Thursday, February 27, 2014

it's about to get real food journey

I have experienced panic attacks since high school. Very infrequently for the most part until the last year of college. I didn't know what they were until then. One way my anxiety has manifested itself, both in the past and now, is through my eating habits. Not as an eating disorder per se, but as a means of me trying to gain control in times where I feel I am spiraling out. For anyone that has ever felt that out of control, you know that I mean.

In my last year of college, I had a lot to think about and a major chapter was ending - lots to think about! Also happening simultaneously was the national news coverage of stories about various food items being recalled because they were contaminated with salmonella, name it. This was jarring to me - I thought raw meats were something to avoid, not things like peanut butter (a favorite) and bagged spinach. I need to take action. I needed control.

It started with me swearing off those potentially contaminated items and slowly, my food safety window became smaller and smaller. By the second semester of my final year, I was not only applying to grad school and seeking out employment options for that summer and following academic year - I was also obsessing over how to prevent myself from getting food poisoning or being contaminated in any way. The school cafeteria became a very scary place...though it was already given the "mystery meat" and other goodies that the then-food service company tried to pass off to us overpaying students as "food."

Eventually, as I neared graduation, I was eating maybe 10-15 designated "safe" foods that I felt were OK to eat because they posed a low contamination risk. I was also eating many of my supermarket-purchased frozen meals in my res hall room or from the local mostly-vegetarian restaurant in town. So this was both costly and embarrassing for me, yet I managed to conceal my issues. The only noticeable symptom was my weight drop from a healthy 105-110lb to 96lbs. Folks in my life were concerned, but I blamed it all on high metabolism and no one questioned it.

It wasn't until halfway through my first semester of grad school (and many, many panic attacks later) that I sought out some good quality therapy (that thankfully came to me at no cost thanks to the university's Counseling Center) that I returned to gradual food normalcy. When things are stable (no major life changes, strong sense of security) and I am managing my anxiety and panic effectively with the aid of therapy (as of today, I am officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia), I am cautious and mindful about what I consume, but it doesn't consume me. It's annoying, but manageable.

Over the past 2-3 years or so, I underwent a great number of big life changes. And never allowed myself to process and tried to be strong and push it all aside to power through. I've been what I believe to be clinically depressed/anxious for the past year and this time I used food as a crutch. I weighed more in my late 20s than I ever did in my life. And then my breakdown happened - it all came to a head. Going through so many panic attacks in such a short time period is hardly an appetite stimulant. But thanks to therapy, an appetite-stimulating antidepressant and a positive support network, it hasn't been as much of an issue as it could have been.

I had a great Monday this past week with a successful doctor visit and three trips to the outside world (my beloved Target, to-go lunch at a pizza parlor with my love and a trip to grab groceries ALL BY MYSELF), but the rest of the week has been difficult with adjusting to new medicine and pushing my limits too much following my victory early in the week. When in the throes of my bad times, the last thing I want is a snack. But when things are good and I focus on the good thoughts that I trust, I am learning to use food in moderation as a comfort source. I have been cooking to help give me purpose and feel accomplished. A good nourishing meal gives me something to look forward to. And the meals I've eaten this week have been among the most healing and soothing ones I've experienced in some time.

This great big thing won't be cured overnight - but I am learning to accept the lows and enjoy the good times. And one of these days, the good times will outnumber the bad. I continue to thank all that read this for their prayers and support. I am eternally grateful.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

finding peace in the dark

Don't let the post title fool you - dark is meant literally and is not a metaphor for where I am at emotionally.

When I am at my most panicky (anticipating an outing or thinking about a stressor), it's hard to prevent myself from spiraling into a panic attack. One of the things I am learning in therapy is how to listen to the voices in my head that I trust and to give the voices I don't trust less stage time. So I'll share with you some of the things that I trust in today:

  • I trust that my partner loves me wholly and will be there in sickness and in health.
  • I trust that my family and good friends love me and will be there for me through this journey and afterwards when I come out on the other side. 
  • I trust that the things I used to do before my breakdown (that never caused me stress or pain before) are safe and that I will re-learn how to do these things with ease little by little. 
  • I trust that I can overcome this and that it will take some time. 

When reminding myself of all these things doesn't work, I have medicine to help. Or, the smell of lavender in a dark room is calming. I am actually typing this from the comfort of my pitch-black living room lit only by the TV. Being in the dark is soothing - it makes the world seem a little bit smaller and allows me to recuperate from the day's events. Also, having a hot water bottle or heat pad nearby can be very soothing to muscles that ache from being tense all day.

