Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, United States

When Anxiety Overwhelms: Rules for Purging Things

Problem: It is difficult for me to identify what causes me to purge things compulsively. It is something I do when I feel anxious and overwhelmed. Decluttering- throwing away or giving away things seems to temporarily relieve my anxiety.

Some of the things I’ve discarded or have given away have been perfectly good items, and perhaps, they didn’t take up much room or appear distracting in any way.

In retrospect, I realize that I wasn’t always this way, although I can easily see that I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, emotions, and disordered eating. Likewise, I can see the times in my life when things were ideal, or when I’ve felt like my true self (euthymic).

Support Systems

During those times, I have coped well and I’ve expressed myself through visual art and writing, exercise and sports. Solid (but imperfect) relationships carried me through adolescence, except for the years when I struggled with anorexia (age 14-18). My grandmother was of great emotional support when I was entering adolescence. Luckily, my sister and I lived with my grandparents during the summer that my parents separated. I was encouraged to draw and go outside to ride my bike while under their roof. Previously, I did not feel free to be a child while living in a dysfunctional home with my parents.

Deciding To “Disappear”

Having a few good friends in high school helped me overcome the misery I experienced in middle school. I was awkward, chubby and lonely before tenth grade. With my friends, I experienced camaraderie and belonging. At home, with the discord of my mom and her boyfriend, I felt invisible at best. At worst, I was awoken by the alcohol-fueled verbal assault of my stepfather towards my mother.

Sometimes I felt I was supposed to be in charge of tending to the emotional wounds of the narcissist in my life who tore me apart with names that caused me to starve myself. I controlled myself and my appearance (at least) by starvation.

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The more invisible my body became, the more people started to pay attention to me- I was “admired” for my slender physique by the very people I wanted to look like in high school.

From the time I started to become an “adult” (i.e., the period in life that becomes more complex- more responsibilities and learning to focus less on self), my minimalist ways have become the primary thread in the tapestry of life. It is also important to note that at the same time I was becoming an adult, I was more isolated from friends and family.

In reflecting, I realize the following things about being a minimalist (if that is actually the broad stroke that can be applied):

Minimalism and purging for me are cyclic and may be attributed to hormones. During a monthly “cycle” (menstrual), I am wrought with a multitude of emotions and my eating habits become unhealthy. It is during a “cycle” in a woman’s life that we must reflect, regenerate and prepare for the new “phase” in life.

Sometimes simply feeling anxious, overwhelmed or depressed, at any time in the month, brings me to the point of purging things. Two weeks ago, I wanted to chop off my hair for instant relief and regeneration (of a “new” me).

Does purging/decluttering specifically equate to a minimalist lifestyle? When I ask myself about the appearance of the “minimalist” style- the clean lines, simplicity, and functionality of minimalism, I believe the answer is “yes”. But not all minimalists tend to their lifestyle and philosophy because of emotional wounds. Some minimalists don’t soothe their anxiety by way of design choices. Many people choose to live minimally due to religious beliefs, cultural upbringing, even because of thrift, frugality, or poverty.

Going through my “things” (sorting) allows me to think about the needs of myself and family.

For instance, I understand my daughter’s clothing style and choices change over time. It is beneficial for us to go through her closet and decide what should stay and what can be donated. In doing so, I can help her manage her belongings while listening to her needs. Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize that my son will never wear the brand-new jeans in his closet because he doesn’t like the cut- or perhaps I overlooked the fact that his pants are becoming too short!

As a parent, I subconsciously want my kids to remain children forever.

Perhaps sorting and getting rid of stuff- even clothes or toys that are in great condition- is a way to allow them to grow, while allowing me to process this “growth”. Maybe purging and sorting things makes me feel more in control of the process?

 

Not Everyone Approves Of The Minimalist Lifestyle

There are times when other methods or mechanisms may have been better employed. I have purged things of my children’s without discussing it with them (knowing they probably would want to cling onto what I was ready to part with). I should have allowed them time to process the “loss” or have a voice in the matter. In those instances, I could have boxed up the item(s) until a later time.

