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Wonder Woman is the Super Hero I Need

Like so many others, I saw Wonder Woman last week and I loved it. I was fully expecting to like the movie, but even if I didn’t, I was 100% on board with my money going toward a movie starring a female action hero, that was directed by a woman. Which brings me back to my first statement, I was fully expecting to like this movie. After hearing friends talk about it, I had cautiously raised the bar of anticipation. Even so, this movie far exceeded my expectations. What came completely out of the blue though, was how profoundly it affected me. I’m 35 years old, I figured the days of getting pumped up and inspired by a super-hero movie were behind me. But then I sat and watched for two hours as a strong woman lead men and at no point was she referred to as a bitch, or a ball-buster, or was made fun of or told she was manly because of her strength. And amazingly, she was able to do all of this while still retaining her femininity. What?!?!?!?! How is that possible? That must be some Hollywood magic.

Whenever I’m in a group, I usually wind up leading it whether I want to or not. Trust me, there are times that I just want to kick back and go with the flow, but the next thing I know I’ve been nominated to take charge. People who know me, know that if I’m leading the group, shit will get done and it will get done well. I will lead the charge to the finish line and I prefer if you pull your weight, but we all know there will be at least one person per group who just wants to skate by doing nothing. I will drag that person kicking and screaming with me if that’s the only option left to me. This is why people ask me to lead, I pick up the slack of the weaker links.

dragged

What sucks, is that those very same people who want me in charge, are also the ones calling me a bitch. I have lost track of how many times I have heard someone whisper to their friend how huge of a bitch I am, and then turn around and ask me to lead them. It blows, but it’s something that I have always accepted as being the way of things. It was my price to pay. For what I don’t know? Having my personality? Who knows? I accepted that it was the way it would always be.

I’m sure what added to the “bitch persona,” is the fact that I am not a petite woman. There is nothing about me that is petite. My shoulders are so broad that I’ve hulked out the seams on more shirts and jackets than I care to admit . . . some of them in fitting rooms. But frankly, if the shirt isn’t actually an extra-large, they shouldn’t label it as an extra-large. That being said, I’m wearing an extra-large shirt right now, and the shoulder seams hit about an inch onto my shoulder. So really an extra-large doesn’t fit either.

Shirt-shoulder

My frame does not fit into the criteria of classic femininity. The way that I bulk on muscle, unless I’m excruciatingly careful about how I exercise, makes me look more like a body builder than a curvaceous woman. I can’t wear short sleeve shirts unless the arms are made of a material that can stretch, because my biceps are too big. I easily carried my forty pound dog up and down the stairs several times a day for four months when he tore his ACL. I am tall, I am broad, I am strong, and as if that weren’t enough I have a deep voice. I have been called a dude, butch, manly, one of the guys for so long that it takes me aback when a guy flirts with me. For an emergency, a deadline, hard advice, call Kat. For a good time or a hot date, call someone else.

Entertainment confirms this image. The big and strong girls are the comedic relief, or the ones that help carry the plot so the petite main character can live happily ever after. These are the roles for the non-feminine girls, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean ugly. You can be beautiful, but the second you’re the same size as 50% or more of the men in the room, you are no longer feminine enough to be a heroine or a love interest. The second you move from the girl being lifted in dance choreography to the girl doing the lifting because you don’t have enough guys, is the moment you lose the descriptor, feminine.

So imagine my amazement at watching these kick-ass fight scenes with bulked-out, strong AF women who exuded femininity. The Amazons were strong, fierce and had costumes that accentuated their strength more than their sex-appeal. And better yet, instead of being the ‘manly’ women, or the ones who take care of the other more petite women, they were just women. Even Wonder Woman’s classic uniform still paid tribute to its sexy forbearers, but it again shows her strength more than her curves. Compare the necklines and the waist size of the two women.

