Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

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Survival. The one word can mean so many things. Usually, we consider survival to be the bare minimum. “At least she survived that horrific shark attack,” “He was fighting for survival in the woods for 5 weeks,” “I’m not trying to just survive, I’m trying to thrive!” Something a lot of people without mental illness take for granted is their ability to simply survive without trying. For those of us with Mental Illness, survival is a daily goal. I’ve often said to myself, or out loud, “I just have to survive today.” And I’ve meant it.

Survival is often a daily struggle for me, and while I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts, many people with mental illness do, so surviving is a VERY real battle for them. Somedays, it’s all I can do to move from my bed to the couch. Sometimes, just staying awake once I wake up is hard. These are very few and far between days for me now, but they still happen. So how to I prevent these types of days? The answer lies in a whole lot of self-care, and coping mechanisms!

(Before I go any further, I would like to say that I currently see a counsellor for my anxiety and depression, and while these coping mechanisms below may work for me, they may not for you or for someone you know, and THAT’S OKAY! They also may take time to start working. My best advice to anyone struggling with mental illness (Or really just anyone at all) is to find a counsellor or therapist to help you. We all need a mental tune-up once and awhile and mental health professionals are great at tuning up your brain! I’m not a mental health professional, so please don’t sue me if one of these coping mechanisms doesn’t work for you. I have no money for you to take anyways!)

So here’s a breakdown of all of the different coping mechanisms I use to help me get through my days and be mostly productive:

Meditation: I haven’t been as good about doing this one lately, but it really does help. Meditation is all about being aware of your body, and noticing feelings and emotions without judgement. This is particularly good for people with mental illness because it teaches you both to listen to what your body is telling you, and helps you practice not labeling things you think or feel as good or bad, but simply as they are. I’m going to do a whole blog on this topic later, but it’s very important to see your mental illness as something apart from you, instead of you. It’s okay to be angry with your anxiety or frustrated that it’s back, but if you don’t define it as something other than yourself, it often feels like you are mad at yourself, which simply isn’t fair to you. It’s not your fault you have mental illness and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do! Theres a great app for your phone that you can get called “Calm.” It has all kinds of meditations from beginners to advanced, and will guide you as you learn about meditation. To find out more about the app, click here.

Puzzles or Brain Teasers: For me, a big part of preventing a full blown panic attack is taking my mind completely off of whatever is causing my anxiety. A great way that I have found to do this is to engage in something that hold your brain’s focus, and makes you think. For this reason, I have lots of puzzles and brain teasers around my house and on my various pieces of tech. There’s a super useful one that I’ve found called Flexi Puzzle. It’s a string of cubes on an elastic that you have to manipulate to create over 80 patterns. I’ve been using it for a year now, and I still haven’t figured out all the patterns. I use it both before a panic attack and during to help my brain refocus and find something else to think about. It has about a 95% success rate for me, which is pretty incredible for a toy that costs $7.99 at Target! 

I also use a jigsaw puzzle app on my tablet called Magic Puzzles, that is great for when I’m on the plane. The puzzles are pretty tricky and engaging, and there are lots of different modes. I’ll link it here.

Exercise: Man, this is a big one. I hate exercising, going to the gym, or even looking at my yoga pants sometimes, but exercise really does help my anxiety and depression, so I do it anyway. Now, I’m going to say this really clearly: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, TELL SOMEONE THAT ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS EXERCISE AND THIER MENTAL ILLNESS WILL GO AWAY. That’s not how it works, but for some reason people think that exercise is like the Holy Grail of mental illness. IT’S NOT! For me, it helps take the edge off, but I still have anxiety and depression. Some people love exercising, and find that it truly is a miracle cure, and that’s awesome! But it’s just not that way for me unfortunately.

Exercising is helpful though, and I like to combine it with other fun things and use it as a way of self-care. For example, I love obstacle courses and challenges, so I like to go rock climbing or to an adventure park once in awhile. I like audio books, so I listen to them while I run, and Yoga is great for practicing mindfulness while doing something active. I would say, giving exercise a try is good for everyone. I’ve found it especially helpful during bouts of depression because it helps with the insomnia for my body to be tired at the end of the day. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you enjoy it at least a little bit, but also don’t over-do it. Listen to your body, and it will tell you what it needs.

Pets: If you follow me on facebook or Instagram, you know that I have a Trained Service Dog that goes with me to most places, especially when I travel, (More on service dogs in a later blog,) so the cuddles are pretty much endless when I need them, but for a lot of people, just having a pet is a great way to combat mental illness. For example, if my dog has to go out to potty, I HAVE to get out of bed and take him. Having something to take care of is a big help when you feel like you might have nothing to live for. If you have a pet, that’s awesome, but don’t feel like you have to own a pet to help your anxiety. There are lots of animal shelters who need volunteers, or services like dog walking for you to get your fix!

Breathing: Okay, this is the big one for me, and it should be for everyone honestly. Breathing exercises are some of the easiest and most effective ways of calming and centering yourself in any situation, after all, you always have your lungs with you, and unlike exercise, it’s not hard to do! The key is to find a breathing pattern that works for you. My personal pattern that I like the best is breathe in for a count of 6, hold for a count of 1, and breathe out for a count of 8. You can find all kinds of breathing patterns on line, but here’s a good link to get you started. It comes from Spire, which is a stone that is proven to decrease stress. You can read about it in the review I did of the stone here.

When ever I am in the middle of a situation that may make my anxiety act up, I begin my breathing pattern, and a lot of times, that’s all it takes for me to be able to calm down and go about my day. Not always though, and especially when you first start using breathing. Sometimes it just helps me maintain a non-crazy person appearance until I get to a place where dealing with a full-blown anxiety attack is something I can handle. For example, when I fly and have a panic attack, I use breathing to get me through until we land and I can find a bathroom to implode in. In short, keep breathing, it’s good for you!

