Anxiety Can Be Invisible To The Naked Eye

Since I worked as a counsellor for years, I thought knew what anxiety looked like. I had seen it many times. A person would get a certain look in their eyes, their breathing would get faster and strained, they might get blotches of red on their neck, they basically would look unwell and I thought this was anxiety.  But this is only one example of how anxiety can be seen and I had no idea how invisible it could actually be until it happened to me.

One day I went to work feeling quite normal, or as my kids would say, as normal as I get. But as I sat down in my cubicle I thought I was losing my mind. I literally felt like I was floating above my body and wondering how to get back inside. Or worse, I wondered if I even wanted to go back.  I watched my body sitting in the chair, staring at the computer screen, wondering what to do. How do I turn it on? What was my password? What would I do once I got it working if I could even get it to work?  I remember feeling like my whole body was made of stone and I couldn’t move my limbs.  I have no idea how long this lasted, maybe 2 minutes, maybe 30, but it was terrifying.  How could this happen? Could anyone tell? Was anyone watching?

A few weeks later I thought to tell my therapist what had happened, worried that this might be the final straw that proved I was crazy.  I was shocked when she just nodded and said it sounded like a rather typical anxiety attack.  I was relieved and terrified at the same time. Would it happen again?  Well, yes, it has happened again and I survived.

A few years after this first attack, I was chatting with someone who said they too had anxiety and so I asked what it was like for her.  I was shocked when she described feeling like a statue, frozen in time (why these things still shock me I don’t know, but they do). So just in case you think you’re the only one who has moments in time that you cannot explain, you are not alone.  You may not understand what is happening, and there may be no rational explanation at the time, but it helps me to think that I am not the first or the last to experience moments like this. pexels-photo-951005.jpeg

Am I Not Enough?

I am the only one who feels like they aren’t quite enough?  Somedays I feel like I’m not brave enough, or hardworking enough, or tough enough, or gentle enough, or smart enough or generous enough, or disciplined enough… I could go on and on!

Although everywhere we look,  our culture appears to promote prioritizing self-care, self-love, self-worth… and yet at the same time, we are bombarded with messages to inspire us to try harder, dream bigger and get more done in less time.  How can I prioritize self-love while at the same time feeling that I should be trying to improve myself and my life in so many different areas? It is really enough to make me feel crazy.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why can’t I just ‘be’ and be ok with that?

For example,  I am so proud of the fact that I started my blog after years of thinking about it, that I post regularly, and best of all, that people are reading it (thank you, readers!). I have reached the goal that I set. Why can’t that be good enough?  Why do I now feel pressure to ‘expand my audience’ and ‘spread my message’?  I can’t even tell if it’s my internal voice wanting to do more, or have I been conditioned to always strive for more?

My facebook feed is full of inspiring messages about ‘just be you’ and ‘never giving up’ and ‘dream big’.  And I am totally guilty of sharing these posts as they remind me that things will get better when I’m stuck in a rut.  But what if we have a small dream that is just the right size for us? What if we attain that dream and want to enjoy it just the way it is? Why can’t that be enough?

I love learning and so I attend a lot of workshops, whether is about art,  small business or personal growth. I enjoy learning and try new things. But lately, I am wondering if they have caused some unwanted side effects. Are they making me feel like I need to do more? Or I am not doing enough of the right things?  Maybe I am not clear enough?

So on this Sunday evening, I am practicing feeling that I am enough, just the way I am at this very moment (with a little Netflix and my knitting).

I’d love to know if others can relate to feeling enough, or rather not enough? Have you moved beyond it and have ideas to share? IMG_2339

 

Pain & Suicide

Wanting pain to stop is not the same as wanting to die.  One may lead to the other, but if there are other options to stop the pain, I believe most people would choose them over dying.  Other than giving birth to my two 9lb+ babies and passing kidney stones, my head has caused me the most pain.

I get migraines, well, they are not the typical migraines, but they are very bad headaches that can last for days. They started when I was eleven, I was in grade 5 and I remember thinking there must be something dreadfully wrong with me. They can be so painful and exhausting, that when I have one I want to cut my head off. I used to say this and people would laugh, or pat me on the back and say something like ‘just take an aspirin and lay down for while’  or ‘take a bath’ or ‘have you tried_______ (trust me, I have tried everything)?’  So now I try not to talk about them. Actually, I try to avoid them if at all possible. And if I do say something, it is usually a few days into it, and I can’t hide it anymore.

I know a lot of people suffer from pain that is more debilitating than my headaches, and maybe I even have a low threshold for pain, but that doesn’t make them any more bearable for me.  Sometimes it feels like there is a vice around my head that is slowly being tightened. Other times the pain radiates from the base of my skull where I feel like someone just whacked me with a cast iron pan. Everything from my jaw and teeth to my throat and even to my stomach, begin to ache under the pressure, eventually leaving me nauseous and weak. And if one lasts long enough, it feels like my eyes are being forced out of their sockets under the pressure. When I lay in bed, I imagine how I could sever my head from my neck. Would I do it at the base of my skull or at the level of the shoulders?  What kind of force would be required?  I never want to actually do this,  but I never want a headache either.