Old vs New WW

If I lost every ounce of fat on my body, I still couldn’t look like Lynda Carter. Gal Godot, that’s doable. I would still have to lose every ounce of fat on my body, but I could achieve that body shape. Broad shoulders, tall, discernible waist but not an hourglass. And most importantly, strong AF, and not apologizing for it or hiding it. Not apologizing for stepping out to take the lead, and not apologizing for breaking the classic mold of femininity. For the first time in my life, I left a movie loving the fact that I am strong and that I can put on muscle. I left a movie wanting to work out and get that muscle definition back. I left feeling that I can be just as feminine as my more petite counter-parts.

I was not expecting to get that kind of body-positive affirmations from a comic book super-hero movie. Consider my mind blown. Especially when I logged onto social media and saw this kind of reaction across the board. Petite women felt empowered. Larger women felt empowered. Average size women felt empowered. By treating a female super-hero like they would have treated a male super-hero, women across the country felt empowered. Feminism is not the desire to be treated better than men. It is the desire to be treated on an equal plane with men. The things we can learn from comic books. Go figure.

Decide to Get Over It?

I am a huge proponent of therapy. I truly believe that at one point or another, no matter how perfect and magical your life is, every person can benefit from talking with a therapist. There is just something about knowing that there is someone out there to whom you can confide all of the things in your head that you barely even want to admit to yourself, much less to somebody else. There is someone that you can confide those things to, and your secret is safe, because by law, they can’t tell anybody! Not only can’t they tell anybody, but they’ll talk through the issue with you. It is amazing how much relief can be had from telling a therapist something that makes you a freak or a bad person and then hearing the therapist say, “Oh, yeah. That’s normal.”

giphy-tumblr

There are so many things that we as a society deem inappropriate to talk about, that we walk around thinking we’re all alone and something is wrong with us, when chances are half the population is having the exact same thoughts. It’s crazy! And a trained professional telling you that you’re normal carries so much more clout than if a friend were to say the exact same thing. Working with a good therapist can truly change your life for the better.

However, you knew that was coming, I always hit a certain point while working through past crap and relearning healthier ways of thinking/behaving, that I just get so sick of rehashing the past. I get it, it’s good work. It’s work that needs to be done at one point or another, and just when you think you’re done something else comes up. My PTSD unleashed several repressed memories. Those are fun.

zero fun

But despite the fact that I know it’s good for me, and I know in the long run I’ll be glad I did it, I am to the point that I don’t want to think about and focus on the crap anymore. I almost feel like telling myself to stop whining. Seriously, get over it already! And then I realize that I sound like every well-intentioned – or completely clueless – person that has ever told me to do the same thing.

“Just think about the good things. Be happy.”

“Forget about it and move on.”

“Maybe some exercise out in the sun will help!”

So I don’t know. Can you simply decide to get over it and be done? Have you ever reached that stage in therapy?

Always Good for a Laugh!

Anybody who knows me, or frequents my Instagram page, knows that my dogs are my babies. I’ve had them for a little over a decade now, and I don’t care how low or crappy I’m feeling, they can always make me feel better. Whether it’s their crazy antics or both of them climbing into my lap for snuggles, they lift my spirits. So a couple of years ago when their nervous energy got out of control – they would scream and cry EVERY TIME I left the house – I talked to their vet and we put them on Prozac. In retrospect, I wish that I had put them on it years earlier, it made everyone happier. What made it even better, was that I was able to fill their prescriptions at my local Target pharmacy. So I registered both of them as pets and all was well.

Puggles

Then CVS took over the Target pharmacies, which was even better for me, since I get my own prescriptions at CVS. Why not Target you ask? Because I spend a hell of a lot less money when I walk into CVS, then when I walk into Target! So I transferred the prescriptions over to my normal CVS and all was well . . . or so I thought. The last time I went in, I asked for my prescriptions, then I asked for the prescriptions of Zoey and Malcolm Michels, both born on 6-26-06. To which the guy helping me said something about twins and I agreed. Technically they’re littermates, not twins. I personally know that they at least had another sister, so they are two from a set of triplets, or quadruplets, or quintuplets . . . much easier to say littermates. However, as I got tired of giving this explanation to people several years ago, I just smiled at the attendant and agreed that Zoey and Malcolm are indeed twins.

