Browsing Tag

anxiety

Eating/Food, emotions, Guest Posts

Noise

November 17, 2019
eat

By Judy Harper

My daughter had her 15th birthday party at our house a few months ago. Eight teenage girls converged at our home and had the 2019 version of the classic sleepover: they scrolled through Instagram, watched YouTube videos, listened to Billie Eilish, ate a lot of junk food, talked about their crushes, giggled, and stayed up really late. The next morning, I tip-toed past the mass of girls sleeping in my living room, and went into the kitchen to dutifully make the breakfast my daughter had asked for: bacon and chocolate croissants. The young women ate their breakfast and the sleepover wrapped up at 10:30 a.m., with a mountain of blankets, wrapping paper, and leftovers for me to clean up. Oh, those leftovers. Pizza, croissants, bacon, cupcakes, chips…

Do you know how this story goes? What do you do with the leftovers? Do you throw away the slightly stale chips? What about the pizza? I do, eventually, end up throwing away the pizza, but not after I spend the majority of the day binge eating leftovers. I eat a chocolate croissant, a chocolate-covered donut, and five pieces of bacon at 11:30 a.m. About an hour later, I have a piece of pepperoni pizza, and at 2:00 p.m., I have four more pieces of pizza: two pepperoni and two cheese (I don’t eat the crust, though, you know, because I’m watching my carbs). Then, I drink two diet Cokes and sit down, stunned and dazed, in a sweaty stupor. The next day, I will throw away the pizza and the chips, but not yet. On this day, I just sit there, trying to pretend like it’s OK that I ate this because tomorrow will be different.

Do you do this, too, or is it just me?

That night, I sleep fitfully, having to get up to drink water and eat handfuls of Tums. When I do sleep, it is fitful and shallow. The next morning, I wake up, groan, get on the scale, and groan again. This number that I hate is staring at me, judging me, and this body that I hate and treat with such contempt is there, on full display, the symbol of my neglect and addictive tendencies. I want to cry, or scream, or punch something, but I don’t let it out. I never let it out. Instead, I start to scheme about how not to end up here again, ever, while also trying to forget all that I ate the day before. It’s a complicated dance requiring careful and exacting footwork that has to be performed in a specific sequence, and, usually, it works. It involves frantic, non-stop thinking, scores of internet searches, dozens of podcasts, trips to the library and, of course, Amazon purchases. It involves promises and lists and the constant, thrumming noise of trying to tune out of the pain and into something more comfortable.

I try to forget the pizza, the donut, the sweating, the Tums, and I focus on what I’m going to do to make sure this never happens again. The fixation on the image of the perfect life I’m going to start living just as soon as I’m done showering and getting dressed keeps me somewhat occupied as do the internet searches and lists of things I need to do and buy in order to finally become better, to finally become the perfect woman, like the one I see on-line who runs her own blog, makes her own soap, raises five children, runs half marathons in under two hours, and works on her PhD in psychology in her spare time. I want to be perfectly reconstructed into the woman I heard interviewed on NPR, the one who overcame horrific traumas and a severe learning disability to triumphantly publish her first novel and find herself short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The options and variations of who I want to become are endless; I can be the athletic intellectual, the intellectual comedian, or the quirky eco-warrior. The images dance in my head and for a while, I’m drawn into the creation of the woman I will soon become.

When I used to drink, this part of the morning took much longer…the frantic and desperate attempts to piece together what I’d done the night before, and often, no matter how hard I tried, not being able to remember. Those mornings were far darker and more torturous than the post food-binge mornings, but the action is the same: trying to twist time and memory into something other than what they are. Trying to find the space inside my soul where there is respite, coming up empty, and then replacing that respite or self-forgiveness with stuff…mental exercises, frantic writing of to-do lists, texting friends in search of validation, reading blogs, searching for new gyms, and reading about diet programs, and so on.

Wanting to forget something is almost as difficult as trying to remember, but a little less painful, and as my day progresses, I slip into that dark internal abyss of loathing and hatred—why did I eat all that? Why can’t I say no? Why can’t I control myself? Why do I eat until I can’t see straight? Why can’t I do better? Why can’t I be better? Why can’t I be someone else?

This continues for hours. I distract myself and then I have a fleeting thought that I wish I hadn’t thrown the pizza away because a slice or two sounds good. Then, I hate myself for having that thought, and sink back down into the awfulness.

This takes hours, and the ping-ponging between the highs and lows exhausts me. With each thought of the shiny new me that I’m going to forge comes also the crashing thought of a life without the escape of pizza or chocolate or chips or blogs or podcasts or internet searches.

And I am so uncomfortable there, in that swinging back and forth between the highs and the lows, that I grab my notebook and write out “the plan” to turn myself into someone else, someone completely new and different. Anything to get away from my thoughts.

