A Peak Into My Anxious Brain

Disclaimer- I am not a medical professional or really a professional in anything related to the topic I’m about to speak extensively about. But that’s why this is a blog and not a scientific journal.  I am a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Many of you already know that, for those who don’t: welcome to a new side of me that you may or may not care to know.

One of the hardest parts of being an anxious person is that you feel incredibly isolated. I’ve talked about this before, but generalized anxiety feels so personal that you (I just dropped a Cheerio on the ground, I can’t find it and it’s going to ruin my night) can’t even explain it to someone. You know that other people suffer from Anxiety but you know that their symptoms manifest differently, their coping mechanisms are different, their triggers are different.

I understand that many people “try” to understand but a lot of people do a poor job of it. I’m not asking to you do research on the disorder, but I’m asking you to listen to me when I try my hardest to explain to you what it feels like. I hope that my elaboration can help you with someone in your life who may be suffering similarly. First and foremost, though, I want to put a stop to some of the misconceptions surrounding Anxiety.

 

1.) Generalized anxiety is not the same thing as feeling nervous

 

A lot of people falsely assume that having anxiety is similar to stage fright or the feeling you get when you go on a first date. It’s not. When my anxiety first started in 2nd grade it felt like constant terror. Terror that kept me awake at night, terror that had me bawling in the middle of a theater during the movie “Dinosaur,”  terror that sent me home from basketball camp in an ambulance. It completely consumes you when it is at its worst.

With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, your baseline is stage fright on a good day. You wake up and it’s sitting on your pillow patiently waiting for your consciousness, leaping down your throat with a list of things to ruminate on. If you’re really unlucky you’ve already spent the entire night in anxiety ridden dreams which are so stressful you don’t even feel like you slept.

Yes, the average person experiences some anxiety. But the person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experiences intense anxiety that is pervasive and, at times, debilitating.

The same concept applies here as it does with OCD. People will use the term Anxiety colloquially and not understand the repercussions. When you claim to “be so OCD” or claim to have “hardcore anxiety” offhand you are invalidating the experiences of those who have crippling mental health issues. Whether you intend on it or not, you are making our fight even harder.

 

2.) Anxiety is not something you can just “stop” feeling

It’s more of a symptom that you can manage. You can take action to help your anxiety, do things that give you brief respite… But you can’t just tell your brain to stop feeling anxious. Because guess what? My brain is a floating sack of chemicals and neural connections that are beyond comprehension. My brain is already self-aware enough to know that it’s fucked up- if it had any intention of changing I think it would have done so by now. Asshole.

That’s probably the thing that pisses me off most, when people tell me to “Stop thinking so much.”

Why. In. The. Fuck. Would. I. Choose. This? Please enlighten me.

If I could stop thinking so much I would just never feel anxious. My anxiety sets the pace; I don’t get to decide whether or not I overthink things.

Drugs help. Whether it be prescription medication, weed, alcohol. I know I turned to alcohol quite frequently. But nothing makes it “stop.” I don’t have the option of taking a long drink of water, staring at myself in the mirror, slapping myself across the face and yelling “get it together.” Isn’t that what normal people do? Or is that just in the movies?

 

3.) Speaking of drugs.

A lot of people use anxiety as an excuse to get Xanax or other Benzodiazepines for recreational purposes. They also use it as an excuse to get weed for recreational purposes. Unfortunately that lends itself to Anxiety being considered a “fake” medical problem in a lot of people’s mind.

I am one of the unlucky people who had symptoms of Anxiety manifest into physical symptoms. I decided to quit my medication from 2012 to 2014 because I thought I was “cured” but it turned out that my body couldn’t properly digest food without the medication. Once I cut out my medication “cold turkey” I started to show physical symptoms for Crohn’s Disease.

I spent a lot of time in doctors offices with invasive tests that led only to a bunch of expensive doctors telling me “It looks like Crohn’s, it behaves like Crohn’s, but the blood test is negative for Crohn’s… So I’m not sure, good luck!”

30 pounds lost and 2 years of discomfort and agony later- turns out my anxiety medication completely erased the symptoms. I tried to be strong enough to live without my medication because society makes me feel weak for needing it. Turns out I am weak without it.

 

4.) The hardest part

Making sense of it. You feel like there should be a reason for feeling anxious so you assign meaning to it. Rather than sitting here at my computer feeling like there are rocks rolling around in my stomach for no reason- I’ll assign these feelings of distress to things in my life. You get a little “chicken or the egg” situation here because you’re not sure if the stressful life situations cause the anxiety or if the anxiety would have been just as intense either way. But without a doubt- the chicken and the egg definitely enable each other.