He smiled back, and then went to fetch the prescriptions. When he came back, the smile was gone, replaced by a rather troubled look. He set my prescriptions down, and then proceeded to almost say something, then he stopped. It was at this point that I guessed what was going on. I figured he saw that they were labeled as dogs and was afraid of offending me in case my darling twin children had been labeled as animals. I was only half right. Zoey had been labeled as a pet, and Malcolm had been labeled as a little boy. This poor guy was trying to find the most politic way of asking if I indeed had twins composed of a dog and a boy.

Laughing

He finally asked me if Malcolm was a boy, to which I said yes. Then he hesitantly pointed out that Zoey was listed as a K-9 and was that correct? To which I also said yes. I let him hang awkwardly for a couple of moments – because I’m evil – before repeating back to him that yes, Zoey is a dog and Malcolm is a boy . . . dog. At this point he burst out laughing and I could see the tension release from his shoulders, as he assured me that, you know, this is LA, somebody might have dog/boy twins, and he wasn’t judging or anything – he was totally judging – but he was glad that it was much simpler than that. He then fixed Malcolm’s classification in the system, I made a smart ass remark about being really into Twilight back then, and we were both tearing up from laughing so hard by the time I paid and left.

So for a brief moment, in the eyes of CVS, I had a dog and a little boy. Now I just have dogs, and they’re still my babies.

I Prefer the Insomnia

I am no stranger to sleeping problems. I first developed insomnia when I was 16, and a couple of years ago I found out that my cortisol levels are backwards. They’re high when they should be low and low when they should be high which is why I’m exhausted in the morning and get one hell of a second wind at 10 pm. If I had complete control over my schedule, I would go to sleep at 3 am and wake up at 11 am. As I do not have complete control over my schedule, and we’re getting closer but haven’t yet fixed the cortisol problem, I do not take a good night’s sleep for granted. But of all of the issues I have with sleeping, I’ve always been grateful of the fact, that my problem is never a racing a mind. I’m either wide-ass awake with brain functioning normally, or I’m asleep. Being wide awake when you’re trying to sleep is bad enough, so I can’t imagine the hell of being exhausted but unable to get your brain to wind down.

Portrait of an insomniac man trying to sleep in his bed

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. I got a taste of this last night. Not the full-on anxiety brain, I had OCD brain. On Sunday, my laptop decided that it wanted to freeze up, never to work again. Yesterday it got sent out, likely for a new hard drive, which meant that I had lost all of the work that I’d done on Sunday. Argh!!!!! I need to finish my novel, and to do that I need my laptop, and I need to keep work that I’ve done, not lose it! Talk about feeling helpless and having zero control over something . . . cue my OCD. I couldn’t control what was happening with my laptop, so my brain decided to control everything else around me.

I immediately mapped out the rest of my evening in order to complete an extensive list of things on my to-do list.

  • Stop by CVS, use coupon to buy birthday card.
  • Stop by the store to pick up some forgotten groceries. Get exactly what I was missing, nothing less, nothing more.
  • Take dogs out.
  • Start my laundry.
  • Cook my dinner.
  • Prep potatoes while my dinner cooks.
  • Eat my dinner.
  • Cook potatoes while I eat my dinner.
  • Move my laundry over.
  • Pull out potatoes and let cool.
  • Cook scrambled eggs and add the rest of the breakfast burrito ingredients while the potatoes cool.
  • Assemble 8 breakfast burritos and wrap them up for the freezer.
  • Put burritos in freezer and put away leftover ingredients.
  • Fetch laundry from laundry room.
  • Grab ingredients and assemble two pepperoni pizzas, wrap them up for the freezer.
  • Put pizzas in the freezer and put away leftover ingredients.
  • Chat with roommate – this wasn’t on the original schedule.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Do a sink-full of dishes.
  • Realize that while the water is dirty, there’s still room in the drying rack for more dishes.
  • Run more water and do another sink-full of dishes.
  • Strip and remake bed.
  • Take dogs out.
  • Get ready for bed.
  • Lie in bed thinking about the fact that while I folded my laundry, I didn’t put my laundry away which needs to be done. Then think about the fact that the dishes I did earlier should be dry by now, and thus can be put away making room to do the remaining dishes. And the counters and oven really need to a good scrubbing, and hey I can use that new spray I got!
  • Start to get out of bed to do the aforementioned tasks.

