Monday, November 25, 2013

Losing Control: Panic Attacks

Before I begin I want to not that while anxiety and panic attacks tend to go hand-in-hand, and I don't want make this post super duper long, I'm going to focus on just my panic attacks for this post. I had/have many, many anxieties and want to give anxiety it's proper focus.

Now, onward. 

My heart begins to beat hard and fast. My mind is racing at an uncontrollable pace. My hands begin to shake. My eyes water and tears stream down my face. My throat feels like it is closing and it is hard to breathe.

About 5 minutes later, it's over. I've had another panic attack.

What exactly is a panic attack? Well, a technical definition from is, " a panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying."

To me, a panic attack is when you suddenly lose control of everything. From your body to your mind, you feel like you have quickly lost control due to reasons that could be unbeknownst to you. Your heart starts to race like you're being chased. Your hands start to shake uncontrollably. You're aware of nothing and everything at the same time. You can often feel like you are having a long-lasting heart attack and no one can help you because you yourself don't even know what's wrong. 

Then the next thing you know, it's over. And you're sat there wondering what the hell just happened and why it happened. You may not even realize you had a panic attack it was that short. Or you just don't even know what to call what happen or you shrugged it off as nervous energy, as it was with me in the beginning.

I often had mini panic attacks in high school. Whether it was over an exam, a field hockey game, where to sit at lunch, they seemed never ending at times. My heart rate would constantly be elevating when I thought about a situation that made me anxious, which quite frankly was all of the time. But I had never really seen one before so I never really realized that was what was happening until summer 2012 when I had a very bad, long one while I was on the phone with my mom. It was over me driving to the movies in Hunt Valley with a friend. I believe it was the driving part that triggered it, however I still don't know for sure.

Now let me back up a little to explain a few things. I have always been an anxious person, I do suffer from pretty bad anxiety; as in it's genetic and a true mental disorder. For the most part, there is no event that has triggered it, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There really is no one event that I can point to that causes my anxiety except, partially, when it comes to driving. 

I hated driving before I go my license but got it because it was/ is a necessity. The first day of my senior year of high school I was in a horrible car accident that left my car totaled. Before it, I was already an anxious driver but this accident just amplified it. And while I did get behind the wheel again the very next day because I had to drive to school, that didn't stop the heightened anxiety every time I slid into the driver's seat.

Now fast-forward a little and because I was rarely getting behind the wheel, any thought of me driving anywhere would bring on a panic attack, especially if I was driving somewhere I had rarely/never driven too. I basically lived in constant fear. The key to getting over my panic attacks and anxiety was to just drive and drive some more. But in order to do so, I actually had to work up the courage to get in the driver's seat, which was not an easy task.

To make matters worse, driving was not the only thing that caused these panic attacks. The there primary trigger was any thoughts of some sort of social gathering, hell at one point any type of social interactions, not involving my family and my mind immediately triggered a panic attack. While this may seem silly to some, this was my life. It's not that I WANTED to be this anxious and have all of these panic attacks, I just couldn't help it! They come on so suddenly sometimes that there is little time to stop it and you can only do your best to control them when they happen. 

The fact that they can happen at any time means one other thing: they can happen anywhere.

From my house to my car to the store to school, I've basically experienced one in any place you could imagine. This led me to essentially want to never leave the house. I would turn down invitations to parties, meals, etc. because I was terrified about what COULD happen. I became a hermit. I never really made friends. It sucked.

I lived in fear of many situations. I lived in fear of my anxiety. I lived in fear of panic attacks.


Due to the sometimes unknown nature of panic attacks as well as potential feelings of embarrassment, there are people who don't talk about their experiences. In turn, some don't get the help that is out there for them. I know I certainly was one of those people. As I mention in my story, I went to therapy. My therapist used Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, or CBT, with me. He helped me re-learn/ reprogram my responses to certain events/ stimuli that triggered my panic attacks. And I want to share a couple of those with you in the hopes that maybe someone else can benefit. Before I do, I want to instill one thing: if you do suffer from panic attacks just know that you are NEVER alone and there are things out there to help. No matter how lonely and scared you feel because of what you go through, you are never alone.