The 5-Second Rule: This is my newest thing that I have started doing and it’s really helping me take on my day in the morning when anxiety and depression make me want to stay in bed and not participate. I’m going to post the link to the video here, but the gist of this technique is to count yourself down and go with your gut. In my case, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I open my eyes, and count 5-4-3-2-1, and shoot myself out of bed before I have time to think about it. It works on other places too. When I’m nervous about going into a building or a meeting, or when I’m afraid to speak up about something, I count in my head 5-4-3-2-1, and then I just do it! Without giving my brain time to talk me out of it. Seriously, watch the video, it’s good for you! (Then google Mel Robbins and get sucked down a motivational rabbit hole and fall in love with her as much as I have!)

And that’s all of them for now; I hope that you’ve found one of these ideas worth trying at least! Tell me what you use to cope in the comments and let me know what you want me to write about next! I’m going to try to be better about writing more (I know, I say that a lot!) but I want to know what you would like to read! Until next time!

Kyra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Admitting Defeat

Admitting Defeat

What does it mean to lose? The dictionary defines “Defeat” as many things, but I think most often when we hear the word “Defeat” we think of this definition from Dictionary.com “The act or event of being bested; losing.” Defeat isn’t a fun thing to go through; it’s not easy, and it doesn’t feel good, but sometimes admitting defeat is the best thing you can do for yourself.

But wait Kyra! How can losing be a good thing? Aren’t you all about being successful no matter what?? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is a little different, and that’s what I want to explain to you, (and to myself,) today.

See, it all depends on your definition of success. On my anxiety journey, success has always meant managing my anxiety without help from medication. I’ve often sang the praises of non-medical coping mechanisms, and simple therapy techniques, in response to questions about why I’m not on meds.  Recently, however, those same strategies that have been working for me for years, have started failing me, and it has made me reconsider my current definition of success in terms of anxiety.

For the last 8-10 months, my anxiety and depression have been steadily increasing, silently and slowly, so that I haven’t really noticed. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being relaxed by the pool with a drink in my hand, and 10 being watching a toddler slip over the edge of the Grand Canyon, I used to float at around a 4; what I would describe as the average person’s fear of public speaking. 4 was a good level for me, my anxiety was manageable, and when something happened that would elevate my anxiety, I had a decent amount of wiggle room between 4 and full-blown panic attack. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s much easier to bring anxiety down from a level 8, than it is to stop a panic attack (Level 10) once it’s started.)

However in the last few months, I’ve noticed that I currently float at around a 7… Not a lot of wiggle room from that to a 10. What this means is that things that I normally would be able to handle with only a 2-3 level increase, send me straight over 10, and into Panic Mode. We are just talking SIMPLE things, like making a phone call, or changing an established plan, this doesn’t even take into account big things, like traveling or having an argument with my husband.

I finally hit a breaking point in February when I traveled to visit a friend several hours away. Traveling hasn’t been an issue for me lately. It used to be a big problem, before I found counseling and coping mechanisms, but lately, traveling is something I actually kind of enjoy,(as long as the place I’m staying has functioning plumbing, and I don’t have to sleep in a tent!) But for some reason this trip opened up a whole new struggle, and the short story is, my anxiety kept me awake for close to 2 days. It came on quickly, and since I was already floating at an 8 from driving all day, there was no space for me to work it back down before the panic attack took hold. And MAN DID IT TAKE HOLD! I was in sheer distress mode for the whole night, and most of the next day, and none of my current coping mechanisms worked long term.

Since that event, I have lived between an 8 and a 10 most days, with the simplest things setting me off. Changing my dinner plans has me crying, and forgetting to respond to an email has me curling up in bed and waiting for the panic to subside. It keeps me from doing almost anything productive, and focusing on anything for very long pushes me to the point of sheer exhaustion. I sleep about 12-13 hours on average right now, and I’m still completely wrung out by 5pm. It’s no way to live my life, especially for someone like me who usually thrives on a busy schedule and productivity.

When I experienced another 2 days of crippling anxiety and fear on my trip to Orlando, FL, I decided that something had to change. I simply can’t keep living like this, and feeling this miserable all the time. So when my yearly check-up with my Primary Care Physician rolled around, I talked to her about what type of medication we could try. I wanted something gentle, because my last experience with medication for anxiety ended really poorly, but also something that was more useful than an herbal remedy. She had lots of options for me, and we finally came to rest on a very low dose of Buspirone every day to start, and Hydroxyzine tablets as needed to help with panic attacks.

Now, I’m not going to lie, the first few weeks have been kind of rough for me, in several ways. First, becoming adjusted to the meds has been a challenge. Through taking these meds we also discovered that I have severe allergies, and fluid buildup behind my eardrums, which made me dizzy. So I’m also taking two types of allergy medication now along with the anxiety medication.

I’ve been really cautious about taking the medication, which logically I know is not the best way to approach it, but so far I feel like it is truly beginning to work. We started with half doses morning and night and once I am comfortable there we will increase to see if that helps even more. Currently, the only differences that I notice are that I’m a little more patient, and I feel like the edge has been taken off slightly. I’ll be interested to see what happens as we increase the dosage in the next few weeks.

So, it’s time for the moral of the story, (I’m a writer, forgive me!) and that is this; Sometimes the best thing for you is the thing you fight the hardest against. I was too proud for too long to even give medication a try, and in doing so, I was unconsciously adding to the stigma that I so greatly disagree with. So I’m saying it loud and proud now. I take medication to manage my anxiety and depression, and it makes me a better, more productive person. And there is nothing wrong with that.

If you have anxiety or depression, I encourage you to examine your definition of defeat, and see if admitting defeat might just help you too!Canva - Pills, Medication, Tablets, Bottle, Drugs, Drugstore

Tips and Tricks: How to Choose the RIGHT Counselor

Tips and Tricks: How to Choose the RIGHT Counselor

Hey all, how are we doing? I know, we haven’t seen much of each other lately, which is something I am really going to try to change this year, it’s one of my new goals for the year. Now, I know most of you have set goals for the new year too, and (hopefully) one of them might be to take care of your mental health! If so, a really good first step would be finding some kind of mental healthcare professional to help you get started on your journey, and guide you as you go! If this is something you are interested in, I applaud you! It’s not easy to ask for help, and I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself so well! I’ve searched for a new counselor several times now, and each time I have learned a few things to make the next time a little easier. Hopefully these few tips and tricks can have you headed to the PERFECT Mental Health professional right away!

