Thursday, September 10, 2020

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

My anxiety is high lately. So many demands on my time and yet I know that it is all my fault. I find myself keeping busy because if I didn't, I would probably sleep all day. I hardly interact with my family and when I do, I'm there in person but I'm not present. I'm not in the moment. 

There is a pain in my chest. It isn't a sharp pain but more like a weight on my chest; a heavy one. It makes breathing hard. Over a year ago, I had all sorts of heart tests done and they found nothing wrong with me. My heart doctor suggested stress or anxiety and that's how I got on this mental health journey. I'm so glad he said something. 

So, knowing what it is makes it easier to cope with; I know I'm not dying. I know it will go away eventually. But, it causes me to lose sleep. I can't have a normal conversation with anyone because I can't focus on what they are saying. I don't even know where my brain goes. I listen but I'm not comprehending or retaining what they say. 

I am finding little joy in my day to day relationships. I love cross country season and all that entails but it feels like a job to me now. It's not the rewarding experience it used to be. My heart feels heavy and sad.

This is not living to me. This is simply existing and I don't like it. Some days, I wish it would all just end. But, I've made it this far and I'm not going to let my mind go there. So today, I suck it up and move forward. That's all I can do right now. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Anxiety Prevention and Meds

I wish I could change the circumstances of this post, but I have felt like I needed to share my experiences lately. Anxiety and depression are serious and can even be fatal so they definitely need to be taken seriously. But, there are things you can do to prevent it and even work through it. 

As a coach and a parent, I can tell you that exercise is one of the best ways to clear your mind. Walking is all I can manage lately but I love the way I feel when I'm done. I walk with Ben and the dogs but I have also loved listening to music, listening to podcasts, scriptures or conference talks when I walk alone. I mostly love listening to the sounds of the morning like birds, sprinklers, cars leaving for work and even the cement factory busy starting their day. I've noticed that the days I don't walk, I'm far less productive on the days I don't get some good exercise in. 

Breathing is another strategy I use. When I feel myself get overwhelmed, I take a few deep breaths and focus my energies and my mind on things I can control. This has taken some practice over the years. I need to decide what is worth my energy and focus on that; family, faith, students, immediate needs. I don't have the energy for drama, gossip or arguing. When I came to realize that, my life became much more peaceful. 

Getting enough rest is one of my biggest struggles but it is super important. My brain sometimes can't turn off when I try to go to bed. I have created a routine that works for me and I follow it almost religiously. I head to bed around 8:30pm, change into my pajamas, read my scriptures and do an activity with my mind that helps me not think about all the "things" that would keep me up. I use the alphabet and each night come up with a topic and find words that start with each letter such as "food" A=apple, B=Banana, C=chips, etc. Other categories are things like names of stores, animals, countries and/or states, etc. This works most nights. When it doesn't, I move to another room and read for 30 minutes and then try again. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America adds that eating healthy, getting involved in your community and finding a hobby are additional ways to prevent suffering from mental illness along with the ones I've mentioned. 

If you've tried these things and you are still struggling, please seek medical attention from someone who understands mental health and medications to treat them. This is critical. Don't simply trust your family doctor if he hasn't been trained. 

Lastly, reach out to family and friends for support. This is not a disease that I would be able to get past without the help and support from people who love me. There are days when those friends have come to my rescue with a simple text to check on me or a hug in passing. Suffering alone only makes it worse. 

Having said that, I am grateful we live in an era where we have so many medicines available to help us out of our darkest days. What a blessing. After I tried everything I knew, I was glad I reached out and found a medicine to help me. This part of my post is a caution about the side effects of medicines. I have been taking a drug for my anxiety and depression for over a year now and I hate it but I absolutely need it to function. I am certainly not against them because I take them, but I worry that we are becoming a society addicted to the quick fix, the temporary solution to a long term issue. During the last year I worked really hard to do all the right things so I could get off this medication. While I blame extenuating circumstances due to school closures and Covid, maybe I wasn't as ready as I thought. 

