I Am A Rock: In Which Anxiety Does Not Win

My new job: be the family’s rock. Two reasons. 1) I want to feel more independent; I have consistently leaned hard on the people in my life for help, out of a dire need for emotional or financial support that really doesn’t exist as a pressing need, anymore, thanks to all the progress I’ve made, everywhere in life. 2) I want to see my husband do the work he needs to do (namely: write a dissertation) without seeing guilt on his face for leaving me with household tasks. Example: cooking. I’m a terrible housekeeper and not a great cook, but I can feed myself and my kid. Especially since the child has decided to subsist on a diet of yogurt, grapes, apples, and chicken nuggets that come frozen, in a box. [The pediatrician promises us that he has never seen a malnourished child who was consistently offered a range of foods, and we do offer! He has seen issues with dinner around negotiating over what an how much a kid will eat, so we’re going the “CTFD” route, especially since the toddler is still nursing.] Nathan is better at most household tasks than I am, but letting him do something simply because he does it better than I do creates an imbalance that just grows. He’s usually so happy that a task is simply finished, he couldn’t care less about any imperfections. I’m the one who would rather not do something at all than do it imperfectly, often feeling like those imperfections reflect flaws in my character.

Lately, therapy sessions always involve some sort of checking in on my progress as Family Rock, and my therapist is a darn good cheerleader. She helps me look for the progress I’ve made, and she’s gentle when she points out that I’ve reverted to a behavior that is going to lead to an imbalance, again. If I’m particularly anxious and ask to sleep in, on a morning when I’ve said I’ll be with Walt, that’s a slippery slope. Because Nathan will say ok, and I love sleeping, and soon I will have slept away his most productive morning hours.

Yesterday’s therapy session involved assessing how much anxiety I was feeling over some issues that had come up a couple weeks ago and over my car accident. When the answer was, “Wow! I’m doing great, all things considered!” I decided to take on The Insurance Company and Do All Accident-Related Things. By 6 pm last night, I had arranged for the car repairs, the tow to the car repair place, the car rental place to pick us up, and gotten the name and phone number of everyone even remotely related to my claim. Nathan could have done a lot of this. It’s his name on the car. But I did it. Anxiety did not win. I wasn’t even anxious about talking to people on the phone! It helped that they were all really nice. Apparently, I’m the only one who wants to be hard on me for having been at fault in the accident. Everyone else keeps surprising me by asking how I’m doing, and whether I feel ok. Which is the response *I* would have, if I knew someone who had been in an accident, no matter whose fault it is. But anxiety and depression lie, and a favorite lie in my head tells me that I don’t deserve the same kindness and understanding that other people deserve. Well, I shushed that voice! I accepted the help. I took the paths of least resistance. This morning, I did it again, and calmly related exactly how and where I feel injured. I asked for them to pay for chiropractic care. I may not need X-Rays and a neck brace, and the air bags may not have deployed, but that doesn’t mean I should be in pain or deal with more headaches. The one appointment I went to on Saturday made a big difference! And wouldn’t you know it? Paying for the medical care in our premium entitles me to more appointments, with the bills sent to car and health insurance companies, instead of me.

My husband doesn’t usually tell me what’s going on without prompting, when he’s extra stressed about something specific, so I didn’t know, until he casually mentioned that he would be up all night grading papers, that he had to have a whole lot of midterms graded by TODAY. I can’t tell you how excited I am that I spent all that time on the phone, clearing up about 100 clerical errors before we could even get to what was covered or not and how to start making repairs, paying bills, etc.

I’m not sure how to explain this Rock thing to other people, except by example. I do have important jobs: I parent, I write, I teach HypnoBirthing, I make money selling Jamberry. They are simply not time-sensitive the way my husband’s job is, which means that my job in our family can include working out when everyone gets to do their things. My things shift around. This way, I can make sure I get to do them, without sacrificing the sleep and sanity of my partner or child. I don’t even have to sacrifice my own sleep or sanity (that certainly would not do anyone any good, since the consequences to that are pretty drastic).

