Category Archives: Anxiety

Get out of your own way!

NCAA Div 1 Soccer Championship

NCAA Div 1 Soccer Championship

My husband and I took a spontaneous road trip to Alabama last weekend. By no means are we groupies (I unfortunately realized this year that college boys are too young for me…I’m getting so old!). But we do like watching soccer. On Friday, IU our Alma Mater, won a semi-final game qualifying them for the National Championship on Sunday. Around two on Saturday, while doing some work and I texted my husband, “Hey–let’s go to Alabama”.  He writes back “Is this you procrastinating from work?” Me: “Um…yes?  But I’m serious”  So an hour later we found ourselves pulling out of our parking lot headed to Birmingham, Alabama–heartland of America.

My adrenaline had me running through the hour of getting ready, but as we get into the car I started panicking   “WHAT AM I DOING? WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?”  Here’s a list of the things I was worried about:

  1. I had work that needed to be done
  2. I wanted to clean the bathroom
  3. I wanted to cook and freeze some food for the week

Now…these were all legit concerns, but I had weighed them (albeit briefly) before I sent my husband the text about going. But know what my largest concern was? BEING ANXIOUS! Yep, I was worried about triggering a mood swing because we would be getting completely off my schedule. I’d be up late, sleeping in a different place, and traveling–all which can cause anxiety for me.  And wait, does this idea mean I’m going into a manic swing? Should I not go??

But you know what!

I NEEDED TO GET THE HECK OUT OF MY OWN WAY!

Sure, keeping a schedule is good for me. But know what else is good? Spending time with the hubby. Building good memories. Feeling like a “normal” person. AND HAVING FUN!

The ACTUAL trophy--can't believe they let me get that close...I didn't break it though!

The ACTUAL trophy–can’t believe they let me get that close…I didn’t break it though!

Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way and let ourselves cut loose. Having a mental illness is alot of work and sometimes to stay healthy you do miss out on stuff–so give yourself some space to have fun. This spontaneous trip was great and it reminded me how much better I can feel when I let myself have a good time.

So tonight–in honor of this post I am going to make myself a peppermint milkshake. And I give all of you permission to do so as well!  Screw calories and do something fun!

Yes, I am drinking it out of a wine glass.  Got a problem with that?!

Yes, I am drinking it out of a wine glass. Got a problem with that?!


  oh and btw: THEY WON! GO HHHHOOOOOSSSSIIIIEEEERRRRSSSS!!!!!!!!

Eyewitness to the EIGHTH National Soccer Championship

Eyewitness to the EIGHTH National Soccer Championship

 

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Preparing for Stressful Situations

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My friend recently texted me this picture and I literally laughed out loud.  People at work would have looked at me strangely, except they are used to me being doing weird things. It was fitting in her life at the time as she was coming up on final class papers and assignments…always stressful!  But it is also perfect for me right now. I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress at work right now—and it is only going to get worse for the next three weeks.  Just like that wave, I can see it coming.  So the question then becomes—how do you prepare!?

Here is a great tool that I learned in therapy—a list of questions to ask and answer BEFORE the stressful event occurs (with a few random self-affirmations thrown in there). Then post the questions and your answers in a place you can see them as the event is taking place.  If your mind is overwhelmed and freaking out, like mine is right now, it’s probably a good idea to have someone you trust work through this with you.

Self-Statements for Coping With Stress:

  1. What is it that I have to do?
  2. I can develop a plan to deal with this. (Form a plan or mental outline)
  3. Just think about what I have to do, not anything else. (Focus on the needs of the task at hand)
  4. Think of things that I can use to help cope. (Review the strategies that you know can be of help)
  5. The situation is not impossible—I can handle this.
  6. What’s the worst possible outcome? Can I live with that?
  7. Remember: I can shift my attention and control my reactions.

I’ve found this to be very helpful. It breaks the situation down into parts, and gives your mind a grounding point when it starts to stray.  So instead of waiting for that wave to crash over you, think of this tool as your surfboard to ride it!

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

While I was home for Thanksgiving my parents, who are faithful followers of my blog, asked why I have not posted recently. I gave the standard, easy answer “I’ve just been really busy and stressed out”.  While true (I learned at an early age that lying to mom and dad can only end badly…very badly), after some self-reflection this afternoon I realized there was more to it.