According to the mayo clinic, here are a few most common side effects that don't require letting your doctor know unless they are too bothersome:

More common

  1. Decrease in sexual desire or ability
  2. sleepiness or unusual drowsiness

Less common

  1. Body aches or pain
  2. change in sense of taste
  3. gas
  4. headache (severe and throbbing)
  5. heartburn
  6. increased sweating
  7. increased yawning
  8. loss of voice
  9. pain in the muscles or joints
  10. sneezing
  11. stuffy or runny nose
  12. tingling, burning, or prickly feelings on the skin
  13. tooth grinding
  14. unusual increase or decrease in weight
  15. watering of the mouth
I can admit that I suffer from eight of the side effects listed above. I want to sleep anytime I'm at home, I yawn all day long, I'm constantly aching all over, I've gained lots of weight and I won't bore you with the details of my sex life. Some of the side effects are manageable and others put me further and further into my prison of anxiety and depression. It's an awful cycle.

But, if you've exhausted all the suggestions for prevention and need medicine to kick start your recovery, it might be the thing you need to feel better. Talk with your family and your healthcare professional to make a decision that is right for you. 


Monday, August 31, 2020

Death and Living

    Being isolated has done a number on my mental health. I got off my anxiety medication back in early summer and I felt like the pandemic was slowly moving behind us so I could focus on moving forward in healing. Getting back to my students was high on that priority list. 

    While I've enjoyed being home with my family more than anyone could know, I also know I need more structure and more purpose than my four walls provide. My job makes me feel useful and needed. My own children are not needing me like they used to  and I took this job to fill a void that I knew would open up once my youngest started first grade. 

    Death is a scary thought and I know there are lots of reasons why I should be like other teachers and want to stay home and isolate, but it had gotten to the point where I was starting to get antsy about the number of movies, books and projects we had been working on since mid-March. Don't get me wrong,  I loved being home with the kids and spending so much quality time together but we also need our space. I also loved being home with my husband - I was even dreaming about not going back to teaching and hoping the time was right to start our Bed and Breakfast sooner than anticipated. We even discussed my anxiety about wearing a mask and decided I would quit my job if it came down to it. I almost did.

    We did our duty to society and stayed home for many weeks/months and even avoided my own mother, siblings, son, daughter in law and grand baby so that we didn't spread anything around. We didn't let the kids play with friends and we only went to the grocery store every other week (I may have gone to Circle K a few times a week though). Other than our son and his pregnant wife who live very near us, we didn't socialize with anyone for a solid month. It was quite enjoyable at the beginning but after a while, it felt very closed in. We ached for time away from each other (in a healthy way) and date night was almost non-existent. My kids longed for friends and outdoor play away from their parents. I started to feel like a prisoner in our home. 

    After the initial lockdown, my older son's family and my mom agreed that we had enough and we decided that we would spend time together. What a blessing for my soul to hold my granddaughter and hug my family again! Those few weeks apart was torture being away from the people I love. What good is staying alive if we can't be with the people we love? I was told this was selfish of me and while I would argue that to a certain degree, maybe it is. I still would rather enjoy my life than simply exist. 

    Going back to work was therapeutic for a few days until opinions about schools re-opening pitted teacher against teacher and the good feelings I had about being back at work, slowly turned into anxiety. To add to those awful thoughts, I worried about mytudents. If I was feeling so poorly, how were my students holding up? I know several of them had struggled with mental health issues before Covid came up, how were they handling it after several months of isolation? Online learning can be a struggle for students who are not organized, have issues with attention and struggle with learning disabilities, which are the majority of all students - they are 9th graders!! After only a few assignments, my students' grades began to show that this wasn't working.

