Guest Blog

Guest Blog: How to Support a Loved One Experiencing Anxiety

This is Andy Walker, Kelli's husband. I know Kelli often writes and speaks of me on her podcast, and from what I've heard, I probably come off as more patient and understanding than I actually am, certainly more so than when Kelli first started her anxiety journey many years ago. I have learned a lot about anxiety and about how to support someone that's caught up in it, but I was not always as enlightened as Kelli graciously gives me credit for.

For years I identified as a rational, self-reliant, hard-nosed kind of fella. I suppose I still do. I always believed that overcoming doubt or fear or emotional challenges in general was simply a matter of willpower. You're nervous for a test and find yourself procrastinating; knuckle down and study your butt off. You over-indulged at Thanksgiving because you have three different celebrations and now you're ten pounds heavier than you've ever been; run two miles every morning and don't stop until you're where you want to be. Bottom line, if you put your mind to it, you can will yourself through anything. Right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. In riding shotgun with Kelli as she struggled deeply with anxiety and panic attacks, I quickly learned how little will power has to do with being anxious.

This fact was hammered home for me when Kelli was starting a new job at what would become the beginning of her most crippling anxiety. There were a lot of factors that led Kelli to feel she had to succeed at that new job. We had just bought a house and felt we needed the income. She had just finished nursing school and wanted to get to work. She had been a student for six years and wanted to be bringing in money of her own. Her fellow graduates were starting jobs. Her parents valued careers. Bottom line, she felt like she needed to find a job and make it work... or else. And I was certainly part of that. So when Kelli started having panic attacks and severe anxiety during her orientation week at the new job, she and I both put a tremendous amount of pressure on her to knuckle down and will power through it. "Just get through the orientation and you'll be okay. You just have to make this job work."

Well one morning, after a sleepless night, I had front row seats to Kelli reaching rock bottom. She was in the bathroom trying to get ready for another day at orientation. She was crying. She was terrified she was going to panic that day and have to leave early again. She was scared for what that meant. I was standing in the doorway telling her to willpower through it. Was I yelling? She couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't succeed and she couldn't fail. She flung everything off the bathroom sink. She sobbed and screamed. I saw in her eyes the look of a trapped animal. It was terrifying and liberating all at once. In that 30-60 seconds, I realized, and I think she did too, that anxiety is not something you can willpower through. My wife is the toughest, most stubborn person I know, but her tremendous strength was simply feeding her anxiety. Like quicksand, the harder she tried, the deeper she sank.

On the floor of our bathroom, in one of the darkest moments of our early 20s, we learned a critical lesson - you cannot willpower through anxiety. It's as important a lesson for someone struggling with anxiety as it is for the friends and loved ones that support them. Over the next couple years, we learned several other important lessons for loved ones to be aware of. Kelli and I recently recorded an episode for her podcast (Episode 16) where we talk about those lessons. Kelli, as always brings the brains, but I like to think I didn't make a total fool of myself. If you have a loved one struggling with anxiety or could use some more support from your family and friends, please take 30 minutes to listen in. Thanks, and as Kelli always says... be kind to yourself.

Guest Blog: How I Conquered My Social Anxiety in Spite of My Inner Joan Rivers

I can't take any credit for this highly entertaining yet insightful blog. The author is my friend and regular co-host of the Not Another Anxiety Show podcast (due to be launched by yours truly any day now)... Erica Leathem. Erica is The Baby Broad. She is a Certified Lactation Counselor, Postpartum Doula, and SafeKids Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. She also says that she can make a really good quesadilla.

Erica blogs about her discoveries living with and through anxiety and panic, and all that goes with it. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and at www.thebabybroad.com.

Check out her latest blog about social anxiety that was published by Elephant Journal:

 

What is the worst feeling on earth?

This isn’t subjective. I’ll tell you what it is.

The worst feeling on earth is the one full minute of standing at the front of the high school lunch room looking for a seat.

Sweat starts pooling in inconvenient places, you blame everyone from your parents to your great aunt to the Pope for making you the way you are.

Your internal Joan Rivers starts in:

“Are you carrying a lunch box? No one uses lunch boxes! Why did you wear this shirt? You’re shaped, somehow, like a pear ate an apple, and are you kidding with that hair? Why are you sweating like that? What is wrong with you?”

You start shaping your identity in that minute.