Tip 1: Types of Therapy

There are many, many, different types of Therapies, Philosophies, and Practices out there in the world, and it can be really hard to know what kind would best help you. The best advice I can give you in this area is to do a little research. There are some common ones out there, and I will explain my favorites, but make sure to do a little google searching before you even start looking for a counselor to see what type of treatments you might be interested in knowing a little more about.

There are a few therapies that I have had experience with that I absolutely love. I’ll share a little bit about them to give you an idea. Remember that I deal with Generalized Anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, as well as depression, so these techniques are tailored toward that end of the mental health spectrum, and you should always make sure to talk to a licensed healthcare professional before beginning any kind of mental health program.

I personally LOVE Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based (MBCT). I have also heard really amazing things about EMDR for trama-based disorders, but I have not personally experienced it.

Psychologytoday.com has definitions for these four approaches and I will list them here, as they do a much better job explaining them than I could, since I’m not a licensed mental health professional.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “…a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Unlike traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, which probes childhood wounds to get at the root causes of conflict, CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.” -Click Here for the full article

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: “…provides clients with new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four key areas. First, mindfulness focuses on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in the current moment. Second, distress tolerance is geared toward increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it. Third, emotion regulation covers strategies to manage and change intense emotions that are causing problems in a person’s life. Fourth, interpersonal effectiveness consists of techniques that allow a person to communicate with others in a way that is assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships.” -Click Here for the full article

Mindfulness Based (MBCT): “…a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises. Using these tools, MBCT therapists teach clients how to break away from negative thought patterns that can cause a downward spiral into a depressed state so they will be able to fight off depression before it takes hold.” -Click Here for the full article

EMDR: “…a unique, nontraditional form of psychotherapy designed to diminish negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic events. Unlike most forms of talk therapy, EMDR focuses less on the traumatic event itself and more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that result from the event. Treatment includes a hand motion technique used by the therapist to guide the client’s eye movements from side to side, similar to watching a pendulum swing. EMDR is a controversial intervention, because it is unclear exactly how it works, with some psychologists claiming it does not work. Some studies have shown, however, that EMDR is effective for treating certain mental-health conditions.” -Click Here for the full article 

What I personally like about the first three treatment approaches, is that they all focus not on venting about my life, but on finding practical and permanent solutions to my anxiety. There is work involved, and I come away each time feeling like I learned something or have another skill to practice or try. There are a LOT of therapies out there though, so poke around and see what you might be interested in trying!

Tip 2: Psychologytoday.com

One of the best resources for mental health information on the internet right now is Psychologytoday.com. Not only can you find information about each treatment approach but you can read articles, research mental disorders, and, my favorite thing, look for a new therapist or counselor! They even have a section where you can take self-tests to find out all sorts of things about yourself. It’s a one-stop mental health shop, and most of it is free! But, I’m not here to tell you about a website, I’m here to help you find a counselor, so here’s how I use this website to my advantage.

On the home page, you can enter your city and state and it will bring up a list of all the mental health providers in your area. I searched Nashville TN just to show you.Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.02.47 PM You can see on the side of the page, you can add filters. For example you can have the site show you only therapist who accept your insurance, and then you can select which issues you want them to be able to treat. I selected BlueCross and BlueShield, and the issues I selected were Anxiety and Depression.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.06.00 PMNext you can refine the search to include only male or female professionals, as well as a few other filters: I chose “Show only Women” and “Christian” as an example. As you can see, your choices are listed at the top left of your screen.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.09.49 PM Next is the important part; If you have found a few treatment approaches that you would like to know more about, you can select them from the list on the left now. I selected CBT and DBT because those are my two favorites right now. This narrowed my choices down to 2 Therapists. I could always take off some of the filters that weren’t as important to me if I wanted more options. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.11.52 PM Now that I have a few choices, I will move on to the next phase of my process.

Tip 3: How to choose a few professionals to interview (You heard that right, INTERVIEW!)

The next step of my process is to narrow it down to 2-3 counsellors to interview. In the example above, I would probably remove a few filters to give me a wider range of people to choose from, but the process remains the same.

First, I read their info section on their page. You can get there simply by clicking on their name. I’m looking for them to tell me what we will work on together. I don’t need to know their whole backstory right now, and I certainly don’t need just a list of their credentials, (Which is listed below their info section.) I’m looking for someone who is interested in the needs of their clients, and who clearly states what they will do to help clients. This counselor is a great example; She focuses on the words “You” and “We” instead of making it all about her. This can reveal a lot about what a counsellor will be like. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.18.11 PMWhile I’m here I also check qualifications, and make sure that the issues I need help with are in the “Specialties” area. (In green in the photos above.) In this case, anxiety is, while depression in an issue that she covers. I would probably consider this therapist for an interview.

As you are selecting 2-3 people to interview, I can’t stress enough, USE YOUR GUT. If you really like one person’s page, but they don’t have one or two things you wanted, contact them anyway, it could be a great fit. I would also recommend sending these pages to a close friend or family member who knows you well to get their opinions on who you should interview with.

When you are ready to set up some consultations, use the orange “Email Me” button to make contact and set up an appointment for a consultation. Make sure you let them know that it is only a consultation, and that you will have some questions for them.

Tip 4: Successful Consultations

Before you head to your consultation appointments with your “Finalists,” it can really help to prepare a few quick things so that you feel in control and in charge of the appointment. First, I always prepare a list of questions that i want each of the therapists to answer. I usually have answers that I will and will not accept in my head, so they either get a pass or a fail on each question. These questions can be as simple as “How long have you been in practice?” or as complex as this one from my personal questions “I believe that my parents are a huge support system for me, and while many counsellors feel I should distance myself from them, I refuse to do so as I believe it would be detrimental to my health. Is that something that you would be willing to respect or would you encourage me to reconsider?” Get creative, and ask about things that really matter to you. One thing I always ask at the end is if the counsellor feels like they are a good fit for me, because it does matter to me if they an see themselves being able to handle all that I will be needing.

