How Anxiety Changed my Life: Part 2

Dad (aka Santa Clause) and I at Christmas.
Dad (aka Santa Claus) and I at Christmas.

My dad suffered from anxiety since his early 40s. He was not alone. His siblings, his father, and his grandfather suffered from anxiety, too. Their legacy was to continue with me.

When both my father and mother realized I was showing signs of anxiety, they shared with me the techniques Dad had learned from a cassette tape and video he acquired from his doctor. Dad taught me the breathing techniques that worked for him. He taught me how to use them to help control my sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response in your body. I tried it and it helped… but many years later. At the time I was like the typical person that wanted instant results. The video, on the other hand, was supposed to help relax my mind and body. Instead, It was like tie-dye in motion and it made me feel more anxious. It was not a good solution for me.

I knew I needed to find solutions that worked for me. I didn’t want to rely on synthetic drugs and I wanted to take a holistic approach to relieve my symptoms of anxiety. I did some research on the internet on how to deal with it. One website suggested repetitive motion, like sweeping the floor. Other suggestions were meditation, yoga, or cardiovascular exercise. http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/02/cant-relax-because-of-anxiety-get-repetitive/

I took the simple approach and started with kids coloring books and crayons. The repetitive motion of coloring seemed to calm my nerves. Then again, once I graduated, left my job, and got married the anxiety was happening less. I thought, “Yeah! I’m cured!” Unfortunately, this was not the case.

After the wedding we lived with my parents. During this time the movers came and packed up John’s apartment in Salem and my things at my parent’s house in Lowell. Our stuff was on its way to West Virginia. In the meantime, we lived at my parent’s house yet spent a lot of our time traveling back and forth between Massachusetts and our new state. Eventually we found a place to live in: a quiet neighborhood in Martinsburg about 15 minutes away from John’s new job. It would be ours for the next three and half years.

New Year’s Eve of 2007 came quickly and my brother Albert and his beautiful wife Stacy had a party. I was excited to be closing the year with my family because we were leaving soon after. We spent the following day with my family. It was bittersweet. I was starting a new life with my new husband but I was going to live 500 miles away from everything I knew.

January 2, 2008, was a cool brisk day in New England. John and I loaded up our vehicles, said our final goodbyes, and drove 8 hours south to Martinsburg. We each had a walkie talkie so we could communicate while on the road. After a couple of stops and many hours later, we finally arrived. We took refuge in a hotel off the I-80 in Martinsburg courtesy of my parents.

The next morning we woke with great anticipation and excitement. We were off to sign papers for our first house and get the keys. That night we slept on a blow up mattress and ordered take out. The next day we were ready for our belongings to be delivered to our new home. What a mess…ugh!

The next few months were dedicated to cleaning, opening boxes, and finding a place for our stuff. It was a bigger challenge than I anticipated. This was my first move after all. I decided not to work right away because I wanted time to recover from my burn out.

After a couple of months I was getting bored staying home all the time. I wanted to poke my eyeballs out so I started the search. I was looking for a volunteer job that would support my recently acquired degree in graphic design. Let’s face it folks, there are not a lot of graphic design jobs in “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. I most certainly was done with retail.

I found a volunteer job with the American Red Cross. I met with the local chapter and they gave me a chance. When I met the other employees there was one person that I got a bad feeling about. I dismissed it because everyone seemed to like her. I put that aside and focused on my work. I helped design a billboard, did layout for an advertisement book, helped with Red Cross mailings and so much more. One day I was asked to do cold calls to try and raise funds. The thought of doing this made me nervous but I felt I had to do it. This trigged the start of a long run of anxiety and panic attacks.

It was terrible.

I couldn’t leave the house. I was a hermit. It was so bad I couldn’t go grocery shopping. I would have to tell myself I was going for John so I could fill the fridge with food.

Around this same time I was having physical issues. I would eat something that was fatty and couldn’t stand up straight after. The pain in my left side ran across my stomach to my right side. I had pain in my right shoulder. I slowly stopped eating foods that were high in fat. I started to loose weight. I finally went to the doctor and they determined I had a diseased gallbladder. Bottom line: it wasn’t working. The gallbladder stores bile. When you eat, bile is transferred to your stomach to break down the fats in the food. That was not happening for me.

