Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 27 - Coming down to the wire

Hi everyone! First of all, let me tell you that we finally have working radiators and a brand new furnace, just in time for some east coast snow! There's nothing like coming in from some serious snow play, laying mittens and hats on the radiators, and finding them warm and dry in no time! Thanks for the messages and well wishes!

Day 27 - I'm in a place where, like most people, the emotional content of any given day is a mixed bag. I don't feel anxious all day, every day, but I'm experiencing more consistent anxiety than I was hoping for as I near the end of my 30 day challenge. Which, of course, sends my head into a tail spin of, "Will I feel this way forever? Am I missing something?"

I couldn't sleep last night and found myself feeling on the verge of panic. You know that free floating anxiety that sneaks up on you as the day comes to an end? To be fair, I did have a lot on my mind: my husband is winter camping with the boys, somewhere in the wilderness (talk about crazy); I'm getting ready to teach a new class; and I'm willingly taking on anxiety daily.

I find it fascinating, though, that a person who is conditioned to feel anxiety/panic can go from an automatic thought to physical panic symptoms before their brain even registers what happened. It's no wonder, then, that we find ourselves monitoring every little symptom, guarding against every thought.

I was reading an oldy but a goody Claire Weeks book the other day. She talks about the common mistake people make when they "accept 99% of symptoms and experiences but withdraw from the final 1 percent". (p.69) And, I was thinking, 'Claire, baby . . .I'm trying here! Can't 1% of me have the luxury of withdrawing now and again?' And, the answer, unfortunately, was a resounding no. She adds, "The next time you set off to practice acceptance. . . watch for the moment of recoil and go toward it in a loose, floating kind of way. That is the key." (p. 70)

So, in the midst of late night anxiety, as I was going down too many rabbit holes and trying to argue it away, I remembered to pull out my mental bag of tricks, "Oh, wait a minute, I'm not falling for this again. I want this anxiety, too." Loosening up as I talked myself into wanting this, I drifted off to sleep, waking up an hour later to more sensation. Again, I took a moment to relax into it, look out the window at the snow, and wait for the sensations to subside. After a few rounds, I eventually fell asleep.

As I write, I feel sleep calling to me, so I'll wrap it up here. I'd love to hear how your challenges are going and what you're trying to accept and go toward in your final 1 percent.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 19 - Furnaces, Bridges and Haircuts - Oh My!

Here we are on Day 19! So far, this week has been a good mix of a couple great practices (meaning I felt super anxious and welcomed it) and lots of stress management over buying a new furnace - ouch! Over the weekend, I got a chance to drive over the Enon bridge. Even on the way there, I said once or twice, "You know, I might choose to just be a passenger. OK? It's alright if I choose that." And then, as we approached it I thought, "OK, I can do this. I want this," and it wasn't so bad. Such was the case with other practices, like getting my hair cut and highlighted. Even as I moved forward, ready to show up, I had worries about getting panicky and feeling embarrassed. I'm really working on dropping the critics voice that says I should be ashamed of having anxiety in everyday situations. I've been fighting that internal battle for too long and getting nowhere. It turned out that I handled the few big waves of adrenaline, accepted that my face was red and thoroughly enjoyed the pampering afternoon!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our Friend Adrenaline

We woke to the strangest sound yesterday morning around 5:25am - boom! My husband and I both shot awake, looked at each other and said, "What the hell was that?" I thought it was something outside, peered out the windows and went to check on my babies. Steve ran down stairs and came up quickly, motioning me to talk in the hall. "Our boiler blew and there's a lot of gas and water in the basement. Get the kids. We need to get out of the house."

Our oldest woke to the sound as well and was pretty nervous already. Her alarm system was going off and she started to cry, wondering what would happen. I woke our middle child and picked up our sleeping toddler out of the bed. We opened the front door and grabbed jackets in the same motion, getting out to the van within a minute's time.

Huddled together with the heater blowing, jackets on, stocking feet, we waited for the cavalry to arrive. We had no experience with this kind of situation. I was wondering, "Would the house blow? Did we need to alert the neighbors and get the hell out of Dodge before the whole thing blew?"

Minutes later, we heard sirens and saw lights flashing as three firetrucks arrived, a police car and the gas company. Sitting in the van, I couldn't help but observe our different reactions. Our oldest was still crying, probably taking in a more complex view of the situation. Our middle said, "Oh yeah! A firetruck in front of our house! Dad - can you ask they would let me climb inside?" The baby was curled up in my lap sucking her thumb, happy as long as she was with her family.

Steve and I had responded quickly and without hesitation. He's pretty unflappable during an emergency. In this situation, I didn't feel fear at all. My body gave me just the right amount of adrenaline to get everyone out of the house to safety. I didn't notice the effects until I was sitting with the baby on my lap and she giggled, noticing my legs shaking. We all laughed and I knew it was just a matter of time until the adrenaline wore off and the shaking ceased. I also knew that my goal was to approach future symptoms with the same knowledge and patience, emergency or not.

Tonight as we make phone calls to buy a new furnace (ouch) from the warmth and comfort of Grandma's house and received lots of support from friends and family, we feel so very blessed. This is an inconvenience, but certainly in light of world events, very manageable.