Before going to my consultations, I also prepare a quick little back story/ mental health history, print it out, and bring it with me for them to have. I find that this allows us to make the most of our short consultation, while allowing me to share what they need to know about me. It also keeps me from rambling, as I’m known to do. Only include what you feel comfortable, but a timeline of some kind is often useful.

If you know that this isn’t going to be the person for you, or you start to feel uncomfortable at any time during the consult, feel free to get up, thank them for their time, and leave. There’s no sense in staying in a situation you don’t want to be in for longer than you need to, especially if you don’t sense a client-therapist relationship is possible.

Finally, if you are at all nervous, it is totally acceptable to bring along a close friend or relative with you the first time. Most counselors will be just fine with that, and if they aren’t, you can probably write them off as someone you don’t need to be seeing.

Tip 5: Making the Selection

After you have done all the interviews, and they have answered all your questions, it’s time to make your choice. This can be a slightly tough decision, especially if two therapists seem equally right for you. At this time, I would encourage you again to go with your gut. You will find that you usually connect better with one person than another, so just try that person first. Ask for a month trial period, just to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and to make sure that they remain a good fit as you get to know them.

Congratulations! You’ve got a shiny new Counselor who can help you through just about anything.

Tip 6: Mistakes I have made

As I said in the beginning, I have done this search several times now, and each time I have learned things that I could do better next time. Here are some of the big mistakes that I’ve made on my counseling journey:

1- Not asking questions: It’s as important for you to ask questions as it is for them in the consultation. If you don’t have questions to ask, how will you know if they are a good fit?

2- Not being selective: I have ended up in some pretty weird sessions before because i just took a friends word for it and booked a full session with someone that was not even close to a good fit for me. It’s not worth it guys, be choosy!

3- Staying way too long: I have two times that I’ve done this. The first was when I first got a counselor at 15, and she made me very uncomfortable right away, but I didn’t know how to get out of the situation (I was 15 after all) and so I stayed for the whole session anyway. I learned that day that the minute I feel uncomfortable, it’s time to WALK OUT. Luckily, nothing bad happened, and I was fine, but always listen to your Gut.

The second time I stayed way to long was when I found a counsellor I thought was going to be a good fit, but after a few weeks it was clear that she wasn’t going to be able to handle all of my issues. I felt bad canceling on her though and didn’t want her to be upset, so I kept going to her for 5 MONTHS! It wasn’t fair to either of us, and when I finally got up the nerve to call things off, I think we were both relieved.

4-Not being straightforward and honest. Counsellors are here to help, but they can’t help you if you don’t tell them the truth of what’s going on. I know how hard it can be to open up to someone who you don’t know well, but I promise that once you do, you will feel so much better, and they are TRAINED to HELP YOU. That’s their job, and almost all of them are very good at it. Be brave my loves and be honest!

 

I hope this helps you to find an amazing counselor to help you through some of life’s tricky spots. If you want to know more about anything in this blog, from what questions I ask, to sending me counselors you are considering and getting my opinion, please don’t hesitate to ask. I am more than glad to help!

I wish you the best on your mental health journey and remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Love,

Kyra

Courage is not the Absence of Fear…

We all have our challenges, and certainly, mine are not as difficult to fight as some that many of you are battling. But I also believe that facing our challenges is how we as humans grow. Something Drew brought up to me the other day, as I worried about this newest challenge I’m facing is a quote from one of my favorite movies. In The Princess Diaries, Princess Mia’s father writes her a letter before he passes away and part of the letter reads “Courage is not the Absence of Fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. The Brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all” I’ve been repeating this mantra quite frequently lately as I faced one of my biggest fears this week.

For me, the scariest kind of challenge is not heights, speed, or even spiders, (Although I’m not particularly fond of spiders…) no, one of my biggest fears is spending all day in a classroom. I am currently taking a 3 week real estate course, and on the first day, I had an awesomely impressive Panic Attack. I wrote the following while in the grips of the attack, and wanted to share with the world, the inner workings of a Panic Attack mind. Because I want to preserve the rawness of the moment, I haven’t edited, meaning it may jump around, or not be written in perfect grammar. Sorry about that in advance, but I think it helps to get across how a Panic Attack mind works in the moment. Hopefully you find it helpful, either as a fellow anxiety warrior, or as someone who loves one.

Today is the first day of my real estate course, and my preparations began last week. I began working on my strategies for being successful in the class, such as getting enough sleep, going to the gym, sitting in the back of the room, and having good, realistic success goals. Classrooms are scary for me for many different reasons. First, a lot of my anxiety comes from feeling trapped. While I know classrooms have doors, and I’m not physically trapped, there is an expectation that you stay in class, in order to get the attendance points. I can’t leave without losing these points, which are what I need to pass.

There’s also the social aspect of it. I don’t want people to think I’m flaky, or be concerned about me being sick. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. So getting up to go to the bathroom, (to breathe and deal with my anxiety) 16 times is a little attention drawing, and is therefore out as an option. 

Another issue is that I am sitting still. Classrooms don’t really offer the option to move about, walk around, sit on the floor, etc. My anxiety is kept at bay often by the act of moving around, at home I’m always fiddling with something, doing chores, walking the dog, etc. Many people say they can’t believe how busy I am, but what they don’t understand is that busyness is what keeps me sane, often. So in a classroom, I’m not allowed to move around, (understandably, because it would distract other people,) but that makes my anxiety ten times worse. 