My point is that being a Rock and taking on this job of ensuring balance feels really great, because the people I love, including me, all feel better, when I do this job well. There’s a nagging, nay-saying voice in me that says “Women always have to do this job! It’s a trap!” But I want to remind that voice that since I took on the Rock Job about six weeks ago, I have done more in my professional life than I had in the previous six months. My whole family was out of balance. We were all showing signs of wear. Today, we all seem better-rested, even though the adults did not get much sleep last night.

If one must have one's car towed, the excitement of a two-year-old child seeing a car drive onto a truck really softens the blow!

If one must have one’s car towed, the excitement of a two-year-old child seeing a car drive onto a truck really softens the blow!



My Thirties Body Image

Me, today, unshowered and not made up. Natural light. No retouching.

Me, today, unshowered and not made up. Natural light. No retouching.

I have been thirty-years-old for almost exactly a month (October 12th) and my body image has taken a hit; I’ve started looking more closely at my face, and my skin, which has always been a point of pride for me. Turning 30 and seeing signs of that is not what has me upset, though. I’m upset, because I got on the scale, and I found out that I weigh too little.

When I was 16, I dreamed of this weight. I just knew that I would look like a super model. I read Vogue. I knew numbers for actresses (height and weight). Well, I was finally happy with my weight, at age 29, and then I tried to help my migraine problem by getting rid of the gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy, in my diet. I accidentally lost 15 pounds. Then, I gained 5. Then, I lost 10. I’m down 20 pounds from my minimum acceptable weight (what I consider healthy) and 25 pounds from where I was most comfortable. When I stared at my face in the mirror, I wasn’t focused on wrinkles or dark circles. I don’t know if they’re there, consistently. I honestly don’t care. I stared at the hollows under my cheekbones. I feel like I can see the exact shape of my skull. I’m scared.

I’m so afraid of losing more weight that every time it’s time for me to eat, I feel pressured, and I want to avoid it. I want to have eaten, if that makes sense, without thinking about it, and I hate knowing that I will have to eat, soon. It’s 3:00 pm, and I have consumed exactly two cups of coffee, with goat milk in them, because my husband worked a Keurig machine for me. I need to go and make a sandwich (gluten-free bread wins!) and a smoothie with my green dairy-, gluten-, soy-, and sugar-free protein powder, plus flaxseed oil, which is also high in calories. I’m working myself up to it.

I gained some weight back with a lot of help from my husband, who was doing all the cooking. When it became clear that he did not have the time to do this, or rather, that we had always been in denial to think that he had the time to do this, write a dissertation, and spend time with our child, it became clear that I had to cook for myself. His work and his time with the kiddo were obviously more important than my hangups (aka major anxiety issues) about the kitchen.

I don’t have an eating disorder. Just to be clear about this: I do not want to lose weight. I have trouble with anxiety about preparing food, but when there is food in front of me, I happily eat it. But it won’t matter whether I have an eating disorder or not, if my weight drops low enough to send my body into all the same scary spirals that happen to women with anorexia who stop eating enough calories.

With impeccable timing, my son is now asking for “nana!” which is what he calls “food.” We’re off to the kitchen. Wish me luck.

A New Low

I hit a new low today. I bought a pouch of the tobacco my dad smoked (smokes? I don’t know!) and rolled my own cigarettes. I couldn’t stop thinking about smoking again, and how it was my coping mechanism in college, in the psych ward, and afterward. My first try made me really sick. I thought yay! I’m feeling really sick! I will now associate this with feeling awful, not feeling better!

A few hours later, all I could think about was the possibility of another cigarette. I used less tobacco. It was a good as I remembered. Now my throat hurts and my lungs feel like their on fire. Because… fire. Smoke. Obviously.

My therapy begins again on Monday, after a three-week hiatus due to overlapping vacations (mine and hers) and not a moment too soon. Self-destructive behavior is a sign that I’m turning my anger inward, on myself. I don’t know why I’m so mad at myself, and I don’t want to think about it. My brain goes right from “let’s explore that” to “SMOKE! You’ll feel better!”

All my life, my dad was calm and quiet when he was smoking. Often, I would sit with him, “out back,” while he rolled and smoked this brand of tobacco. Peace pipe, so to speak. It’s the only consistently positive memory I have. When I visited him, after I started smoking, he’d roll one for me. And tonight, the weather was the same as that night, the last time I saw him, when things were going well, or so I thought. Tonight, there’s a beautiful moon, the temperature is perfect for standing outside, alone, with the smoke, the familiar scent, and air on my skin.

