Cowan Palace: Hi, I Have Anxiety

This week Ashley attempts to wrestle the bear that is anxiety.

Remember that alphabet letter word name association game? The one your summer camp counselors/RAs made you play? You know, you have to say your name and something you’d bring to a picnic starting with the letter of your name? Like I’d say, “Hi, my name is Ashley and I’m bringing “apples” to the picnic!” Well, secretly I’d think, “Hi, my name is Ashley and I’m bringing anxiety to the picnic and I’m worried we won’t have enough food or blankets and that people will hate it… but I’m also glad you guys are bringing some snacks.”

See, I’ve been battling anxiety in its many shapes and sizes my whole life. Since before I even knew what the word meant. And at times it has been difficult to manage. The familiar, heavy pit in my stomach, the racing heart, and the restless nights have become a daily reality. I’ve learned to hide it most of the time and often my only tell is the unfortunate red hives that make themselves at home on my chest when I’m feeling that good ole anxious feeling. I’ve stayed away from medicating myself because my tolerance for things seems to ride both extremes (you should see what one Tylenol PM can do to me and what heavy prescription muscle relaxers can not do to me!) so I’ve had to try and come up with creative solutions to keep those anxiety waves at bay.

Acting proved to be a most effective tool. Getting the chance to escape and focus on the one thing that I was most passionate about helped my balance. When I hated my job or something in my personal life and it was causing me a lot of useless stress, I depended on whatever show I was involved in at the time to be the light at the end of my dark tunnel. Unfortunately, due to other life stuff, I haven’t really been able to use that technique in almost two years. And, there were certainly times it may have helped! But it also made me develop other coping skills and strategies. So, in case you find yourself struggling with some unease, perhaps this can help:

Walk Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

Along with often being anxious, I can also be secretly super competitive. And getting one of those bracelets to track my steps has been awesome. The walking helps me to relax and think things through. I also tend to be more willing to create possible solutions when I’m moving rather than letting myself collapse in bed weeping in despair (though, sometimes that happens and it’s okay). Plus, I love trying to constantly beat yesterday’s personal goal and having a tiny, wearable device assist in that challenge can be pretty fun.

Sing Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

I sing every day. It simply makes me happier. When I feel super overwhelmed and can make myself sing along to something, I instantly feel better. Plus, I don’t need a stage or an audience but can still manage to feel as theatrical as I need to feel.

Pic One

Go Back In Time

Okay, this is a weird one. But try to stay with me. Whenever I can remember to do it, I think of a time in the past where I was really struggling with something and letting my anxiety get the best of me. I then try and send past Ashley some words of encouragement. Now, when I’m feeling emotional, I imagine what future Ashley is saying to me and try to step back. It’s always amusing that something that feels like the world one day can often result in a forgettable issue with a little time. Getting some perspective helps.

Watch Netflix Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

That’s pretty self explanatory. It may seem like a bad escape but sometimes you gotta allow yourself to zone out and just binge watch the crap out of some show. The trick is to not feel guilty about it. Then go do something completely different. Like a walk or something.

Make A Schedule And Actually Stick To It

Structuring my day helps me to feel like I have control over it. The more I can pack into my planner, the better. It’s often my idle, free time that allows my mind to wander to anxious places. Even if it’s simply writing a few things to do with a basic timeline, it can improve my week.

Pic Two

Tell One Person. Or Just Everyone

This isn’t an invitation to write some vague, passive aggressive Facebook post but if you feel better after sharing your feelings, I support it. Sometimes formulating your concerns and voicing it to the right audience can help you move forward. Maybe try honestly opening up to one person before seeking social media guidance or write a Theater Pub blog about it.

Collapse Onto A Messy Bed Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

Some days, I just have to own my feelings in a big way. And sometimes my coping mechanisms just aren’t enough. So if that means weeping for an hour to get them out, I go for it. Truly, I think identifying what you’re feeling is half the battle, taking responsibility for it is the other.

And so I leave you with those seven thoughts. That, and a request to be kind and patient with each other. Like, bring that to the name game picnic and then go have an actual picnic. Until next time!

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3 comments on “Cowan Palace: Hi, I Have Anxiety

  1. Colleen Egan says:

    I am really glad that you shared this part of your life with the world. That is brave and you should feel supported in your honesty. I do feel compelled to say that I become wary when folks seem so so quick to write off professional medical help and medications. Anxiety treatment in 2015 is not what is was 40 or even 5 years ago. People with true acute anxiety (which often comes along with other acute mental diagnoses) should not be discouraged from seeking the help of psychiatry-now more readily available than ever with the ACA. Throwing yourself into your creative work is wonderful, just like it is wonderful when a diabetic sticks to a healthy diet and exercises, they still take their insulin. It sounds like your experience with medication was not the healthiest (Tylennol PM and muscle relaxers) but that’s not the story for everyone. Medication can greatly improve the quality of life for people living with mental illness, it also saves lives.

    I also get that “anxiety” can mean different things to different people. For some people it is a word to describe their reaction to day to day stress, for others it is a serious medical condition that can completely prevent a person from normal function.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. ashcows says:

    Hi Colleen! Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out and comment. (Total sidebar, while I don’t think we’ve officially met in person, I’ve admired many of your performances on stage!) I actually agree with your thoughts on medication. And you’re totally right, things in the past 40 years have probably changed a lot; as the daughter of a man who studied psychology and worked in a mental hospital back when they went by that name, I’ve always been fascinated by the development and understanding of some of these subjects. I’m sure they’ve continued to advance in these past few years, even, and will continue to do so as we keep learning from each other and our experiences.

    Without getting too much into personal history, I’ve seen the success the right medication can have in regards to combatting anxiety. The Tylenol PM comment wasn’t actually something I’ve used for anxiety but rather a joke my husband teases me about because I have had very strong reactions to it but hospital regulated meds during the birth of our daughter had different results; the one time I did try something for anxiety, however, it unfortunately wasn’t a great match. Though, I’ve also had issues on birth control pills. That’s probably TMI (but hey, we’re all friends here, right?) but I just mention it to reiterate that my body tends to have unpredictable reactions (and continues to surprise doctors!) and while my personal experience with meds didn’t go as planned, I’m grateful for their assistance and happy that many of my close friends and family have found ones that have worked well for them. Perhaps as medications develop, I’ll find something that’s a better fit for me.

    While most people will find themselves somewhere on the anxiety scale at one time or another, it’s good to know that there’s help out there and different ways to manage it (this blog was just a few of mine!). In any case, I’ve found that being able to talk about it can be a good thing! For years, I tried to hide it but opening a dialogue and learning more about how it may have played a part in other lives and experiences has been really helpful. And I thank you for being a part of that conversation for me! Hopefully, I can keep learning from those who are kind enough to offer their perspective and open up that chance to anyone else who may share some of these feelings.

  3. Colleen Egan says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Ashley. And thank you again for sharing your honesty. I agree that openness and about anxiety (and all mental disorders) can lead to greater understanding.

    Best.

    Colleen

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