Posted in About the Author, Anxiety and Experience

Chronic Pain and Me: A Daily Struggle

I have lived with chronic back pain, debilitating migraines, depression, and anxiety since my teenage years. Whether the pain from my herniated disc catapulted me into a depression or whether my daily struggles with overwhelming anxiety and depression has led to physical daily pain, I may never know what sparked the initial problems. However, I can say that it is a viscous daily cycle that one symptom definitely feeds on the others.

When I was 14, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and mild depression. At the age of 18, I started having severe pain in my lower back that eventually led to multiple rounds of physical therapy and a diagnosis of having a herniated disc that almost ended in back surgery. At the age of 22, I was diagnosed with migraines, which had symptoms that include sensitivity to sound and light, nausea, debilitating head and neck pain that occur at the very least 2-3 times a month. When I turned 23, I was diagnosed as agoraphobic, suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and had mild to moderate depression that required therapy and medication to manage.

From my teenage years up until now, I have had a very unhealthy relationship with my body and with food. I have had periods in my life where I starved myself to try and reach some ideal unattainable body image. At other points, I over indulged and binged to make myself feel better while suffering bouts of depression and anxiety which led to physical pains. Over the years, the weight that I put on had a tremendous impact on the pain in my shoulders, my back, and my hips. I found walking difficult and going up stairs led to being out of breath. Activities that I used to enjoy like dancing, working out, practicing Yoga, and hiking seemed to be unobtainable due to the amount of pain those activities caused.

After my most recent visit with the doctor, my blood levels were no longer healthy. My cholesterol now has to be managed by medication. My blood sugar levels were high. I was diagnosed with fatty liver. My body was literally screaming for a change. My depression and body aches were making waking up every day painful. In order to combat my weight gain, I decided to join a gym and began a weekly work out regimen. I had no idea that working out, even just walking on a treadmill, would flare up my herniated disc. Sometimes it would not start to hurt until the day after, but I soon found I was having shooting pains going from my hip and down in my thigh or shooting up into my back. It made sitting at work or trying to work out hard. Simple movements like bending/twisting/lifting became unbearable.

Just like in my teenage years, I found food a source of comfort. When my herniated disc would fare up, I would lounge on the couch or in bed and I would eat to feel better. But laying around and overeating eventually leads to feeling sluggish and that leads to more body pain. That body pain then leads to spiraling back into a depressive episode, because I felt lazy and unmotivated. I felt like I was failing at trying to get healthy. It is a vicious cycle. There is definitely a link between pain and depression.

In order to try and get ahead of the pain, I began seeing a chiropractor. Medical bills began pilling up. The worry and anxiety of wondering if I could pay for the doctors visits set in. The visits started out three times a week and eventually got stretched out but the pain in my back never went away or lessened. Eventually, I had to decide that the medical bills were more than my budget could handle and I had to quit going. The frustration of not having the back pain resolved led to even more depression and over eating. So back to the gym I would go and after the shooting pains would leave me unable to work out for several days at a time.

I would step on the scale and the increasing number was like a slap to the face. People mean well but when I would starve myself and lose 10-15 lbs, the compliments were encouraging the most unhealthy behaviors. However, when I went about things the healthy way and I ate the right things and worked out, I would only lose 1-2 lbs and then would put it back on soon as I had an “off” day. I began to feel like a complete failure. My struggle with the daily pain led to depressive episodes and during those depressive episodes I did not treat my body well. Over and over the cycle continues.

I am learning to live with daily pain and find ways to cope so that I can get my body healthy again. I have obtainable goals for my body, however, I cannot rush into it like I used to. I have to work with the body that I have and the challenges that I put myself into. I have to learn to cut down on the high carb/high sugar foods that I used to use as a crutch. I have to replace my unhealthy habits with more healthy ones. If it takes medication to maintain a healthy happy brain, then I will take the medication. If it means going slowly in the gym and taking frequent breaks, I will have to do that as well. If it means cutting down on the amount of alcohol I consume or replacing sugary drinks with water or diet pop, I will. I have to learn how to work with the body that I have been born in and learn how to enjoy the time that I have here, not just survive it.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

Depression and Other Magic Tricks

Depression and anxiety present themselves differently for everyone and people learn how to cope on their own terms. For some people, they can function fairly well without the need for assistance. For others, they completely shut down while they are in a depressive episode. It took going to therapy and doing my own research to discover that one does not need to be able to accomplish everything at 100% to get by. Some of the hardest things I find to do while I am in a seriously depressed or anxious state is to get myself up out of bed, showered, and properly fed. I learned over the years that if you cannot bring yourself to do the full things that there are tips to getting by.