Right now, my brain is screaming at me to stop confessing this. So I’m going to share a poem that I wrote during my senior year in college, just before my niece was born. Because I’m proud of this poem, and of the commitment I made to unfailing honesty, during the time I was writing it. I wrote it while taking a poetry class, and my teacher, Saskia Hamilton, hadn’t heard of the American Spirits brand. She asked me about all the ghosts in the poem, and I was confused. The class was confused. Someone, I don’t remember who, even though I remember my classmates very clearly, finally articulated that American Spirits was a brand of cigarettes. We all laughed, and then we had a moment for the fact that there really are ghosts in this poem. Then, we worked on that idea. This is what I ended up with, for my final portfolio. I won’t edit it. I’ll just leave it here.

ritual poem

Too Poor for Wellness (With Some Good News)

I’m feeling stuck, and it’s because of money. I saw a path other than traditional psychiatry through integrative medicine, and I wanted it to work. I’ve been working with practitioners over the phone for months. The science is fairly simple, and it involves real healing at the heart of a chemical imbalance like the one at work in depression–I’ve been using amino acid supplements to help my brain make more of its own serotonin and dopamine, and to help it transmit and absorb those chemicals properly. I’ve written about this, before. It’s been hugely successful. But I have to stop moving forward, and stay where I’m at now, because apparently, I’m too poor for wellness.

Here’s what I mean by wellness: feeling good, rather than feeling not sick. I want to feel less anxiety, not simply that I have medications that manage my anxiety. I can still feel it, trying to create havoc, in the background of my mind, even while the medication (Klonopin, primarily) keeps the symptoms like agoraphobia (fear of leaving my house) under control.

But let’s back up: I sought out an integrative medicine practitioner for help with migraines. As long as I keep taking a low dose of the amino acid supplements I started in the course of this treatment, I don’t get migraines! I don’t get any hormonal symptoms at all! I don’t wake up with headaches, and I don’t wake up feeling exhausted (unless I’ve gotten no sleep). I call that a huge WIN.

Along the way, I did a lot of reading about what these amino acid supplements were supposed to do, however, and between the books and the articles and talking with my practitioner, I really began to hope. I hoped that the chemical imbalance that causes my anxiety and, sometimes, depression, would slowly heal itself, with the help of this relatively new system of treatments. And I might never find out if that’s possible, because I can’t afford the hourly rate, the lab tests, or the extra supplements. I’m mad about that!

I’m also mad about this: people who offer things that help with anxiety/mental health really need to prepare themselves better for ANXIOUS PATIENTS. I’m not a high-maintenance patient, mostly because my anxiety is something I’m highly aware of, but when I am feeling extremely anxious after providers of alternative treatments have done something like charged me an unexpectedly high amount in an invoice, I would really appreciate it if the anxiety that caused me to seek their services in the first place played some role in their responses. “The doctor doesn’t make exceptions of any kind” was the entirety of one response I received, from an office that sees thousands of patients. Surely, there are several of us who feel anxious about money. When I email anyone asking “Why was I charged twice what I thought I would be charged? Can this invoice be altered in any way? This will have a huge impact on my family’s ability to by groceries!” then is it wrong to expect a little empathy in the response I receive?

As you may have noticed, this has become a rant. I’m feeling stabby, and I need to rant this week. I’m going to continue to rant, now. Warning: I’m about to rant about medication, psychiatry, and anxiety about long-term health effects of taking medication for more than ten years. I’m at seven years, so it seems like the time to think about this for me, but you may want to skip the next paragraph if it’s not something you want to think about. Important! The side effects of NO meds, for me, would be daily panic attacks, agoraphobia/not leaving my house ever, being afraid to eat and answer the phone, among other things. I just want to try life without SSRIs, because I’m not sure I need them. I want to taper with the help of a psychiatrist, because that’s the ONLY healthy way to taper any prescription medication.

Thanks to Gratisography.com for being awesome about free images.

