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Anxiety

I have always been an anxious person, but ever since my last depressive episode, my anxiety has gotten worse–especially around sleep. Which is terrible, because I love sleep more than anything. I started having anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. Or when I’m trying to fall asleep. Or when I wake up. Or before, during, and after a nap. In fact, I refer to naps as demon sleep. But I rely on naps to make up for the sleep that I miss out on because of my 1 a.m. bedtime.
 
I don’t want to call these episodes panic attacks, because that does injustice to people who have full-blown panic attacks. I don’t feel like I’m dying or having a heart attack. I’m not completely debilitated. But it does hurt. It’s like I have a bunch of bees buzzing inside my body. Or I have the psychological equivalent of a high pitched noise in my head that I can’t turn off. Or I feel physically and emotionally paralyzed. Or I feel like someone has punched me in the heart. I think that’s why my chest muscles are so tight–I have to absorb anxiety’s blows to my body.
 
I’ve written about how obsessive I am and how easily my inner infant gets rattled. Those forms of anxiety are annoying, but I’ve gotten use to them. I’m learning to accept that they are just a part of how my brain works. But when I have an anxiety attack with no apparent trigger, I feel crazy and weak.
 
It’s funny, because if I’m talking to someone else, I can convince them that they don’t need a reason to be anxious or depressed. That their feelings are valid, even if they don’t make sense. That it doesn’t make them crazy or weak. And they feel better afterwards. But saying these things to myself doesn’t have the same effect.
 
I guess that’s why it helps to tell someone else. Because without someone else’s reassurance, it’s hard to release the power that your inner demons have over you. When it’s just you and your demons, they convince you that you’re letting yourself off the hook too easily. You’re just lying to yourself. You’re really a bad person.
 
Last week when I wrote the self-compassion post, I was beating myself up for my lame excuses for feeling depressed. But after I gave myself permission to write them down, they didn’t seem so lame. And then when I got all these messages from people asking me if I was OK, I started to feel like my suffering might be real. And then I felt better!
 
So I thought I would try it again this week. And I just took half of an Ativan for good measure.
 

Self-Compassion

My compassion reserves are running low. In my last relationship I took the words of Jesus and Buddha literally about how we should be able to love everyone. It was practically a 3 year exercise in compassion. But by the end I wondered if perhaps I had misunderstood what they meant about loving others. It was a lot of work to have to channel Buddha and Christ just to tolerate being in his presence. I feel like I’m experiencing a backlash now. All those feelings I tried to deny are coming out with a vengeance. I guess I was supposed to have compassion for myself, too.

I’m not very good at self-compassion. Every time I try, the Inner Critic berates me for whining about my problems when I have a good life. I don’t know what pain is. I’m not living in a war-torn country. My life hasn’t been devastated by natural disasters or school shootings. All of the people I love are still alive. Who am I to complain?But surely I must have the right to honor my feelings. My suffering must count, too, if God cares about all of us. So I’m going to write about what’s upsetting me, without apologizing for it or justifying it or willing myself to be positive.

This week I will be moving closer to divorce. Filing forms. Getting documents notarized. More tears. More snot. You would think there would be a limit to how much it’s possible to cry over something. That 4 years would be more than enough time. I used to pray to God–plead, even–to tell me what I could do that would allow both of us to be happy. Leaving seemed like it would just make us both miserable. And it has. And I don’t see an end in sight for me, at least. I’m trying not to blame God or myself. But in this moment, my faith in a happy future is wavering and I feel like I deserve the pain.

I have 2 family members who are currently on the opposite ends of the bipolar spectrum. My brother is trying so hard but still feels terrible.  It hurts me that he’s hurting. My dad is manic. Mania feels great for the person experiencing it, but it’s hell for the rest of us. But what power do I have to make him see?  If he were my client, I could make him see our psychiatrist, get him on meds. But as a daughter, I am practically useless.

I’m afraid to answer the phone when my parents call. Which makes me feel horribly guilty, because I know their time on earth is limited and I will regret not talking to them more when they’re gone. But the call is almost always about something bad. Something I’m expected to fix. Or something I don’t want to do. At minimum, I’m supposed to be a receptacle for the stress, but I can’t take it. It’s too much. I’m not able to function afterwards.

So I have to be strategic about when I call or when I answer. It has to be a time when it will be OK if I fall apart. But since it’s hard to choose something where there’s a good chance you’ll fall apart, I often forget to call altogether. Which makes me feel even guiltier and reactivates the vicious cycle. I wish it could be easier. I wish there were some way I could be a good daughter but also protect myself.

It takes a lot of work to maintain my health. Since I have GERD, allergies, and exercise-induced asthma, I have to take shots, nasal sprays, pills, steroid inhalers, rescue inhalers. I’m not supposed to have coffee and chocolate. I can’t eat or drink 3 hours before exercise or bed time. If I drink too much during a match, I’ll even throw up water. It’s frustrating to have to worry about throwing up every time I play. Or brush my teeth, even. But giving up dental hygiene and tennis are not options.