It was at this point that I caught a glimpse of the time on my alarm clock, and realized my OCD had kicked in. I am not usually this productive after work. Especially when my evening starts out by spending an hour at the Apple Genius bar. But as I sat on the edge of my bed, taking deep breaths and trying to re-center myself, it occurred to me that I hadn’t wanted to do that second sink-full of dishes. I had simply been incapable of walking away until the precarious tower of Tetris-ed drying dishes was such that the addition of a single spoon would have sent the whole thing toppling down. I then reminded myself that while I always wash and fold my laundry on Monday, I generally put it away on Tuesday. So no, that didn’t need to be done at 2 in the frickin morning.

Go to bed

My entire evening had been driven by a NEED to clean, organize and plan the world around me. I had been working in such a frenzy, that my normally snuggle-tastic dogs were curled up on my bed against the wall so that they weren’t touching me. Honestly, I think they were afraid I was going to throw them in the bathtub and scrub them down if they made their presence conspicuous. Which I might have, so well played puggles. Even with the knowledge of what was going on in my head, it took another half an hour lying in bed wide awake to convince myself that I had done enough for the evening, and like the proverbial mouse with his cookie, if I got up to do just one more thing, I would literally be up all night. Ooof! So long story short, I feel for those of you with anxiety, because the racing thoughts thing sucks!

It’s the 1% That Gets You

If you compliment something I’m wearing, or my purse, or a piece of jewelry, I’m likely going to offer up an interesting fact about it. I’m just that person. I’ve come to embrace it. What kind of facts, you ask? Things like, “You can still get it at Target,” or “I got it on sale for $3!” or “My best friend gave it to me for my birthday.” I have no idea why I do this, I guess my brain likes to make associations. 99% of the time, I have no qualms with this little peccadillo. But the 1% drives me insane.

I have this fantastic skirt. It’s classy, hugs my curves in all the right places and flares out with a subdued, yet feminine ruffle at the knee. It’s dark gray with black specks and made of raw silk so you can dress it up or down. Best yet, it is comfortable! Really, the only flaw in its design is that it doesn’t have pockets. However, with all of its other attributes, I’m willing to let that slide. The thing is, I hardly ever wear it. Maybe once or twice a year, tops. I always see it hanging there, admire it for a moment and then move on to something else. Wanna know why? It is the 1% that drives me insane because I wore the damn thing to my mother’s funeral.

Charlie Brown

Any other interesting fact about that skirt gets trumped by the fact that I wore it to my mother’s funeral, so that’s the fact that pops into my head. It doesn’t make me sad or bring up the emotions from that day, it’s simply a factoid. You compliment my glasses, I tell you that I got them for free because Lenscrafters broke my other frames while trying to fix them. You compliment my cute brown loafers, I tell you that I got them for half off on Zulily. You compliment my gray skirt . . . you know how this ends. Now truth be told, nobody has ever complimented me on my cute brown loafers. Mostly because I don’t think anyone else thinks they’re cute. There’s no accounting for taste (you can decide whose in this scenario.)

So if I had worn the brown loafers to my mother’s funeral, I would have zero problems. However, the damn skirt is so cute that I inevitably get 2-3 compliments on it every time I wear it. Then I have to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, “I wore it to my mom’s funeral.” Because let’s face it, that would be awkward. Nothing puts a damper on a conversation like playing the dead mother card. Especially when it’s a complete stranger in the bathroom! Nobody wants to hear where I wore the skirt, they just want to tell me that it is super cute.

