Anxiety and Abuse

Not many people are aware of this, but last year I found myself in a mentally abusive relationship. Healthy Place defines mental abuse as “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.” This can occur in so many different ways; and my relationship wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what most have experienced, will experience, or are experiencing. I know I certainly didn’t treat the other person properly either, nor do I believe that he had realised that what he was doing was abusive, but there were things that should’ve been glaringly obvious to him to just not do. That relationship taught me so much about abuse, myself, relationships, and others.

Perhaps the most important things I learned were how anxiety disorders can make it difficult to see the signs of abuse and how they can be used by abusers. I’ve been battling in my mind as to whether I wanted to write this post for nearly a year, and now I finally feel ready.

How anxiety can blind you to abuse:

  • Most people with anxiety are already aware that they tend to imagine the worst meanings and intentions behind people’s words and actions.

This can make incredibly difficult to sort through the imagined red flags and real red flags. I was fully aware of some things that made me uncomfortable during that relationship. Sometimes though, I thought back on some things and realised that what was said or done was different than the negative thing I had heard in the first place. But there were also times I couldn’t tell if what was said or done was negative or not.

  • Anxiety can tell you that you’re overreacting.

This was a huge issue for me. Not everyone’s red flags are the same, and I thought that because something wasn’t an issue to a friend of mine, it shouldn’t be an issue to me. Obviously, that conclusion was the exact opposite from the truth.

One of the things that I thought I was overreacting about was that this person had said that he would support me in my creative endeavours and he wanted to read my work. He said this time and time again. So when he was over for the evening one day, I asked him to read a scene that I had written earlier that day and was incredible proud of but very nervous about. Without pause, he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to.” Not “In a little bit,” “Maybe later,” or any sort of explanation. And it was pretty clear to me that he meant what he said. He just didn’t want to read my work.

This tore me apart. But I convinced myself (against the advice of others) that I was making a big deal out of it, and that he didn’t mean it how it sounded. But in that moment and reflecting on those things after the relationship ended, I knew he did.

There were many other things that happened that I told myself weren’t big deals, that really are, but I’ll actually mention one of those things in the section about abusers.

  • The irrational fear of never finding anyone else who could ever be interested in you can make you feel trapped in the relationship.

He never said anything like, “Without me, you’ll be alone forever,” or anything with a connotation anywhere close to that. But I told myself that that would be the case. I was still recovering from a really bad mental breakdown that had occurred the previous fall and was still recovering from my first failed relationship that had dwindled away just a couple months prior. These two circumstances combined to make me feel as though I was a pretty worthless human being, and even after I started naming those red flags as what they were, I convinced myself that I would never find anyone else. Thankfully not too much longer, the relationship “ended” and I began the journey of regaining hope and recovery.

How abusers can use your anxiety against you:

  • Even without saying it, abusers can make you feel as though they are the only person that will ever “love” you.

This goes hand-in-hand with the last point I made. This guy never outright said this. But as time went on, I realised that I didn’t feel desirable unless he was there because he would talk about how much he liked to hold me and how pretty I was, and I noticed wasn’t really receiving any compliments on my appearance from anyone else at the time. I also realised that I would sometimes tell him stories from my past or from work in which a guy had flirted with me (or even asked me out), and he would usually suggest that the guy was intending everything to be platonic. Without actually saying it, he had insinuated that I wasn’t desirable to others.

  • They can gain your trust and then target your insecurities and triggers.

This was a really big thing for me, and is now something I am very aware of. This guy had charmed me and gained my trust very quickly, and early on, I realised that he liked to push limits on things. He even told me that he liked trying to “push people’s buttons.” We had a conversation about it, and I essentially said that there were certain things I did not want him trying to push limits on, and he agreed to that. However, we ended up having multiple conversations about those exact things and his pushing my limits.
Some of these things were my insecurities about my appearance and personality, but the thing that made me really start questioning the health of our relationship actually happened on our last date.

That day, we had actually had a conversation about my PTSD from car accidents and how, sometimes when he was driving, I felt like my PTSD was being triggered because of his driving. He changed how he was driving for most of that evening. However, after turning onto a street on the way to my apartment, he decided that he would continue speeding up and swerving slightly until I reacted. I thought that he was just being weird and speeding up quickly and that he would stop once he reached the speed limit. But he kept going and going.