(As a quick side note, I feel like I should also mention that I am also medicated and that has also played a major role in helping me overcome my anxiety. This came about after conversations with both my therapist AND my physician as something that would be beneficial for me. They don't work for everyone. While I am for giving them a try I certainly DO NOT think this is a topic to take lightly. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS, consult with your doctor and listen to them. There's a reason they have the degrees they do.)

For me, deep breathing has been the main thing. My focusing on my breathing and that alone, I am able to relax, calm down, and return to 'normal'. If I feel a panic attack coming, no matter where I am, I do my best to stay quiet and focus in on controlling my breathing. I also try and make sure to stay positive in my thinking as I am doing so. Thinking, "Calm down! Don't be anxious! You're fine; quit worrying! Stop over-thinking! It's no big deal," only makes things worse because it works me up. I am sure others feel the same way. So I try to tell my self, "Focus. Deep breaths. Slow breaths. You're fine. There is nothing wrong it's just in your head. You are stronger than you think. You will be okay." 

Another way I have attempted to control them that may help others is that I began to be cognizant of when they occurred. I tried to note whenever I could when I had a panic attack. This actually really helped. I noticed that I hate sudden changes. I hate being unprepared. I hate being rushed. I hate knowing I might be late. This led me to learn how to go-with-the-flow more and take control. It took some 'baby steps', if you will, on my part but ultimately I have curbed the amount of potential panic attacks in those situations. That is not to say that I don't still like having a schedule/ being prepared, I definitely do, I have just learned that there are times where I have to be more flexible There are just times where things are out of my hands and I just need to roll with the punches all the while recognizing that a panic attack may arise.

In the past 12 months I have only had ONE panic attack. That was last month over a class and I'd like to think I handled it far better than I had previously. There have definitely been some other close calls however over time the previously mentioned methods have allowed me to manage them far better than I used to. Thinking about that now is almost freeing. If I can do it, so can you. Hopefully by sharing my experience some of you feel better and less alone in this. Panic attacks/disorders are one of the most treatable problems so if you want to change, in the wise words of Béla Károlyi "you can do it."


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Perfect Imperfections - My Skin

I initially debated saying this perfect imperfection of mine was my face. Then I realized that was too general as it's not my face as a whole I hate because of the grief it has caused me. It's my skin that causes the anguish, mainly because of one thing: acne.

I have been plagued with bad acne since I was about 10 years old, so basically half of my life I have been fighting this stupid demon. My acne has felt like an annoying little gnat that just keeps on coming back. This isn't to say that my situation has not improved over the years, believe me it has, but it just never seems to completely go away. My face used to look like I was attacked by bug bites in concentrated areas on my face. But it was never super bad like I know some people have dealt with. It was just a pain in the rear; a very noticeable pain in the rear.

And it made me want to hide my face. All of the time.

When it came to clearing it up I tried everything. Over-the-counter stuff, prescriptions, Proactiv, you name it and I have probably tried it. They either eventually stopped working, never worked, made things worse, or if they worked there was always some sort of negative that I couldn't handle. Some would dry out my skin so badly that my chin flaked. Badly. As if bad acne wasn't enough my skin made it seem like I had dandruff! Lotions and moisturizers would only work to an extent and could at times make it worse. I will admit that part of this was me not necessarily knowing what products do what and not having the patience to find the right combination. But I have learned now. And I have even tried going to dermatologists for more thorough treatments, but that wasn't effective for me either. There was even one time where a skin doctor prescribed medicine to me after only taking a quick glance at my face. 
I was crippled with embarrassment.

I started experimenting with make-up when I entered middle school, so at age 11. Thankfully, my mom understood my embarrassment and she took me to Sephora to have their consultants help me out After this, I would never go anywhere without at least some sort of concealer or foundation on. It didn't matter if I was just going to Target or going to be out all day. I had to cover my face. I would shy away from going places if I wasn't going to have time to put it on in fear people would stare at my face in disgust. It didn't matter that acne is so common amongst everyone Who would want to be seen with a person like that? Most people never noticed it or took a second look if they did, but I did and that was enough to terrify me of what others would think of me.

