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  • The nighttime habit

    I've been reading a book on habits lately - more about that another time - and one thing that stuck out to me is the idea of a bedtime. Since I don't have a paying job, I don't have a compelling need to have a strict bedtime - even though I'm almost always in bed by 12:15.

    The author talks about getting ready for bed before being tired, so she can make the decision to go to bed easier. This too sounded funny to me. I hate getting into bed if I'm not super tired, it feels like a waste of time!

    But I'm really intrigued by this idea of habits and consistency. The problem lies at my feet. Quite literally.

    I have yet in recent memory to make it to bed before midnight without Mikenna becoming incessantly whiny. It's like there's a thirty minute window in which I can go to bed. Any earlier and she is upset and antsy. Try to stay up later, and she'll whine at me until I go to bed. Sometimes she whines from the bed, which is extra Mikenna-ish. 

    I can go through the same bedtime routine, but if it's at 11:30, it will backfire.

    Even going to bed "on time" isn't a guarantee of a smooth night. On a good night, Mikenna gets me out of bed once to pee. On a bad night, I'll have no idea what she wants and run through the gamut of possible Koo needs. Those nights are exhausting, and since I love sleep, I dread them.

    So even after I get to bed, I have to stay awake until I know Koo is settled. By then, I might be wide awake again. 

    It's hard to figure out a healthy bedtime ritual when so much of my sleep is out of my power. But I know it's not forever. 

    I can feel Koo's heartbeat through my feet as she's wedged herself against me. I do better with consistency in my life, but by golly, I'd rather have that little cuddle bug with me than all the sleep in the world.

  • Food identity

    I joined weight watchers a couple weeks ago. I have a harder time talking about this than I do my struggle with anxiety - though I guess the argument could be made that weight loss and food are part of my anxiety.

    Weight loss and food and fitness are all a tangle of emotional baggage for me. I'm in a better place with it all than I was even a few years ago, but it's still difficult for me to process, let alone share publically.

    I joined because I thought it would be a good kick in the pants - I've learned a lot about better food and exercise habits over the years, but putting them all together is another challenge. There's no perfect time to make changes, but I figured getting my medicine all straightened out was as good a moment as any.

    What's great about weight watchers is that you really can eat anything, so long as you're willing to spend the points on it. I haven't felt deprived at all, which is one of my strongest fears about structured diets. The downside is that you realize experts aren't kidding when they say that our portion sizes are out of control.

    Matt and I were looking at fig newtons one night at the grocery store. I toyed with the idea of picking them up, because boy ... I love some fig newtons. The serving size is two cookies. TWO. I'm pretty sure, left to my own devices, I can clear out a good twelve newtons in one sitting. I opted against picking them up because, while I could have them, trying to limit myself to two stinkin cookies seemed a lot worse than just not having them.

    On the whole, my diet is a lot 'cleaner' than I've ever had. We haven't done so intentionally, but have almost eliminated cheese and refined carbs from our daily consumption. The funny thing is that when I have a 'splurge' meal (usually a burger and fries) I feel like crap afterwards.

    That ticks me off.

    I don't want to be "one of those people" who snubs at eating out, or who makes bizarre food requests. (I'll have a beef taco, except I want chicken for beef, and no shell, and no cheese, and instead of lettuce can I have lentils, and actually...) I don't mind if others are like that, but that's not me. I apparently have very specific ideas of who I am.

    But if there's one thing I've learned in the past several months, just because I picture things one way, that doesn't mean that they'll stay that way, or that they should stay that way.

    If this food really does make me feel sick afterwards, logically, I should not eat it, right? It's not that I'm giving up tasty food - I made this cilantro lime chicken last week that was seriously one of the best things I've ever made. But my preconceived idea of who I am says that if the ability to have a McDonalds cheeseburger on demand isn't part of my life ... who am I really?

    It's a lot of emotional baggage for food.

    It's taken me quite a few years to get over the notion that my value is tied to the number on the scale. I guess the next project is to remove my self from the food I've eaten.

  • Me time versus wasted time

    I listened to a group of women try and distinguish between what wasted time was, and what could be considered 'me' time. No one could really hit the nail on the head, I think, because they were all feeling self conscious about the things they like.

    One person's "me time" can be another person's way of wasting time, but no thing is a waste of time. Whereas to me, taking time for myself is packing up some notebooks, netbook and heading out to a cafe for a couple hours, a young mom might find that candy crush is the perfect escape for a few minutes. Tonight, I'll probably watch InkMaster with Matt (it's a reality tv show about tattoo artists. Who knew?) but flipping around the stations mindlessly is a different thing.