The plan takes shape: I’ll never eat sugar again, goes the familiar refrain. Not one bite. I’ll also never eat anything with artificial sweeteners in it, oh, and of course, I’ll never eat chips or crackers again. Better to just wholesale go 100% Paleo and dedicate my life to eating this way. I’ll clean the whole house, top to bottom, organize every single drawer and cabinet. I’ll clean out my closet. I’ll write my book. I’ll run 5 miles every single day and do yoga, too, becoming that person who wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and cheerily goes about her day, non-stop, until 11:00 p.m. I’ll be that perfectly busy living that perfect life. Oh, and I’ll stop chewing my cuticles, too.

The day moves forward smoothly from here; I have now found an escape from my thoughts and I have a plan. I have eggs and avocado for breakfast, but I put milk in my coffee, which isn’t strictly Paleo. It’s OK, I tell myself. I’ll go to Whole Foods today and buy coconut almond creamer. This is the last time I’ll ever do this. I put my earbuds in, turn on a podcast, furiously clean the stove and sweep the kitchen. Then, armed with a list of 25 items that will make my life perfect, I head off to Whole Foods.

I arrive and walk optimistically through the store, filling my cart with things that will save me: pasture-raised eggs, ghee, cabbage, avocados, plantains, tomatoes, and ideas for recipes and images of the way everything will be when my life is perfect flood through my head. I find the coconut almond creamer and put three of them in my cart…if I’m going to change my life, wholly and completely, right now, today, I better be armed with groceries. A thought pops into my head: maybe I should give up caffeine, too, as I am far too reliant on my daily cup. But I manage to shut down the thought.

I move easily past the beer and wine aisle, grateful that the siren call of alcohol no longer plagues me. I turn the corner and see the banner hanging from the ceiling, a picture of a happy, achingly beautiful young mother, next to her cloyingly pretty little girl, and they are smiling at a tray of sponge cake, whipped cream, and beautiful berries. Shit, I remember, my thoughts and spirit sinking, I told my daughter we’d go downtown and go clothes shopping and get ice cream at our favorite place. What am I going to do? Watch her eat the ice cream? Eat some myself? Find a sugar-free, dairy-free variety? Shit.

I turn the final corner in my sojourn toward perfect living and I see the bakery, and the slices of cake and the cookies and chocolate bars. And, in an instant, I put two chocolate bars—one with almonds, one without—in my cart, right next to the cabbage and tomatoes and plantains, and I walk to the register. There is a low-level buzzing in my head, and a voice that just keeps saying “it’s OK. Just this once. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. This doesn’t mean anything.”

I pay, walk to my car, and carefully load in the $158 worth of organic, locally sourced groceries into the trunk. I slip the chocolate bars into the pocket of my sweatshirt and I get in my car. Before I can think or look at myself in the rearview mirror, I start the car and turn up the volume on the podcast I was listening to, and I quickly begin eating one of the chocolate bars. I try to eat one square at a time and savor it, but, of course, I don’t. I can barely taste the chocolate, but it is pulling me out of the feeling of fear I have of the groceries in the trunk and before I’m out of the parking lot, the first bar is done. I’m now waiting to get to a red light so I can rip open the second one, which I devour almost as quickly as the first. As I drive down the street, my teeth aching dully and my head buzzing, I feel a wave of sadness descend over me. I pull into my driveway, and, feeling like a fraud, I unload the groceries and carelessly put them away.

I stand in the kitchen, staring into space. I have worn myself down. I can’t figure out a way to justify the chocolate. It doesn’t make sense. I am not angry at myself anymore nor do I have thoughts of how to fix this, either. I’m just done, spent. An entire morning of bouncing between self-loathing and desperate attempts to pull myself out of it render me exhausted. I spend the rest of the day half-listening to podcasts, walking the dog, skimming through some work, and cobbling together a dinner of leftovers.

I don’t cook anything using the ingredients I bought at Whole Foods; they just remind me of what a failure I am, remind of the chocolate, which then reminds of the pizza, which then reminds me of the time I ate an entire container of French onion dip and a whole bag of potato chips and the roof of my mouth ached for days, which then reminds me of the time I drank so much that I passed out on the couch and spilled a glass of whiskey on the floor, which then reminds me of the time in college when I threw up on the stairs of someone’s house at a party, and so on. These thoughts are so painful that I shut them down the only way I know how, by stuffing them down with food or with podcasts or with Wolf Blitzer sharing 20,000 breaking news stories.

A week later, I find the cabbage that I had planned to braise with onions and tomatoes in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, rotten. I put it in the garbage and see that the tomatoes on the kitchen counter are shriveled, and as I throw them away, I turn on a podcast and turn up the volume.

Have you ever done this? Anything similar to this? Or am I the only one? What is your thing? Is it food? Alcohol? Shopping? Perpetual busy-ness?

Drinking was, by far, the most destructive of my habits, and I’m so glad I quit. But food is also very destructive, and removing alcohol hasn’t cured me of what truly ails me: fear of my self. Not “myself”, but my self…my soul, my inner-most me. I don’t know her, probably never have. I’m afraid of what I might find if I do, and so I avoid her. I fear so terribly that she’s some awful disappointment that I distract myself in every way I can conceive, purposefully blind to the consequences.