On days where I know I have somewhere I have to go and must look presentable such as work or a family function, but I just cannot bare the thought of taking a full shower, I know that I can use dry shampoo on my hair. I know that I can use wipes for a quick wash on the face and body to freshen up. I may not be able to bring myself to brush my teeth but I know that if I bring a travel size tooth brush with me I may feel pressured to brush my teeth once I am around people. I may not look perfect but my hair will be brushed and off my face, my face wiped clean, and it will help me to feel a bit better.

For days that I cannot bring myself to eat a full meal, the effort of having to cook seems too daunting or overwhelming, I have learned to snack. I make sure I bring with me granola bars, fruit, or trail mix. Something easy to munch on that will be easy to eat on the go. I keep snacks in my drawer at work so that if I finally do get hungry I have something easy that I can grab. The healthier the options you put aside for later, the better you will feel in the moment when you actually need to get into that stash.

Finally, the best thing I ever did for myself was a pack a “walking pharmacy”. In this pouch I have packed everything that I could possibly need on a weekly/monthly basis including medications, band aids, a nail kit, ear plugs, a tangle teaser or fidget cube, chapstick, and wipes. Knowing that if I ever get an upset stomach or a headache I have the medications that I need on hand is a big relief. I may not need every single thing in that pouch every single day, but I have used it long enough to know that eventually through out the month myself or someone around me will need something from that pouch. It helps ease me during really anxious days because I know right where everything is and it is small enough that I can move it to whatever bag I am using. **For more information, Pretty Neat Living on YouTube.com has a whole slew of videos on the subject which was my inspiration**

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

What Tubing Taught Me About Control

I find water in all its forms (lakes, rivers, rain, puddles, waterfalls) to be comforting and calming. I grew up on the water, always swimming and kayaking in the river by my cabin or at local lakes. However, I have not experienced being on a tube while floating on a river since I was a kid, years before I was diagnosed with a panic disorder. Since it is summer time and I enjoy river outings, I figured I would give it a shot and I learned quite a lot about myself and my anxiety along the way.

This trip in total without any stops would take roughly 3.5 hours to complete. I fet relatively comfortable because I knew what to expect and had packed accordingly. I made sure to have all of the belongings that I wanted with me in a waterproof pouch so as to avoid any mishaps if I fell in or something got wet. I made sure to pack food and beverages to snack on along the way. I had lathered myself in sunscreen, put on my bathing suit, and was on my way.

What I had not taken into consideration since I am so used to being on a kayak in the river, is that when you are on a tube you cannot steer yourself. You have to kind of give yourself over to the river and go with the flow, which meant that I was constantly having to push off of trees, I was floating backwards and unable to see where I was going, and I would get stuck on rocks and logs that were hard to see in the water.

I had not realized just how out of control I would be on this trip and I had to learn to just sit back and enjoy the ride because it was just me and this tube floating on the river for the next 3 hours. I could not turn back and change my mind. I had to learn to cope on the spot and make the best of it. So I settled in, I opened a beverage, I let my hands and feet dangle in the water, and tried to go with the flow.

Now I will say that I enjoyed myself on this trip. Water to me is therapy. I find the sounds and smells comforting and calming. I enjoyed seeing the water pads with lilies on the sides of the river. I enjoyed seeing birds flying above me. I relished in the moments that the bridges and trees shaded me from the sun and gave me a moment to cool down.

However, I also realized that though I made it through this adventure and had fun along the way, the next river trip I do I will definitely prefer to be in a kayak. It is good to step outside of your comfort zone so that you can learn new things about yourself.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

PTSD and Me: Triggers

*Trigger Warning: this post is going to discuss mental health and disorders, and potentially triggering descriptions of physical abuse. Please read at your own discretion**
Roughly 4 years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, along with also having a panic disorder and Agoraphobia. What exactly is PTSD? Most commonly known due to soldiers coming back from the war “shell shocked”, people are frequently intrigued to discover that it is not just war that can trigger PTSD.
PTSD is defined as:

post-trau·mat·ic stress dis·or·der

noun: post-traumatic stress disorder;

noun: post-traumatic stress syndrome

  1. a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.

And for inquiring minds, Agoraphobia is defined as:

ag·o·ra·pho·bi·a

noun
  1. extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.

