Cats Does Countdown, Mock the Week, Would I Lie to You, Nevermind the Buzzcocks, Shooting Stars (the BEST, you MUST look up the brilliant-ness of Reeves and Mortimer), and Chatty Man with Alan Carr. Basically anything that makes you feel good, and happy.

Speaking of happy (and sad), let’s talk depression.

Depression is such a different animal and I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified, even when talking about myself, on how to deal with/battle/face it. I do know that, for me, it’s important to acknowledge that it is happening. To know that I am in the depression storm, but it will pass. It. Will. Pass. I also workout more often than I used to. I try to stay at the gym for at least 10 minutes if I’m feeling depressed. Because, if I can do 10 minutes, then I can do 10 more. Both Kimmy Schmidt and my personal trainer say you can do anything for 10 seconds, so I’m always going to try. 10 seconds becomes 10 minutes and, when the depression dragon attacks, I know that, if I can just make it through 10 minutes, then I can MAKE IT THROUGH anything.

As we roll into the New Year, I’ll have a little more fun with posts and be bit more playful/lighthearted, but I’ll continue to write about how I feel, always. My mind is my palace and, since I’m with myself 24/7, I care deeply about my emotions and overall well-being. Even with a massive support crew, I am the only one who knows what I’m dealing with, and I always hope that, by sharing my story, I may be helping someone else understand and feel more comfortable with theirs.

Here’s to 2018. Stay safe, eat dark chocolate, and know that I’m here for you.

Cheers,
Ariel

*Please note: My friends couldn’t have cared less if I went on about the topic. But someone got a set of cock-themed corkscrews, so there was fun to be had. 

*Thankfully, my relationship with my parents is amazing, and I trust them wholeheartedly. 

 

Belly of the Anxiety Beast

After being so open with my last post, I thought about my overall well-being, and how far I’ve come. I’ve learned how to take care of myself emotionally these past couple years, but while it’s been wonderful and healing, it’s also been incredibly challenging. Self care, or the ability to do so, doesn’t just happen. It takes time, effort and the willingness to talk about the things you’re afraid of.

So, of course, let’s talk therapy.

There’s a little waiting area down the hall from my therapist’s office, and I always make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early to every session. On the fourth floor of a relatively quiet, historic and beautifully eerie building, my therapist’s office seems like a personal hideout. It is, in fact, the only place where I feel truly alone and content, because no one in my life knows where my therapist’s office is located. I’m able to be anonymous in this waiting area. I’m able to truly be myself, without any fear of judgement. I feel safe, even though no one knows my whereabouts. It’s just me, a couple of old, dusty office chairs, and a tasty cup of chai.

Initially, I was nervous* about going to a therapist. I’d had weird experiences in the past, resulting in a personal bias towards anyone who was going to tell me how to live my life, and also critique my choice in music while they were moonlighting as a country DJ…
But anxiety was getting the best of me, and late-night panic attacks were resulting in loss of sleep and the ability to focus. I was depressed, and afraid. I didn’t feel confident and ultimately, I felt as if I were made of glass, ready to break if someone didn’t so much as acknowledge me in the morning at work. The feeling of fragility, combined with fear, can be a monstrous beast. And I was in the belly.

Ultimately, an afternoon trip to the emergency room on Father’s Day, with my car-less father in the passenger seat and me gripping the steering wheel driving myself to the hospital, was the crudest wake-up call I could have asked/hoped for. I couldn’t breathe, and I thought I was going to die. It’s the most afraid I’ve ever been, the most fragile I’ve ever felt, and this was the first time since I could remember where I didn’t feel confident, or brave, or strong, or able. I had been given a heavy dose of antidepressants for that night, and it was recommended that my father check on me every couple of hours to make sure I was okay*. Having a parent check in on you as a grown up can make one feel helpless and, honestly, pathetic. I knew that it wasn’t a sign of weakness to feel this way, and I knew that I wasn’t screwed up, but I also knew that I needed help. Someone to talk to, to listen to me, without any bias, or parental/friend-based concern. I needed to share without worrying about feeling judged, or being told that I was imagining the darkness inside of me. I started going to a therapist three days later. And now, I find happiness, confidence and comfort in a little, quiet waiting room, because I know that I’m giving myself the love I deserve.

Similar to Sex, pt. 1, I feel like this post could, and may, have multiple parts. So, per usual, stay tuned and take care of yourself.

You matter.

Cheers,
Ariel

* terrified
* alive

Hey kid, you’re allowed to be afraid

Last night, I found myself in a dark place. Muscle memory immediately kicked in, and I barely knew what was happening. I was numb, and felt completely helpless.

