Stepping outside of my comfort zone

This past Saturday I did something that, due to my anxiety, I could have never done just 3 or 4 months ago. I attended a local pre-BlogHer meet-up at The Cup in Boulder. I was hoping a friend or two would be able to go with me (for the company, as well as to calm my nerves and make sure I went!), but no one was available. Still, I was feeling good about it and excited at the opportunity to meet some more local bloggers. But then I almost didn’t go – not because I had a good excuse or something came up, but because apparently I was more nervous about going than I thought and nearly used the excuse of Julian needing to go down for a nap to prevent me from stepping foot outside my front door. As it was, I arrived almost an hour late and didn’t get a chance to meet even half of all of the women there, but the important part is that I made myself step outside of my comfort zone and I went. I knew that if I didn’t go, it would make going to BlogHer next month all the more anxiety producing.

I was thrilled to see some familiar faces like Tall Tara and Crazy Blogging Canuck (Amber) (both whom I met at the Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash back in August of last year), and was glad to put a real live face to a name for peeps like Eat Play Love (Denise), The Casual Perfectionist (JoAnn), Gwen Bell (the organizer of the event), Weebles Wobblog (Lori), and This Mama Cooks (Anne-Marie). I also had the opportunity to meet some new names and faces like Human Being Blog (Lynn), Tales of my Thirties (Rachel), and Bread Crumz (Holly). There were many more women there who I didn’t get the pleasure of meeting, but you can meet them all via the YouTube video below thanks to the wonderful Holly.

Despite usually having a camera in hand, I forgot mine at home this time so I don’t have any pics of my own, but a few of me (pics #13 & 15 – I’m in the green shirt) have surfaced around the ‘net (thank you, Use Real Butter (Jen) for proof that I really did go!). ;)

I might have some apprehension about going to these types of events, but I’m always happy I went once it’s over. Thank you again to the amazing Gwen for organizing.

It’s true that I often feel like this:
I'll Be Hiding in a Corner
But thanks to the pre-BlogHer meet-up, maybe I’ll be courageous enough to move out of the corner every now and then. ;) I look forward to seeing all of you lovely ladies again at BlogHer (one month from today – squeee!) and meeting many more too. :)

Here’s the video (thanks, Holly):

My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety. It’s something that we all experience from time to time. Usually it’s a healthy response, a normal bodily reaction to stress. But for some of us anxiety becomes a way of life, a never-ending cycle of fear. One fear begets another fear begets another fear and it continues in a vicious circle, wearing us down, making us feel unable to cope or exist in a “normal” way.

Photo courtesy of BLW Photography
Photo courtesy of BLW Photography

Anxiety did that to me. I can say “did that” now because I am (finally) in recovery from generalized anxiety disorder. Notice I did not say I am recovered from it, but I am actively working on my recovery.

The thing about anxiety that I’ve come to accept is that it really is all about fear. People with an anxiety disorder often fear a lot of things, including that they are going to die. After all, this seems like a perfectly natural response when you are dealing with very real, often very frightening physical symptoms on a regular basis. There were a handful of occasions where my symptoms – heart racing, dizziness, tightness in my throat, tingling/numbness in my hands, feeling like I was going crazy or about to die (just to name a few) – were so severe that I seriously considered going to the nearest emergency room (and I know many people with anxiety disorder who do), but instead settled for calling the doctor on-call (after office hours).

I am very tuned into my body and any little (or big) thing I’ve felt over the past several months that was not “right” would lead me to believe there was something very, very wrong and if I didn’t find out what it was, I could die. This is why I’ve been on a quest having literally thousands of dollars of medical tests done (thank God for insurance) to prove to myself that I’m healthy. Because without that proof, I would always have some doubt in the back of my mind and play that most detrimental game of “what if” (a favorite of those of us with anxiety disorder) and the cycle of fear continue.

Does this make me a hypochondriac? I don’t know. It kind of feels to me like anxiety begets hypochondria or at least it has in my case.

Does the threat of being labeled a hypochondriac make people less likely to talk about their anxiety disorder? I would guess yes. Although I’ve had people comment on my anxiety-related blog posts stating they’ve dealt with anxiety too, it doesn’t seem like that many people are “out there” blogging about it. At least I had a hard time finding people writing about it. I think that’s due largely to the stigma attached to it and the worry of, “What will people think of me if they find out?”

The road to “wellville” for me (which has been a very slow process over many months) has been a mix of many things. I initially swore off medication, thinking “it’s great for other people, but not something *I* need.” I had planned to get better “naturally.” Medication didn’t fall into the “natural” category in my book. I worried about what kind of example I would be setting for my kids if I took the “easy” way out. Yes, that is kind of how I viewed it. However, after a couple of months of crippling anxiety and being at the point where I could barely function, let alone take care of my kids, I accepted that at THIS time in MY life, medication was/IS what I NEED. It took me a while to come to grips with that- that I needed a chemical substance to allow me to heal, but I’ve made my peace with it. I’d much rather be taking a medication and able to take care of my kids, than be stuck in bed or afraid to leave my house literally frozen with fear, wondering and waiting for the next panic attack to hit.

