Archives for February, 2012
A few weeks ago, my friend Vicky came to visit me for the day. A friend of mine from high school, she still lives in the same town where we grew up. When it came time for her to leave, I decided to go home and visit my dad for a surprise visit. For the first time in...well, YEARS, I drove a car -- alone -- along the back country highway that connects me to my hometown of Kingston, PA. Vicky followed behind me, just in case, and promised to pull over if I flashed my brakes for help. The lack of cell phone reception and the disappearing evening sun had me nervous, but I did it. I made it to my father's house. Knowing that Vicky was driving right behind me was so crucial to me surviving the trip without issue. And when I drove back to the lovely little town of Williamsport in which I reside, I did...okay. I was completely alone and I tried desperately to NOT think about that fact. I made it about 3/4 of the way before I panicked.
Allow me to re-introduce myself. My name is Summer. I've got that panic disorder thing with a side of agoraphobia. It's been awhile since I've written a truly personal blog post. I'm not sure why. After all, one of the primary reasons I started this blog was so that I can share the details of my many panic & anxiety foibles with the world. (Wait: "foibles" is too weak a word. Debacles? Episodes? Situations?) And my dream is that you'll read about these situations, identify with them, and feel comforted knowing that it's not just you. It's you, and me, and him and her and her and that guy and that woman and that child and this teacher and that mechanic and that group of students over there. And many, many more. In truth, I've been doing very well lately. And by "very well," I mean this: I can survive a grocery store trip. Sometimes, I don't even need Xanax! Imagine that.
Happy cold and flu season! Well, um, minus the "happy" part. I'm on day 5 of the nastiest cold I've had in years. It started back on Sunday with a general feeling of unease and sleepiness. Then, on Monday, the sore throat. Tuesday, the sniffles and lots of sneezes. Wednesday, a full-fledged sinus blowout. (Ew?) And today: my nose is raw and bright pink. I'm hacking up an unspeakable amount of mucus. Oh, and I can't taste much. Not that I'm too hungry, anyway. (And I'm guessing you're not hungry either, at least right now, after reading a phrase like "unspeakable amount of mucus".) Yuck. So, to make the past few days more tolerable, I've been hitting up the medicine cabinet -- but staying mindful about what I put into my body. Like many other panic sufferers, I'm always a bit nervous when I take any sort of medicine. What if it makes me hyper? What if it makes me nervous? What if it makes me uncomfortably sleepy? What if it makes me panic? We're a physiologically sensitive bunch, and even minute changes in our body's state can set us off. Right? I want relief, but not if the cost for that relief is panic.
(This is the ninth post in a series called “Anxiety Society” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) A few days ago, we met Larry Nocella: blogger, novelist, and anxiety sufferer. We left off discussing Larry's "brutal and merciless" internal dialogue -- a formidable opponent to his mental health -- and how his antidepressant medication didn't help to lighten his self-criticism. Instead, he said, he tackled that piece on his own. Summer: I like how your described your inner dialogue as "brutal and merciless." It's so accurate. I think a lot of us -- both anxiety and depression sufferers alike -- are incredibly hard on ourselves. The pushy statements we make toward ourselves would probably NEVER came out of our mouths if they were directed toward a friend! Once you identified your inner dialogue as being too harsh, how did you stop it from being hyper-critical? Was it just a matter of becoming more aware of it, or did you take any kind of extra step? Larry: Mostly becoming more aware. I used to not pay any attention to my mental state, but now I'm very conscious of how I feel and what I think, especially toward myself. The extra step I took was this: I kept thinking of what I would say to someone if they were as harsh on themselves as I was being to myself. I'd say things like, you're only human, you're expecting too much, don't be so hard on yourself. So I just applied that to myself.
(This is the eighth post in a series called “Anxiety Society” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Meet Larry Nocella: blogger and independent novelist. He sold his first article at the young age of 14 and “has been writing ever since,” he says. By day, Larry is full-time employee at marketing company and a (mostly former) sufferer of anxiety & depression. He lives, writes, and works in the greater Philadelphia area. Just over a year ago, he “came out” on his blog as a user of antidepressant medication: Do I tell you something I'd rather keep private? Or do I spill the ugly details? I've decided to share. Why? Because of you of course. Yes, you. Reading this. You. Or maybe someone you know. Because there is definitely a time when sharing beats silence, and that's if you can help people. Mom was all about helping people, so while I lean toward her style of privacy, I think she'd appreciate why I've decided to come out. What I'm trying to tell you is I take an anti-depressant. Were you expecting me to say something else? Larry and I talked about his anxiety, depression, his medication use, and his optimism for the future.
