It’s Started

School, that is. Wednesday evening, I had my first class, New England Economic Environment. It was clarified that 1) I have a summer class next summer and 2) I have a spring Capstone in the spring of 2018. While I had hoped for it only being 18 months, I am not surprised.

And! While I am experiencing anxiety about classes and getting all of the reading and writing done (6 chapters so far for one week + a 4-5 page paper… so not massive. but definitely a lot to start off the semester with), I’m not super worried about the capstone. Because I’ve already done one at Wooster.

I was feeling overwhelmed at the amount of prep work that I would face for the policy workshop coming up in the first weekend of October this morning. So I went to meeting and did a bunch of deep breathing and I felt about five million times better. I can feel it creeping back in, but mostly because I’m not entirely sure when to start the readings to get the most out of the class while also not anticipating the amount of work too much now that I know what is being asked of me.

This grad school thing is definitely going to be a challenge to my anxiety and coping mechanisms. It’s a good thing I’ve been practicing for so many years!

How do you communicate with yourself?

About a week ago, I got stuck in my head. Recently, I’ve been having that happen a lot. It comes with the territory-depressed, anxious, etc. The way you perceive the world and how things are is different than the reality of it. Sometimes what I think is the issue isn’t actually what’s bothering me, but it’s what seems like it’s bothering me. I wanted to insert a metaphor here, but couldn’t think of a good one, so too bad for you. I know so many of you that get stuck in your heads in one way or another and it feels like a trap, like a cycle that you can’t get out of. Breaking this cycle is difficult and it played perfectly into my eating disorder: I get stuck in my head, worried about something and food soothes. It was a terrible cycle. And when I first went into therapy, my therapist introduced the concept of healthy coping mechanisms. There are many of them, so many more than I could list in this one blog post. But the ones that I learned and leaned on both in the beginning and now: pausing for a minute (delaying the unhealthy coping mechanism), meditations, going for a walk, and journaling. Another that she told me about and I ignored: creating signs to visually deter me from eating and process my emotions.

In the beginning, these tactics were all about addressing the negative behaviors I had developed (ED) in response to the mental health I was experiencing (Depression & anxiety). As time passed and I managed to reign in the behaviors (eating a jar of peanut butter), we transitioned more into addressing the mental health. Here is where journalling for me has become transformative. I have always been more of a writer than a speaker as a communicator. Writing helps me straighten out my own thoughts, allows me to dig past the surface thoughts to the kernel of discontent that is causing the waves of anxiety and paralysis in whatever I’m facing.

When I find that kernel, even if I can’t make it go away, identifying it is powerful. When I’m conscious of an issue, I can address it. When I’m avoiding it, I feel anxious for indiscernible reasons, I feel physically weird. It’s harder to resist the unhealthy coping mechanisms of eating (stuffing my feelings down) and avoiding.

Journalling is the clearest way for me to get to the truth of what is the cause of what I”m dealing with. Sometimes, I can journal out solutions as well, but even if I can’t, the identification is the most important part. It’s a way for me to communicate with myself, to take myself out of being stuck in my head and examine the world I’m living in. Kind of like in a video game where you scroll back and are looking at yourself from farther away or above you. That neutral landscape of you allows you to have a healthier analysis of what’s going on, makes it easier to assess and address.

Journalling isn’t for everyone, but it is well worth a try when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. If that doesn’t work, think about how you best communicate and try using that. Talking to a friend. Drawing. Movement. Whatever way shapes your words so that you can actually listen to yourself. Try it when you feel as if your mind is caged, banging and bruising against the bars. Good luck!

Published online and unknowns

First, I had a personal story published on xojane today, which was a very pleasant surprise in a very doldrum day!

I can’t talk about it much in specifics, but I’m facing the possibility of semi-significant work choices that could shift my career direction. Each way the penny falls, though, has some downsides.

When I’m faced with a choice that has an equal number of downsides to the it’s upsides, it throws me into a bit of an emotional turmoil. I did well yesterday but today, a day after, I have a low level anxiety headache. I’ve felt distracted and unable to complete tasks. I’ve been stuffing the emotions down in the face of this lack of clarity, trying to focus and it hasn’t worked.

These kind of complex set of emotions are where my coping skills can both shine and, simultaneously, not be enough. Even when I do my self-care, I find myself struggling. I’m unsure of the next step, unsure of what else I could do.

Mostly, I’m unsure of how to sit with hard emotions, when you get down to it. I hate the uncomfortability of them and the inability of my coping mechanisms to make them go away. I know they make me stronger and that my coping mechanisms are to help me cope with those feelings but part of me wishes that the coping mechanisms would cure me of these hard feelings, that I would feel them for five minutes, use a coping mechanism and be back to my normal friendly empathetic self.

