Category Archives: Anxiety Disorder

PTSD, Coping and Painting

I’ve recently been reminded of the phrase, ‘You’ll know when things are about to get better – it’s when you feel like you’ve reached your breaking point.’  Not terribly comforting I admit, but it’s usually true.  At least I hope so for the sake of me and those around me.

As my last few posts – as well as my overall ‘lack’ of posting proves,  the past several weeks have been difficult for me.  While trying to help a family member get over a very difficult period in their life I’ve experienced a harsh lesson on the cruelty of others while memories of my divorce back in 2001 have been intruding my thoughts.  Last week my mind betrayed me again with thoughts I have tried laying to rest for nearly three years.

My husband and I were talking with our neighbors across the street about an accident that had just happened down the street from us.  As we were watching the firetrucks and police cars block the road from traffic my neighbor asked if I knew the neighbors directly to the right of us.  I replied that because of our 6 month hibernation from the brutal winter, we hadn’t had much of a chance to make small talk.  She said, ‘Well, their dog keeps getting loose and runs all over the neighborhood. I keep telling them that they need to fix their fence before someone gets hurt.’

Not more than 30 seconds after she finished that sentence, our next door neighbors opened their front door to step outside.  The dog squeezed between their legs and started running toward the street.  Within seconds we witnessed the dog as he was struck by a passing vehicle.  I remember hearing a long, wailing sound, thinking it was the dog; it wasn’t.  That scream was coming from me.

The vehicle stopped and the driver stepped out, the look of disbelief on his face.   My husband and the neighbors across the street rushed to come to the aid of the dog and owner who, by that time was knelt down in the street next to his companion.  As for me, I suddenly felt like I was going to crumble to my knees.  When I finally willed my legs to move, I headed straight for the house where I broke down and sobbed.

I was upset for the dog, most certainly. Heartbroken for the owner, definitely.  But the majority of my uncontrollable crying came from deep within.  I was having flashbacks of my mother’s accident a few years ago when she was struck by a car (the first of a 2 part post can be read here)

I always thought that people with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) suffered because of something that happened ‘to’ them.  I was ignorant to the fact that one can be afflicted with this disorder by witnessing a horrific event.  It wasn’t until I went to therapy shortly after my mother’s accident that I learned more about this condition.

The accident involving the dog (whom died within 5 minutes of being struck) caused me to come to terms with certain things about myself that are likely to remain for a long time to come.  No longer am I able to watch the News.  Reports of sad or depressing stories seem to wound me deeply.  Shocking photos or videos in my Facebook newsfeed are quickly eliminated from my view, for once I allow my mind to accept what my eyes are seeing I find myself grieving for days.  Even movies with too serious a storyline are off limits.

It’s been a week since the unfortunate accident with the dog but I am still having flashbacks.  If I allowed myself, I could easily use those feelings and make them tangible in the form of new artwork.  Perhaps in the future I will be able to explore that part of myself within the safety of my studio, but for now I distract myself with images that bring peace, happiness and love to my mind.  This latest piece is a result of that place in my mind which I reserve for beauty and comfort.  My place of solace:

Serenity of SpringEtsy

Title:  Serenity of Spring

Nothing to fear but fear itself

 

I have been in Indianapolis for the last couple of days.  One of my destinations was to Treehouse Yoga so I could meet with Dusty, the owner, who bought several pieces of my artwork.  Sometimes it is hard to let go of a painting, but I didn’t feel that way about any of the pieces I left in Dusty’s care. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to know that my work is existing in such a peaceful, loving, accepting environment.

I recently watched a television interview with Sting.  He was asked why so many years had passed between albums. He responded with an answer that I related with on a deeply personal level.  I cannot find the actual quote so I will paraphrase here; basically what he said was that the lyrics weren’t coming, and that with every song he completes he has a fear that it will be the last song he ever writes.

Treehouse Yoga Studio

Treehouse Yoga Studio, Indianapolis, Indiana

 

Hard to believe that someone as brilliant as Sting can feel that way.  I laugh to think that someone might misunderstand me to say that I compare my career to his.  Of course I do not, but as a fellow artist I can certainly relate.  Each time I finish a painting I have a pang in my soul; sometimes it is barely recognizable. Other times it haunts me, but it happens whenever I sign my name to a piece.  I have come to understand that what I am feeling is fear. I too, wonder if I will ever be that creative again.