Finally, this class is especially rough because it is 8 hours long. I’m there from 8:30am to 5:00pm. Which makes for a very long time to fight the monster that is my anxiety.  As I’ve said before, I’m always fighting off my anxiety, but sometimes it gets the best of me. So the longer I fight a heightened anxiety level, the harder it is to starve off a panic attack. Classes this long tend to push the limits of my “magic” abilities when it comes to keeping my anxiety in check.

With all that said, I think my first day was rather successful. Part of living with anxiety is setting realistic goals and being kind to yourself. My goal for today was to go to the class, and stay for the whole time. I told myself it was fine if I had a panic attack, but I hoped I wouldn’t. 

I did just fine until about 2pm, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly the room spun around me, which shot involuntary panic up my spine. Anxiety attacked full force in that split second of panic, and suddenly I was dealing with a cold sweat, dizziness, nausea, a racing heart, and a clenched stomach. In that moment, I was taken from the defensive line, straight to clean-up duty. I began with a trip to the bathroom. I used the facilities, and then spent a few moments doing jumping jacks, to get some energy out, pacing, to move my body and relieve the adrenaline factor, and put some wet, cold paper towels on my neck and forehead to cool off. I also took my jacket off to get cold, because that usually helps. 

Once I had a bit of the edge off, I returned to my seat and began to use some of my other coping mechanisms. First, I pulled out my phone and texted my friend, Rachel*, who is in this anxiety warrior battle with me. I asked if she had time to text with me and help me get through the rest of the class. She, being the wonderful human being she is, responded with coping reminders, and pictures of puppies. 

Next I switched from actively learning to listening, and writing out how I was feeling, hence this dialog. I followed along in the book, but did not take notes on what the instructor was saying. While I know this is not an ideal learning style, after years of trial and error, I have learned that it is much better to figure out how to remain in class and just listen than it is to leave class and let anxiety keep me from my education. I can study hard at home tonight and ask questions tomorrow in class when I have recovered. As long as I sit in class, all day, no matter what notes I take, I count it as a successful day.

While doing these things I kept my breathing steady and deep. I also tried to focus on all things I know to be true, and wrote these things down. “My anxiety cannot kill me, this is just a phase in my day, I just have to sit here and do nothing else, I can leave it I choose to, my anxiety is not me, there is no immediate danger,” writing these things out, over and over, helps convince my brain that they are true. 

At this point, class ended and I was able to go home. But I would like to talk a little bit about some reflections I did after I got home that day. I think reflecting on what caused the attack and what i could have done to help myself be even more successful is very useful in this life-long battle.

First, I made a seating mistake. Normally, the best place for me in a room like this is to sit in the back. That way I don’t have people sitting behind me and I don’t worry about not being able to see those people. I also try to sit on edges so that I don’t feel as trapped. I violated both of these rules on Monday, by sitting near the front of the classroom and on an inside seat. I felt weird being the first person in the room and sitting in the back row. In other words, I let the judgements of others limit my success. Don’t do that people. Do what you need to do to be successful, and don’t let the judgements of other stop you.

Second, I drank coffee. I know better, but the room was so cold, and the warm coffee looked so good, so I had a cup. Caffeine and anxiety do not go well together. At all. If you have anxiety, I HIGHLY recommend you cut off all caffeine intake as soon as you can. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you feel on a daily basis. I switched to de-caffeinated tea and water about 2 years ago, and once the caffeine headaches went away after about 2 weeks, I have never looked back.

It was about an hour after I drank the coffee that the full-blown attack hit, so I think that just pushed it over the edge.

In short, I survived my first day of school and the next few days, I made sure to only drink echinacea tea, I took an calming herbal supplement in the mornings, and I brought my stress-ball to class. But the best part of this story, and the part I want you to remember, is that I STAYED IN CLASS, and I SURVIVED! You can to. When you face a situation where you think your anxiety is going to get the best of you, FIGHT BACK. My Mom, in her incredible wisdom, always told me “You can do anything anyone else can do, you just have to do it differently.” And being different is what makes us all so special. Remember that “Courage is not the absence of fear.” I challenge you to be courageous and face your fears. You can do it.

Let me know in the comments what battles or challenges you are facing or have faced, or if you have any questions about my coping mechanisms. I would love to hear from you.

Kyra

*Rachel’s name has been changed to protect her privacy

Spire: A New-age Anxiety Gadget

Spire: A New-age Anxiety Gadget

I love trying out new things that might help with my anxiety. My motto is, “If you don’t try it, you will never know.” I’ll try anything once, (within reason! you tell me that swimming cage-free with sharks cured your anxiety, and I’ll tell you I’m so glad it worked for you but that I will definitely PASS on that!) and even if it doesn’t help me, that doesn’t mean it won’t help SOMEONE. So I try to keep an open mind with various coping mechanisms and gadgets. I personally think everyone with anxiety should be open to trying things within their personal boundaries, because who knows what might work for you!?

My previous counselor in Oregon, (Shout-out to the fabulous Nancy Olson, she’s seriously amazing!) knows that I like trying new things, and that I’m usually open to giving anything a try. With that in mind, we send a lot of “Cool Finds” back and forth, whether it’s new research, a new coping mechanism, or a cool story, etc. A few months ago, I had sent her an info link about a new product out on the market called Spire. I had thought it looked pretty cool, but it was a little out of my budget at the time, and I wasn’t sure how it worked or if it even looked legit, so I passed up buying it. She ended up purchasing one for her office, and when I visited in June, she asked if I wouldn’t mind trying it out and giving her some feedback on how it works. I was totally game, and told I her I would try it for a few weeks and let her know when I got back to Oregon in August.IMG_9529

What is Spire?

So what is Spire? It’s a small, oval shaped breath and activity tracker, that monitors your breathing and heart rate, and lets you know when your body is experiencing a whole host of conditions, such as tension, calm, focus, and activity. It’s not just for people with anxiety, but also for those who want to optimize their time, or for those who experience a lot of stress every day. It works by helping the wearer to be more mindful, and gives feedback at the end of the day.

 

What does it do?

