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.

Simple Changes That Improve Anxiety Disorders

“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.” -Andrew J. Bernstein

The word “stress” often gets a bad rap, thanks to “anxiety.” Since stress is often the precipitating trigger in anxiety disorders, it is perceived as a negative experience. Stress is defined as your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience. Anxiety, on the other hand, doesn’t resolve itself once the triggering event has subsided.

Anxiety is prolonged and debilitating. Disorders, such as GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) leave individuals feeling a sense of doom. Although stress can trigger anxiety, more often than not, the causes of anxiety are not always easily identified.

Years ago, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and GAD. I felt somewhat relieved to know that a “fear of the marketplace” (agoraphobia) was a logical explanation for some of my distress about running errands or going shopping.

In retrospect, I was afraid of being around a lot of people, in situations where I might find it hard to get away if needed. I especially feared being judged when I was a new mother. I feared people might say rude things to my kids, or criticize my parenting style (they did!). A simple comment on how to manage my children when they cried in the long lines, or how I should discipline then if they misbehaved often left me feeling depressed and apprehensive. My head often grew heavy when I even thought about going out in public!

GAD, on the other hand, is a more mysterious anxiety disorder. GAD is defined by WebMD as, excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worries about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school.”

So, what is the proper amount of worry about everyday life events? How much is a normal amount of worrying about important things such as health, money, family, work, or school? Possibly, is it an abstract amount of worry that can only be defined by the extent of uneasiness it causes to an individual? Why do some handle such pressures effortlessly, while others are plagued by apprehension or displeasure?

When I experience agoraphobia and GAD as a new parent (who possibly was afflicted by postpartum depression), I was limited into tapping into a source of support, and sources of guidance and encouragement. However, I took advantage of reading and talk therapy in some support groups. I lacked supportive family and friends, so I had to seek out my tribe. Only those people could understand me. Such groups offered a reciprocal dynamic.

What differentiates my ability to cope with stress now compared to those years?

  • Closer to a supportive family (father and stepmother)
  • Stable job
  • Having a reliable source of income (see above)
  • Wisdom, experience, maturity, insight, perception
  • Ability to reframe events and experiences
  • Writing in a journal when I have a difficult problem
  • Knowledge and implementation of nutrition and exercise
  • Stable environment for my children
  • A work schedule that allows me to maximize time with my family
  • Seeking spirituality each day

For me, changes in environments, income, neighborhood- physical resources, have contributed, I suppose. Experience, wisdom, maturity, insight, and perception have helped me significantly. These things do not occur overnight, nor can a prescription cure all elements of anxiety or stress. Understanding that we live in a dynamic, cyclic and rhythmic world, and forming internal and external patterns to accompany this understanding is a crucial step in coping with stress.

Break Into Smaller Tasks

I have also learned to break up problems and tasks into smaller pieces. If I am faced with a vast amount of tasks that need my attention at once, I can only delegate- to myself, that is, I must assign myself different steps to complete the tasks. And, most of all, I ask for help, even when I think others might judge me.

Allow Time For Issues To Improve

Just as we need time to adjust our internal rhythm, the problems and external forces surrounding our stress need time. Time for resolution, time to plan, time to delegate, etc. Time doesn’t have to be considered an enemy. When we are mindful about stress, we should actively pace our breathing to reset our bodies from a “fight or flight” response to a response that is confident and able to handle challenges.

Stress and Relaxed

References:

  1. (https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/depression-stress-anxiety/how-is-anxiety-different-from-stress/)
  2. (https://www.psycom.net/stress-vs-anxiety-difference)
  3. (https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/generalized-anxiety-disorder#1)

 

How Leaving an Abusive Relationship Helped Me at Life

“One thing I know for sure – this motherhood thing is not for sissies.” -Jennifer Nettles

Working on the weekend while my kids were home without me gave me much time to worry about them. Running parts on a machine weren’t especially challenging, which is why my thoughts drift. While most of my thoughts centered on my family, there were momentary lapses of reflection on my career goals, my limitations, and what topics to write about for my blog.

I’m almost certain that I was experiencing mixed episodes yesterday, and my thoughts continued to race all day. I hadn’t felt depressed much, mostly manic. This made me wonder if I was cured of my bipolar depression. If I was cured of depression, did that mean I was now “unipolar?” I read a little about unipolar disorder, and how it’s sometimes misdiagnosed as ADHD. I wanted to write a post about unipolar disorder, then I switched gears and wanted to explore the concept of mood disorders diminishing of changing with various life stages.

Societal Ideals And Social Stigma of Motherhood And Depression

But, when I was considering the components of each life stage in my own experiences, I got stuck on the stage in my life when I suffered from postpartum depression. I never had the chance to talk about that time until now. There seems to be even more stigma attached to postpartum depression than any other disorder. The most obvious reason is that mothers are supposed to level-headed, nurturing, patient, self-sacrificing, etc.