Over the weekend I watched a science fiction movie that I’d been wanting to see for some time. It wasn’t in the theater terribly long but it starred Will Smith and was co-written by M. Night Shyamalan.  The title: After Earth.  In the movie (which incidentally, I very much enjoyed despite the reviews) Will Smith and his son are stranded on an uninhabitable Earth and are in desperate need of a beacon so they can signal for help.  Between them and the beacon is an alien being who, though blind, can hunt humans by sensing their fear.

There was a speech that Cypher (Smith) made to his son, Kitai, in an attempt to empower him so he could complete his mission to find the beacon. Cypher was reliving a past experience to Kitai of how he overcame his fears.  The following is not the entire speech but even so, it’s pretty profound:

Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity, Kitai. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.

I mulled that speech over and over in my head. Of course it is in our nature to be afraid, but allowing fear to control the way we live our lives – allowing ourselves to be disrupted by fear – does not leave us with a very happy and fulfilling life.

It is no secret to those of you who read this blog regularly that I suffer from anxiety, and anxiety feeds on fear.  It doesn’t help that I inherited the ‘Worry’ gene from my mother, either.  I am constantly exercising my mind to push beyond what I ‘think’ I am capable of, even if the step I’m taking is so miniscule that only I can see it.  Progress is progress, right?

…which all leads back to my fears:  trying new things, making a fool of myself in public, the dreaded blank piece of watercolor paper or canvas; the inability to create.

What would happen if we all just let go of our inhibitions, not worry about the outcome and just enjoy the present moment?  Wouldn’t we lose the fear and instead gain a sense of excitement? Of possibility?  One step eventually does lead to another.

The same is true with the stroke of a paintbrush.

My Four-Leaf Clover: hard to find, lucky to have.

I stumbled across a hashtag on Instagram this past weekend which read: #onlinefriendsareREALfriends

I found it humorous because obviously a hashtag like that wouldn’t have been created unless someone felt the need to validate an online friendship to a ‘non-believer’.   Back in the mid-nineties I was a firm non-believer, myself.

Remember when AOL was the only provider in town and chat rooms were all the rage?  Back then one could request an online penpal simply by posting a message on a ‘board’ which I did.  Within a week I received a response from a young woman who lived only a few hours away from me and we began an instant exchange of emails several times a week.   After a couple of months we began talking on the phone (which as you know, not the easiest thing for me to do) and that led to an invitation to meet in person.

To make a long story short, our friendship ultimately turned into a unfortunate termination of communication, initiated by me.  ME – the one who hates confrontation.  Me:  the one who’s most likely to stay in a job she dislikes only because she’s more fearful of the unknown.  It was a total train-wreck because, well….while I was truthful about things happening in my life, she was not.  I held on though, giving  her the benefit of the doubt.  I even made a second trip out to see her but the entire experience was based on a foundation of lies which continued to unravel faster than I could keep up.

I am terrible at confrontations and avoid them like the plague, but I knew that continuing this relationship was out of the question.  I broke it to her as nicely as I could but like most break-ups, it did not go well.  In fact, the emails that followed which ultimately led to the deletion of my account were downright threatening.  That mess affected me so deeply I remained pretty quiet on the Internet for years, always the lurker but never really wanting to interact for fear that true friends simply couldn’t be found online.

Then I decided to start a blog.

September will mark my third year at Fat Girl Wearing Thin, and for the first time this year I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few women that I that I’ve been in contact with since my blog’s inception – all women are fellow bloggers and each of them whether they knew it at the time or not, gave me the gift of gladly being proven wrong:   Online friends ARE real friends.

First there was Roxie; then, Vickie.  Then, this past weekend I had a tremendous gift bestowed upon me: Lynn from Learning Curves who, along with her husband, happen to be a full-time travelers were driving right through my hometown on Thursday, and staying in the area until Monday.

Lynn first connected with me shortly after I published a post back in November 2010 about my mother nearly dying from a hit and run car accident.   Lynn reached out to me to let me know that she too, was experiencing heartbreak from a recent accident that involved her parents.  From that email blossomed a very special online friendship.  For nearly three years we’d never spoken on the phone, never texted one another, and only occasionally emailed – but there was always something there; something I couldn’t quite put my finger on; something wonderful  that kept us in touch, whether it was a supportive comment from me via her Instagram feed as I viewed photos of her daily yoga challenges, or her leaving an uplifting comment on my Facebook art page regarding a painting I was working on.  When I learned that she was coming into town I could barely contain myself.  In usual fashion I was a bundle of nerves, anxious and excited all at once.

