Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anxiety, I'm Taking the Fight to You!

I won't even go into the list of things that can trigger my anxiety. There are too many to count. However, one that it seems I share with people who do not have a diagnosed anxiety disorder is the dentist. It is rather uncomfortable for someone to be digging around in a very sensitive area of the body. The mouth is responsible for eating, talking, breathing, making faces at friends and family, and my favorite, kissing my husband! It's not a part of the body you want to have hurting and it certainly feels like when one tooth aches, your whole body is in pain. I am so bad I didn't even want my teeth cleaned. I much preferred my mouth to be left alone. Especially since I didn't want to go in and find out I had a cavity, or worse, more than one. I was very happy to be blissfully ignorant. Then, I got a toothache. Odd thing is, it wasn't a cavity at all. However, the dentist had me in her grasps. I was scheduled for a cleaning. Ok, I did the cleaning. I take relative good care of my teeth. What should I be worried about?

Oh, and one other thing, I had my first filling- my first cavity- two years ago. It hurt- bad! I didn't want to deal with that again. After all, I have three oral surgeries under my belt. I have been through enough (not to mention the chocolate fudge swirl ice cream my mom fed me after each one- I still can't touch the stuff!) Three oral surgeries and one cavity. My quota was set. Not. During the cleaning they found two teeny tiny cavities that needed filled. Oh yeah, and that one cavity that was filled before; it was leaking. It needed to be drilled out and redone. Two separate appointments. Two days of dealing with the poking, prodding, and oh, needles in my gums. I was not a happy camper. I begged my boss to tell me that I was invaluable, that she couldn't run the place without me, and that I would have to stay at work and couldn't have the time off. She giggled and told me to get it done before I thought about it too much. Problem is, I have an anxiety disorder. Thinking about it too much is right up there with automatic functions like breathing.

The days loomed closer to doomsday. I kept allowing myself to think about the pain, the hurt, the discomfort of not being able to eat without hurting. Did I mention I let my anxiety level spike? It was when I decided that enough was enough and that I was not going to let a little filling ruin my two weeks in between cleaning and filling. I had to come up with a plan of attack. The first thing I needed to do was sit down and think about what my reaction would be in reality. I wasn't going to die. Chances were, I wouldn't have a panic attack in public. I can usually control those pretty well. However, past history did dictate that I usually lose my cookies right after my novocaine shot. That could be a problem. I also was super sensitive to the pain and pressure of the drilling. This I learned from my last filling. I complained about phantom pain. The pain you think you should have when you smell that burning smell coming from your mouth as well as the pressure of something making a hole in your teeth.

Figuring out what were my toughest issues actually brought a wave of more anxiety. Now I knew what I was going to do! I would puke, whine, complain, and wimper my way through another filling, or three. Not this time. I am always so embarrassed after one of those episodes, too. I had been very up front with my dentist at the cleaning that I was scared of going to the dentist. She had been understanding and had helped me come up with the most cost effective way of getting through this. If I would take some of my anti-anxiety medicine before going in, I would be spared the cost of laughing gas and would still stay relatively calm. It was a great plan and I had to convince myself of it.

I had to put it into action. Well, if I was going to take some of my anti-anxiety stuff, I needed to make sure I had the day off. There was no way I could work with kids if I had that stuff in me. Request time off of work was the first thing on my list. My boss was very understanding and gave me the time I needed. I made sure that my appointments were times that Tim could come with me. Just someone there who understood that I wasn't being totally crazy and had an actual condition for this anxiety calmed me a bit. The second thing on my list, a comforting familiar person nearby, was fulfilled. The anti-anxiety medication needed to be kept at a minimum. The medicine that I usually take for sleep because I am an insomniac would have to be discontinued the night before my treatments so that I could use it without risk of an OD during the procedure. This could be a problem. However, I accepted that I was going to be anxious and allowed myself to play it out without getting out of control because I had planned up to that point how to handle what was going on with me in the moment and what was going to happen to me at the appointment. In the end, I fell asleep losing very little sleep in retrospect. My last thing to make sure of was to tell my dentist exactly what I had taken, who had prescribed it, and when I took it. This way I could make sure there was no potential drug interaction.

