Behind Apollo Neuro is a team that lives and breathes the mission to empower people to take charge of their mental health and live healthier, happier lives. Though we exist and operate in the world of stress management, we’re not immune to stress. But we are privileged to have access to the latest science and strategies for staying calm, focused, grounded, and happy. Through a series of Apollo team member highlights, we’ll share a diverse range of perspectives on mental health and wellness.
In a recent conversation with Apollo Neuro’s Customer Service Rep Lead, Mandy, we discussed setting boundaries and managing day-to-day life as a “very, very well-functioning, massively stressed-out individual” dealing with trauma, panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and chronic pain.
Q: What’s your role at Apollo?
A: I’m customer service rep lead. My main responsibilities right now are to support the director and director of customer support. I create summaries to cover ongoing trends that our customer service agents are experiencing. And if they experience an issue, I’m the first person they come to.
My job is fantastic for a generally anxious person like myself. I get to channel my anxiety into small details and anticipating problems—it gives my brain an outlet. I don’t worry about leaving my oven on when I’m deep in detail-oriented tasks like building improved protocol for accessibility or tracking a missing package.
Q: What’s your relationship to stress?
A: I like to classify myself as a very, very well-functioning, massively stressed-out individual. I’m dealing with PTSD, panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and chronic pain. All of this means that I need to be extremely strict and vigilant. I’m at a point where I handle stress very well but it requires a lot of work; I’m constantly doing internal maintenance and adjustments.
Q: Could you expand on the internal maintenance and adjustments to manage stress?
A: I have to be really ferocious about my boundaries — making sure I get enough sleep and maintain a vaguely healthy diet and exercise routine. I’m terrible at drinking enough water and spending enough time in the sun, but I feel better when I manage to do those things consistently. I am strict with myself to clock out on time and not try to solve one last problem. At work, I stay focused on my immediate scope of work and cannot engage in things that do not fall into that. Outside of work, I maintain boundaries in my relationships. For example, I’m planning a micro-COVID wedding. If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you know the to-do list can become endless. There are “must have” items that I said, “no, I’m absolutely not engaging. I don’t care about flowers, so I’m not going to try to manage coordinating with a flower vendor in a pandemic , the conversation is done.” Of course, it helps to have support—my mom has planted wildflowers in her backyard so I can have the best of both worlds.
A bit over three years ago, I had a medical injury that was a terrifying time in my life. Medical professionals had no answers as to why I had lost the ability to use my right arm and experienced pain so intense that it sometimes left me unconscious.
One of the things about dealing with PTSD and chronic pain is that I can’t operate in the grey area. Before my injury, I lived in the grey area — I had a lot of co-dependency issues and it was easy to get tangled up throughout the day. But after my injury I got to a point where I could either shower or I could feed myself, but I didn’t have the capacity to do both. This fueled my determination to simplify my expectations for myself and clearly define what I say yes to. It’s important to note this has taken so much practice, and I’m still really terrible at it, but my life is a lot smoother and less stressful when I stick to it.
Q: How do you know when you’re feeling stressed and need a break?
A: Too much screen time can present information overload, and I start bouncing between tasks without getting anything done. When I feel myself hitting overload, I sit down with graph paper and write down what I’m doing first, second, third. I constantly remind myself that done is better than perfect. Nothing is actually an emergency in my day-to-day role, nothing will be destroyed or damaged if I go walk outside or refill my water.
I’m lucky to have an 125 pound lap dog named Rory, an Anatolian Shepherd and Border Collie mix, kindly referred to as my Emotional Support Asshole. He gets me up every couple of hours, which looks more like him throwing an absolute fit complete with foot stomping, so we go outside for a quick stroll to get fresh air. These steps help maintain stress levels throughout the day.
Q: What are the anxiety triggers you face?
A: My injury resulted in a lot of time in the hospital with no answers. I developed a deep-rooted anxiety and phobia around medical issues. I was in intense pain, blacking out from pain regularly, and also dealing with a severe fear of doctors, being touched, and needles. Of course, due to the nature of my medical issues, I needed to spend a LOT of time in doctors appointments.
