Sunday, May 31, 2009

Travelogue Part Two - In Flight Adventures

So I'll be honest with you. I was not happy to be sitting on that first plane before 7am in the morning.

As the aircraft sped up to takeoff speed & gradually lifted off the ground, soaring upward towards the clouds, I felt waves of anxiety coursing through my body. I figured that I had two choices: freak out the whole way to the Carribean or do my best to accept that I was going to be 35,000 feet in the air for a few more hours and get as comfortable as possible.

I thought about my tool belt of coping skills and started saying to myself, "I want this anxiety. I want it to get stronger." And, you know what? It was working. I couldn't make the symptoms any stronger than they already were.

Then, I thought about Dave Carbonell's "Rule of Opposites" - doing the opposite of what feels "safe" in an anxiety provoking situation. So, instead of pulling down the shades & pretending I wasn't on a plane, I started looking out the windows. I found that I really do like to see the tree tops, little tiny houses, and the outline of roads. Who lives in those homes & what is their story, I wondered.

Something else that really helped was the Truth Based Technique I read about in David Burn's book. I wrote in my notebook:
*How many times have I gotten so anxious that I ran down the aisle of the plane screaming?
*How many times have planes had to land for me because I absolutely couldn't handle symptoms of anxiety?
*How many times have I curled up in the fetal position under my chair & cried until it was all over?
Ahem, I think we know the answers to all of the above.

There were more moments with waves of fear and extended periods of time where I felt that pit in my stomach , but it was all manageable & my skills came in handy. Before I knew it, we were in Atlanta & preparing to board our second flight.

For our second flight, the longer flight, our seats were in the back of the plane. I'm not sure why the back of the plane is worse, but I kinda feel more claustrophobic back there. Our flight time was 3 hours & 12 minutes (but whose counting) & in my head I felt like a 2.5 hour flight would be so much easier. Isn't it funny how our brains make up rules about what's safe & what's not?

Once we found our seats, we looked at each other at the same time -- we were definitely in the "party" section of the plane. Three babies were in the back with us & some rowdy folks were starting the party early with cocktails. I wondered if some of them were drinking to cope with their own anxiety. A moment before take off, the 5 year old cherub behind me started to giggle & said, "Hey Mom! What if the plane catches on fire & we crash? Wouldn't that be cool?!"

Hey kid - who asked you? Huh?

Finally, we landed in St. Thomas, USVI - just a ferry & a few taxi rides away from our final destination, St. John. The whole plane cheered & clapped at the successful landing. Steve & I stepped off the plane, walked down the roll away staircase out onto the tarmac & just kept grinning. This was going to be a blast.

So, let's recap. What helped?

*Showing up & being willing to try something that creates anxiety
*Paradox/Bring it on mentality/Make the symptoms stronger
(Reid Wilson, Don't Panic - newly revised)
*Truth based techniques (David Burns, When Panic Attacks)
*Rule of Opposites (Dave Carbonell, Panic Attacks Workbook)
*Supportive mate
*Engaging with others/humor
*Being ok if none of these worked

Stay tuned! The next installment will be about our adventures in paradise!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Travelogue Part One - Getting on the plane

Friday night before the big vacation takeoff:

I am feeling excited, shopping for last minute beach towels & sunscreen, packing into the wee hours of the morning. I write little notes for my girls and fight the urge to say things like, "If we don't make it home, I want you to know. . ." and fill up their journals with memories and dreams for their futures.

I crawl into bed & the anxiety steps things up a bit. Adrenaline becomes my bedmate & I know I'm not going to get much sleep. I remind myself that this is to be expected. I expect to sleep terribly and feel anxious, even panicky. I haven't flown in almost 3 years & I'm leaving my children behind for a week - something I've never done before. Next to my bed is a pad of paper for notes & I write down, "I want this anxiety" - just in case I forget when the alarm goes off. I snuggle up to my man & try to ride the waves while he snoozes with ease. Thank God only one of us runs anxious!

Saturday morning - 4:30am:

I wake up with a real sense of dread. I feel nauseous & panicky. I look down at my "I want this anxiety" note with a smiley face & say "screw that - what a stupid thing to write"! In the shower, I'm weepy and yell out to my husband, "I changed my mind. I don't want to go. I just want to stay home. I feel terrible."