My mental health is always hanging in the balance. It’s work to maintain my sleep cycle because of my night owlness. I can’t miss any of my drugs. I can’t miss Ativan for even one night. I meditate, pray, journal, exercise, and all of the other self-care strategies. But despite my best efforts, I can never make it to the end of the term without burning out before I cross the finish line. I can’t handle the stress of my life. I can’t get out of bed right now. It makes me feel weak. Inadequate. Unable to do the basic tasks of life.

Just got a call from my lawyer friend that my paperwork looks good to go, so I guess I’ll be filing for divorce this week for sure. If you believe in God, feel free to say a prayer for me. If you don’t, send positive vibes my way.

Suffering and Compassion

I have a confession to make. I did not go to church yesterday. I don’t really have an excuse, except that I can’t get out of bed unless I absolutely have to because of my sleep problems. And because I rarely go to church. In all honesty, I’m not a very good Catholic (but still a good person–most of the time). But I do try to go on Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, at least. So for my penance, I thought I would write about what Holy Week means to me.

I really like the reading of the Passion. It’s the place where I can relate the most to Jesus because it is where he is the most human. One of my favorite parts is where Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. My interpretation of his prayer goes something like this: God, I will do this if I have to, but if there’s any way that I don’t have to, please let me know. To me, this shows that even the Son of God was afraid of the suffering that he was about to face, and I find great comfort in that.

I have said a version of this prayer many times. In the last few years I have started asking God what He wants me to do, which is always a little scary. What if it’s something that will be painful? But I figure if God asks you to do something, it’s best to say yes. So my prayer goes something like this: God, if there’s anything that I’m supposed to be doing, let me know, and I’ll do it. But please give me the courage to do it, too. 

The other part I like is where Jesus cries out on the cross, asking God why He has abandoned him. I find comfort in this, too. One of the things that has always been difficult for me to comprehend is how God can allow people to suffer needlessly. I talked about this in my post on God’s Will. But when I think about the Passion, I don’t know where I even got the idea that we are not supposed to suffer. If anything, the life of Christ shows us that no one is immune to suffering. Even if we’re really, really good, it’s still going to happen.

Lately I’ve been talking about empathy as though it were a curse because it’s overwhelming to have to feel other people’s pain all the time. But I know it’s a gift to be able to give someone the experience of knowing how they feel. For me, reading the Passion is a reminder that Jesus is with us in our suffering, because he has suffered, too. Which is literally what compassion is about.

A few years ago my niece was obsessed with Jesus. Even though it was Christmas, she wanted to know more about how Jesus died on the cross. The next year she drew this picture as a Christmas card. I guess for her, the Passion is also the most memorable part of the life of Jesus.

Night Owl Syndrome, Part 2

I started this blog with a post about the stress of trying to regulate my sleep cycle.  Particularly since it was the beginning of the year and I had been off for 3 months–plenty of time to revert to my more natural night owl state.
 
I am in the same predicament this week, except that my sleep cycle is even more out of whack than usual.  In addition to the normal job stress and abrupt transition into having nothing to do at the end of the term, I was also dealing with the fallout from the student death and extended periods of loneliness and isolation.  I fell into a pattern of going to bed at 4 am and waking up at 4 pm, with a few hours of wakefulness in between.  And as usual, I was racked with guilt and self-loathing about this.
 
My dad and two of my brothers are also night owls.  While my family was together over Christmas, my dad hardly slept at all, and when he did it was well past 2 am.  One of my brothers went to bed around 6 am.  The other brother woke up around 6 pm.  Yet they did not appear to be racked with the same guilt and self-loathing as me.
 
Which is the reason why I originally started this blog.  Accepting who I am, including my obsessive tendencies, problems with guilt, and wacky sleep schedule, takes continuous practice.  If I neglect to do it, I fall prey to depression and anxiety.
 
And writing about how I was feeling during that period definitely helped.  It was cathartic.  It helped me to remember what I tell my clients. It provided me support, positive feedback, and extra angels.  And some of the most depressing posts were among the most popular ones, so I know I’m not alone.
 
Perhaps I should start recommending blogging as an important component of self-care.  Right up there with sleep, exercise, food, and mindfulness.
 
Last night I went to bed before 1 am without having to rely on extra Ativan.  And I woke up at 7 am because I had a doctor’s appointment.  That’s as close to a “normal” sleep cycle as it gets for me.  So going back to work has been a good thing.  Still,  if I didn’t have to go back this week, I wouldn’t have.
 
Fortunately, sometimes you are forced to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not.
 