On February 6, 2009, I had my gallbladder removed. After that my diet was limited. I could only eat plain chicken, turkey, rice, noodles and potatoes. That is all I ate. My acid reflux was a nightmare and my digestion was way wonky. Over the next year, I lost more than 70 pounds. The doctors could not figure out why I kept loosing weight.

Although the doctors could not determine why, I thought it was because 3 years earlier I had half my thyroid taken out. Although I only had half, I suspected I suffered from hyperthyroidism. This disease increases your metabolism, makes your heart race, and so much more. They wanted to put me on medication but I said no. Instead, I tried to handle it on my own. However, my anxiety got even worse. So much so I had to drive myself to the emergency room because my arms would go numb and I thought I was having a heart attack.

But I didn’t.

I became more sheltered in our home and was nervous about every little pain or twinge in my body. It was about a year and half since we moved to Martinsburg and my “condition” was wearing thin on my husband. He didn’t know what to do. I was an exposed nerve and there was nothing that comforted me. Unfortunately this provoked a fight between us. I won’t get into the details but lets say it wasn’t pleasant. The silver lining was that it was a turning point for me.

Me in massage school before graduation.
Me in massage school before graduation.

I cried myself to sleep every night for the next two weeks begging God to point me in the direction I needed to go in. One night, out of the blue, I had my “AH-HA” moment. I wanted to be a massage therapist. I could work with people and help them in an environment that wouldn’t be stressful.

I found a few schools in our area. There was one school that stood out to me. It was a 7 month program and the cost of tuition included everything. The only thing was that it was an hour away in Frederick, Maryland. We visited the school and signed me up. I was excited and nervous but ready to move forward with my life. I was excited to learn a new trade that I could use wherever I went.

About 2 months into the program, I allowed a fellow student to perform energy work on me. Energy work is defined as “the techniques originating from ancient traditions and recent discoveries that are used to manipulate the bioenergy of the patient with the goal of restoring harmony or removing blockages from within the body.” She was not trained and I shouldn’t have let her. I didn’t feel the effects right away. It wasn’t until after I got home from school that I started to feel the symptoms. I started having pain in the center of my stomach. My eyes felt like lead weights and it seemed like I was looking through a fish bowl. I couldn’t stop crying and shaking. She worked on me on a Friday and by Monday I was a mess. I had to call John at work and ask him to come and get me at school because I couldn’t drive home. John immediately brought me to my chiropractor and he balanced my energy and realigned my body. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/energy+work

I was not the same after I had that energy work done on me. There were certain students I couldn’t be around or bare to have touch me. Every day for two months straight I had anxiety and panic attacks – two to three times a day. It always seemed to happen when it was time to get on the table and get a massage. Someone would touch me and I would start to get nervous and want to run.

One day a new instructor came in. She knew our current instructor because she taught her the art of massage when she was in school. She saw me having trouble and had me lay on my back. She held my feet and took hold of my toes. One by one, she gently squeezed each one, moving from my little toes to my big. It was weird but I felt better. She told me she was performing zero balancing on me. The definition of Zero Balancing is: A powerful body-mind therapy that uses skilled touch to address the relationship between energy and structures of the body. Following a protocol that typically lasts 30 to 45 minutes, the practitioner uses finger pressure and gentle traction on areas of tension in the bones, joints and soft tissue to create fulcrums, or points of balance, around which the body can relax and reorganize. http://www.zerobalancing.com/about

A week or so later, I was having another anxiety attack. Out of nowhere, my new instructor said, “You know this is a gift?” I thought, “Are you nuts? I can do without the anxiety gift, thank-you very much!” As it turns out, she was right. I’ll get into that more later.

I still had no idea at this time I was an empath. My instructors suggested I try acupuncture. That also helped my anxiety. Later on, I also took a class called Energetic Core. It was all about different meditations and how to keep myself centered and balanced.

After a long 7 months in massage school, I finally became a certified massage therapist. Two months later I passed the National exam and got licensed in the state of West Virginia. I got my first job with a chiropractor and then a second as a sub contractor. For the next 7 months I worked as a massage therapist. Unfortunately I was still having anxiety and panic attacks.

In June of 2011, John received orders again. This time we moved to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the island of Oahu in Hawai`i. Moving to the island was like moving to the center of an energetic tornado. But I’ll explain more about that next time.