As I have said before, pain is pain. Emotional or physical, they both hurt. They are both unmeasurable. They are exhausting and can be all consuming. What helps one person may not help the next.  What is tolerable to one is excruciating to the next.

So I imagine that when a person is in so much pain and they are not able to see an end to it,  dying begins to look like a solution.  I imagine this is the kind of pain that someone is in when they commit suicide. Pain that no one seems to understand.  No one knows how hard they tried to stop it, but nothing helped or it didn’t last.  There is no pill or therapy or magic potion that has sufficiently taken away their pain. So they don’t want to die, but they need the pain to stop.

I wonder if we change the conversation around suicide, by helping people

***If you or someone you know is in pain, please take it seriously.   There are crisis lines, therapists, doctors and support networks of all kinds, look for them, reach out.  If the first place you look doesn’t have what you need, try the next until you find what’s right for you. In my experience, when we are able to reach out, we are often pleasantly surprised at how quickly a situation can change.   

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What I need, I will learn today

*This is a guest post written by my longtime friend Kimberley Eland.

The truth about being truthful and the power to carry it out.

I love to write. Period. I love stationery and paper, pens and markers. I love the smell of bounded journals and books and the weight of them. I love the way letters, fonts and words fit together like pieces of a puzzle on a board. For a very long time, I’ve wanted to write. A poem, a song or just something of meaning, I’ve wanted to leave “a mark” as they say.

I also love photography and art. I love how the light can play tricks on the eye and I love how it changes over the course of an hour, a day, a season. I love that in the summer, the colour green abounds. In the winter, I love how the light can reflect off of the snow and create prisms of colour that sparkle like diamonds. I love how the sky can change from gray to purple to blue to white and back again in minutes. I especially love it when I catch the moment and can capture it in a photograph or a drawing. When I do this, I feel like I’ve caught a wrinkle in time! Sometimes, when I need inspiration, I can go back to that wrinkle, even if it doesn’t exist in real time and come back to the start. Begin again if you will. Once again, leaving a trace or a mark as if to appease my huge ego by fanciful ideas of greatness.

So why haven’t I done anything about this? Why haven’t I just sat down and considered doing something? I’ve taken notes, jotted a few lines here and there. I’ve even penned out a couple of rudimentary poems but never considered them “good” enough to share or to learn by heart. Why is that? Why do I procrastinate?

Fear made me frozen and I was knee deep in denial and blame.

On November 30th, 2017 I received a diagnosis: “You have a tumour in your right eye and it is cancerous”. All the time I thought I was doing everything right, what I ate, how I exercised, my sleep patterns were regular, I had a house, a family a good job, good friends…. all of this came to a halt in one afternoon at a hospital in Montreal. To clarify, these things didn’t actually stop existing, they simply stopped being “a part of my life as I knew it” and had to become “a part of my life with a life-threatening diagnosis”.

When I found out that there was something in my eye, doom and gloom moved in and created a frenzy inside. It sat with me, it sang me to sleep, it woke me in the middle of the night and it haunted my waking hours. I am ashamed to admit that I told myself that I “had it coming”. Why would a person do this to themselves? I figured that because I wasn’t satisfied with my life, thinking that I never had enough time to do the things I truly wanted to do, like write or paint or play music or take great pictures then I deserved the wake-up call that the Universe was offering me. Here’s the strange part, compassion came to visit and it was telling me I was sleeping through my life, just coasting at a speed that was fast enough to get from A to B but slow enough to not upset my apple cart. Looking back to the time before my diagnosis, I realize that I was headed for a crash, even though I was following traffic and obeying the rules, I did not realize that by making excuses and blaming others for my lack time was the equivalent of driving in the middle of the autoroute all the while going in the wrong direction. A crash was imminent, it seems obvious to me now, I wasn’t going to listen to any other way. My self-loathing and lack of self-compassion attracted an event that was the necessary evil to make me STOP and look at my life from an entirely new perspective.

I had to welcome the demon and acknowledge its presence before I could focus on my truth.

I have been fortunate enough to allow for my demons. I have been a self-loathing person faced with the reality that I too am worthy of love. This brought me to my knees. I was overwhelmed and caught off guard by the influx of love and support I was receiving. Someone said to me: “You have been there for your family, your husband, your children, your friends. You gave them your hand when they needed it, now it is your turn to accept the hand they offer you. You deserve it”. I had never really taken stock of it, yet it is now my understanding that without love, hope and faith are impossible dreams. I have it all it doesn’t have to be impossible. Why can’t I write? Why can’t I sing? Why can’t I take photos and enjoy the light? I can. I will. I am. The truth is that I was blaming my lack of motivation on fatigue and too much time spent at work. What I am now noticing is that I was miserable at work because I was telling myself that it is what I have to do in order to eventually have time to do all the other stuff. That is just a boatload of crazy. I do not need to work 40 hours in 4 days to have a day off just so that I can get the house cleaned up and the laundry caught up. I can figure this out. The truth is that I have to actually DO something about it for it to work. I know I have discipline, I just need to refocus and direct it in the other direction. I also have to embrace the reality of failure and that it doesn’t need to define me. Just like cancer, you can get a diagnosis and it is very real, but it doesn’t have to define you.