Awkward

So I bite my tongue and move on with my day. Then somebody else says something and I bite my tongue again. This goes on all day until I get home and just to relieve the tension that has built up, I tell my dogs that I wore the stupid skirt to my mom’s funeral and I’m never wearing it again because it’s exhausting! And they wag their tails, give me kisses and don’t care that I said something macabre, because they’re dogs. Which just proves that dogs are easier than people.

Charlie and Snoopy

If you haven’t already guessed, I recently wore that skirt and have thus been traumatized once more by the experience. I would get rid of it instead of ranting here, but it’s just so damn cute! Life is hard.

Self-Help, My Butt!

About a year ago, a friend of mine recommended a book to me that really helped her with her anxiety. So I figured, what the hell, I’ll give it a read. I finally finished the damn thing last night. Due to the fact that it took me almost a year to finish, you can imagine how helpful I found it. Actually the only reason I finished it at all was because it was listed on my Goodreads “Currently Reading” shelf and I got sick of seeing it there. That’s why I finished it by skimming through the last couple of chapters.

Now I’m not saying that it was total crap from beginning to end. I’m sure it would actually be quite helpful for some people, like the friend that recommended it. However, this author’s entire program I did in therapy about a decade ago. I’ve been living/breathing/practicing his program for over ten years. And yet, I’m still depressed. I still have panic disorder – although knock on wood, that has abated quite a bit. As soon as I realized this, I decided that I would continue to read the book, as it could serve as a sort of refresher course for me. But the further into the book I got, the more he lost me.

His whole claim, is that if you do his program from start to finish and keep at it, your depression/anxiety will go away. That his program is the only thing keeping you from living symptom free. He even has little quizzes throughout the book that you can refer back to in order to gauge how you’re doing. Well guess what? I passed each of his quizzes with flying colors. I have eliminated by child-knee-jerk reactions (he has a name for these that I don’t remember) and replaced them with healthier, more positive reactions. I can find the silver-lining in almost any situation.

ray-of-sunshine

I haven’t been able to lose the sarcasm though. That’s here to stay. But, for the most part I agree that self-talk and re-framing your thought processes works wonders. Emotionally I am a totally different person than I was before I learned how to do this. So why don’t I like the book? Because I’ve done everything that he says to do, and I am still depressed. I understand the need to market and sell books – trust me, I understand that – but I have a huge problem with someone saying that X is a cure-all, and if it doesn’t work for you, then clearly you’re doing it wrong. I have a major problem with that. I have enough problems without someone telling me that my depression is still there because I’m not working hard enough.

WTF? Screw you, Mr. Psychologist guy. Maybe I am doing it right, and I still need assistance from pharmaceuticals. Maybe that’s a thing that exists. Wow, this blog took a turn. Clearly I am still more worked up over this then I thought. It just drives me nuts when somebody espouses that there is only one fix that will work. Whether that’s the ‘You have to be on drugs!’ camp, or it’s the ‘Only talk-therapy will help you!’ camp. None of us are the same, so our ‘fixes’ will likely vary and be a combination of things. Depression and anxiety are hard enough without someone implying that you aren’t diligent enough if it’s not working. So here’s my recommendation – the book has some very good tools, but his process is likely only one step in your therapy, not the whole cure.

I Don’t Wanna

I am a lover of lists. At the end of each year, I make a list of the things that I would like to accomplish the following year and then break them down into which month I will do that task. At the end of each month, I make a to-do list for the following month. This list includes everything from my year list, everything that didn’t get done from the previous month’s list and everything on my calendar. Then I break these tasks into weeks, then days. At the end of each week, I refine my to-do list for the following week. Finally, at the beginning of each day I gauge my energy and concentration level, see whether anything has been added to my calendar that day and adjust my to-dos as needed.