I have emotional flashbacks from being in the hospital and all the specialist visits that followed. I’ve been in therapy since my injury, but I was finding it really difficult to address the emotional flashbacks without the ability to know where the emotions are coming from. It’s a lot of intense feelings at once, and from a place of fear, it becomes impossible to dissect and examine.
Q: Can you share an ‘AHA’ moment in your healing journey?
A: Flies became a bad trigger for me that would incite anxiety and panic attacks. I strongly associate touch with pain so I thought my anxiety was a fear that they would run into me and that would somehow hurt, but I couldn’t put my finger on why it was so distressing and why therapy wasn’t helping.
And then we had a fly infestation in my house, which wasn’t weather-tight due to construction. I had the worst panic attack I’ve had in a long time, and ended up curled up in the bathroom crying. I restarted my Apollo out of habit, and that was when it dawned on me that the buzzing flies sounded like the buzzing machines in the emergency room when I thought I was dying. My memories of the emergency room are hazy so I didn’t consciously understand it was such a traumatic experience, but having the realization that my body was remembering such a scary moment helped me heal and gave me a lot of compassion for myself. Prior to this realization, it was not helpful to logically think “the flies won’t hurt me,” so it makes sense that it was deeper. Now when I hear a fly, I think “you’re not in the emergency room, you’re not dying.” I still hate flies, but they haven’t given me a panic attack in 8 months — in fact, I haven’t had a panic attack at all in the last 8 months.
Now I balance my nervous system with Apollo. When I had panic attacks previous to having Apollo in my arsenal, I wasn’t able to balance and escape fight-or-flight. I had grounding rituals, like putting away dishes or laundry, which would help put my brain in order, but it took so much time to calm down and try to figure out what I was responding to. Now with Apollo, no matter what state I'm in, and I can look at what I’m feeling at from a point of safety. I have the space to examine what I’m experiencing logically.
Q: Wow, thanks for sharing so honestly. How else do you use Apollo to balance your nervous system?
A: Sometimes I wake up feeling a bit battered, so I’ll start my day with Rebuild and Recover to help me feel grounded and less stiff and sore. Energy and Wakeup feels like 10 cups of coffee at once, so it’s not for me! For work, I use Clear and Focused during the day. My partner and I are actually building our home right now, so I use Social and Open for that. If it’s really physical work on the house, I switch between Social and Open and Rebuild and Recover. I find Clear and Focused incredibly helpful for general grounding.
Apollo has helped with the pain I experience from my injury. Trying to build a house requires heavy physical work. I also still do Physical Therapy which reduces the pain, but it’s really hard to do anything, especially PT when I’m already in pain. And it’s extra exhausting to make myself stick with PT after over three years. Apollo definitely helps with the motivation aspect, too — I use Social and Open when I feel really uninspired about the unglamorous sides of self-care. If I slip up on my Apollo routine, I find I’m waking up stiff and in crazy amounts of pain. I go Rebuild and Recover all the way for pain! But my pain is joint, tendon and muscle related, so it might be different for people with nerve pain.
Q: Do you use Apollo to help sleep?
A: I’m a really light sleeper and I’m very sensitive to things touching me, so I don’t actually use it at night. What’s interesting is that I use Apollo basically all day up until getting in bed, and my sleep has entirely transformed for the better. I was on insomnia medication for years. When my insomnia was really bad, I wouldn’t fall asleep until two or three in the morning, and I woke up every 40 minutes. Now, I’m asleep within 15 or 20 minutes of laying down. I use Apollo during the entire day because my stresses go all day. I can’t just step on the brake on my stresses when I’m climbing into bed and expect it all to go away.
Q: Mandy, thanks so much for this honest conversation.
A: Shame dies in the light. I’m not sure who said this originally, but I heard it from Jenny Lawson so I will credit her and hope that she sees this article. Every time I open up about my medical issues and mental health journey, people reach out to say “I’m not alone?”. So, I’m hoping that this conversation reaches those who need to hear “no, you’re not alone.”