 

Meet the Drill Sergeant

Allow me to introduce you to the Drill Sergeant–one of my most challenging parts. Many of you may have a similar part. My drill sergeant demands productivity at all costs, and not in a nice way.

I am not a morning person, as I indicated in my first post. The drill sergeant doesn’t give a crap. He (I think of it as a he) doesn’t give a crap if it’s a weekend, either; he still wants me to get up. I don’t listen to him, of course, but I pay the price. For every extra hour of sleep I try to get, the drill sergeant yells at me, telling me how other people are up doing normal people productive things, while I am lying in bed wasting my life away.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t have anything pressing to do. The drill sergeant will make up random to do lists as though these things are of the utmost importance. You need to wash those bath mats! There are scraps of paper all over the house that need to be put in the recycling! I’m pretty sure there’s a mug in the sink that needs to be washed! Get up!

I have been sick for the last few days, which is very frustrating for the drill sergeant. I always get sick at this time of the year because, despite my best attempts to manage the stress of my job, I still get exhausted and can’t function. The drill sergeant is frustrated because I was just two days from making it to Thanksgiving break, but I had to miss a day of work, anyway. And I have to say, that frustrates me, too. But what can I do? I don’t even feel like playing tennis. Or eating! If you know me, you know that’s bad if I don’t want to play tennis or eat.

In my efforts to practice self-acceptance, I’m trying to get to know the drill sergeant better, understand his point of view. I can see how he’s trying to prevent me from a life of sloth-hood. And I do have to wake up early to get to work. And occasionally you really do need your drill sergeant–like when you have to channel your inner warrior on the tennis court.

So I’ve struck a deal with my drill sergeant. As long as I am waking up when I need to, fulfilling my obligations, and being a productive member of society, he can be at ease. But I have promised to call upon him when I am in need of some ass-kicking motivation.

So far, it seems to be working.

This doodle reflects my less positive emotional state at the moment. I think it looks like some kind of scary octopus with floating eyeballs, albeit in pretty colors.

 

Night Owl Syndrome

adventure animal avian beak

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about sleep.  I have to be vigilant about getting to bed at a reasonable hour, which for me is before 1 am.  This is difficult because I am a night owl, and I have to make myself go to sleep during the part of the day that I most enjoy just because the world revolves around the early bird’s schedule.  Plus people judge me for staying up late and waking up late.  I consider this a form of prejudice and discrimination that Ben Franklin is at least partly to blame.

I read recently that night owls are more prone to feeling depressed because they are forced to conform to an unnatural sleep cycle.  I would have to agree because four out of six of the people in my family are night owls and we all have mood disorders.  To make matters worse, people with mood disorders are sensitive to disruptions in sleep because they can trigger a depressive episode.

It’s a lot of work trying to make myself sleep early.  I have to take at least 1 mg of Ativan every night, sometimes 2.  I am also prone to anxiety, and at night I’m rushing around trying to do all these things to minimize my stress for the next day like take a shower, dry my hair, pack my lunch, set the coffee maker, pick out my clothes, pack my tennis stuff, stretch, etc.

The problem is that doing all of this stuff to reduce my stress is also stressful, so I end up being wired before going to bed.  Kind of like when you have an exam and you’ve spent all night studying and by the time you go to bed formulas and vocabulary words and theories are still running through your head.

So then I have to do all of this stuff to try to exhaust my brain–usually some kind of mind game.  I used to do Minesweeper, but I get so pissed off when I make a mistake that I have to keep playing until I win, or at least have to guess 50/50 on the last square, which means I end up staying up later than I intended.  Lately I’ve been doing the expert level of Sudoku because it’s still challenging and doesn’t take as long and you can make 3 mistakes and still win.

But it’s hard to get myself to stop playing even after I win.  I am really competitive, and I have this need to train myself  to concentrate even though I’m exhausted.  Like it’s some kind of military mind exercise or something.  I have to talk to that competitive part like it’s a child and say something like, OK we agreed that you can play until 12:30 so you have to put the game away now.  I’ll tell you more about my internal family in another post.

I also need more than the average amount of sleep–more like 9 or 10 hours–which makes getting enough sleep a challenge.  Usually I can squeeze in a cat nap in at lunch, and sometimes I can get in another hour or so if I have an opening in my schedule.

But then I feel guilty because I’m sleeping at work.  And even when I have the time to sleep late, wake up late, and take a nap and have permission to take the Ativan as needed I still feel guilty because I feel like I’m not living life correctly or something.  I’m not doing what normal people do.

My job has really picked up in the last few weeks, and it’s only going to get busier from here, so I have no choice but to try to be an early bird, at least during the week.  So far so good, though. Even though I had two tennis matches last night, I was in bed by 12:30.  And because I didn’t have a 9 or 10 am appointment, I was able to sleep until 9.  And I don’t feel guilty about it.  So I’m feeling pretty good at the moment.