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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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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