According to the website, Spire is designed to “help keep you in sync with your mind and body by measuring your breath, all day, and alerting you to sudden changes.” You wear it either on your center bra strap, or hooked to the top of your underpants, in a place where it can “feel” your breathing. I tried it first on my bra, but it kept telling me to reposition, so I tried the underwear and it worked flawlessly after that. It needs a slightly different spot for each person, since no body is the same, so play around with it until you find the place where you get the most consistent readings.

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As you breathe, the Spire will monitor your breath patterns, and identify them as Calm, Tense, or Focused. When it identifies a change in the pattern of your breathing, it will note it, vibrate the signal that corresponds to that pattern, and send a notification to your phone via the free app. Especially if you are tense, knowing right away can allow you to take a few moments to change your breath and calm your body down. It also lets you know when you have had a calm or focused streak, so you can hone in on what you were doing to achieve that state-of-mind.

As a side-note function, Spire also tracks your activity level, and reminds you to get up and move. I found this function slightly irritating, but I also couldn’t figure out how to program it correctly, so it was telling me to move every 10 minutes. I’m sure there is a feature to change this, but as it was a trial, I didn’t want to mess with it TOO much.

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What did I think? The Good News

I wore the Spire for a solid 2 weeks, everyday, from morning until around 8pm. For the most part, it was very comfortable, I hardly knew it was there. I was a little concerned because it has the texture of a stone, and I thought it might be irritating to have a stone against my skin all day, but surprisingly, I barely felt it. The only time I didn’t like wearing it was when I was laying on my stomach, watching a movie, because it pressed into my hip bone, so I would just remove it, and let it sit beside me, or put it back on my bra for that time.

As far as managing my breathing, I think it’s a pretty cool little device, but it wasn’t super helpful for me personally. I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks for 10 years now, and one of  the first things you learn in counseling is how to monitor your feelings and breathing. I’ve always used breathing to help me cope with my anxiety, so it wasn’t that Spire didn’t help, it’s just that it was telling me information I already knew. However, I did REALLY like the breathing game that the free app uses to help you calm your breathing. You breathe with your Spire on, and it corresponds in real time to a game on your phone designed to help you slow and control your breathing. It was super helpful a few times when I really needed a visual aid to help me focus my breathing.

The tension setting is nifty as well. It feels when you start to tense and sends a message to your phone. This would be a very useful tool for someone who is new to the anxiety game and doesn’t notice when they start to escalate. The device lets you know you’re feeling tense by vibrating two long buzzes, and then the message prompts you to open the app and play the breathing game. I can see this being a great tool to help you learn to recognize panic attacks before they hit full force and to take some preemptive measures.

A side note, charging your Spire is SUPER easy! It comes with a wireless charger, so you just take it off and set it on the charger. The charger even has a port to plug your cell phone charger to it, to keep your charging space clutter free!

 

The Not-So-Good News

There were only two problems I saw with this device in the short time that I wore it. The first one I have already mentioned, and that is that the activity tracker kept prompting me to move around WAY more than it needed to. It was sometimes distracting when I was trying to focus on something at my desk. However, like I said before, I’m sure this can be changed in settings if you purchase your own.

The second issue I had was that while it’s super useful to know when you are tense, sometimes your breathing is tense when your body isn’t. For example, Spire can’t tell the difference between the beginning of a panic attack and the suspense of Frodo and Golem struggling at the top of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. I found that even when I was reading a novel and it was a suspenseful part, Spire would tell me I was feeling tense. I’m like “I KNOW SPIRE, KING HENRY IS GOING TO FREAK OUT ON ANNE BOLYEN, IT’S KIND OF AN INTENSE THING!” But it’s better safe than sorry, and you can always just ignore the notifications if you feel like it’s a false alarm.

The End Review:

All in all, I would definitely recommend this device to anyone who is looking for help becoming more mindful and noticing when they are feeling tense. I will probably not be purchasing one, simply because I don’t think I would put enough effort in to really get anything that I don’t already do on a daily basis out of it. But Spire is also great for people without anxiety, because it can help you understand what you need to do to keep yourself focused in on your tasks, and it’s activity reminder could be great in the corporate setting. It’s just a very useful tool for anyone who wants a little extra help with mindfulness, and how much you get out of it depends on how much effort you put in to use it. If you end up trying it, let me know in the comments or in an email what you think of it! I would love to hear if it worked for you, and let me know if there are any products you would like me to try!

Many thanks to Nancy for always suggesting new and exciting things for me to try, and for being such an amazing Counselor!

You can read all about Spire on their website here

You can read User Testimonials here

You can get more information about Nancy Olson here

Cheers!

Kyra

 

 

Don’t ask me how I am…

Don’t ask me how I am…

*A note about this piece: This is a rant. It is not a call for help or anything else terrifying. It’s simply a free write that I found very helpful at the time to write, and it is in no way meant to be directed at anyone in particular. It’s more of a “From the inner workings of my mind” piece. It was helpful to write, and I hope it is helpful to read, if only for the comfort that someone else is going through this too.*

Don’t ask me how I am…

Don’t ask me how I am,

Because you don’t want to know.

You want to hear “I’m great,” or “I’m doing well” or “It’s hard, but I’m adjusting,” or “I’m fine.”

But I’m not great, I’m not doing well, I’m not adjusting, and I’m not fine.

I’m barely surviving, living in this hell hole of heat, and allergies, and my own heartbreak.

I’m clinging to everything around me because if I let one part go, it might all fall to ruin.

I look great on the outside, my home looks so put together, and I’m the “Perfect Wife” because to be anything less than great, or organized or perfect feels like failing. It make you pity me, and I don’t WANT your pity.

I don’t text back, or call, or see you when I visit because it hurts too much to let that feeling in. That feeling where I matter to someone and they matter to me. IT HURTS!

Everytime my phone beeps or rings, it’s a reminder that I’m far far away, that I can’t get back to you now, and you can’t get to me, and I’m ALONE.

Homesickness is a parasite that holds to my heart against all of my attempts to remove it. It’s a crippling, destructive and painful reminder that althought this place is beautiful, and these people are kind, this isn’t my place and they aren’t my people.