My instinct is usually to avoid this feeling- because it fucking sucks. But right now I figured I would lean into it for the purpose of this post. I’ve thought to myself dozens of times today “Why can’t I just feel normal?” But I realize there is no normal and everyone feels differently and I’m just a particularly emotional being. Sure- I want to feel lucky for being uniquely me, but I also hate me for making me feel like an absolute trainwreck when there is objectively nothing to feel like a trainwreck about.

 

5.) So really- what does it feel like?

As I mentioned earlier, the first time I felt anxiety it felt like terror. It felt like my parents dying in a horrific car accident, my brother dying from an incurable infection, the world coming to an end and my house being torn up by a tornado. It felt like creatures floating around my room while I laid sweating in paralysis desperately grabbing onto my cat for a portal into reality. It felt like a loud ringing in my ear before I fell asleep was going to ruin me.

As I grew up it felt like motivation, it felt like the reason I was good at things. It felt like the constant reach towards perfection. It felt like my heart stopping moments before the gun exploded at the starting line. It felt like the reason I was never happy with myself because there was always something I could be doing better. It felt like never being content with what I had and always expecting more of myself- being disappointed whenever I fell short and still being disappointed by something I’d find wrong with my success.

Now it feels like something I can laugh about on some days and something that makes me want to die on other days. It feels like every person who has ever hurt me. It feels like that person who lives to watch you fail. It feels like someone hiding around the corner laying in wait to attack. It feels like the task I can put off for weeks and weeks until it becomes so necessary I can’t ignore it. It feels like rejection and failure- it feels like anger. It feels like frustration so intense and debilitating that you collapse inside.

It doesn’t feel like forever though.

 

Go Ahead, Blacklist Me.

For a while I was really afraid to post stories about working in TV because I was concerned that I’d “blacklist” myself if I pissed off the wrong person. While that might be true, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t care anymore and some stories are meant to be told. This one isn’t even that bad, considering this woman made my life a living hell for about a year.

My first year working in Los Angeles as an “Executive Coordinator” entailed a lot more personal work than I expected. And very little Executive Coordinating. I was a glorified Personal Assistant at best- I didn’t make enough money to live on because my rate was laughably low (I believe it’s the current minimum wage, which is under scrutiny) and I was restricted to “40 hours per week” even though this still required me to promptly answer text messages, calls, and emails 24/7. And if you’re asking why I didn’t claim those hours, it’s because my boss extensively reviewed my work hours every week and occasionally argued me down if she thought the number was too high. Did the same thing for my gas mileage tracker, which I never lied on but was still accused of tracking my commute miles.

I genuinely believed this job would fast-track me on to becoming a television writer’s assistant. I was one of the many aspirational 21 year olds who believed the false promises made to them by unhappy people at the top who resent them for “being the future of the industry.” I trusted this person who claimed to see potential in me, I invested myself fully in this job even though it made me miserable and wasn’t remotely close to what I wanted to be doing with my life.

This silly story sticks out in my mind, just to give you an idea of how out of touch I was with reality. And maybe it will make you realize how out of touch with reality you are too. Because if you don’t see anything wrong with it, something is off.

My boss asked me to watch her two dogs on a Sunday in Beverly Hills while she went out and had fun with her friends. My ex-boyfriend and I decided we’d make a morning of it and go out for breakfast at Hugo’s in West Hollywood. Granted- I probably spent all of the money I earned in that day on my meal at Hugo’s… Not because Hugo’s is expensive but because that’s truly how little money I made. (Can I also note that I had no health insurance, PTO, government holidays, literally zero benefits other than the occasional free lunch that I had to pick up for myself and all others in the office in the heart of Beverly Hills where parking is basically a hazing ritual for the new folk?)

Anyway, at Hugo’s I ordered this intriguing frittata called the “Go Green Frittata” it was a massive GREEN egg bake with quinoa, kale, and other various green ruffagey shit. This was back when I was desperately trying to be skinny by eating nothing and prancing on ellipticals a few times per week. The thing was gargantuan and tasted mostly revolting but I ate it all. Would highly recommend that no one ever allow themselves to eat anything bright green for breakfast. You’re asking for a weird day. 

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(this is an actual image of the frittata at Hugo’s)

I was nursing a bit of a hangover because what else do you do when you’re 21, new to Los Angeles and your boyfriend is pretty much the only friend you have? You get hammered and lament your life choices. You also starve yourself slightly so that it takes less alcohol to get drunk and you can save money. On this particular morning I had the kind of hangover that came in waves of brief, sweaty, panicked, nausea. The kind I now can cure with my bff edible marijuana and an alarmingly long nap. 

We went back to take care of the dogs and watch a little NFL. Boyfriend had to be at work later that afternoon so I would drive him and then come back to the house. I felt my stomach get that cute little nauseousness so I spent the majority of the morning napping while he gave me emphatic highlights from the games we cared about.

