The “Mean Reds”

April 7th, 2013

This weird little painting I did in 2007 kind of looked like anxiety to me, so I called it “Anxietree”

Holly GolightlyYou know those days when you get the mean reds? 

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues? 

Holly Golightly:  No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?  Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961

Update March 31st, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads like wildfire across our planet, I wanted to  update this.

Most people now are finally realizing how serious this is. My therapist and psychiatrist are seeing so many Americans lose their collective minds over this.  It’s nationwide anxiety ramped to a massive level.  

An anxiety disorder or just normal anxiety has to be managed. It’s even harder for us with our diagnosis. And the newness of Covid 19 leaves us feeling out of control.  In some ways, we are.

In other way, we can take the steps to help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

I’m in a high risk category, being over 60 with  an existing condition. This makes the anxiety go to new heights.  But there are tools I’ve learned that can help. I share those below.

A  final note: Stay informed, but walk away from your screen when you need to.  and you do need to. Physical distance is key. Follow your state guidelines, listen to the experts.  Know that even if young and asymptomatic, you can be a silent carrier. Stock up without panic buying.

Below is the original piece. Still of value I hope for anyone right now. Stay safe, stay well, keep in touch with those who support you.

In 2009, I was on my brother’s  plane, escaping Iowa and an incoming early spring blizzard and on my way to someplace warm and beautiful and ..  I’d rarely been so miserable.

The warm and beautiful place was a rather posh and  famous rehab facility, where I knew no one, and where I would end up spending 42 of the most difficult days of my life.  It was one of those places that treat multiple things.  I’m not sure that model is the best.  It started as a drug and alcohol rehab, but expanded.  There was a boot camp atmosphere there that was too rough for many,  and I saw many like me leave.  I wanted to leave, but I stuck it out.

Depression, pain, trauma, eating disorders,  and drug addiction were all on the menu. My “choice du jour”, at the doctors insistence, was “Generalized Anxiety Disorder, with concurrent Major Depressive Disorder.  I trusted that, as they did have excellent doctors and a team of 3 psychiatrists and a psychologist did a thorough evaluation.

What drove me there was what a man who was there called “a perfect shit storm” of  kind of …horrible stuff.  Everything had started collapsing around me, my health, my nerves, my relationships, and actually, my life.  I thought my work was ok.  I worked hard and sometimes I worked smart. But looking back, that wasn’t the best time in my career.  I was accomplishing things externally, but I wasn’t handling it all very well, when I went and looked inside.  That’s what an anxiety disorder can and does do.  Inside, it feels like that tree-dark, foreboding, and frazzled.  In my case, it was called “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”.  And, in my case, it doesn’t get really bad until I add sleep deprivation, and usually a pharmaceutical. In this case, it was anesthesia from a surgery that helped kick it into high gear.

I’d already had a major depression/ anxiety episode 27 years before after childbirth, so when I woke up from the anesthesia, it had been so long, that I didn’t know what hit me.  Now I know exactly when it hits and how to reach out. 

I learned at the posh boot camp place that an anxiety disorder can have a number of causes, but they are never sure which one takes us over the edge and makes our brain work (or not work) the way it does. It can come on because of trauma, or it can be inherited.  Whatever mixture comes together to create it, though, essentially produces a chemical imbalance.  When that happens, it needs to be treated, and treated right away.  By the time I was headed to this rehab place, I needed treatment, and fast, or so everyone thought.  I now agree.

Some anxiety happens to everyone.  But this is heavier and  different from the normal anxiety we humans face in stressful life situations. It’s persistent, it’s painful, and it can be debilitating when you fall into an episode.  Here’s a quick version from the Mayo Clinic of what an anxiety disorder can look like in the mind and in the body:

  • Constant worrying or obsession about small or large concerns
  • Restlessness and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or your mind “going blank”
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy or being easily startled
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating, nausea or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat

It took time to start to treat a lifetime of anxiety, fear and worry, whether rational or not.  The episode I had was a long time in coming, and treatment wasn’t going to be quick.  And it wasn’t going to be easy.  It still isn’t.  But it CAN get better.  That isn’t a platitude or a campaign slogan, it’s true. It can.  There are people that can help, but a lot of the work is up to you.

And do know that Generalized Anxiety Disorder can not be cured.  It can be treated, thankfully, but not cured.

Not everyone with anxiety will have to go away, as I did.  Treatments are different for different people.  The menu of choices can be long.   But if you are suffering from this, and it persists for months, it’s not always going to go away on its own.  This was my menu below, and what worked for me.

 1) Consider talking to  professionals on what kind of anxiety you might have specifically.  There are a lot of types, from panic disorder to phobias to social anxiety. This is vital, in my opinion. It worked for me.

2) Talk about it.  Don’t do this by yourself.

3) Breathe.  Not shallow breathing, breathe deep.  There are all sorts of breathing techniques. Look them up and do them.

4) Move.  A lot.  Try to do something most every day. I swim and walk.  Anxiety can kill brain cells, exercise can rebuild them.

5) Get outside and walk or immerse yourself in nature.  This is not easy in winter but, even then fresh air can help.  

6) Immerse yourself in something you love.  It’s good therapy.

7) Medication is up to you and whoever is treating you.  It helped me, but everyone is different. But if it’s severe, a great psychiatrist once said to me, that all these tips I’m giving will help, but medication is extremely important for severe episodes.

8) Learn to say no.  We move too fast, we live too close together, we work too much, and we brag too much about how busy we are.  Stop, slow down.

9) Take care of yourself first.  You have to, or you can’t take care of anyone or anything the way you want to.

10) Try to unplug yourself when you need to. We’re inundated with technology. You don’t always have to be connected.  I struggle with this one all the time.

11) Know that you aren’t alone.  More than 40 million people suffer from anxiety disorders in this country, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).  In fact, anxiety disorders are on the rise in this country, which makes total sense to me.

12) It’s ok to be straight with people about your struggle with anxiety, but only when you feel comfortable doing it.  It took me a long to share this, and this is hard for me to do,  but I’m hoping that if it helps one person who reads this, it’s worth it.

13) Laugh.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.  

14) Yoga helps me.

15) Sleep. Work with your doctor or therapist for help if you have trouble with this. 

16) My therapist recommended meditation. It’s working for me beautifully and I take private yoga with one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.

 I had a happy ending at that time, if you can call anything an ending, as I’m still here, and I’m still working on all of this. 

Sadly, 2009 wasn’t my last bout with a severe episode.  The next came in 2016.  

I have some good tools in my toolbox now, good professional support, and good people who love me .  My brother said to me during all the hell I went through, “We just want Cindy back”.  They got Cindy back, and at least for the next seven years I got Cindy back too.




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