Andrea Petersen: On Edge–A Journey Through Anxiety

A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety

A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it—one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.

Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and exposure therapy. And she explores the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness, visiting top neuroscientists and tracing her family history—from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia, once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself.

Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, and it’s been a little while since I’ve reviewed any psychology nonfiction. I was excited to read Andrea Petersen’s On Edge–it’s always so encouraging to hear success stories from people who have had similar battles with anxiety that I have had.

However, I was confused right away, because On Edge is supposed to be Andrea Petersen’s memoirs…and it is not that at all. But neither is it exactly an objective journalistic history of psychology.

On Edge smothers us with too much information. In an effort to explain her diagnosis, Petersen gives a complicated back story of mental illness, pulling the reader in too many directions all at once. We are with her grandmother in the institution, we are with Petersen in a mid-flight panic attack, and then we are deeply entrenched in an incredibly boring History of Psychology class. I couldn’t figure out what end was up!

I would love to read Andrea Petersen’s memoirs. And I would love to read a book written by Andrea Petersen giving me detailed information about anxiety and mental illness. But to try and combine the two, and still keep the history sections objective just were not happening. Maybe that wasn’t the point, but it sure made it hard on me to switch gears so often. She needs to pick one and stick with it. This was a DNF–I made it halfway and then just couldn’t keep going. That’s highly unusual for a book of this subject matter.

NetGalley and Crown provided this ARC for an unbiased review.

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Patrick Ness: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…

So much of YA is the dramatic story about murder and tragedy among the popular kids. Vampires and werewolves and magic trolls in dungeons. This isn’t that story. This is something else, running parallel. This is the story of Emily the Background Slytherin and her friends (OMG KEVIN RUN). Those kids in the background who might actually do the assignments for graduation, whose lives go on no matter what might roam the halls or blow up the school.

But most importantly, this story is about a boy with OCD, a girl with an eating disorder, and  has both racial and LGBTQIA+ representation. Friends of mine who also have similar anxiety to mine insisted that I read this book ASAP because of the discussions that take place and I’m so glad they did. From start to finish, the OCD rep is just so incredible.

Mikey (I sort of cringe at this name because of those old cereal commercials) has severe anxiety/OCD–he gets into obsessive loops where if he doesn’t do a task exactly “right” something horrible will happen. Life becomes catastrophic inside those loops, getting worse and worse, and he becomes stuck.

Even though this is sort of a parody of YA fantasy, Ness does a wonderful job of blending his “Indie Kid” parallel with Mikey’s. The build up to the climax is so subtle that you hardly know it is coming–I sort of skimmed the chapter headings, but I thought they detracted from the actual story line, so I mostly just followed it through the main book.

I loved that Ness gives Mikey such a strong support system–his chosen family–instead of using the “hero comes to save him from his anxiety” trope. There’s a lot of talk about how one of his fears is that he is the least needed person, or no one would miss him if he were gone–I feel that SO HARD. And even though Mikey acknowledges at one point that he KNOWS he is lucky to have so many people who love him, to someone with anxiety, it’s so hard to convince ourselves that this is reality most of the time.

I could go on and on about everything that was amazing about the anxiety/OCD rep in this story. I want to quote the entire psychiatrist appointment to you. But, then you wouldn’t have to read the book, and I really think you probably should go read it. It’s going on my MUST READS list for sure, guys. So, yeah. Do it.

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Louise Gornall: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

How do some books just find you at the perfect time? It seems that I’ve read bad book after bad book lately (with one or two exceptions), and then blammo, right when I needed it, this book happened. Two days after I was FINALLY diagnosed with OCD, I pick up Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

I was hooked within the first couple pages. The narrator described her obsessions almost the exact same way I had written about them in my journal the day before my therapist appointment, and I got CHILLS. So much of what she talked about rang true with me. Mine is not near as severe, and I don’t have agoraphobia, but it was incredible to have such representation in a book.

But enough about me and back to the review. There are a lot of similarities between Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything and Under Rose-Tainted Skies. However, Norah doesn’t have to be “fixed” to have a relationship with Luke. Instead, he comes to her. He makes an effort to learn about her disorder. In the process of their relationship, she does heal some, but she isn’t magically better. It’s baby steps, or “new pathways,” as her therapist would call them. Luke helps her grow a bit out of her comfort zone.

This book is going to be triggering for some people. There is a component of self-harm, and a very traumatic scene. Norah also experiences panic attacks throughout the book–those were difficult for me to experience, as they were very vivid. Right on target, but also hard to read through if you are one who has panic attacks yourself. Representation is everything, and amazing…but just proceed with caution if you also suffer from these kinds of mental illness.

I loved this book, I found it so helpful to read about someone like me. We need so many more Own Voices books about people with mental illness in this world. Definitely put this on your list for 2017!

