Archives for November, 2011
Sometimes, I try to trace my grocery store agoraphobia back to something in childhood. After all, isn't that when the seeds of some of our biggest fears are planted? Even though my first supermarket panic attack occurred only about three years ago, who knows -- maybe something scary happened to me in a grocery store when I was ten years old. Or maybe seven. Or perhaps at age four. This afternoon, I tried to recall something -- anything, really -- that had ever given my runny-nosed, stringy-haired, juice-mustached childhood self a good scare in the supermarket. I couldn't think of a single thing. Were all of my childhood grocery store experiences fun and fancy-free? Or is there an incident that I've forgotten over the years? Did I ever get lost in Produce while my mom was in Dairy? Did I knock down a paper towel display and then start to cry? Did any store employees yell at me for sneaking some dried apricots from the bulk fruit bins? Nope. But a little girl named Savannah Harp had some trouble recently with that last scenario. Savannah, a four-year-old from Everett, WA, went shopping with her dad at Safeway. By the end of the trip, a security guard told her and her father that she was banned from the store for sneaking some fruit while her father wasn't looking.
Black Friday is officially over. In California, a woman made a mad dash for some Walmart doorbusters and allegedly pepper sprayed the fellow shoppers in her wake. In Alabama, police had to subdue one shopper with a stun gun. In Oregon, a fight broke out over towels. Yes, towels. Towels that were on sale at Walmart for $1.88. And where there wasn't fighting, there was still pushing, shoving, grabbing, crowding, yelling, throwing, rushing, and screaming. Over towels:
Tonight, I have a simple question I want to ask of my readers: who are you? This goes deeper than mere demographics. Deep enough to, on second thought, italicize the are & play with some extra punctuation: who are you?! Four months ago to date, at this very hour, I was probably sitting inside my cookie-cutter apartment in the greater Philadelphia area. As usual, I'll bet I was doing five things at once: cleaning up from dinner, listening to the news on my iPod, feeding my pet parrot, getting flustered over how high the pile of dishes in the sink had grown in only an hour, and thinking about the stress of work. Yeah, work. My 9-to-5 gig. (Well, 8-to-4:30, if you want to get technical. Eight and a half hours.) If you account for my forty-five-minute commute, I had a ten-hour workday. (If you, reader, commute through or near any major metro area, you'll have no qualms about me classifying a commute as an extension of work. You certainly understand that, like work, it requires strict attention and produces headaches and frustration.) It wore me down. All of it. The dismal cubical, the endless phone calls from angry customers, and the road rage. The poor office morale, the traffic congestion, and the constant uncertainty looming over my and my co-workers' heads about layoffs. I began that job as a whole person. And I left as an empty, shaky, panic-prone shell.
Last week, I delivered a telephone presentation to a nationwide anxiety & panic support group. I shared my personal story, I led the callers in this activity about cognitive distortion, and I facilitated a mindfulness meditation exercise. You'd think I'd be anxious about it, right? Little ol' panicky me? The girl who freezes up and starts hyperventilating when I get stuck in a long line? The girl who carries every stomach medicine known to man in her purse on the off-chance that she'll feel queasy while running errands? The girl who grew up as a die-hard perfectionist? Nah. I was perfectly fine. I was calm, I was expressive, and I was loving every second of it. Why was it so easy? Well, here's my primary theory: when I'm in the company of others who truly understand the difficulty of grocery shopping or highway driving, I feel at ease.
Last week, we looked at some of the pros and cons of quitting the caffeine habit. Too much caffeine can rev up your body's physiological response and create a fertile breeding ground for panic. But then again, completely abstaining from caffeine is liable to train you that the substance, even in low doses, is a threat. So, moderation is key. And in order to properly moderate, you'll need to know the caffeine content of common beverages. The Mayo Clinic has a basic list here. And if you happen to own a copy of Dr. Edmund Bourne's The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, the "Nutrition" chapter has a simple chart that outlines the caffeine content of coffee, tea, and over-the-counter medicines. Did you know that brewing a cup of tea for five minutes will produce nearly twice as much caffeine as brewing it for only a minute would? Did you know that instant coffee generally has less caffeine than percolated or drip coffee? Or that coffee has more caffeine per cup than tea?