In addition to medication (Zoloft and very occasionally 1/2 of a Xanax), the laundry list of things that are helping me recover (in no particular order) includes: sleep, finding more time for myself, yoga, exercise, abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, educating myself by reading books and web sites about anxiety disorder – what causes it, who it often affects, how to deal with it, etc., seeing a therapist on a regular basis, reiki, taking vitamins and supplements, and reducing my commitments. It is my hope that by doing all of these things as needed on a regular, continued basis, I will eventually be able to go off the medication and live an anxiety-free life once again. The medication is just one of many tools in my recovery toolbox.

Recovering from anxiety has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced – far harder than going away to college or giving birth unmedicated to a 9 1/2 lb baby at home. And I don’t know that I will ever be fully recovered. I think it will be an on-going process for the rest of my life. If I slip back into old habits, I feel quite sure the anxiety would return.

Will this experience make me a stronger person? I don’t know about a stronger person, but I think it will make me a wiser person. When I am able to better realize my limitations and better care for myself, I am a happier person which can only make those around me happier too. And by knowing my limitations, I can better realize my potentials. The cycle of fear can be broken. Not effortlessly, not overnight, but it can be broken and there is hope.

I initially worried that by taking medication I would be setting a bad example for my children, but I now know that by taking care of myself (including taking medication), I am setting a good example for them. I am showing them that I believe I am important, that I value myself and my health. Nowadays I can have fun with them and laugh again and I think they find that matters far more than anything else.

Related posts:

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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The waiting is the hardest part

On Tuesday I had an MRI (with and without contrast) on my brain. It’s not the first time I’ve had an MRI on my brain. The last one was about 8 years ago and due to all of the migraines I was having. This time, however, it’s because of all of the weird symptoms I’ve been having over the past 6 or so months – periodic double vision, tingling in my hands and feet, tightness in my throat, dizziness. All of these symptoms can be attributed to my anxiety disorder (and with my eyes, my history of strabismus and four eye muscle surgeries over the years), but part of me can’t help wondering what if that’s not what’s causing it all? What if I have multiple sclerosis (MS) or a brain tumor? My doctor agreed to schedule me for an MRI for my own peace of mind more than her concern that something could be seriously wrong with me and I’m so thankful that we have insurance that is covering the whole thing or I doubt I’d be able to do it.

Now I am waiting for the results. They said it could take four days, which could mean Friday or maybe not until Monday (or actually Tuesday because this is Memorial Day weekend – drat!). Although I feel fairly confident that my brain is fine, I just want, or really need, to know for sure. Just as I had multiple tests done on my heart when I was having heart palpitations for months to convince me that my heart was healthy, this is equally as important to me. Part of dealing with an anxiety disorder (at least I’ve found in my case) is that I have to rule out other possible causes before I can fully embrace the fact that an anxiety disorder is indeed what I have. Until I know that I don’t have some underlying cause for all of these symptoms, it’s hard to fully accept the diagnosis and then proceed on the path to recovery. It’s impossible to get better if you have this nagging concern in the back of your head that something else is responsible for what you are experiencing. The anxiety becomes a vicious circle.

I can say, however, that the way I’m feeling the past week or two is definitely an improvement over where I was a month or two ago. I think it’s been a combination of a lot of things, like:

  • Reading The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne
  • Signing up for a membership to AnxietyCentre.com (thank you, Nona, for the suggestion). It’s a wealth of information and was such a good investment. I can’t recommend this site enough. Knowledge truly is power in this case.
  • Reading about Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome (something I think I may be experiencing in addition to the anxiety)
  • Talking to a therapist every other week
  • Practicing abdominal breathing exercises several times throughout the day
  • Practicing progressive muscle relaxation before bed
  • Doing a Yoga DVD
  • Practicing biofeedback with The Wild Divine video game
  • And, of course, I think the Zoloft I’ve been on for a month is finally starting to kick in too.

I don’t think the Zoloft alone would have made this much difference though, nor do I think the effects would be long-lasting if/when I choose to go off the Zoloft. I think that really there has to be a lifestyle change in order to overcome an anxiety disorder. I’m taking it one day at a time, but am definitely working on changing my habits for the better so that I can live a more peaceful life.

But for now, I wait. I wait for the answers that will change my life one way or another. As with everything I’ve experienced in dealing with my anxiety disorder thus far, I am learning that patience truly is a virtue.

