I’m not a doctor. If you believe you have anxiety or some other condition please consult a professional. I am, however, somebody who deals with anxiety and ADHD on a day to day basis. This post goes into how I deal with it personally and I encourage anybody reading who deals with similar issues to share their experiences and suggestions in the comments below. Keep in mind we’re all different and there’s no one size fits all cure.
I’ve said elsewhere I don’t want this to turn into Ben’s Anxiety Blog but as anxiety’s a part of my life it’s something worth talking about here. There are different types of anxiety, it manifests itself in different ways for different people, and there are various methods of treating it. Anxiety itself isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s one of the ways the body responds to certain situations. Sometimes a fight or flight response is called for. If you’re trapped with a wild animal it’s perfectly acceptable. Other times, when you’re sitting at a desk breaking into a cold sweat, not so much. If you regularly have stressful reactions to seemingly minor things, or even to seemingly nothing at all, then you may have an anxiety disorder. For me, anxiety was like the constant buzzing of a fluorescent light. Always kind of there, sometimes in the background, sometimes loud and up front. When I described it to my doctor he decided to put me on Celexa.
Some people and groups don’t believe in treating psychological problems with medicine. I will say right now, for the record and for anybody considering commenting as such, kindly fuck off. There’s enough misconceptions and stigma dealing with mental health. If I could simply “snap out of it” or “stop feeling bad” I would have done that long ago. There is no shame in wanting to feel better.
I take Celexa once a day and Buspirone twice a day. Celexa is the one that helped me to even be able to talk about my issues at all. Before then I was terrified of seeming abnormal. I still get terrified, sometimes, but now it’s more situational and something I can deal with. I started Buspirone after telling my doctor I still carried a lot of physical tension around even with the other prescription. It’s easily the worst-tasting med I’ve ever been on but it does help. Once we determined I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder I was prescribed Adderall. It helps me keep my concentration though we had to increase my dosage. For a few frustrating weeks I felt like I was of two minds, able to observe my actions but unable to act. It’s also a controlled substance which makes getting refills frustrating and traveling more complicated than it needs to be.
I asked my doctor to recommend me to a therapist because I knew I had some issues to work on. After some issues with my insurance I started seeing one once a week until she retired at the end of November. She helped me identify I had ADHD and sensory issues. Once we figured that out it became a matter of accepting and coming to terms with it. People with ADHD are more prone to develop problems with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. and though I’m pretty sure I inherited mine, being undiagnosed ADHD growing up probably added to my frustration. Therapy for me has two benefits. Having a safe space to get things off your chest is important, especially if you don’t have one otherwise, and it gives you reassurance you’re thinking logically. It also helps you plan. I booked a trip to Canada after my therapist suggested going to an event with like-minded people to get away for a bit. She was genuinely impressed I was motivated enough in my own treatment to do that. I believe in being proactive and, even though doing new things can be scary at times, conquering that fear is part of the reward.
Family and Friends
If you have a good support system set up you’re going to have an easier time. Likewise, if your friends and family aren’t on board, things get more difficult. I love my family but they’re a lot like me in some ways and very different in others. My mom doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with me. She’s convinced it’s just part of my personality. My dad doesn’t really grasp what I’m in therapy for, either. They grew up at a time when you didn’t talk about mental issues. If you had them you were simply nuts. With that mode of thinking admitting there’s anything the matter with me means accepting there’s potentially anything the matter with themselves and they’re not ready for that.
My friends have been very compassionate. I only wish I were closer with more of them. When the only way you keep in touch with most people anymore is through Facebook you miss deeper connections. I fully accept my own blame in this regard. I haven’t been the best person to get close to and it’s something I’m trying to get better at. I care about people but I also get terrified I’ll do the wrong thing and be rejected. I’m also introverted and burn a lot of energy when I’m with others. I’m working on getting better at saying no without feeling horrible.
I’ve journaled off and on since I’ve been able to write. As I’ve gotten medicated I’ve been able to think more clearly address my thoughts/emotions. I try to write every day now as a way to get things off of my mind and to do something constructive with them. Some days it’s just a string of obscenities about whatever’s making me angry. Other times I can have a revelation by actually taking the time to write my feelings out. It’s easy to get busy and spend all your mental energy just being reactionary. It’s a good pressure valve to look inside and sort your own thoughts out. My current favorite method is to type in a TaskPaper document on my computer. I used TaskMator on iOS for awhile but the ability to fold entries up once I was done with them was too important to me. I recently got Editorial and it’s very elegant.
I mentioned TaskPaper specifically because I sync to my mobile devices through Dropbox to keep things organized. This means I can be waiting in line, pull out my phone, and type something up to get back to elsewhere later. The TaskPaper format makes it very easy to search, tag, and organize. Lists are important to me because they gave me a way to structure the things I dump in my journal entries into actionable plans. They’re also good because we all tend to carry too much in our heads. When something comes to mind, write it down so you can pull it out later. A lot of anxiety can be resolved by planning and feeling secure there’s a plan in place. Lists can always be changed around and re-written, too, so they’re low pressure.