DiversityBingo2017:  MC with an Invisible Disability

NetGalley and Clarion Books provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Goodbye Dallas

Dallas.

This week two years ago we announced to everyone that we were moving south. I was excited, scared, anxious. It was the first time I had ever moved out of Indiana. While doing so was something I’d always wanted to do, when it finally happened, moving so far from my family wasn’t everything I expected.

Making friends was almost impossible. We met people we could talk to, but those conversations never lasted longer than one brewery meetup. And as prepared as I thought I was for that first holiday away from home, it hit me like a semi-truck.

Dallas. You threw me into the biggest mental breakdown I’ve ever had. I didn’t know depression could be like that. My anxiety essentially exploded. Everything about my personality has intensified.

But maybe that’s not all such a bad thing. Because of my time in Dallas, I’ve learned more about myself than I ever have before. I’ve learned to listen to my body and my brain and not to ignore when it calls. Being sick doesn’t make me weak. It actually makes me stronger.

My husband and I are closer, because we’ve had to be. Communication is crucial when we’ve gone through as much in four years as we have.

I also fell head over heals for Paws in the City and the people involved. Volunteering with them probably had more to do with my recovery than anything else did. What started as an every other day Twitter gig quickly turned into a friendship with a super supportive group of people who wanted to see me succeed. Not to mention the dog therapy, as I called it.

If you’re ever feeling depressed, volunteer for a dog shelter or foster organization, and roll around on the floor with a bunch of dogs (or cats). It may not totally cure you, but it’ll sure lift your spirits. And the dogs benefit quite a bit too.

By the way, all the dogs in this post (except the last one, she’s MINE) are available for adoption in Dallas, or you can donate HERE.

Dallas, even after all you put me through the first year, you made up for it in the second. I will miss you. It’s been hard to say goodbye these last few weeks. You’ve given me some great friends and wonderful memories.

But, it’s time to move on. See you guys next time from Peoria!

Why Self-Care is So Important

I’ve never taken great care of myself. I don’t primp. I don’t run. I HATE getting my face wet to the point that I keep a dry towel in my shower for stray droplets–which means washing my face is not a chore I am fond of.

I recently discovered LUSH, and it has been the best thing ever for my daily routines. I found a soap that I like to use on my face. Hair bars that cure my itchy scalp. And I even like taking baths now!

But self-care goes way beyond fancy soap. Daily routines are so important to those of us with sick brains, because there are so many days when it is hard enough just to get out of bed. Those routines at least give us something we must do. Or at least try, anyway.

I love this article at Lifehacker by Kristin Wong. She gives a bunch of ideas for ways to care for yourself when you are fighting the monster, and reasons for doing it. To Kristin, Self-Care shouldn’t be a reward, it should be a daily thing that we do every day.

PANIC! instead of sleeping

Last week I shared a journal entry written during a migraine. It was dark, and helped to illustrate a bit of depression’s tunnel of misery. But one thing I’ve never been able to do is write from within an episode anxiety. It’s just too intense and unfocused.

But then I read Sarah Gailey’s “Dissociation is Scary” Article on Boston Globe, and was blown away. I knew I’d have to try it. If you haven’t read Sarah’s post yet, you need go check it out. It’s incredible. Part poem, part essay–she illustrates just how terrifying a PTSD episode is.

Last night, my brain would not settle. I’d had a horrible day, and I was exhausted. But, of course, as soon as I hit the pillow, all that stress fired up.

I didn’t quite have what I consider a full panic attack, but it was definitely an episode. I didn’t sleep much at all last night. At some point, I wrote down the exact chaos that was running through my head.

I can’t I can’t I can’t
OK.
Yes.
No. No. No.
Breathe 123456
123456
123456
I am dying.
That’s different than I want to die.
Right?
It’s different.
Different.
Different.
Different.
Different……..
Can’t Breathe can’t breathe can’t breathe
Get upgetupgetupgetup
You piece of shit.
My chest hurts.
Take a pill. I should take a pill.
No. Bad. It’s bad. Addictive.
Don’t.
Why? Need it.
That’s why you have it. Take it.
No don’t waste it.
You may need it more later.
I can’t sleep. Need it. Can’t sleep can’t sleep.
TAKE A PILL DUMBASS.
FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK
It’s not WORKING.
Wait…wait…waiiiiiiit…….
Work FASTER. NEED TO SLEEP.
Still can’t breathe. Stop thinking.
Eyes hurt.
Chest hurts.
Want to sleep.
Cry…

 

Kristen Bell on Anxiety & Depression

While we know many celebrities suffer from mental illness, we don’t get to hear them talk candidly about it very often. Kristen Bell sat down with Sam Jones of Off Camera, and spoke very openly about how depression runs in her family and that there is no shame in taking medication for it.

Furiously Happy

I know that I am crazy. And that has made all the difference.