We decided to meet on Friday morning at my local Panera restaurant.  I waited impatiently outside and posted to Instagram this photo:

photo(2)

Underneath it read: Impatiently waiting to meet one of my dearest online friends whose travels have taken her to my neck of the woods!  Hurry, @lynnbonelli!! 

Not more than 30 seconds after posting this, I heard her voice. We immediately hugged like long-lost twins, separated at birth.  We’ve always known there were similarities in our lives and we are so alike in so many ways its uncanny, yet the differences between us leave me in awe of her so much of the time.  This is a woman who’s finished marathons, completed the Tough Mudder Challenge in Tahoe and has mastered yoga poses that I cannot imagine doing (by the way, Lynn was gracious enough to do a few of her daily challenge poses in my yard yesterday:

Scorpion Pose

 

What lifts me up is the fact that like me, Lynn also has a back problem.  Yet with diligent yoga practice,

she’s been able to not only diminish her chronic pain but she’s grown strong enough to master poses like the one above, called Scorpion.

 

 

 

Here Lynn is doing Camel Pose while my water fairy, the ever diligent one, watches the water below.

If you’d like to see the other few poses Lynn completed in my yard, you can view them here via her Instagram feed: @lynnbonelli

 

Between Friday and Sunday I was fortunate enough to visit with Lynn three times, and each time we saw each other we talked nearly non-stop.  Sunday we brought our guys along for a nice lunch:

This morning they left for their next RV adventure and I already miss her.

 

The other day I saw one of those articles that reminds we ‘old-folk’ of just how old we are.  This one, from the Huffington Post was titled 23 Things your Kids Will Never Understand.

…things like floppy discs and record stores, dial up Internet and having to get off the phone in order to even USE the Internet.

Yes, things have certainly come a long way.  Technology evolves, and fortunately for most of us, so does our way of thinking.  Thank goodness I didn’t allow one bad experience stop me from connecting with some of the kindest, supportive, kindhearted people I have ever known in my life.  Whether I’m 2 hours or 2000 miles away from my friends, it is the best feeling in the world to know that no matter what kind of day I’m having, there are people out there who truly care.  To me, that’s just magical.

A worthwhile look at Anti-Coping

Last week I asked the question, ‘How Do You Deal?’ and received some very supportive, honest answers.  In times of stress I have found myself trying to deal with boulders by trying like hell not to let whatever is happening in my life CONSUME my life. 

Discussing enormous stress-related issues always gives me a reason to use the swimming analogy:

When things are going smoothly, you’re in the shallow-end doing nice, easy laps.  You’re relaxed because you have complete control of your surroundings: you can clearly see that the other end of the pool is nearby; if you happen to get tired you can easily ground yourself by touching the bottom if you’re so inclined.

When stressful or anxiety-filled situations start entering your life, you don’t feel as much in control as before. You may sense that the bottom is still there but it’s harder to see.  The water isn’t calm like before.  You’re fatigued but you know that you can still make it if you keep your head clear, stay calm and maintain a slow but steady pace.  You have an idea where the other end of the pool is but because of all the choppy water it now makes it more difficult to visualize. 

When stress becomes all consuming you can’t see the bottom anymore.  The end is no longer in your sight and you can’t sense where it is.  You feel like you’re swimming against a strong, choppy currant and you start hesitating, wondering – even doubting if you’ll ever make it.

For me, that’s when panic sets in and I begin frantically searching around me looking for stability.  It’s usually around that point when I see what I think is a life preserver floating nearby.  It’s not, though.  It may look like one but this floatation device looks and tastes just like a donut (minus the sprinkles). 

 

doesn't it kind of look like a red and white donut?

 

The trick of course, is to not allow myself to get to that last scenario.  I’ve always said that I use food as a means of coping – a band-aid to help me deal with whatever is going on.  I never realized that my choice of words were utterly inappropriate for what I was describing.  My food – my safety device, my ‘band-aid’ is not an aid whatsoever.  All my band-aid does is cover up the wound so that I can’t see it while I’m busy distracting myself. 

Huh.  Why is this just now clicking with me?  I mean, deep down I always knew it wasn’t a healthy way to cope, but I think that sometimes it’s easier to give simple answers to hard questions because we don’t have the energy to sit down and think about what they actually mean. 

This morning I read Kyra’s post on Anti-Coping.  It resonated with me so much I had to share a link to it from here.  Her words hit me at precisely at the right time and I feel like I have a better understanding of why I use food in times of extreme stress.  It is powerful, direct, to the point and absolutely worth reading if you happen to use food like I tend to do when stress becomes too much:

…from The Never-ending Adventures in Fitness and Life:  Anti-Coping.

