Monday, November 5, 2012

Don't Panic!

It has been a very, very long time since I have posted here.  My apologies to any of you out there that have checked back for new posts!
The hiatus was due to a battle with panic disorder that began almost exactly a year ago today.
As my past posts have revealed, I have experienced a few anxiety attacks over the years.  The first one landed me in the hospital and with a temporary prescription for Ativan.  I had an anxiety attack or two over the following year, but they were few and far between.
A year ago today, my anxiety attacks began coming on more frequently.  They all started the same - tight throat, quick breathing, racing heart and dizziness.  The attacks come on mostly while driving on the highway or walking around in stores for absolutely no apparent reason.  What was once an attack every few months had become once a month, and by Christmas time, I had trouble just walking from my car to my office door without feeling dizzy.  In the meantime, I got engaged (yay for extroverted boyfriend dropping on one knee!), but trying to enjoy what was supposed to be a happy time was practically impossible.
I had become victim to anticipatory anxiety and what was worse, agoraphobia. Wherever I experienced a panic attack, I could no longer go.  Target and the mall were off limits unless I was with someone, but even those trips were a struggle.  Highway driving had become such a complete nightmare that I started making excuses to not make plans with friends and visit my boyfriend in Connecticut.  My life felt like it was over - I never wanted to leave my house.  The only way I can describe it is that I was absolutely consumed by my panic disorder.  The second I woke up, I started worrying about it.  Anticipating panic attacks only led to me actually having panic attacks.  Panic took over EVERYTHING.
I lived this way from about November through March until I reached the final straw.  My fiancee and I had met up in Newport, RI to check out some wedding venues.  On the way home on the highway, I experienced my worst panic attack yet.  My throat closed, I felt that I couldn't breathe and I was sure I was going to pass out right there on the highway.  My body started shaking uncontrollably until I reached a reststop to pull into.  My fiancee had called me because earlier I had to quickly hang up when the attack started.  I broke down in tears and told him what had happened.  He urged me to call my parents who were closer in distance to come get me.  I sat there shaking for a solid half hour debating whether or not to call my parents.  Just admitting the problem to my fiancee was hard enough and now coming out of the panic closet to my parents seemed like the worst idea. 
I decided to make the phone call, and it was the best decision I ever made.  I was utterly embarassed and disappointed in myself.  I had just admitted to the most important people in my life that I had a problem - a problem I had hoped would just disappear.  My parents were supportive.  They didn't understand, but they asked me to see a doctor as soon as possible.  I made my appointment for the following day, and my doctor prescribed Zoloft.  Let me say, I am not the biggest advocate of medicine.  My previous Ativan prescription was never refilled.  But this time, I had let my panic disorder go on far too long.  The first four weeks of Zoloft were even worse than before.  My anxiety was through the roof, and I could not even sit at my desk without starting to feel completely out of my head in a way that I can't even begin to describe.  After about a month, the side effects subsided and after 2 and a half months and weekly visits to a therapist (another thing I never thought I would do), I started to feel like myself again. 
I can't say whether my introversion has anything to do with my panic disorder.  I suspect it has affected it in two ways:
1. I stayed quiet about my panic attacks for a very long time.  I did not even tell my boyfriend the extent of the problem until it had taken over my life. 
2. I think about, analyze, and worry about things that I can't control a lot more than the typical extroverted person would - religion, death, origin of life, etc.  I talked about this a lot with my therapist, and she had to agree - the "getting lost" in my thoughts aspect of introversion did not help my panic disorder in the slightest - it feeds it.
I'm thrilled to say that it has been 8 months since my last major panic attack (the highway incident).  Since then, I have been planning a wedding, moved to Connecticut with my fiancee and have started a new job.  Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety and its side effects every day.  But the medicine coupled with therapy has taught me how to live with anxiety, not live victim to it.  Though I am hopeful, I don't think that I've experienced my last panic attack.  I still have panic disorder - but now I have an arsenal of weapons to defeat it.
Since coming to terms with it, I have realized that it is so much more prevalent than I ever expected - even people I know experienced it and I had no idea.  That being said, I would love to hear from anyone who has experienced panic disorder, especially my fellow introverts out there!  Those who haven't experienced it don't realize just how frightening it is.
I think this blog may start including posts about panic disorder since it's something I've become quite read up on and interested in.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Work Meetings and the Introvert

Is there ever an appropriate time to explain your introversion in the workplace?

Group work meetings are painful for me. I know that I am expected to pipe up, but I also know that I won't unless called upon to do so. I have no problem answering any questions, or speaking up when something directly relates to my job. When I do speak, it's strong and purposeful.