    That word, mindlessly, I think, is the crux of this. Whether big or small, fancy or simple, it can be me time if it works for you.

    If it makes you happy, if it calms you down, helps you escape for a few minutes in a hectic afternoon, engages part of your brain, brings back memories - it's not necessarily a waste of time. But when you're doing something to avoid dealing with something else, just by rote, just because it's there - maybe it is.

    What things do you choose to do, because they give you joy, fulfillment or peace? What things do you do out of habit and avoidance? Are they the same things? (They can be!)

    Think about what you're doing, as you do it. Is it the thing you want or need to do in that moment? Or are you just going through the motions?

    Yet another example of mindfulness. Crazy how once you pick up on it, it applies to so much.

  • Painting time!

    Painting time!

    My mom has been looking for something to put on her barn for a few weeks now, with no luck. I had an idea, and decided to run with it.

    I bought this chunk of palette-like-thing (I'm real up to date on my lumber terms, aren't I?) at AC Moore for $12.99. If you're extra handy, I'm sure you could get the lumber and assemble something yourself for cheaper. I just don't think it's in anyone's best interest for me to wield a hammer or saw.

    I painted it a base color and then added some speckles of color ... because I could.

    Okay, fine. I wanted to make it look a little older without having to actually distress it. I used three colors, technically, though I mostly got rid of the blue color. Each color was 99 cents, and I've got tons left over.

    I also bought stencils for this project, because trust me, it would have turned out even more lopsided if I hadn't. That was a bit costly, but I hope to reuse them. (Quick, someone give me ideas!) If you've got a steadier hand, you can skip that and save a few bucks.

    I painted them using a can of returned paint - marked down to $2.50 from $12 something. I have a lot of brown paint now. Whoops.

    You can see the end result at the top of the page. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I thought I'd gotten the stencils more even than I apparently did ... but we're going to call it "rustic".

    Not bad for the first time and ~3 hours (total, not counting drying times) work!

  • It's a season of self-care

    It's a season of self-care

    I've made no secret of my struggle with finding the right brain medicine these last several months. It hasn't been easy to find bright spots in the midst of feeling like a zombie, crippling anxiety, and so on.

    However, I can say this: it really hammers home the importance of self-care. It's easy to get frustrated with myself, because the things I want to do, and the things that I am physically or mentally up to doing aren't in the same vicinity. But I keep telling myself this isn't forever. It'll end. Do the sucky work now, and you will feel better.

    Life is a lot better when you're kind to yourself.

    I haven't said much about it, but Matt's taking care of himself, and I'm extremely proud of him. He's finally sought help for an old ankle injury, and is now in twice-weekly physical therapy. He's making slow, but steady progress.

    However, all this taking care of ourselves has come at a cost: There's been a couple trips that we would have liked to take, that we really couldn't justify. Taking care of ourselves, of our little family, has to come first right now. There will never be a time when you can set things aside and say, "Now, it is truly convenient for me to get this problem taken care of." Nope. You just have to find yourself worth enough to plow through and make the space.

    It's not that we don't love our friends and family. It's not that we don't value them. It's that we have to take care of ourselves.

    Oddly enough, when Matt and I were discussing a few weeks ago whether or not to make a trip out of state this past weekend, I said, "You know, I know it's a worst case scenario, but we don't know how this medicine thing is going to go. I might end up having to switch again, and then we'll be dealing with who-knows-what." and that is exactly what happened. So I'm really glad that we didn't put that extra burden on ourselves and go out of state. I feel guilty about it, but ugh ... I know it was the right move.

    I've found joy in little projects, like making (and painting) planters. They're quick projects that yield results, and I need that little boost. I love the long term projects, like novels, but I haven't really been able to handle working on them. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to stuf like that soon...but even if I can't, it's okay. I'll get there. Better to work on stuff with a healthy brain later than drive myself nuts trying to do stuff now.

  • How not to win a cat's affection

    How not to win a cat's affection

    I'm a regular visitor to the local humane society. I go because the new facility is pretty spiffy, which makes visiting easy, and because I love spending time with the animals there. Animals left in shelters are prone to depression, and the longer they're there, the more problems they can develop. I like to think that through visiting them, I'm helping them stay adoptable. It's proven that if the animals see people that they recognize, they're less likely to become or stay depressed.

    This pretty little girl is pretty new. She's curious, but skittish. I'm sure this is all very overwhelming for her.

    On a recent visit, I walked into the room as a few people were crowded around a bench. Hiding underneath, was this cat.

    "Pull that one out!" one girl exclaimed, "I want to see her." The cat shot to the other end of the bench, her eyes bulging in fear.