My minimalist ways have conflicted with the hoarders in my life.

My minimalist ways have also conflicted with the toxic people in my life.

When I shared physical and emotional space with these types, there have been problems with my purging/decluttering compulsion. Compulsion or a lifestyle choice? It is a bit of both for me, hence the compulsion that is the primary aspect of a minimalist lifestyle. The toxic relationships in my life may have exacerbated my habit/disorder (?). It is apparent that it was for the best that the relationships be altered. The process of purging, albeit MINDLESS purging, served as a catalyst for changes in the relationships.

Regret: The process of purging is often sudden and mindless for me. Many things I have discarded have had to be repurchased. Some of the things- drawings, writings, photos and things that have taken time and money to make it into my space- can’t be (easily) replaced. In life, I can sometimes make amends. Other times it is out of my control. But simply “holding onto” things (or relationships, feelings, grudges, wounds) for sake of fear, is unhealthy as well.

Grief Still Remains If You Don’t Handle The Emotional Aspect Of Certain Possessions

I wish I could hold onto some things a little longer. For instance, I would like to keep papers and duplicate photos longer before discarding them. Better yet, I would love to be the kind of person that manages such things creatively- such as making a scrapbook and utilizing them into space, walls, artwork. For this reason, I stay away from talented women on Pinterest. Sometimes I peek into their lifestyles. Other times I follow the other minimalists to see how their managing life. In any event, they may or may not have the same emotions and complexities going on in their minds.

My Minimalism Rules

  • Don’t throw away things when feeling depressed or manic. Wait until moods are “euthymic”.
  • Discuss with children before discarding or donating some things.
  • Read a book on anxiety, stress, spirituality, etc. when feeling the urge to purge.
  • Some notable choices include:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns

My Age Of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, And The Search For Peace Of Mind by Scott Stossel

Acceptance, Improvement, And Letting Go

Finally, it is often hard to accept myself when I fail others. When I disappointment those around me with flaws- what seems rational to me is irrational to others. I can’t push my beliefs on anybody else, but when I hurt them through my actions (purging), I need to seek amends, if they are willing to accept my peace offerings. My kids have forgiven me when I got rid of a book of a toy they wanted (I often have re-purchased some items $).

The toxic people– those who value possessions above people, or those who hold others to unattainable standards- I’ve let them go for now. I can’t work on myself if I am trying to contend with somebody else’s personality/character flaws. There is no clarity or benefit in such situations.

3 Important People in Your Anxiety Treatment

“People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt, and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on.” -Eckhart Tolle

In the US, over 40 million people are affected by an anxiety disorder. Although it is highly-treatable, it’s reported that only about 37% of affected individuals receive treatment. (ADAA).

6 Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When you consider the various sub-categories listed under “specific phobias”, one can conclude there is a multitude of anxiety types. These subtypes are broadly-defined:

3 Types of Phobias

    1. Agoraphobia– A fear, anxiety, or avoidance of non-specific situations where one may not be able to escape or get help if a panic attack occurs.
    2. Specific Phobia– A fear, anxiety, or avoidance of specific situations or object (i.e, a fear of flying, a fear of needles, or the fear of spiders qualify as specific phobias).
  • Social Anxiety Disorder– A fear, anxiety, or avoidance of social situations. Intense fear in social situations includes the fear of appearing foolish, which can physically by way of blushing, shaking, sweating, etc.

Scientists believe there are a complex variety of factors that cause anxiety disorders, but they can be simplified into two broad categories.

  1. Genetics– A family history of anxiety disorders is a significant indicator of being predisposed.
  2. Environment– Traumatic, stressful, or exposure to violence can cause individuals to develop anxiety disorders. (NAMI).

Identifying the sources of anxiety disorders can be complex and confusing, hence why it is especially important to first see your doctor to eliminate the possible physical cause that mimics anxiety disorders.

It is also important to do whatever you can to reduce or eliminate sources that cause you to feel more anxious or nervous. For instance, you can opt to drink decaffeinated coffee instead of regular coffee. Some dietary choices can improve the physical aspects of anxiety. Simple choices are only the beginning of managing anxiety disorders.