How do you Deal?

This is a question worth asking since nearly all of us have some kind of stress in our lives at any given time.  As a kid my way of Dealing was by using sweets as a band-aid.    Looking back I still wonder how I made it through my adolescent years without being labeled as obese.  I was by no means skinny; I think the words ‘slightly pudgy’ and ‘a little chunky’ were used to describe my frame, but I never crossed over into obese, then morbidly obese until I hit college.

I have such sympathy for my 18 year old self.  She was so terribly insecure, scared half out of her wits at the thought of venturing into the unfamiliar, and desperate for a sense of direction. If I could go back to one moment in time it would be then, so I could step in and get that girl the help she desperately needed. 

Some twenty odd years have passed and I feel like I’ve fought and clawed my way to a place in my life where I feel happy, settled, and on track.  But then these curve balls come hurling from out of nowhere and I’m left realizing that I’ve learned nothing about how to deal with stress.  If I had, I’d still be taking time for Yoga – something that I haven’t done in ages.  Honestly speaking though, at this point I doubt if Yoga would work for me right now.  I don’t think I could slow down enough to even attempt it.  Guess I haven’t really changed much over the years after all.   

Stress is still a factor in my life that I avoid at all costs.  I’m an extremist in some ways because at times I avoid those good stressors which isn’t healthy, either.  Finding a happy medium is still a challenge. 

I’ve come to realize that I am a lot like my father.  While he tended to neglect his physical health,  I neglect my mental health. 

My dad was a man who never, ever complained about anything health-related.  Ever.  I remember one night when he showed up from work over two hours late.  He didn’t provide any explanation nor did I see any indication of what could have caused his tardiness other than the smudge of dirt on his shoulder as his only giveaway.  It wasn’t until nearly an hour later that he decided to tell my mother that he was late because he’d been mugged. Mugged, and he recounted the story as though he were recounting what he’d had for lunch. 

If my Dad were suffering from the terrible side effects of Diabetes, sometimes seeing double or triple, we might stumble across this information at the dinner table while watching him spear his napkin with his fork instead of the carrot that sat mere inches away.  Only upon bringing this to his attention would he offer any information that he was having trouble.

Although I am opposite my father in that I am dedicated to my physical health, my mental health has always pretty much taken a beating.  Instead of being proactive about stress and safeguarding myself against risks associated with it, I tend to do the opposite:  I hunker down, drag my body through disasters and ignore the heart palpitations, the sleepless nights, the extreme fatigue – until my body decides that if I’m not going to do something to reduce that stress it will.  Drudging through the muck no longer becomes an option; if I don’t release some of that stress by relying on my old stand-by (food) then I’ll either become physically sick or severely depressed.  That’s generally when I find myself in bed with the shades drawn and sleep for hours upon hours at a time, unable to talk to anyone or do anything but submerge myself in silence. 

Sometimes I wonder what will happen to me before I truly learn how to properly deal with stress. 

On the 15th it will be exactly two months since Craig woke up with pain and nausea.  Several doctors appointments, countless vials of drawn blood, numerous tests and one surgery later and we’re still no closer to finding an answer than we were when this whole thing started.  We have doctors appointments scheduled for the rest of the week and he’ll likely be scheduled for a colonoscopy next   – something he really should have had already, in my opinion – but hindsight is, after all, 20/20. 

Dealing with stress is something that I need to learn how to do now, not later. 

So, this brings me back to my original question.  How do you Deal? 

Food Monsters and Spring Photos

Things here at Casa Recup are moving along, albeit slowly.  I’m having deja-vu with my caregiver responsibilities.  This time I’m the strong, healthy one leading around the foggy-headed, washed out, tummy-sensitive spouse.  It’s amazing how anesthesia affects people differently.  Craig is finding it hard to concentrate but nothing like what I was suffering last year (remember when I thought I was taking one of those online quizzes and found that I’d actually signed up for a dating service?) Yeah, he’s not that bad, thank goodness. 

Yesterday the both of us were a bit disheartened because for a brief time, Craig’s mystery pain came back.  It was so bad, he had to go back to bed for the rest of the morning.  I immediately went into panic mode and without even thinking about it began looking around in the kitchen for something – anything sweet.  I knew what I was doing and consciously made the decision to focus on what I was going to find instead of how it would make me feel afterward.  It’s amazing how determined one can get when she sets her mind to something.  If I had that kind of intense focus on other parts of my life I’d probably be rich. 