This is how I operate. How I’ve operated for years, and I really don’t understand how people can function and get things done without lists. For everybody who has ever asked me how I get so much done, or how I remember things, this is how. It’s all written down. And over the years, I have learned the gracious acceptance and forgiveness that has to happen when you hit the end of the day and you’re not done with your list. Because let’s be honest, 99% of the time the list isn’t done because there were too many things on the list to start with! It’s not a personal failing, it’s a failure of proper minions. If I had minions, those damn lists would be done every day by dinner. Well, except for the dinner dishes. Those have to happen after dinner, for obvious reasons.

minions

Despite the fact that I have found a Zen place in regards to unfinished to-do lists, I have found that lately my lists are being pared down to the bare minimum. If something doesn’t absolutely HAVE to happen on that particular day, it gets bumped to another day. There are no options of things that can be done that day, or contingencies like, do X, Y, and Z should your appointment be shorter than anticipated. None of that. Lately, my lists have been sparse, down to the point that three day’s worth can fit onto one typed page. For comparison’s sake, it’s not odd for a single day to take up an entire page.

Why the change? Lately, I have had an extreme case of the, “I don’t wanna’s.” Not in the sullen teenager sense of, “I don’t wanna do the dishes,” but in the clinical depression sense of, “I don’t wanna do anything. Not move, not eat, not socialize, not anything.” Okay, sleep. I totally want to sleep, but that’s it. I probably would spend all weekend in bed if it weren’t for my dogs who are rather insistent on peeing and eating on a regular basis. I probably would have been fired from my job by this point, if it weren’t for the Prozac. The thought of having to get up and go to work in the morning makes me want to cry, but with the Prozac I’m able to do it. I get out of bed, put on clothes, feed/walk my dogs and get in my car.*

To do list

Now logically, I know that all of this is in my head. I have nothing to be sad about, my life is actually going quite well at the moment. But that doesn’t matter, so instead of fighting against where I am right now, I’m trying really hard to work with what I’ve got. I know that if I had one of my typical to-do lists right now, I would shrink away and choose to do nothing at all. Then at the end of the day feel crappy because I didn’t get anything accomplished. So instead, my to-do lists include simple everyday things like shower and walk the dogs and then 2-3 action items to get done toward completing my goals. It’s much easier – even when exhausted with zero motivation – to look at a list of two things and say, “Yeah, okay. I guess I can do that,” then it is to say that while looking at a list of ten things.

My lists are paltry, and my progress has been painfully slow, but at least there’s been progress. If you’re wondering, yes, writing this blog post is on my list. And yes, it’s been like pulling teeth to get it done. Apologies if it reads like that as well, but you gotta do what you gotta do! What do you do to keep your progress moving forward, when all you want to do is stay in bed? I’m genuinely curious. Not that I’ll probably try anything new right now, but I will later when my gut response for everything is no longer, “I don’t wanna.”

Don't wanna

 

*For those who are confused, yes it is totally possible to be on Prozac and still be depressed. If I were to up my dose to a level that would eliminate all depression, I would be a zombie. Not worth it.

Don’t Have to Be Happy

I feel like our cultural places a huge importance on being happy all the damn time. It’s exhausting. I’m sure that there are people out there who can accomplish this. They are just naturally happy, and even when things go wrong they eventually bounce back to happy without much work. I really want to believe that people like this exist. However, I am not one of those people. In fact, I would say I go for days at a time without being truly happy. My status quo is not set at happy, it’s set at content. Or satisfied. When I’m not actively depressed that is where I hang out. I pop up into happy, but it is truly work to maintain happy.

For years I did that work. I tried my damnedest to maintain happy at all costs. Because of that, I often went from happy to flat out exhausted, followed by depressed because I failed at my endeavor. It’s only been a recent epiphany of mine that there is nothing wrong with being content or satisfied. There is nothing wrong with visiting the land of happy, but not setting up camp there. It’s like vacationing at Disneyland, but booking the Holiday Inn a mile away to save some money. It’s not the same, but there’s also nothing wrong with it. Ironically, it’s actually better in some ways because it removes the stress of an over-expenditure, allowing you to enjoy your time there more.

