No Zoo For You: Confession of an Anxious Mommy

Last week when I picked up my 3.5 year old son Julian from preschool, his teacher Miss G mentioned that she’d like to take the four children in the program on a field trip to the zoo or children’s museum the following week to celebrate the last day of school. I was immediately taken aback. My baby riding in a car on the expressway to a destination nearly an hour away with someone other than my husband or me? My heart skipped a beat.

I tried to play it cool because logically I knew that Julian would probably be just fine. Also it’s not like I don’t trust this teacher. She was Ava’s preschool teacher since Ava was three and became Julian’s teacher this year as well. She’s an amazing person and I have no doubt that she would take great care to protect my child on the field trip. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this just didn’t feel right. (It didn’t help that I’d recently watched a 7 minute video of horrific car wrecks that someone posted on Facebook. Why do I do this to myself?)

I emailed a friend who also has children at the preschool to see how she felt about it (and confirm whether or not I was an overreacting freak). She said she’d let the teacher take her kids on other outings before and she was OK with it. But she said she understood how I felt and encouraged me to tell Miss G if I was uncomfortable with it.

I thought about it some more and figured I’d just muscle through it. “Julian would be fine,” I kept telling myself. “I completely trust Miss G with him.”

I saw Miss G at the May Pole Celebration this Sunday and we were talking more about the impending field trip. I must have seemed a bit reluctant because she suddenly said, “I’m sorry, I should have asked you if you were OK with this. Are you?” I confessed. I told her I wanted to be OK with it, but the truth was that I wasn’t completely OK. She offered to let me go along with them, but due to prior commitments that day, I just couldn’t do it. I told her I would be OK and that the field trip was fine. Apparently I lied.

The next day my anxiety disorder – that has been for the most part under control for almost a year – kicked into high gear. My throat felt tight, like it was closing up. It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with, as it was one of my many anxiety systems when I was in the thick of the illness. I knew better than to get freaked out about it, even though it’s a very unpleasant feeling, and instead tried to figure out what could be causing it. Surprisingly, the field trip was not the first thing that came to mind. As you may know, we are in the process of selling our house and buying a new one – both of which are causing my stress level to be higher than normal. So I figured it was the house stuff getting to me even though nothing in particular had happened in the last few days.

I tried not to dwell on the anxiety, but the field trip must have been in the back of my mind because out of the blue I decided to ask Twitter (my favorite sounding board) at what age they let their child ride with another person (outside of family) for the first time and if they were nervous about it. I got a lot of feedback. Most responded that it was very hard the first time. Others said they hadn’t let their child ride with another person yet. Others said they do it and it’s fine.

It made me realize that even when my 5 year old was scheduled to go on a field trip with her kindergarten class (also to a destination nearly an hour away), my husband and I were OK with her going, but he was going to chaperone, thus ride on the bus with her and the class and be there for the whole trip. She ended up coming down with the flu and didn’t go anyway, but it made me think, “If I’m not OK with my 5-year-old going on a trip an hour away from me without one of her parents, why would I be OK with my 3-year-old doing it?”

I decided to talk it over with Jody Monday evening and we came to the conclusion that it was totally OK for us to NOT be OK with Julian going on a field trip an hour away when he’s 3 years old. If it doesn’t feel right and is giving me severe anxiety, then it’s not worth it, even if it does make me *that* overprotective parent.

I emailed Miss G and explained how I felt and even filled her in a bit on my anxiety disorder. I apologized for ruining the field trip, but said that I hoped they could still go somewhere nearby to celebrate the last day. She graciously responded and said they could walk to the nearby park instead and that she’d do the zoo trip the following day (on a day Julian doesn’t go to school). I was relieved.

I know there will come a day when I have to let my kids go, but for now I’m OK with the fact that this wasn’t the right time. I’m actively working on my issues again (I found a new therapist) and in time I will be able to continue to work through some of my fears. If right now my mental well-being is more important than a field trip to the zoo, so be it. I have to trust myself and do what works for me and my family. I am thankful I’m now at a point in my life where I can recognize where my fears are coming from and address them. I will get there, eventually.

–Progress, not perfection. —

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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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