I read Jenny Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened a few years ago–not when it first came out, but after it had moved to the general shelves at Half-Price. I didn’t know what it was, I just found this silly book with a mouse on the cover and it was ridiculous enough, and on sale enough, to pick up. I probably got through the first few sentences before I was in love with her.

As soon as I found out The Bloggess was coming out with a new book, I started looking for updates. Due to my awesome Twitter skills, I won a contest and Jenny herself sent me a copy of her book! Yay!

Let me just tell you. Guys. Oh man. I was already laughing and crying by the end of the Note From the Author. Not even kidding. Furiously Happy is so much more intense than the first one. Jenny has gotten REAL about her battle with mental illness. I already admired her, but now she is basically my idol. This woman is badASS. To have struggled so intensely with brain fuckery and come out on the other side with such an incredible sense of humor and bombastic desire for life…sometimes it’s just hard to believe this is possible.

Sometimes it can be dangerous for one person with severe anxiety to talk to another person with severe anxiety. For example, before reading this book, I had never considered the concept of toilet corpses. I have OCCASIONALLY, especially after binging on cop shows, panicked about finding dead bodies in cars or ditches or other…normal…places. But in toilet stalls, nope. Thanks Jen. ‘Preciate that one. I can never pee again.

Furiously Happy is the kind of book I want to write someday. Jenny Lawson gives me so much hope that we can beat this stigma. Maybe not today. Maybe not this year. But there are people like me, people like Jenny out there who are not afraid to stand up and say I AM SICK AND IT IS OK TO LOVE ME ANYWAY.

“When I look at my life I see high-water marks of happiness and I see the lower places where I had to convince myself that suicide wasn’t an answer. And in between I see my life. I see that the sadness and tragedy in my life made the euphoria and delicious ecstasy that much more sweet. I see that stretching out my soul to feel every inch of horrific depression gave me room to grow and enjoy the beauty of life that others might not ever appreciate. I see that there is dust in the air that will eventually settle onto the floor to be swept out the door as a nuisance, but before that, for one brilliant moment I see the dust motes catch the sunlight and sparkle and dance like stardust. I see the beginning and end of all things. I see my life. It is beautifully ugly and tarnished in just the right way. It sparkles with debris. There is wonder and joy in the simplest of things. My mother was right.

It’s all in how you look at it.”

bookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragon

I won a free copy of this book by tweeting really fast.

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Just Walk Away

It is totally acceptable to remove yourself from a stressful or uncomfortable situation before it triggers you. In fact, I recommend it. Few arguments are ever worth a panic attack–it won’t solve anything.

Just get yourself out, go calm down.

I have to do this at home sometimes. One of us will be overtired, the puppy will be naughty, or our team will be losing. Something stupid. Whatever it is, the tension starts simmering and I know if I don’t go to bed RIGHT NOW I won’t be able to get out when everything boils over.

I will just sneak upstairs when The Hubs turns his attention elsewhere, or sometimes I will just tell him that I have to go. 9 times out of 10, he gets it. He usually asks me about it later, but I think for the most part he understands that when I reach that point, it’s better for me to fly than fight.

And that’s OK! I tell you all the time, KNOW YOUR LIMITS!

If it is a real issue, I know we will discuss it later, when things are calmer. Most of the time, though, it’s just us being grouchy butts. Things are tense in our house right now because of the relocation and store shut down. But, I know in a few months, everything will calm down and we’ll be exploring a new city together. That’s marriage!

 

Heads Carolina, Tails California

As much as my life calls for it, I don’t handle change well. My brain demands routine. The same schedule, the same people, the same places. I even rotate my teas–just enough for variety–but not too much and always in the same order. I require structure and a plan…most of the time.

So when something causes that structure to crumble, I become overwhelmed very fast. My face turns red, it gets hard to breathe. Lists start forming in my head faster than I can write them down as a survival tactic, until I’m drowning in them.

Three things have happened all at once. My team was shifted to a new, unfamiliar manager. The client I’ve worked with for six years is changing vendors. And Monday we found out that R’s store is closing and we are being relocated.

It will happen fast. 4-6 weeks at the most. Location TBD. He has to close the store first. Arrangements have to be made. Then, after two years of settling in, we pull up those fragile roots we’ve let ourselves feed out, and move to new soil.

It could be anywhere at this point. We could move closer to home, we could move somewhere just as far away. It’s an adventure, but it’s all unknown at this point. We are at a planning standstill.

I have so many emotions about this. To say I am overwhelmed is the understatement of the year. I may be more excited once I find out where we are going, but for now I’m very stressed. I’m sad to be leaving friends and an organization I’ve grown to care about very much. (By the way, check out Paws in the City, and donate if you can!) We ALMOST bought a house here. Thank goodness we didn’t!

We will know when we know. As The Hubs and I often say…

And we are….

MOVIN’ ON!