Heart Brain

This is what I have come realize, and I’ve embraced it. It works for me. However, I’ve discovered that there are still certain situations where I forget this. My birthday was this past weekend and I had a great time celebrating with friends. I had brunch with some friends, then later in the day met up with a different group to grab dinner and then go see a movie. Brunch was great. Dinner was a hoot. The movie, not so much. In fact, I hated it. And it came close to causing me a panic attack.

#1 – It was my birthday, and apparently my epiphany does not hold true on birthdays. If it’s your birthday, you are to be happy and like everything all damn day. No matter what!

#2 – I’m the one who chose the movie, so why in the world did I choose a movie that I hated? Clearly I am a moron who does not deserve to be happy.

#3 – See #1

Instant recipe for a panic attack! In my defense, I truly did think I would like the movie, but honestly, that is so far beside the point! Because I had set this insane requirement that I be happy with everything all day, instead of merely being disappointed that I didn’t like the movie, I practically had a mental breakdown, ruining the entire day. Now that makes sense! Looking back now, I can see that this is what happened. At the time, all I knew is that I was really upset, and all I wanted to do was go home before anyone caught on to how upset I was. If I wasn’t actually happy about everything, I wanted to at least maintain the illusion that I was. I didn’t succeed.

People caught on to the fact that I was not happy with the movie. So I failed on that front completely. However, I think it’s a good thing that I failed. Because while everyone was bummed that I didn’t like my birthday movie, the world didn’t end. It didn’t take away from the fun we’d had earlier that evening and it didn’t damper the big hugs that everyone gave me upon leaving. I was not happy for my entire birthday, and that was perfectly okay. It is okay if you aren’t happy all of the time. Even on your birthday.

Stopping a Panic Attack

In my previous post I talk about how we need to give ourselves credit for shutting down, or stopping panic/anxiety attacks. What I failed to talk about is how exactly I do that. Which was pointed out to me in a couple of emails. Oops! My bad! I guess that is good information to share. So here’s how I stop my panic attacks before they become ER worthy. Please note, I have panic attacks, not anxiety attacks which you approach from different angles. If you have anxiety attacks, I’d love to hear what you do differently or the same!

  1. Know my triggers, and how to soothe them. I have two dogs and they are my babies, so them being attacked by another dog is the thing of nightmares for me. I know this, because they have both been attacked by other dogs on multiple occasions. Therefore, my biggest trigger for panic is when I hear two dogs snarling/growling at each other. I hear it, and my heart immediately begins to race. So when this happens, I remind myself that my dogs are safe and I look at their pictures on my phone to reassure myself that they are just fine. If they are around, I hold them tight for that reassurance. Nine times out of ten, I can cut that panic attack off by specifically addressing the trigger. Of course, this only works if you can identify what triggered the attack.
  2. Close my eyes and inhale on a count of 5, then exhale on a count of 10.
  3. Tune into and name the objects in my immediate surroundings – 2 framed paintings, a light switch with 4 switches, 1 window, 1 door, 2 coffee mugs, etc.
  4. I move to a completely different environment. If I’m inside, I go outside. In my office, I run to the restroom. Anything that completely changes what I’m seeing/hearing. Sometimes I panic because I feel trapped but don’t realize that until I’m in a new place.

trapped-1

With the exception of #1, these techniques are not enough on their own. They’ll take off the edge by mentally taking me out of fight-or-flight mode, but the racing heart, tightness in the chest, etc usually remain to some degree. So then I move on to one of these two things.

