Celebrating Success

Celebrating Success

Hi All, I hope you’re enjoying your weekend, and that you’re getting the rest you need and deserve. This morning I want to write to you about Celebrating your Successes, and recognizing success when you see it. This is something I still struggle with and have been trying to be better about this year, and I hope you will join me in being mindful of your small successes!

When I first began my anxiety journey in high school, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. The whole world seemed SO scary that I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything but my fear. I was scared of going to school, I was scared of being home, and I was scared of my friends. I couldn’t understand that there would be a time when I would be able to do anything except cater to exactly what my anxiety wanted me to do.  However, one of the first things I learned to do in counseling was to celebrate when I had done something I previously couldn’t do. It has been a hard road, but here are some things I have learned about celebrating success.

First, I set my goals low to start. If I’m planning on doing something that scares me, I start with just the basic, bare minimum. For example, before the move to Tennessee, I was paralyzed with fear. For a long time as we prepared to move, I counted my day a success if I packed 1 box. Just one. Think about that for a minute; 24 hours, with all the things you own in your home, and moving in 4 months across the country, and yet my “Success” was packing a single box. It doesn’t seem like much to celebrate, but the fact is, I was still doing SOMETHING productive. And I celebrated each box that I packed. Before the day of the move, I decided that on that day, I would be proud of myself if I simply got into the moving truck. I could break down the instant I closed the door, and I could cry and scream and freak out the whole first day, but as long as I got into the truck and shut the door, I would count the day as a success. By celebrating small victories like this, I encouraged myself to keep trying.

The next step after you have met your low goals for awhile, is to up the ante a bit. Give yourself a slightly high goal to achieve. An example of this is staying the night at a friends. First, I would set my goal to just stay the night, no matter what. I could have a panic attack, freak out, throw up, or all of the above, but as long as I stayed until daylight, it was a success. Next, I would set a goal to stay the night, and also get (Insert number of hours) of sleep. It could be 1 hour, 3, or 10, depending on how I felt, but I would set that number and as long as I met those two requirements, I would count it as a success.

So what’s the point? I mean, this seems pretty silly right? Isn’t the point to stop yourself from having panic attacks or anxiety? The answer is yes, this IS silly, and yes, the point is to stop yourself from having panic attacks, but guess what? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if it’s taken 276 years to build Rome (Yes, I googled that thank you very much) then you’re not going to beat your anxiety in one day, sorry. Anyone who says differently is selling something. The point is, that you give yourself evidence that you can be successful. If you keep setting goals too high and failing, you will begin to feel that it is hopeless to try. But it’s not, you’re just shooting too big too fast.

Another important step for beating my anxiety is creating bundles of evidence. I know, what the heck does she mean “Bundles of Evidence.” Well, what do detectives do when they are trying to prove that someone is guilty? They create folders and folders of evidence to support their theory. I do the same thing. Whenever I start feeling anxious about something I start looking for evidence to support what I’m feeling. You do this too, you just don’t know it. “The last time I went to a party, I had a panic attack, so I’ll for sure have one this time!” “The last time I went to a counselor, they wanted to put me on medication, so I’m sure this one will too!” We do it every day! But the counter-curse (yes, I used a Harry Potter Reference) is equally as easy. You just have to build a pile of evidence to support your success! For example “The last time I had a panic attack at a party, I had drank too much alcohol. This time, I won’t do that, so I will be okay.” or even better “The last time I was on a plane, I DIDN’T have a Panic Attack, so I won’t have one this time.” That’s why celebrating successes are so important. Knowing that you had a successful flight, or meeting, or party last time, is evidence in your folder for why you can do something again. If you didn’t celebrate what you accomplished before, you won’t have any evidence to help you the next time.

Another way celebrating success has helped me is with my depression. I’m a very Type-A personality. I am WAY too hard on myself, or so my husband tells me on a daily basis. So often my depression hits me by telling me all of the things I didn’t get done, how everyone else is doing better at everyTHING else than I am, and that I shouldn’t even try, because it’s never going to amount to anything, (I’M never going to amount to anything) anyway. But, what my depression doesn’t know is that I have a secret weapon that I can use in advance to stop it in it’s tracks. When I celebrate my small successes, it gives me an arsenal of things I can look at that show me examples of when I DID get it right, or when I DID succeed at something I wanted to do! When depression sneaks up behind me and tries to ruin my day, I just slip in all the things that I’m doing well at, and it becomes a little easier to turn out the negative voices in my head and listen to experience instead!

So, before your next big thing, whatever it is that brings anxiety or depression to the forefront of your mind, make a list of all the successes you have made, and CELEBRATE THEM! Take yourself out to frozen yogurt, watch that movie you’ve been meaning to see, snuggle with your dog on the couch instead of writing that email. It’s okay to take time to celebrate the little things you do everyday. Because if you’re living with anxiety, depression, or any other type of mental illness just know, YOU’RE SUPERMAN/WOMAN and you’re going to do great things!

Let me know in the comments what you are doing to celebrate. I want to hear all about your successes! And know that I’m always here to reach out to if you need it!

