Running and Recovery – Just for Today

About eight months ago I had a turning point in my life. Instead of hiding from and burying my fears – a trait I’d gotten very good at over the years – I began to learn to face them head on. In addition to therapy and medication, I recently discovered two more things I want and need to do to take better care of myself – the first is getting regular exercise and the second is attending a 12-step program (for friends and families of problem drinkers).

Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr
Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr

Knowing that exercise would be beneficial to both my physical and mental health, I decided to start the Couch to 5k program – walking/running sessions of 20 to 30 minutes three times a week, which allow you to work up to running a 5K at the end of two months. (I figure if I write about it I’ll be more likely to follow through with it, accountability and all that.)

I should stop here to say I am not a runner. I’ve never been very fond of running and recall dreading having to run “the mile” in gym class my freshman year of high school. I developed a pretty nasty case of shin splints (probably from running in Keds, but c’est la vie). However, recently I’ve been inspired by several of my friends, also in their 30s, who have taken up running. Heather and Nicole both just ran their first 5k – The Race for the Cure. Alison has also taken up running. Julie recently confessed her “drug” of choice in dealing with depression – exercise – and she ran a half marathon this past weekend. Then there’s Sonja my triathlete friend who’s ran, biked and swam in more races than I can count.

While running isn’t something I usually enjoy, I want to give this a try, a real try.

I did my first session early Sunday morning – a five minute brisk walk followed by alternating between running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds for 20 minutes. The weather was about perfect, sunny and warm, but not too warm, and it felt good to get out of the house alone, doing something good for myself. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

As I ran my thoughts wandered to the 12-step meeting I recently attended. I thought about the parallels between running and recovery – both my recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my recovery of being an adult child of a dysfunctional family and the relationships I’ve had with addicts over the years. Both running and recovery require patience. Both running and recovery require perseverance. Both running and recovery can be overwhelming at times, but you have to focus on one day at a time, one run at a time, even if it’s just for 60 seconds.

I did my second running session on Wednesday morning. It was the complete opposite of Sunday, rainy and cold. I wore my jacket with the hood up and gloves on to keep my hands warm. I stayed pretty toasty except for my legs, which froze. (I’ve since learned of base layer tights which I am going to have to buy, especially if I’m going to be running through the winter.) My glasses were covered in rain drops and fogged up as my body temperature rose. There were lots of fallen wet leaves and branches on my path. Again, it made me think about my road to recovery. Some days the sun is shining and the path is clear and everything seems right on target and other days there are clouds and fog, it’s cold and the obstacles on my path make it easy to lose my footing.

Whether I am running or working on bettering myself mentally and emotionally, the challenges will always be there. It’s not always easy. It’s often hard work. I can’t prepare for every obstacle, but I can learn to let go of my desire to control everything. I can go with the flow. I can do my best.

When I’m running, I try to concentrate only on getting through that particular 60 seconds of running. I don’t think about running a 5k in a few months. I don’t think about running for 10 minutes at a time or even 5 minutes at a time. I do my best to stay in the moment and focus on those 60 seconds. (It reminds me a lot of labor and giving birth actually.) Just like in my life, I can’t wonder what the future will hold, but I can live in the now.

There’s a daily meditation that’s part of the 12-step programs that begins “Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately (and in the past it would seem) and it really sums it all up for me. Yes, I want to be able to run a 5k someday, but just for today I will focus on getting through those 60 second intervals at a time. Yes, I want to be healthy emotionally and mentally someday and perhaps not need therapy or medication, but just for today I will stay present and do my best. Slow and steady wins the race.

Other women who have done or are working on the Couch to 5k (C25k):

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Why I’m trying to let go of the mommy guilt & focus on myself & my marriage

Tomorrow I am dropping off my son Julian at his first day of preschool. He’s not even 3 yet – he’ll be 2 until the end of November. Sigh.

Although my heart wants to home school or unschool Ava, I’m not giving in and instead am leaving her in public school for kindergarten (in a class of 25 kids) this year. Sigh.

Why am I doing these things and going against my heart instead of following it? Because my head tells me they are the right things to do – for now.

I’ve spent the past five-plus years of my life pouring myself into my kids. They have been my world. Although intellectually I knew having balance in my life was important, I always seemed to neglect the idea. Instead of taking care myself or my marriage (things that would have required a good deal of effort), I distracted myself with my children. That’s not to say I regret putting my kids first because I don’t, but I wish that I would’ve found a way to make myself and my marriage a priority during this time too. My mental health has suffered. My marriage has suffered.

Many of you know I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder earlier this year. I’ve been going to individual therapy for months, as well as on a low dose of Zoloft. My husband Jody and I have also been going to couple’s therapy off and on for a few months. We both have a lot of work to do, and while I’ve doubted in the past whether or not we can make it, I’m feeling more confident that we can. It’s not going to be easy, but the things worth fighting for never are.

All of this to say that I’ve decided, after talking to my psychiatrist and doing some serious soul searching, that it’s time for me to stop focusing only on my children and time for me to focus on myself too. That means Ava will stay in public school this year and Julian will attend preschool (the same Waldorf home-based preschool Ava attended) one day a week. It will give me a little time to myself. I know the temptation to catch up on housework or waste the day away sitting on the computer will be great, but I hope to use some of that time every Wednesday to nurture myself (as well as volunteer in Ava’s classroom for two hours every other week – see, I can’t give up focusing on my kids that easily).

