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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The Dark Side; They don’t have cookies!

So this is what this blog is really about. If I only posted about the good days, or about the things that work for me, and never showed you what actually happens for me, then what good would this blog do?  I want you to know that even though it looks like it, I don’t have it all together, and I do have weaknesses, major ones.

Yesterday and today have been what I just loosely term as “Rough Days.” I’m under a ton of stress lately, with moving, my dance company’s tour, planning bridal showers, bachelorette parties, Spring Recital for Dance, and making sure I get to see everyone I want to see before I move, and I have a hard time admitting that all of that would be difficult for someone without anxiety. I spend a lot of time telling people “I can do everything a ‘Normal’ person can, I just have to do it in a different way,” but I often forget that sometimes a different way means a more difficult way too.

So what does it mean when  say “Rough Days?” For most people, a rough day means that they had something happen that upset them, or that was difficult, and so it was a harder day than a normal day, when things go pretty much the way they want them to. For me, that is a definition of a good day. Many people forget that for me, and for many people like me, anxiety doesn’t just happen on “Rough Days.” Anxiety is a battle I fight every single day, from the moment I wake up until I (hopefully) fall asleep. My “Rough Days” are the day when anxiety wins. They are the days when I lose control of my emotions, and when I lose control of myself. Everyday is exhausting, but “Rough Days” are even more so, because even when my anxiety wins, the battle isn’t over.

When I admit to myself that anxiety has won that day, a whole new struggle begins. The voice in my head that says that I’m not good enough, that I’ve failed, and that I am not worth the effort. It’s the voice that says I’m a bad wife, a bad daughter, and that I don’t deserve to be happy, all because anxiety won today. It’s when I feel hopeless, and when it hits me hard that this is forever. I will fight this battle every day, for the rest of my life, and sometimes I will lose. Sometimes it will be more than I can bear, and it won’t matter what techniques I try, it will win.

Yesterday, I had to say goodbye-for-now to a very close friend, who’s like my brother. And I know that since I am moving to Tennessee, and he is stationed in San Francisco, that we won’t see each other for a pretty long time. After hugging him goodbye, and watching him drive away, I was suddenly hit with immense anxiety, anger, and sadness. With anxiety, big emotions often become even bigger. My anger at having to move far away was escalated, and my sadness about leaving such wonderful friends and family here in Oregon was overwhelming. The tears began, and with them came shaking, ragged breathing, dizziness and all my other usual symptoms. My normal coping mechanisms were powerless against this new wave of anxiety, and it took me for quite the ride. Drew was luckily there to be a presence in the room, but rarely is anyone able to help much when I am this deep in the dark. I cried for what seemed like hours, alternating between curling up on the bed and trying to go through my nightly routine. Finally I was able to calm myself enough to call my mom, who was able to talk me the rest of the way down. (Bless her heart, she’s a genius, and I don’t know how she does it.) This morning, the anxiety is still elevated. I can feel it just behind my ribcage, waiting for me to have a weak moment so it can squeeze it’s way back in. Luckily Zipper, (my emotional support dog) is here, and is keeping very close tabs on me. Today will be hard, but it will get better as it goes, and as I recover from last night.

I’m not here to tell people that it’s all sunshine and rainbows with anxiety, because it’s not. Sometimes it really sucks. Sometimes you think that it’s not worth it. But this is the just the Dark Side of anxiety, and while it is sometimes hard to see the good in it, I will survive, and I will keep fighting. You, readers, are a big part of why I will keep on fighting. I want you to know that I’m a real human, and that this is something you CAN live with. All mental illness is a little bit different, but keep fighting, because life is worth living. This morning God gave me a ray of sunshine through my window to wake up to, and I had a little chocolate with breakfast. Today will be about self care and success, and I will keep going. Thank you for going on this journey with me, I appreciate it more than you know.

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Zipper crawls in my lap as a distraction

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Another way he helps is by asking to be walked or to play