The Cleanse

First, before you’re even fully awake, it’s the racing heart. Then the sweating begins, and before long, you start to feel the feeling you dread most–white hot electricity spawning from deep in your gut and moving up and out until even your fingers and toes are caught up in the awful circuitry. But that’s not the worst part. Still to come is the brain, kicking in and responding with active thought to what your body is already swaying and sweating to work through. And as your eyes break open, you once again identify it.

Fear.

Unreasonable, unwarranted, unbidden, and unbridled, it restarts on its own clock every morning, cortisol rising like a flood wave so that you’re a mess before you even get out of bed. For some it’s work anxiety, or relationship anxiety, or worry about kids or the future. For others, it’s nameless and excruciatingly shapeless, an impossible-to-grasp vapor whirling around your head. Regardless of specificity, it all offers the same bizarre gift–a frenzied, pulsing paranoia. Wait, a gift, you say? This thing that makes one feel so off the wall and crappy is a gift? This thing that keeps me compartmentalized within my own head and light years away from the present moment is a flipping gift?

Yes.

From the moment it started way back in January, I wanted to know the root cause of my suddenly acute anxiety, and I wanted it with a brand of urgency usually reserved for too-big-for-my-britches garden ideas and far-flung vacation schemes. The fire had to start somewhere, I reasoned, so it had to have a fuse. And I was hell-bent on finding it. At that time, there was quite honestly little else I could focus on–both the anxiety and the resulting depression put me into a state in which I couldn’t focus on anything at work, and I was just not at all present at home.

It’s now May. I’ve come out of the cave, I feel tons better, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot. I’m still a work in progress, but the level of schooling that this gift has given me is not one I’ll soon forget–and I think it was fully intended that way. Now, as with any gift, the best way to enjoy it is to share, so here you go:

1. Estrogen Dominance is Not Bullshit

I’m 44, so the first concept that popped into my head when the anxiety hit was that of hormones. Menopause and emotional roller-coastering are as famous a duo as Sonny and Cher, so it was kind of impossible not to go there and explore. Long, long, long story short, while all of my sex hormone levels do read as within “normal range” and were therefore not noted by my doctor, when looked at in conjunction with each other as a ratio, they put me solidly in the estrogen dominant camp, a classic anxiety-feeder. Now that I know this, I can respond to it.

2. Therapy is Not Bullshit

We all have stuff. A good therapist, one who is matched to you and to your personality, can help you to pull out all of that stuff, analyze it, and put it into a slot in your mind that is healthy and logical. I think everyone should have a therapist. Seriously. Mine is helping me to understand emotional connections that I had no idea existed, and we’ve already had a few hum-dinger aha moments. And at the end of the day, anxiety and depression are not, unfortunately, isolated conditions that happen only to you or to me. They are spread wide and far, and importantly, are experiences that we share and can empathize with as humans. From traditional therapists to support groups to wonderful coping concepts like Nanea Hoffman’s frankly adorable Anxiety Blob, we are reaching out to each other with ideas to help each other navigate the mazes in our minds, and by the same token, we must be able to seek out and accept that support when we need it.

@Regrann from @therealanxietyblob – "I’m here to tell you that anxiety is survivable. That there are bright moments that part the clouds of despair and fear. You may always live with the disorder, but you can manage it like any other chronic condition. I’m not saying this is easy. It’s not. The most heroic thing you do might be opening the door of a therapist’s office and making yourself go in. It might be texting a friend that you are not okay. It might be choosing to wash and feed yourself so that you can get to the next lily-pad and figure out what to do next. There is always an action you can take, even if that action is infinitesimally small. Some of my coping methods include: – long walks – shower crying – cognitive behavioral therapy – Netflix marathons – soft blankets – medication – housecleaning – writing – list-making – cat snuggling – allowing loved ones to be kind to me – looking for ways to be kind to others – exercise – reading – making stuff – telling the truth, loudly if necessary Your own list may vary, but if you sit down to make one, you might realize you have more coping skills than you thought." Read more: https://sweatpantsandcoffee.com/notes-from-nanea-the-unbearable-blobbiness-of-being/ #AnxietyBlob #anxiety #anxietyhelp #anxietydisorder #anxious #depression #depressed #depressionlies #Introvert #introverted #introverting #mentalhealth #mentalillness #mentalhealthhelp #selfcare

A post shared by Sweatpants & Coffee (@sweatpantsandcoffee) on

3. Self Care is Absolutely Not Bullshit

In the past, when I’d read about the importance of self care in a women’s magazine or on some other such outlet, I’d quietly guffaw to myself at the first-world narcissism inherent in the fact that this is even a topic. “What? I have a clean bathroom, hot coffee and weekends away from work. I’m not walking five miles a day to retrieve water from a dirty well. Self care? Whatever.”