Thanks to Gratisography.com for being awesome about free images. And thank YOU for reading my rant!

Now then, here’s my rant about how, in my experience, the Wellness Community has failed to take my wellbeing into account:

The same practitioner who is too expensive to continue working with frequently enough for me to have any hope of trying to get off my meds (something I had hoped to TRY, eventually) suggested that I read a book called The Anatomy of an Epidemic, which is apparently about the long-term health impacts of taking medications for depression and anxiety. A book written by the practitioner himself addresses the physical damage done by trauma, anxiety, and medication, in the long term. When I wrote an extremely anxious email about not being able to afford his services, he replied that I could find the supplements on other websites, for less money, and did not address in any way the fact that I now had all this knowledge about potential harm being done by my current medication regimen and NO MORE HELP. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he could have shaved off a significant amount of time (and MONEY on my BILL) in the one session we did have together, had he simply not started the conversation we had about how psychiatrists, in general, don’t really seem to be motivated to help patients like me, who are concerned with the long-term use of the medications they prescribe. Looking back, I can see $100 and a lot of time and energy and anxiety that I would not have used up, had he just stopped talking, after he agreed with me when I said that it seemed healthy to TRY life without Effexor. But no, we had a conversation, one I was then charged for, about how psychiatry would fail me, Integrative Medicine would help me, and then, HE SENT EMAIL SAYING THAT INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE WOULD NO LONGER BE HELPING ME (outside of allowing me to buy supplements). It doesn’t take a genius to guess that maybe, that would do more harm than good. And this dude is supposed to be providing HOLISTIC care.

The good news is that I’ve dealt with my fears, tallied up how much I’ve gained from this whole process, and moved on, all by myself. BECAUSE MY THERAPIST IS ON VACATION. Because the universe is apparently testing me, somehow. I’ve come out on top, universe! Do you hear me? I win! Here’s the result: I’m ok with taking the same dose of supplements I’ve been taking, and I will see one of two providers, infrequently, to keep an eye on how that’s going, as long as they are up front about how much it will cost and agree that, barring any real increase in cost (ahem, NOT accidentally talking for too long), I will pay only the amount agreed on in advance for their time.

I did that all by myself, by talking to my support system (Nathan! thank you! friends! thank you!) and looking carefully at my family’s finances. Oh, and by the way–our food benefits from the department of social services are completely up in the air, because they don’t know how to deal with graduate student pay and “can’t verify” Nathan’s income without a whole week of work. And I’m not freaking out about that.

I feel better after ranting. I win.

Ritual and Friendship Calm Anxiety

Last week, we didn’t just travel to San Jose for the BlogHer. We also spent time before and after the conference with a friend I have known since childhood, in a beautiful city called Santa Cruz. She lives a beautiful life filled with gorgeous rituals, often surrounding incredible food. The week taught me that this kind of ritual and friendship calm anxiety, for me. Watching her include my son in her favorite activities reminded me that I can actually calm my anxiety without taking a time out from motherhood, as long as my kiddo is willing to participate. He’s an easy-going guy, so I can really see this working!

Example: having met the Goat Milk Latte in Santa Cruz, I am now obsessed with the rich, creamy, earthy goodness. My extended family has a coffee roasting business, so I have some pretty amazing coffee at my house. Walt says a word that sounds like “cough” for “coffee” and most mugs he points at get named “Mama.” This is already a ritual I enjoy, so I just explained everything I was doing to Walt and told him to listen to the sounds and smell the smells. What do you know? It worked!

Hario ceramic cone pour-over coffee "maker" with a Chemex filter (I accidentally bought the bleached ones and prefer the unbleached), sitting atop a mug that was a gag gift from a BFF, with my little quart of goat milk and my Hario hand-grinder that I use to grind my Tonyan Coffee. We love that thing - the crank, the sound - it's fabulous.

Hario ceramic cone pour-over coffee “maker” with a Chemex filter (I accidentally bought the bleached ones and prefer the unbleached), sitting atop a mug that was a gag gift from a BFF, with my little quart of goat milk and my Hario hand-grinder that I use to grind my Tonyan Coffee. We love that thing – the crank, the sound – it’s fabulous.

