In the past it has been hard for me to admit my flaws, which I think is a normal characteristic of many people. We try to present the best versions of ourselves as much as possible, and when a bad part sneaks out we try to camouflage it, deny it, or become embarrassed. Furthermore, I have believed (and I think I am not alone) that having a mental flaw or bad personality trait is worth covering up more than a physical flaw, which may be more obvious. It is hard to hide a broken leg when you have a cast and crutches or wheelchair, and even yet, it is not necessarily embarrassing to admit that you have a physical ailment that needs healing. But I find it to be quite rare to meet someone who openly states that they are taking antidepressants or seeing a therapist, as this implies they have some taboo flaw that must be suffered and treated in secret.
Emotional distress is not something that can easily be seen, and shouldn’t have to be a source of shame, just as you wouldn’t be ashamed to have the flu.
This is something I genuinely believe in, however I don’t practice non-shame based on social rules. I have to admit it is not comfortable to hear an acquaintance talk about an emotional problem that goes beyond what is expected—of course someone would feel grief if a parent dies, or nervousness to give a speech—what I am talking about is to openly admit a fear of failure or obsessive lust. Meeting someone who reveals these deep inner characteristics so leisurely invokes an awkward “TMI” moment and makes me think they don’t understand social boundaries and the “onion effect” of relationships.
Part of the reason I write on this blog is to help me overcome my flaws by giving them shape and form. The thoughts are forced into words and phrases which come out of my fingers and I can read them in front of me on my computer screen- yet I present them in a public forum so I must edit them based on what I am willing to reveal about my flaws. Part of social intelligence is understanding where those boundaries are. But I also want to push those boundaries and be able to let a little more of myself show, as I have considered one of my personality flaws in the past as not allowing people to see the deep parts of me. At least here on my blog, only people who are truly interested in my thoughts will read this, instead of it being plastered on my Facebook friends’ newsfeed or said out loud to someone who may not receive the information well.
I felt like I needed this disclaimer before writing what I really wanted to talk about.
I had my first panic attack about 7 years ago. It took me a little while to realize what was happening to me, and after some weeks I was able to go back to my normal life, and after several months of various treatment I was able to avoid having a panic attack altogether. Now, I am proud to say I have found a method of controlling my anxiety without cost, therapy, or medication.
My baseline of controlling any general feelings of anxiety is that I have completely eliminated caffeine from my diet. This means I do not drink coffee, tea, soda, or any kind of energy drink, including those that contain guarana. Additionally, I do not eat chocolate. Even small flakes of chocolate in some desserts have been taken off my list for the simple fact that part of my anxiety has developed into anxiousness over feeling anxious. Therefore the psychosomatic aspects of the disorder give me panic just by eating tiny amounts of chocolate that wouldn’t normally have the caffeine content to produce any effects had I not known I was consuming it.
You can imagine that completely eliminating caffeine has not been easy. Not only has the internal struggle of dealing with cravings been difficult, but the constant offerings from people around me reminds me what I don’t allow myself and often forces me to give an explanation as to why I’m refusing. I’ve also had to deal with uncomfortable refusals such as my husband’s grandmother making a special tiramisu just for me and I have to pretend I am not hungry. After almost daily practice, I’ve learned that the easiest way to refuse caffeine is by saying I’m allergic. It almost immediately gets people to stop offering things to me. Only with close friends or people I can sense would not judge me I will reveal that I’ve chosen to give up caffeine to avoid anxiety attacks. Even when occasionally someone will ask “what happens” when I take caffeine I simply say that I cannot breathe (which is true, when I’m having an attack) but I do not elude to any emotional disorder.
Why am I so ashamed to admit that I have an emotional problem that I treat, while covering it up as a physical problem? For some reason, an allergy that is not my fault is less shameful than a panic disorder that is not my fault. Even though I have it under control now, it is viewed by society as I have some kind of defect just because it cannot be seen with the eye or be explained by scientific research (maybe there is some research of nerves in the brain but I think if there was something conclusive there would be a known cure or definitive treatment). I have found my own treatment: eliminating caffeine along with breathing, controlling stress levels, and practice in erasing bad thoughts. I am more proud to say that while admitting I have a “defect” than sharing my cold remedy. And I cannot even remember the last time I had a panic attack….years ago for sure, although I still occasionally feel some panic feelings that I am normally able to efficiently suppress within seconds or minutes.
Although it is cliché, instead of feeling shame for this I have decided to feel proud; I have overcome a challenge and have been able to transfer those techniques into other areas of my life and become a more effective and strong person because of it. It worked for me, and might I suggest trying to gather the strength to eliminate something in your life that is doing more damage than comfort?