It feels like they will NEVER be my people.

I go out to try to distract my heart from the leeching and sucking of the homesickness that winds its way through every fiber of my being, but the mall is like MY mall, and the stores are like MY stores, and every time I try something on I’m reminded that I have no one to show it to. No one here wants to tell me if this pink sweater makes me look like piglet.

You tell me “Just make some friends, then you’ll be happier!”

Right, because when I’m looking for a friend I look for the quietest, most sullen and depressed looking creature in the room and go “There! That’s the one to be friends with!” Yea… No.

No one needs that. No one wants to bring this into their lives right now.

So don’t ask me how I’m doing, because you REALLY don’t want to know. Don’t ask me how I’m doing because “Great” and “fine” and “I’m adjusting” are just concealer to hide what’s actually happening underneath..

I’m Drowning.

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All My Life

Hi there, and welcome to my blog! If you don’t already know me, my name is Kyra, and I’ll explain the blog in a moment, but first, a little about me! I’m 24, and have been married to the love of my life, Drew, for almost 2 years. I’m a pet mom to my cute Cocker Spaniel, Zipper, our 2 kitties, Felix and Binx, and my Paint Horse, Sully. I have an English Degree from Oregon State University, I’m a member of the Oregon State University Ballroom Dance Company, and I lead a local dog 4-H group. I also nanny part time, and substitute teach at a local childcare center. For fun, I write, read lots of historical fiction and classic books, and bake. Yes, I know, a pretty full schedule. People tell me all the time that they can’t believe how busy I am, but I wasn’t always able to do everything I do. There was a time, not very long ago at all, that I couldn’t even stay the night away from my parent’s home. The thought of going on a day trip with friends made my stomach hurt, and leaving my house took a pep talk and medication. Why? Because I am living with High-Functioning General Anxiety, and Depression.

For years, I have been gathering information about Anxiety and mental health as a whole. I have been blessed with anxiety since I was 6 years old, but we didn’t get an actual diagnosis until I was 15. After that, I began my search for a “Cure.” ( which I will explain in just a bit.) When I turned 18, it was time to leave for college, and that is when my focus changed from finding a “cure,” to just finding ways to survive. Looking for coping mechanisms was much more successful than looking for cures, by the way, and as I started to see a change, I began to dream of someday feeling brave enough to write this blog.

One of the main purposes of this blog is to share experiences with anxiety, (both my own, and those of others,) with the world, so that other people might be helped. I am Christian, and I believe that God gave me this disorder so that I can help others to live fuller, more meaningful lives. (This is also why I usually replace the words “Suffer from Anxiety” with “Blessed with Anxiety.”) I hope this blog becomes just one of many tools that I can use to help people living with mental illness.

In this blog, you won’t find a “cure” for anxiety or depression, and you won’t find much complaining or “woe is me” talk. I don’t believe that my anxiety can be cured, I think it is something I will always deal with, and that’s okay with me. The good news is, there are millions of coping mechanisms and practical solutions out there, as well as many people going through the same things, and that is exactly what I plan to share here. Not all of these solutions will work for me, or for you, and that is perfectly fine. One thing I have learned so far about mental illness is that each person is so unique, meaning the things that help them are unique too! I hope that some of my suggestions are helpful, even if not all of them work.

But this blog isn’t just for those who have mental illnesses, it’s also for everyone else! I will be including material that resonates with me about what I want people around me to understand, as well as hints and tips about how you may be able to help someone with a mental illness. I may even include a few suggestions from my trusty husband, who puts up with so much and who loves me no matter what irrational fear I have that day.

My final hope for this blog is that it becomes a conversation that will help take down the stigma surrounding mental illness, so that people who need help might be more comfortable asking for it. Feel free to use the hashtags that I use, in your social media activity: #losethestigma #youarenotalone #letstalkaboutmentalhealth

I hope you find this blog uplifting, funny, loving, and above all, a place to feel safe and welcomed, no matter what you’ve been blessed with. I love people, I’m (according to my husband) brutally honest, and I want to be here for you, wherever you are in this crazy life. I believe in a world where mental illness is just another disease that we all work together to combat and defeat.

Please like, share and comment away, so that your friends and family might be able to ind some helpful solutions as well.

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There’s a Hole in my Bucket!

There’s a Hole in my Bucket!

Hi there! First, I want to apologize for not writing for so long. It’s been a very crazy couple of weeks, but the good news is, soon there should be a very set schedule to my days, and I will be able to find more time to write.

Today, I want to talk about two things that actually go hand in hand. I want to talk about why having anxiety and depression is so exhausting, and what the difference is between having a panic or anxiety disorder, and having a moment of panic or anxiety. These seem to be two of the hardest things for people who don’t have these disorders to understand, and they actually are pretty interrelated. So let’s dive in, shall we?

The moment that spurred this topic happened a few weeks ago, during my Real Estate Class. When I’m in a class, I always tell the instructor about my panic disorder, and explain which things I have to do differently to be successful, and why. As I was explaining this, someone said “Oh I know how that is, I was panicking today because I thought traffic was going to make me late for class!”

SIDE NOTE: First of all, a big part of becoming okay with my disorder has been learning to forgive people for not understanding it. It’s not their fault that they haven’t necessarily experienced what I go through, and I can’t expect them to fully understand something they don’t live with. I wouldn’t expect people to fully understand all the inner workings and tricks of driving my car if they’ve never driven my car before right? Same concept. So what I usually do is just nod and smile with them, because calling them out for not understanding something in front of everyone isn’t a kind thing to do. It could make them feel embarrassed, which would only feed the stigma of “Don’t talk about mental health” (because someone will jump down your throat if you do.) If the moment presents itself later to have a conversation with that person one on one, I will let them know a little more about my disorder and maybe ask them if they experience anything similar. It could even be that they actually DO have a panic disorder, and just didn’t want to say so in front of everyone. You don’t know what fears and insecurities drive people until you get to know them, so I always try to air on the side of being kind and understanding.