It's so hard in that moment to believe all those coping statements and truths - that flying is much safer than driving; panic always goes away with time; panic & anxiety are uncomfortable, but not dangerous; it's very likely that I'll be able to relax into the flight once we get going & if not, I will survive.

The first step is making it out the door. Then, driving to the airport where I take .25 mg of xanax & review my options - "If we get to our first connection & I feel terrible, we can always come home, right?" Walking into the airport feels familiar - it's been a while, but I've done this before. After going through the security lines & randomly having my shoes checked (are my Keens too stinky? I ask) I rush over to the gate attendant, tell her about my flying fear & ask for seats closer to the front. At first she says that the plane is full, but at the last minute I am called up to the desk & the lovely Miss Tina from Delta changes our seating to bulk head. I think I love her.

As they call our flight to begin boarding, Steve & I wait & I take another .25mg. The funny thing about many anxiety superheroes & meds is that we're actually a little afraid of taking them. From the extremes of -- "What if it's too much & I stop breathing?" to "What if I take it & it doesn't work?"

Finally we take make our way through the line and warm tears roll down my face as we board the plane. As we buckle up and they seal the doors, I close my eyes and remember where we're going.

More to come:
*Travelogue Part Two: In flight adventures
*Travelogue Part Three: Island Mama

Monday, May 4, 2009

Coping with matters out of our control

Here's a comment I received a few days ago & the impetus for this current post:

"I would love for you to do a post on the swine flu and how to handle anxiety symptoms related to something that's so out of a person's control. I'm having difficulty with it, with the situation in and of itself, but it also brings up symptoms related to the general fear that I've got no control over the future."

What's an anxiety super hero to do when the world feels out of control and scary and it seems like there's nothing you can do to protect yourself? And, I don't mean all the scary scenario's we regularly create in our brains - rather, things like terrorism, global warming and the swine flu.

I remember hearing about the avian flu a few years back and feeling terrified. Every time I turned on the news, there was another frightening report of how it would spread to a pandemic level. Newspapers printed full page stories about supplies you should have at home in case we all had to be quarantined. Picking up my children from pre-school, the avian flu was a hot topic among parents & many of us felt afraid. My husband & I talked about what we would do if a pandemic were to occur, thinking through how we could keep our family safe. (There's still a box of unwrapped, protective masks in our basement.)

So what can we do when life feels out of our control? How can we take smart precautions without going off the deep end and building a bomb shelter in the backyard - just in case? How do we sort out the necessary information from the fear messaging so prevalent in our world, threatening to limit and suck the joy out of our lives?

Here's what I do & some links that I find helpful:

*I greatly limit the amount & type of news I take in. Dr. Andrew Weil writes about going on a news diet in his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health & I take it to heart!

*When something comes up that's bothering me, I might freak out a little bit first, to be honest. After I'm done with that, I find a trusted source or two & go to it for information. If I find myself anxiously surfing the web for every little article - any piece of information that might help me protect myself & my family - I recognize that for what it is - a symptom of anxiety. When anxiety arises, you know what to do - check out this & this. Scheduling a worry time each day also helps to decrease that feeling of constant worry weaving through your thoughts day & night.

*I try to plan and take control of what I can. With the swine flu, I talked to my kids last night at the dinner table (in age appropriate terms) and reminded them how important it is to wash their hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, when the come home from school, etc. It's such an easy, but extremely effective tool for keeping healthy. My husband & I have gone through what steps we could take if this flu became pandemic. Looking fears in the face & finding potential solutions can feel very liberating.

*I try to keep up with the basics -- exercise, a good night's sleep (I'm not so good there), & a healthy diet.

*Meditation, prayer/spirituality, progressive muscle relaxation, & yoga are all essential tools.

*And, finally, it's easy to take a healthy dose of humor each day when you live with a toddler. I try to laugh with my family, cuddle them up & be as present as I can when I'm with them. Life feels like it's going so quickly & I don't want to waste their growing up time preparing anxiouly for the "what if's".

I hope that helped as you strive for a balanced response to the craziness in the world. I'd love to hear from readers what works for you, too!