You don’t even like people, you decide resolutely. You want to be alone to read. People just annoy you. You want to do yoga in silence because yoga understands you. You’ve always been more mature than people your own age…so you go eat in a classroom with a teacher. You start skipping lunch because you really need to catch up on your underwater basket weaving.

It always comes back to the last three seconds of that one minute at the front of the lunch room: begging. You beg Jesus, and the Dalai Lama, and your guardian angels, and all of the spirits they probably pray to at Mason Lodges, and the spaceship Tom Cruise lives in—you beg silently, and sweatily, for someone to wave to you. Better yet you hope someone is so passionately excited by the prospect of sitting near you, that they actually kick the person next to them off their seat so you have room.

Just somebody—anybody—please want me!

Whoomp! There it is…

I can’t speak for anyone else (which doesn’t mean I won’t try), but I know some things about myself.

First of all, I ate lunch alone or in a classroom (alone) until I was a senior in high school, and even then, Mrs. Arnold saw me in her empty math room a lot. I just wanted to be left alone because the stress of knowing I didn’t fit anywhere took too much energy. It’s actually exhausting. I nap a lot when I think I don’t fit in. I really believed it was just easier to do life on my own. Except it isn’t.

Second of all, not doing life all on my own means I need people. People are the worst. I have to have faith that people will show up for me. I also have to trust that I don’t suck as much as I’m telling myself that I do.

It’s the effing hardest thing ever. Things my Joan Rivers mind also says to me when I’m at the front of the proverbial lunch room:

“If I try, I will fail.”

These days, my lunch room is the break room at work, or being the third wheel with younger/cooler friends, or family parties when I just know I have nothing to talk about, and I won’t even start on my preemptive lunch room anxiety about my upcoming trip to Spain.

Here’s the thing, I want to be the coolest person in the room, but I don’t want anyone to talk or look at me. I want everyone to pine for me when I’m not around, but to never have to actually interact. Is that so much to ask?

It wasn’t until college, when we were all scared and leached on to each other, that I felt okay(-ish) enough to admit that I wanted to connect to people.

Twice recently I have talked to friends about my memories of being an RA in college. I glorify the pants right off of those days. I was good at something, and I could be as loud and obnoxious and bossy and fun as much as I wanted. It was awesome.

Being finally competent in something was a great mask for me. I was able to hide from myself: from that insecure, binge-eat-my-emotions-in-the-bathroom side; from the scared-that-no-one-likes-me-side; from the drinking-alone-in-my-hotel-room side; from the I-just-need-me-time side. You know, all the sides we pretend we don’t have.

Doesn’t it just feel like life is just a series of coping mechanisms lined up like a jäger shots sometimes? I kept trying to reinvent myself, like Madonna. I’d move, or change jobs, or have a job where I moved. I changed numbers, got a new car, cut my hair and shaved my beard. Annoyingly, the crap parts of myself kept finding me.

I know connection is the true way out of myself.

I also know that exercise will help my squirrel brain slow down a little. Knowing clearly isn’t doing, because I’m writing this on my living room floor alone, eating mint cookie crumble ice cream.

Connection with someone has apparently been scientifically proven to cure addiction. I should add, that it’s connection to someone who isn’t fueling your addiction. But hey, connection is connection, man. I have nothing to base this on because I’m too lazy to look for the evidence, but I would argue that the kid who connects with someone at church is using the same brain meat as the kid who is doing heroin in their friend’s garage.

Sitting across from someone who says, “yeah, me too,” is like the heavens opening and hearing Lionel Richie’s “Hello” being played just for you. Yes, it is me you’re looking for.

Connecting is liquid vulnerability, but I’m straight up telling you, it’s the only way to survive.

There’s no scarier moment than looking at someone across the table drinking their merlot, and saying, “so yeah, I have this thing about me…” and waiting to see if they tip their chair backward and Cirque du Soliel tumble toward the door.

I joined a woman’s group last year (well, joined is a kind way to say I went under threat of execution by my therapist), and although I don’t think I did anything but make jokes, and sometimes I felt like I was forcing myself upon these poor unsuspecting souls, those girls mean the world to me. The actual world.

The connections I made there have given me an anchor to tether to when I’m bungee jumping into things like blogging, or even scarier, going to the mall. It’s helped me get closer to my other people, and helped me weed out the ones who needed weeding.

I’m safe in the world because I’ve connected.