This comment got me thinking, and I realized that something many people don’t understand (because they often can’t see it) is that these disorders are more than just moments of panic. So I decided then and there to write this blog.

The thing that makes anxiety and depression so exhausting is that you never quit fighting it.( I assume this is true for a lot of the other mental health disorders, but I can’t know for sure… leave me a comment and let me know if you deal with this too.) From the moment I wake up in the morning, until I finally lose consciousness at night, every thought I have, every decision I make, every thing I decided to do or not do, every phone call, text, email, every food or drink I consume, is about anxiety in some way. When I wake up, the first thing that happens is my depression suggests that I just stay in bed because nothing I will do today will matter in the long run. (And people ask why I hate mornings. haha) Usually this means that I lay in bed, and watch inspirational videos on a channel I like on youtube, I’ll put it here, if you’re interested, until I get motivated enough to get up. Once I’m up, I head out to the kitchen, for my morning tea. About two years ago I gave up coffee. Caffeine is really bad for anxiety, and once I quit drinking it, I felt more in control than I had in a long time. So I stick with herbal tea, even on the mornings when I only got 4 hours of sleep, because the caffeine just isn’t worth the panic attack later in the day. Next I usually have oatmeal or fruit for breakfast, because those are two proven foods that keep me full but don’t make me feel sick in the morning. Hunger and anxiety are an interesting pair, I can’t be too full, because the full feeling makes me feel a little sick and I’ll have an attack, but I can’t be too hungry either, or I’ll start feeling faint which will lead to an attack. Next I take my shower and get ready for the day. I listen to really upbeat music on Pandora in the morning and try to memorize all the songs, because it keeps me from thinking too hard about my day and keeps my depression from finding a way to convince me to just get back in bed because the day will be too hard. As I get ready, I usually try on three to four different outfits and decide on the one that BEST fits my day, based on who I will see, what activity I’m doing, if the people I see will think less or more of me depending on the way I dress, and I spend a lot of time obsessing over the fact that “I shouldn’t care what people think of me, and I should just be happy with myself,” but all the while battling the anxiety building inside me that I’m not good enough, or pretty enough, or stylish enough. This type of thinking goes on throughout my day, and underneath all of these decisions, and texts, and distractions, and good, non-anxiety producing choices, the anxiety is still there.

Anxiety never goes away. It’s always there, dictating what I should or should not do, showing me all the possible ways that something can go wrong, making me hypersensitive to the world around me. I see the cracks in the sidewalk from my window and wonder if an earthquake hit, would they get bigger. I see the rain forming puddles outside and hope that if it floods our apartment won’t be drowned. I see the dog do something weird and spend the next 30 minutes watching him to make sure he’s not sick. It’s constant. Which brings me to; “What is the difference between this, and a moment of Panic?”

I want you to imagine something for me. Imagine you’re at the Grand Canyon with your family. You look up and you see a child, (your child, or someone elses, either way) walking along the edge of a cliff, giggling, and not knowing the danger. Then, their foot slips. There’s no way to get to them in time if they fall, but your body spurs you into action anyway, and you fly over to them and barely snatch them away from the fall, hold them close, and know they are safe. Now, remember the sheer dread you felt when you saw their foot slip? That is the feeling I have underneath every other emotion I feel, and it is there All. The. Time. There is no moment of relief following a moment of panic. It’s like the child in this scenario is forever frozen mid-fall and you are forever frozen two inches away from grabbing them. It’s always there, and most of the time, it’s completely invisible, because I have learned through the years how to hide it, and how to deal with it. I have learned how to live my life, without letting the panic, and fear, and dread take over. And the only time you see it, is when it breaks through and I have a panic attack.

That’s the difference between “I panicked because I thought I was going to be late” and “I have a panic disorder.” The “Disorder” part means that my panic button is stuck down, and no amount of prying can get it unstuck.

So you can see, then, why people who suffer from these disorders are tired all the time.  I fight all day long, every day, even though you can’t see it, the battle is raging. It’s a constant battle, and in order to live a fulfilling life, I have to win more battles than I lose. When I lose a battle, we get to have a Panic Attack, which I would like to avoid at all costs.

My therapist and I recently came up with a great analogy for this, and I’ve used it as the title to this blog. Pretend that everyone has a bucket. And each night as we sleep, our bucket gets refilled with water. Mentally healthy people have a good solid, stainless steel bucket. People with mental illness have a great bucket too, but in the bottom of their bucket they have a hole called, in my case, anxiety. Some days the hole is small, and some days it’s big, but there’s always a hole. Now, as we all go through our days, during each exchange we make, each text we send, every meeting we go to, we pour a little water out of our bucket. At the end of the day, we need sleep to replenish the water, because our bucket is now empty. But for those of us with a hole in our bucket, our water level goes down much faster, because we lose some water during the whole day through the hole. Now depending on how big the hole is that day, we could lose all the water in our bucket in the first two hours we are awake. Which means we go the rest of our day, with no water to pour out in other exchanges.

If we think about the water in these buckets as emotional energy, we can see very clearly that those with a hole in their bucket are going to get tired much faster than those without a hole. If we are conscious of the holes in other peoples buckets we can be more understanding of them, and help them to refill their bucket. You can ask them what they might need to recharge, and then help them do it if you can. You can offer to let them skip the meeting and have it tomorrow, or you can say “Hey, why don’t we stay in tonight, and we can go out to the bar next Friday.” You may be surprised at how grateful we are for those little things.

For those of you who have holes in your buckets, it’s OKAY! It’s not your fault that you have a hole in it, and while there are things you can do to make the hole smaller, like therapy, making good food and drink choices, staying away from drugs, etc, it may never completely go away. Find people who are accepting of your limited energy and who help refill your bucket, and don’t worry about people who don’t.

Do you (or someone you know) have a hole in your bucket? What are some of your ways of coping? Do you want to know more about how my anxiety affects my day? Comment below!

Cheers!

Kyra

Watering Can