I was on the verge of a panic attack when I finally half-yelled “What are you doing??”

His only response: “Seeing how long it would take you to say something.”

Even after that, a large part of me wanted to stay with him, and I tried to make it work. But that brings me to another point.

  • You might be the one always contacting them.

I didn’t realise this was a case until I saw a Tumblr post about a similar situation. I continually found myself clearing my schedule for him whenever he wanted to spend time with me, but he wouldn’t do the same for me. But the last few weeks of our relationship, he barely spoke to me. That last date seemed wonderful (aside from the attempt to trigger my PTSD), and he actually asked to meet up over the weekend so that we could define our relationship. I was torn between entering an “official” relationship with him, and ending it. He said he would make sure he was free at whatever time would work best for me, said goodbye, and left. But when I sent him the times I had available, he told me that none of those times would work. So I asked when he would be free and (as always) I would clear my schedule for him. But he never let me know. In fact, he slowly stopped talking to me in general over the next two weeks.

Then I was scrolling through Tumblr one day and saw a post about a woman whose boyfriend wasn’t really talking to her much and who never messaged her first. The woman had been advised to not call or message the guy for three days to see if he would respond. She asked what to do if he didn’t, if she was could contact him then. The girl she was talking to said no, that the guy was getting off on the woman’s need for him, and that if the he didn’t try to communicate, he didn’t really want her, let alone realise that he was losing her.

I took that piece of advice, and I didn’t message the guy I was dating for three days. Then three days turned into three weeks, three months. Now I haven’t spoken to him since April 23, 2016.

That relationship screwed me up, and I’m sad that I experienced it. But I’m so glad at the same time because I learned so much from it.


I really hope that none of you ever experience such a relationship, let alone one worse.

But there is always hope.
If you ever find yourself in an abusive relationship, know that it isn’t your fault and that you can get out, even if you need help doing so.

Here are some resources for abuse victims or friends of abuse victims who want to help:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Help Guide
5 Ways to Escape an Abusive Relationship
Help a Friend
5 Signs of Emotional Abuse

Anxiety and Job Searching

Last name. First name. Address. Phone number. Why did you leave your last place of employment? What experience do you have? Why do you want to work here? Where do you see yourself in five years?

These questions are only a few that are permanently seared into my brain from the endless hours of applications that I always seem to be filling out. I recently started a part-time seasonal position. I love the job so far, even with being completely exhausted at the end of my shifts, being hit on by complete strangers, and awkwardly trying to talk friends into buying things when I used to be the one talking them out of their impulse buys. But because it is a seasonal position, I still need to find another position to start come January.

The majority of looking for work is just mind-numbing monotony, but it becomes a whole different thing when you add a mental illness to the mix. Having anxiety disorders can make submitting the applications and resumes, making follow-up phone calls, and being interviewed nearly impossible.

Because of facing the seemingly impossible time and time again, I’ve started noticing patterns in my application processes and anxiety levels.

The constant uncertainty of applying and interviewing in exhausting and worrying as it is. But when an anxiety disorder is added to the mix, the nervousness becomes a toxic fear. You constantly worry if you put down the correct information. You wonder if you smiled enough during your interview. You dwell on how well you shook the interviewer’s hand and if you should have done it differently. You think about whether you called too soon or too late to check on an application. You are terrified at the thought of going into an interview and forgetting the answers to basic questions. You overthink the pre-interview exams, wondering if you had typed just three more words if you would get the job. You obsess about whether your outfit was too colorful, too dull, or too casual for the interview.

But these aren’t things you can control or change.

However, these are some of the tips I’ve gathered for myself as I’ve looked for jobs over the last few years. I hope they can be of some help.

Searching for jobs to apply to:

Start specific and move towards generalized positions.
If you start with specific positions that you believe you will love, you may just get a dream job of yours because you took the time to look and apply. If you don’t find a dream job, look for another in your field. As you go along and apply to those positions, start looking at more general positions that might hire you on the spot. I usually aim to apply for five specific positions for every general position I apply to when I’m first looking. Then as time goes on and I’ve applied to the specific positions, I switch to one specific for every five or so general applications. That way I am always applying to the jobs that most appeal to me while I seek potential employment in the meantime.

