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.




23 Comments on “The “Mean Reds””

  1. kit gruelle said at 1:59 am on April 7th, 2013:

    This is so beautifully written Cindy. So many important points, especially for women. We have GOT to learn to say NO. I wish I had much, much earlier in life. Thanks for illuminating a few of the darker corners of our lives with your experience, insight and wisdom!

  2. cindy said at 2:02 am on April 7th, 2013:

    Thank you, dearest Kit. It was a struggle to “come out”. Please share this, as I hope someone who is feeling it can be encouraged. It does get better!!

  3. Ginny Solos said at 2:47 am on April 7th, 2013:

    Thank you so so so much for posting. I believe our family is predisposed with the anxiety gene. The panic attacks are the worst. I admire the courage to share with all of us, the determination to heal and the power to prevail. I think you are an amazing woman and I am so blessed to get to know you better as an adult through all of your posts!

    Peace, love and light,


  4. Alma Hatfield said at 9:25 am on April 7th, 2013:

    Cindy, your ability to explain your own experience, and do it so eloquently, will be more helpful to others than about anything else you could possibly do. Whenever we have to deal with something difficult/frightening we socialized humans do have a tendency, often reinforced by our upbringing, to hide it and keep it a secret. This reinforces our own feeling that whatever it is, it’s so terrible that we are the only ones in the world who have anything like this in our lives and that if people knew, .. they would dislike, ridicule or distance themselves form us. None of those assumptions are true; just the opposite. Once we “come out” regarding our own issues, whatever those may be, we learn we’re really not unusual. Others, especially those who have dealt with similar issues are happy to help and support us, and, most important of all, our story may just be the real “life saver” someone needed to hear just to have the strength to continue on. You are a brave and wise woman. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Debbie feiges said at 7:05 pm on April 7th, 2013:

    Speaks to me almost directly! Love that you can write so well. Oh the things that are hidden deep. Take care and keep posting.

  6. Connie Reynolds said at 9:20 pm on April 7th, 2013:

    Wow Cindy, that took a lot of self love to publish! I am so happy you are better. I have some stories to share. Someday I will. My life sort of lives me instead of me living it. It’s nice to hear some honesty so we all do not feel alone in our struggles. Peace, Connie

  7. cindy said at 9:27 pm on April 7th, 2013:

    Hi Debbie,
    I was hoping some people could relate. It’s also becoming more prevalent in women our age and women in general. Thank you for sharing this, and I’ll keep at it!!

  8. cindy said at 9:31 pm on April 7th, 2013:

    Thank you Alma,
    I almost used the word “coming out”. Yes, such a stigma to any type of mental illness, and it’s taken me years to go public with it. I always appreciate your comments and thank you for your words of support!

  9. Amy Hillgren Peterson said at 10:56 pm on April 7th, 2013:

    Cindy, my 17 year old daughter is being treated outpatient, locally, for anxiety disorder. I beat myself up wondering if we had put too much pressure on her to be great, because she is quite a bright and gifted young woman, and when she was three I taught her to say “cardio-thoracic surgeon” and similar words related to lofty goals. I backed off when she was seven and basically told me to back off, and we usually have a wonderful relationship.

    Thanks for sharing this — that sometimes the reds just grow inside us, and the important thing is learning to handle them as well as we can, and alleviate them when possible.

    My daughter plans to join the Army in officer training after graduation, so she’s going to be giving some reds back to me, if I gave them to her early on. 🙂

    Be well.


  10. cindy said at 11:04 pm on April 7th, 2013:

    Thank you Amy, for sharing that story. It’s hard to talk about and I appreciate your talking about your daughter. I hope all will be well with her. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

  11. Marcia said at 10:19 pm on April 8th, 2013:

    There is nothing harder in the world than seeing and feeling someone that you love…suffer. We as women have what is called the stress contagion. Not only do we live with our own stress, but we often absorb the stress of others…especially those that we love like our children. Men tend to be Type A, and women are Type E, wanting to be everything to everybody. I remember and still feel that perfect storm of 4 years ago. I know that we all came out stronger than before, but it was a difficult journey.

    I praise you Cindy for how far you have come in your journey and the discoveries that you have made in the last 4 years.

  12. cindy said at 1:33 am on April 9th, 2013:

    Thank you dearest Marcia!! I agree that women do absorb the stress of others (particularly our children). Is it a combination of socialization and our natures that we tend to be the caregivers. Like the term stress contagion, it makes sense. xoxo

  13. Debbie said at 8:37 pm on April 10th, 2013:

    Cindy, this is my favorite one yet. I love getting to know you better. Thank you for being vulnerable. It’s critical for real healing – and by being open, you are helping to heal others (including me! “We brag too much about how busy we are.” Wow, does that one hit home! Thanks for helping me stop and slow down, if even for a few minutes, by giving me the opportunity to read your wonderful blog! Keep the wisdom coming! Debbie

  14. cindy said at 2:07 am on April 11th, 2013:

    Thank you, Debbie. I’ve had so many comments from people, on the site, by email and on facebook, especially women! I so appreciate you coming back to read my posts!

  15. cindy said at 2:08 am on April 11th, 2013:

    Thank you, Connie. The issue of anxiety seems to have struck a chord with so many of my readers. Keep coming back and peace to you too!!

  16. cindy said at 2:10 am on April 11th, 2013:

    Ginny, thank you for reading all these posts, it means a lot to me. Glad you are part of the Waitt clan! Peace and light to you, too!

  17. Kimberly said at 1:01 am on January 18th, 2015:

    Cindy-what an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. There are so many people I’ve know suffering from depression-including my husband. It is sometimes difficult to be the person on the other side –not knowing what to do to help your friends and family and even those we barely know is not easy. One wants to help, but not knowing exactly how to do it sometimes takes on trials and tribulations of their own.Education. I’ve found taking classes, reading and most importantly listening helps a lot. I would love to hear more about the techniques of those around you that love you so much. Like you mentioned wording something in a different way. Anyway, thanks for sharing. I think the world of you and alwsys have…

  18. Renee said at 2:41 am on January 18th, 2015:

    Thank you Cindy, I have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks for over two years now. I was in an accident, I was inside the building where I practiced massage,and a car drove thru the building and hit me.
    It has been a long road, many trips to Mayo and panic when driving. I have also gone thru depression, as I am no longer able to work. I have been in therapy with a trauma therapist ever since,and I don’t know what I would do without her.
    It took courage for you to open up about your journey. Thank you so much. Healing is a journey and opening up about it really helps.

  19. cindy said at 2:50 am on January 18th, 2015:

    Thank you, Renee. Yes, agree, it was hard to open up, but hoping it would help someone and so glad you opened up as well! I wish you all the best on your journey, and I still struggle sometimes, so I’m with you on that!

  20. cindy said at 2:53 am on January 18th, 2015:

    Kimberly, I think the world of you too! I just found lately that taking special care of myself, (like 3 days at Miraval Spa in Tucson, and going to Sedona, helped me get in touch with the spiritual side again. A bit like the old days when you lived here. 🙂

  21. Kelly said at 11:06 pm on May 20th, 2016:

    Just knowing there is someone else out there going through a similar experience can be just the nudge needed to move someone to seek treatment. Thank you for courageous and willingness to share very difficult experience, so that others may benefit.

  22. cindy said at 3:01 am on May 21st, 2016:

    Thank you, Kelly!

  23. Bob Beck said at 6:14 am on May 23rd, 2016:

    Cindy, thank you for sharing a well thought out and helpful piece. It means a lot more coming from a person who has experienced feelings in life than a journal article!

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