The Physical Toll of Anxiety

This past week has been brutal for me, emotionally and physically.

Emotionally I’ve been sailing on choppy waves. There’s been a reprieve between rocking and rolling, but barely.

What always surprises me, though, is how anxiety can take such a physical toll. Before my trip to see Dad, I couldn’t sleep, I was weepy, and I was constantly grinding my teeth.

Last night, after we got home, I crashed. Because I no longer felt like I had to be on guard, my body just kind of…gave up. I ended up going to bed at 9 p.m. and slept until 9 this morning.

Today, I still feel rundown. I got out of the house to run some errands, but for the most part I was tired, and my body hurt all over. I don’t think I’m coming down with anything. It’s just that I’m not in “fight or flight” mode, like I have been for the past week.

It seems like the more I let myself get worked up over something, the worse I feel afterward.

I hope I can work on reducing anticipatory anxiety so that I can feel energized, rather than exhausted, and be able to enjoy more that life has to offer.

Thanksgiving Anticipation

So technically I’m late and I missed a day, but I’m going to say that my clock is a little fast and it’s still November 20, dang it!

I’m having anticipatory anxiety. Big time. About Thanksgiving.

One reason I’ve already talked about: Dad.

The other is that we’re going to my aunt and uncle’s house, and I haven’t really spoken with them in four years.

When Lee and I decided to get married and were making up the guest list, it was easy to invite all of his family because they’re so close (physically and emotionally). My side of the family is a bit more complicated.

The majority of my family lives on the west coast. My dad and stepmother live in Holland, and because they had come to visit for Thanksgiving four years ago, they weren’t going to be able to come in for the wedding on New Year’s Eve.

But Dad asked me if I would invite his sister and brother-in-law to the wedding to stand in for him.

I didn’t.

I can’t say that it’s Mom’s fault. It’s not. Ultimately it was my decision to say no.

My grandmother, Precious I called her, my dad’s mom, passed away in October 2007. She died with my mom by her side.

Before that, she was in a nursing home in Dallas. She had dementia and couldn’t live on her own anymore. With her son living across the pond, and her daughter moving to another state for a job opportunity, my mom volunteered to have my grandmother moved to a place in Houston.

This is what I know. I know that Mom visited Precious several times a week. I know that she brought my grandmother her favorite foods and fed them to her. That she put moisturizer on my grandmother’s face and hands and lip balm on her lips. I know that, even though they didn’t speak for a long while after my parents divorced, that they both loved each other very much and were happy to be in each other’s lives.

I know my mom tried her hardest to advocate for my grandmother. I know that she gave my dad and aunt updates on Precious’s condition. I know she was frustrated with the nursing home.

I don’t exactly know what happened that caused Dad and my aunt to decide to no longer include my mom in family decisions. But I know Mom was deeply hurt. I don’t know if Dad told her why the decision was made. All I know is that my mom wouldn’t go to the funeral.

And she never wanted to talk to or see my dad or aunt again.

I sent my aunt and uncle an announcement. Maybe I should’ve explained my reasoning for not inviting them, but I felt like I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Yes, they are family. But ultimately, the day was supposed to be about Lee and me, wasn’t it?

I didn’t hear anything about it until my dad contacted me and told me that my aunt was upset. That I should contact her. What got to me was that she didn’t contact me directly. Maybe she felt she couldn’t. Whatever the case may be, it has been a battle between me and Dad for almost four years.

Dad told me a couple of months ago that he and my stepmother were going to be in Austin for Thanksgiving and they would be staying with my aunt and uncle. And that my aunt would be happy if Lee and I came to dinner. Initially he said that he would let her know that I would like to be there, but I told Dad I would call her. We had a nice chat.

I may be having anticipatory anxiety for nothing, but I’m afraid of what I will say if they ask. I’m afraid of the disappointing stares. Of us all acting one way when we’re thinking something else.

I just want to spend time with my family. Is that so much to ask?

Hard Work Pays Off

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to freelance. I don’t necessarily mind working in an office environment, but the thought of being able to work from home, especially on days where I felt particularly anxious or depressed, appealed to me. I know many people who have been able to make ends meet, and while everyone has told me that it’s hard work, most have said that they wouldn’t trade freelancing back for working 9 to 5.