Even now I get a little anxious when I leave the house make-up free in fear that people are judging me for my less than perfect skin. But I now know that I am not the only person who deals with it. I have actually been fortunate because I now realize that my skin truly was never that bad. I also understand things that I can personally work on to keep my skin clear; it isn't always about the medicine. Using the right makeup, not always wearing it, keeping my hands off of my face, etc.

My skin is just another 'perfect imperfection' of mine that used to weaken my self-esteem that I have now learned to tolerate and understand. Even if there are still days where it makes me want to cry and pound my fists in frustration. But, then again, I am certain I am not alone in this.

And to prove (to myself more than anyone else) that I am comfortable in my skin and because I wanted a picture in the blogpost, I give you me facially naked on the internet (sorry for the lighting but oh well):

Until next time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Current Skincare Routine

I'm not going to lie, my skincare routine tends to be unstable. I am one who is constantly looking for new products because of how bad my skin can get. I don't play around with it as much as I do with makeup, but unless I find something that knocks me out of the park, I am always trying new things. Normally, I tend to prefer higher-end products for the simple fact that they tend to work better, so I have no problem splurging. But I have been pleasantly surprised with a few drugstore finds.

Simple Soothing Facial Toner: I grabbed this on a whim as I needed a new toner and I love their cleansing wipes. I've been using this for about a month now and have noticed a difference in my pore size and overall redness. It also is a great second step after the cleansing wipes in makeup removing to make sure the last little bits of makeup get off of your face.

Clean&Clear Persa-Gel 10: Maximum Strength: And oldie but goodie. I ran out of my Origins Super Spot Remover and needed a new spot treat on budget, so I picked this up. It's different from my Origins spot gel because that was salicylic acid while this one is benzoyl peroxide, but I used to use this in high school and it was one of the few things that worked for me. My only qualms with this product is that it can be extremely drying if you use it too often (which I do because I apply it 3 times a day…). But it is pretty fast acting in clearing up any blemishes so I can live with that, for now anyway.

Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer: My sister used this over the summer and I kept stealing it from her so when I came back to school I just had to purchase it for myself. My skin tone has evened out since I have started using this, but I can't be sure if it is 100% because of this product even though it does claim to help in that department. However, it does leave my face feeling and looking nourished and radiant after I apply it. I love that it contains SPF as well because I have enough skin problems as it is without getting sunburnt. 

Soap&Glory The Greatest Scrub of All: This is a gentle exfoliator and it claims to be for all skin types. I can only vouch for me and my dry skin, but I do like this. It isn't my favorite exfoliator that I've tried, but it is not harsh and leaves my skin feeling smooth. The exfoliating beads are small and there are a few containing salicylic acid that burst when you use it. I used to use it a few times a week but as the weather gets colder and my skin drier, I now only use it a maximum of once a week so I don't damage my skin.

Murad Clarifying Cleanser: I initially got this as a deluxe sample offer from Sephora for spending over $25 on an online order and was pleasantly surprised at the size of it for only being a sample. A little can go a long way with this product and I have noticed great results over the past few months I've used it. I love the tingly, cleansing feeling I get when I use it and after I wash it off my face always feels fresh. I'd never tried Murad products before this but I have heard great things about the whole line in general so I am interested in trying a few others. It also smells like lemon-lime and I love products that work and smell great.

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid and Cream: Another deluxe sample from Sephora that I just love. Both are moisturizers that have become life-savers for me. I use the liquid and then the cream and within three days my dry skin felt amazing. Both products are lightweight, fast absorbing, and provide a barrier to keep the moisture from leaving the skin while moisturizing at the same time. It's a shame the full-sizes are as pricey as they are or else I would repurchase these in a heartbeat as these are perfect for dry skin in the winter . 

Origins Drink Up 10-Minute Mask: Yet another Origins product that I love. This is a thick, intensive, and quick mask that really does leave the skin feeling very hydrated in just 10 minutes. There is also an overnight version, but I have yet to try it (although that will probably be one of my first purchases from Boots when I get to London). I actually use this as an overnight mask currently because my skin is so dry at times that it normal soaks up all of the mask in about 10 minutes anyway. It has a strong apricot smell that is an added bonus. 