To be continued

How Anxiety Changed my Life

Christine2Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anxiety as:

1a :  painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill

b :  fearful concern or interest

c :  a cause of anxiety

2:  an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anxiety

Anxiety changed my life nearly 8 years ago. It was 2007 and I weighed in at a light 235 pounds. I was working full time for the Christmas Tree Shops and attending Salem State College full time. I was also planning my wedding. I knew that by the end of the year my life would be turned upside down.

My day to day routine was busy. Each day started at 6 a.m. when I left my future husband’s apartment in Salem, Massachusetts for work. I would travel the 30-35 minutes to Nashua, New Hampshire where I worked my 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. I’d then repeat the trip in reverse, driving back to Salem via Route 3 to Route 128. Coming home was bad. I’d spend more than two and a half hours driving in bumper to bumper traffic while people cut me off, flipped me the bird, and yelled a few choice words (after all these years, writing about this experience stresses me out…).

On the other hand, there were brief moments of pure joy. The best part of the drive home was when I saw John driving in the opposite direction to school and we would honk our horns and wave at each other as we passed by. There were times when he wasn’t in school that I would have him meet me at the Burlington Mall to have supper because the traffic was so bad.

Eventually I’d get back to John’s apartment where I would start to work on my art homework. Many times I’d find myself working long into the night and have to leave at 2 or 3 a.m. to get something printed at Kinkos for the following day. Between work and school, I did not always have lots of time to spend with John or my family. Still, I was determined to get it all done. At that time in my life, when some one told me I couldn’t do something I felt fueled to prove them wrong.

Christine3At the end of April 2007, I was finishing up all my classes. Graduation was right around the corner. One of my last classes was Portfolio Class. I had one week to pull together all my art work in one place. Why only one week? I had spent so much of the semester perfecting one piece of art that I didn’t leave much time to get the rest of it together. Needless to say, I spent every free moment working on the computer to get it all done. This meant lots of coffee, no sleep, and a lack of nutrition my body needed. By the end of the week, when it was time to present my portfolio, I could barely keep my eyes open. It didn’t matter how much coffee I consumed. My body was ready to shut down. I’m sure I made a good impression on the professionals reviewing my work as I sat in front of them bobbing for apples…LOL!

I had to work the next day. I should have called out sick because I was exhausted. I forged ahead anyway. I stopped at the local Starbucks and asked for a Venti white chocolate mocha with an extra shot of expresso. It turned out to be a horrible mistake.

It took me all day to finish my coffee. When 3 p.m. came, I was ready to go but felt strange. My heart started to race. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I knew I had a huge coffee and I was tired. I got in my car to drive back to Salem.

As I sat there, my heart seemed to beat even quicker. Once I got to the connection of Route 3 to Route 128, my left arm started to get numb. I started to panic and thought, “Oh my God, I am having a heart attack!” I called John for support. I asked him to stay on the phone with me until I reached his apartment. He said, “You’re fine. You’re just over tired and had too much caffeine.” He stayed on the phone with me until I arrived.

I finally reached his apartment feeling just as bad as I did while on the road. John had made tacos for supper. I wasn’t hungry and I couldn’t think about eating. I laid on the sofa and tried to calm down. It seemed to keep escalating. Finally it was so bad I couldn’t breathe. I asked him to take me to the emergency room. I couldn’t breathe and I was crying because I was so afraid of dying. The fear was so overwhelming I’m surprised I didn’t pass out. Although, that was a good thing: John would not have been able to carry me…LOL!

The nurse in the emergency room looked at me and said, “You’re just having a panic attack. You’re fine.” She then told me to focus on a poster that was hanging on the wall. Honestly, I just wanted to smack her upside the head because here I am feeling like I was going to die and she is saying I’m fine and that it’s no big deal. I sure wasn’t fine!

They checked me out and hooked me up to a heart monitor and did an E.K.G. We were there for a few hours when they finally determined it was just what the nurse said: a panic attack. They sent me home with a few Atavan and gave me a prescription for more. They told me that when I felt anxious I should take one. The problem was that they made me feel like I could sleep for a year. It knocked me on my butt. We went home and I slept it off. The next day I felt better and thought, “I’m good. I can continue the way I have been going.”

WRONG! Little did I know this was going to be an ongoing thing.