In the beginning, I didn’t think it would be possible. The only way I would be able to make it work is if I won the lottery, or had saved enough to live on for the months that I didn’t have money coming in. Well, I never won the lottery (because I don’t play) and my salary, combined with Lee’s, was enough to build a bit of a cushion, but not much.

If it hadn’t been for my parents’ help, I don’t think I could have taken that leap.

I received my first assignment toward the end of August. I knew that it would take a while, and I would have to work a lot of odd hours and weekends before I would see the fruits of my labor. There have been some days, just a few, where I wondered if I made the right choice.

Well, today, my decision has been reaffirmed. Today, I received my first check for freelance work.

I can’t tell you how excited I am. Well, actually, yes I can. I ran into the house yelling, “I got paid!” (The dogs looked at me like I was crazy.)

I know it may be some time before I see another check, but I’m just grateful that I finally have something to show for the work I’ve done.

I may not have won the lottery, but I feel like a million dollars!

 

Eating Mindfully

I did a little Christmas shopping today. Since my dad lives in Holland, and shipping is expensive, I decided to bring him and my stepmother a gift when we see them on Thursday. And then I thought, why not bring my aunt and uncle a gift as well?

For my dad and stepmother, Lee and I bought some of his sister’s art. Aimi‘s style is different from Lee’s, but she is just as talented. For my aunt and uncle, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought Underwater Dogs.

While I was at the bookstore, I decided to look for a book on crochet. I didn’t really find anything I liked, so I moved on.

The self-help section is located next to the hobbies section, and since I have been pretty anxious lately, I decided to browse the titles. But it wasn’t the books on anxiety that I was drawn to.

I ended up buying a book about emotional eating.

I have a hard time explaining why I make the food choices I do. The thing is, I want to lose weight. I want to be healthy. But I struggle with my relationship with food.

I didn’t think I could have a relationship with food, but I do. I use food as a reward (Yay, I met my deadline!), as comfort (I am upset so I deserve some macaroni and cheese.), and as something to fill the void, like when I mindlessly eat at my desk while I’m working.

I’m not exactly sure when this relationship started. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve mindlessly eaten my way to being at least 60 pounds overweight.

I go through a cycle where I’ve eaten too much junk food and feel horrible, so I become determined to eat better and exercise. That lasts for a few weeks. During that time I say that I’ll let myself have soda or some other food that I’ve denied myself if I stay on the healthful path that week.

Pretty soon, once a week becomes twice a week, and then the temptation is so strong and I give in.

I’m not happy about it. I hate it. And I’m not looking forward to seeing the look on my dad’s face when he sees how much I’ve gained since we last saw each other.

That’s why I’ve been emotionally eating for the past couple of weeks, but what about the rest of the time?

Whatever the reason, I want it to stop. But I don’t know how to keep me from sabotaging myself. And, to tell you the truth, I didn’t realize that what I was doing was emotional eating until a book stopped me in my tracks.

It’s called Eating Mindfully. I’ve read only a few pages, and haven’t gotten to any of the exercises, but I’m hoping it will help me “end mindless eating and enjoy a balanced relationship with food.”

And hopefully it will help my anxiety and depression as well.

I tell people that I live in the present, because thinking about the future overwhelms me. But I really don’t. I dwell on the past and worry about the future. I try to capture moments, like the beautiful weather today. But for the most part, I was thinking that I was starving and once I’m done with all my shopping I’m going to get some Arby’s.

I’ve been saying for a long time that “I’m doing the best I can.” But I really do need help, and I hope this book has some of the answers I’m looking for.

Crochet Away!

Ever since I learned to knit, I’ve been comforted with hearing the clicks of the needles with each stitch. And even though I basically just held the left needle while I knit with the right, I still felt like both hands were occupied. (I don’t know if only one idle hand would still do the devil’s work, but I don’t want to take any chances.)

I’ve tried to crochet before, but I never got the hang of it.

There’s only one hook? I hold the yarn with my left hand? What kind of a crazy world is this?

And…there’s no sound! Crochet is silent! My mind will wander and I’ll start to get anxious!

