Tag Archive: Anxiety


Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

Minefield


I’ve been inordinately preoccupied lately with the subject of how girls mature in the modern world, seeing as how I have a 9-year-old daughter who seems to be maturing at a frightening rate.  My own upbringing, along with cultural stereotypes, have primed me to see the teenage years as a minefield requiring an emotional flak jacket, forcing me to steel myself against having my daughter unwillingly ripped from my arms as she does everything in her power to separate herself from me using methods guaranteed to purposefully shock and horrify.

Pardon me while I attempt to rip this pair of shit-colored glasses from my face.

I know this is the most extreme version of adolescence possible, and it is generated by my fear that my daughter and I will have the same hate-filled relationship that my mother and I had.  I do not trust my own bipolar-addled mind to react in a healthy way to the vagaries of her changing brain in the coming years, and I’m terrified of ruining the relatively happy relationship that we have now.  I’ve also heard too many stories of mothers who have loving relationships with their daughters, only to have them turn sour once they become pre-teens and teenagers.

I’m also greatly disturbed by the cultural forces that are at work in my daughter’s life.  She is 9, but the kids at her school are already listening to music filled with descriptions of sex and partying, even the occasional mention of S&M (!).  I know she doesn’t understand most of what they’re talking about (she didn’t even know what the word “porn” meant), but I do, and it bothers me.  A lot.

I would put my foot down and put an absolute ban on such music, but I’m wary of ostracizing her from her friends, which is just as damaging.  And as a very wise friend pointed out, you can’t dictate someone’s musical choices to them.  I’m also aware that every single  generation of parents has thought that the music their children were listening to was going to send them to Hell or ruin their morals.  I am equally aware that the things musicians have sung about really hasn’t changed, not in centuries.  People think of decades earlier in the 20th century as being more innocent somehow, but they were singing about the exact same things they’re singing about now.  Just not quite so blatantly.

There has to be a balance.  I must allow her to be the person she is, but without exposing her to things earlier than she should be exposed to them.  And that’s where the problem currently is.  I don’t know how to do that without cutting her off from the the things and friends that help her express her identity.  I know what it’s like to feel completely separate from everyone around you, and it’s terrible and will do just as much harm to her as not doing anything.

Music is just the tip of the iceberg.  She’s only in the 4th grade.  If there is a hell on earth, it must surely be middle school.  What’s going to happen then, when the minefield really begins in earnest?  Then there will be the clothing battles, and the battles over anything else that I feel oversexualizes her.  I probably will put my foot down with those things.  What about the other things I have to protect her from?  Cyberstalkers?  A culture that with one hand tells her that sex is bad but with the other that she must be a sexpot?  Our culture’s horrible views on body image and health?  Our culture’s twisted views on just about everything?  I sometimes question the wisdom of having a child at this time in history, although I suspect that, as with the music, every generation has felt the same way.

All of these things have stirred together in my brain into a melange of terror that will undoubtedly do its own damage even if everything else is going just fine.  I can barely sort my thoughts together.

I’m trying to turn to books for help, but cultural forces are changing so rapidly, what with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, that almost all of them are woefully out of date.  Reviving Ophelia, written in 1994 and long held to be the gold standard of how to save our adolescent girls from the cultural forces at work in modern times, is grossly outdated (not to mention it views society through the lens of a psychologist who sees only troubled girls, and as such is extremely biased).  Surviving Ophelia is a similarly biased and outdated work that I refused to read as I knew it would only feed the fires of my fear, as did Reviving Ophelia.  I need something that will make me feel better, and empowered, not worse and powerless in the face of the forces I’m trying to battle.

There is one fight that only I have the power to help her win, and that is body image.  It is well known that daughters look to their mothers for how to treat and view their bodies, and that terrifies me, because I hate my body with a passion.  Hate it.  I’ve never had any reason at all to love it.  Why should I?  It’s never brought me anything but grief.  First in the form of negative attention from men and boys, and then in the form of an imbalanced endocrine system which has caused irregular, heavy periods my entire life.  Then I gained weight as a result of trying to make myself unattractive in an effort to shun the attention I got from men.

There was one very brief period in my life when I lost weight and was happy with my body and the attention I got, but my own mental baggage betrayed me once again, and I went back to hating my body and being ashamed of it, wanting to be ugly once again.  I’ve stayed that way ever since, even though I was really quite attractive, at least until I had a baby.  My husband tells me I’m still beautiful, but I don’t believe him.  I look in the mirror and am disgusted by what I see.  I detest what pregnancy did to my body and know that what beauty I did have before I had a baby, and did not appreciate, is gone forever.  I hate my hair.  I hate my skin.  I can’t think of a single thing about my body that I like.  I know that attitude is going to poison my beautiful daughter’s attitude about her own body, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I know there are people who think the way out of this trap is to look in the mirror and tell myself every day that I’m beautiful, but I want to choke when I think of doing that.  I can’t even imagine saying the words, let alone actually saying them.  I can barely look at myself in the mirror.  I don’t wear makeup: it just makes me feel like I have to go somewhere.  All I wear is t-shirts that cover up my body.  I wear my hair in a ponytail all the time.  I don’t take care of myself the way I should because I don’t see what the point is.  I don’t have a mental image in my head of what I looked like when I wasn’t fat, because I don’t think I ever actually looked at my whole body in the mirror.  Ever.  Certainly not on purpose with gladness.  Maybe if I was trying on clothes, but that’s it.  Even then, whatever I was trying on wasn’t for looks, it was for comfort and just to make sure it fit.