    The group was shocked and annoyed when this cat wasn't receptive to their attempts to grab her out from her comfort zone and be handled. They soon left.

    I went and sat down on the floor, visiting with some of the other cats in the room. I've found that the cats seem to really respond to people sitting down on their level. I suppose it's because we're less intimidating when we're not so big.

    This cat, C, watched me from across the room. She peeked around the plastic couch on one side, then skittered over to the other side and looked at me. I laughed and held out my hand for her. She hesitated for a moment, but then walked over and gave me a good snif.

    She sat there and watched me interact with a couple other cats, occasionally coming close and letting me pet her.

    As I prepared to leave, I walked over to the bench where C had been hiding. She hopped up on the seat, walked up to me, and put her paws on my shirt. She wanted to be picked up! I gently scooped her up, and she sat in my arms, purring, until I told her that I needed to go, and set her back down.

    Cats, like people, have their own personalities. Some of us warm up to anybody who crosses our path, and we'll go out of our way for attention. Some of us prefer to watch until we're comfortable. Some of us don't like crowds. This doesn't make us, or animals, better or worse. Just different.

    Oh, here. Here's another cat, for good measure.

    This sweet and energetic little girl knows me pretty well by now. This is the first time I've worn tennis shoes around her though, and she took that opportunity to attach herself. She's another cat who is pretty standoffish when she first sees you, but she climbs all over me now.

  • I'm Still Standing

    I'm still standing
    Better than I ever did
    Standing like a true survivor
    Feeling like a little kid.

     For whatever reason, this song has resonated with me the last few weeks. Holy cow though, the video is bizarre.

    I'm still here. Still standing. As of Tuesday, I'm finally on a different medicine than last month, and tentatively, this is working much better. I'm not having daily panic attacks. My brain is starting to feel clearer, and I have energy again.

    It's such a relief to be feeling better. I went on something of a cleaning spree late this week - still more to do, but it felt good to make my space feel less chaotic again. I also cooked a couple times this week - like, real meals and not even frozen pizza. It felt good, and I really am sick of eating out.

    I hope this lasts. I hope this medicine works for me.

  • Eight Years Ago...

    Eight Years Ago...

    It was the day after our wedding. After spending who-knows-how-long in the bathroom, ripping dozens of bobby pins out of my hair, I ran out and got my hair chopped off. I don't remember much about that day - I remember going out to Red Robin with my parents, and stopping by my in laws' for some reason.

    When I got back to our apartment, the power had gone off, and I was none too thrilled about it.

    But it would come back on eventually, right?

    Yeah - at about 5am the next morning.

    That July was hot. Our apartment didn't cool down well under the best of circumstances, so it quickly became uncomfortable.

    In the months leading up to our wedding, I was completely full of anxiety. There are a lot of stories around that, but suffice to say, I wasn't really handling things well at that point. So, a hot apartment, plus being exhausted, plus anxiety, PLUS Mikenna - who was spending her first day with just us, ever - made for a terrible, awful, stressful situation.

    I had a meltdown.  I completely ceased functioning and sat in bed, crying. In that moment, I was pretty sure life was doomed to be stressful and horrible forever. Around dawn, the power did come back on, and the first thing that happened after that was Mikenna peeing on the bathroom rug. :headdesk:

    Turns out, that was only the first of many stressful adventures that first year we were married. However, I believe it's because so much stuff happened right in the beginning that we chose to see things as adventures, rather than terrible horrible events. Doesn't mean that we were always thrilled about it in the moment, but we were happy overall.

    I love that boy, and I'm glad to have him by my side, whatever adventures come our way.

  • Can't Breathe

    I've been wanting to say, "Hey guess what? The medicine situation is all worked out and I feel fantastic and life is back to normal!" for weeks now ... But I can't. In fact, maybe you can tell by my silence, I haven't been feeling well.

    After finally getting into the doctor on June 3rd, they put me on Zoloft, because I was on it briefly in the past, and it seemed to work. (Their policy is to try things that have worked in the past before trying new things. Makes sense.) She said to give it two weeks for my body to transition and for me to start feeling better.

    The first, I don't know ... Two days? I felt pretty dog gone good. I was opimtistic. I had way more energy than I'd had in a long time due to the citalopram. I jokingly told Matt that I might not even need naps anymore.

    Then I ran into a brick wall. Anxiety more intense than I ever remember feeling, my body in a constant state of "flight or fight". Being that physically anxious, whether your brain agrees with the anxiety or not, wears you out pretty quick. I started getting headaches, ranging from fairly annoying to so severe it sent me to bed where I didn't dare move. But I just had to hang in there - after two weeks, I would be fine. I got things done where I could, and tried to forgive myself for the things I just wasn't up to.