Grab the headphones. Lock the bathroom door. Turn on the music. Clean the knife. Hold it against my wrist. Cut. Cut. Cut. 

This time was different, though, because it’s been so long since I’ve hurt myself like this. I knew I was worth more, and I wanted to stop. I kept trying to make myself bleed, but the knife was too dull, and it hurt. More than I remembered. A minor cut, but I couldn’t draw blood. So I cried, and I stopped. And in that moment, I was stronger, braver than I’ve ever been, or felt. The next hour was spent crying, hugging myself, and staring in the mirror, with a lot of self-reassurance.

“You are so strong, and you don’t deserve this.” 

“I’m so proud of you for stopping, for valuing yourself, realizing your worth.” 

“You have a therapy appointment next week, which will be good. You can talk to her about everything.” 

And I was immediately afraid. Afraid of what people would say, if they saw this little cut. To me, it’s such a big deal that I didn’t keep going, and this little cut screams VICTORY. But to someone else, they could see it as a cry for help, or attention. Or even a suicide attempt. It’s not, but they might not know.

I talk about living on my own a lot, and I give plenty of reasons why I don’t. More than I should, because I don’t owe an explanation to anyone. But the truth is, I can’t. Not right now. I’m terrified of living alone. I’m so afraid of giving in to the fear, because, realizing someone is upstairs, in the same house as me, makes me feel safe. And the fact that I rely so heavily on other people simply being around is such a frightening reality. The fear that I may never be able to be completely alone…it fucks me up on multiple levels.

I think this is why I can’t watch Titanic. Not because it’s an overly romanticized love story riddled with historical inaccuracies, but because I have a panic attack within the first 30 minutes; Titanic is terrifying for someone whose biggest fear is being alone. But not in like, a-Rose-losing-Jack-sort-of-way. No. In this panic-stricken scenario, I imagine myself being the one waiting to pick up my parents or friends as they descend from the new, beautiful, big ship, only to arrive and find out they’ve all drowned and froze next to the iceberg, and I’m forever alone.

I’m afraid, and angry. And I’ve never really felt comfortable admitting that I feel this way to others. I’ve always perceived fear and anger as bad. You can’t be good if you’re angry. You can’t be strong if you’re afraid. I am currently working on reshaping the way I view fear and anger, and I’m trying, everyday, to remind myself that feelings, any kind of feelings, are OKAY.

I’m a sharer. I’m stronger when I communicate with others, and tell them what’s going on. Which is why I’m choosing to share something so personal. I’ve spent most of life trying to hide the bad feelings, only to find that it’s the hiding that kept me from feeling safe, strong and brave. I guess that’s the main reason for writing a blog – I want to share, and maybe the sharing will help others. Until then, it’s definitely helping me.

Until the next post, stay strong and love yourself. Love love love.

Cheers,
Ariel

Volcano

Let the beauty of release
Rush through me like
Golden lava

My soul, the volcano
My tears, the ash
Falling
From the sky
As liquid cools

When worry has vanished
Be the cracks
In the hard, dark rock
With destruction
Bring new life, breath

After the storm, continue
To protect
And stay with me
Strong as ever
Until the next storm

-Ariel LaVenture

Sex, pt. 1

sex sign

I knew from the moment I watched Ryan and Marissa make out on The O.C. that I was, without a doubt, interested in both men and women. Remember The O.C.? That show was basically my sexual awakening and it’s still one of my favorite smutty-smut-smut things to this day.

This is a good time for me to write a lil’ bit about sex and sexuality, mainly because I’ve recently been on a mission to only purchase new tops that show off my boobs. I have so many tees, blouses and dresses that make me look like I’m in a convent. They’re adorable, and I love them, but I’ve spent so long covering up, only to just recently realize that my neck is SWEATING and my deep-v-tit-area wants some love. While I’m not planning on walking into work in fabulous mesh dresses à la goddess Rihanna, I want to have a little more fun embracing my sexuality through my clothing choices. I’m proud of my body and have no time for any kind of body shaming. So, it’s time for some chest-friendly tops, because, hell yes.

It’s that new-wave feminism, man (insert Kimmy Schmidt-levels of panic thinking about saying “man” too many times when talking about female-focused issues)…it gets me. I’ve always been curious about sex and wanted to know every single thing I could before I actually had it. I mashed my Barbie dolls together, experimented in high school after dress rehearsals in our dark auditorium, and read every Cosmo stolen from my mom’s nightstand cover to cover. I was curious, but was never concerned about having sex the “right way.” I lost my virginity in quite an unconventional manner, and I remember wanting to have sex the first time to simply check it off the list, and then move onto the other stuff*.