Check at your local library and in the newspaper.
There are still several companies and small businesses that do not have job listings posted online, let alone online applications. Going to a library and looking in the newspaper is a great way to see when those companies are hiring.

Filling out applications:

Set a minimum and maximum number of applications to apply to in a given day.
Job searching is a job in itself. It can potentially take hours of work just to finish one application. Make sure you’re filling out applications. But make sure you are taking the time to make them and your resume look good and for you to take breaks. Applying can be mentally and emotionally draining, so be sure to get some fresh air, sleep, food, and relaxation.

Organize the applications.
I usually start off organizing the applications by due dates, then interest, then company/position. It isn’t often that applications have due dates, but I have applied to many. These jobs are usually highly competitive, and even if you don’t think it’s worth the effort because of lack of experience, you should apply. When organizing by interest, I simply go by the job descriptions that are readily available and start with those which seem most aligned with my goals and interests. Once I’ve done that, I go through and look at the companies and what they stand for and what perks are available for employees.

Submitting applications:

Double check everything.
I’ve realized while or shortly after submitting applications before that I’ve made a mistake. This can not only be embarrassing, but it could also cost you a position. When filling out paper applications, I prefer writing everything out in pencil first and then going back through and looking over it all before I fill it out in pen.

Try to make your resume unique to the company and position to which you are applying.
This isn’t always possible, and I’m beyond aware of that. But when you are submitting applications to companies and positions that you are truly interested in, it helps when you have things that stand out to HR.

Write cover letters.
I hate this. I really do. I am awful at writing letters to my friends and family; writing letters to complete strangers and trying to convince them to hire me is even worse. However, this could greatly help when applying, especially to your dream positions. Make the cover letters very specific to the company, and if possible, find the name of the supervisor or manager that would be overseeing the interviews and hiring process. Doing so has gotten me a few interviews that I hadn’t thought I would ever be considered for.

Follow-ups:

Call the companies to which you have applied.
I hate this about as much as cover letters, but when you call a company to ask if your application has been reviewed and/or if interviews have started, it shows initiative. I tend to call anywhere from three to seven days after I’ve submitted everything.

When possible, walk in to ask about your application.
There are many places that do not allow this anymore for security reasons. But if it is allowed, walking in can show initiative as well as put a face and personality to your name.

Interviews:

Arrive early.
Not only can this show that you are prepared and diligent, but it also gives you time to stop and breath before your interview. Taking several deep breaths can calm you. I also tend to bring something relaxing to do or work on while I wait. Usually I take a sketchbook and a book with me and will pull one of those out until I am called for my interview. This helps me to relax and empty my mind a little as well as helping me to act a little more like myself than my panicking brain normally allows in stressful situations.

Come well-prepared.
Show up with a printed copy of your resume, a portfolio (if applicable), questions that you might have about the position and company, ideas for what you could do in the position to improve efficiency or set the company apart, an expected (and usually negotiable) salary, and a smile.

Save questions about things such as sickness policies for after you are hired.
There are many questions that I tend to have about companies’ policies that I want to ask during the interview; however, asking the right questions at the incorrect times can take a wonderful interview and ruin it in seconds. Stop to analyze the interviewer and the situation before you ask the question, and if needed, write it down as a question to ask later.

Be honest.
Yes, embellishing yourself can be good, but don’t overdo it. Tell the truth when you’re asked a question that is meant to analyze your leadership skills or your personal interaction. In my experience, even when the truth seems as though it could harm my potential for being hired, it has always been praised. I’ve even gotten further in some interview processes and even hired after/because of my responses. Obviously those responses weren’t the only things that led to my being chosen, but I have been told that my honesty is something that interviewers have admired.

 

What are some of the things you do that help you remain calm and diligent throughout the process of looking for a job? Let me know down in the comments!

Coping with Anxiety

Goodness knows I let my anxiety overwhelm me on a regular basis. But even with moving into a house, still job searching, meeting so many people, and having so many things to accomplish, I have officially gone a month without a panic attack. That doesn’t mean I haven’t felt super anxious at all in the last month, but it’s still a huge improvement.