If you haven't had a chance to send money to relief efforts in Haiti, please consider sending what you can to your charity of choice.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day Thirteen - Today's challenges

Todays challenges:

*Take my girls skating about 30 minutes from our home.
*Drive over the very evil Enon bridge
*Drive to my Mom's house and cross another two (big, but not so evil) bridges
*Continue to work on wanting that free floating anxiety/agitation that seems to stay with me some days and not resist it so much.
*Stop obsessing about whether 150 feet above the water will feel too high and work with the feelings it brings up. :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day Ten - Interesting Interview

After seeing David Barlow on This Emotional Life, I googled some of his articles and found this interview. It's really interesting -- for example, did you know that 10% of the population has non-clinical panic? These are people who experience the same physiological symptoms of a panic attack, but don't label it as such. An aspect that makes panic disorder a disorder is fearing more attacks and avoiding situations where panic may present. People with non-clinical panic might have the symptoms and chock up the feelings to a stressful day or something they ate. I find this fascinating! He also speaks to why some people develop an anxiety disorder and others don't, even with a biological predisposition. Read it if you get the chance and tell me what you think!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day Eight - Pushing Forward

A quick update on Day Eight:

I went driving over the bridge this morning and further down the highway than I've been in over a year. I did a test drive with a fellow superhero last night and felt crazy nervous. This morning, though, I think that attitude of willing to feel anxious helped a great deal. I was also really inspired by my friend who got on the highway last night after not doing so for 10 years. If you were on the road you might have seen our superhero capes flying!

Tonight, I had been invited to attend a financial book group and I only knew one of the women. Standing at the sink washing dishes, I thought about not going because I was tired, it was late and, really, hadn't I already done my anxiety work today? That's the thing about putting your goals out in the open, I felt like if I was going to do this challenge, I really had to go for it. So, off into the cold night I went and had a really nice time.

I don't want to jinx anything, but I'm starting to feel a little more like myself and the din of anxiety radio is beginning to weaken.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day Four - Brain in Training

I remember sitting in the weekend workshop last fall and hearing Dr. Wilson say, "Getting rid of resistance is one of your biggest goals." Even though we know intellectually that nothing dangerous will happen when anxiety and panic arise - we do know that, don't we? - it's so easy to get caught up in the what if's and feel like, "I can't do exposure today. I feel too anxious. That means something bad will happen. Maybe I should wait for another day".

In This Emotional Life, David Barlow, Ph.D. said something I loved about our thoughts and catastrophic predictions. He said, "Don't believe everything you think!" Even if they're not true, we tend to believe these thoughts because we're the ones thinking them.

Sitting at the computer on day four, I've completed 4 driving practices so far, 1 social practice and relaxation every day. Here's a quick update!

Day two - I woke up feeling anxious, kind of raw and tired. You know those mornings when you just don't feel like going out there and doing the work. I'm having lots of those as I work through this resistance. Pushing myself, I drove the bridge loop again and made it longer, adding another exit with a smaller bridge that used to be my nemesis!

Feeling really anxious before even starting, I found myself both asking the symptoms to increase and hoping them away at the same time. The first loop was pretty good, but here's something interesting. Because I was feeling so raw, I thought during the second loop, "it's ok if I turn on some music to keep my mind a little distracted. I just need it today. It's no big deal."

Well, that small act of adding a crutch sent a message to my brain that this was more dangerous than previously anticipated. I got to the mid-way point, turned around at the exit and boom, big waves of anxiety were pulsing through my body. My automatic thoughts were, "Uh oh. I'm in trouble here. I'm feeling really bad, I've got my child in the car & I'm going to have to call someone to pick us up on the side of the road."

Then, I remembered the truth. In 14 years of dealing with anxiety, nothing bad has ever happened and fighting only makes it worse. Knowing it was the only way to go, I said again out loud, "Hit me. Come on anxiety - come and get me. I'm not even fighting back. I want to feel adrenaline coursing through my body by the time we hit the bridge." I dropped my shoulders again and even put my right hand out, as if to say, "I give". What else was I going to do?

Making my way across the bridge, looking over the water and city skyline, I continued to feel strong physical sensations, like I was buzzing with adrenaline. However, when I dropped my guard, I was able to step back and notice that even though it was uncomfortable, the symptoms weren't getting worse, I was driving very well and everything was alright. I felt like this was good practice, what I need to be doing every day.

At this point, I really should have done a third loop to cement the learning. And, this sounds like an excuse, but my 2 year old was getting a little tired of looking for trucks and birds as we went "Sunday driving". This is one of the challenges of finding ways to fit this work into our daily lives.

I tell you what . . . this feels like I'm training for a marathon some days. We are biologically wired to protect ourselves from these feelings, even if they are irrational. Dropping the resistance and choosing to feel it all is exhausting work. When I did my first triathlon, I competed while wearing my "Team in Training" singlet. I think those of us out there doing exposure work should be wearing a team shirt that says, "Brain in Training"!