They say a problem shared is a problem halved. I think the same goes for anxiety. Anxiety shared is anxiety halved. (Well, if you're sharing with the right people -- people who can empathize, that is!) On Sunday, I'll be the guest speaker on a conference call for the Anxiety, Panic and Phobia Support Group. It's a nationwide, telephone-based peer support group for those of us who deal with anxiety & related problems. Anyone is welcome to join in on the call. The group is led by Grace, a long-time anxiety & panic sufferer. "I know of and have been participating in telephone conference calls for other issues and decided to create one for anxiety, panic and phobia disorders," she said. Prior to starting the group, she felt like she was alone in her struggles. "I really wanted to help myself and others that are also suffering," said Grace. Since beginning the group, phone attendance at the telephone-based meetings has continued to increase month after month. On Sunday, I'll be discussing my own experiences with panic disorder. I'll also be leading the group in a few activities designed to help us tame runaway thoughts.
I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages a few months before I graduated from college. After years of drinking one coffee and at least two or three sodas per day in the school cafeteria, I quit cold turkey. (And I wouldn't recommend this method of quitting to anyone!) And then, I enjoyed two weeks of tension headaches and constant sleepiness. I was a groggy-eyed wreck. My dorm room bed was my new best friend. But when the withdrawal effects wore off, I was a new person. My overall anxiety level decreased, I had a more steady level of energy throughout the day, and it became easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) at night. Of course, I was a little slower to wake up in the morning. And, on some afternoons after class, I would fiercely need a nap. But that's okay. I was (and still am) content with that. When practical, I prefer listening to my body (by napping) over fighting against my body (by stuffing it with caffeine until I feel energized again). Are you thinking about kicking the caffeine habit? Are you trying to figure out when and how you'll attempt it? Take a look at some of the possible pros and cons of quitting below.
(Warning: some emetophobics have a difficult time encountering words and themes related to their phobia. Even just the words alone can be very triggering. If you are extremely sensitive to the "V" and "N" words, and their various slang names, please read the below with caution.) Sure, vomiting is unpleasant. I don't know a single soul who looks forward to getting the stomach virus, but most of my friends and family members can puke, if needed, with a staggeringly positive attitude and a calm demeanor. I don't know how they do it. Nausea and vomiting -- even just the idea of vomiting -- are panic triggers for me. Nausea will easily produce a fight-or-flight response in my gut, and the resulting adrenaline rush will, in turn, stir up more nausea. I am afraid of feeling nauseous and afraid of what the unsettled stomach might lead to. But is my fear of vomiting a phobia in and of itself?
Those of us with anxiety disorders know the feeling well -- we lay in bed, but sleep does not come. Our mind is too busy racing its way from here to there, rehashing the day's activities, and constructing lists of would have could have should have. Did I turn off the oven? I should have called Janice back. Where did I leave my car keys? I could have finished that project at work, but I got sidetracked and I hope the boss isn't upset with me. Did I remember to set the alarm clock? It is exhausting. Yet somehow, it is not the type of exhaustion that brings sleep. I often wish that my own mind came equipped with an off/on switch. Or, well, a dimmer switch. That would be better. I mean, I doubt that I'd ever want to cease all thoughts -- especially an important thought like, "Okay, I want to turn the switch back on now!" Yeah, a dimmer switch would be nice. I would crank it up during daylight hours & slowly dial it down as the evening sets in. Alas, there's no such thing as a Mind Dimmer Switch. But can we trick our mind and brain into slowing down for the evening?
Coupons. Piles and piles of coupons. I was clipping them, sorting them, and matching them up with grocery store circulars. I was tired, but I knew I had to continue. What if I found a fantastic deal? Or even a freebie? Clip, sort, match. Clip, sort, match. Last night, I spent my four hours of scattered, non-consecutive sleep dreaming of coupons. I suppose my coupon dreams are a symptom of the tetris effect, which occurs after you play the game Tetris for too long. Tetris lovers will surely understand, even after putting down the controller, the impulse to fit real-life objects together in a Tetris-like fashion. From Wikipedia: People who play Tetris for a prolonged amount of time may then find themselves thinking about ways different shapes in the real world can fit together, such as the boxes on a supermarket shelf or the buildings on a street. In this sense, the Tetris effect is a form of habit. They might also dream about falling Tetris shapes when drifting off to sleep or see images of falling Tetris shapes at the edges of their visual fields or when they close their eyes. In this sense, the Tetris effect is a form of hallucination or hypnagogic imagery. The Tetris effect can occur with other video games, with any prolonged visual task (such as classifying cells on microscope slides, weeding, picking or sorting fruit, flipping burgers, driving long distances, or playing board games such as chess or go), and in other sensory modalities. I was a huge fan of Snood in high school. Sometimes, I'd play it for hours on end. And without fail, whenever I moved on to the next activity, I'd find myself searching for three like objects in close proximity. Upon spotting several instances of the letter "E" within close proximity on the page of a book, for example, I'd instinctively want to aim a Snood at it to make it disappear.