An awesome blogger over at Purple Dreamer helped me uncover the other part of this equation. I was reading through the “rules” of a blog nomination she gave me (more on that later) when I came across a series of questions I was suppose to answer. The first question is “Why do you blog?” That’s spelled out pretty clearly on the purpose of my blog, “providing hope, insight, and awareness for life with mental illness”.  But that is the mission of many amazing bloggers and writers already, so why do I think I have something to add? For me, I try to address a specific audience by to bringing life and emotion to the more tangible facts, knowledge, and coping techniques by being vulnerable and open about my life and struggles…..

And the “AH HA” moment.  No, not the new facts or knowledge, I’ve actually listening to a lot of podcasts recently. The problem is the vulnerability.  See I haven’t really been doing all that well recently. I am not the worse I’ve ever been, if I was I would have been forced to stop and deal with it. Since I’m only kinda bad, I’ve decided it was just easier to ignore the darkness that was going on inside.

I’m ashamed to admit I am a Hunger Games addict.  How can you not have a crush on a small crush on a gorgeous buff blue-eyed baker? But I digress, during the rebellion one character says, “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”  This is what I’ve been doing recently—I don’t feel like I have time to fall apart, I am completely overwhelmed with work and my job. So instead of putting forth the effort needed to address what’s going on, I’ve done just enough to hold myself together.

Let’s pretend Sidney brings me home a vase filled with flowers. As I’m arranging it on the table it slips from my hand (believable right?) and a small crack appears.  I have three options:  a) ignore it, b) slap some tape on it, or c) examine the break, find the right glue to fix it, hold it to the glue dries. Then rearrange the flowers back in the vase. Since I’m running around like crazy right now—I’d likely put the tape on it (especially if I could find some pink duct tape laying around!).

I know you think you know where I’m going with this—if you ignore something too long it will eventually break….true. But I want to focus on another side of it.

Duct tape and visible cracks are not pretty to look at, and don’t allow the vase to function at its full potential.  Water is likely leaking down and dripping through the cracks.  So while I’ve been cruising along in my life, throwing duck tape on the anxious or depressed thoughts, I’ve impaired my ability to reach my potential.  I’m not happy right now. I’m just existing. I make a “to-do” list at the beginning of the day, work on accomplishing it, go to bed, wash rinse repeat. And since I never stop to be open, to be vulnerable, and introspective, I have not identified and dealt with the garbage of thoughts going on in my head, impeding my life.

I justify it by saying Oh I’m too busy to do my thought journals, I’m too busy to meditate, I’m too busy to identify cognitive errors. And I’m certainly too busy to deal with anything I might find during the process. When it should really be, I’m too busy NOT to identify what’s going on in my head. I’m too busy NOT to be using my brain at its full potential.

I think everyone’s brain collects garbage and false thoughts throughout the day/week/etc. but I think those of us with a mental illness collect more of them, in a faster period of time, and store them more deeply. While many people can drop these thoughts during coffee with a friend, a hard work out, a phone chat—those of us with mental illness require a bit more work to stop the party going on. Our brains have lots of confusing dark crevices, wrong turns, and trap doors for the thoughts to hide behind.  So if I’m going to be successfully living with a mental illness, I’m going to need to remember to clean out the junk drawer that is my brain.  I need to commit to writing my blog, journaling, going to therapy, talking to my support team—even when that means I might drop an hour of work, miss out on a social event, order pizza two nights in one week…

I must remember that I deserve to be healthy and happy—not just existing. And being mindful of my thoughts and emotions is a huge part of that.

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I feel scared…concerned….insecure…startled…restless…fearful…panicky….shaken…

As I’ve begun learning about my mental illness and how it affects my life, I’ve started to look back through journals I’ve written in the past.  It’s interesting to see what I wrote in a different light and to see how far I’ve come. Also, it’s pretty hilarious to read about my past crushes—glad I ended up with Sidney.

Another huge benefit for me is that it sheds a bit of light on one of the questions I identified my previous post. “Why do children not share the extreme of their emotions with adults?” One reason for me was an inability to express my emotions.  Two phrases I see over and over in my journals are “It feels so dark in my body” and “I am losing control of my mind”.