The result: Success! With a sore mouth. I made it though. I took the shots without showing my breakfast to the staff at the office. There was a jab of real, not phantom pain, that I had to deal with, but the rest was manageable. I even managed to crack a smile as well as I could with one half of my face frozen into a straight lip look.

I had always been afraid to face my anxiety and deal with it because I was afraid I would cause more anxiety instead of less. Turns out, taking the fight to the anxiety was just what the doctor- or maybe the dentist- ordered.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Finding a Hobby

There are all sorts of suggestions out there of how to help contain the symptoms of depression and anxiety. One of the things that I have found helpful is to find a hobby that accomplishes something. I like to know that I can do something and get better at it. It also helps me feel like I can accomplish goals completely unrelated to my disorder. I have tried some that do not work for me at all. Either I find it more stressful than I do relaxing, I find that learning it through trial and error is too tedious, or what I thought would be fun just isn't. However, I didn't give up. I kept looking for something that I could do to relax in my spare time that would not involve becoming a bump on a log or endlessly looking at the computer and getting lost in some meaningless website.

I found something that I can enjoy and that works for me. I love to crochet. I love to make blankets and I am hoping to branch out to different things once I master being able to keep my sides straight and my rows consistent. It is a lot harder than you think to accomplish those two! I have enjoyed making blankets for my husband, as presents for different people, and even a very cute scarf to keep me warm in the wintertime. The other thing that I have found with this hobby is that I have an outlet for when I have nervous energy. When I feel like I am going to crawl out of my skin with anxiety and that I just need to do *something*, I can grab my crochet hook and start making something. This accomplishes two tasks. It allows me to do that *something* that I feel that I need to do and it allows my mind to focus on something other than myself. When I am anxious, I tend to turn inwards. When I am crocheting, I am thinking about the person that is going to be using it. I think about the colors I chose for that person and how much it will help them on a cold winter's day or night. This helps my feelings find a different focus than on the current crisis, whether real or exaggerated. This has helped me cut down on the anti-anxiety medication a great deal.

I also hope to start writing notes and letters to my family. Yes, I know, it is so much easier to get on the computer, type something up, and hit the send button. But, it takes so much more thought to sit down with some nice stationary and talk to the person using a pen and paper. What's even better is that the person getting the letter gets something in their mail besides junk mail and bills, which is always a nice break!

I know that these are rather girly hobbies, but hey, I am a girl and that's what I do. However, this does come with a good piece of advice. Get a hobby. You might find that you're anxiety goes down, too!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Weight Loss and the Disorder

Losing weight when you have depression, anxiety, or both is a double edged sword. On the one hand, the disorder is strong in your system, begging you to not do anything that would help you become healthy. It is luring you into thinking that you can rest and do what you want all the time and not to watch silly things like the food you eat and the exercise you get because you want to eat what tastes good and not exert too much energy. There is also that feeling that there is so much more going on in life that energy must be saved for so the workout goes on the way side and the food is much easier to get if it is to go and can be eaten on the run. Sometimes it's just good to eat on the run because that means that you don't have to sit alone and eat, worry about the mess, or interact with the other people eating with you. It is time to be sequestered and quiet. Those times are good and necessary, except when they become the norm rather than the exception. That is the prime time to put on those extra pounds.

Now is also the time that you hear about all the ways you can lose weight after the typical New Year's resolution is made with most Americans. We want to lose weight, be healthy, and be more fit for the New Year. This goal is noble in and of itself, but it has one major flaw: most of the people who make that resolution don't want to actually have to do the work involved. They look for the quick fix: the OTC weight loss pill, the fad diet, the promise of losing weight quickly and painlessly. There are always ads on the TV for this miracle pill that will allow you to burn fat while you sleep or this special equipment that allows you to do as much work in five minutes as you would for an hour at the gym. However, most people don't need that stuff. Sure, it sounds like a quick easy fix, but if it doesn't work for our disorders, why would it work for losing weight? Disorders take time to control, to understand, and to learn to live with. Sometimes it is a combination of the right medication, counseling, good decent spiritual guidance from a Father Confessor in the church, and unconditional love from family and friends that helps tame the beast within. However, this isn't a process we expect to be fixed in a month, or even six months in some cases. It's a lifetime process. That's how one should approach weight loss.