    One could argue that I am a terrible teacher and believe me, when I see my students struggle like this, that's my first thought as well. I've done everything I can to help them succeed short of going to their home and offering one on one tutoring. I have students that I can't reach. Add their failing grades to this mix of isolation and fear and we have one big mess.

    In my own home we have struggled with concerns over the online learning platform and having our kids tied to a computer all day. We even considered homeschooling if you can believe that. I planned on coming home after teaching and coaching and then working with my kids each evening in my only free time. Why? Because this isn't a life for us. This is torture. I was told that my issues with mental health can be dealt with through counseling and that losing the life of a loved one would be worth my sacrifice. Of course, I don't want anyone to die, but there is a 100% chance it is going to happen sooner or later. For me, living this life is no life at all. I've actually hoped that a meteor would hit the earth and destroy us all because I'm not sure I want to live like this much longer. (Having made that statement, I assure you, I am not suicidal.)

    I did start on my anxiety meds about two weeks ago and it is starting to help. My sleepless nights are becoming more frequent though and I'm gaining weight, along with even worse side effects that are too personal to talk about, including depression. I can't "people" anymore and being in my classroom is a safe place until another teacher walks in. Going to the front office requires every ounce of strength I have and some days, I can't make the walk. I'm grateful for my new teacher neighbor next door and my co-teacher who feels the same way I do (although I have also been accused of brain washing her to believing like I do which isn't true.)

I work hard for my students by offering them grace and support. I think I've been open minded about both sides of the issue regarding opening up our country and state and I haven't put anyone down for their choices. I look forward to coaching every afternoon because I know that exercise is one of the ways I best deal with my own mental health. I even wear the stupid face shield in 110 degree heat! I hope that I'm setting a good example for my athletes as well. Going home each day to my safe place means I can sleep away my worries about what's going on in my world even though being myself means I'm not being a great wife, mother or friend when I'm there. I know this is temporary.  

Did I write this so you would feel sorry for me? No. I wrote this so maybe we can consider the effects this isolation is having on our health. Is being isolated alone with my family the worst thing that has ever happened? No. Is it a life? yes. Is it the life I created for myself? No. We need to get back to normal. Soon. 


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Just Strong - Just Me

I remember when I had a ton of little kids at home and people would say "Wow! You look great for having 8 kids!" I would think to myself, "what does that mean?" What does a woman with 8 kids look like? I just wanted to look good. Period.

This isn't really about vanity, it's about being who I am. I have five (four plus one SIL) of the most beautiful sisters. They are gorgeous. They have style, they have great hair, they have lovely skin. They are also the kindest women I know. They serve their neighbors, they are fiercely loyal to their families, they fight for what is right, no matter what others might say or do. I might be the oldest of us all, but I definitely envy my younger sisters for their beauty, inside and out.

I, on the other hand, don't think I am as lovely as they are. I certainly don't think I'm ugly, just not as beautiful as they are. I don't know if I've ever told them that. I hope they are reading this.

I don't think I have low self esteem, but I have always struggled with how I look. I keep my hair short and easy to do, I rarely wear makeup and I could live in leggings and a t-shirt and I hate to shop. I finally have figured out why; I never knew how to style my hair when it was long, I never learned to apply makeup and shopping is frustrating. When I am wearing anything besides a t-shirt, I don't feel like I'm myself, I'm an imposter. When you see me wearing a dress, I feel like I'm playing dress up.

One thing that I've always liked about myself, is my strength. When I was in high school, I maintained a B average while working a part time job and running track and field. I saved enough money to pay for most of my first year away at college and I was so proud of my efforts.

I had a fabulous job that helped pay the bills when we were young and married. As a mother and homemaker (my favorite job ever), I knew how to save money on groceries, keep my home clean and take care of my children. I'm so proud to their mom and I know how hard I worked to help them become the adults they are. When they were older, I graduated from ASU and had two more babies while doing it. I have had lots of jobs that have built my self esteem and made me feel like I was important to my company. I started working as a teacher full time and got my masters degree in 18 months while still maintaining a household (although I might have lost some sanity while doing it.)