I was never able to describe that feeling better—but instead wrote it over and over. I knew I was feeling awful, but I didn’t know how to express it. I would tell my parents, “I’m stressed” or “I’m sad”.  Or I’d cry and scream but was not able to explain why I was doing it. Or I’d give a reason I was crying, but it did not convey the intensity of the feeling.

One friend of mine tells a story of sitting on her front porch crying uncontrollably before school. Her dad promised her she wouldn’t have to go if she would only tell him what was wrong.  But she couldn’t. All she could say was “I’m sad”.

In therapy one of the first skills Rick and I worked on was learning to identify my emotions. Rick claims this was to help me, but I’m pretty sure that he was bored listening to the same conversation.

Rick: “How are you today?”

Nicole: “Anxious”
Rick: “Anything else?”
Nicole: “Sad”

After about three weeks of that, Rick introduced me to my feelings list.  I have a sheet of 100 feeling words that I am can use to identify in various situations. There are 30 words alone that go under the “anxious” category.  If they would put these words on the GRE I’d knock that out of the water! Instead there’s words like noxious.

We teach kids to write descriptive paragraphs about scenery, explain how to perform mathematical operations, support a thesis with detailed evidence…yet do we teach them to identify feelings? I’m not even sure how we would start to do this—after all, many adults are not good at it.  But I think it would be a big step towards helping kids manage their emotions!

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A Day in My Life!

Like most people with a mental illness, I spend way too much time in my own brain. That’s where a lot of the anxiety breeds as I focus on my own thoughts and ideas. In fact, one tactic that I use to prevent panic attacks is to start to point out specific visual things around me. For example, “The clock says it is 9:10 in red numbers; there is a small red light in the bottom right hand corner to show that it is PM”

So for this blog I thought I’d post some photos of a “day in my life”.  These past few days I’ve been paying more attention to life around me wondering “hmm…what should I take pictures of”. I would recommend trying it for a few days and see if it helps get you out of your brain into the world around you.

 

So what do you think? Do you have other ways to help me get out of my anxiety filled brain?

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How slippers diagnose an anxiety disorder…

Take a good look at the slippers below, because you’re about to get to read a whole blog post about them. Don’t stop reading, I’m only kidding.  Kinda…

My amazing dolphin slippers

My husband brought these slippers home from the zoo the other day.  He picked them for two main reasons: one, in my fantasy world I’m a dolphin trainer and two, my hands and feet are always cold! I tell you the first reason as just a fun fact about Nicole. The second reason is the connection to my mental illness and reason behind this post.

Dr. Andrew Weil is founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. He’s a great resource for understanding the science behind mental illness as well as alternative health treatments.  In a few of Dr. Weil’s books he claims he can diagnose an anxiety disorder in five minutes. How? Dr. Weil shakes the patient’s hand and if the patient’s hand is exceptionally cold asks, “Are your hands typically colder than the rest of your body?”.  (After all, he lives in AZ so even I would be warmer there….). If the answer is yes, Dr. Weil says this is a signal to continue to explore the possibility of an anxiety disorder.

Seems like a random and rather haphazard way to diagnose an anxiety disorder until you understand the biology of the illness. During panic attacks or intense anxiety, the body’s sympathetic nervous system activates, preparing you to “fight or flee”. This causes your body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes, such as activation of the immune system, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath. In addition, blood is shunted away from extremities to the vital organs such as the heart and larger muscles groups needed to “flight” or “flee”.  This lack of blood to the extremities results in cold hands and feet.

I address this biological reaction of anxiety disorders for several reasons. First, I always like when things explain characteristics about me that I didn’t understand (especially if they are things about me that are annoying…who doesn’t like an excuse for something they don’t particularly like?!).

The second reason is more important.  While I usually address the more emotional and less measurable signs and symptoms of mental illness, educating the public of these less obvious but still valuable and useful signs of a mental illness can be especially beneficial. Being aware of these sings can lead to earlier identification and treatment. My personal story underscores this point. Around the age of 14-15 I saw a specialist for the constant headaches I was having.  After numerous tests, he determined that I had poor circulation.  He suggested several activities to help mitigate the symptoms, but doctor did not check for other signs of an anxiety disorder. This is one moment of my life I look back on as a “What if…” moment.  Now life can’t be changed and I don’t say this to blame anyone.  Instead, it’s a lesson learned that I want to be certain to pass on to others so they do not suffer as long as I did.