What is it about stress and food, specifically?  I’m reading other blogs where my cohorts are having the same issues: things get tough and all they want to do is comfort that fear, that loss of control, like I do –  with food.  What is it about our brain wiring that makes us head straight for the pantry when we know that it isn’t healthy for us to do so?  For me, that part of my brain just shuts off and I have tunnel vision until I achieve what I’ve set out to do: push that fear down with food until that uncomfortable feeling in my gut is all have left to think about.   I didn’t binge eat, but I did have the beginnings of a pretty good stomachache by the time I was done.  Mission…accomplished?  I’ve gotta find a different way.   On the bright side, I am able to manage these thoughts when I’m having run off the ordinary every day stress. It’s the kind of stress that shakes my world which causes me to seek out that sugar and carb abyss. 

It wasn’t until later that evening that I started thinking back about my own surgery last year.  I remembered something that I brought to Craig’s attention. 

As I was being wheeled back into my room after having had my hysterectomy I recall having the worst menstrual cramps of my life.  My first thought: What the hell?!  Didn’t I just have my gut opened up and worked on so that I never had to suffer this pain again?  What is happening? 

I relayed this memory to Craig and assured him that of course he will be having pain in the area that’s been causing him grief for nearly two months.  He just had surgery in that very spot and it’s going to take time to heal; we simply can’t make judgments this soon in his recovery.  Yes, it is unfortunate and unfair that we have more waiting to do, but this is the way things are and we just have to be patient.  What other choice do we have? 

I am so grateful that whenever I’m going through a personal crisis, there is usually something good happening to balance it out. 

When I was going through my first divorce, I became friends with Craig. 

When Patty died last year and I had my surgery, my art business was born. 

This year, as Craig and I deal with his health issues, surgeries and the unknown, my art career is beginning to move slowly forward.  I have been selling consistently at the gallery in Indianapolis (thanks in part, to a few very loyal collectors) and I was asked to provide nine framed prints of some previous work for an animal hospital that just opened this past week in my town.  In fact, they officially opened in their new building the day of Craig’s surgery.  So, while I’ve been caring for Craig I’ve also been getting work together to take to the hospital before their Open House next week. 

One would think I’d have no time to fool with unhealthy eating habits but hey, at least I’ve got a few surprises left to share, huh? 

Not having had time to paint, I’ve been taking lots of photos in my yard which is buzzing with activity.  Here’s a couple that have made me really happy this week: 

 

Poppies are my absolute favorite flowers; I’ve always wanted to paint them but was determined that they came from my own yard.  I haven’t painted flowers in a long time so you might be looking at my next painting. 

fairy2013

 

My peonies are up as well, so of course I had to include Shaylee, my favorite fairy that watches over my creek every summer.  I’ve used her in a couple of paintings, one of which was claimed by one of my favorite people last year – Teresa from Spirit Grooves.  Photographing this sweet wonder along with my flowers and the many birds that stop by to cheer us up is enough to get me through the rough patches, and I really do feel blessed in my life.  This is just a hiccup, and I need to figure out more appropriate ways to deal with the challenges life brings.  I think as always, awareness is the first step. 

Introvert Alert

My husband and I were invited to a party this past weekend.  My friend Mel was co-hosting, and this party is a pretty big deal among those who’ve gone in the past.  What used to be a small gathering of co-workers has turned into a group of 45-50 people.  It’s turned into quite a yearly event.  We were invited last year and I can’t remember why we didn’t go but this year I decided that unless I was downright bedridden, we were going.  My decision, per usual Ellen-Style fashion, left me fidgeting days before the party.  I knew that getting out of the house would be good for me and that I’d consider it a huge achievement when it was over (like climbing Mount Everest) but that initial feeling I get beforehand, that cocktail of nerves and butterflies – that’s what I have a hard time working through. 

Introverts get a bad rap by most standards.  We tend to get labeled by those who don’t know us as being rude, pretentious weirdos who don’t like people.  I suppose all is fair in love and war however, because extroverts get just as bad a rap by being labeled as overly energetic, attention-seeking socialites who hate to be alone. 

 

I will admit, I used to consider myself completely and utterly flawed as an introvert.  I wanted nothing more than to be an extrovert for many reasons, but specifically because I was fascinated with their ability to gain energy from large groups of people.  As an introvert, being in large groups has always been very draining for me.   Over the past few years, I’ve started reevaluating my personality, my nature vs. nurture behavior. I am learning to embrace the fact that I am who I am, and if that’s an honest to goodness introvert then so be it. 

This is my house.  Welcome to where I live.

