let's talk about anxiety

let's talk about anxiety

pull up a chair.. you may want to sit for this one.


bird note: just the first 30ish seconds are relevant. i learned a good lesson to watch the ENTIRE video i post on my site.. this is the only one that didn't have an inappropriate splice from the original film.


anxiety is top of my mind today everyday and especially the past week which can only be described as a "friday-the-13th-esque" nightmare with how much went wrong. today alone was a covid exposure scare + testing, an emergency vet visit for Zealand w/ a long-term disease diagnosis AND a broken sewage pump dumping shit in my parent's backyard ...

pile all of that on top of one of the most disappointing experiences in my career following my very first ambulance ride a week ago AND it is safe to say i am fighting harder than ever against the narrative that i am unlucky ... but the good news to stand up AND cheer for is that i FINALLY believe luck has nothing to do with it.

may 6, 2022 was my first art show in 20 years.

i wasn't there.

otherwise it was "perfect."

when i should have been setting up, i was crumbled on my side on a dirty sheet used to place me onto a stretcher to transport me to the ER .. they wanted to give me fentanyl in the ambulance because i was in so much pain [i refused.] they struggled to find a vein in my arm because i was so dehydrated. they barely got answers from me because it's impossible to talk through blubbering tears. they couldn’t do an initial exam because i wasn't able to roll onto my back. i wasn’t able to move. period. it was trauma at it's finest. 

they were just trying to help.

i didn't know how to let them.

after calling both of my sister's to come find me in the garage of my youth, i scoffed at the idea of actually accepting medical support to get off the ground.. and went into full hysterics after calling 911. [ellie insisted. thank you, ellie.] i wanted to stand up on my own.

i refused to cancel the art event. the show must go on. it was too late in the game to pivot ... and that's coming from someone who is ALWAYS late.

the easiest explanation was to tell everyone i "threw my back out" but that's not exactly what happened. i didn't lift something too heavy. i didn't bend the wrong way.

i believe i had a panic attack that showed up in my lower spine.

and i can FINALLY sit here to unpack why. 

i also want to take a firm stance on one thing ... i am not a victim in this story. i'm the hero. my sister's were heroes. my mom's a hero. ellie's a SUPERhero. we are all our own heroes whether we can stand to admit it or not.

the biggest irony of all of this is that i am currently in the middle of this book searching for answers ... and obviously achieving awareness.

The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D.: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The Body Keeps The Score
by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D.:
Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

... because this is the fourth time my anxiety has left me unable to walk: issues with my back derailed my senior year of varsity cross country; i was bedridden for days in the fall of 2019 when managing the remodel of the stonehouse in wisconsin from st. louis; and most recently, on 10/13/21.

oh that lucky 13.

let’s focus on the most recent spasms.

one minute i was “fine” poking around my parent’s garage for shelving to make our set up for the art show easier. i found a couple of "perfect" boards and grabbed a brush to dust them off so i could be on my way.

then i fell to my knees in excruciating pain.

my hands hit the cold, dirty pavement while screaming “NOOOOOoooo!!!!!” in a way i didn't know i could.

my first thought was that i had pushed my body too far in the past couple of weeks… planning & agonizing, handwriting invitations, spending hours & hours on my computer optimizing hundreds of sketches, hunching over canvases again for the first time, driving the 8 hours to and from st. louis multiple times and ultimately spending 14 hours straight framing dozens of drawings the day before. it was too much.


but the reality is that i drove to the place that brings me the absolute most anxiety possible on a day when i was attempting to do something i've struggled to do for decades -- show my art to strangers.

i went backwards instead of focusing on the road ahead... 

there's a darkness that creeps up in my art that's always made me anxious to proceed. so in recent months, i stopped blogging so publicly and started journaling three pages daily to find answers. i settled into a rhythm in my corner office chair [definitely more comfortable than the one pictured above] and have filled three notebooks so far.

in the words of casey shanks ... "that's a lot of bird thoughts."

the picture is getting clearer.


this is what anxiety looks like in everyday life ...


this is what anxiety looked like last friday...

 [the bottom right pic is my shirt that casey carried out of the hospital.. the irony] 

most importantly, this is how anxiety FEELS to those of us experiencing it on a DAILY basis ... 


the more you don't talk about it [or shed light on it] ... the lonelier and more isolated you become. you assume no one will understand. you decide your brain is crazy. you believe you are alone in your fight. [ ... eventually you just want to sit in a chair facing the wall instead of turning towards the world.] 

i've had high-functioning anxiety my entire life because of the TWO traumatic events tied directly to my birthday ... among other reasons. i've been taking medication for it for nearly 3 years ... and yet, the first time i sat down and googled anxiety was last month.


last month.

i thought it was pointless to try to understand. that this was simply my burden to carry alone. for the rest of my life.

until recently.

but why the f am i SO anxious ALL THE TIME? my life looks so "perfect" on the outside ... just like my art.

it's the question i was anxious to explore. i have a good life -- a GREAT life. i was a happy-go-lucky-kid who grew into a brilliant woman. goofy and giggling. yet, i've never truly understood happiness and i still don't actually know what it means to relax [hence my coloring calls.]

a big epiphany happened when i sat down to write a one-pager of "my life story" ... a therapy assignment i HIGHLY recommend ... this is what came out:

outside everything's "perfect."

inside i carry a very different story. 

AND that's bullshit.

i'm learning about my core beliefs.

perfection does not exist BUT striving for perfection sure as hell does ...

AND being a perfectionist [hi, that's me] = constant anxiety because it is completely unattainable.

perfectionism is the chair i've been confined to. it's also called "over-control" and leads to self-sabotage. perfectionism is the source of my anxiety which leads to depression because you will never be satisfied.

when covid hit and i was handed my most imperfect "failure" to-date of losing my big corporate job, the anxiety of it all made life too heavy to stand some days.

of course, i couldn't admit that aloud.. and nobody really asked. yet it took me two years to throw away all of the paperwork i'd brought home from packing up my office ... sit down and think about that.


so why do i want need to be perfect? 

why does anyone?

because we want to belong.

maybe if i'm perfect enough, i will feel seen. i will feel loved. i won't be lonely. i will be remembered. 

maybe if i'm perfect enough, no one will see what's really going on inside our house [my parent's house.] no one will judge the unhung frames on our walls. the cracks in the ceiling. the stuff everywhere. no one will worry that there isn't a chair to sit on.

maybe if my art is perfect enough, it will fit into my friend's beautiful and thriving clothing store. her clients will accept me. she will embrace me. i will feel held.

maybe if i'm perfect enough, no one will know that reaching for a dusty board in my parent's old garage made me think about the time i watched my dad smash a chair to pieces in a fight with my mom ... over how she wanted our lives to be perfect for the very same reasons i stated above ... and it destroyed so much more than a seat at our kitchen table.

these are the unlucky thoughts i'm fighting flying away from.


bird note: it also explains why i'm drawn to sketching chairs. here's my favorite page in the coloring book i just released...

illustration with chairs

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