But that’s not the only way friendship calms my anxiety; that would just be a ritual inspired by a friendship. Here’s the real lesson I learned about Friends Around Whom I Feel Less Anxiety: brutal honesty.

You would not believe (or maybe you get it, because you do it to) how much time I spend thinking about what other people are thinking about me. I understand, with my rational brain, that other people really don’t spend that much time thinking about me. My experience visiting my California friend smashed into my experience I had when another friend visited us here in Connecticut, and there was a big BANG! as I realized what these visits had in common: I felt like I was on vacation from anxiety, because I trust these women to tell me what I need to know. Am I talking about something that upsets her? She’ll tell me. Am I being a bad listener? She’ll let me know. Does she really want to eat that kind of food and not the kind of food I have suggested? She’ll say so.

When both people in a relationship, friendship or otherwise, trust that boundaries will be respected and honesty maintained, no one has to worry that doing or saying the wrong thing will cause a major break! I don’t worry, anymore, that I’ll say or do the “wrong” thing. Of course I will; everyone does. The real anxiety comes from worrying that my mistake, inevitable as it is, will result in some sort of silent distancing and… let’s not indulge that fantasy. Essentially, I don’t want to relive high school, where I never knew that people were talking about me unless I could actually HEAR the gossip or someone filled me in that their was gossip. “So and so doesn’t like you.” ::shudder::

How did I end up carrying that around with me, all these years later? Because I was raised by a man who did the same thing. The most common mind game my emotionally abusive father played was, “I know that So and So Doesn’t Like Me/You/Us because…” The stories were frequent, long, complicated, and convincing. At least 50% of the dinner conversation in my home centered around this nonsense. Of course, the same “logic” was applied to me, later on. “Because you said this, I know that you feel that and think this other thing.” Nauseatingly complicated. Anything you say can and will be used against you. And so, for me, I fully relax only when I know that my words and actions will not be used against me, later. It turns out that I’m good at convincing myself that this is true only around a few people in my life.

I think it’s universal that Truth is the best way to fight anxiety. Anxiety lies – the one thing that everyone I’ve talked to about generalized anxiety seems to have in common is that we lose our ability to prioritize. Going to the grocery store and answering email, even when there is no important email and there are hungry family members to feed but no food in the house, these two tasks seem equally important, to the anxious mind. And so, I really value the people who can speak up and say hey, I think you’re incorrect, and please note this truth over here. It takes a LOT of energy for me to sort out what’s input from the world outside and what’s an invention of the anxious mind inside my head. The people who save me time and energy by sorting that out for me are just so nice to be around.

Especially when they don’t look at me sideways for feeling so passionately about goat dairy.

The Loud Noise Anxiety Makes Inside My Head

A dear friend asked me, recently, if I think that I am a good listener. The answer is that I have great listening skills, but that I can’t use them, sometimes, because the noise inside my head is too loud to make listening possible. At the time she posed the question, I was being a terrible listener. I had just come from the BlogHer 2014 conference, which was literally quite loud, with a few thousand people in attendance, and there was so much noise in my head about the expense of the hotel, the food, about everything I had seen and heard, about the people who had been there, and the people who had missed it. I was exhausted. But I wonder–would I be able to put aside exhaustion and listen, if the anxiety didn’t turn up the volume so darn loud?

It sounds like an airport in my head. I realized this while watching my son point at every plane with toddler glee and yell "Pay!" (No, the realization did no take away from my joy at watching his new love for airplanes.)

It sounds like an airport in my head. I realized this while watching my son point at every plane with toddler glee and yell “Pay!” (No, the realization did no take away from my joy at watching his new love for airplanes.)

[BlogHer recap post and other thoughts coming soon. I can’t even listen to myself after yesterday’s solo flight home with all that adorable, well-behaved, snuggly, but eventually also heavy, toddler on my lap.]