1.  I’m not a recluse.  I love people.  In fact, the few friends that I do have, I value intensely. 

2.  I don’t dislike going out in public.  I just view social engagements differently; I don’t like being out in public for as long as extroverts do. It doesn’t take me very long to see what’s happening around me, so I can assess situations fairly quickly.  I ‘get’ what’s going on and once I’ve experienced enough of my surroundings, I’m ready to go home.  It’s not that I’m bored or that I think the outing is lame.  It’s just that I get a bit drained of mental energy; I need to go home, soak in the experience and recharge.

3.  I am not boring.  I prefer the term ‘exotic’ or ‘unique’!  lol  I have plenty of things that I love to do.  It’s just that I tend to enjoy doing things that challenge me mentally and emotionally more than socially.  How many unique exotics do you know that are boring? 

4.  By definition, I am not shy.  I can certainly talk to strangers;  I just need to have something to talk about.  I prefer to engage in a conversation, not small-talk.  Unfortunately, small-talk is what generally drives conversations where groups of people congregate. 

 

A dear friend of mine recently provided with me with a list of tips on how to engage in small-talk when it doesn’t come naturally.  You can find the full article here.  Basically, it involves asking questions that will encourage a conversation.  I received this list after my party this weekend but upon reading it I was glad to see that I’d used some of the conversation-starters on my own:

‘So, how do you know our host/hostess?’

‘Have you been to this party before?’ 

‘What line of work are you in?’  (an oldie, but it works!)

What I liked about the article most was being reminded of this line:    Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered. 

That is completely and utterly true. 

So, you ask – how did the party go this weekend?  I was glad that I went, and it helped solidify some newly found friendships which is always a good thing.  Plus, when we get invited to future events it won’t be so stressful beforehand because I will have already seen most of these people before.  In true introvert fashion though, I was ready to go home within 4 hours of arriving, apparently just as the party was getting started!  The thing that I learned about my friend Mel that I really value: she takes no offense when I’m ready to leave, nor does she make me feel guilty for not staying longer.  She’s just happy that I’m there. In other words, she lets me be me.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Do you find that people label you inaccurately?  What’s your best tip for breaking the ice at a party?

Reinventing the Holidays

Every year I sit back in my little home office and watch as Joe, my neighbor decorates his house with Christmas lights from top to bottom.  He takes great care while balancing on a ladder as he hangs icicle lights around his gutters, plugs in his glowing reindeer and lines the driveway with plastic candy canes.  He and his wife, along with many people I know, consider this their favorite time of year.   

I however, always being the oddball, am having a difficult time this holiday season.  Dare I go as far as to say that I’m dreading it, as I have done every year for as long as I can remember.  I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I should even share these thoughts, considering my blog is open to those who know me.  Just thinking these things makes me feel like I’m keeping some horrible, unforgiveable secret.  But then I thought well, maybe it’ll be therapeutic to just get these thoughts out.  Maybe I’ll feel better, or at the very least, feel understood.    

When I began therapy after my mother’s accident last year, my therapist asked me about the upcoming holidays, how I celebrated, and whether I was looking forward to them.  I sat there, dumbfounded. I think I summed it all up when I said that if past years are any indication, I’ll have the tree and every trace of holiday decoration down, packed away and stored in the attic by Christmas morning.

I have no particularly fond family memories of Thanksgiving growing up, but I do have short bursts of pleasant memories at Christmastime when I was quite young, like watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman on our television, and waking up to the belief that Santa had come to see me the night before.  But most of my memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially over the past 20 years or so have been filled with anxiety and stress.  Our home used to be very turbulent growing up, in part, due to a mentally handicapped family member who had, and unfortunately still has a tendency to be violent.  For me, holiday memories are sprinkled with a crying mother, a frustrated father, and me left feeling helpless and frightened in an out of control household.

Every year around the beginning of November I try to head into the holidays with an open mind; I keep a mental list of Things I’m Grateful For to help me focus on the positive things I have in my life. I bake pumpkin bread for family and friends; I enjoy the act of giving. But by mid November, I wish I could just leave town and not return until after December 25th;  it would be nice if I could skip over that time of year altogether.

Our family situation has always been very precarious.  I think that my brother enjoys being with his siblings, but he has many disorders that, even with medication, rarely allow him to remain calm and it’s very difficult to carry on a conversation with him.  I’ve been unfortunate enough to have crossed his path at the wrong time and as a result ended up on the floor with my ears ringing from a blow across the head.  Still, he is my brother and I love him, and I realize that he cannot control these outbursts any more than a deaf man controls what he cannot hear. 