If you decide to give up certain foods, be sure you can do it for life. Don't say, "I won't eat any more sweets" if you still want a birthday cake, Christmas cookies next year, or a sweetened soda pop for that extra afternoon caffeine buzz. This isn't to say that you should stick to the diet that helped you gain extra pounds, but look instead to moderation. "I am not going to have seconds. This is what I get and the rest will be for tomorrow." "Sure, I'll get a birthday cake, but do I really need the one that feeds 24 when only five people are going to be celebrating with me?" Reflecting before filling your plate is key. Eat sensibly but don't starve yourself. Starving will only lead to binge eating, which leads to guilt, which leads to starving. This cycle helps you add more pounds, not take them off. Discover new foods that you love but don't give up the old favorites. Just know that you can enjoy them without going overboard.

Set up a workout plan that you can live with. If your mornings are busy, try the evening. If you don't want to do something formal, go out for a walk. If you want to be indoors or outdoors, it's up to you. Don't boggle yourself down by what you think you should do to optimize weight loss. Do what you enjoy. The weight loss will come naturally after this. Set a schedule that you can stay with. Personally, I prefer the mornings. It gets me ready for the day with energy and helps wake me up after I am feeling particularly groggy. It's also something that I can easily stick with. I get up, work out, take a shower, and finish my morning routine. This keeps me from having to take two showers a day or take one at night which I don't prefer. An added bonus is that symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other disorders tend to lessen naturally from the burned calories. As much as it might seem like work, will make you sore, and perhaps more tired at first, it is just as much medicine for your disorder as your prescription and counseling sessions. It's good for you all around and an added benefit is that it will make you look better too!

Know that you are not in for a quick fix. This is going to take a while. It might be six months, it might be a year. The goal is not to lose weight directly. The goal is to help with the disorder. The weight loss is just a wonderful added bonus. Enjoy the ride. This will also allow you to continue to exercise and help your disorder long after you hit your goal of how many pounds to shed. This is a lifestyle change not a diet.

Good luck if you try lose weight. Like working with a disorder, there are going to be ups and downs, successes and failures. There will be times when you want to give up and times that you are so proud you'd burst your britches if you weren't missing those extra inches. Personally, I'm down a pants size and still going! If you ever need encouragement, drop me a line! I don't have all the answers, but I can at least listen!

Friday, January 2, 2009

I Made It...

I wasn't sure I was going to. But I did. It was actually a little rough and a little easy at the same time. Christmas was always a big thing for me in my family of origin. It was hard to be away this year. Probably harder than it has been any other year because there is no way I know when I am going to be home. I love my husband. I love being here with him. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in our marriage. I just want to be able to see my folks every once in a while. I think they know how hard it is for me, too. They are sympathetic and understanding. I cried on Christmas Eve. I couldn't help it. The tears flowed during Silent Night. It's never easy to be away from family, especially during a time when everyone talks about getting together for the big family celebrations. Being away is hard but it is also a gift.

A gift of new things. A gift of a husband and someday (hopefully) children. A gift to make new traditions and to bring old ones to my new family. A gift to help me rely on my husband more and my family of origin less. A gift to help me learn that I can do this thing called life and not be afraid of it because things are changing.

A gift to show me that no matter how life changes, my God will stay the same. My baptism is still valid. I am baptized into Christ! I am clothed with Christ and that is how God sees me. I am a child of God who receives Christ's body and blood in with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion for the forgiveness of my sins. When I think that I cannot go on, I am supplied by God with the medicine of immortality; the medicine that cures me of my anxiety in my new self.

I made it through this year! By God's grace, I'll make it through the next.