One thing I don’t have to stress about – my Stonyfield BlogHer sponsorship


It’s no secret that I’ve had a lot of stress and anxiety in my life lately. In fact, I’ve tried to write about it pretty openly in hopes that, if nothing else, my story might help someone else who may be suffering from something similar.

I decided several weeks ago, despite my anxiety at the time, that I was going to sign up to attend the annual BlogHer conference this year for my very first time. Of course I have been and still am anxious about a lot of it – traveling by myself, leaving my kids for three nights (for the first time ever since Ava was born), being unsure about what to wear (are cute shoes a must?), and meeting so many women for the very first time. But there is a lot I am excited about too like rooming with Annie from PhD in Parenting, as well as the opportunity to learn a lot, have a great time, and meet so many women who I currently only know virtually. (Yes, I’m both super nervous and totally excited about meeting everyone.)

Another thing I thankfully don’t have to stress about is how I’m going to pay for my trip. When I signed up to attend BlogHer I had considered looking for a sponsor or two to help me fund my trip, but then with everything I’ve had going on I never found the time to actively look for one.

Of course, for me the decision to take on a sponsorship means it would have to be from a company I could morally and ethically support. As with the ads I accept on my blog, I need to feel like I can honestly endorse the company without any conflicts of interest.

Luckily for me, fate stepped in and I was contacted by a PR person representing Stonyfield Farm who said they were looking for bloggers to sponsor to BlogHer! You can imagine my excitement that a) a company reached out to me and b) that the company is one I know and love, is organic and cares about the environment!

Stonyfield is a company founded on the belief that business must be part of the solution to our environmental problems. Some of the ways Stonyfield is involved in the environment that I feel are particularly noteworthy are:

  • All of their yogurts are organic.
  • In 1997, Stonyfield became the first company in the country to offset 100 percent of its CO2 emissions from its facility energy use, and has been carbon neutral since.
  • Stonyfield works hard to reduce amount of packaging they use, and use #5 plastic since it’s the most lightweight.
  • They’ve also partnered with Preserve, which takes their excess plastic cups, and the one’s their consumers return to them to create toothbrushes and razorblade handles.
  • Stonyfield Farm donates 10 percent of its profits to efforts that protect and restore the Earth. Since the program’s inception in 1993, the company has contributed $7 million to environmental efforts around the corner and across the globe.

Stonyfield recently started making Greek yogurt called Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt. I wasn’t familiar with Greek yogurt until recently, but basically its thicker, creamier yogurt with more protein than regular yogurt. One of the really nice things about finding a thicker yogurt when you have a yogurt-loving toddler in the house is that thicker means doesn’t fall off the spoon and make a huge mess the way regular yogurt does. Nice! The kids and I tried it the other day and thought it was delicious (and Julian didn’t turn into a yogurt-covered mess after eating it!).

Oikos is the only organic Greek yogurt among the three leading Greek yogurt brands, and is available in plain, vanilla, honey, blueberry and strawberry flavors.

FREE OIKOS YOGURT! If you’d like a coupon to try a free 5.3 oz. container of Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt, please leave me a comment telling me which flavor you’d like to try. I’ll randomly (using Random.org) draw three names on Friday, May 22. Be sure to include a valid email address so that I can contact you.

Thank you, Stonyfield Farm. :)

**In the interest of covering all of my BlogHer expenses, I am still seeking other sponsorships. If you are interested in discussing a possible sponsorship with me, please send me an email.**

Welcome to your life

“Welcome to your life.” Those were the words spoken to me by my therapist a couple of weeks ago and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

I was going through a brief phase of acceptance with regard to my anxiety disorder and seemed to be on the upswing at the time. That didn’t last long though as the very next week was one of the hardest I’ve had in a long time. I think a lot of it had to do with Ellie’s passing (we put our older dog to sleep last Tuesday and it was much harder than I thought it would be). I’ve had some other significant changes/stressors going on too – my little sister moved in with us and my mom went through a health scare. I went into grieving mode and a lot of emotions, thoughts and feelings, as well as anxiety and panic, emerged as a result.

Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield
Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield

I decided to start on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication as of two weeks ago. Going on meds definitely wasn’t my first choice, but after going several months with only brief and fleeting improvements in the way I was feeling, I decided it was the right choice for me for right now. If being on medication can help me feel a little better while I continue to go to therapy and focus on sleep, exercise and taking better care of myself, then I will do it. I’d gotten to a point where I’ve been in nearly a constant state of anxiety and, as a result, I have been neglecting my kids and my marriage. I’m sick of telling my kids, “Don’t do that. Mommy doesn’t feel well.” I want them to be able to enjoy life and I want to enjoy it with them. I don’t want my whole family to have to walk on egg shells and constantly wonder how mommy is doing and how she will react. It’s not fair to them. A friend pointed out it’s not fair to me either to have to feel that way.