But oh crap how wrong I was. Here’s the thing. When you don’t take a few moments to honor yourself, you begin to lose that sinew of self-regard that is so terribly important for even our privileged first-world lives. You show simple acts of kindness to others every day–don’t you deserve the same level of love and care? It could be as simple as a hot bath or an hour spent with a good book. Nothing fancy. Just a little gesture to show yourself that you care.

4. Dr. Axe is Not Bullshit

This dude is my new bud. As part of my anxiety deep dive, I read medical journals, physician blogs and enough other sciency stuff sufficient to choke a yeti. Time and time again, I found myself nodding my head vigorously in response to a piece by Dr. Josh Axe, whether it be on aromatherapy, nutrition, natural disease prevention or even thermography. He approaches his pieces with detail, medical research, and the passion of a man who is literally doing what he does as an act of love toward his mama. I dig him.

5. Functional Medicine is Not Bullshit

One of my favorite gifts out of anxiety-palooza was my discovery of acupuncture, holistic nutrition and functional medicine as a whole. I had experienced acupuncture only once before, years ago, during our fertility process, but this go around was much, much different. I am now happily entrenched with an integrative medicine organization that is passion-driven and dedicated to working with the whole person–body, mind and spirit. My visits there cover everything from stress-sucking needles to sound healing to a nutritional program that has already lowered my A1C by close to a point and caused me to drop nine pounds in a month (on a 5’3″ frame, no less). These ladies are working with all of me at once, and all of me is responding. I’m in love.

6. Food Really is Medicine

As part of the holistic care program above, my nutritionist (whom I still love anyway) launched me on a nutritional reboot that tested my ability to remain sane without even a speck of mashed potatoes. In a nutshell (which was empty, because nuts were verboten for the first two weeks), “if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t exist.” Fast forward six weeks and I’m calmer, leaner, not bloated, without belly pain, and bearing a much deeper appreciation for the complex taste of a good strawberry.

7. Meditation is Not Bullshit…

…but it’s simplicity is deceiving. You may have a session of alone time with your mind that presents you with a perspective to blow your mind, but on the contrary, you could come out of that same session with a giant headache and a fascination with the circus sideshow that goes on in your head. It takes time to develop, like any skill requiring mastery, but the key is to just make that time. Perhaps it’s 20 minutes a day during your train commute, or in the morning before the kids and spouse get up. Headspace or 10% Happier are there for you too–both apps can be excellent starting points to developing your own personalized practice. Pick something that works for you and give yourself the attention of that daily mental housecleaning. Back to point #3 above, self-care is key, and being a caretaker of your mind is a huge puzzle piece in the well-being of your whole self.

8. Time with Loved Ones is the Very Breath of Life

If there is only one gift I could keep out of this experience, it is the realization that making time to interact meaningfully with those who own pieces of your heart will keep that heart beating. Although I work very hard to ensure I have ample time with my husband and son, I now realize that, beyond the two of them, I was not engaging much with the world in a significant way.

The word “significant,” like the term “self care,” doesn’t translate to a limo-laden Ladies Night full of clubbing, makeup and hangovers. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s a discussion with Tammy on mothering and self as we sit across from each other in a booth at Chuck E. Cheese watching our kids blast video zombies. It’s laughing until I can’t breathe at the antics of Paul, my colleague and friend (and basis for the gay werewolf character in Scherzo on Inkitt), thoughout a glee-glittered conversation we picked up from right where we left it two years ago. It’s a catch up on family, politics, religion, and work with longtime friend Marcus as we eat beignets and stroll through the French Quarter during a conference break. It’s holding my husband’s hand while we walk the dog through the park.

I’m now taking the initiative to make that very important life change and restoke those connections. I’ve had conversations this spring with my aunts that were deeper and more meaningful that any others I can remember with them. I’ve begun to make more time for lunches or dinners with friends. I called and texted those who love me even though I royally suck at keeping in regular contact (I also really dislike talking on the phone, but I’ve learned that’s right in line with my personality type). I realized that yes, it really is that important to fly to Philly to see my brother’s kids more than just once a year. For this is the magical balm to the soul–sharing air, energy and ideas with those whom you love, and who love you in return. And if a little anxiety is all that was needed in order for me to get that fact and act on it, then I am certainly and amply blessed.

P.S. I have a LOT more to say on this topic. Hit the Follow button to stay in the loop. I won’t blast you with emails, I promise. And thanks for reading. 🙂

Z.

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