Skills and Stress

As evidenced by a high blood pressure reading at my most recent doctors appointment(s), I’m stressed. This is nothing a) new or b) abnormal, especially with a job in a corporate office. I’m working on my stress-relieving/coping skills, and finding that they’re pretty limited.

I take showers. (This is not very good for the environment, and I feel a little guilty about taking wanton showers that I don’t need, but it DOES help me de-stress)

I go for walks. (When it’s not dark. And when my joints cooperate. Also, I need new shoes.)

I try to meditate. (I’ve been learning various kinds of mindfulness meditation for the last year and a half, though I’m admittedly not very good at it. Still, focused breathing, even if I can’t get to focused, non attached thinking, helps)

But I kinda need some more tools in the box. When I’m really anxious, eating a snack helps, but that doesn’t really help with stress – and depending on the availability of gluten free snacks, can be a stressor instead of a de-stressor.

I’m open to trying some new things to help me manage this. So what do you do to manage stress?

Big Bad Binary Brain

My brain is really excellent at binary thinking.

Given any situation, I will come up with two answers, one of which is complete failure (resulting in failure) and one of which is unattainable perfection (resulting in failure). Therefore if I choose either column, I fail, and am therefore subject to more mental berating.

If I attempt to choose another, more moderate option, I am berated for not being good enough to try for the perfect. There is elaborately cooked, time intensive dinner, or there is failure. There is compulsively clean, 100% taken care of house, or there is failure. There is 100% kindness to everyone all the time, or there is failure.

It’s a kind of twisted perfectionism that I’ve spent most of my life perfecting, it seems. (I should mention that even if I come up with something I initially think is good, my brain will pick holes in it until it looks like every other failure, even if I’ve accomplished something. It’s … kind of sick.)

Nowhere is this better illustrated than with exercise.

With exercise, there is either “exercise until exhaustion” and “nothing”. Compound this with my joint disorder, whereby I can’t do things like lift weights (because my joints go squishywibble and won’t work properly, so I can’t even get my muscles engaged) or run (impact is bad, yo) or really most “normal” exercise, and there are two options. Do nothing, or walk until you can’t feel your knees and then go lift weights anyway, even though it makes you feel awful for two days.

There are two kinds of exercise I mostly tolerate (verging on enjoyment) – biking and yoga. I’m not allowed to bike because of the pressure it puts on my wrists (which, plus my hands, are the only joints that hurt on an everyday basis anymore). I just bought a new bike in October. Failure. I’m not supposed to do yoga for the same reasons.

But Anna, yoga has infinite variations and modifications! Why not do one of those?

Because so far I can’t. Well, physically I could. Mentally I must either do the full version of the pose, or I might as well not bother because I’m a failure anyway. This is compounded by my relative ease with kinesthetic adventures like yoga and dance, which I learn quickly. I’m also naturally extremely flexible, so I have never really done modified poses. I am still adjusting to this new way of living in my body. (Also, let’s not even get into being fatter.) Doing a modified version anyway, in a sort of “fuck you, brain” only results in having to listen to myself for the rest of the day.

To be honest, I feel a lot of sympathy with Gollum.

It’s all extremely unkind, and difficult to live with a lot of the time too. There are entire days when I wish my brain would just SHUT UP and GO AWAY. I’ve tried asking it why I only have these two options, but the answer isn’t fit to type.

I fight against this every day, some days with more success than others. Some days the crazy is just too loud, and I don’t really function beyond going through enough of the motions to not get fired. Recently the crazy has been very loud, and so I’m not getting much done. It’s too much work to try to deal with it, to try not to resist, but to … not accept. Just… allow it to exist and do whatever I need to anyway?

My awesome therapist says that “What we resist persists” – the more mental energy I throw at resisting and arguing with the crazy, the more it pushes back. Instead, I’m supposed to say “ok, I appreciate that you feel that way” and do whatever else anyway. (I know it sounds crazy, but somehow this works better than the alternatives.)

It’s very draining, just doing everyday stuff.

I’m trying really hard to “work on it”, but its hard to change something that seems built in, if that makes any sense. Meditation helps, as do naps. Journaling helps when I manage to do it without automatically setting myself up to fail at it. (How you fail at journaling, I’m not sure, but I manage.)

Today I managed 8 hours of work, plus 3 sets of pushups and squats and a set of “hang on the pull up bar and think really hard about it” (I can’t do pull ups). I’ll put something together for dinner – probably out of the freezer (maybe tamales). After dinner I will sit on the floor and attempt to get my brain to slow down for awhile.