My diagnosis came after several events that occurred in my life, some mental and some physical, that left lasting impressions on me such as physical and mental abuse. While the event that I will be discussing is not the initial reason that I was diagnosed with PTSD, after going through counseling and researching my condition thoroughly, I have learned how to spot some of my triggers when other traumatic events have occurred.

One event in particular stands out because every single time I smell oranges, my mind is brought right back to the events that occurred. Let me take you on a journey through one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. I worked as a temporary para pro in a disability classroom, working one on one with a Deaf and autistic student. This student was nonverbal, had very low communication abilities with sign language, and was prone to outbursts of rage where they would tear apart books, rip back packs in half, rip bookshelves down, and if allowed to become frustrated enough would self harm by punching their head and face. I was well aware of the risks involved when working with this type of student and felt equipped to handle the task.

However, I did not realize that constantly being on edge and wondering if/when the student would lash out had put me in a constant state of fight or flight. At least once a day help was needed to be called because the student was a threat to themselves and/or others. The one thing that seemed to calm them down almost instantly though was oranges. They loved to sit and smell the orange peels, pick and stab their thumb nails into the peel, and eat the fruit. The mix of the citrus smell and the texture of the peel was calming to the student. So in the midst of trying to calm this student down, dealing with the screaming/hitting/biting/object throwing, etc. I also found myself peeling open oranges, getting the citrus peel under my nails, and squirting my shirt with droplets of juice.

One day, however, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and no amount of coaxing or soothing I did would settle the student. They became so enraged that when I went to hand them orange slices, they grabbed me by my arm and ripped me across their desk, spraining my shoulder. I was so shocked and so desperate to get out of harms way that I did not even notice I had damaged my shoulder until the adrenaline rush wore off. I ended up in a sling and had to go to physical therapy for a few weeks.

I do not blame the student. That was a risk that is always present when working in that sort of environment. However, no matter how much rationalizing I use, when I smell or taste oranges, my mind goes right back to that classroom. I can still see the students wild eyes as I stood across the table from them. I can still feel their hands on my arm as they dragged me across that table. I can be sitting on my couch at home, peeling an orange for breakfast, completely safe and sound. But my mind will still be flashing back to a time when I felt absolutely terrified. That is PTSD.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

Hello Coffee,

I delicately blow on the steam rising from my mug before taking a tentative sip, letting the burning liquid slide across my tongue and swirl around before I swallow. Gripping the mug with one hand, a distraction to keep me from picking at my fingers. A moment of silence, giving me time to think and collect my words before I am forced to respond. Getting my thoughts together, calming my racing pulse, and another tentative sip. Drinking is not out of character for me. They will not notice that my mind is racing, so long as I grip this mug and sip this amber liquid, able to get away with being quiet while drinking this liquid, under the guise of being tired. One sip, a sigh, another blow on the steam. I am able to focus on the feel of the mug, the smooth texture underneath my thumb as I grip the bottom. Focus on the feel of the warm liquid touching my lips, my tongue, and sliding down my throat. Count the bubbles that were created by the cream.

Voices swirl around me, laughter and jokes, yet I sit here stone cold. Withdrawn. A fake smirk plastered on my lips. My voice comes out as almost a whisper, raspy, and controlled. Every word heavy on my tongue. One deep breath, followed by another, in through the nose and out through the mouth. One sip, followed by another, the liquid slowly warming me up from the inside out. I sip and I stew, swirling the liquid in my mug as the thoughts turn over and over in my mind. I pull at the liquid, every drop, until I have drained the mug of its contents. The empty bottom reminding me of just how hollow I feel.

Posted in About the Author, Anxiety and Experience

The House I Built…

I got very good at letting my feelings fester and rot inside of me. My tongue punctured and scarred from biting down to keep from letting the words come bubbling out from my raw vocal chords that spent too many hours silently screaming.

I became a builder of my own solitary confinement. Brick by brick I built walls around myself to protect, to block, and to surround myself with something familiar yet solid. I built a house full of empty promises and lies to soothe my shattered confidence, screaming into every corner and crack, hoping the foundation would be strong enough to hold up my secrets. Keeping everyone else on the outside at a comfortable distance, close but not quite letting them see inside to the wobbly foundation that I had perched my house on. A careful balance of tip toeing back and forth to keep the walls upright.

I learned that so long as you smile, just a little smirk will do, people will find your “I’m fine” more believable. The smile does not even have to reach the eyes. So a deep breath and a smile would get me through this moment, and onto the next five minutes, and the next. Until I could spare a moment to myself to finally let out a heavy sigh and relax my face. With the drop of my shoulders, it feels like the whole facade drops and the foundation of my house shakes. But the walls quickly go back up, the smile put back in place, and on to try to get through the next 5 minutes, and then the next.