While this might not be exactly what I wanted or envisioned, it is what I believe will work best for us – for now. I will try to put my mommy guilt aside and focus instead on getting myself healthy and my marriage to a better place – both of which will benefit myself AND my children in the long run.

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Lookout BlogHer, here I…tiptoe (an intro to me)

BlogHer '09 In Real Life

Tomorrow afternoon I will embark on an adventure unlike any I’ve had before. I will kiss my kids and husband goodbye and travel alone (for the first time in more than five years) to the windy city of Chicago. I will arrive at the Sheraton hotel and likely not know what hit me as I join 1,500 other women bloggers for the sold-out Fifth Annual BlogHer Conference. There will be general sessions and break-out sessions, the community keynote, hugging, swag, friendships forming, more swag, networking, and more parties than you can shake a stick at.

I had been feeling really overwhelmed and anxious about it all, but honestly right now I am mostly just excited. This definitely isn’t something I do everyday and I’m excited to be a part of it all – to learn and grow as a blogger and to meet sooooo many women who, up until this point, I’ve known only virtually.

Yes, I will still be nervous and will be keeping my bottle of Xanax on hand just in case, but I am hoping I can push through the anxiety and turn it into an unforgettable experience.

Over at BlogHer, Denise recently suggested folks write a blogging primer on themselves as a pre-BlogHer get-to-know-you kind of post and here’s my go at it:

My name is Amy. I live in Colorado with my husband Jody (yes, he’s a guy) and our two kids Ava (5) and Julian (2.5). I’m currently a stay-at-home mom (hence the “Domestic” part of my blog name) and I also write as a contributing editor for BlogHer. I love finding new ways to “green” the way we live (hence the “Crunchy” party of my blog name) – from organic gardening to composting to cloth diapering to biking to using environmentally-safe non-toxic cleaners to making my own yogurt and granola (the best!) and much, much more. I like to post the occasional Green Challenge to motivate others (as well as myself) to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

I try to raise my kids using the Attachment Parenting philosophy, though I admit most of what I do is just parenting by instinct. I sometimes make mistakes though and am thankful that tomorrow is another day.

In addition to writing about parenting and eco-friendly living, I also enjoy writing about maternal health. I am a big believer in the power of a woman’s body (both to give birth and to nourish her baby) and I had my son at home with the help of my midwives.

I also consider myself an activist and most recently was involved in campaigning for Barack Obama and trying to get my city to allow backyard chickens. (I finally got the OK to get a permit!)

I grew up in an alcoholic family which is something that, after years of repressing, I am tackling head-on now. I kind of felt like I had no choice after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at the beginning of 2009. There are a lot of things in my life I am tackling head-on now (thanks to therapy) to help myself be a mentally and emotionally healthier person.

I sometimes struggle with how much information to share on my blog. There is a lot that I want to share that I don’t feel that I can out of respect for others who are involved. However, I often find myself sharing quite a bit anyway (things about myself and my anxiety disorder) and feel comfortable doing so as long as it’s not going to harm anyone.

Anyway, I bring up the alcoholism in my family’s past because growing up in those kind of conditions definitely shaped who I am today – which is a mostly quiet, reserved person, at least until you get to know me (or I have a glass of wine *wink*). Sometimes people thing I am just being snobby or stuck-up because I don’t talk much (especially in larger groups), but I’m just shy like that. I prefer one-on-one or small group conversations to those with several people. I feel more comfortable that way.

I love to write and am also a photography nut (and did portrait photography professionally for a while), though I haven’t picked up my SLR in months. I imagine that I will get back into again someday soon. I consider myself kind of crafty, but just don’t have the time to do much. However, after Jody recently suggested I make my own business card holder for BlogHer because “it would be the ultimate crunchy thing to do,” I had to take him up on the challenge. I sewed that by hand last night with some fabric I had and I cut a button off an old shirt. ;) It’s not perfect, but, provided it doesn’t fall apart, should work just fine.

My favorite quotes are, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi (I had that printed on some stickers I will be passing out at BlogHer) and “Knowledge is power.” I try to live by both of those mottos.

I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at BlogHer (tomorrow, eeep!!!). Please remember that if I don’t immediately jump into a conversation or run up and introduce myself to you, it’s not because I’m stuck-up, I just move at my own pace (though would welcome you running up to me to introduce *yourself*). ;) If you have time, write up a “getting to know you” post of your own and then link to it over on BlogHer and leave me a comment here with the link too so I can read about you before I meet you. :)

And if you aren’t going to BlogHer (I will miss you!), but want to know what I’m up to (hiding in a corner? sneaking away for a nap? eating some Chicago-style pizza? partying with my roomie PhDinParenting?), I plan on tweeting while there so be sure to Follow me on Twitter. You can also search flickr for photos tagged “Blogher09” – maybe I’ll turn up in some. :)

Lastly, a big THANK YOU to my sponsor Stonyfield Farm for helping me with my trip expenses. If you are interested in trying some of Stonyfield Farm’s new organic Oikos Greek Yogurt, track me down at BlogHer and I’ll give you a coupon for a free container of it. :)

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.**