Can you relate? I ask because I have a hunch you can. This isn’t about food addiction or alcohol addiction or cell phone addiction…those things are the consequence of the core issue: not knowing ourselves and not having the time or space (or desire) to actually know who we are. The most common manifestation of this is the Instagram moment or the duck-lipped selfie pose, those very falsely manufactured moments intended to show us something real. But of course, they aren’t real. They are fake, and yet we somehow elevate them in our consciousness and create ideas about how our lives are supposed to mirror this ideal.

I’m not writing about anything new here. For years, we’ve known that the internet and especially social media are robbing us of some aspects of real life, and I don’t know if my particular issue of binge-eating angst is because of the internet, per se, but I do know that my disconnectedness from the world around me, from feeling things in the here and now, have been exacerbated by the internet and the need for distractions in general. Or maybe, it’s just that I’m 46 and I’m in the throes of a bout of existential angst.

And yes, while existential angst is certainly a part of this, I also know that my food addiction and my podcast addiction and my addiction to anything that will keep me from a moment of quiet, a moment of reflection, a moment of stillness have gotten far worse in the years since I’ve had a smartphone and access to stories and pictures and interviews with people who live lives that are thousands of times more glamorous than mine at my fingertips. Everyone has a story, a life hack, a “you can do this, too.” You can organize your whole house, build your own compost bin, change your diet, do more core work, run your own business, and thus become just like someone else.

There is nothing wrong with self-improvement. Not one damn thing. But are all these books, podcasts, and blogs really aimed at self-improvement, or do they sell the idea that the way someone is doing something is the way we should all do it? In short, are they selling the idea that the way I am is fundamentally damaged and that if I can change external parts of myself, I’ll be better?

As someone who is, by nature, deeply insecure, deeply neurotic, and very impressionable, I think the answer is yes. I have bought, hook, line, and sinker, into the idea that I’m not good enough, but that there is an answer out there for me, that some blogger or self-help author is going to fix me.

I have been searching for years now, and I can’t find the answer, no matter how hard I try. And the harder I look, the less I know. I used to be able to eat a meal without second guessing myself, and now, I can’t. I can’t figure out if eating a banana with breakfast is good for me or not, and an internet search only makes this worse. And if I can’t figure out if bananas are good for me, then how will I ever figure out how to lose weight, get in shape, write that book, be a better person, and so on? If bananas are confusing, then what about life? How will I ever know?

I want to believe that I’m actually fine, just the way I am. I really do. It’s just very hard and overwhelming. I have read about and seen a lot of movement toward body positivity and inclusivity, but even that overwhelms because I don’t want to blog about it, be interviewed about it on the Today show, or post about it on social media. I don’t want to be famous or a vanguard. I don’t want to have the answers. I just want to be who I am, whoever that is, and not feel less than because I don’t run fast or compost or follow a strictly Paleo diet or a strictly vegan diet or write a blog or make my own goat milk lotion.

Or, how about this? I want to go through a day, a whole entire day, without feeling less than anyone else, without needing to drown out the self-doubts with noise. I want to be able to just be, whatever that means, and to not feel so afraid of that, just that.

Judy Harper is a 46-year-old adjunct instructor at a community college. She is married and has a 15-year-old daughter. She lives near the ocean on the central California coast.

Upcoming events with Jen

****

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Anxiety, Guest Posts

My Brain’s Airplane Busy Kit

October 6, 2019
airplane

By Darcy Lohmiller

Direct your focus to the little butterflies on my ceiling whispered the soothing voice in my head.  But there were no butterflies in the steel contraption about to launch 30,000 feet into the air.  After fifteen years of flying with prescribed sedatives, I was attempting a flight to South Africa with a backpack filled with aromatherapy scents, inspirational music, and ten recorded sessions of hypnotism.  Buried at the bottom was the emergency stash of Xanax I hoped I wouldn’t need to use.

I increased my phone’s volume and tried to focus on the therapist’s voice instead of the plane’s engines and my pounding heart.  You will have faith in the pilots and all of the training they’ve gone through… Keep in mind what you consciously already know, that this is one of the safest ways to travel……While we rumbled down the runway, I switched to the soundtrack from Apollo 13. My brain, like a toddler distracted by a bright rattle, took an interest in the soaring strings and the heroic brass anthem.  It remembered a rocket with Tom Hanks at the controls, launching to the moon.  I shook the rattle at my brain as we lifted off the runway.