Finally, it’s one more reminder and proof that my illness is truly a chemical imbalance. I’ve noticed on days when I’m more anxious or feel a panic attack coming on, my hands and feet get colder. When I’m calm I notice I’m not constantly rubbing my hands together to warm them up!  It’s good for me to have these physical reminders that my craziness is not my fault!

The added bonus of it all? It gives me an amazing excuse to wear all my warm soft fuzzy clothes that my husband hates.  The slippers (his words when he gave them to me “I hated them so I figured you’d love them”), my onesie, knee high socks…….

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I don’t want to fight my depression..

Don't want to fight

When I saw this photo I hadto repost it because it so clearly captures my feelings on many days (and the couch in the photo looks pretty comfortable). In fact this morning, I felt this way (but enter “anxiety” instead of depression). I overworked my brain yesterday so I didn’t sleep well and woke up with a tension headache and panic attack symptoms.  I wanted to climb back into bed–but I had commitments at work and my in-laws are coming.  Fortunately, my amazing husband helped cheer me up and I put on a cute outfit (that helped…a little!)

I don’t want to fight my depression...

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Sounds of Bipolar

Here’s the transcript of the audio that I posted Sunday.  Hubby said I needed to add it for the “people out there who are visual”.  Gotta love being married to someone who is completely opposite of you. 

When I read the Word Press weekly writing challenge, The Sound of Blogging, I was intrigued, but wary. So many questions began rushing through my head, “How can I use this to connect more with my readers?” “Do I even want to?” “Is the sound of my voice too personal, or too vulnerable?” The answers were “No—I don’t really want to” and “yes, it seems too personal and vulnerable”. And, like a lot of things in life—that meant I should probably do it. Like “no I don’t want to eat my vegtables” and “yes it would be good for me” One of the goals of this blog is for me to grow in the confidence and openness of a woman who ‘surfs’ the waves of bipolar. This seemed like a good stretch for that.

Once that was decided, I had to answer the next series of questions—how does sound affect my journey? So many great, wonderful, fantastic ideals zoomed around my brain! The sound of my breath, guided imagery tapes, frequency music, tuning forks, my husband’s voice, my voice, chanting.  WOW I could do them all, they are all such great ideas how could I just choose one—WAIT! Slow down. As you can tell, I’m feeling a bit manic today. 

And they are all great tools and techniques, that I will probably share at one point. But the sounds that most affect my journey are the ones that other’s don’t hear. The voices and sounds in my head.

First, there are the voices that do not sound like my own. The voice that said, “Don’t take that medicine, your parents are trying to poison you”. “Hide behind that couch, someone outside might be looking to shoot you” “Don’t go near that person, remember when they abused you?” Thank goodness the medicine and therapy have helped me get these under control. They are terrifying and dehibiltating. And I only had a very very minor experience with them compared to many others I know.

Then there is the noise my brain creates. While you might think of them as just thoughts, for me during panic and anxiety attacks they are so much more. They are literally noise clamoring in the back of my head for attention. I grasp pieces here and there as each screams to be heard over the others. The words sound louder than any I am experiencing externally.

Finally, I find the last one hardest to explain. It hits me during times of anxiety and it sounds like very loud white noise. Static, beeping, sirens. Sounds that block out everything else. Which is sometimes good since they are more pleasant than the anxious thoughts—but they give me a headache in less time than it took you to listen to this post.

I’m sure this is not what the writers of the challenge were thinking of? But when do I ever do what’s expected or normal? They probably were thinking of an uplifting song, birds chirping in the spring time, or the sound of your lover’s voice whispering sweet nothings.  Now, I like and appreciate all of those—but sometimes they don’t seem as overpowering as the sounds I discussed. I’m hoping they will become more prominent in my mind as I move along in my journey.

It’s like that question (which I always hated and never thought I’d find a purpose to use)—if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it—does it still make a sound?  If the noise is just in my head and no one else can hear it—does it still make a sound?

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WordPress Challenge: Sound

I stumbled upon the “Weekly word press challenge” for last week.  While I believe I’m technically too late to be in the “week” I still thought it was a great idea.  I apparently can post this by audio—finally a way to add some drama to my post. If it wasn’t enough entertainment already!