When it came time to drive him to work, I was fully ill. At this time I was dealing with severe digestive problems and had no way of predicting how my body would react to unfamiliar foods. Almost every meal gave me trouble- but not this kind of trouble. Not Go Green Frittata trouble. I was sweating and could barely speak as we drove the 5 minutes to his office. He was concerned, because anyone who knows me knows that it’s an issue if I go 5 minutes without speaking. I pretended to be fine even though I could feel that unmistakable lump forming in the back of my throat, the one that firms up the esophagus in preparation for a boot and rally. 

Once I dropped him off, I genuinely worried I wouldn’t make it back to her house without barfing all over the interior of his new Ford Fusion. 

As I was rounding the corner onto my boss’s street, desperately gasping for air and blasting cold air conditioning breeze on my sweaty face, my cell phone rang and it was the boss.

I answered the line knowing I’d be in trouble (and she’d just keep calling) if I didn’t, and she immediately started barking demands at me. My stomach gave a violent churn as I hung up on her and made a drastic swerve to the side of the road in this bougie Beverly Hills neighborhood. I ran to the sidewalk, fell to my knees, and proceeded to vomit a massive green mound of quinoa, veggies, eggs and shreds of pancake. I’ve never thrown up so much in one sitting in my entire life. I can almost guarantee you a curious dog or a lucky raccoon made lunch out of it later that day.

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(Another gentle reminder of what the frittata looked like to begin with)

I stared into the vomit for a minute and realized that this was probably going to be very representative of my time in Los Angeles. Laugh at me if you want- but this was a profound moment. Here I was… Amidst million dollar homes in one of the world’s most famous neighborhoods, finally “pursuing my lifelong dream”, but actually just staring into a pile of my own bright green vomit. Hollywood, where (if you REALLY want it bad enough) your dreams come true… Right???

I got back in the car fully knowing my stomach was not emptied and the storm hadn’t cleared. But that didn’t matter- I had hung up on her.

“I’m so sorry- I had to pull over the car and throw up. What did you need?” I asked

“You actually threw up? Wow, good thing you weren’t driving my car.” She said, then quickly moved on as if I’d told her that I just sneezed on the steering wheel while driving. As if it wasn’t Sunday and I wasn’t spending my “free time” trapped in the apartment that had come to feel more like a prison than an “office.”

It was this moment where I realized that as much as MY life revolved around HER, I ceased to exist in her mind when I wasn’t doing something for her. I wasn’t a human to her. I was means to an end, something she could take advantage of with no remorse. There was no part of her that considered coming home early to relieve me of dog sitting so that I could go home and rest. There was no part of her that felt guilty that I spent the remainder of the day vomiting violently (and surprisingly painfully) into her various toilets while my boyfriend helplessly texted me from his office.

Tell me that this is what it takes to be successful in Los Angeles. Tell me that you have to “work in the trenches” before you can ever EARN the opportunity to do what you love. Tell me that I deserved to be emotionally abused and manipulated for a year, which amounted to approximately nothing other than teaching me never to trust what someone promises you. Tell me that I deserved to feel like I was never good enough and that I’d made the biggest mistake of my life by moving out here.

You can tell me any of that, I don’t agree with you. I don’t think I ever should have been treated that way and I don’t think ANYONE deserves to be treated that way. Yet this is just one tiny story in a catalogue of experiences I’ve had over the last four-plus years out here. And I’m just one person. There are hundreds of you out there still accepting this treatment because you believe some day you’ll get the chance to do what you love.

Consider if it’s really worth it. Consider the long term implications of this mentality. I wish I had stood up for myself sooner. I wish I had realized that no matter how shitty someone treated me that didn’t affect my personal worth. I’m still a writer, I’ll always be a writer, and no one can tell me otherwise. Please, if you’re going through anything similar, remind yourself that you’re worth more.

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(And for the love of all that is good in this world, please do yourself a favor and NEVER order this food item)

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Not a relevant image but it makes me giggle.

I Was Wrong About My Career Path

It has been a few weeks and naturally, it’s Wednesday, so I am mustering up just enough little travel-sized fucks to give in order to write something arbitrary. As much as I’d love to write something heartfelt about my triumphs and tribulations in 2016, I know for a fact that none of you want to read that. How do I know? Because literally every time I see one of those manifestos on my Facebook feed and I have the option to click “See More” I click it just to see how unbearably long it REALLY could be, then when I’m met with the wall of text that follows I start inevitably hating the person who wrote it. I don’t need to read any of it, I just hate you for sitting down writing it out and thinking that it’s important or relevant to another human being that you got super “woke” in 2016 and then you also went apple picking with your grandma for the last time before she died. 