 

If I practice being more true and authentic, I can acknowledge that I needed to make a change and that I’ve been out of alignment for years. I’ve failed at jobs and tasks that I was asked to do. It doesn’t have to define me unless I allow it. I can let go and allow my prognosis to be different. Just. Like. Me. The demon inside my heart showed its ugly head, its shame, its truth and I captured it in a photograph, in a wrinkle. It’s not as malignant as I thought it was. It’s unique and kind of beautiful and it deserves recognition. I know in my heart that I will have to practice my truth every day. Authenticity cannot be mastered. There are no diplomas. I will never graduate. But I will live my life as it is meant to be. Not by telling myself to push through and bear it but rather to lean in and allow it to take me where I need to go. On many occasions I have asked the question: “ What should I do?” and the answer has come from many different teachers: “The answer is in you.” OK. I heard. Now, I’m listening. I’m afraid because I’m human. I’ve been numb because I’m human. I have not been practicing for long. I know that fear of failure and disappointment has kept me frozen for a long time. I want to live this life, my life within the collective universe. I am choosing to get off the autoroute that goes smooth and fast and take the back roads. It isn’t an easy route. But it can be simple. I just have to practice more at being OK with it. Another friend once sent me a photo with the caption: “Climbing mountains is hard work, but my legs are so very strong because of my willingness to ascent”, or at least that is the message that I understood in the caption. My legs are strong. My heart is full. There will be darkness but there will be light. Life it seems is a paradox and I’m willing to be one too. One day at a time.

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Photo by Kimberley Eland

 

 

Living, Dying and Making Choices

My mother passed away last week after almost 4 years of dealing with ovarian cancer.  She went through surgery, treatments, scans, medications and side effects; more than anyone should have to go through.  I am still grieving, and I have yet to fully absorb the extent of the vacancy she leaves in my life. But one thing has stood out for me and I wanted to share.

When people are dying we treat them differently.

In January, my mom got the flu and ended up in the hospital.  Once she was rehydrated and her pain under control, she was still unable to eat anything and yet there was no medical reason why.  Everyone was trying to coax her to eat, offering a variety of options.  She would try to sip or take a small spoonful, but it just wouldn’t go down.  She was unable to articulate what was happening for her, but she would then apologize for ‘failing’ to eat and would promise to try harder.  It was heartbreaking.

After watching this for a few days, it dawned on me; maybe she doesn’t want to eat.  Maybe this is her unconscious way of saying enough is enough.   I suggested to my sister that perhaps we should give her the option; when or if she wants to eat, she can let us know, but that we would stop trying to push food into her.  Our mom had not spoken a lot in the last few days, but she was definitely aware and coherent of what was going on around her, so when presented with this option, her relief was undeniable.

It became obvious that she was not going to be able to go home if she was not eating, nor was she going to ‘get better’. Fortunately, she was able to go a to a beautiful palliative care hospice nearby.

While at the hospice, I had a lot of time to observe their approach to care, which was very different from other medical care I’ve seen.  Basically, I felt that patients were not told what to do, but rather they were given options.  If they wanted to take a bath, great. If not, no problem. Want to eat, perfect.  Not hungry, ok too. The other big shift was that the doctor would sit with my mom and hold her hand as they talked. She would ask about how she was feeling, not just physically, but emotionally as well, and they would patiently wait as she searched for words to express herself.

Now, I know it is easy to think that this is all well and good to do this when people are dying, but while we are living there are things we all have to do that we won’t like, and we don’t have the time to hold hands with everyone.

But aren’t we all dying?  Some of us know it will be sooner than later, but we are all going to die and we have very little control as to when or how.

Of course, I realize that there are things we need to do even if we don’t want to. But there are so many things we do without questioning. We do them because it is expected, or it’s what other people are doing, or because it has been asked, or because someone said we should. By giving away our power to make a choice,  we undoubtingly feel resentment and frustration. But if we look at all those things as choices, we can feel empowered.  Just the act of making the choice to do something feels good, even if the outcome is the same.

For example, as my mom’s condition changed, her options were presented to her, with the likely consequences, she could ask questions and then she was able to make a decision for herself.  Of course, sometimes we don’t like any of the choices and I’m sure not getting cancer would have been first on her list, but since that wasn’t an option, she felt empowered to make a choice amongst the possibilities.  I know it was easier for me to accept the outcome knowing my mom had been part of the decision process and it was not just happening to her, as I had felt during the earlier stages of her illness. I also feel that part of the peacefulness she expressed in the last few days were in no small part because of this approach.

So what about while we are living?  Can we give each other more opportunities to make choices? To feel empowered ourselves? To sit with each other and check in?   If my time at the hospice is any indication,  the effort that this approach requires is nothing compared to the increased quality of life, whether we are near the end of our life or not.

*This is me and my mom, October 2016.   Photo by Robyn Andrew, Unposed.com

 

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