I don’t want to be this way.  I want to be someone who gets up in the morning and is happy to see the face and body in the mirror and wants to take care of them, to make them look pretty because they (I) am worth the attention and energy.  I want to be someone who makes the effort and time to go to the gym and to yoga and karate classes because they’re good for me and because they make my body look and feel better.  Mostly, though, I want to be someone who loves themselves enough to think themselves worthy of the effort of all of these things.  Because I don’t love myself.  I think I’m a pretty mediocre excuse for a human being.  Most days, all I can think of are all of the things I’ve ever done wrong and how I don’t measure up.  I certainly don’t treat my daughter the same way: quite the opposite in fact.  But I know the way I treat myself will seep into her psyche.  Maybe not now, but someday.

Maybe the minefield I have to navigate isn’t hers: it’s mine.

Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

Up Yours, Universe


I’m really not enjoying life right now.  Around the time that the cat died two weeks ago, I started having a recurrence of a strange breathing issue I have from time to time.  It basically keeps me from being able to take a deep breath whenever I want to.  It has its origins partially in my allergies, and partially in anxiety.  I start having trouble because of the allergies, which makes me anxious, which makes the problem worse.  I haven’t figured out how to make it go away yet.  It just happens spontaneously.

Consequently, I’m getting really shitty sleep right now since I pretty much can’t lay down to sleep.  Whatever this fuckuppery my lungs likes to play on me gets worse when I’m reclining.  I’ve largely slept either in a recliner or on the couch the last two nights.

I don’t imagine the anxiety component is made any better by the fact that I’m on deathwatch with yet another cat.  This time it’s YinYang’s mother, Babalon.  Obviously, she’s a bit older than he was when he died a couple of weeks ago.  She also looks much worse.  She’s been sick for at least two years, is nothing but fur and bones, and looks like she has at least two paws in the grave.  Her condition has grown much worse in the past few days and I’m fairly certain I’ll be sending another pet on its way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky sooner rather than later.  Because what I really need right now is to dig another hole in my back yard.

So between the dead and dying cats, my allergies, and my anxiety, my sleep is suffering.  I believe the appropriate word to use to describe my current demeanor would be “punchy”.  I really want nothing more than 8-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  I would particularly like it to be uninterrupted by the need to suddenly sit upright to alleviate the sensation of suffocating.  I’d love to induce sleep pharmaceutically, but my supply of appropriate meds is quite low due to the last dying cat incident and due to my psych nurse adjusting my scrip down without really discussing it with me (which is the first time he’s done something to annoy me).

All of which will be discussed at my appointment later today, along with the apparent necessity that I take a drug that costs $13 a pill (just my fucking luck: dozens of psychiatric medications at my disposal, and the one that works is the most recent in a new string of horribly expensive drugs that unfortunately do their job really well).  I’ll be spending some time delving into the world of online pharmacies.

So no, I’m really not enjoying life at the moment.  I want my cat back, and I want to breathe properly.

Stuck Again


When we last left our intrepid spiritual traveler, her altars had just reassembled themselves. Since then, I’ve just been letting them occupy their space and sink their energy tendrils into the house. I’ve also continued to work on my spiritual scrapbook like a madwoman. I don’t know what it is about that particular project that I find so appealing, but I really like it. My first scrapbook is over 75% full already: about 60 pages. I have another designated exclusively for a set of Buddhist and Hindu greeting cards I bought at Half Price Books a few years ago but have never used. I’ve sliced them in half for easy gluing and saved the backs for their descriptions.

There’s still a table full of altar-y stuff in the yoga room. It’s everything that hasn’t yet found a home elsewhere in the house. I’m leaving it there so my husband can pick through it and find things for his own altar space. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it all. I can identify a few things that I don’t want any more, but most of it I like and want to keep. Most of it will go into a big plastic bin except for a few things that just really want to be out.

As usual, I’ve gotten stuck on another bit of the Spiritual Nomad instructions. Since the first week, I’m supposed to have been doing breathing exercises/meditations for a few minutes each day in front of my altar spaces, whether empty or full. I haven’t done any yet. I think it’s because the word “meditation” or the phrase “breathing exercise” instills anxiety in me as I remember past attempts to do these things and how frustrating it was. I’m bipolar. It’s a daily effort to keep the inner dialogue quiet enough so that I can function in the rest of my life. Sitting down to do nothing but listen to my breath is akin to putting a megaphone from that dialogue’s mouth to the rest of my mind: it’s deafening.