 

  1. Curl into myself as much as possible while tensing every muscle in my body. We’re talking white knuckles, thighs engaged, abs flexed and butt squeezed. Tense those muscles until it hurts, then release everything all at once. When you strain your muscles then let them go, they release endorphins – I think that’s it, but it might be some other chemical that ends in ‘phin,’ so don’t quote me. This is the cause of the “workout high” that you hear gym-rats talk about. Truth be told, they actually are high, it’s just on their own hormones/chemicals/whatever you want to call them. Clearly I’m not a science major. So by tensing all of your muscles then releasing them, you replicate a fraction of that gym-rat high, which will counter the adrenaline released in a panic attack.
  2. If trying that a couple of times doesn’t cut it, I’ll go run up a couple flights of stairs. I’ll essentially burn off whatever adrenaline is still there. Also, if you’re out of shape like I am, your body becomes more concerned with breathing than panicking. Good times!

Can't Breathe

So basically, I do a combination of those things, generally in no particular order and with some of them repeated. Okay, #6 ALWAYS comes last, but that’s because I’m lazy and don’t like running up stairs . . . or I’ve injured myself and running up stairs is seriously painful. On a good day, this will take care of my panic and I’m okay. On a bad day, I start this all over again every few hours. Those days suck, but not as much as going to the ER. So I’ll see ya on the stairs.

Find and Focus on Your Wins

I don’t know about anybody else, but when it comes to my mental health I rarely give myself credit for how well I’m doing. Or when I have a particularly good day, I don’t celebrate that. Instead, I find that my focus stays on the negative. Instead of acknowledging that I got a lot done because once I was up and about I had a lot of energy, I focus on the fact that I slept through my alarm and was late. I focus on what I didn’t get accomplished, because if I hadn’t slept in clearly I could have gotten that done too. There’s no way that I would have spent that extra time futzing around on Facebook or Pinterest. Nope, definitely not. That was missed productivity time, and therefore deserves self-flagellation.

Pinterest

Most of the time I don’t even realize that I’m doing this until someone points out how productive I am, or what a good mood I’m in and I take a moment to reflect. All in all, I have more good days now than bad. Not easy days necessarily, there’s always something to overcome, but at the end of a week more days fall into the good category than the bad. A friend got me thinking about this, when she shared this meme with me.

Anxiety

I have panic disorder, not generalized anxiety disorder, meaning that I skip over the whole racing thoughts thing and just jump straight to the physical symptoms of the panic attack. When I was at my worst, I would have 6-7 panic attacks a day. A good day meant I only had 2-3. Bad days would frustrate me almost to tears. Why couldn’t I get a grip? What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I make them stop? Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why did everything have to be so hard?

As you can imagine, this did wonders for making them stop. Insert sarcastic font here. I was expressing this frustration to my therapist one day, and she stopped me. Because she couldn’t figure out how I had had 6 full-blown panic attacks in one day and not wound up in the ER. I replied, rather testily, that obviously I had stopped them. Duh! At this she laughed, I don’t think she could help herself. Apparently this thing that I completely took for granted – the ability to stop a panic attack – was “amazing.” The fact that I could do it over and over again all day long was “huge.” I was so busy focusing on the fact that the panic attacks started in the first place, that I was failing to give myself credit for stopping them.

99 Problems

Yes, it sucked that they existed at all, but I was kicking ass in taking care of myself so I could move on with my day. Once I started focusing on the positive aspect of the whole situation, it was easier to deal with. It wasn’t a magic pill or anything that made the panic attacks go away, but it definitely served to reduce the frustration in my life, which in turn probably reduced the attacks. I don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t paying that close of attention at the time, but my attacks have dwindled down to once in a great while instead of daily. So I feel like there has to be at least a small connection.

But what this meme did for me even more, was remind me to start giving myself a break in terms of my depression as well. Yes, I have felt more depressed than normal as of late and it has definitely interfered with my social life. I also haven’t gotten things done that I wanted done back in January. Which sucks, but I’ve also gotten a lot of other things done. And I have made time for friends where I was able. So not all is lost, and maybe I’ll be more likely to catch up to where I want to be if I stop beating myself up for not being there already.