So I keep on getting out there and working on my recovery-but it's nice to know I have this sanctuary to retreat to at the end of a tiring day.


Monday, February 17, 2014

battling those bad thoughts

In spite of having a difficult past few days, I think I am very slowly realizing how toxic it is to worry about things in the future that I can do nothing about today. I have always been a "planner" and try my best to make sure I am as prepared as possible for anything that may pop up in the future. While in many workplaces and in the mindsets of the more scatterbrained, this may be looked upon as a positive attribute, I think it's also one of my flaws.

Worrying about what a mess I'll be in my next therapy visit doesn't help me five days before the visit. Worrying about my parents' health and aging now doesn't help them to be any healthier and it's not something I can control. The negative "what-ifs" have become poison to my recovery and I am working very hard to re-route my ways of thinking and to be kinder to myself.

I write this today from a clear mindset, but I know that in battling my disorder all of this may not be easily remembered while in the throes of a panic attack. Hopefully if things are darker at any point in the near future, I'll have the sense to look back at this entry to remind myself of this revelation.

I am working to get better because I miss walks outside. I miss being able to go shopping with ease. I miss seeing friends and family. These things may not come back to me easily or overnight, but I am determined to learn how to manage and live with the negativity (and not bottle it inside) so that I am able to get back to the good stuff  =)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A hard few days

So the past few days have been very difficult.

I had two doctor appointments lined up. My psychiatrist canceled at the last minute. The weather and other factors have caused a few of my scheduled appointments to be canceled, which is a real toughie in my world. I have to psych myself up to go to these appointments because they make me apprehensive.

So now I'm in a setback of sorts, panicking 24/7 ans scared of the outside world/missing my old life. But there is some hope. I am working with my therapist to have some home visits to help ease me into therapy. And I am modifying my medicines under doctor care to see if it helps any. I pray that this all helps - I'm tired of intense panic and fear and being scared to do EVERYTHING.

I really do miss pieces of my old life - being able to socialize with friends, not being afraid to leave the house on my own, feeling more self-sufficient. But the little bit of me that remains optimistic holds on to hope that I can regain pieces of my old self back. In addition, I hope I can do away with the things that led to this meltdown and rebuild myself to be healthier and more resilient.

I know there is hope. I don't always have it, but I know there has to be a light at the end of this tunnel. There just has to be!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Setbacks when recovering from anxiety...apparently they're inevitable

Today's been a bad day. I'm not gonna lie. Over the past couple of days, I feel as though I've taken the "one step back" in my philosophy that me recovering from this means I'll take two steps forward, one step back as I go. The good news is that means I am always moving forward. But lemme tell you, those back-steps are agonizing.

I had a really awful panic attack at home today. I had hoped to go out alone today as I had yesterday (small trip to Target all by myself and I didn't die=small victory), but the memory of how scared I was in Target made me all the more apprehensive to get back out there today without company. And I have two doctor's appointments this week that I am very afraid of panicking at.

I know in the long run I need these doctors to help me get better, but it doesn't make overcoming the hurdles any less scary. Or experiencing the setbacks any less heartbreaking. It's infuriating and very scary to not be able to operate at full capacity like I once was (or thought I was) before this all came to a head.

I gotta say though, the way things were before did me no good - just going through the motions, putting on a happy face and not telling my loved ones how overwhelmed I felt. So that is improvement in itself.  Through all of this, I am really discovering what I want out of life  and that is a good thing.

Please keep the good vibes, prayers and encouragement coming - I really need it and continue to thank you all each night I pray and thank God for my support system. I have received support from some of the most unlikely sources and it's been truly humbling. And I pray for you all as well.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Focusing on the important things

Since late December, I've been spending a LOT of time in our apartment thinking. Some of my thinking, as a product of my depression, is irrational and heartbreaking. But when logic rears it's much-desired head and I'm able to think clearly as "me" I've been thinking about what's really important to me.

It's literally been years since I focused on what's really important in life. I've been so busy shopping, making to-do lists, focusing on my five-year plan, obsessing about my career...and ignoring the signs that I was very unhappy and scared. And ignoring the things that matter the most.

One thing I value more now than I ever have is time with family. This past holiday season (pre-breakdown, of course) was wonderful in that I got to spend time with my family and Mike's family in abundance. The weeks leading up to my breakdown were great with regards to my personal life because of all the family/friend togetherness. I think of that as I slowly push myself to re-enter the world.