Anxiety Disorders Originate In The Recesses Of Our Brains

“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are two parts of the brain that are key players in the production and processing of anxiety – the amygdala and the hippocampus.” (Neurocore Brain Performance Centers).

Our brains- and our specific human experiences- are complex and vast, but the good news is that only you fully understand yourself! Conversely, others on your mental health “team” (i.e., your family doctor, your nutritionist, your spiritual advisor, therapists, counselors, and other qualified mental health professionals).

The Family Doctor

You may opt to schedule an appointment with your family doctor before or after you’ve had time to reflect and write down information on your anxiety disorder. You may have learned from school or work that you don’t like public speaking or crowds. It will be most beneficial of you to have notes and information to offer your doctor when attending your appointments.

Don’t be discouraged if your family doctor seems to focus on the “externals” more than the “internals”. The doctor may offer you unwanted advice, such as losing weight, getting more exercise, or reducing the amount of caffeine or alcohol you consume. These are important steps in the management of your anxiety, although, they are often not the only steps to pursue.

Therapists

As I mentioned earlier, each individual has their own unique and complex brain and set of experiences. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to anxiety. Medications may work for one person but may be ineffective for another. Many individuals prefer to manage their anxiety through therapy. Therapy types are as varied as the individuals seeking treatment, so be sure to have a solid good understanding of each type.

Traditional  Psychotherapy

  • Interpersonal therapy
  • CBT (Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy

Non-Traditional Therapies

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction model (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
  • EMDR- Eye Movement Desensitization Resolution (Often for individuals suffering from PTSD).
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT)- Developed to understand and improve moods, based on biological and social rhythms. (“Taking Charge”, University of Minnesota).

There are other therapies, which include group therapy, family therapy, and emotion-focused therapy. (Types of Therapy).

Help Yourself (And Others) Treat Your Anxiety Disorders

You may be limited in your choices of family doctors, based on where you live or the type of medical insurance you carry. Additionally, your medical insurance may limit the type of therapy or mental health services you can receive. Be sure to obtain a provider directory and handbook from your insurer to ensure you choose providers your insurance will cover, or you may end up paying more than you can afford for your treatment.

Consider what your own preferences are along with what your insurance will offer. Is your local family doctor in your network? If not, you may have to choose another or decide if it’s worth it to pay out-of-pocket.

In addition to receiving medical care and therapy, be sure to consider your own interests, and how they can be applied to help you manage and treat your anxiety.

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” -Socrates.

  • Are you artistic? Why not try painting when you need to calm down?
  • Are you a kinetic person? Do you have lots of energy? Why not try jogging to release some negative energy?
  • Are you an emotional or sensitive person? Why not channel your inner-poet and write something expressive?

When you know yourself, you have insight and wisdom about yourself, and thus, can make better decisions on how to treat yourself. You will not be able to treat anxiety effectively- at least, not in most circumstances, without the help of others. For some, that includes doctors and therapists. Many people wish to augment treatment by using their faith and spirituality. The most important thing to realize is that you can get the most out of managing anxiety if A) you understand yourself and B) you allow others to help.

References:

  1. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
  2. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/specific-phobias-and-social-anxiety-disorder-social-phobia/
  3. https://www.neurocorecenters.com/blog/depression-anxiety-stresseffects-of-stress-anxiety-on-brain
  4. https://keltymentalhealth.ca/types-of-therapy
  5. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-types-psychotherapy-are-helpful-anxiety-and-depression
  6. https://www.2knowmyself.com/The_kinesthetic_personality_type
  7. https://sciencing.com/kinetic-energy-potential-energy-apply-everyday-life-15430.html
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201603/know-yourself-6-specific-ways-know-who-you-are

How Early Trauma Caused Much of My Anxiety

I am inclined to believe that living in a stressful environment triggers OCD. As a new mother who suffered from depression and anxiety, the compounding factor of being in a dysfunctional relationship seemed to be the trigger in the development of my OCD.