If you're joining me for 30 days of exposure, here's a great read (very short) about how to know if you're succeeding. I know that I'm not doing all these things regularly, but it's a good reminder of where to set our compass.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day One - Getting Started

Today's practice was a 10 mile loop over the downtown bridge and back, which I did three times in a row. The practice was pretty typical: I felt most anxious the first time and was almost bored with it by the third. What helped the most were the paradoxical techniques of asking anxiety symptoms to increase, purposefully repeating anxiety provoking phrases, and dropping my guard. Knowing intellectually that nothing bad ever happens, I physically dropped the tension in my shoulders and said outloud, "Hit me. Come on. Give you your best shot. I can handle it."

I felt hopeful as I finished up that practice, the sun was shining and I thought of all the opportunities in life when anxiety does not rule decision making. I love that dreamy space where everything is a possibility. I even dreamed of the article I'd write after these 30 days are over when I'm feeling so much better.

As evening finds me anxious and tense again, obsessing on how I'm always going to feel this way, I'm trying to remind myself that this is what I expected. There would be no challenge if it was easy from the beginning. Long term conditioning will take a while to reverse. It's normal to be worrying that tomorrow and the days to follow won't be as smooth; that I won't be able to take on harder challenges. But, that's ok. I expected that and can handle whatever arises.

Looking forward to stirring up more trouble for myself tomorrow.

I'll be checking in a couple times per week -- see you soon!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"This Emotional Life"

PBS is coming out with another amazing series that you won't want to miss - "This Emotional Life". It begins airing Monday, January 4th, 2010 (just in time for the challenge!). Check your local PBS station for times.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Preparing: 30 Day Challenge Begins this Monday 1/4/10

Happy New Year!

I hope one of your New Years resolutions is to join me in the 30 day exposure challenge and begin changing your relationship with anxiety. This is not easy work, but I know we can do it together! Some of you may be ready to jump right in while others may watch from the sidelines as they design a program that feels right for them. Still others may be working through 30 days of healthy habits that will create positive change in their lives.

Everyone goes at their own speed and has different goals. The idea is to start with something and begin now, not waiting for a day where you feel like doing it or have less stress or whatever other excuse tugs at you to just stick with the status quo. If you're already uncomfortable. . . why not start today?

My goal is to stop worshiping at the altar of anxiety this year. My hope is that by following a 30 day program of exposure to my feared situations and thoughts, along with a course of relaxation and basic self care, I'll find myself further along the path to recovery. I know that I'm hard wired to default to anxiety when stress comes knocking. Part of that is biology and part years of conditioning. Research shows that these types of practices help smooth out those well worn grooves and perhaps they won't be so deep and easy to slide into in the future. I'm also hoping this will inspire others to take back their lives, moving forward with or without anxiety.

I can't tell you how many people I've spoken with recently who have been experiencing similar feelings. Many talk about having a low to mid-level feeling of anxiety, thoughts like anxiety radio streaming through, or simply a feeling of unease most days. Others experience panic with some regularity and fear it's return. Some talk about waking up each morning with anxiety coursing through their bodies like electricity.

All of these people go on with their days to do amazing things.

Exposure and anxiety work can be a mixed bag, just like life. Some days, I throw on the cowgirl boots and cruise across the bridge, meet someone for coffee and make travel plans. I feel like I can conquer the world and I'm filled with dreamy inspiration. Other days, I think being a hermit isn't such a bad idea; I'm sure my anxiety will always have the upper hand and wreak havoc on my life (catastrophic thinking & fortune telling for you CBT buffs).

That's just the nature of the beast and I can expect and prepare for both types of days to pop up. As we all know, feeling states are not static - happy, sad, anxious, angry, joyful, surprised, nervous, elated - all have their moment and none stick around forever.

So, enough of the intro and pep talk, are you ready to roll up your sleeves and get down to work? My 30 day challenge begins Monday, January 4th, 2010 and finishes up Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010.

"Here's the basic strategy. Get anxious on purpose. Once you are anxious, encourage the symptoms to continue for a long time. During this time, stop worrying and start supporting yourself. Let go of your safety crutches. Do this over and over, in all your fearful situations."
(R. Reid Wilson, Ph.D., pg. 33, Facing Panic)

I have many great books and workbooks that help with anxiety, but I'm narrowing this challenge to one and I will be working out of Facing Panic as my main guide. Here are three that I highly recommend and two very helpful websites. Choose a plan that feels good to you, map out your daily goals and stick with it. Here's what my plan entails:


Relaxation & Calming Skills (Chart 1)

*Natural breathing (10xday) -- about 2 minutes
*Calming breath (10xday) - 2-3 minutes
*Progressive muscle relaxation (2xday - am & pm) - about 10 minutes

I'm going to choose from the following each day. Some days I'll be able to do more than others, but the idea is to do something each day.

*Interoceptive exposure (charts 2 and 3)
*Practicing with feared situations (charts 4, 5, 6 & 7)
*Cognitive exposure/Setting aside time to worry (read this)

Ok, so let's get started! If you're joining me in any capacity, please leave a comment and let me know how your progress is coming along! This is a place to talk about days that aren't going so smoothly, as well as a place to celebrate your victories.