Needless to say I had more episodes. I can remember one of those times so clearly. Back then I was into horror movies and head banging music. On Saturday nights, John and I would rent movies and my parents would buy supper. This particular Saturday we rented Zodiac, a movie about a serial killer.

This is where my life shifted again.

As we watched this horrific movie, and I saw him take a women’s life by stabbing her 14 times, I started to feel like maybe I could do something like this.

Wait, What?! Me do something like that? No, no, no, no! I started to panic and I had to leave the room. I went into the kitchen and was in tears feeling completely horrified that I had these feelings and thoughts that I could do something so terrible.

From that day forward I would have battles with myself. I’d keep telling myself I am not that person and that I don’t want to hurt anyone. I would ask John if I was a good person and I was constantly trying to convince myself I would never hurt anyone. This just made my anxiety and panic attacks worse.

I stopped watching horror movies and listening to heavy metal music. I only wanted to surround myself with Disney movies and happy music. I wanted to override all of those terrifying thoughts and feelings. I thought that if I could fill my life with positive things then I could stop the attacks from happening.

I went to my doctor again and they prescribed another anxiety medicine. I don’t remember what it was called but I will never forget my experience with it.

I had taken one pill before going to bed. I got up the next morning, a Sunday, and drove to work. As I was driving in my car I felt like I was sitting behind myself watching me drive. That was messed up. I had to pull over to the side of the road 2 or 3 times to throw up.

I finally got to work and was not feeling any better. One of the store’s assistant managers came into the office I worked in and he reeked of cigarette smoke. Oh boy, I had to run to the bathroom and throw up again. I told him I would stay if he needed me but he sent me home. I drove to my parent’s house in Lowell and crashed on the sofa, crying my eyes out because I felt so horrible and afraid.

ChristineFrom that day forward I vowed never to take another anti-anxiety medicine again and I haven’t. Some of you out there may think that I am crazy or maybe that I was strong for not giving in but I don’t think I was either of these. I just made a choice: a choice that was good for me. I didn’t want to contaminate my body with unhealthy foods or synthetic medicine. I say you need to do what is best for you and your highest good.

I made more changes in my life like the way I fed my body. I stopped drinking caffeine and eating foods with caffeine in it, like chocolate. I stopped eating foods with artificial coloring, flavoring, and preservatives. I was back on the Dr. Feingold way of eating, http://www.feingold.org. I stopped drinking cans of Pepsi and eating the junk food in the vending machines. John and I even started the six week body makeover and really focused on being healthy. John started running and lost about 30 pounds and I lost about 20.

I thought that if I started feeding my body in a healthy way, there would be less chance for me to have a panic attack.

Once again, WRONG! Don’t get me wrong I was making good choices by changing my eating habits and getting healthy but it wasn’t the cure.

To be continued. 

God, Me and Redwoods

DSC_9682I woke up feeling like the day ahead would be a good one. I was excited about taking a day trip to Muir Woods with John. After breakfast I headed upstairs to shower. As I looked down at my feet, my toenails looked blue and I started to think, “What is wrong with me? Is it something bad? I don’t want to go to the doctors. I hate going to the doctors. Am I feeling ok?” As these fearful thoughts started washing over me, the anxiety starts to build.

I try to talk myself out of the fear by telling myself I am just cold. I am fine…STOP worrying. I can’t allow these feelings to dictate the remainder of my day.

As I get myself together and prepare to leave, the feelings of fear and anxiety linger. Still, I think there is hope. We are going to spend an afternoon with the towering redwoods. Nature is calming and peaceful.

We arrived after a long drive. If you haven’t been to the park before, you need to arrive early just to get a parking spot. That was not the case. My fear and anxiety slowed me down so we did not arrive until the late morning. Parking spaces were hard to come by so John dropped me off while he found a spot.

We eventually met up and we found our way to the beginning of the trail, our Nikon cameras hanging from our necks. We encountered these massive redwood trees that lined either side of the walkway like great guardians of the forest. Standing beside one of these towering trees made the world seem bigger beyond imagination and I was just a tiny part of it all.

DSC_9656As we moved forward through the park we came upon a stair case that lead to a stunning view, or so we were told. We decided to forge ahead. I was determined to quiet the fear and anxiety that was still occupying so much of my being. With each step upward, I tried to distract myself from my fear by focusing on the beauty around me. I paused for a few moments to take pictures of tiny little red mushrooms. They reminded me of a place where fairies would live. I took another step but each one was a challenge because I was hyper aware of every twinge and ache in my body.