My husband was an alcoholic and often abused me, verbally, physically, emotionally and financially. I became consumed with the compulsion to discard things in my home. I look back with regret when I realize the importance of things I threw or gave away. Sometimes, I even re-purchased similar items to replace things I threw out or donated.

The process of getting rid of purging became cyclic. I recall, getting rid of items I had stored in plastic boxes, then I got rid of the boxes. I would feel “better”, or just get a desire to purchase something. Then I had to move other things around to “purge” myself when I became overwhelmed by the ritual of shopping.

 

Other times, I got rid of “things” when I was overwhelmed with emotions and did not realize I was not finding a proper outlet for my emotions. My husband only made my condition worse by calling me “crazy” or “unstable.” Sometimes I purged items when I was experiencing symptoms of PMS. He called me “hormonal” when he discussed such issues to my in-laws (who also called me “crazy” and “unstable”).

I was diagnosed with OCD and GAD several years ago. At the time when I was diagnosed, the two disorders were listed in the same category in the DSM. In 2013, the fifth edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) remains under the section under anxiety disorders, OCD is under a section labeled as “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. Included under this category are hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), and body dysmorphic disorder. Though individuals suffering from GAD and OCD tend to spend much time worrying, the difference is that people with OCD rely on physical or mental rituals (compulsions) to relieve stress caused by an obsession. Those with GAD tend to worry about “real” problems, while those with OCD are plagued by intrusive thoughts that are somewhat illogical or unrealistic, such as unnecessary counting, or a preoccupation with symmetry.

Though my GAD may have progressed into OCD during my marriage, I recall other stages in my life where I have been afflicted by one or both of these disorders. In my twenties, I attended college despite my impairing social anxiety disorder. I rarely made any social connections during my academic pursuits. I managed to take several drawing classes as part of my graphic design course load. I became repulsed by using pencils in my drawing classes. I was unable to pick up the charcoal sticks to complete my work because I was focused on the trail of dust left behind from the materials. The dust was attached to my artist’s toolbox and my portfolio. I spent a great deal of effort obsessing about the dust and eraser crumbs in my tools and supplies. Years after I dropped out of my classes, I tried to save the pieces I had labored over, but like everything else that had some sentimental value, I discarded them too (OCD Almost Destroyed My Creativity!).

Exposed To Adult Life

As children, my sister and I became fixtures at the local bars. From ages 10 until about 12, we were dragged along to a number of bars near our house so my mom could drink and be with my dad. The bar was a dive and quite disgusting. My mom bought us pop and Slim Jims, and I sat at the booth with my sister. Sometimes we were allowed to pick songs on the jukebox (I played, “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac and “Rapture” by Blondie on a loop!).

At times, it felt glamorous to hang out in bars. Other times, it was unsettling to see adults become less inhibited, argumentative, and repulsive. I could get a sense when people were getting too “loose”…almost an innate vide to warn of impending danger (in my adult life, this “sense” was clouded by my own self-doubt and afflictions).

My mom got annoyed when I sat on the barstool next to her, spinning around, so she sent me off with a constant supply of quarters to play arcade games and the pinball machine. When I 12, I was old enough to not have to sit at the bar. At some point, it was decided that I was old enough to take care of everybody else.

I was appointed the neighborhood babysitter- my mom offered my babysitting services to her friend so they could go out drinking. I was given no instructions on how to feed, entertain, or comfort the kids. The house in which I cared for them didn’t appear to show signs of toys, books or anything that could help me occupy the kids while they left us for hours on end. We sat in front of the TV, bored, tired and hungry until they returned after the bars closed at 2:30 AM. Sadly, when I became a mother, I was haunted feelings of inadequacies due to these experiences.

Help! I’m Starving Myself (To Get Control And Acceptance!)

At age 14 I developed an eating disorder. When I stood in front of the mirror, I would section off the parts of my body I deemed too fat. Within six months I had dropped down to size 2 in jeans. I survived by drinking soda and eating just one item per day, usually a school lunch item, as to not draw too much attention to my disorder.