I didn’t always fear flying.  My first flight was as a ten-year-old when my brain trusted adults and the safety they promised me.  A stewardess in a crisp blue uniform brought me a Pepsi with ice before the flight. I was so transfixed by the blurring tarmac outside my window the drink tumbled into my lap on takeoff.  I watched the puffy clouds and the sweeping quilt of wheat fields below, lulled by the engine’s steady hum and the stewardesses’ firm, businesslike steps up and down the cabin.  It became as familiar as the back seat of the station wagon with my father at the wheel and my mother’s intake of breath at each curve in the road.  My mother was an unbearable backseat driver.  She stared straight ahead at the road, clutched the armrest and applied her invisible brakes, always ready to alert my father to the dangers she was sure he couldn’t see. Her world view was if one was always ready for disaster, it would be easier to bear when it arrived.

I flew sporadically and uneventfully for twenty years. I’m not sure when I lost faith in technology and the men who handled it, when I stopped trusting the calm voice of the flight attendant assuring us the seat cushion could be used as a flotation device.  In the 70s, plane disaster headlines were accompanied by photos of suitcases strewn across blackened fields.  My brain stored these details and filled in the rest:  oxygen masks dropping from a disintegrating plane, passengers screaming and clutching each other as they plummeted to the ground.  How many minutes did they anticipate their own death?  My brain shuddered.

I was newly married when I traveled with my husband Dan and his family from Bozeman, Montana to Denver. The first rustlings of nervousness caught me when I entered the cabin.  The plane seemed smaller than I remembered, more fragile.   My footsteps sounded hollow on the thin floor and the plane wobbled when passengers stuffed their bags into the overhead storage and plumped into their seats.  Cracks in the upholstery, peeling paint on the armrest.  I looked out the window and watched the crew loading luggage into the hold.  A bored mechanic tightened a rusty bolt on a dented wing.   If the plane crashed, would he feel any responsibility?  Or were there so many cogs in the machine it would be impossible to find the loose screw and the person who had failed to tighten it?

As the plane gained speed, my heart beat faster in time to the spinning wheels.  I was trapped. I clutched the armrest and willed the plane to rise, but the moment it left the ground it seemed to lose all confidence.  The clouds fought the plane, hitting it on the side, the top, the bottom. The pilot’s voice assured us of a smooth ride, but the turbulence seemed to surprise even him.  “Looks like we hit a rough patch, folks,” his jaunty voice said.  Even the pilot didn’t know this would happen, my brain argued.  They had no control, it insisted.   We were all helpless against forces stronger than us, forces with no regard for us.  I clutched Dan’s arm with each bump and jolt and he was puzzled at my anxiety. In his mind, flying carried a low risk.  Until something happened, you may as well enjoy the scenery.  His fearlessness made me worry more.  I had inherited my mother’s brain with its fear of life’s unexpected bumps, and like hers it believed it must always be ready to take the jolt.  So while Dan gazed out the window, I braced myself for the next one.

Our flight back home was on a thirty-seater and I trudged to the gate as though I were on death row.  We had to walk directly onto a tarmac that radiated heat like an open oven.  As I followed everyone up the steep metal stairs, I recalled a Twilight Zone episode where a passenger is greeted by a stern-faced stewardess.  “Room for one more,” she says.  The passenger ran away before the plane exploded.  I walked down the narrow cabin to the last seat in the back of the plane and fumbled with my seat belt.  My heart had been beating wildly and now my hands were sweating as well.  I tried to calm myself but my body refused to listen.  My arms grew cold as blood flowed to my legs, telling them to move, to escape the danger.  But my brain knew there was no escape. I struggled to breathe.

The flight attendant asked, “Is she okay?”  Dan nodded.  The plane skittered down the runway and jumped into the air while Dan stroked my hand as though my fear was a spot he could rub out.  The flight attendant brought me a glass of white wine, and I downed it while she took her seat behind the pilots, two sturdy men in crisp blue uniform calmly adjusting the controls.  I focused on their closely trimmed hair beneath gold-trimmed military caps. Like my mother in the car, perhaps I could alert them to danger with a tap on the shoulder and a firm word.  As we descended through the mountains, the little plane took the gust of mountainous air like a boxer took body punches.  It shuddered, but righted itself, feinted to the side, then faced its opponent again. For an hour, I sat rigid against the punches that rained on me until we bounced onto the runway and braked at the gate.  I could barely walk off the plane.

For the next five years, I found an excuse to avoid any flight until a friend I wouldn’t visit urged me to see a doctor.  “You know, they have drugs for that.”

My doctor wrote a prescription for Xanax.  When the pharmacist handed me the little white bag, stapled at the top, she smiled.  “You’ll like this.”  No one thought less of me for using a drug to conquer fear.

And it worked.  It told the small amygdala in my brain to shut up but left my cortex free to manage terminals, gate changes, and subway systems.  My amygdala, I learned, had been working overtime, coordinating responses to dangers that did not exist.  My cortex tried to object, but it wasn’t fast enough.   Xanax put the brakes on the busy amygdala so the cortex could catch up.  My brain was quiet throughout the flight, and noted turbulence with only a mild curiosity.