One of the saddest aspects of depression/anxiety is that it can be a very lonely and isolating illness. My agoraphobic tendencies as of recently have made it so that I haven't seen much of my family and friends. When folks find out you're ailing, they check in on you regularly. Since progress overcoming depression and anxiety can be slow and shaky, their lives inevitably go on at a speed that's faster than your recovery. This is no one's fault and it just makes me want to try harder to get better and to rejoin society.

Hoping that the warmer weather comes soon so that I have one more reason to come out from the dark.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Trying to make sense of my anxiety

I think one of the most frustrating parts of coping with depression and anxiety/panic is that I continually try to make sense of it all. I try to figure out what situations, which people, which circumstances serve as triggers and them avoid them. Though as time goes on, my world becomes smaller and smaller and before I know it the illness consumes me. And the symptoms of my anxiety are sometimes very standard, but other times are abnormal and not as common. Cue more panic.

This is no way to live. And I know that. It doesn't make the recovery process any easier to partake in, but it does make the process more essential. So I push myself to do what I need to do in order to get on the road to being my new and improved self. And I allow myself to relinquish control when it's necessary, rather than worrying about and trying to control every little thing. And I allow myself to fail. And celebrate the small victories (today's being a trip to the Post Office).

I also have to remind myself that what I can control I need to develop confidence in. For example, if I know I turned off the stove, I need to have confidence in knowing that rather than checking 20 times to verify what I already know to be true.

This journey is teaching me that I really am safe and competent - a big aspect of suffering through anxiety and panic attacks is that one does not feel safe or in control of her environment. That feeling of being out of control is terrifying. I am learning what I can control and what I can't (the thoughts and actions of others, the environment, etc.) This doesn't mean I've mastered what I can control but it does provide me with a starting point for what I need to work on.

It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm slowly learning to let a little bit of sun in.


Monday, February 3, 2014

The Blog for Mental Health 2014 Pledge

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

art by Piper Macenzie

As difficult as it is for me to "come out" with regards to what I'm dealing with, I hope that this blog helps provide folks dealing with anxiety disorders some relief in knowing that others out in the world suffer from the same affliction and symptoms. I use the term relief loosely, as I know firsthand how pervasive and all-encompassing it can be to live with an anxiety disorder. Some of what I've been dealing with since my breakdown has been downright debilitating (panic attacks, hard to breathe, agoraphobic symptoms). It's hard to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel when this illness prevents the sufferer from working, socializing and going about a normal daily life. I will say that since I started using my current antidepressant, I have slowly found myself able to return to some normal activities. But it's still an uphill battle - I know in my heart of hearts that it will all be OK at some point and it does get better. I know it's entirely possible that in three months, I'll be in much better shape. Still, it's a constant battle with the anxiety/negativity in my head. And that definitely wears on even the strongest person.

Even so, I will continue my trend of reflecting on the positives that have come from my battle with anxiety and panic. I have suffered from some form of this illness for years (my memories of having OCD tendencies date as far back as third grade). It's typically just a mild part of my life that I thought I was able to manage well, but I have experienced moderate episodes in my past that typically happened around stressful periods or times of massive change (graduation from high school, graduation from college, start of grad school coinciding with the end of my longest-term relationship to date, etc.) This is the worst episode I've experienced yet, and why I believe it happened will be detailed in a later post, most likely after continued therapy.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Minimalism and lack of vanity in the face of anxiety

One of the hardest things for me to do is focus on the positive things that have come from the state of distress I've been in lately.

I have experienced small victories throughout all of this. Being able to go out in public bravely, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, maintaining contact with those close to me...all victories when you're feeling panic/anxiousness/agoraphobia, believe it or not.

I experience the "two steps forward, one step back" phenomenon. Which is positive because it means I'm moving forward, but the steps back are crushing blows when all you want is to feel better and to feel "normal."

But I will say this: my breakdown has shown me that vanity is not a feeling I want to have any more. Prior to this, I was hating on myself for being the heaviest I've ever been, always had to do my hair before I left the house (and it had to be perfect), and felt the need to have certain brands/styles of clothing in order to feel pretty/accepted by society. No more of that. I have grown to appreciate what I do have in terms of material items, I've stopped caring what others think of me looks-wise (I just need to start caring a little more than the total apathy that's present lately), and I have been working to minimize some of my personal belongings.

While it's been easy to do an early Spring Cleaning in the physical world, the cleaning that my mind needs to undergo is not as simple.