Over the last year I’ve been trying to recover from the worst general and social anxiety breakdown I’ve ever had. The panic attack that made me realise just how much I’d lost control was full of sobbing, hyperventilating, and feeling like I was going to die and lasted over an hour and a half. Thankfully I had a network of family and friends that dropped everything to come to my aid (in person and from a distance) over the days, weeks, and months that followed. I never imagined that my anxiety could get so bad, but that’s the thing—mental illnesses and their effects can be incredibly unpredictable. However, with practice and more help than you’ll probably want to ask for, they can be managed.

These are some of my favourite ways to help take control of my anxiety and depression, and I hope that they can help you too.

  • Surround yourself with things that make you happy.
room
This is part of my new room. I’m surrounded by my books, by some of my most prized possessions, and my my favourite colours.

For me this ranges from bright colours being scattered about my room and belongings and buckets worth of tea to books and Disney music. Whatever they are, find the things that make you most happy and make them obvious throughout your daily life. If it’s specific colours, find or make decorations for your room/house/apartment in those colours. If it’s a particular food or beverage, treat yourself. If it’s a show or movie, get posters or fan art to hang up in your room. If it’s music, sing it, dance to it, blare it through your speakers as you drive.

If you openly celebrate the things that make you happy, you’ll tend to feel happier.

  • Do breathing exercises.

There are so many types of breathing exercises and meditation that can help you relax and clear your mind. Many of the ones I know I originally learned because of my heart and lung problems. One of my favourites is breathing in deeply through your nose for five seconds, holding it for six seconds, and exhaling through your nose for eight seconds. Another is tucking your thumb inside your fist, putting it up to your mouth and breathing as if you were blowing up a balloon. You may feel a little ridiculous, but it helps so much.

  • Get plenty of sleep.

This might be really difficult and sometimes requires sleep aids, but getting enough sleep can make the world of a difference in how you respond mentally. When I don’t get enough sleep, I am far more anxious and terrified, and it’s easier for me to feel the overwhelming, numbing sadness. This happened just a couple days ago and when combined with a few other circumstances it caused me to start slipping mentally. I felt awful. It was one of those days where I wished I could slip into non-existence for a while and be consumed by nothingness as well as where I was so scared that I didn’t want to and nearly couldn’t do anything. Part of the reason I felt so bad was because I had gotten less sleep the previous night, and if I had, it would have been able to break out of those negative thoughts.

  • Talk to your friends/family.
message
An silly message with my best friend that made me feel loads better on a day I was struggling.

This may seem like common sense, but for me, it is actually one of the most difficult things to do. My anxiety tends to make me believe that no one would ever want to talk to me or hear from me, that I’m a burden, that I am an annoyance. But lately I’ve made a point of talking to specific people every day. I want people to know that they are cared for, even if I do get annoying. But also, if I talk to them on a regular basis, it’s far more difficult for me to believe that they don’t want to talk to me. I know on occasion they may not want to, but that is rare, and it’s okay. Talking to my friends and family, spreading love, and being open with them has changed my life.

 

  • Go to a counsellor/therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist.

I haven’t been able to do this in a while because of not having a car among other reasons, but whenever I go to my counsellor, even if I’m feeling wonderful that day, I leave feeling ten times better, unburdened, and hopeful. I know this isn’t always the case and I am incredibly blessed to have the counsellor I have, but it can be such a huge help to have someone separate from your everyday life to talk to and to occasionally give you advice (and medication when needed and appropriate).

  • Read inspirational quotes.
mug
A photo from a few days after I bought the mug.

I always feel a little silly and embarrassed when doing this, but it is one of the things that has kept me going throughout the last year. I even make frequent use of a mug that says “Think happy, be happy” on it that I got during my last stay in France. I had been having a difficult time, and it reminded me of a video by Carrie Hope Fletcher about positive thinking. Although I don’t believe that you can truly choose to be happy and then feel that way, I do believe in the power of positive thinking, even if it is fallible. Finding inspirational quotes and writing or printing them out and posting them where you can see them throughout the day can be incredibly encouraging and help you remember how special, important, capable, and loved you are.