The Climb Out of My Comfort Zone

As I prepare for this weekend’s Climb Out of the Darkness, I can feel my anxiety level rising. It’s not only being the team manager for my area – I didn’t do a great job publicizing the Climb Out, so there are a total of three people, including me, registered so far. If ten people show up, I’ll be thrilled. I realized this week that my “baseline” anxiety level has climbed over the past few months, because of what I’m calling “living outside my comfort zone.” I took on two projects at about the same time – the Climb Out, and my Jamberry business. Both involve being more social than I’m totally comfy being, but the real source of this discomfort? The fact that I have the confidence in myself to sign up and follow through with these projects. This week will be the one-year anniversary of my estrangement from my father, and I am realizing that this rapid growth in my life and confidence has a lot to do with breaking the cycle of abuse I lived with him.

Over many years, my father convinced me that his moods–usually angry or depressed, but sometimes excited and productive–had been caused by his environment, which included me. When someone who is abusive convinces you not to trust your own perceptions, it’s often called gaslighting. In order to break the cycle of abuse I lived with my dad, I had to insist that my feelings, my reality, mattered as much as his did, despite his insistence that I change my behavior to help him feel better–every time. But the most important assertion I had to make, to myself and to him, was that I could not control his moods. He insisted, and I accepted, that his mental illness would be easier to bear if the people around him just made his world a more comfortable place. This was simply not my responsibility.

I am a loving, kind, empathic person, who wants to help the people around her; the notion that I willfully ignore anyone’s feelings to suit my own convenience or to avoid facing a hard truth is utterly absurd. That’s what I was doing, though, when I agreed to change my behavior in the hope that my father would be happier with me and more loving towards me.

An awesome thing that happened while I was taking back the power I had given to my father during the gaslighting process–I started to believe myself and to believe IN myself. By the time I rejected my father’s gaslighting about my responsibility for his feelings, I had also managed to surround myself with people who find the idea that I’m responsible for their feelings completely foreign and unattractive. It took an enormous amount of energy to convince myself that my dad was right, when, deep down, I knew that he was wrong. It was dark in that room, no matter how much he insisted that it was light (the bare bones of the story that inspired the term “gaslighting” involve this scenario). Insisting that we could both see perfectly well in a dark room was hard.

When I freed myself from that abusive cycle, I gradually found myself with more energy and more confidence; by the time I signed up to be the team leader for the Climb Out, I wasn’t even thinking about whether or not I could something like this. I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it! Deciding to lead a team in my Jamberry business was the same process–why NOT? I couldn’t think why not.

And that is the huge change. My brain did not immediately church out 10 reasons why I was unqualified or incapable of being a leader. My anxiety is higher than it was because I have climbed up, out of my comfort zone. It’s not comfortable up here. But my life is pretty exciting. And this confidence thing? I am enjoying that.

It is not a coincidence that I began to believe in my own power to succeed after walking away from the one person who kept telling me that I had failed. No, he didn’t tell me that I was failing in general. But no matter how hard I tried, he would always find some reason that I had failed to be good to him. That was my job, right? Because I should be a good daughter, right? And good daughters don’t hurt their dads! I don’t like the idea of my dad, hurting, and being unable to comfort him. But I no longer see any part of his pain as a consequence of my failure. I no longer ask, “When will I fail?”

Now, I ask myself, “How am I going to do this?” And I do it.


Anxiety Over Weight Loss: Passive Self Harm

I haven’t felt anxiety about my weight since I was a teenager. Ten years ago. Suddenly, I’m facing serious anxiety over weight loss. I knew that had lost some weight, but I feel good and didn’t look *too* different. When I visited my doctor’s office to find out why my ear hurt (of course, by the time I got there, the discomfort I had felt for days was pretty much gone), the nurse did a routine weight check. I heard the number. I asked her to repeat it. I asked if she was certain. I asked her to please inform my doctor that I had lost twenty pounds since January, and that I did not remember seeing a weight this low in my entire post-pubescent life. I wasn’t surprised that I had lost weight–I did cut sugar, gluten, dairy and soy from my diet, over a month ago. The nurse was nice enough to tell me that I was still within a healthy range for my height, and because the doctor and I had recently talked about how my change in diet had really helped my migraines, he wasn’t too worried about my thyroid or heart or any dramatic underlying cause. In other words, I was the one feeling major anxiety, while my doctor was mainly concerned that I include more calories in my diet.

Of course, he did run every test he could think of. He’s that kind of doctor. None of the tests made me anxious. I did not for a moment feel afraid of a damaged thyroid or a disease of some kind.

