Mental Health Week: Keagen Cave
‘Got it Handled Syndrome.’
Hey. I’m Keagen and I have anxiety. And here’s the thing, I would be lying to you if I said my anxiety was the bane of my existence. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, you could say it has served me quite well in my life. My anxiety has allowed me to always remain hyper vigilant. Why? Hyper vigilance keeps me safe, from you know, everything an anxious person would be worried about, IFYKYK. If hyper vigilance isn’t enough, I am also a formidable hyper achiever. If I am in constant pursuit of my next accomplishment, whether it be a new project at work, another professional designation, a fitness competition (or two, or three) or just the next THING to achieve, I can easily ignore the alarm bells going off inside of my anxious brain. The point here is that because I show up with these personas, the people around me would never know I wrangle with my mental health regularly. Cause, you know, I’ve seemingly got it handled. I’ve worked on and off with a life coach for the latter part of my adult life and they once told me “Keagen you have a case of ‘got it handled syndrome’. No one would ever guess you struggle. And maybe, if you open-up and share your struggle, you could help someone.”
So, I am going public. Now you know. I’ve been found out. Cat’s outta the bag.
My relationship with anxiety started two decades ago. My earliest memories of having an anxiety attack are in high school. I would start to feel warm, overwhelmed and lightheaded just sitting at my desk. Or, standing in line at the grocery store or picking up the mail. In university, the same thing. I would be sitting in a 200-person lecture theatre and my heart would start to race, my vision would blur. I would try to control my breath, cross and uncross my ankles and shift in my seat to try and distract myself from what was going on inside my head and body. For fear that I would faint or have a heart attack, I would get up and leave. This happened often. So often that I had to contact each of my professors to let them know that the reason I leave class is due to my anxiety not because I was bored or whatever.
Fast forward several years and I am pregnant with my first baby. Surprisingly, the delivery and post partum experiences were complete non-events. I didn’t experience any symptoms of post-partum depression. I felt lucky. I enjoyed 12 months of a bliss filled maternity leave. Following my maternity leave I went back to work. To say I struggled with my return is an understatement. I wept during my daily commute (both ways) and was absolutely sick with agony leaving my son at daycare. I was completely encapsulated in mom guilt, so bad that I thought my family would be better off without me. Fortunately, by the grace of my amazing family doctor, he recognized in me that I was not well. Together, we made a plan to manage my anxiety alongside a late onset of post-partum depression. With the guidance of my doctor, I agreed to seek out talk therapy and I selected an SSRI that I felt was best suited for my situation. I know an RX isn’t for everyone, but for me it was a complete game changer. The SSRI lowered the volume of the noise in my head so I could think, reason and function with clarity. It was like a fog was lifted and for that reason it is still a key part of my toolkit today.
In addition to the SSRI, I have several other tools in my toolkit. I lean heavily on yoga and meditation. I also know myself enough now to understand that I need alone time (I am a self-proclaimed extroverted introvert). I also regularly leverage two grounding/breathing exercises. When I am on the cusp of an anxiety attack I will use the 5,4,3,2,1 grounding exercise and/or box breathing. (Note – 5,4,3,2,1 is also a great tool if you have anxious kiddos).
It takes time and commitment to establish your toolkit. It has taken me years to establish mine and it wasn’t without testing and trying everything from talk therapy, personal coaching, fitness, drinking more water, avoiding caffeine, setting personal boundaries, Kundalini yoga, and reiki.
Most importantly though, your toolkit is not complete without the support of the people who care about you, your spouse, parents, friends and colleagues. When you are ready, share with them how to care and respond to you when you are feeling anxious. Do you need space? A comforting hug? A reminder to do your breathing exercises? Help them to help you.
Over the years I have come to terms with and accepted that my anxiety is not going away. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand or silver bullet. My mental health is something I will manage for the rest of my life. I look at this way, you know those folks who are prone to sinus infections? Their sinuses flair up from time to time, and they manage it; by going to the doctor, using a nose spray, whatever. I am prone to anxiety, it flares up from time to time, and I manage it by reaching into my toolkit.
Finally, if you are living with a mental health condition, you are not alone. I’ve got you and you can find me on Instagram @going_going_blonde_ . Send me a note, I’d love to connect with my “got it handled” friends. Also, I recently participated in an Instagram live with @oneanxiousmommy where we discussed our individual experiences with anxiety. You can find the recording of our live session on her page. We drank wine too, so there’s that also.
Be well friends.
From June 29th - July4th a portion of every sale made through Onyx+Ivy will be heading directly to the Calgary Health Foundation.
We are participating for the second year in The Run For Women, bought to you by the LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart Program which benefits the Women's Mental Health Clinic at the Foothills Medical Centre which currently sees 600 women annually. Conservative estimates suggest that as many as 3,600 Calgary and area women will struggle with their mental health on a yearly basis.
Looking for other ways to get involved? Donate to our Run For Women team here.