I’ve been taking Zoloft for two weeks now (a very low dose since when I tried to increase the dose, I started having insomnia, which was absolutely counterproductive) and haven’t noticed any good benefits yet, but my psychiatrist said it can take 2-6 weeks or even as many as 8, so I’m trying to be patient.

At the suggestion of my therapist last week, I picked up the book “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me both in showing me how I likely developed anxiety/panic disorder and in showing me steps to help myself recover from it. It’s also amazing how many things I can identify with in it. Talk about “welcome to your life.” This book feels like it was written just for me. If you have any issues with anxiety, panic, phobias or OCD, I strongly recommend this book. I am hopeful that it is going to have a huge impact on me as I try to heal myself. I’ve been doing the breathing techniques the past two nights and have found them alone to be very helpful.

One of the things I’ve found most frustrating in this whole process though is just how much of a process it is. There is no simple quick fix. Even medication takes time to kick in and to adjust the dosage and that (in my opinion) is really only a temporary solution and one part of the equation if true recovery is going to happen. And so I’m doing my best to be aware that the condition I’m in now took years and years to develop and it is going to take a long time to heal from as well. (Thanks to my dad for those words of wisdom.) I have to learn to appreciate the small victories and take it one day at a time or I will drive myself crazy.

I’ve taken a break from reading the news or anything that will likely raise my anxiety level. I read a little bit about the swine flu a couple days ago, and it sent me into a full-fledged panic attack. I’ve told Jody to tell me if there’s anything I need to know. Otherwise, I need to keep myself in the dark about some things for now for my own peace of mind.

Part of the reason I’m writing all of this is to let you know where I’m currently at, and also to encourage others who may be going through something like this that you are not alone. I also want you to know that I may not be blogging that often in the weeks ahead. (Subscribe to my RSS feed if you want to stay current.) I’ve already tapered off considerably from where I used to be – posting daily or nearly daily – and it feels good to take a break. I also haven’t been on Twitter much. I am sure it will wax and wane, but I also feel part of my recovery needs to involve looking at my internet addiction. Yes, I will freely admit to having one. I have lots of justifications for it too, but ultimately, I want to find a way to use the internet for productive reasons, not just to fritter away my time (which is what I’ve been doing way too much lately).

Yesterday was the first day this season I got out in the dirt in my backyard and did some weeding in my little strawberry patch from last year. I honestly haven’t felt at all like gardening so far this year, despite ordering seeds, seedlings and even some raspberry plants (that are still sitting, unplanted, in my garage). Although several of my friends have been digging in the dirt and planting for weeks, I just haven’t felt the gardening urge at all myself. That is, until yesterday. As I was weeding and getting the dirt under my fingernails and noticing that many of my strawberry plants have flowers on them, and the kids were playing in the dirt beside me, I began to feel alive and good and once again had the desire to garden. I think growing things and digging in the dirt will be very good for my mental health right now.

Like it or not, having anxiety/panic disorder is my life right now. It’s not what I would choose, but it’s where I’m at. I’m choosing to face it head on and do what I can to make it better – little by little, taking baby steps, one day at a time.

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The fog is slowly lifting

You might have noticed (or maybe not) that I haven’t posted in over a week. Either way, I wanted to let everyone know that I’m around, just laying low. I’ve wanted to post on several occasions, but then just didn’t get to it for one reason or another.

Photo courtesy of sektordua
Photo courtesy of sektordua

The past two weeks have been a major roller coaster for me. I’ve had ups and downs and many twists and turns. I’ve had more appointments than you can shake a stick at, including with my general practitioner, a cardiology nurse, an eye surgeon, an optometrist, a therapist, a reiki master and tonight, a massage therapist. There was a nearly a visit to the ER one night as well. Also, Jody has been out in California for work this week, so I’ve been focusing all of my energy on being as functional as possible.

The bad news is I’m still dealing with some issues (not as much crippling anxiety now – thank God!!), but I’ve been experiencing double vision off and on. Due to my eye history (including 4 surgeries for strabismus – eye muscles), this is not uncommon, but it’s not been fun either. And quite honestly, it makes it pretty easy to avoid the computer without feeling bad about it.

The good news is that the anxiety and panic attacks are happening less and less and when they do, it’s not nearly as disabling as it was previously. I have many more tools now (thanks to my friend the reiki master and psychic counselor) to get it under control.

So that’s where I’m at. I feel like I’m definitely making improvements (thanks largely to my reiki sessions which I hope to write about further another time), and the fog is slowly lifting, but I’m not out of the woods yet. I hope I can get this vision issue under control sooner rather than later. Your continued positive thoughts are most appreciated. Thank you. :)