Sex, pt. 1 is mostly rambling about how much I love the topic of S.E.X. and I plan on going into greater detail (you’ve been warned) at a later date. One thing’s for certain, I’m definitely dressing up as a Condom Fairy for Halloween this year…#YASSS. Until then, stay curious, stay safe, stay optimistic.

Cheers,
Ariel

* What’s the other stuff? More on that later. 

 

Type B+

Sometimes staring at the ceiling is enough (see beautiful photo of my ceiling). It. Is. Enough. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay to take a break and not be doing something, anything, all the time. It’s exhausting and I overwork myself. But I’m also going to point out early on in this post that I am, in no way, a “Type A” human being. Sure, I’ll bake you a cake for your birthday when no one else at work remembers the day you popped out of your mum’s hot pocket, even though you’ve worked there for eight years…

…but I’ll do it the night before, the frosting will be uneven and it’ll be sorta weird-looking. And I’ll be completely at peace with that sugar-packed monstrosity because I made it with love (duh).

I like to think I’m a “Type B+” person, because I give a shit, but not enough to lose sleep over anything. For real, I slept through an earthquake the other night, so you understand how serious that statement is. I’m good at organizing things, planning things, being a leader for things, pretty much all of the things, and I like to think this makes me good at those things; I’m not trying to control or micromanage every detail, because it’s okay if something is weird. I’m weird. You’re weird. Cakes are weird. Now I want cake.

This post is essentially a PSA for the folks who, like me, need to know that it’s:

A) Okay to take a minute to lay on a sheet-less mattress and stare blankly at a popcorn ceiling.

B) It is also equally okay to know you’re NOT a “Type A” human even though you strive for a relatively excellent life and you have a color-coded daily planner, because, why wouldn’t you?

Also, for someone who is usually on the ball when it comes to remembering things, I forgot to go to a wedding this week. Like, a forgot-so-hard-motha-fuckas-tryna-find-me level of forgetting. But seriously, who the heck gets married on a Tuesday?

Cheers,
Ariel

Atheist in the making?

I wasn’t raised with mandatory belief. I was, however, exposed to different, well, we’ll call them options, at an early age. Or does options sound too creepy, too Exorcist? A practicing Catholic, my mother often took me to Sunday mass, and sometimes would take me to Ash Wednesday. I remember feeling incredibly cool with a giant ash cross plastered across my forehead, but only because it’s what Rafiki did to Simba in The Lion King. The reason I didn’t mind going to mass, was because it was a love-at-first-sight moment when I walked into our neighborhood cathedral. Adorned with stained glass windows and gigantic Roman-esque pillars, St. Francis Church held all of the magic I could have imagined. Plus, there were doughnuts after we sang, stood, sat, sang, stood and sat…bonus.

My father, on the other hand, wanted to try everything. From a small group of practicing Buddhists, to a full-on Baptist congregation, I was exposed to the calm and the chaotic*. Ultimately, my parents never made me commit to one thing. Perhaps it was their separation, or the fact that they really are just that understanding and open-minded*, but I never felt pressured to be “religious.” As time went on, however, I knew my mom was hoping for a change of heart. She would never say it aloud, though, and my mom has this incredible ability to understand and comprehend aspects of “God”, which I respect, but don’t really get. I think, deep down, she’s hoping for a full conversion someday. Only if there are endless supplies of doughnuts – yeah, I can probably be bought.

But this post is entitled “Atheist in the making?” so the real question to be asked is, do I consider myself an Atheist? In short, probably. And just probably for now. I believe in people. And yeah, I believe in magical moments (a lá my former employer, Disney), I believe in putting good into the world and getting good in return. Yeah. But ultimately, I believe in people; their ability to be kind. People, nature and facts*. We are responsible for the success of our world. And for me, that’s it. Isn’t that enough?*

Thoughts like these don’t often pop up in my normal conversations. Mainly because, for someone who has little fear of speaking up, I never want to sound like the “Vegan who doesn’t want to talk about being vegan, but constantly talks about being vegan”…know what I mean? Now, where’s the “Hi, my name is Ariel and I’m struggling with my ability to understand a bunch of man-made Holy bullshit.”* support group?

Cheers,
Ariel

* crazy
* They are.
* No shit.
* Refer to Minchin quote regarding religion in a previous post.
* The truth comes out in the closing remarks.