No, I feel anxiety over weight loss, because once I see that it’s happening, I am always tempted to let it go on… and on…

I have never had an eating disorder. According to some definitions, I have engaged in “disordered eating” when I have skipped meals, because the idea of paying for or preparing one has sometimes felt like too much. My husband does most of the cooking around here, because I would just let it slide. (He’s also much better at making meal-type food, anyway–pie is my speciality. Oh, how I miss pie!) My close friend nailed this one right on the head, though, when she asked if this was “passive self-harm.” I usually love the Mayo Clinic website for defining words and phrases I use, here, but this one is flawed (“self injury/cutting” is a bit narrow) and clearly written by someone who hasn’t ever experienced the impulse to self-harm:

Self-injury, also called self-harm, is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration. …

While self-injury may bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, it’s usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions.

When I’m tempted to just skip one meal, to ignore that light-headed, hungry feeling for another hour or two, I am engaging in this behavior. I am refusing to listen to clear signals in my brain. Anxiety often manifests physically, but I cannot ignore its signals. Shaking hands, shortness of breath, nausea, all interrupt daily life. I can cope with the frustration of feeling out-of-control by simply continuing an activity well past meal-time, until I have skipped that meal altogether. It does bring a momentary sense of calm, release of tension. And then yes, I feel shame.

Thinking of this impulse as a self-harm impulse, rather than a first step down the terrifying road to an eating disorder, feels more accurate, because what I’m feeling doesn’t seem to have much to do with my body or body image. I don’t dislike the way I look. I don’t want anything about my body to change. I do want something to think about besides the sharp increase in anxiety that follows a discovery like that one on the scale, on Thursday. The shame comes from feeling that I have failed at this diet, even while it has helped my migraines all but disappear. I have failed to eat often enough, or to eat the right foods. Worst of all, I didn’t even notice that I am lighter now than I have been since the age of twelve. Isn’t that something I should notice? I’ve had issues with my milk supply these past few weeks. Why didn’t I think that that might have something to do with a decrease in calorie intake? Why didn’t I think?

Most of my “negative self-talk,” the mean thoughts I swirl around my mind, centers around being too stupid to see something important. I “should” have seen this coming. I should have known what to do. I should have stopped it. This is quite clearly my mind’s response to the heavy importance placed on my intelligence as a measure of my self-worth, by my father and myself. It’s a good reason to stay away from academia, and to not finish my graduate degree; it’s too easy, in that world, to depend on grades to give me a sense that I have an important place in the world.

I know all of this. I know what to do. I know what to eat (please, no advice–I’m hearing lists of foods from two professionals) to maintain my weight and easily avoid losing an unhealthy amount. All of that knowledge is playing in my head, like NPR. Calm, quiet, informative.

Anxiety acts like the static that refuses to let me listen to NPR while driving; I can’t pick up a clear signal on the real programming, so I hear and can’t stop focusing on the awful static that mutes those calmer voices.

How I feel when it's time to eat. (In case you thought I had lost my sense of humor)

How I feel when it’s time to eat. (In case you thought I had lost my sense of humor)

Healing Anxiety Naturally, Phase One: Food

I’m embarking on a new path, in conjunction with my more traditional talk therapy and psychiatry treatments, that takes a more holistic approach towards anxiety, depression, and trauma. Called Functional Medicine, it’s a unique approach to healing anxiety naturally (also: depression, trauma, chronic pain, hormone imbalance). “Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease” (The Institute for Functional Medicine).

I’m working with a practitioner in California, because a childhood friend referred me. We speak online, in a video conference, and even before our first long visit, it became clear to me that while I had asked for a referral to help with my migraines, I had no idea how to untangle my physical health from my mental health. Anxiety goes up, migraines get worse. Anxiety goes down, migraines respond to medicine, again. So, while she usually begins with a gentler, slower approach and more subtle changes, we decided to jump right in to a full-blown resetting of my mind and body’s systems for dealing with stress, trauma, etc. I’ll talk more about how that works in a future post; the science is pretty incredible.

What I love most about this treatment is that it works with the philosophy most often found in Eastern medicine: our emotional, mental, physiological, and spiritual selves are intertwine. And it also uses Western medicine’s greatest assets: insight into how physiological mechanism work and change, and amazingly precise medical testing.

My first step is to follow a strict diet, for two weeks, that is meant to give my body a break from the stress I put on it from the way I was eating. I’m skipping foods with a high glycemic index (the body responds to them by ramping up blood sugar production) and sticking to eating smaller portions, consumed more often, of foods that will keep my blood sugar even. My anxiety acts as an appetite suppressant, often, so I was going a very long time between any sort of meal or snack. I am also an admitted sugar addict–we ate our feelings, in my dad’s house, usually in the form of ice cream. Between what I was eating and when I was eating it, my blood sugar and energy levels basically were doing major peaks and valleys all day. I knew that. I knew better, too, because the nutritionist I saw while I was trying to go off my medications, before we tried for a baby, told me all about it. As I remember it, it goes like this–

I skipped meals. I craved sweets. The healthiest option I chose might have been a bottled smoothie, full of sweet fruits and soy protein. My blood sugar would skyrocket in response to the two bananas and five kiwis and whatever else I had consumed in about three minutes, in juice form, and then pretty soon, it would begin to fall, taking my energy level down with it. My body would try to make up for my energy nose dive by producing extra adrenaline. Chemically, that’s the same thing as anxiety, by the way. It’s also just not healthy and takes a big toll on the body.

So, for yesterday and today, I have skipped bread/wheat, refused sugar, chosen eggs, avocado, fish as protein. Apple, pear and grapefruit are the closest I’ve come to sugary foods. And I feel like HELL.

I’ve felt this before. It’s withdrawal. My body is freaking out, because I am not feeding it sugar. Sugar addiction is real, people. My headache, stomach ache, shaky hands and sensitivity to light and sound are proving that, to me. But I will do this for 12.5 more days (but who’s counting?) and it will get better. I may slowly add some gluten, sugar, diary, back into my diet. But I will be careful, and see how I feel after having a little of each food, one at a time, and I will avoid becoming addicted to sugar, again.


Coming up: how amino acid supplements can reset my brain to its original production, delivery and use of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol, to name a few.

I can’t sleep, and I can’t write.

My functional routine is shot to pieces, and this new, dysfunctional routine that has taken its place is pissing me off. I haven’t slept well for weeks, not since my baby started sleeping through the night.

At first, I didn’t sleep at night, at all. I would fall asleep around the time my family was getting up, and sleep through the afternoon. Now, I’m waking up a little earlier and falling asleep at reasonable hours, but waking up around 11:00 pm, falling asleep again at 6:00-ish. And waking up a little earlier in the afternoon. I can’t get anything done.

I don’t know what is happening with me, and that might be what feels most uncomfortable. I usually pinpoint the sources of my anxieties and ruthlessly cut through them, or at least make enough progress to stop the anxiety from interfering with my daily life. There was conflict with two different people who are close to me, and I had the difficult conversations. I opened my mind, and my heart, and it felt great. I was surprised, relieved.

I talked to my therapist.

I cut out any caffeine after 2pm.

I tried to have more of a bedtime routine.

I tried falling asleep with the baby.

I tried doing nothing, while laying there, awake. I tried reading. Then I tried reading. I tried reading less exciting books. I tried watching TV. Less exciting TV. Playing games on my phone or kindle. Boring games. I sometimes think it’s working, but then it turns out that it’s just 5:30 or 6:00 am, as usual.

I woke up around midnight. Tonight, again.

I should take Benadryl or something to help me sleep, but I am so tired, that I haven’t remembered to find some until it’s too late.

I am going to New York tomorrow, to read from my essay in The Good Mother Myth. I want so desperately to be well-rested. Maybe I’m anxious about that, tonight. I’m hoping that with the celebration and the excitement, I’ll finally sleep, in the bed that Nathan’s mother so sweetly keeps for us, in New York. Maybe the insomnia will shift away, and disappear, the way it arrived.

The glow from the TV. PBS, because the silence is creepy and I don't want anything too exciting.

The glow from the TV. PBS, because the silence is creepy and I don’t want anything too exciting.