But when the general banter and chitchat starts, I sit quietly. I'm not the type to initiate a conversation about the party I attended last weekend or the TV show I watched the night before. Personally, I have no problem with my level of participation and I've even noticed a few of my other co-workers exhibiting similar behavior during these meetings...but as we know, this makes extroverts uncomfortable.

And then it happens, as every introvert experiences hundreds of times during their lives: someone feels the inexplicable need to point it out. Last week during a meeting, one of my co-workers decided to go down the line at the table and tell each and every one of my introverted co-workers how quiet they are. They politely smiled and laughed off the comment. I felt so deeply for each of them, because I knew the frustration they were feeling. I, of course, was not spared, but she pointed me out last. Out of a brief moment of anger, I curtly replied, "Yes, sometimes I'm quiet, always have been". I wanted to go on and tell her "And you have brown hair and the person next to you is tall", but I bit my tongue. I know she meant well. For whatever reason, it seems that extroverts believe that by telling someone he/she is quiet, it gives us permission to be more talkative and makes us more comfortable.

These are the times when I wonder whether or not if I should explain my introversion. I could have continued and explained that I am an introvert. I do my job, and I do it well. I speak when necessary, but I like to think about my responses, making my predisposition very non-conducive to group meetings. I don't dislike you. In fact, I actually enjoy your company, think you are a really nice person, and truly don't mean to offend you.

After that speech, my extrovert-dominant workplace would undoubtedly decide that I was bizarre...or would they? Are not enough of us introverts sticking up for ourselves? One of them clearly already thought I was strange because of my quiet nature, so would I really lose anything by explaining it?

I'm conflicted and quiet frankly, enormously frustrated. I fear that by explaining this to my co-workers or boss, they will incorrectly assume that I am incompetent in the extrovert-dominated field of law. Even worse, could I lose my job over it? Then again, my job is a place I spend a huge chunk of my time. Should I sit idly by while people inaccurately label me?

The past week involved a couple of moments like this at work. My introversion slapped me in the face like a ton of bricks, making me worry that I will never progress or be successful in this field because of an attribute that I cannot change. I know my introversion is advantageous in a lot of ways, especially in the workplace. It's just a matter of figuring out how to use those strengths in a way that shows my bosses and co-workers that I'm invaluable, and not seen as a liability.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Back to Dancing

For anyone who could relate to my earlier dancing at weddings rant, you should take a look at this article (the second question). I came across an etiquette column in Boston Magazine a couple weeks ago on this very topic.

I'm not the only one after all!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Treating Your Introversion

I caught such an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times.

I can relate to this very well. Over a year ago, I had my first panic attack. I've always been overly worrisome. Little things that probably wouldn't inspire a second thought in others can consume me for days. With law school graduation, the bar exam, moving home, and no job in sight looming, I experienced a panic attack in the middle of the library while doing homework one night. Anyone who has had a panic attack can attest to how frightening it is.

Long story short, after the doctor promised me that I wasn't dying of a heart attack, I ended up with a prescription for anxiety medication. Now that I knew what the symptoms, I started taking a small dose of Ativan whenever I felt an attack coming on.

The few times I took the medication, I found myself actually mustering up the energy to engage. I was no extrovert, but chitchat and interactions were that much easier.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I began popping the anxiety medication to get through social events. I didn't do this because I wanted to or felt that it eased any social anxiety that I had (social anxiety and introversion, contrary to popular belief, are not interchangeable). I was doing it because I worried about how others perceived me. I was "curing" my introversion and fitting in, something I had never been able to do.

The more I "treated" my introversion, the more I became depressed. At the risk of sounding like an after school PSA, I wasn't using the medication to ease the physical symptoms of anxiety anymore. I was using, abusing change who I was. Taking the pills only exposed how insecure I was as an introvert. If people enjoyed my company at these functions more than they had in the past, it was only a sham. I tear up as I write this, because it still upsets me to realize how little I valued myself during those moments.

Although there are many necessary and life-altering uses for psychotropic drugs, I refuse to medicate myself because of who I am. Introversion is not an illness. My anxiety and introversion are completely separate. The author of the opinion piece I linked to above, Susan Cain, states it best:

"Perhaps we need to rethink our approach to social anxiety: to address the pain, but to respect the temperament that underlies it. The act of treating shyness as an illness obscures the value of that temperament. Ridding people of social unease need not involve pathologizing their fundamental nature, but rather urging them to use its gifts."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guess Who I Bumped Into Today?