But I was still intrigued. So, on Sunday I took a class at Gauge called “Crochet for Knitters.” The first part of the lesson was spent learning the basic stitches, and the second was practicing those stitches to make a granny square.

I crocheted a couple of rounds, but when I got home I was still befuddled.

It looks like a circle now. Why do they call it a “granny SQUARE”? A ch 3 equals a DC, so I only have to crochet 2 DC at the beginning of a round…what?

I kept practicing. I reread the instructions. I watched videos. (Thanks for the recommendations, Staci!)

And then, this happened:

I did it! They’re not perfect, but they’re squares. Beautiful squares. Four corners of yarn-y goodness.

The conditions were perfect. The soft yarn and complementary colors made me want to crochet one more. Then one more. You get the picture.

And you know what else I realized? There is sound in crochet! It’s not as present as when two needles meet, but it’s there.

It’s a whisper. As yarn is pulled through loop.

Music to my ears.

Hello, Old Friend

Whenever I get depressed, I tend to shut out everyone and everything.

That includes hobbies.

When I took a leave of absence from work, the only hobby I kept up was reading. I didn’t go out unless I had an appointment. I didn’t listen to music because I embraced silence.

And, for the most part, I had lost my love for fiber.

When I learned to knit, I became obsessed with the variety of colors, textures, and patterns. Going into a yarn store gave me sensory overload, and I loved it.

And I found that it was the one thing that could ease my anxiety. To focus on a pattern, to make sure I knit the correct number of knits and purls in a row, to not drop any stitches…

To do all this, I had to divert my mind from the panicky thoughts that made me nauseated and shaky to wrapping the yarn around the needle and pulling it through. Over and over.

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The more I knit, the more I loved to knit.

And then I learned to dye fiber and spin the fiber to create yarn. I even sold some!

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Since I had to concentrate on not putting too much twist into the fiber, I wasn’t letting anxious thoughts affect me.

Both hobbies helped me in ways I couldn’t imagine.

But I lost interest in knitting and spinning the way I lost interest in most things. And, instead, I let negative thoughts and feelings take over.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt so out of touch for so long, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I picked up the needles again.

And today, I put my feet on the pedals and spun some yarn.

Life is very good.

 

A Rough Christmas

I remember when I loved Christmas. There are pictures of me as a kid standing next to a pile of presents as tall as me. The cookies, the lights, the music…I loved it all.

And then I started to have panic attacks, and the holidays meant something completely different to me.

Stress.

Not that there aren’t aspects of Christmas that I don’t still love. I just have a harder time enjoying it all.

This Christmas started out pretty well. I took a Clonezapam before Lee drove us to Houston, and seeing family was fun.

But what I was truly looking forward to was a night with my husband. Alone. No dogs, just us. And a roaring fireplace that we could sleep next to.

My mom graciously came to Austin to stay with our dogs while we went to stay in Houston and offered her place to stay for the night.

It was cold and rainy when we started off for Mom’s place, and I was a bit weary, but I was looking forward to the crackling of the fire.

Then I forgot which gate to enter my mom’s apartment complex. We parked in what I thought was Mom’s parking space, walked three flights of stairs, and found that we were at the wrong building.

We drove around a little while and finally called Mom to ask for directions. By this time it was not only cold and rainy, but foggy as well. Yet I still held on to the image in my head of relaxing with Lee to get me through.

We made it to her apartment and then it hit us. We don’t have a key. We forgot to get the house key.

And then I lost it. I was cold, tired, and I needed peace and quiet.

Trying to get a hotel room on Christmas Eve night? Impossible.

We ended up back at Lee’s parents’ home. They were kind enough to let us sleep on our air mattress in the kitchen, but it was hard for me to sleep.

It’s hard enough for me to sleep with just Lee and the dogs in the room, but seven other people in the house besides us?

Luckily I was exhausted from the panic, but the downward spiral kept going…even through today.

Today we are home. Today I should be happy and relaxed. Today I’m on edge. And depressed.

I tried retail therapy, but couldn’t find anything I liked. I even dyed some fiber, but that didn’t cheer me up, either.

I’m grateful that I have an appointment with my psychiatrist in a few days. It may be time to take a look at my meds.

Or maybe the ghost of Christmas will stop haunting me by then.

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