For the next fifteen years, I traveled with a little yellow container tucked inside my bag.  Every six hours, I dug it out and snapped it open like a tin of Altoids.  The cabin’s noises turned into a soft buzz and I smiled at the flight attendants, talked to the person beside me about things I couldn’t later recall, and arrived at my gate with a calm heart and mind.  Thank you for the nice flight, I told the pilot and the flight attendants at the door.

But using Xanax had its tradeoffs.   I watched movies, read books, had interesting conversations and remembered little of them.  On a flight to the Bahamas, I looked out the window at a sea of turquoise waters and felt nothing.  Only a fully functioning brain can experience delight, wonder, and awe.  And though the numbing effects of Xanax were largely gone the next day, there was always a lingering dullness as my brain came back to life.  I only took it once or twice a year, but worried about its long-term effects.   I had hoped flying under the influence of Xanax would eventually allow me to fly without it.  But every time I tried to do so, the slightest bump would send me rustling in my bag for the tiny case of pills.  Doctors criticized Xanax because it made the brain lazy and demanding.   Using Xanax was like giving in to a child’s temper tantrum.  Okay, here’s your chemicals.  Now calm down.

As our trip to South Africa grew nearer, I worried about taking Xanax for the 22 hours it required to get there. How long would that lingering dullness last?  Would I spend most of the trip looking at wild elephants and lions with only mild curiosity?  Was it possible to retrain my amygdala instead of shut it off?   So I paid for six sessions with a hypnotist who tried to convince my subconscious that flying was safe.  My brain wasn’t an easy student.  It struggled to create mental images. It refused to respond to suggestions.  It never did achieve a trance-like state.  But I closed my eyes and listened to her voice assuring my brain it was safe, it was strong.  I just hoped it was listening.

During the flight across the country and the Atlantic Ocean and down the entire length of Africa, I was armed with my recordings and an emergency stash of Xanax.   Twenty-two hours of flying, twelve hours of two layovers, I arrived in Johannesburg drug-free, clear-headed and exhausted.  Without the rosy haze of Xanax, flying was as glamorous as a bus trip.  Hundreds of passengers were crammed into narrow rows of tight seats.  Lines formed at the bathrooms.  The flight crew pushed their carts through tight aisles and silently handed out Styrofoam cartons of food.  I didn’t have a panic attack, but I was drained from two days of trying to manage my restless brain in a three foot space.  I’d watched six movies, ate seven meals, and slept a total two hours out of the twenty-two.  I had been fully cognizant the entire flight.

It wasn’t that great.

On the flight back to the United States, my brain fought me for the first twelve hours.  It was tired.  It was whiney.  I had pushed it too hard.  Hypnotism had helped, but it didn’t eliminate over fifty years of hard-wiring.  My brain may always panic when it feels trapped, may always struggle to fight the disaster it is sure is on its way.  I hoped to train my brain to relax with reassurances of safety and images of butterflies, but instead forced it into a sort of whimpering, fearful submission.  Is a constant and simmering state of anxiety better for my brain than one milligram of Xanax?

With twelve more hours left in the flight, I surrendered.  I still hope to retrain my brain to become the calm flyer I want it to be, but at this moment I just needed it to shut the hell up.  I snapped open my little container and swallowed the pill.

Darcy Lohmiller is a middle school librarian and part-owner of a fly fishing shop in Bozeman, Montana. Her essays about fishing, hunting, dogs and trailers have appeared in The Drake, The Flyfish Journal, Shooting Sportsman Magazine, and The Big Sky Journal. You can read her essays at https://www.clippings.me/dlohmiller

 

Upcoming events with Jen

****

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Anxiety, Fear, Guest Posts

Paranoid Anxiety

August 12, 2019
gut

By Stephanie Scott

My grandma said, don’t ever come back to her house. She said she’ll defend the son she birthed; “parí” is the word she used, specifically. She said in all the history of our family names no one had ever been a criminal and the first one wasn’t going to be a son she birthed, “parí,” again. It’s the same word used for animals, I use that word because I’m not the delicate type. But I’ve always heard my grandma use the delicate, upper-class term: “dar a luz”. It means to give to the light. I guess even she realizes her son is a creature of the shadows. But that won’t stop her from defending the family name. What she means is no one has ever been formally accused. There’s been no record. No files at the prosecutor’s office thicker than my Master’s Degree portfolio. For generations there were only whispers and warnings; gasps and forced smiles at gatherings; years that passed by until it was “forgotten,” perhaps by the conscious mind, but not by the body. Certainly not by the body of us women, the clan of anxious worriers. I’ve sinned against our name. I’ve formally accused my uncle of “Intimidación.”

I walk into my apartment and leave the door open. First, I check my daughter’s room and look at the terrace through her window. It’s dark outside and no one’s there. Then, I look inside the bathroom—I leave that door open when I leave the house. Next, I forcefully push the closet door—I leave that door closed every morning. Then, I go back and close the door to the apartment. Last, I look out at the terrace through my window and close the window, which I leave open all day to air out the tiny, cramped apartment.