One of my co-workers at the law firm I work at is rarely, if ever, in the office. Nice life, but that's beside the point. When he does show his face, I try to make an effort to appear friendly and likeable, as he is the epitome of a Schmooze Monster (my name for the completely over-the-top, so-see-through-it's-pathetic type of person). Despite my distaste for him, he's the key to my employment so I have to engage.

As I walked by his office Friday morning, I hear him yell his happy "Good Morning", which I was not expecting since he never arrives on time. I didn't necessarily panic, but I hesitated and walked a few feet before I decided to throw a half-wave, which looked like I was throwing up a gang sign, and a "Howarrreyaaa?". Not only did I spit out a "ya" when I hate using abbreviations and slang, but I said it with a slight Southern twang. I'm from Boston.

I should move to Awkward City, where I could run for Mayor...and probably win.

In all seriousness, this is a common occurrence (not the gang signs, I swear). I tend to walk with purpose and a sense of urgency, getting to my target destination with a task on my mind. In the meantime, I always find running into people awkward. I know that all it requires is a simple "Hi, how are you?", but I dread it. Social rules vary from person to person, making the quick interaction entirely unpredictable. Some people give a little half-smile, others say hello, or some ask how you are and don't really respond beyond that. What frustrates me most is when people stop dead in their tracks and start a conversation. I'm then stuck engaging in chitchat I didn't prepare myself for. It's a form of interaction that does not allow for the response time introverts require. And then the moment passes before I think of the appropriate response.

I've gone so far as to figure out the least-populated walking route to my office to avoid these situations in the hallways. I often scold myself for this behavior, because people are just trying to be nice, after all. It shouldn't be so hard to reciprocate, and in most cases, it isn't.

I've made what I feel is a fair compromise with myself though. I am more than capable of participating in the niceties of "Hi, how are you?" And in reason I should, because I don't consider myself a rude person. Most people don't realize how uncomfortable I am with meaningless conversation, and that's exactly it...they don't understand. The last thing I want to do is insult someone or come off as an Ice Queen, which I know is how many extroverts probably perceive me when I stutter some incoherent greeting or give a half-assed grin.

But...if it's one of those days where I am feeling completely inward and not up for the potential, unexpected chitchat, it's completely acceptable for me to take advantage of my special walking route to work. It's okay to catch an acquaintance out of the corner of my eye in the middle of the mall and turn the other way. Who says this makes me inept or rude? As an introvert, I'm entitled to this just as much as I should make an effort to smile and wave.

And you know what? I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


No, it's not a Batman episode.

Loud, continuous noise has always been an irritation to me. Ear-deafening music feels like torture. Banging pots and pans...I shudder to think of them. Noise seems to especially bother me most while I'm driving. If I have a passenger in the car with me who wants to make conservation, or I'm driving somewhere unfamiliar, I keep the radio low. I never thought twice about this until my friends started pointing it out; "Hey Granny, turn up the music!"

I never correlated my noise aversion to my introversion. I always assumed it was due to being an "old soul" as most of my family and friends have always labeled me. The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear. Just as someone yapping away at me is exhausting, loud noise drains me. It's a complete interruption of whatever I am focusing on or thinking about. If I don't know where I am driving to, loud music is a huge distraction for me. If my passenger wants to talk, I need to place all my energy into chatting.

Yet I find if I'm the one making the noise, I'm perfectly okay with it. That's also in line with the introverted personality though, since in that case the noise is part of the task I'm focused on.

Loud noises aren't going to disappear, nor can i selfishly expect people to not engage in creating them. I only point out my pet peeve because it's funny how my little quirks that people have always poked fun at are often explained by my introverted personality. These are attributes that I've often felt self-conscious about, but now I'm comforted understanding where they stem from!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Your Introverted Child

I've been thinking about how long it has taken me to realize that it is perfectly okay to be an introvert.

My parents are nothing but the best...loving, caring, and spoiled me to death. I honestly have no right to complain. Yet I know that had the people around me not pushed me to break out of my shell and point out the fact that I didn't fit in, I would not be struggling with myself as a 25 year old. It's not their fault, nor do I mean to blame them. They were just uninformed, concerned parents.

I just wanted to take a moment to urge all parents out there with introverted children to accept them as they are. No, it's not healthy for kids to stay holed up all the time...but if your child seems to need a break from socializing, give it to them. They're not deficient and they're not in need of help. They are no less happy than any other child.

All an introverted child requires is help to cultivate their strengths and give them the confidence they need, and most importantly, deserve.