  • Find a hobby.
draw
A quick sketch I did about a month ago.

This can seem incredibly overwhelming to some, and that’s okay. But finding something you do on a regular basis for your own enjoyment is such a huge relief and help for controlling anxiety. I tend to go a little overboard and have far too many hobbies, but I am also rather fickle and whatever hobby I do bases entirely on my mood. I could crochet, write, knit, paint, draw, colour, study languages, or make videos. But whatever hobby I choose is an outlet for me to work creatively and freely to escape or express my anxiety and depression, whether other people can tell or not.

  • Write.

Writing out whatever is overwhelming you and then destroying it or finding a way to make it positive is one of the practises I do quite frequently. It can help you vent fear, sadness, anger, disappointment, and everything else in a healthy way while also helping you to either rid yourself of the thoughts or situation or find a way to turn the thoughts or situation to your advantage.

  • For every negative thought or impulse, list five positive things about yourself and/or the situation you’re in.

This self-explanatory one is big for me. I constantly have incredibly overwhelming fears and negative thoughts and occasionally negative impulses. When I list five positive things, I can usually see the unreality of the negative thoughts and fears immediately and cause them to dissipate, even if they don’t go away entirely. But even if the positive things don’t have that effect, you are still finding things to love about yourself, and if you focus on those, then you can not only change your world, but the worlds of those around you.

What are some ways that you manage your anxiety, depression, and other disorders? Let me know in the comments! ❤︎

Writing with Anxiety

Having an anxiety disorder is always difficult. From getting out of bed to looking into the mirror and from saying hello to ordering food, general and social anxiety find way to take even my most positive thoughts and turn them on me. Even my favourite compliments can turn into my greatest enemies. Upon waking, if my first thought is the least bit negative or stressful, my anxiety plagues me horribly the rest of the day, and it’s difficult for me to accomplish anything. When I look in the mirror, I usually see that I’m unhealthily skinny, but I still think I’m pretty dang gorgeous. But on bad days, I’ll fixate on the fact that my face is slightly curved or on my deviated septum or just how stinking skinny I am, and then for days, I’ll cover my face when I’m talking or laughing or cross my arms to try to hide my “faults” from the prying eyes of other human beings. Saying hello to anyone can cause me great fear that I’m being clingy or annoying or awkward, even though saying hello is usually perceived as just that, a greeting. Ordering food or drinks at cafes and restaurants stresses me out so much. I get overwhelmed by the amount of choices (and I’m already super indecisive when I only have two options), but speaking with the person behind the counter, even when I know them, can cause me to freak out internally, although they think very little of what each person gets. And these are more minimal things that my brain tends to find overwhelmingly terrifying.

So when pursuing a career in editing and writing, my anxiety is a major battle. I know I am mainly writing for myself. But I do also write for others. So what others may think about my stories, blogs, and poems is incredibly important to me. I’m constantly receiving support and encouragement, but I do also receive critiques and negative comments. Usually I take those and use them as constructive criticism, even if they aren’t meant to be taken that way. I know I can’t please everyone, but I still like to take what each person says to mind.

Anxiety can keep you from writing.
I’ve struggled with this countless times. I let my fears of failure to meet my goals or my fears that people won’t like what I write keep me from writing. So instead of working past my worries, I dwell upon them, and they become all I can see. When I do sit down to write, I can’t get words out because I keep thinking about if I’ll use the right words, if people will be impressed with my plot or my characters, and if I’ll being able to meet my word goal.

Anxiety can stop you from sharing your work.
I don’t want to know how frequently I’ve written something for my blog or for reading nights and not shared it because of how terrified I am to hear what people think about it. I spend hours preparing it, I’ll even print it off or save it as a draft for my blog, but then I get to reading or posting it and back out at the last minute. The fear of what others might say overwhelms me too much, and I just can’t bear listening, even to the compliments and positive feedback.