Plans and lists are great tools but they’re only tools. Some people can spend their days debating what hammer they should buy and never actually get to that home improvement project. Settle on the tools that works best for you then take action. In my case that means actually writing the blog post I plan on writing, on opening that art program and designing those characters I’ve been meaning to develop. It’s easy to get swallowed up in just one type of task. I’ve spent weeks tinkering with PHP and MySQL, fiddling with WordPress plugins and CSS, only to realize I haven’t drawn anything in ages. Once you lay out your plan you need to stick with it. Some days I might not feel like writing. Others I can fill pages before lunch. The trick is giving yourself enough room to feel comfortable. One thing I learned doing webcomics is it’s very easy to fall into a strip a day mentality with projects. If you only focus on doing a thing a day you can fall behind easily. Eventually you’re waiting until you’re right against a deadline. I really recommend laying projects out further. I’d pencil a week’s worth of comics at once, for example. It was much more fulfilling getting ahead and getting more done though it did require more lead time up front.
It’s important to have clear goals when sitting down to work. When I’m planning I pull out the calendar and know the constraints I have to work with. How many weeks do I have to work on this? I try to set my own deadlines ahead of when they outside factors influence them. In college when I had to finish something over the weekend I’d stay up all night Friday or Saturday so I could recover on Sunday. Once I know what I need to do I can delegate the different parts as needed. If I’m going to be drawing all day I put myself into drawing mode. Gestural layouts are a different mindset from refined lines and inking, for example. It’s also good to divvy things up so you don’t over extend yourself. If I have to spend multiple days on the same stage of a project I get worn down quicker. If I’m doing an animation I might do the basic planning on the whole thing but the longer it is the more I’m going to subdivide. I’ll work on one segment in rough keys, then refine it, then move on to the next instead of trying to completely rough animate an entire sequence out. I need to feel like you finished something each day, be it that week’s pencils or the rough animation on a segment. Otherwise I can have trouble switching modes and getting back to writing when all I’ve done is draw and vice versa.
Distraction and Ritual
I stated earlier I have sensory issues. I’m still sorting out what that means and the proper ways of dealing with them. I know I’m light sensitive and get migraines regularly. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed I’ll turn the lights out in my studio and lay on the floor until I calm down. I also have trouble with background noise, voices in particular. If a television is on in the same room as somebody I’m trying to have a conversation with I can’t tune it out. My mom tends to leave the set on because she likes the noise. To me it’s like constantly hearing somebody call out my name. It’s really distracting and it cuts through to my ears. I’ve started wearing noise-canceling headphones to block sounds like that and to channel my focus on things I actually want to listen to like some of my favorite playlists.
This ducktails nicely into the idea of creating ritual and routine. I have playlists of music I work to because they have an energizing effect on me. They also reinforce the idea that now it’s time to concentrate on work, helping me transition from whatever mode I was in before into one for working. Likewise I also have relaxation playlists for winding down at the end of the day and accepting work time is over. I can get fussy and repetitive with my music, listening to the same artists over and cover as I find it comforting. I listen to a lot of instrumental tracks so the words don’t distract me, unless it’s an album I’ve listened to so much I’m used to it. I try to do as much mental heavy lifting early in the day as I can so my decisions are sharp. Laying out images takes up more headspace than the straight forward tasks of refining and inking or coloring them. It’s easy to get bored with ADHD I need to give myself enough wiggle room to play and enjoy what I’m working on. I don’t want to be my own version of the coworker who did all the creative work on a project and hands it off for the grunt work.
Anxiety tends to be triggered by regular factors. These can vary from person to person so it’s good to know what things set you off so you can avoid them. For me it’s situations where I might not know enough about what’s going on and fear looking stupid. This ramps up when I see others don’t have confidence in me. I hate being rushed or held late, especially when I’m tired and having trouble focusing. This happens to me more than it should as I have trouble excusing myself because I’m afraid it’ll be awkward.
Being Well Rested
Sleep has a lot to do with how we feel. I know it’s hard to get enough rest, especially when we’re busy, but I really do notice when I’m stressed out that I haven’t been sleeping regularly. We’ve all tried that sleep math of a nap here, a few hours there, hoping it adds up. It’s not just the amount of sleep but the quality of sleep we get. If you sleep through the night you’ll feel better than you would if you woke up every hour. When I haven’t had enough sleep I’ll be irritable. I’ll try to work and nothing will feel right. Even if it’s something I really want to work on I’ll be struggling. Sometimes this leads to getting frustrated with myself and it’ll spiral from there. It’s something I’ve become aware of and need to take steps to prevent from happening.
Now and then I need to remind myself to step back. I have to give myself permission to relax and take some time away from what’s bothering me. Occasionally that means calling it a night and coming in fresh the next morning. Once in a while it means scaling back my expectations so I don’t push myself too hard. Plenty of times it means snuggling with my cat and being ok with what I’ve gotten done for the day.
I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this topic in the future as I get better at recognizing what sets off my anxiety and compensating for it. I’ve learned to not fight with the anxiety so much as accept I’m going to feel it, that it’s ok to get upset sometimes, and remember it’s not going to last forever. Everyone feels anxiety at some points in their lives. It’s a matter of not letting it control us or stop us from doing what we want with our lives. I’d like to thank you for taking the time for reading this far. If you have any advice or comments you’d like to share I’d love to hear them. How do you handle your anxiety issues?