As I hang my keys up next to where the chalinas are hanging, I think to myself: this is my new routine. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

I’m A Meditation Teacher, And I Live With Anxiety

April 20, 2019
anxiety

By Megan Winkler

When you stand up in the front of a class or – in my case – sit at the front of a class, you’re the expert in the room. The pressure to be perfect is almost permeable for teachers. The same is true for meditation teachers, even though our job should be totally relaxing. There’s a lot of responsibility to the experience.

We are charged with creating a safe environment for complete strangers to take a few steps on the path of their personal transformation journey. We have to deliver our guided scripts in a calm, soothing manner. And we have to be prepared for just about anything: tears, snoring students who fall asleep, the kickboxing gym right next door suddenly starting up their class, stern and doubtful questions from participants, or the guy who got dragged to class by his girlfriend who rolls his eyes more than a sitcom teenager. (I’ve had ALL of these things happen in my classes.)

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve meditated yourself, by yourself. When you sit in front of a class – or even post a video online – there’s a ton of pressure to be flawless, perfect, and utterly expert in everything.

But here’s the catch: I’m not perfect. In fact, although I teach people how to overcome their fears and conquer anxiety, I’m continually battling it myself. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, No Bullshit Motherhood

But, What If…?: Confessions of an Anxious Mother

April 4, 2018
anxious

By Catherine Jones

I suffer from anxiety, which is debilitating at times.  I have suffered for as long as I can remember, both mentally and physically.  And while I’ve tried many methods that help to alleviate my symptoms, I know my anxiety will never completely go away.  It only got much worse after my child was born.  I had a lot of time during my maternity leave to come up with some truly unreasonable, completely invalid fears.  One of my biggest issues with anxiety is that I know I’m being silly, but I can’t help it.  I know there’s no reason to be afraid to ask for help finding an item at the grocery store and there’s definitely no reason to contemplate all the awful things that may happen to my child.  I hope some anxious mothers out there can relate, or at least be relieved that they’re not nearly as imaginative (cuckoo) as me.

When my son was first born, he hardly slept, or if he did it was for maybe an hour at a time.  He was always hungry and wanted to be nursed for hours and then be nursed again after a short catnap.  He never seemed particularly tired, but I was getting loopy from a lack of sleep.  When he did manage to sleep at night for a few hours at a time, I kept getting up to check on him, straining my eyes in the darkness to make sure his little chest was still rising and falling.  When he switched to formula and actually started to sleep through the night, I was terrified.  Why was he sleeping so much?  Was something wrong?  Infants are supposed to sleep for most of the day, but not my baby!  I slept on a cot in his room for months. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

Building a Wall

January 26, 2018

By Emily F. Popek

“Tell me the story of our trip again, Mama.”

My 5-year-old daughter is in bed and I am sitting next to her with my hand resting on her back.

In one week, we are leaving for Mexico. She has been on an airplane before but never to another country.

She is nervous.

“Tell me the story again.”

Since she has been able to talk, she has asked me to tell her stories. Stories are the coin of her realm; stories order her world and give her something to hang on to.

I know this because I do the same thing. I tell myself stories just as I tell these stories to her. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, depression, Guest Posts

The Woman Who Stares at Clocks

November 6, 2017
time

By Tasha Kerry Smith

I wake each morning to the sound of silence and stare at the clock. Plastic, pink, old-style alarm clock with big numbers. The little hand crouches at nine and the big hand is in between the 2 and 3. I will wait till it hits 3, exactly a quarter past, before moving. Starting every activity on a concrete number helps me know where I start and finish. In the waiting minutes the voice speaks its filth: You’re worthless. Lazy. The world would be better off without you.

My morning is unremarkable but carried out at a tense pace, as if I have an A.M. conference call with the UN though I’m freelance and set my own schedule. I eat a small breakfast standing by the sink; brace myself for the dog walk. On bad days, when the voice is loud, I don’t like going outside. Too much activity. Too many people. Deliverymen shouting orders. Shoppers running errands. Dogs barking. Horns honking. Every noise hurts. I weave through them, head down, and make for the beach, where the dog can roam and the voice creeps into the quiet: Worthless. Hateful. Bitch. It’s takes physical strength to restrain it. My mind is shot.

To cope, I watch the clock, plan my day, giving each task a time slot. If I complete a task within the allotted time, I relax. If I don’t, I panic. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

Walls

October 2, 2017
walls

By Cheryl Jacobs

I never know when it’s going to happen, the sensation of pressure on my body, trapped, breath catching in my throat, desperate to escape. It makes me feel crazy.

I pay attention to traffic, think about what time I leave, the roads to take, all to avoid Los Angeles congestion.  I don’t like the feeling of being caught, pinned in.  But this morning I have an early therapy appointment and, as soon as I make the turn onto Olympic Blvd., I see only bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I ease my car in, all the while talking to myself.

“Relax, breathe, it’s okay, it will ease up soon.”

But it doesn’t.  I’m caught in the middle of three lanes of traffic moving slowing forward, connected by some unseen muscle keeping us tightly joined.