I am afraid of heights and the path seemed to get more narrow the further we went. It was uneven and there were no railings to prevent a person from falling down the side if they misstepped. I made every effort not to allow this to add to the already looming feelings within me. I was cold and the tension in my jaw and the fluttering feelings in my stomach made my heart race. Despite it all, I kept moving.

With each person that passed us on their way down I asked, “ Are we close to the top yet?” They would tell me no. My wonderful and understanding husband gave me an out: he said we could turn around before we reached the top. I felt relieved and took him up on the offer. The hike down was just as challenging as the hike up.

When we reached the bottom, our journey took us further in to the forest. We only went as far as the second bridge and turned back. “Turkey’s in the straw after all.” That is what we say when our dog Milkbone is home alone. We took a few more photos and stopped at the gift shop where we spent more than we planned. We each picked out a box made from redwood and I found a Bigfoot carved out of redwood. John loves and fears Bigfoot at the same time.

We arrived home exhausted. We both had headaches and were quite dirty from hiking through the woods. For me, this day was only the first of many challenging days that followed.

Besides having nightmares, I was waking up in the middle of the night half out of my footie pajamas and feeling like someone was standing over me. I was having waves of panic.

I had moments of feeling good despite a constant feeling of being out of balance. Out of no where, panic would rise up and blind side me as if I was standing in the ocean and waves were hitting me from behind and knocking me over.

I felt like Eeyore: sad, alone and absolutely useless. I felt as if I was just wasting my life away. I couldn’t shake off these feelings.

My body was constricting and the tension in my jaw was unbearable. I was not able to leave the house or be around other people. I wanted to hide. I felt like I was Wily Coyote, the heaviness at the top of my head felt like an anvil was dropped on me.

I felt as if I was stuck – as if I could not move forward. Then there was this energy that was pulling me forward or maybe it was my own desire to pull myself out of this tornado of uncertainty. Nothing was soothing or comforting. I couldn’t figure out what was standing in my way. Was I standing in my own way? Did I have negative energy in my space that needed to be cleared? Was the earth energy changing and I could feel it? I didn’t know.

After an exhausting week of few highs and many lows, it was Sunday and time for church. I attend 8:30 mass every Sunday at St. Joseph’s Parish in Pinole, CA.  When I got out of bed that morning, I felt really good. Wow, I haven’t felt like this all week! What changed? Who knows! I was ready to stay positive and go to church (and then Costco).

John came with me but sat in the car as he worked on his blog. I got in there and the usual happened. The procession in, the introductory rites, liturgy, first reading, Responsorial Psalm second reading, alleluia, Gospel, and the moment I was struck by: the Homily.

Fr. John Direen spoke about the readings that morning. The transfiguration of Jesus. The reading, in a nut shell, speaks about Jesus being on a mountain with two of his disciples. The disciples see Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah, who came long before him. The disciples offered to set up tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. They were trying to avoid Jesus’ fate of the cross.

The skies got grey and stormy and this great voice spoke to the disciples from Heaven as Moses and Elijah disappeared. The disciples were afraid. God spoke to them telling them to not be afraid because Jesus’ purpose was to reach the cross.

The point Fr. John was making about the readings is that we are in Lent and we are all in our own transfiguration. By fasting through Lent and giving up the things we love, like foods that we love and may not be good for us, we are transforming. We take those things that do not serve us anymore and release them so we can move forward like Jesus.

It hit me: last week was my higher self knowing I had to let go of fears, anger, hurt and all those things so I could be who I am suppose to be. Once this happened then it was time for me to move forward.

I feel as if I have been holding myself back by focusing too much of my energy on those things that I have no control over or can not change. As soon as I am able to “let go and let God”, then I will be able to fulfill my purpose on this earth.

It was like the past week made perfect sense to me. All the struggles of the week were making sense. It’s like a light bulb went off in my head. God answered my prayers when I was ready for the answer. Last week was His way of preparing me so I could understand what he was saying to me.

Even though I have made these connections for myself I am still learning how to have self love and self compassion. How to truly let go of the limiting thoughts, beliefs and programming. It is hard work but work I am willing to do.

God is good! God is grand!