Blessings,

Kyra

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Conquering the Air: How I went from Crying as I Boarded to (almost) Cool as a Cucumber

Conquering the Air: How I went from Crying as I Boarded to (almost) Cool as a Cucumber

How many people here are terrified of flying, raise your hands! (My hand shoots into the air!) Now, granted, I’m not afraid of the stuff that normal people are afraid of. I trust the plane, I trust the pilot, I’m not afraid of crashing, or of turbulence, or of the whole thing spontaneously combusting in mid-air… Whoops, probably scared some of you more there… sorry… Anyways, I’m not afraid of crashes. I’m afraid of being stuck inside a big flying cylinder with 200 people, and having an unexpected panic attack. Why? Because honestly? People judge. I don’t care what you say, when I’m next to a stranger on an airplane, and I’m sitting there sweating, and shaking, and freaking out, they look at me and 9 time out of 10, they’re thinking “What the heck is wrong with this woman!?!”

So when I moved to Tennessee and realized I would be flying a lot more than once every couple of years, and often by myself, I went into panic mode. We are talking, full on, called my mom, sitting on the bathroom floor, wailing, Panic. But then my always helpful good friend and counselor, Nancy Olsen, got ahold of me. See, the cool thing about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (The type of therapy I’m in) is that it is based on evidence and training. So off on a grand adventure I went!

In counseling, Nancy and I came up with a plan for when I would fly. We created back-up plans to my back-up plans, and practiced seeing tiny improvements as successes. And that’s the important part. We decided that each time, I would set a small goal, and if I accomplished that goal, I would choose to see the whole trip as a success. To help me with these successes, I needed a few things; Zipper, Dramamine, prescription anti-anxiety meds, and my trusty flying backpack kit.

First, Zipper. Having Zipper flying with me gives me something to focus on besides my anxiety. I have to focus on taking care of him, and making sure his needs are met. I also have to make sure that I’m protecting him from evil rolling suitcases and those little club car things that race around everywhere in the terminal. Zipper is also trained to help me in a panic attack, by getting on my lap and laying on my chest. His weight is calming and helps me come down from an attack much faster. Also, if I get stranded somewhere, I don’t panic because I’m alone, since I have Zipper with me. Trust me, he’s worth his weight in Gold during layovers and delays.

Second, Meds. Now, I wrote a piece a few months back talking about medication, and how I’m not a huge fan, but I’m taking it now to help me through a rough patch in my life. Well, I consider planes to be an exception to the rule. Whatever will help me get through a plane ride without and anxiety attack is something to use. I don’t drink alcohol so meds are the next best thing. Obviously, all of these medications have been approved by my doctor, and you should always talk to a doctor before taking new medications. I get motion sick on top of having anxiety, so I usually take one dramamine about an hour before my flight is scheduled to depart. Then I have my prescription on hand to take if I feel an attack starting to come on.

Third, My trusty flying backpack kit. What is in my flying backpack kit you may ask? All of the distraction and entertainment I could ask for. Movies and puzzle games downloaded onto my ipad, actual physical puzzle games, headphones, a good book, a journal and pen, my favorite stuffed animal, and usually some kind of bready, salty, snack. This way no matter what, I have something fun to do.

Which leads me to the final piece of my plan. I get to do things on the plane that I never allow myself to do on the ground. I have one particular jigsaw puzzle game that I LOVE. It’s called Magic Puzzles and its soooo addicting. But to help myself look forward to flying, I’m only allowed to play that game when I’m on the plane. This is a great mind trick to play with yourself and I truly recommend it!

The first task that I had to complete was to get myself into the airport and onto a plane where I could practice. I highly recommend avoiding practicing completely by yourself like I did, but I was kind of forced into a situation where I had to fly alone on my first big trip. I was headed back to Tennessee, by myself. I got to the airport early, so that I could make sure nothing would go wrong enough to prevent me from boarding. I was determined to make this work, so into the airport I walked, with my head held high and Zipper prancing along beside me, like we owned the place. I truly believe confidence is everything, and if I believe I can do it, then I can.

I’m not going to say that it was easy, in fact my first solo trip was interrupted partway by an unexpected 13 hour layover in San Francisco, by myself, with no one to help me stay sane, so it was FAR FROM EASY. But I like to say that even though I cried my way through almost the whole 24 hours, it was a success. Why? Because I accomplished my small goal, of “Getting on the Plane.” Once I did that, it didn’t matter because I had chosen to set that goal as my measure for success. I also learned so much about Flying and airports on that trip that I didn’t know before. For example, don’t run for a flight if you only have 5 minutes, because the boarding doors will be closed already. Just find a ticket counter and have someone help you book a new flight.

I’m also very grateful for the Flight Staff on almost all of my flights. On that first flight, the attendant let me sit with her on her jump seat for most of the flight and talked to me because I was so nervous. They are also very helpful when it comes to getting Zipper where he needs to be and with stowing my luggage. They fly for a living, so if you are nervous, TELL THEM. They are usually really good about checking in with you and making sure you’re doing okay.

Finally, Practice makes perfect. Try to go on as many flights as you can, and see some incredible new places. Exposure therapy truly works, and the more you expose yourself to things that make you uncomfortable, the more you will find that they don’t scare you as much anymore.

I’m still nervous when flying, but I don’t cry as we take off anymore, and once I even fell asleep during the flight! So yay! It’s all about putting in the work and reaping the rewards!

Happy Flying!

Kyra

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Our little set up when we fly. My feet go on either side of him.

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Chill-ish as a cucumber!

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During our 13 hour Surprise Layover.

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Reap the Rewards! What a beautiful View!

 

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