My car inching along, stopping entirely for minutes at a stretch, I feel the unwelcome tightening of my body.  The feeling of entrapment rises up, no exit, no exit, no exit, acutely aware of the hardness of the metal surrounding me, pressing, leaving no room to move left or right.

Panic rises like vapor, choking me. Continue Reading…

cancer, depression, Guest Posts

Where Are All The Silver Linings?

June 30, 2017

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

By Melissa McAllister

Even before cancer, I was intimately acquainted with depression and anxiety.  We shared more than one dance together.  We fight.  We makeup.  We fight.  We breakup.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  On and Off.  I managed this relationship with an assortment of tricks.  There are the therapists I would purge all my thoughts and feelings onto weekly.  There is the pharmacy where I routinely picked up the latest antidepressant and anti anxiety pills I was prescribed.  Sometimes they even tossed  in a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic for good measure.  And then there was the doctor who I checked in with on a regular basis to make certain all was going as planned.

As a person so prone to depression and anxiety, believe me when I tell you – keeping that many appointments and having that many interactions in order to procure those tiny little things that are going to hopefully help you feel better is fucking hard to do.  If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.  But I managed, mostly. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

My Not So Hidden Anxiety

May 31, 2017
anxiety

By Sara Ohlin

“Oh! We’re going to be late. We’re going to be late!” Lily’ s panicked voice rose above the din of skiers making their way toward the lodge mixed with the sounds of cars parking, children laughing.

I grasped her small, warm hand and squeezed it gently, as much for my own comfort as for hers. “Honey, we’ll be fine,” I said in the calmest voice I could fake for her. I was good at faking. “Jasper is the only one who has a lesson. We made it just in time, we’ll get him settled, then you and Dada can get your gear and go ski. We’re fine.”

My insides mimicked her panic. Officially we were on time. As in, my son’s lesson starts at 11:30 and it was now 11:30, but we still had to get him checked in and get his snowboard gear on. Late was more like it. Not as in we’re going to be late, but we were late. I hated being late. It made the bile rise in my throat and I wanted to spit it out on whoever was closest. I hated being late to the point I often didn’t react well if I knew it was a possibility. I looked down at my daughter, her blue eyes closed tight in the face of the sun, or impending lateness. I couldn’t tell, but in that second I felt the stab in my heart. Oh no! I thought, she’s just like me. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts, Yoga

Yoga Taught Me I Could Stare Down Fear

April 24, 2017
yoga

By Amy Moore

I grew up as a painfully shy, introverted girl in a family with three brothers.  Like many others, my parents were held hostage by their own demons which left them unable to function in a capacity that a child needs as they’re growing up.  At home, it was best to be quiet, obedient, and almost invisible as an effort to keep the calm among the chaos.

As a kid, I sat on the sidelines observing others living life and unable to get past my anxiety to be able to participate in many activities or make many friends.  My life remained similar as I grew into a teenager.  My emotional pain manifested into numerous unhealthy habits, the most profound was my body image.  In early adolescents, I began my journey with anorexia and bulimia and suffered with it secretly for years. Maybe in a sense I was trying to disappear, to go unnoticed and unseen through life.

Although I was physically and mentally unhealthy I longed to be a healthy strong person. I read and researched everything that sparks my interest, which is exactly how I came to find yoga.  When I started reading about yoga I was fascinated about the stories of health and healing that so many people experienced. However, it didn’t seem possible to me.  How could stretching and breathing change your entire life? Regardless of my reservations, I felt drawn to learning more.  I wanted to know more about the practice peacefully displayed on DVD covers and magazines. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

On Having “Issues”

March 30, 2017
issues

By Laura Romain

Last night I dreamed about my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend. In real life, I know nothing except her name, but my dream turned her into everything I wish I could be: radiant, smiling, lighthearted.

I dreamed that I shouted at her. I cursed her relationship with my ex. I seethed with jealousy that I would never acknowledge in my waking life. Why did this woman—the product of my own imagination—trigger such animosity in me, such envy?

Here’s the truth: the worst part wasn’t that she was beautiful. It wasn’t the bright sweep of her hair, the perfect gleam of her teeth. It wasn’t even that she’d entered into a relationship with my ex.

The worst part was that she was happy. In other words: not anxious, not depressed. It wasn’t her looks or her relationship status that truly made me jealous. It was her mental health.

Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe that life is easy for people who don’t have fears and anxieties and merciless self-criticism strapped to them like sandbags. I believe that their work comes naturally to them, whereas my negative self-talk makes sitting at my computer feel like hurling myself in front of a firing squad. I believe that mentally healthy people are guaranteed fulfilling, successful relationships, whereas I second-guess myself to the point that I have no idea what I even think of the men I date. Continue Reading…

depression, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

A Tale of 19 Wet Towels or How I Failed to Shed My Skin

March 23, 2017
towel

By Ella Wilson.