Coffee makes me anxious

I think I’m going to do a little series of things in my life that make me anxious! This time, it’s coffee. Unlike my last post, Crowds Makes me Anxious, this is more of a body chemistry thing than psychological. It’s been shown that anxiety is increased or aggravated by caffeine. There are days where it feels like I can’t get through the day without it, even though I know that the side of anxiety will come swiftly afterwards.

It’s become a habit, one that I’m not yet willing to put aside. I’ve done it before and I know that if I dump coffee, the physical anxieties I experience abate in equal measure. I continue to practice the skills my therapist has taught me in handling these moments of anxiety: deep breathing, thinking through a worst case scenario, journalling, walking, using fidget devices and re-directing my thoughts.

I’ve tried coloring, but it’s not for me. Meditation sometimes works, but I often find myself distracted quickly and easily. It has taken several years of trial and experimentation to figure out tricks and strategies for managing both the physical and mental sides of anxiety for me. When it’s physical, usually the more tactile skills I have work better. So using the fidget, distracting myself, walking, they all work. Journalling, thought re-direction, worst case scenario building, etc, they all work much better when I’m stuck in my head, worried about the future or worried about something that has happened and how people are judging me.

If you feel anxious, you might try getting off caffeine or at the very least reducing intake. It’s hard, it’s annoying, it’s a pain in the ass. But the benefits are pretty phenomenal!

Crowds make me anxious

Tomorrow, I am taking the Northeast Regional train down to Philadelphia, to go to the Wizardworld Con with a dear friend of mine who is flying all the way in from England. It means spending 6-7 hours on a train, finding my hotel, checking in and then having probably 4-5 hours to spend in Center City Philadelphia. And I am calm about it. Actually, I’m looking forward to it. While part of the train ride will certainly be boring, I am looking forward to a significant amount of time where I can do whatever I want-finish up that fanfic piece I promised for last month (oops), re-watch the second movie of HP & the Deathly Hallows or another movie I own on my computer. Read one of the many books I have out from the library. While the time away on the internet. Take a nap. Wander around Center City Philadelphia.

But Sunday, when my friend and I will be attending the convention, I am already nervous. I have to share my time and space with my dear friend and now I’ll be anxious about making sure we get wherever we need to go in time. After all, we have the Chris’s to ogle. When I have to adhere to other people’s schedules, anxiety worms its way into my life.

I know why this is and it still happens. It’s about control. I almost said power there, but that’s definitely not it (although those two are often paired together for good reason). It’s about managing expectations and controlling expectations. It’s worrying that by the actions of someone else I won’t get where we need to. (Or that by my actions it won’t happen). There are twice as many ways to fail when you add two people together.

I know how irrational I’m being and how much of a control freak I can be and yet this knowledge? Does nothing in the face of these behaviors. I have to breathe through and remind myself that I can accept this as it is right now. That no matter what, life will not end (hello, catastrophic thinking, you’re not my friend), I will still have a good time. And, in all honesty, things will probably work out pretty well no matter what. We’re not facing huge stakes here, just us, hundreds or thousands of other people and some famous people. Sight seeing of the crowds, looking at booths and lots of geeky pop culture. I’m looking forward to spending time with my dear friend and I’m looking forward to being in the same room (ish) as the Chris’s. I know that I can manage my travel anxiety and schedule anxiety but it would help a whole lot if I were able to head it off before or as it began rather than struggling through the mud in the middle. But I’m not there yet. So for now, I’ll use the coping mechanisms my therapist has given me for anxiety and keep working on it.

What does recovery look like today?

Today, recovery looks like a step back. It looks like I’m doing all the right things and still feeling like a failure because I ate a little too much and I’m now a little uncomfortable. I went to the gym. I went to work. I ate vegetables and grains and protein. But then I had something sweet. I had a little extra. I realized there was a hole in the center of my chest, just below my heart and I wanted to fill it, needed to fill it. I don’t know how to fill it except for food. So I ate some more food. And then when I went to bed, I felt bad. Actually, I felt bad the entire time, but I couldn’t stop it. But the difference between a few years ago and now? Now, the binging behavior is much milder and when I wake up the next day, I don’t try nearly as hard to ‘compensate’ for the binge nor do I feel as much guilt.