What skincare products are y'all loving at the moment?


Monday, November 11, 2013

Meaningful Music Monday #2

Happy Monday all!

I keep meaning to do more of these posts, but I just keep forgetting. Ah well, here are a few songs that have put me, and hopefully you, in the right mood to start the week.

'Little Me' - Little Mix
"You gotta speak up, you gotta shout out,
And you know that right here, right now,
You can be beautiful, wonderful,
Anything you wanna be,
Little Me"

I swear this song describes high-school/ young me perfectly; and I know I am not the only one who feels that way.

'Don't Blink' - Kenny Chesney
"Cause when your hourglass runs out of sand
You can't flip over and start again
Take every breathe God gives you for what it's worth."

I have always loved this song but I'd forgotten how much I loved it until I heard it on the radio the other day. It's one of those songs that when you're in the right mood can hit you hard. Sometimes we all just need to remind ourselves to slow down and take everything in and embrace the now without rising the future.

Have a good week everyone!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Perfect Imperfections - My Smile

*Bloggers note: This was the first ever post on my blog and the first of this series but I didn't like it so I revamped it a little and reposted it. So it you think you've read this before, you may very well have. I'm going to redo all of the posts in this series but I won't delete the old posts until I redo them individually.*

I used to hate myself. I despised myself. This mentality went on for so long that there was a point where there was not one thing I liked about myself. So it was no wonder that I believed no one could like me either. Within the last year I decided to make a change that coincided with my seeking help for my depression and anxiety. I have learned to appreciate all of the things, big/small and/or genuine/superficial that make me who I am and separate me from everyone else.

My perfect imperfections.

I've found that one of the first things people tend to notice when they meet someone for the first time, and contributes to their first impression of said person, is their smile. And what was the number one thing I hated most about myself for basically my whole life? You guessed it, my smile.

Genetically, I was cursed from both sides of the family. This isn't to say both sides of my family have bad teeth, they don't (and there are many people from both sides with GORGEOUS smiles….lucky bastards ;) ), they're just not the strongest of teeth physically. To add on top of that, my mom took antibiotics whilst pregnant with me, and as a result I had marks on my teeth before they even grew in. Weak enamel + 2 years of braces (and some admittedly not so top notch brushing on my part) = calcuim-deposit markings galore on my teeth. Not to mention, I had buck teeth that stuck out with a gap in-between them (Thank goodness for braces).

This lead to me hating to smile. I was embarrassed. It wasn't necessarily the shape of my smile, but what was inside of it if that makes sense. in my mind, people wouldn't like me because of my disgusting smile. Sure, my teeth were straight, and the shape of my smile is quite nice, but who wants to look at someone with a smile that is not pearly white and has marks all over them? Not me.

Fortunately for me, this is the 21st century and there are ways to fix the markings. I didn't go all the way and get veneers because that destroys the real tooth and at my age that it simply not needed, but I did have bonding done. In short, my teeth were roughed/ etched a little and my dentist applied a resin that was similar to my natural color.  It was kind of like getting a filling done in a way. The only teeth I've had done so far have been my front top 6 have and I honestly could not be happier with the results. Even if I don't end up getting anymore teeth bonded, I would probably be okay with that. After all, most people don't see the bottom teeth and those are not nearly as bad as the top were. But it is amazing how much a relatively short appointment, well actually it took 2 appointments for those 6, can change your view of yourself. I honestly remember not being able to stop smiling after I got them done. It wasn't as if they were bright white afterwards, and they still aren't, but there were not any marks. None. Those marks that had made me so self-conscious for years were gone in a few short hours. My teeth were finally one color.

Now, my teeth may not be pearly white but I am no longer scared of what people think when I smile. I don't worry that people are judging me harshly because of what I thought was a disgusting smile. 

I've learned to be proud of my smile. My smile may not be perfect, and it may still not be
pearly white", but it is me. And dammit I like it.

second grade
This is my 2nd grade yearbook picture. Those teeth speak for themselves.

seventh grade
 Seventh grade mere weeks before those braces came off and I realized how bad the marks on my teeth were, in part due to the fact that I constantly had power-chains on my braces. 