At dinner time, I covered food in napkins, moved food around on my plate, or I simply gave the food to the dog. Eventually, my mom realized my tactics and I had to eat more of my dinner. I still rationed my food, or only ate half servings. This went on for four years. When I overcame one element of my disorder, it manifested in some other way, as in discarding things. Sometimes I purged the food I ingested, but mostly I purged “things”.

My compulsion to discard things is more manageable now. I have limited contact with people that may provoke or trigger anxiety and OCD symptoms. I try to be more mindful by writing in a journal and meditating on my faith. I also keep a few empty boxes out of sight for those times when I feel compelled to purge. My rule is that I must wait a few days before deciding the permanent home for all the “things”. This time allows me to sort my thoughts, gain clarity and determine the reasons why I feel the intrusive thoughts.

 

References:

Glasofer, Deborah R., Ph.D., “What Is the Difference Between GAD and OCD?”

www.verywell.com, July 28, 2016, accessed August 21, 2016.

 

How OCD Nearly Destroyed My Creativity

One of the things that helped soothe my mind as a child was art. I had a special affinity for drawing people. Teachers noticed my skills and would shine the spotlight on my artwork sometimes. I became known as a good artist by my classmates. I always believed I would choose a career path that utilized my artistic talents. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I started to become disenchanted with the concept of art. In school, art was never very disciplined.

Once I took art classes at college, it was very different. I hated using charcoal pencils, pastels, and paints. My artwork no longer represented my creativity, but rather, it reflected “mental clutter” and oppressive memories. I started purging my pencil and charcoal sketches that I had devoted so much time and energy. I did not want these remnants of my past, for whatever reasons.

In my early thirties, I began favoring a more minimalistic home environment, much to my family’s dismay. I was unable to have any kind of clutter. This meant I could not pursue my art anymore, though I tried to keep my interest in art alive by doing art with my kids. I would buy art supplies, make arts and crafts, then throw the supplies and designs away. It also meant that my husband and I would have arguments over what he wanted to save and what I wanted to discard or donate. He wanted the basement to remain undisturbed. He did, in fact, want to hoard too many things, but the truth is told, he had a point. My thoughts were impeding on the liberties of others in my home.

OCD or A Bipolar Trying To Control External Stimuli?

It’s odd that I started to favor a minimalistic theme in my life. I loved to see art, I loved to be surrounded by cozy objects in other people’s homes- just not my own. My mind became cluttered with stimuli if I allowed any empty space in my house. My kids said our house looked like we just moved in. I tend to agree with them! The mission to maintain a clutter-free house consumed me- OCD Decluttering! Absolute madness, yet disregarded by many that do not see the damage caused by this disorder.

Assigning Values To OCD Stress & Triggers

I don’t know what has caused my OCD symptoms to lessen. Perhaps the passage of time, or maybe I have become more mindful of the destructive ways of OCD. When I have become overwhelmed, I have purged “things”…clothes, paper, the pantry, anything I could get my hands on! I try to minimize things that trigger OCD. For instance, I try to avoid doing too many things I dislike in one day. I won’t grocery shop and drive excessively on the same day if I can help it. Maybe somebody should try to assign numbers to indicate varying degrees of stress for daily activities. I know there are such systems for monumental stressful life events (such as jail, divorce, job loss, etc.). For people suffering from anxiety or OCD, this would be ideal.

Reconciling OCD, Rekindling My Creativity

My OCD symptoms have diminished in the last few years… I haven’t thought too much lately how far I have come with my anxiety and OCD because I have been distracted by other issues. Visiting an art museum has helped me to become inspired by art once again.

In my previous post, I wrote about being happy when I am out in nature. Nature is beauty in its simplest form, no clutter or embellishments. Art is the creation of man (and woman). It is not necessarily simple, yet I find it beautiful and edifying. I have become less focused on intrusive, unimportant worries about clutter, and more concerned about what is involved in the making of the things that are in my surroundings. Processes, engagement, activity: things that are relational help make the visual beauty in a way that has depth. This is beyond what was once shallow. Everything that is material or visual is not superficial to me any longer.