I survived the last 5 years of being in a weird midlife crisis with a new career, kids moving on and out and new title of Grandma while battling anxiety and depression all along the way. You bet I'm strong.

Today, I go back to teaching school amidst this pandemic. I want to be here but I don't. I have to teach in my empty classroom while my own kids are at home trying to navigate distance learning without me. I'm scared, I'm frustrated, I'm concerned but I'm also strong. I've had some trouble sleeping, I've had a panic attack or two but I'm working through my anxiety and fears about the unknown.

I'm going to get through this and so will you. Whether you are sending your kids to in person learning, choosing to homeschool or doing something in between, you're going to do great because you are strong. So am I. We're going to get through this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Two "sorta" Graduations!

In June, I went to my Dr. for a meds check on my anxiety prescription. Back in January, I told him things were going well and I wanted to get off of them asap. I had only been on them for 7 months and he encouraged me to stay on them until summer came. I explained that I had been practicing mindfulness, exercising, self care and learning to say no better but he really wanted to make sure I was in a good place before going off completely. We decreased the dosage as a compromise and that's why I came back in June.

I haven't had to take my anxiety pills for several months although teaching during the pandemic did cause me more sleepless nights than it should have. I practiced all I had learned about relaxation and self care and only took a sleeping aid every once in a while. He validated my efforts and told me he was proud of me. Does that sound weird? I don't remember needing so much validation as I do now. It felt good for him to say that because I have worked very hard. He agreed that for two weeks I would cut back to taking my meds every other day, then every third day after that and then cut them out completely. I'm happy to say that it's been a month now and so far so good.

Having said that, I realize that my path may be different from your path. Not everyone can get off their meds as fast as I did or maybe not ever. I truly believe that modern medicines are here for our use and benefit and we should use them as needed. I wouldn't deny myself an antibiotic if I had an infection!

But, I also believe that our bodies are capable of healing themselves. I have walked or jogged regularly since I was diagnosed and the days that I miss are much harder mentally. Sleeping is an issue that could also be part of my menopause. I sometimes take something to help me sleep. I have said "no" to more things than I wanted to and I have had to rely on my family to pick up my slack so I could take care of myself. Ben has been making dinner almost exclusively since last summer and it has been a wonderful shift in our household.

I also went to the lady parts doctor. Pap smear came back normal (Good news minute maybe?) and she gave me orders for my mammogram which I tried to go to but they told me I must wear a mask so that has been postponed.

I explained to her my symptoms of hot flashes, sleepless nights, decreased sex drive, my very active beard and mustache issues and irregular periods. I reminded her that my anxiety meds had some of the same side effects but she told me what I already knew, I'm in  menopause. She ordered my annual blood work and sure enough, that's what the hormone levels say too. I haven't had a cycle since my appointment so that seems to be at an end too, or at least headed that way. I guess I've got a graduated menstrual cycle.

I'd like to take a moment and thank my reproductive organs for all the joy you've given me with the birth of 8 beautiful children. I also am glad you're gone because of the issues I've had since I was 10 years old! 39 years of cramping, bloating, irritability, menorrhagia (which we took care of years ago with ablation) and let's face it, the nuisance of carrying supplies in my purse, inconvenience of needing to know where the bathroom is at all times for several days straight and the nights when I had to set an alarm to get up and use the restroom before I made a mess.

TMI? Probably, but I'm glad to say that part of my life is over.

My mental health journey has not been easy and I know it will continue to be a journey with the crap that life has thrown at all of us lately. I'm almost glad that I was dealing with menopause at the same time because maybe I didn't notice it as much. The side effects from the medicine were sometimes worse than the anxiety/depression. I had to tough it out a few times and had some very embarrassing moments that I definitely think are TMI, you can ask me about them in person if you want. But, I'm happy to say that I've graduated from my meds and already feeling more like myself - the one I lost way before I was diagnosed. Thank you modern medicine and my amazing miraculous body.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Who has time for Self Care?