My lunch table is slightly less scary (sometimes) because I practice looking up and telling someone that I want to get to know them. Sometimes it comes out more like an anxious/self-conscious, “Hey, I like your earrings,” but because people like being noticed it has yet to fail me.

I don’t like to promise things I can’t actually follow through on, but I feel like I can say this one thing to everyone else who has ever felt the worst feeling on earth: I promise that you are wanted.

Let’s go get ’em man. We’re worth getting to know.

Guest Blog: Erica Leathem - Blog From a Broad

I am proud to include a guest post this week from the talented Erica Leathem, creater of the always hilarious Blog From a Broad. Erica is a client of mine and has recently written about how a little understanding and mindfulness saved what could have otherwise been a rather anxious day.


Saturday is my day. The potential of the whole weekend is yours for the taking, and I was feeling grabby.  This past Saturday was the first day of the outdoor farmers market in my little hometown of Troy, NY, so we [were] all pumped. Troy, being the home of Uncle Sam, the detachable collar, Defazio’s pizza, and this blog, one cannot pass up the opportunity to take in the sites.

Saturday was going to be my day.  I mapped it all out:  wake up; do a little mindfulness in bed (not a euphemism…this time); walk down to the farmers market early; sit in the spring sun and read for as long as I could stand it; maybe meet a friend for breakfast.  #heaven

But, I woke up anxious.

Heart pounding, thoughts racing, sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat, nauseous, and generally had an overwhelming sadness that just simply took my breath away.

Immediately, my sleepy brain jumped straight into fight or flight mitigation crisis center mode.

“Did I not sleep well?!” “Did I not have enough water yesterday?!” “Was that a palpitation?!” “Did I forget to take fish oil and magnesium?!” “What did I eat that was processed?!” And my favorite, “Why won’t this stop?  What’s wrong with me?”

Kelli Walker, anxiety coach to the stars (panicandanxietycoach.com), and the salt to my pepper, reminds me often that I’m not going to get rid of my anxiety.  In fact, it’s not my anxiety. She asks, “why would we want to? Anxiety is good for us when it does its job.”

Those are the days I want to slap her through my Britney Spears headset and tell her to shut her wet mouth. It’s also why she’ll be buying an island in the Caribbean with all my coaching money.

She is, of course, right. It’s not about getting anxiety to go away [sing it with me…insert literally any emotion here].

Kelli says, “blah blah blah, you don’t need to distract yourself from anxiety, that’s not the point.  This is about taking a step back from trying to solve anxiety to see if it allows us to gain some space, and see where we’re getting caught up in our thinking.”

And I was like, “marry me.”

And she was all, “I’m married. And stop asking. Remember that a lot of the thoughts swirling around your head are not a reflection of you or your ability to ‘handle this’, it’s just the reflection of an energized state.”

Is it so much to ask that she and I walk on the beach at sunset together looking in the distance whilst singing “For Good” from Wicked, and then make s’mores and laugh at how we love the same Brene Brown quotes?

Anyway.  Kelli has talked me down from some major anxiety quicksand. More importantly, she has shown me the tools to navigate out of that Neverending Story nightmare by myself (#RIPArtax).

So, on Saturday, when I wanted to close my eyes to my fear, and stay in bed until all the bad feelings went away, I found those tools quickly.  Well, quicker than I would have this time last year.

I remembered that my heart racing is just cortisol, the stress hormone that is strongest in the morning. Without it, we wouldn’t wake up.  I remembered that for me, noticing and counting my breath can help stimulate my vagus nerve. I remembered that getting super present can help too: I did a body scan and felt every pressure point and every tingle. I felt the warmth of my covers, and the softness of my pillow. I heard the birds, and the homeless guy in the alley outside my apartment chanting the F word. (#zen)

I remembered that emotions literally mean in motion, and that if I gave them space to leave, they would.

And they did.

I walked down to the farmers market early. I sat in the spring sun and read until I couldn’t stand it.  And I met friends for breakfast.  I even saved enough energy to cook and have dinner with a great friend and neighbor, AND go out for a drink.

<And then slept all day Sunday because who does more than three things in a day?>

Anxiety isn’t going to stop me, and that thing that’s keeping you in your bed eating Nutella with a spoon isn’t going to stop you either.  We’re braver than that. We know better now, and so we’ll do better tomorrow.