My only valuable information to bestow upon the minute demographic who consistently reads this blog is that 2016 was the year I finally admitted I was wrong about a lot of things. (Everyone loves to read about another person’s failure, right?) In fact, I was so wrong that I lost sight of who I was and fell into what some wonderful people in my life will refer to as “a downward spiral.” Call it what you want, it wasn’t fun and if I can help you avoid it by writing this post you’ll thank me later. Or maybe you won’t because you’ll never have to find out what happens when you eat too much of your friend’s edibles in Vegas.

I tell people all the time that I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was around 7 years old. That sounds absurd because let’s be honest, can seven year olds even write coherently? (No they cannot) I actually kept some of my embarrassing kitten covered “cat-lady-in-the-making” journals from first grade so that I can go back and read them. Granted, most of it looks and sounds like something I’d write while blackout drunk in current times. (AKA talking about my cat’s fluffy tail and being really really mean to boys I have a crush on.) I still remember my second grade teacher Mrs. Schwebach pulling me aside in class, intensely staring at me (a la Billy Madison) and telling me that I should never stop writing. She didn’t have to tell me that, I knew I never would.

When you love something so much and derive so much pleasure from it, you want to make it your career. I landed on writing for television because the stars aligned and my dream school (Boston University) offered a highly competitive program. Given my unhealthy obsession with Family Guy from age 12 onward I felt like it was a no-brainer. Writing for animated comedy, bam. Done deal.

I moved out to LA right after I graduated and busted my ass to try to get into a writers room. I got so close I could taste it on so many occasions but if it came down to me and one other person it would somehow always end up being the other person. It was hard not to take all of the rejection personally and keep putting myself out there through the highly uncomfortable interview process. But I did, and I desperately settled for job after job in the unscripted world. For those not in Entertainment, that means Reality TV. Yeah, I know, I shudder at the thought as well. 

I’d go to lectures and hear people I admire discuss what it took for them to succeed. Everyone’s path was different and so much of the journey depended on luck, chance and sacrifice. For many writers their work was their life, and that life was filled with uncertainty and emotional volatility. I identified with these people and I saw so many similarities in our personalities, I wanted so badly to be them. I remember sitting at a panel where Dan Harmon spoke and I drooled over every single word he said. He is still my idol and someone whose career I dreamed of replicating. 

I’m not sure when the doubt first started creeping in, but when it did I desperately tried to suppress it. I never doubted whether or not I was capable of handling the pressure, workload, and dedication it would take if I did get my chance. I just started to doubt if it was really what I wanted.

Over the course of my multiple job changes, I formed a mental list of what I wanted in my ideal job. The list formed as follows:

  • A degree of work/life balance
  • Stability
  • Livable income
  • At a large company with protection for employees
  • Potential for upward mobility
  • Identifiable and healthy culture (not necessarily healthy-living based, but one I can get behind)
  • Respectful bosses and coworkers

This list seems a bit basic, and when I shared it with some friends from home they actually laughed at me.

Well if you’re in the Entertainment Industry you might find yourself reading the list and unable to check off a single one of those items. I know I have worked at multiple companies where none of those things were present. It’s easy to fall into jobs like that because they have a high turnover rate because, shocker: no one wants them.

Bottom line, I wanted to stop hating my job. I wanted to feel like there were opportunities for me that weren’t based on luck. I wanted to stop leaving the office counting down the days until I could finally get the job I wanted. I wanted to find a job where I could actually push myself and challenge myself until I earned the next job in line. While this is entirely possible in Entertainment, it wasn’t lining up for me and the companies I landed at.

It’s still too soon for me to say whether my new career path will work out, but I feel immensely better every day when I come into this office. I feel like I have a shot, and like I can work my ass off and feel good about what I produce. I look around and see people who are happy to be here and who are talented at what they do. I am part of a culture that makes me feel proud, rather than ashamed.

It was hard as hell admitting that I was wrong. But when I finally accepted it and moved forward, some other major things fell into place. (I finally figured out how to carve my own Costco rotisserie chicken without help!) 2016 was a piece of shit year for a lot of reasons, and who’s to say 2017 won’t also blow up massively in my face? As dumb as it sounds, I find that I have a renewed purpose in my life. I am motivated more than I ever have been before. I am beginning to feel like MAYBE, just maybe, I can sort my shit out.

So if you’ve read this far, all I’m saying to you is not to be too proud to admit when you’re wrong. Especially when the desire to be “right” is making you miserable. It’s not worth it. You deserve to be happy, you deserve to feel fulfilled. It’s easy to get comfortable in something you know isn’t right for you because it’s… easy. You’re really fucking good at something and the right company will offer you a chance to prove that to them. Go find that company.

As for writing… I’ll never stop writing. Duh, I have this stupid website. Also, there are a million different jobs that need good writers. I’ll land on my feet, probably. And if I don’t, I’ll sell my soul to Donald Trump.

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