1. Birth

Every time in my life that I have had the opportunity – that is to say I have been in the presence of a huge coming or going or leaving or starting, a massive adding on or taking away – every time I have had the chance to step out, to leave behind, to shed, to transform, to butterfly, to snake – every time I could have showered off the detritus of some time in my life that lay heavy on my skin. Every time I could have grown, instead I wet-toweled.

2. Starting school

Here is how you wet-towel. You take the thing you might have stepped out of, a skin, a time, a loss, a tiny pair of pants, a hit in the face. You take that thing and you wrap yourself in it.

3. Suicide attempt age 12

You shiver at first because the wet towel makes you cold. The weight of it makes you slow. After a few days you start to smell old and nothing seems like a very good idea.

4. Puberty

Shame is sticky and the antidote to transformation.

5. Losing my virginity

Shame tells you to hide, unfortunately the tools it gives you for hiding promote shame on shame. Shameless self promotion.

6. Leaving school

When you would rather not be seen it is preferable to hide in anything you can find.

7. Leaving home

8. Getting a job

9. My father dying

When my father died I did not notice. This is not because I was not paying attention exactly, in fact I paid so much attention, maybe too much. Nursing him from when I was 13 to 22. But something can become normal, like someone being ill, like thinking someone won’t really die. So I slept on his hospital floor for months. I swabbed his throat with little pink sponges. I knew the nurses names. He died. I wanted to stay on the floor. I wasn’t ready not to have a father. I wore his clothes. I didn’t cry. I did not become fatherless. I just became personless.

10. Moving to America

11. Being hospitalized for anorexia

12. Getting married Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

Repurposing Anxiety

March 20, 2017
anxiety

By Lola B.

I don’t remember being an anxious kid growing up. But to be honest, I don’t recall what I had for breakfast this morning, so I can’t really say that “remembering” is my thing. I sure as hell am not going to ask my mom to remind me what I was like as a child. That would just be inviting danger. Sort of like asking Kellyanne Conway and Alec Baldwin to come on over to the house for cocktails. It might be highly entertaining at first, but someone will end up on the floor in the fetal position, drooling and mumbling about global warming. No one wants to see that.

Somehow, over time, it seems that I have developed a boatload of anxiety. And, quite frankly, I’m irritated about it! There’s no doubt that I have earned my anxiety stripes in recent months following the arrest and conviction of my husband for drug trafficking. When the FBI calls to chat, that will get your heart racing. When you don’t know how you’re going to pay the bills, that gets your attention. When your daughter is terrified in her own home and yet is heartbroken to move out of the house she loved, that just absolutely kicks you in the gut.

But the thing about anxiety is, it gets in the way. Worry hinders joy. It keeps you from fully experiencing all that life has to offer. You’re either too anxious and fearful to participate, or too worried while you’re participating, so you miss the good stuff. The parts where joy lives. Where the exhales happen. The space where your heart sings.

So I took my anxiety to Restoration Hardware to see if maybe I could repurpose it. I could take this old, worn out, tiresome thing and shine it up to reuse in a different way. A way that would acknowledge and honor the fact that life is sometimes scary and hard and messy, but also wondrous and joyful and worth the risk.

As I disassembled my anxious feelings, I could see each piece more clearly.  I could see that in anxious moments, I was fixated on what I was sure would destroy me.  But what if I used that same intensity and took it to the light?  Used the energy in a positive way?  I could repurpose that intensity into being focused. Shaping and directing my path with intention rather than allowing fear to run the show.

I could strive for excellence and not perfection. Chasing perfection is an exhausting, never-ending loop.  Excellence means I gave it a valiant effort.  My best effort – knowing that sometimes my “best” could look a little sketchy if I was hangry.

And for the extra scary stuff, I morphed my anxiety into badassery. Being bold.  Standing my ground.  Speaking my truth – even if my voice shook.

I used my badassery to get brave enough to tell people that I needed a minute. Whether that was a minute to breathe and collect my thoughts before making an important decision, or a minute because they were pissing me off and I was going through a verbal tirade in my head. None of their business. I just needed a damn minute!

I learned how to breathe through the crazy. To plant both feet solidly on the ground, close my eyes, and just breathe.

I may not remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I do remember being six years old and saving my three-year-old sister from drowning. I have worried about her ever since. Maybe that’s where the anxiety started, and then it grew and flourished in the life experiences that shape all of us. But worry does not have to rule us, define us, or limit us. If we repurpose it to work for us, then anxiety gets out of the way and joy slips in through the side door.

Ok, gotta run. I’m headed over to Home Depot to see if they can help me renovate my stress.

When LolaB’s husband was arrested for drug trafficking, writing became an outlet for the craziness that ensued. She is divorced after 20+ years of marriage, and raising two daughters on her own. LolaB writes to shine light in dark places, and to heal herself and her children. She is a writer of hope at www.RRLolaB.com. She can also be followed on FaceBook, Instagram, and posts on Twitter as @RRLolaB.

 

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

%d bloggers like this: