I’ve Got The Winter Blahs

Winter seemingly weighs me down like the heavy snow blanketing my front yard. Stepping out my door to fetch the mail, I slip on the thick ice, skid, but don’t fall. I take a tentative step forward as my nose hairs frost over and snow fills my boots. I’d hoped to lightly skim across the top of the deep snow drift that was once a cleared path only days before, butImage sink to my knees. Sigh. I finally make it to retrieve the mail, hoping to find a birthday card or my tax refund, but return with our propane bill that is double what it normally is (and unfortunately for me my salary is not). Winter, you’ve sapped my energy. I’m tapped and tired, although that may be more the fault of the influenza I’ve caught despite the flu shot I got. Lying in bed, I try to rest and force fluids, but instead obsess about the bills that are late, the work I’m missing, being a better mom to my children, helping my husband finding a better job that he likes, the book I don’t feel like writing and the half-marathon training I’m now falling behind in.  Much like the snow, the ice, the snow, the bitter cold, the snow, the snow, the snow (did I mention the snow?), my negative thinking blasts me.

Enough already! It has to stop. While I can’t control ‘old man winter,’ I can control my thoughts. I can choose to see the ‘silver linings’ and remember trying times only make me stronger. I can focus on the positives and smile.  I can live mindfully, but purposefully; moving forward, not dwelling on past mistakes nor worrying about the unknown, following my instincts without fear or second-guessing. I can look back to where I was and be proud of where I am now. I can look ahead and know better days are coming. They always do. As Elsa, in the movie, Frozen (hmmm…any coincidence that we too are frozen?), sings, “Let It Go, Let It Go…”  Yes, I need to take that advice. That will be hard, but not impossible. Starting now. Ready, set, go!

Here are five positive things about winter:

1. The beautiful ice crystals outlining the trees in my backyard contrasted again a clear blue sky

2. Snuggling on the couch under a warm comforter with my daughters on a snow day

3. Noticing the daylight lasts slightly longer each day

4. Seeing the smiles on my daughters’ faces as they point to the snow fort they just built

5. A ten-day forecast that shows a high of 51 degrees for next Thursday

And, now I think I will snuggle under that comforter (after drinking some more water of course) and take a nap. I’m feeling better already…Who knows maybe when I wake up it will all have been a dream and the flu along with snow will all be gone:)

Anyone else feeling the winter blues? What do you do to shake it off?

Where Did November Go Already? Gone!

keyboardDecember 1 how did you get here so fast? Wasn’t it just yesterday the calendar read November 1?  Last year at this time a smile crept across my lips as I’d finished the first draft of my second novel the evening before with the help of the folks at the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website. Every November thousands of writers take up the “50,000 words in 30 days” challenge — daunting, but totally doable.

After meeting that challenge last November, I signed up for CampNaNoWriMo in July to knock out my third novel. The ideas and characters were in my mind waiting to make their way to be words and sentences on my netbook screen. Life happened and I didn’t even make it to the cabin check in. With the sun on my back and the wind in my face I focused on running and spending those summer days with my girls. I told myself I’d push my next novel to the spring instead of the fall and get that allusive draft done in November as I’d done the previous year.

November arrived and I started strong. The words flowed and the storyline progressed. Unfortunately for my characters (and the three or four readers awaiting my next book) life happened – mine that is. Interruptions (from children who should be sleeping) and distractions (like the new Nora Roberts and Barbara Freethy novels and a new season of Once Upon a Time) beckoned to me.

I tried to get back on track and then, as I often do when I know I should not, I checked the reviews of my books on Amazon. Every five-star and kind review makes me smile and feel good about my writing. I know logically, I can’t please every reader, however, those one-star reviews, have just as big of an effect on me as a writer as the five-star ones. I have a hard time blowing them off and tend to dwell on them and doubt my writing abilities. So, reading the review below in the beginning of my second week of writing, my motivation flagged and I just never got back to it… Here it is in its entirety…

If I could give it a -5 I would have.
I could not read the entire book. I’m sorry, I try to be fair but I cannot see how ANYONE in their right mind could give this book a 5, 4 or even a 3. I paid for the darn book based on reviews. These reviews have to be from family and friends of the author. I really wish I could get my money back. It was as if I were reading some teenager’s diary. Not sure how to describe the immature writing skills. The story might (big questionable might) have had a good storyline if it wasn’t for how this writer just dragged on and on on every single detail. For example, Mason taking a shower and every single detail about the towel and such…. really? It was a detailed description of EVERY SINGLE thought. I wanted to pull my hair out! The entire story was lame. This author needs a better editor if she has one at all. I’m sorry to say but don’t spend the money. I could not even finish the story.”

Sigh. Double-Sigh. I resisted responding and defending my position. The majority of the other reviews were not from my family members and personal friends. It should be enough that I know that, but it still doesn’t take the sting away from a bad review! After stewing on it and re-reading the positive reviews I’ve gotten on my first book and on this one as well, I realized that even though I failed to get that draft done in November, I shouldn’t give up. Writing is something I love and I shouldn’t let one hater take that away from me. Now, I just need to find that uninterrupted time away from distractions.  Early mornings? Late nights? I don’t know. I need to make it happen though!

Any ideas on finding the time to pursue your passions?

A Sharp Stick In The Eye

Image by SidewaysSarah on Flickr
Image by SidewaysSarah on Flickr

My Dad likens shopping with “a sharp stick in the eye,” yet he’d (willingly?maybe?  through coercion of some sort by my mother? perhaps.) accompany my mother, sister and I on various escapades to the mall as we hopefully searched for the perfect Easter or Christmas dress or school clothes. He’d patiently give a thumbs up on the third one out of the dressing room. No matter, we’d still inevitably hit every store looking for something better only to end up purchasing that third dress from the first store. I laughed the day I found him with a piece of mulch hanging out of his eye from the fake planter behind the bench he’d sat waiting for us on.

At the time, I thought he was joking about his aversion to shopping, but I think not. In fact, I can honestly say, I relate to that “sharp-stick-in-the-eye” syndrome. And, furthermore, although some may consider it un-womanly or possibly un-American to admit, but (deep breath) I hate shopping. I really do. It’s not even the spending of money that I detest. I am far from frugal. I can never remember to take coupons with me and comparison shopping is beyond my expertise. I don’t mind spending money. In fact, as many of those charity telemarketers, know I find it hard to say “no” and am free with giving. So free in fact that I really have no idea where a lot of my money goes, which might explain why I often find myself short of said dinero (but that is another post in and of itself).

I digress. So what is it about shopping I hate so much? I think it is the shopping experience that I detest so much. All those people, for one. I can’t stand crowds. Black Friday is a nightmare, I avoid (I’m more of a Cyber Monday kind of gal). Waiting in lines makes me shutter. Even worse is shopping with my kids. Their whining and begging turn me into a mega-b. By the time we’re back in the car headed home, I don’t even like myself. Add to that most stores have the heat turned way to high. If I have to take off my coat (as my sister lovingly knows), I usually take my patience with and we might as well just go home.

My shopping attitude could be the culprit. Maybe if I had a more positive attitude about the whole experience, I’d like it more. I usually start with a good attitude. In my mind’s eye I can see that sweater or the boots or the running shoes I want. I can picture what I want, I can just never find it or if I do it’s the wrong size or too expensive or the wrong color. I either leave empty-handed or with something almost what I was looking for and in both cases disappointed.

Thus, I’ve turned most of my shopping needs over to the virtual world. Online shopping is my holiday salvation. I am a proud Amazon Prime member (free two-day shipping!!!) My co-workers know when the smiley-face boxes begin to fill my cubicle the Christmas season has begun. Opening those brown boxes never fail to make me smile!

In most cases, I can get most of what I need online. The pictures and reviews are helpful – and I don’t miss the dressing room. Although, I still can’t always find what I want, the disappointment is less when I don’t actually have to leave my bed to shop. Occasionally, I’m disappointed but at least my head and feet aren’t throbbing at the end of the day.

Anyone else hate shopping, shopping?  Or is it just me?

Lean On Me

Call me (if you need a friend)
Call me (call me)
We Be Jamming…

Lean On Me

Come, on you know the riff is playing in your head now. Well those of you old enough to remember the 80s are anyway. When trying to think of a catchy title for this post, the Club Nouveau song, Lean On Me, came on the radio and stuck in my head on repeat (much like Lorde’s song, Royals). The lyrics as well as the song title, however, are appropriate for tonight’s topic.

Over the past week I’ve written a couple of posts about panic/anxiety disorder in recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week. While the official week of raising awareness about mental health is over, I’m not quite done writing about a topic that hits so close to home. From the outside, when people look at me they might see a happy, successful woman. And to some extent, they would be right. I am truly blessed. Yet in the not so distant past, I really struggled with anxiety and panic. The fear of having a panic attack was almost as debilitating as actually having one. Once I accepted that I having another panic attack was inevitable, but that even so I could survive one, I started making progress. But while most outsiders were oblivious to all that chaos and turmoil in my life,  the insiders – my family and close friends – watched me struggle and offered .

In much the same way, I’ve watched my oldest daughter struggle with anxiety and my youngest daughter be consumed with worry.Watching a loved one struggle is hard. It makes you feel helpless, just as watching someone fight cancer or any other disease can be. Maybe you know someone who suffers from panic attacks. While everyone is different, the list below are some of the ways my family and friends have helped me through those periods in my life where anxiety threatened to take over and made all the difference to me.

1. Listening Without Judging. Having someone willing to hear my “plight” without trying to fix me is invaluable. Advice is great. I love hearing new ideas on how to handle panic and suggestions to alleviate stress. A new self-help book to read is perfect. But, don’t tell them to “relax,”  “calm down” or “stop worrying about everything” (if it were that easy, they’d already be doing it!) Empathy is the key.

2. Distractions Galore. Offer to go for a walk with them, drag them on  bike ride, take them mini-golfing or deal the cards. Coax them out of bed and do something with them. Make them laugh and forget about their problems. Distraction definitely helps me focus on something besides the tingling in my arms and the pressure in my chest.

3. Remind Me. “This Too Shall Pass” is a quote I can’t hear too many times. Sometimes we all just need a reminder that nothing lasts forever, that we’ve been down this road many times before and prevailed. It’s easy to forget your successes and discount them when you are feeling low. A little reminder that I am a strong person, I know what to do can light the way out.

4. Hugs Are Good. Sometimes an old-fashioned hug makes all the difference. A simple hug can  make me feel less alone. My daughters give me a hug sandwich, which never fails to make me smile. A gentle squeeze on the arm or a shoulder massage also helps lessen tension.

5. Check In. Just  knowing that someone is thinking about me or praying for me gives me strength. Ask what you can do to help and let the person know you are there. Let them reach out to you, but check in to make sure they remember you are there. Knowing I have someone to lean on, to call on is a gift that I don’t take for granted. I’m lucky.

Does anyone else have any good ways that you’ve used to help someone through a panic attack or that others have helped you? Please share!

Stepping Back from the Edge

miawLearning to accept my panic/anxiety disorder instead of fighting it or denying it, helped bring stability to my life. I spent many nights lying in bed, praying for a cure. Asking “Why me? Why can’t I just be normal?” The answers never came nor did a magic pill that took it all a way. As this is Mental Illness Awareness Week, this post continues the ramblings about my ongoing saga with mental illness and shares ways I’ve learned to cope and overcome.

I know I’ll most likely deal with anxiety for the rest of my life. The periods in-between episodes grow longer and the severity lessens, but even now I know I’ll feel that adrenaline race through my body again as my brain’s “fight or flight” response goes awry despite the logical center of my mind knowing without a doubt that “I am safe.” As life goes on, as it always does, I try live a healthy lifestyle in a futile effort to ward off the next attack. But as complacency gets in my way, I slack off and am not always successful in that area – especially when it comes to junk food and Diet Coke. I do know I feel better and stronger when I make healthy food choices, limit caffeine, exercise regularly, get a good night’s sleep and take my anti-anxiety medication as prescribed (a future blog post will be on medications).

Still the day comes when I’m faced with that wave of anxiety crashing down on me, forcing me toward the edge. Over the years I’ve become better equipped to force myself to take a step back from that edge instead of falling into the crevice. Having lived through this personal, sometimes lonely battle, I realized that something good has to come out of it. I know I am a stronger person for it and my hope is by sharing my experience I can help someone else in a similar situation. These strategies help me cope and get to the other side of a panic attack. Maybe they can help you or someone you know, maybe not. But, when I’m consumed with darkness, I’m willing to try anything (well almost anything) to come back into the light.

In no particular order, here are the ways I cope:

1. Accept the feelings and go with it. When I start to panic about the panicky feelings, it compounds everything for me. I’ve learned to just ride the initial waves, letting them flow through me. I know it can’t last for ever and I can handle the uncomfortable feelings for a few minutes.

2. Monitor self-talk. This one is one of the hardest for me. I have to stop my mind from wandering and make myself stop and remind myself that I am not dying. I don’t feel good, but I am not dying.

3. Refocus. I try to find a distraction for myself that is repetitive to help my thoughts get back on track. Some ways I’ve done this are knitting/crocheting (the counting of the stitches helps calm me done), focusing on my breathing, visualizing I’m somewhere else relaxing, etc.

4.Breathe Deeply. Taking several cleansing breaths helps. I’ll take a breath, hold it and let it out slowly. It starts to calm me and helps alleviate the heaviness in my chest.

5. Shake it out. This one looks kind of silly, but it really does help me. I stand up and shake my arms and legs out. It’s like I’m getting rid of the bad energy.

6. Talk it out. I have a few good friends I can go to, who understand me and can empathize – no judgements. They remind me I’ve been in this place before and I have the strength to leave it behind again.

7. Lend a hand. When I’m focusing on someone else and helping them, I’m not focused on my own problems. Having two young daughters, who always seem to need me, helps a lot. I can’t let them down. I have to move forward. They know I have anxiety attacks; I don’t hide it from them. On the other hand, I don’t want to scare them. I focus on them. I get through the next minute, the next hour, the next day. Minute by minute until eventually I’m back to feeling like myself again.

8. Get physical. I’ll go for a walk to clear my head. Even better for me is getting sweaty – a hard run, shooting hoops in the driveway or a Just Dance marathon on the Wii.

9. Massage. My tension and stress always ends up in my neck and shoulders. Using a tennis ball in a sock or a foam roller eases that tension and helps me relax. Better yet, I enlist the hands of my eleven-year old or six-year old. Stretching my neck, rolling my shoulders and tensing the muscles as tight as I can and then relaxing them also eases the tension.

10. Keep Faith. Lately I’ve struggled with this one. I’ve doubted God’s love. I’ve questioned how He can keep track of millions and millions of people and I can barely keep track of two girls. In Matthew 17:20, it says “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you.” So despite my doubts and questions, I still pray. I don’t know if what I’m doing is the right thing or if it’ll matter in the end, but I do have that mustard seed’s worth of faith that God is somehow listening and that “I can do anything through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13).

Anyone else have any ideas for coping in the throes of a panic attack? I’d love to hear them. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

It’s Not in My Head (Not Really) and No, I’m Not Crazy (Not Really)

miawThe words “mental illness” make me cringe. My name is, Shar, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have a mental illness. I shouldn’t be ashamed of having a mental illness, but my perceived societal stigma often makes me feel that way. I’ve felt like I was less or going crazy, or not “normal” because of it. Looking at me, you would never know about the turmoil that lies just beneath the surface. Being that this week (October 6-12) is National Mental Illness Awareness week, I thought I’d put those inadequate feelings aside and write about the invisible, not-talked-about, reality of my mental illness in the hopes that someone out there can relate and know they are not alone or at least if you know someone struggling with these same issues you are more aware of what that person is going through.

I’ve struggled with anxiety/panic disorder since I was a teenager and if I think about it probably even before then. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I started taking medication to control the symptoms, even though I was hospitalized for three-days at the start of my freshman year of college (because of the dehydration I experienced from my inability to eat for weeks on end as a result of the anxiety). I’ve been in and out of therapy and know dozens of techniques to use during an attack and prevent future attacks. For the most part, the combination of these things keep me on an even keel. Yet, even so, something will trigger an attack or one will sneak up on me out of the blue for no apparent reason (at least to me).

I can recognize some patterns in my life that have led to an episode of panic – the changing of the seasons (especially the Fall), a conflict, traveling, flying and cutting back on my medication. Some of those triggers I can avoid (although I don’t really want to, like not traveling) and others are completely out of my control (Fall will come whether I like it or not). You might ask why I would mess with my medication. The main reason is that I’ll get cocky. I’ll go long periods panic-free and start to get on myself about using medication as a crutch and then try to cut back on the dose (with my doctor’s permission). I’m fearless and confident I can handle whatever comes my way until a panic attack knocks me down again. Logically, I shouldn’t see the medication as a crutch, diabetics don’t use insulin as a crutch nor is anti-seizure medicine a crutch to someone with epilepsy. Yet, in my mind even when someone would make these same comparisons to me, I would think but those are real conditions. Years ago as I went through multiple blood and GI tests, I kept hoping and praying they would figure out what was really wrong with me and not just the elusive anxiety that would magically go away if I could somehow relax and stop worrying.

I would not wish a panic attack on anyone. It is the worst feeling ever. A panic attack can hit me anytime of the day or night, but once I have the initial one it takes me a couple of weeks to get back to myself again. From that point on mornings are the worst for me. As I’ve come to know myself and apply techniques I’ve learned along the way, the symptoms aren’t nearly as severe as they were in the past and they don’t last as long as the used to, but it still doesn’t feel good – at- all. I’ll wake up with a heaviness in my chest. My heart will race and I’ll get really hot and start sweating. In the next moment, I will be shivering and my arms will tingle as my feet and hands go numb. My stomach will (in the past I’ve even thrown up) and flop as my appetite disappears to nausea. These symptoms will play havoc on me off and on for several hours. Upon which I will feel extremely tired. Unfortunately with a full-time job in addition to being a wife and mother of two – sleep usually isn’t an option. I have to get out of bed, which is a good thing. This forces me to face down the symptoms warring within me to talk myself down as I accept the feelings and then let it go. By the end of the day, I’ll feel like myself again until the cycle begins the next morning until it doesn’t.

It isn’t easy getting out of bed those days, but what other choice do I have? Keep on, keeping on.

Has anyone else felt ashamed of having a mental illness or thought it was something they should be able to just get over?

Later this week I will write about some of the ways I’ve learned to cope with my panic disorder.

Funky Friday

Maybe, if I chase a blinking cursor across a blank page and spill my words, I’ll feel better. Some days peace settles over me and everything feels right. Today isn’t one of those days. Some days I feel like a war is waging within me. That would be today. Doubt. Fear. Anxiety. Panic.

I can feel the adrenaline pumping through my body – the hot flashes alternate with the chills. The tightness settles in my chest. I look over my shoulder and no one is lurking or threatening. No one, but me.

I thought the running, the getting in shape would stave off that dragon of mine. I hoped never to see its face staring down on me. Yet when I least expect it, he taps me on the shoulder, catching me off guard and says “I’m back…” Go ahead and smile or throw-up. 

My lips curl upward as my fingers continue to fly across the keyboard. I will NOT be defeated. The panic does not OWN me.  It does not win.  Breath in, breath out.  Be still. And let it pass. I’m OK.