Some days I feel my emotions come pouring in and out of me like waves, washing over me in brilliant blue hues and deep dark greens. Other days, I feel uncomfortably numb, like I am standing barefoot in sheets of grayish snow. I feel as though I am not in control of this body, but merely an observer looking out. A well worn traveler with no destination, wandering aimlessly for meaning and creature comfort.

My body is an open book of scars and tattoos, showcasing my journey from self destructive injury to comfortable self acceptance. If not quite love then at least likability in my own skin. My broken and chewed nails showcase my anxiety, the nail punctures on my palms my struggle to keep balanced. My chewed and bloody lips a testament to my inner battle, a desire to keep in the words that so desperately want to come pouring out of me. I am at odds with myself, craving to be positive and happy yet my mind wading into dark waters. I endlessly float in a sea of happiness that I cannot seem to baptize myself in, forever lapping at the shore to be bounced back out to the depressive sea again.

But I always come back home, to my walls of brick and ink. The walls covered with my stories and insecurities, wrapping me in a dark quiet, waiting for the day I can pull the blinds back and let the sun shine in through the cracks. In the corner I sit, wave after wave crashing over me and into me, the pain absorbing into my bones until I ache. Soft music playing, my security blanket, blocking out the noise from the outside.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

Turning Negatives into Positives: Making Delicious Food with Spoiled Scraps

There are definitely times when everything feels like it is falling apart. There are weeks when it feels like I no sooner bring home fresh produce from the grocery story and within what feels like a matter of hours I open my fridge to find that it has spoiled or is on its way to going bad. And if I’m honest, that certainly can put me in a foul mood. Just like with spoiled produce, I have moments in my life where I feel like everything is going smoothly and then out of no where something happens that turns my world upside down.

But there is a silver lining to finding that your blueberries have turned sour and your bananas ripened… you get to make delicious banana bread!

Just like with spoiled produce, all it takes is a little imagination and positive vibes to turn your difficult situation around, no matter what it is. For me, I find that channeling my frustrations and anxiety into baking gives me an outlet. I am able to keep my hands busy so as not to turn to destructive habits, my mind is able to focus on the task at hand without feeling overwhelmed, and at the end I will have the results from my labor: delicious banana bread.

You know the old adage “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? Well, when life gives you ripened bananas, make banana bread. Reflect on what is going on in that moment that is causing you stress, anxiety, or frustration. Focus on both the positives as well as the negatives of the situation. Think of possible ways that you can channel those emotions in a more positive direction. You may find that though the problem does not entirely disappear, it can become more manageable.

You may still have a craptastic situation that has you feeling all turned around, but maybe if you channel your energy in the right direction, you will have banana bread to munch on while you figure the rest out.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

Today I was afraid…

Today I found that I was afraid of my own shadow and I jumped at the sound of my own raspy voice.
Today everything was so loud, whispers sounded like screams and harsh voices felt like I was being slapped across the face with each utterance,their small nuances savagely cut me with each exhale and each pause.
Today my heart raced so fast that I thought it would burst out of my chest.
Today I nervously bit my lip until it split, I gnawed on my fingers as if they were candy, leaving nothing but strips and bloody stumps behind.
Today I let the tears leak out of my eyes and pour down my face as a reminder that I can still feel, even if that feeling was numbness.
Today my breathing was rapid, coming in short gasping waves filled with sorrow and dread.
Today the monsters in my head lied to me and let me believe that the walls were caving, even though I was sitting perfectly safe and sound.
Today my hands shook and trembled as I desperately tried to grasp onto the recesses of reality.
Today, no matter how many times I repeated that I was safe, my mind screamed bullshit.
Today… I was lost in my own thoughts, my own fears, and my own self destruction.
But tomorrow is another day.
Tomorrow I might be able to bury the monsters deeper into the darkness and let my light start to shine through the cracks.
Tomorrow I can try to put one foot in front of the other until I’m back on track.
Tomorrow maybe I can see the vibrant colors all around me and allow their radiance to soak into my pores.
Tomorrow I hope I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and try to quiet the inner voice that fears everything different.
Tomorrow I might just be able to look at myself in the mirror and smile at my reflection.
Tomorrow I should be able to steady my hands and reach out for a tender reassuring touch.
Tomorrow is another day to try. ❤️