The strange thing is, I’ve worked with the handicapped for over 20 years and have a good deal of experience with violent and non-violent people alike.  But when it comes to my brother, all of those years of experience fly right out the window.  I am so emotionally involved that I cannot separate feeling from logic.  I have no idea how to relate to my situation with him. 

How do you react to upcoming events that you are not looking forward to?  For me, the anxiety I feel as the event gets closer makes me want to pull out that old comfortable habit of emotional eating.  It is the one thing that has always soothed my nerves.  Of course this is exactly what I don’t need, and I realize this.  Still, that pull is always there, and this is one of the few times per year that I truly feel like I’m one step away from losing control of what’s happening around me. 

Seeing that therapist last year helped me realize why I have anxiety issues and why I feel more at ease when I have a plan in place (chances are if you have an issue or problem that you can’t figure out, look to your childhood and you’ll generally find all the answers you need).  As far as answers to my adult problems, my therapist suggested that my husband and I create our own holiday traditions, even if that means planning a vacation from the holidays.  If I thought I could do that without suffering any guilt from it I would, but two of my siblings will not be attending either holiday this year, even though they both live nearby; therefore I have a hard time considering the idea of leaving my mother with one less child during Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I love my family – all of my family, but sometimes I just wish that things could be different but the outcome is always the same.  I arrive and within an hour I am stressed, anxious and just downright sad.

I think I need to accept the fact that things aren’t always going to go smoothly, no matter how much I want them to. I need to stop mourning that loss and accept the things I can’t change.  Maybe then I can let go of what I can’t have and begin concentrating on the things I can change.

My husband and I have begun discussing the thought of creating our own holiday traditions, although we really don’t know what that means, yet; just starting from scratch and throwing out the traditional.  It’s pretty clear that traditional just doesn’t work in our lives, anyway.  All I know is that if there is a way for me to figure out how to get through this holiday season having somewhat relative peace without gaining 10 pounds, then I’m willing to tackle this project head-on. 

How do you get through the holidays? Any tricks or tips that you might be willing to share that might help those of us with the holiday blues?

Fat Girl Wearing A Few Extra

It’s quite possible that my blog is having an identity crisis.  Early into the week it decided that it was going to be called Garden Girl Wearing Overalls due to my recent fairy garden class.  Now, it appears that at least for the time being, my blog should be renamed Fat Girl Wearing A Few Extra – pounds, that is. 

I have given this a lot of thought over the past couple of days, and your comments to my weight-gain confession helped put some things into perspective for me.  In her comment to me, Karen probably had no idea that she was reminding me of something I wrote in a recent post: If I’m emotionally fit, my physical health will follow.  I responded to her comment by stating that maybe I should start practicing what I preach. 

Yes, these extra pounds have decided they want to take up permanent residence within this body of mine. Yes, right now my anxiety is still the proverbial thorn in my side, but YES! I am emotionally healthier than I was 5 weeks ago. 

My husband and I sat down to discuss this on Wednesday night.  Here’s a brief glimpse of our conversation:

Me:  I’ve gained 7 pounds since beginning those anxiety meds.

Him: Well, I can’t tell (smart man) but that’s pretty common with depression/anxiety meds, anyway.

Me: I don’t know what to do.  Wean off of it? Try yet another medication? What?!

Him:  Ellen, do you feel better?

Me: I think so, but maybe I’m too close to put it into proper perspective.  Do you think I’m better?

Him:  Before you started these meds, I thought you looked miserable.  You couldn’t concentrate or sit still; Small, day-to-day things seemed difficult for you.  I don’t see that person these days.  You’re more relaxed, less stressed-out over every day things, and you seem more at ease. You don’t want to go back to that, do you? Besides, I personally think that the weight will even out and you’ll stop gaining once your body is fully adjusted to the meds.

I sat there taking in everything he said.   For the last couple of days I’ve reflected on this and have tried to put things into greater perspective. 

No.  I don’t want to go back to being that flakey, nervous, high-strung person, which is why you are not going to see me writing about how disappointed I am with myself.  I have no plans to starve off these pounds with lettuce and rice cakes.  Neither will you be reading about a dedicated plan of recovery, including the latest detox program.  No, I’m not doing any of that.  Instead, I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before:  I’m going to give these few pounds a home for a bit, while I continue taking care of my mental health.