So I’m trying to abandon the whole “listen to my breath” thing since that clearly doesn’t work for me. I’m going for a quiet conversation, instead, since shutting everyone up isn’t really an option. Not for now, anyway (I can see how it could be possible after a very long time of increasingly quiet mental conversations, though). Seeing the exercise in that way lessens the meditative anxiety, but not completely. There’s still that whole sitting still thing. I’m currently a bit of a large girl: sitting still for a long time isn’t very comfortable for me. I guess I could always sit in a chair instead of on the floor, or arrange myself differently on the floor. Laying down is always nice.

These are all excuses flung up by some even farther corner of my mind that really does NOT want me to do anything even remotely resembling meditation. It gets really angry when I try to come up with ways to get around these excuses, essentially poisoning my meditation practice with a lot of inwardly directed hostility. After a few sessions of that, I give up. Seriously, who the fuck wants to sit down with themselves and end up feeling like they’ve just had a horrible fight with someone? Which in essence, you did?

Little wonder, then, that I don’t think too highly of meditation. Monkey mind, my ass. More like an 800-pound gorilla running amok in my head. Plus my authority-driven mind is yammering at me that I’ve ruined the whole thing by skipping parts or doing them out of order. “You idiot, you’ve reassembled the altars before meditating in front of them for exactly seven days while standing on one foot and bleeding out a chicken! You’ve got the mixture all WRONG! The fabric of life itself is torn asunder!”

*sighs at self*

If I get nothing else out of Spiritual Nomad, it’s to lighten the fuck up and be more accepting of my particular bizarre flavor of Otherness Acknowledgement, which doesn’t like words and in general regards them to be flimsy human constructs that always fall short of truly describing their subject, as though they were mere shadows projected upon a wall, a la Plato. Which is an odd perspective to have as a writer. As such, it is the rare mantra that doesn’t feel completely forced (Sheila Chandra‘s “Om Namaha Shiva” is just such a mantra) and it’s difficult for me to come up with words to go along with a spiritual activity that don’t sound completely silly to me.

I know I’m just trying too hard. All of the non-verbal exercises have been extraordinarily helpful: I should give the others more of a chance instead of subverting them before I even try. All I have to do is sit down and light a candle and some incense, for heaven’s sake. Those are things I *like* doing! I should stop trying to ruin them with a lot of overanalysis. Then maybe it wouldn’t make part of me so angry to try to meditate or pray.

Breathe


Breaaaaaathe.  Seems simple until you can’t.  About a week ago, I started having trouble taking a deep breath.  I could take one about every 15 breaths or so, but the rest of the time, forget it.  Coincidentally, it was the day after a great deal of smoke descended upon our fair city.  Suddenly a problem that was restricted to the nighttime hours began bothering me in the daytime and did not respond to my usual methods of relieving it.  Annoying does not cover it.

I went to one of the many urgent care centers that have popped up to relieve pressure on the emergency rooms and had a chest x-ray, a nebulizer treatment, and many questions asked of me.  They said “reactive airway”.  No, really?  They also gave me a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, which does help, but only when I’m taking my usual anti-anxiety agent.  Three days later, I went to an actual emergency room and got another x-ray which was as perfect as the first one.  The doctor took note of my ease when taking an anti-anxiety agent and diagnosed dyspnea (shortness of breath: no, really?) and anxiety.  The anxiolytic I take isn’t really good to take on a constant basis so I called my usual doc to get something else.  All it does make it hard for me to work.  Today I went for my third doctor visit, which wasn’t much more productive than the others.  They did give me another albuterol prescription since the other one didn’t have any refills.

About $500 and none of them really had any answers.  The best I can do is take an addictive anxiolytic and walk around the house in as meditative a manner as possible.  That and use my inhaler.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of my anxiolytic.  I’ve missed 12 hours of work this week, important hours at that, which stresses me out.  Stress and anxiety really do worsen my breathing, but I’m not really sure what to do about that.

Is this my final ringing bell to alert me that I’m way more tense than I need to be?  It must be, because I want to burst into tears just thinking about these things.  Am I really way more stressed out than I think I am?  I must be, because my body is disrupting one of its primary functions.  Breathing’s kind of important, y’know.  We only get to live for about 5 minutes without air.

So I spent some time making a schedule of my regular life and then I added yoga classes to it, ones that are really close to my karate dojo.  Like *really* close: in the same building and across from it.  I can’t have any excuse for missing one now.

It’s more than yoga, though.  It has to be an internal change.  It doesn’t matter how much smoke is billowing out of Bastrop County (though that doesn’t do my lungs any good, that’s for sure).  If I’m all tight, then the air won’t get it.  This is a frightening process.  Have you ever been without air?  I want mine back.  Right now.

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