I acknowledge that I used a skill that I had to cope with the gnawing emptiness, even if it wasn’t healthy. I remind myself that I’m great and keep going with my day, eating what feels good, as close to a ‘healthy balanced diet’ as possible (while also including treats, because I love food of all kinds). I remind myself that recovery isn’t linear, it’s more like the stock market when it’s not crashing. It has some ups and downs but it generally goes up for a while. At least, I hope it’s not like the stock market and doesn’t crash. I’d like to avoid crashing back down.

Some days, I’m more depressed than others. Some seasons I’m more depressed than others. If it’s not winter, it’s a crap shoot on which days I’ll be down. Unless I’ve been overstimulated and over busy recently. Then I can predict an emotional crash that could trigger emotional eating. Other times, it’s more subtle. I think I’m doing ok and then I’m eating and I can’t stop and I don’t know why. Sometimes I figure it out and solve the problem. Sometimes I eat to fill the hole and too bad for me, I don’t know what the issue is to resolve.

If you have struggles with mental health, there are going to be dips. Recovery and living with mental illness guarantees it. Just remember though, that you’re not down forever but just for right now. Like the stock market, you’ll swing back up eventually.IMG_20150802_060757997

How November Project and Weight Lifting Changed My Life

Several years ago, I discovered November Project. Anyone who was Facebook friends with me at the time could tell you that I fell hard for the group. It was exactly what I was looking for. Internally, I was uncomfortable with the shape of my body, with my level of activity-despite biking to work every morning for 4-5 miles. I wasn’t happy with my job  and had a burgeoning eating disorder that exacerbated discomfort with my body. I turned to this group as a way to change the way my body looked.

I didn’t exactly get that out of the group. Instead, what I got was a community that turned the focus on fitness instead of weight loss. I was reminded that my body was a tool for me to use. The idea is to challenge yourself, not to feel defeated by the 3:03 marathoners who also participate. It’s about the community and personal fitness growth. So instead of getting just a changing body to make my body look better, I suddenly became more invested in how my body could perform, like I had when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I ran two miles. Three. And then eight on one of the coldest nights of the year for a ninja race. (http://november-project.com/bostonninjarace-further-training-and-super-sunday-brunch-runners/) Sitting half frozen on the redline with other finishers, it occurred to me that if I could run 8 miles, I could run a half marathon and then I had a goal. It was once I completed the half marathon that I started looking for a new challenge and I discovered weightlifting.

Weight lifting changed my life. Suddenly, exercise was definitively not about my weight or how skinny I could get, but about how many weights I could lift up and put down. I suddenly started seeing definition in my arms and my quads. I was able to distract my little skinny-focused voice with the new muscles and capabilities. It filled the little need in me to be in control, to be powerful instead of feeling powerless in the face of weight gain, confident in my strength instead of feeling like the only solution was to run for miles and miles just to be able to eat food.

My therapist and I both agree that weight lifting was a turning point in recovery for me, giving me another outlet to feel in control in my life and less a slave to the fickleness of trying to be smaller, to be more socially acceptable. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, I hope that you have found effective tools for your recovery. If not, I hope that you can.

Coming into being

Once, when I was a teenager, my mother strong armed me into taking our dog for a walk. She gave me the leash, the old newspaper bag for poop-scooping duty and ushered me out the door with the dog. She wanted me to be more active, to set me on the journey towards daily physical activity. I didn’t want to walk, I wanted to sprawl over the couch and read a romance novel.

I walked to just out of sight of the house and explored a tree that had a funny growth pattern for about fifteen minutes before returning. I was pondering all of the ill will for being forced to take the dog for a walk. Minute by minute, I waited until I was sure I could come home without suffering the consequence of feeling judged (even if only by myself).

I rewarded myself for all that effort with a giant bowl of goldfish. I practically lived on that snack, much to my mother’s dismay. I stuffed down the feelings of guilt for not actually taking that walk, the feelings of loneliness for not having much of a social life, the feelings of anger and betrayal around the way I looked and why it didn’t match up to the other girls in my class.

I judged myself harshly, probably harsher than the rest of the world and I used food to feel better. I didn’t have the skills to be better at self care, the confidence to reach for something nor the self-awareness to even realize that these behaviors were reminiscent of an eating disorder. I was fat, so therefore I couldn’t have an eating disorder. I wasn’t worthy of attention. I wasn’t, I couldn’t, I didn’t. I had set some strong limitations on myself and who I was in high school and it took years to even discover this.

As I have grown since then, it consistently amazes me how my relationship with food is intertwined with my relationship with myself, with how I perceive things are going with my significant other, with my measure of self worth. It is my hope to share these stories of growth, learning, and self-care with you.