It's time for the monthly panic, anxiety, and phobia support group phone call. Led by Grace, a longtime panic sufferer living in the DC area, the call is open to anyone...
Can science give us the perfect sleep-inducing song? I've been a bit of an insomniac lately. Somewhere in the depths of 2 a.m. last night (or this morning?), I Googled "most relaxing song ever." And what did I expect to find? Well, a bunch of songs esteemed Most Relaxing by the court of popular opinion. But instead, I found...science. Maybe. From The Telegraph: ...the eight minute track [by Marconi Union], called Weightless, is so effective at inducing sleep it should not be listened to while driving. Carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms and bass lines help to slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Manchester trio Marconi Union worked with sound therapists to create the soothing tune, which also slows breathing and reduces brain activity. Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, says that the song's rhythm begins at 60 beats per minute and then gradually falls to 50 by the end. She told The Telegraph that the song's lack of melodic repetition quiets the brain from trying to predict a musical pattern.
I just got back from the dentist. And I am so, so relieved that I am back from the dentist and no longer reclining in that chair. Stupid cavities. I hate them. And yes -- that photo above is me, today, reclining that that ever-hated dentist's chair. How'd I pull that one off, you might ask? Well, when I'm nervous, I like to keep my cell phone in my hands. It's admittedly a safety behavior -- merely holding my phone doesn't save me from anything. It won't stop a panic attack. It won't cure nausea. It won't slow down my heart rate. But it just feels good knowing that my teeny little digital portal to rest of the world is resting in my palm. While the dentist was working, I raised the camera with my left hand and snapped that picture. Call it a distraction technique. And check out those sweet shades they gave me so that I wouldn't get toothdust in my eyes. In combination with all of that dental stuff coming out of my mouth, I sort of look bionic. The only reason I can find humor in this picture now is because it's all over. Two hours ago, I was shaking and feeling tingles in my toes. I was freaked out that part of ear had gotten numb. I couldn't handle the fact that my swallow reflex felt stunted. My heart was racing, my jaw was sore, and I was involuntarily flexing every muscle in my body. A dental appointment is no field day. Especially for those of us with panic and anxiety disorders. But you might be relieved to hear that there are a few things you can do to make your next appointment less nerve-wracking:
It's only February 8th, and I've already failed at my NaBloPoMo goal: one blog post, every single day, for the entire month of February. Why did I set such a goal? Well, because. Because I like to write. Because it's fun to have goals sometimes. Because I think that the more I write, the less I'll feel the heavy hand of perfectionism weighing down on each post. But, on February 7th, I did not write a blog post. What's my excuse? Well, I was too busy sleeping on the bathroom floor with some bastardization of the stomach flu. At 5:30 this morning, I found myself curled up with a bathrobe and a rug. The scene: peppermint oil near the radiator. A pack of ginger gum under my left thigh. Anti-nausea bands on my wrists. A cup of home-made Gatorade (water, OJ, salt, sugar) on the sink. The past 24 hours have been difficult and long. Nausea is one of my panic triggers, and I'm a self-diagnosed emetophobe -- so of course, every minute felt like an hour. I shook not only because of the chills and the fever, but because my nervous system still -- even after how much CBT? -- likes to overreact to uncomfortable bodily sensations.
Today was a drag. I'm all wound up. My brain is mush. Meet the metaphor: a literary technique that allows us to represent not-so-tangible things (like the feeling of a tired, overworked brain) with tangible things (like "mush"). They help us to understand complex topics. To draw an example from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's book Metaphors We Live By, argument is war. In an argument, as in a war, you can win. You can lose. You can gain ground or lose it. Your claims can be right on target or they can miss the mark. You can shoot down someone else's idea. This week, Brain & Language published some new metaphor-related research. Psych Central's news team reported their findings: In a new study using brain imaging, investigators discovered a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard. A textural metaphor is, well, a metaphor that uses a tangible texture to represent a not-so-tangible concept. Let's say you had a rough day. You didn't stick sandpaper up to today's date on the calendar, did you? Nor did you spend the whole day dragging your hand on a rough surface. When you claim you've had a rough day, you're using the word "rough" to describe the more abstract concept of difficulty.