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When a woman feels she lacks in these qualities, she doesn’t disclose such information. In my case, I would ask other women open-ended questions that were loosely related to postpartum depression. If the recipient wasn’t receptive, engaging, or seemed to show an unsupportive attitude, I dropped the subject. I usually moved on from my own issues and start to talk about marriage and relationships- to see if my thoughts about a matter were substantiated by others.

One of the things I would mention was how much my husband drank and how he behaved when he returned from drinking. I was in a fog about my relationship problems because I was so wrapped up in getting help for my depression, and learning how to be a new parent. My husband used to ridicule me because I tried to sing to my kids, and he scoffed at the notion of “real” women having a necessity to read books on how to take care of your children.

Seeking Refuge, Finding Nothing

Sadly, he wasn’t the only unsupportive person during those years of depression. When I had to leave the house because of the violence, I found it very hard to feel supported at the women’s shelter in which I and my kids took refuge. The shelter had very strict rules, which didn’t bother me too much until they showed little compassion for women suffering from depression. Their primary focus was to check-in with me every couple of days to find out how my job search was going.

My kids were still very young (ages 2 and 4), and my mind wasn’t organized at that time. I wanted to spend time with my kids. My oldest showed signs of ADHD or some other behavior disorder. I needed help with my depression, but the shelter lacked knowledge and resources for women needing any type of recovery services. On the second day at the shelter, I had a conflict with one of the staff members who was scolding my son harshly. He had difficulties transitioning and being around new places and people, but they didn’t care.

Like many women entering a shelter, I had no money, but I had my own car. Although I had a little Suzuki that needed a lot of work and I lacked the means to get the repairs, the staff treated me poorly because I had a car. Many of the women that stayed there relied on public transportation. Gas for my car and passes for a bus both required money. The money required a job. To get a job, you need somebody to watch your children. Social Services programs and daycare for women entering or reentering the workforce will give you a voucher for childcare…once you have secured a job.

Living far from my own family and friends- and lacking mobility and social support, it was difficult to get help with brief interludes of childcare to apply for jobs. Eventually, I obtained a job and apartment, though car repairs proved to be devastating to our livelihood for many years!

Bye, Felicia!

We were kicked out of the shelter after a 2-week stay simply because my husband’s process server knew the location of the shelter and came knocking on their door. The process server- the man paid to track me down, block my car at an intersection, and throw the divorce papers at me, was familiar with the staff members, as he had once been an attorney. The location of the shelter was well-known to many people- but the staff insisted that I breached a privacy law and ejected us anyway.

Once my children and I returned home (and until I got my own job and apartment), we lived in the dysfunctional environment a little longer. During this time, a number of things helped me stand on my own, despite my depression and anxiety.

Support Groups

Catholic Charities helped my family immensely when I was living in a domestic violence situation. During their support groups, they offered childcare while mothers had the chance to meet with other women who were experiencing similar situations. Additionally, the groups were led by social workers who not only offered wisdom, they treated the women with dignity and compassion.

Individual Therapy/Counseling

The therapist helped me see my blind spots with regard to the toxic people and behaviors in my life. They also can recommend you to psychiatrists and psychologists if you need to take medication. Sometimes it seemed a little awkward talking to a stranger, but they can offer much-needed guidance, especially if you’re lacking in this area.

Reading/Insight/Learning

A trip to the library often reaps many interesting discoveries. Kids can play with other kids quietly, and you can pick up your books and read a little while your kids are being entertained by storytellers, playtime friends, or colorful puppets and toys. I used to grab a calendar of events and circle the dates when my kids could be entertained for free by the library staff.

Solitude

Take any and every chance you get to enjoy the silence. When babies are young, they often have a predictable napping schedule. I used this time to read about depression, boundary issues (Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend), parenting, and money management. I also tried to pursue creative interests, such as drawing and painting, after my kids went to bed for the night, or before they woke up in the morning. I wasn’t always able to stick to this routine, especially when there were chaos and dysfunction in the home, but I tried to draw and paint with my kids too, and get them interested in art.

Quality Time With Children

Even a simple trip to McDonald’s with a play area can be quite enjoyable for young children! When you have little time or money (or emotional resources), you have to simplify. We visited local parks, the library, kid-friendly restaurants. A few grocery stores offer childcare while you shop- my kids thought it was a treat to go in the “Eagle’s Nest” at Giant Eagle while I shopped for groceries.

Things have evolved significantly since my kids were toddlers. There are probably new and better ways in which to find support for depression, domestic violence, and other issues. Which leads me to one other place that helped me.

Listen To Inspirational Audiobooks

My local library was a treasure trove of learning resources. Check out some audiobooks on self-help, parenting, marriage and family relationships, and much more!

Find A Good Church

And by good, I mean a church that is attuned to the needs of their community. Luckily, our church had many support groups and classes- for Christians and non-Christians alike. DivorceCare offered kitschy videos about life after divorce, but during the times when the facilitator paused the DVD, we had lively discussions and developed strong friendships with others among the class.