    By the time my two weeks were up, things were starting to taper off. I was slowly beginning to feel normal again. My anxiety still felt like it was triggered more easily, but it wasn't as dramatic. Having read that it could take up to six weeks for the medicine to take full effect, I figured I'd wait it out.

    Then I couldn't breathe.

    It wasn't an emergency situation - I wasn't even worried about it. But more often than not, I couldn't get my body to take in a full breath of air. I was tempted to wait the additional two weeks and just discuss it with my doctor then, but after three days, I broke down and told Matt what was going on, and he insisted I get an appointment.

    At that appointment, my blood pressure was super high, which has never been a concern before. After running tests and discussing my symptoms (or lack thereof), they concluded that my body was having panic attacks, even though I wasn't consciously worried.

    They increased my zoloft dosage and gave me a prescription for xanax to help my body relax.

    That's where I am today. I have to wait another two weeks to see how my body does with the increased dosage, and then we'll decide whether to keep me there or try something else.

    The xanax helps, but it doesn't take away everything (I specifically wanted a low dose). I was warned that in this two week period, my body may experience the same crappy side effects from increasing the dose as it did when I started it.

    I'll be honest - this all sucks, and I hate it very much. I don't feel like I have much, if any, control over how I feel on a given day. I can usually get the bare minimum done, but it requires great effort, and when your body is extremely crazy anxious, things like going out in public are excessively difficult. I haven't wanted to do much, because existing is draining enough.

    But I'm hanging in there. I don't know whether the increased Zoloft is going to be enough. I'm not looking forward to trying something else if it isn't, but at this point, I know I might as well stick it out until we find a good solution.

    I know it will get better - it just doesn't feel like it.

  • Stigma

    It's happened more times than I can count. I'm laying in bed, and an unwelcome thought pops into my head.
    Mikenna's laying too still at my feet. What if she has died and I didn't notice. Should I check now or should I ignore this until morning? I mean, it'd be worse if I wait until morning, because she'd be stiff by then, probably. What will we do with her? Should I call the vet?  Do they handle that sort of thing? I know the humane society does. Or can my parents bury her? Is that even legal around here?

    On and on the thought train goes until I am almost completely convinced that my dog has died, even while acknowledging the absurdity of the idea.

    I remember once in particular that I was afraid I'd left something out, that Mikenna would get ahold of it while we were out, and I'd come home to a dead dog. (I really do worry about other things, these just happen to be the first things I think of) So while out to dinner with my husband, I was constantly thinking about Mikenna and worrying about her, and I made myself so sick that I had little appetite. I choked down the food, rushed us home, and there was Mikenna, asleep in the chair.

    I've found that anxiety multiplies in darkness, whether the darkness of night or just our minds. Because if I ever just tell Matthew, "Hey, I know this is stupid, but I keep worrying that I left the curling iron on." he'll tell me that he knows I unplugged it. Often, just the act of airing things out makes it all seem so silly and small.

    Anxiety isn't the only thing that thrives in darkness. Depression and unnecessary shame also love our silence, where no other voices can stop it from taking over. This is where the stigma around mental illness is so very dangerous. Thinking that we will be judged, that we will be scoffed at, not taken seriously, or even disowned, keeps us silent. We isolate ourselves, having convinced ourselves that we are unworthy of the love or compassion of another human, that our problems are, for whatever reason, our own baggage to carry. This is how small problems grow big, how addictions spiral, because we are steeped in darkness.

    It doesn't have to be that way. I can't tell you how many people came forward after I admitted my own anxiety and depression and told me that they shared my experience. I had no idea because I thought it was something I was fighting all on my own.

    Exposing these things to the light of day, to people whom we feel safe talking to, can bring so much freedom. Because you'll usually find that whatever you've kept squashed down isn't as big and scary as your mind has made it out to be. Or if it is, you'll find that you're not alone and that there's hope and help available.

    My husband recently started counseling, and was told that if he wanted to pay without using insurance for confidentiality reasons, it was an option. But if we don't use our insurance, then the carrier won't have any idea of what benefits to offer. Our last insurance company only paid for five visits per year. That might be sufficient if you aren't struggling with something and just want to touch base with someone a few times a year, but for those who actively need help, it falls way short. I can't help but wonder how much of that is because the provider has no idea what people need.

    The only way we'll get rid of the stigma is to keep talking about it. To make taking care of your brain just as normal as taking care of your body. To help people see that they are not broken or a failure for needing help. If you had diabetes or a broken leg, you wouldn't judge yourself a moral failure. Depression is no different.

    There is help, there is hope, and there need not be a stigma around it. Pass it on.