I definitely have learned a difficult lesson about self care in the last year. I've learned how truly important it is. I've heard the analogy that it's like putting on the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you are able to help those around you but I'm Super Mom, I'll help everyone first then take care of myself. But guess what? That time never seemed to come.

When I was a stay home mom, I told myself that because I didn't bring in an income, that spending money and time on myself was frivolous and unnecessary, what did I need "me" time for? I was at home all day. Plus, do you know how much time it takes to take care of the needs of 8 children and a spouse?

When I started working full time, I decided that anything I wanted to do for myself meant more time away from my house and my children and my responsibilities there. I simply didn't have time for it. I gave up my acrylic nails and my bi-monthly housecleaning because they were frivolous, unnecessary and time consuming.

When I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression several months ago, I was determined to do what I should have been doing all along - self care. That isn't to mean that I didn't go out to lunch with my friends once in a while or I didn't have a date night with my husband regularly, but it always seemed like I was in a hurry to get to the next "thing" that needed done. None of my self care was purposeful and that's the point I want to make.

Self care looks different to everyone. My sister gets a massage and eats out every week or every other week then goes home and watches television. Some get their hair done, utilize retail therapy or go to the gym. None of those things are affordable for me at this point even though once or twice a year I like to splurge on a massage from Reflexology by Fry's (ask for Tyrell).

The last year has taught me that I need daily self care, especially little things. I need quiet time to read before every night, I need to exercise daily and I need to have a 44oz. Diet Pepsi with my breakfast. I also need to fuel myself with healthy food and water. When I watch television, I need to do something with my hands, like embroidery or a block game on my phone. During the summer, I need to be on the river as much as possible. This combination works for me.

It's been a roller coaster trying to figure out what my own needs are because I have spent the last almost three decades taking care of everyone else's needs before my own. I've finally learned to put on my own oxygen mask and I'm better for it.

I've created a short list of things you can do for self care that you may or may not have thought about:
Don't get on social media or email first thing upon waking. Wait a good hour or so.
Spend 5 minutes just laying down and focus on breathing, in your nose and out your mouth.
Read from an actual book or a magazine instead of an online article.
Splurge on a favorite, guilt free treat once a week.
Give yourself permission to binge watch a favorite show but turn your phone off while doing so.
Sit outside and take your shoes off and rub your toes in the grass or the dirt. (Google "grounding")
Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers.
Have a dance party, alone or with others.
Sing along to the radio while driving in your car. "Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing." -The Carpenters

You probably know what you need. You need to give yourself permission to do it. Maybe it is 10 minutes every day. Maybe it's an hour or two once a week. You need to tell yourself that you are putting the oxygen mask on so you can take care of everyone else.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Anxiety and Depression Reared its Ugly Head

Back at the end of March, I had a feeling of nervousness that was causing me to be short of breath and to worry about the slightest things. I was getting ready to fly to Utah to see my older kids and I almost decided not to go because I thought maybe it was a whisper of the spirit not to travel but it felt different than other promptings so I chose to go. It was a great weekend visiting but the shortness of breath turned into chest heaviness then a few days after I got home, it turned into chest pain. I never felt like it was urgent enough to go to the hospital and I tried to make an appointment with my Dr. but he was only available 3 weeks from then so after a few days I chose to go to the urgent care.

Although I have family members who have suffered with
anxiety and depression I never thought it would be me. Does
this look like the face of anxiety or depression? I can't
even count the number of times I faked it until I could get
home and crawl into bed. 
At the urgent care, the Dr. ran a few tests and concluded that I had a UTI (I had no idea). She gave me some antibiotics and a prescription for what she said was an antihistamine that would also help with what she thought was anxiety, that I could take for the next three days.