And this is me now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fear of Failure

I have an intense fear of failure.

I've never coped well with failure. It is safe to say I used to react horribly and it greatly contributed to my struggles with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I won't lie, on occasion I still do react badly it is just  not as often. For me, most of my fears of failure have always stemmed from primarily one source: school.

In middle school and my first year of high school, I cried when I got Bs on exams/ projects. Literally. Eventually I "loosened up" and became okay with getting Bs, but they were acceptable to me only in my AP classes. My parents never had to put any pressure on me about schoolwork because I did it myself more than needed. If anything they would tell me to ease up a little. And during field hockey games, I would tear up if I ever let up a goal in a close game because I felt like I was failing my team. I remember when we lost in the state semi-final my sophomore year and in the state final my junior year I thought the losses were all my fault; I was the goalie after all, the last line of defense. Looking back now this all seems pretty silly, but back then it was perfectly normal to be. I stressed myself out so much over making sure I succeeded in school and so I graduated with over a 4.0 GPA that I had no social life because I burned myself out over schoolwork. And thus I was stressed over my lack of a social life and felt like a failure in that category as well; but that is different story for a different day.

I managed to make it through my first 3 semesters of college without really having to worry about getting anything lower than a B in a class. (Duh, most of my classes up until that point were mainly Gen Eds aka General Education courses - except Russian, I took Russian. That was hard.) Then came my spring semester of my sophomore year. Now, I have always been a person who is better at writing papers than taking exams. Much to my chagrin, I took a physiology course where my entire grade consisted of only 5 exams, your lowest of which was replaced by participation points(for most like me - a 100%). I would walk into my exams relatively confident that I would do decently and every. single. time. I would see my grade and nearly burst into tears. Only twice did I score higher than an F: the first and last exam, and they were barely Cs. I had to study like I have never studied before just to get that 73% on the final to ensure I would get the C I needed to pass that class and not have to retake it. This was the first C I ever received as a final grade. I know C means average and getting Cs is very common, just not for me.

But you know what? I'm damn proud of that CI worked my tush off for it. I realized you can't be perfect at everything and in every class. After all, "Cs get degrees". Even though the old me would have been crippled in sadness over getting that C because to me it used to scream "you're a failure"I didn't necessarily feel like one. Because I knew/ know I'm not one. I felt like I understood that I couldn't always get the grades I wanted simply because not everyone can be good at every subject. Sometimes the material just will never fully click with you in certain subjects. And that is okay.

Then about a month ago I was faced with another difficult challenge: I realized I may have to drop a class. I bombed an exam. Like really bombed. There's no light way to put it. Despite studying for hours that day before the exam and feeling pretty darn confident walking out of it, I just bombed it. I guess I should mention that I only go to this class half of the time because one of the days it's my only class and it isn't until 4:15. I live off campus and honestly it is hard to work up the desire to go even though I like the material and my professor is awesome. When I got this particular exam grade I was in another class waiting for it to start, and I broke down crying. I also got my grade for a small paper for the same class back, and that grade was horrible. I just lost it.

Getting a C is one thing, but admitting I am doing so poorly in a class I may need to drop it in order to not have an F on my transcript? Me? The girl who graduated top 5% of her class? The girl who has always prided herself on being strong at academia? This can't be happening. It just can't, not to me anyway. I was like I was losing part of my identity. 

After many tears shed and a few heart felt conversations, I've reached the point where I am comfortable with the fact that I may have to drop and retake the class despite my best efforts. I've done all I can at this point and maybe I have already dug too deep a hole to climb out of, this semester. That's what drop credits are for anyway, right? No matter how comfortable I feel about what I may have to do at the end of the semester, facing failure is an overall horrible feeling. I've had to learn that I can't be a perfect student and that academics don't define me anymore but this doesn't mean I am a failure. Grades don't make the person and don't tell the full story about one's intelligence despite common beliefs. I think I'm still coming to terms with that.

Sometimes you have to fail because failure and your response to it makes you stronger and helps you grow as a person. It makes you learn quite a lot about yourself. It's an unavoidable fact of life.

But boy can it be a tough pill to swallow.

Talk to y'all soon!