July Warrior – Paula

July Warrior – Paula

Hello all! And welcome to my next Warrior of the Month segment. This one is pretty personal for me, as she is my junior high bestie! We used to spend countless hours in her basement drinking Dr. Pepper and eating popcorn twists, singing karaoke like we were professionals. Everyone meet Paula! Paula has had her issues with anxiety, but today she’s going to talk about how that affected her during a very upsetting time in her life. Read her story below.

I didn’t think writing this would be hard but I’ve opened up this document at least five times and left it blank…  My name is Paula, I’m 26 years old, and I guess I’m here to tell a bit of my story.  Growing up I was a social butterfly, outgoing, and always needing to be the center of attention. I’d been around a familiar group of people from the age of five to seventeen, so after high school when I dove into university I learnt a lot about myself… I discovered that even though I could hold a conversation with a classmate I just met, I hated the thought of doing it.  Even though I could stand in a room and public speak, I wanted to DIE at the thought of it for days prior. I would spend unreasonable amounts of time wondering if I would look okay, sound smart enough, or impress my peers and professor. I found myself worrying about the “what ifs” that came about in my daily activities or following an event I’d attended. I became really insecure with my ability to socialize and “look good” in other’s eyes.  I realized that fixating so intensely about the smallest details of a moment was not common behavior. I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was anxiety. Growing up in a generation where “anxiety” is a word thrown around so loosely, I would never want to classify myself as having a disorder, so of course I went to my doctor and spent some time learning about it. We live in a social age that is filled with many new platforms for a widespread of people to develop unhealthy levels of worrying, fear, and obsessions that can ultimately lead to an anxiety disorder. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a direct result of the development of social media where everyone is showcasing their best selves (no judgement, I use these platforms myself). It has contributed to some of my growing insecurities and enhanced my social anxiety as I believe there are expectations that are personally unattainable.  I force myself into social situations because it is good for me but I also feel sad when I decide to sit something out. So, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.  I try to empathize with others more when they don’t want to engage because maybe they are experiencing some of the same inner conflicts that I also have. I know that the only way for me to overcome this is to practice being more social (I wish this was as easy to do as it is to type). These are some general thoughts based on my experiences with anxiety, but I’ll transition into the topic I really want to discuss which is grief coinciding with anxiety.

 

In 2013 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. The big “C” word. I know.  Nobody wants to talk about it, and everyone just says “awe” while throwing you a look of pity knowing how sad it is, and yes, it is sad. Pity is the last thing I would ever want.  The years I spent with my dad while he was sick provided me with some crucial life lessons. I learnt not to take time for granted, that it is important to say how you feel and speak honestly, because time in this life is conditional. I learnt seek out a silver lining on a hard day, and that hope and positivity will carry you further than you anticipate. All that being said, watching my dad struggle was hard and it took a toll on me as a young adult.  He was my best friend, and something that makes me sad to think about is that as a young adult we were just getting to that point in our father/daughter relationship where we could actually be friends.  During his last years of sickness, I invested my time and energy into being present with him because that’s exactly where I wanted to be.  It’s where I felt safe and comfortable (It was also easier for me to justify not going out and engaging in social situations with people my age).  Even when I did feel like being social, I felt scared to go out because I didn’t want the stress and sadness that I was feeling to somehow impede on anyone’s good time (this sounds silly but it’s really just how my anxiety makes me feel sometimes). I separated what I was living through from certain parts of my life because it was not a common experience for people my age and it felt weird to talk about. I felt so insanely un-relatable for the things I was going through, and still do to this day.  Isolation is not healthy, but it does help me cope when my anxiety is escalated. I would spend nights awake going through a list of “what if’s” that included wondering how I would hold up when he passed away, and how our family dynamics might change.  If I was frustrated or angry I would feel insanely guilty and have a full-on breakdown for feeling the way I felt even though I know it’s perfectly okay to be frustrated with someone, sick or not.  Sometimes it was so bad that I would be lying in bed making a list of the things that would be most important to include in his eulogy. It was torture induced by myself and my own anxiety that caused me to spiral into a deep sadness at times. My social anxiety skyrocketed not only because I felt like I was living a life with different priorities then those around me, but also because I constantly feared that someone would bring it up.  I just wanted to feel normal around my peers, something of which I didn’t, and still don’t, feel sometimes.

 

My dad passed away on August 16th, 2017 when I was 24 years old.  I am now 26.  Grief is tough. Grieving with anxiety feels amplified because the symptoms of the two can often intertwine.  I had a plan on the ways that I would go through it. That’s what us anxiety folk do right? Plan out everything even though we have zero control (speaking for myself obviously, I always need a plan and structure to feel less anxious). So, I had a plan. What I didn’t realize, and what changed the plan, was that I had been experiencing anticipatory grief.  This means that I was already processing and grieving my dad’s death before he had even passed away.  For anyone that has grieved before, you’ll understand me when I say sometimes it just smacks you in the face like a ton of bricks. I find my moments of grieving to feel more dramatic because they’re often intertwined with my everyday anxiety. I cry. A lot. I also get pins and needles in my hands, I sweat, I grind my teeth, I have heart palpitations, I isolate, I worry, and I panic. All of these are regular symptoms of anxiety but mixed with the grief feels different. It’s a strange added heaviness that is hard to explain. The thing is, I never know when these days are going to happen, they just happen.  Not having a plan is something my anxious mind can’t handle so when it does happen, I feel distraught; like something is wrong with me for feeling the way I do. Those are the moments that I need to make sure my self-care is given extra attention. I am learning that not everything in my life gets a plan… I get uncomfortable when my dad gets brought up in conversation because I really don’t have an answer to explain what grieving with anxiety feels like and “how I’m doing” which is the common question. It’s hard because I’m always worried that I’m not grieving “the right way” so I don’t think I know how I’m doing. I’m okay? I’m good? I’m sad? I don’t know what I am so I don’t know how to address the question. I want to have an answer because my dad was awesome and I don’t want to feel scared to talk about him; I actually love talking about my dad.  It’s tricky to explain but sometimes I feel frustrated with myself for having intense moments of grief.  I feel guilty when I have a bad day because I don’t want to give off the impression that I am not grateful. I’m learning that I can be grateful and still feel sorrow and pain. I’m learning that I’m allowed to have a breakdown and it doesn’t make me stupid or weak. I strive to be kind and generous to myself; allowing my grief to come and go.  A goal I have is to be more present because the things that make me feel the most anxious, overwhelmed, and worried, come from looking too far into the future.

Thanks Cierra for letting me share some thoughts and a small piece of my story.

 

Thank you so much Paula for sharing your story with me and my readers. You have always been a little light in my life and I’m so glad we’re still in touch. Your strength has always inspired me and I love you girl.

 

Kevin Yule

June 5, 1964 – August 16, 2017

Growing up, Kevin was like a father to me. I had a very turbulent household and a terrible relationship with my dad. Kevin, thank you for always being there when I needed a father. Your love always meant the world to me and I can never thank you enough for all of the times you picked me up at midnight, sobbing uncontrollably, because of my circumstances. For always opening your home to me when I needed somewhere safe to go. And for showing me what true love looks like. You always loved and respected your wife, Debbie, so much and it truly showed me what I needed in a man. Thank you for always loving everyone around you and being a beautiful human being. I miss you often.

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One Reply to “July Warrior – Paula”

  1. Thank you… that was beautiful, and thank you for being brave. I really miss you and your brave face… and your fight, it takes so much courage. It’s every day, and this is a vulnerability that is out there now, and I’m proud to have known you.

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