Trying to use the power of positive thinking, I acted like the medicine was working and tried to go about my life as usual. That lasted all of about three days. I was exhausted both in body and spirit. I went to work each morning, coached my track team after school, then came home and laid on the couch and slept until bedtime. My sleep was fitful all night and getting up each day was difficult. I called in sick several times in April and May and my guilt about it overwhelmed me. Add to that my responsibilities at home, it was easier to do nothing and sleep away the pain. My pain and my despair became increasingly worse and certain situations caused me to sink deeper into my hole. Thank goodness for Ben being able to be home every afternoon, he became mother and father to our kids.

In those two months, I saw the cardiologist, my family doctor and the urgent care more than once. My tests included blood work and x-rays and a physical exam. My family care provider finally prescribed me Xanax. The Dr. told me to take two pills (I don't remember the dosage) each day and after five days, if that wasn't improving my pain, to increase by one pill. After another five days, increase it by another pill, etc. Unfortunately, neither he nor I thought that through very well. I ran out of pills well before the month was over. I finally was feeling some relief but in addition to the pain and excessive sleeping, I cried all the time but mostly in the shower, in my classroom and after everyone was in bed. I called my Dr. to make an appointment and was told I couldn't get in for three more weeks. I cried and cried because I wondered if I'd ever get relief.

I wish this was just a special treat for Mother's Day but
it was a typical day. I rarely even made it through all of
church for about two months
There was a new family practice next door to my cardiologist and I called them to see about becoming a new patient. After explaining my predicament (I may have cried on the phone too), I was able to get an appointment in four days. I decided I could survive four more days.

That's when I met Dr. Crawford at Cornerstone Family Medicine. After showing  him my blood work from my previous appointments, he concluded that everything looked about the way it should for a woman my age (ha ha). He explained to me that the  medication prescribed was only a short term fix for a long term problem. When the brain is in a constant state of go-go-go or worry or stress (even good stress), the body's ability to produce the chemical that calms you down is depleted. Basically, we concluded that I had little to none left. (Refer to my post about what's been going on since the last time I wrote on this blog.)

He prescribed me another medication that is supposed to help raise that level of seratonin that my body has depleted. He said it would help me with the excessive sleeping, the crying and eventually the chest pain. This process would not be an overnight fix, but a slow and steady "adventure" to get me back to normal. He gave me an additional prescription for the Xanax as a way to stop the chest pain caused by anxiety but combining it with the other medicine, I should be able to decrease my need for it gradually. I've gone from five pills a day to one or two.

Additionally, I've tried to be open about it when someone asks. I am finally able to talk about it without crying but I still find myself apologizing for my anxiety attacks. They happen in the weirdest of places but I have more energy, more joy and a lot less sleeping.

While I know medicine might not be the answer for some, it is working for me. I'm grateful for people who have created medicine and doctors who have studied the diseases of our time. But, I also know that I do not like taking medicine. I've researched ways to ease anxiety with exercise, different relaxation techniques and self care (I have a whole post about that later). I've made some goals for the summer that I've started working on. I figure I'll put them here so that I have some accountability. I figure I have about 8 weeks of summer so my goal is to read 8 books, go to the temple 8 times, go tubing 8 times and exercise 6 days a week even if it is just taking my dog for a walk.

I went to the Dr. yesterday for a checkup and prescription refill. We made some adjustments based on my side effects and my goals. He told me he was proud of the changes I was making and the progress I had made. I didn't cry once through the entire appointment! I'd say things are looking up. Thank you for all the texts to check on me, the friends who have asked me how I'm doing and listened to me go on and on. Thanks to everyone who has sacrificed family time to float the river with me too, gotta keep those goals up and that one requires a friend or two that can drive:) My next appointment with my Dr. is in December, my goal is to create some better balance in my life by then so we can hopefully wean off the daily medicine.

If you have read this to the end, thanks for listening.