Anxiety can take the positive feedback and encouragement you receive and turn it against you.
I do this constantly with many areas of my life, but I think the most difficult to handle is when it is in reference to my writing. Just the other day, I was told that my unique, sassy, and quirky voice in my writing is a favourite thing of my Creative Writing professor’s. She has encouraged me to pursue fiction and to never stop writing more than I could have imagined possible by a teacher. So when she complimented my bizarre writing voice, I couldn’t help but awkwardly blush and thank her as I searched the recesses of my mind for a response. But just a few hours later, I sat down to write for about fifteen minutes, and all I could think was that I’ll never be able to write that quirky of a voice again, even though it’s my favourite way to write. I sat, overwhelmed in fear that she is the only person on the planet who could ever like such a tone in fiction, despite the fact that I know of at least ten other people who have told me that they adore how I write.

A couple days later, a friend complimented my blog posts, saying that she could definitely hear my own voice flowing through my posts. Now this is something that should be happening, whether I try or not. But after she said it, I fixated on the fact that the voice in my head might be the one that people hear, and that is the last thing I want. I don’t want the negative thoughts that overwhelm me to plague the minds of my readers as well. I want my blog to be a place that people can read and be uplifted. I want my blog to be overwhelmingly positive and optimistic. But my voice can frequently be mingled with the voice in my mind that tells me everything is rubbish, so even the best of compliments can turn into anxieties.

Anxiety can cause you delete what you’ve written.
I’ve done this so many times. I’ve spent hours, sometimes days or weeks, working on a writing project and then been so overwhelmed by all the possible negative outcomes or the fears of how others may (or may not) respond that I delete the entire project from my computer and my blog and tear it out of my notebook (I’ve even burned some works before) because I’m too full of negative thoughts towards my abilities and those particular works.

Anxiety can get you to abandon writing.
This happened to me just earlier this year. I didn’t tell anyone that I had outright given up, not even myself. But I did. After losing my blog and about six months of work as well as all the feedback (positive especially), I didn’t want to try anymore. What if such a thing happened again? What if once I started writing again people didn’t like my work? What if I couldn’t meet the expectations that had arisen in the minds of my readers, friends, and family because of the previous website? What if, what if, what if? I completely stopped writing for about six months. And I wouldn’t let anyone call me a writer, claiming it was because I wasn’t actively working on any projects. I had abandoned writing.

 

BUT!!

 

Anxiety isn’t your master.
It doesn’t have to control you. You don’t have to succumb to the fears and the negative thoughts. I know it’s incredibly difficult to fight them, but once you start, each day tends to get a little bit easier. The fears may still be running through your mind constantly, but you can push them to the side and remind yourself of the truth and of the positive aspects of yourself, your readers, and your writing. Sometimes it might require additional help through medication, tea, yoga, breathing exercises, and the like, but you can fight your anxiety. And you can win.

Anxiety can be a tool for your writing.
Lately, I’ve been taking my negative thoughts about my writing and myself and using them as motivation to prove myself (and potentially others) wrong. When my thoughts are overrun with negativity about not being able to write in my favourite voice, I run through a few short writing exercises to get into that voice to prove to myself that I can and will write like that again. When I fixate on the idea that no one will ever appreciate, let alone like my work, I look back through the comments I’ve received on my blogs and from different writing exercises and critiques in my writing class and see that there are already many people who do, so why wouldn’t others? When I get scared that I won’t meet my word count, I create a special reward for meeting my goal and force myself to write until I meet it, thus proving that I can while getting a treat.

Anxiety won’t stop others from appreciating your work.
Even if you can see past the thoughts that others hate your work, there will always be someone who appreciates what you write. There have been things that I’ve written that I’ve been proud of and incredibly excited to share, but nearly no one has even given it a second look. But there has never failed to be at least one person who has come up and paid me a compliment on my work. I know it’s incredibly rare for me to read something and say “I hate this so much that I can’t even appreciate it!” I usually find at least three reasons to appreciate the things I’ve read, if not hundreds.

Anxiety may plague you, but you can overcome it, time and time again.
These negative thoughts might not ever leave. You might battle them day after day and moment after moment, but you can do it. Each tiny step to improvement is just that—improvement. Even on my best days, I struggle with my anxiety more than I would ever care to admit, but on those days, I tend to be so happy, positive, and focused that I can easily ignore the negativity or take it and change it into something positive. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Work through the hard days, take breaks when you need to, and open your eyes to how much you and your writing truly is appreciated. Because you are special, and no one could ever write about the things you do the way you do it.