I’ve hovered around 130 pounds for years now.  The thought of allowing a few extra to cling to my body is something completely foreign to me.  Normally, when I gain 3 or 4 (be it hormones or holidays) I put my butt into gear and get the pounds off with focused, hard work.  My physical health will still be a priority as I try my hardest to gain no more weight, but I have to keep reminding myself that these pounds don’t require a definition from me.  They don’t have to mean that I’m having a relapse; nor do they mean I’m lazy, unproductive, even unattractive.  I’m seven pounds up, and guess what?   The earth didn’t shift; it didn’t rain locusts, the sun still rises every morning….and I need a lesson in having more faith in myself.

I’m not going to lie, here.  I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t feeling a little wigged out.  I’m going against everything I’ve taught myself all these years. Excess has always been the enemy, and here I am, sending it a personal invitation to take up residence within my most personal space.   If these pounds continue to creep forward I will deal with it.  But, right now I think I just need to get over myself.   Feeling anxious over these added pounds will only add fuel to the fire.    

So here’s my plan: I am going to continue on with my current anxiety medication for another month.  I’m going to sign up for yoga classes on Monday.  I’m going to continue to put the same kind of energy into my mental well being as I have been putting into my physical well-being.  In other words: I’m putting my money where my mouth is.  I can’t love myself for who I am if I gauge that love depending on what I’m currently weighing in at.  The sooner I realize that all I can do in this world is try to be accepting of who I am right now, then I have to trust that everything else will turn out OK.   If I’m emotionally fit, my physical health will follow.

Here we go round the pill-popping bush….

As you know, I’ve been playing Pharmacy for the last several weeks, waiting for an anxiety medication that will actually help, not hinder my existing problem.  The last medication I was on caused me to have insomnia and made my heart race like a rabbit.  After 5 days, I’d had enough.

Realizing that this problem was NOT going away on it’s own, I went to see my doctor and was given something else to try.  Less hopeful, yet not willing to give up, I agreed. 

As he wrote the script he said, “This is a pretty clean drug, and by that I mean there are very few side effects.  However, it will take up to a full month to see if any progress is being made.  What it does is prevent further anxiety, instead of just masking the anxiety you already have.”  Well then, bring it on.

Even though I was agreeing to my sixth round of trying different medications, I decided to be realistic about the whole thing: expect the worst, hope for the best. 

It has been a little over a month now, and I am sleeping better.  No racing heart, no dizziness, feeling woozy, or anything else that tends to go with drugs like these.  By the tiniest amount, I am turning a corner, here.  Even though my anxiety is still a bit persistent on wanting to be my forever BFF, I am having periods of a more focused, calm Me.   It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way.  But unfortunately, there is always a worm hiding within a bushel of seemingly perfect apples.  

 

Since beginning this medication I’ve gained 7 pounds.  Un-Lucky Number Seven.  In less than five weeks.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit while watching the scale numbers escalate.  There is one very real reason why I might be gaining.   When I was in the throes of anxiety I had a lot of nervous energy.  I had a difficult time keeping still, and constant movement can burn quite a bit of calories.  Now that I am more calm, now that I can actually sit still for longer periods of time, I’m not burning off all of that energy. 

My eating habits have changed as well, but I don’t know if I can blame this on the medication or not.  It might just be the result of an emotional reaction to the changes that are taking place within me.  Who knows.  These meds are working, but they’re not working, and my options are getting slim. What do you do with a possibility of being faced with the decision of having to choose between your mental health or your physical health?

I started comparing my dilemma to other drugs that people take for medical problems.  Steroids such as prednisone are prescription drugs used for a number of things, from severe allergies to immune deficiencies.  A tech at my vet’s office is sometimes prescribed steroids for an old knee injury.  She has boundless energy and can function on very little sleep.  In other words, she’s in a permanent manic state.  She loves being on them.  “I get so many things done!” she says.   Many people have the opposite effect.  A former in-law of mine had no choice but to be prescribed an equivalent medication because she suffered a serious physical condition that responded to no other treatment.  Within a year, she’d gained over 75 pounds.  She felt better, but physically, her body never recovered. 

I’m so grateful for the periods of serenity I’m feeling that believe it or not, I am NOT in panic mode – yet. However, the fact that I’m writing about this shows it is weighing on my mind. I feel like I need to prepare myself for the possibility of having to make a choice, should things continue on this path. Do I bail, or stick it out? I’m not crazy about the very real possibility of this gaining trend continuing, and if there’s one fear that long-term maintainers have, it’s the fear of out-of-control weight gain.

So, let’s recap: Anxiety brings medication. Medication brings change in appetite. Change in appetite breeds worry and anxiety.

…round and round we go.