And that’s going to have to be enough.

Self Acceptance

Lots of self-help and counseling programs talk about the value of self acceptance. To be honest, it’s a concept I’m only just beginning to understand.

It’s hard to “love yourself” when you don’t feel very lovable. I was talking about it with my mom though, and she said something that made me kind of re-think the whole self-love thing. That maybe it wasn’t about finding yourself lovable with all the crap that’s going on, but finding yourself worthy of being loved for your human-ness. It’s not about accepting all the shit in your life, but accepting that you’re a human being, and that you’ll deal with it as best you can, and you are worth accepting yourself for that.

I really struggle with this whole idea, even down to having a mental battle when I do things to “take care of myself” (like going to the gym). I’m hoping that reframing it a bit will help with the immense motivation it takes to do the self-care things I need to do to stay healthy. Maybe instead of seeing self-acceptance as “I have to think I’m awesome” (which I can’t do most of the time), I can see it as “I can accept my humanity” will help change some of the ingrained thoughts and beliefs that are so very very very hard to shake.

Traumas and Blog Prompts

One of the things that NaNoBlogThing does for its members is provide the occasional prompt for a post. Like most collections of blogging prompts, these are usually benign creativity boosters and story prompts to help out someone that gets stuck in writer’s block. But there was one that came up recently that didn’t sit well with me; it seems to be lacking in forethought:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event.

I understand that trauma happens on a spectrum, and that the person involved can dramatically change the perspective on an event (as can the care that person receives in the immediate aftermath of trauma). Some people who experience life-threatening car accidents go on to recover both physically and mentally and can, after a time, drive again safely and without panic or anxiety. Others aren’t able to heal to that point and can sometimes not even ride in a car without experiencing panic attacks.

Trauma is just so PERSONAL.

PTSD is weird, and “Describe the scenes surrounding an event” is something I can’t even do (yet) in scheduled, structured therapy. Looking at the prompt, my immediate reaction is “Well THAT’S not going to happen.” And I can’t imagine that I’m the only NaBloPostThinger writer that lives with PTSD and it’s related mental health issues.

I understand that this post isn’t really talking about “that” kind of trauma, but really, there isn’t another kind. All traumas require healing – and there’s no way to look up what counts as traumatic (beyond a the actual definition of trauma itself). Different things bother different people on various levels, so a post that one person thinks is pretty benign (about a car accident) can be completely triggering for another.

Even suggesting a post about a traumatic event that you have healed from or that helped you to grow in some way would be better than the open ended “anything traumatic”. Otherwise, from a psychological standpoint, it has the potential to open up a lot of really ugly emotional stuff, without having a way to process or effectively deal with those emotions. For real, just writing out the sequence of events (factually and as chronologically as possible), let alone describing entire scenes, can be almost impossible to do for someone with PTSD. It’s a real mindfuck sometimes.

While I don’t for a minute think that the prompt was intended to be discomforting, a blog prompt that suggests the emotionally invested discussion of traumatic events just seems really out of place in a list that also includes “What kind of music do you listen to when you write?” and “Do you prefer to write with a pen or a computer?”

One of these things is not like the other ones, you know?

Expanding

I’ve never really been a small person. I’m not massively tall, but I’ve got an athletic build and wide shoulders and hips – just structurally – plus boobs and a butt that are nicely proportionate to the rest of me.

And I was pretty OK with that. Thanks to a lot of un-brainwashing from the HAES movement, I was pretty comfortable with looking the way I looked, and happy with what I was feeding my body and how I was active.

Then, about a year ago, my brain took a long walk off a short pier, and I’ve been on various forms of psychiatric medication ever since.

In the 8 months that I was on an SSRI, I gained 20 lbs. In the 5 weeks I was on an anti-epileptic medication, I gained 5 more. Now I’m on an atypical anti-psychotic, and ravenously hungry all the time, constantly preparing myself to step on the scale and see the number break another 10’s digit record.* I’m sure the anti-inflammatories I’m on constantly don’t help much either.

On some level, I feel like this shouldn’t bother me. I mean – yeah, I’m ravenous all the time on this new medication, but I’m also a) not manic b) not suicidal and c) not having panic attacks. On the other hand, putting on 25 lbs isn’t exactly inexpensive and doesn’t exactly help a ton with my self image.  I’ve had to buy all new clothes and new bras (my ta-tas, while generous before, are always in the way now) because NOTHING fits anymore. Shirts won’t button, pants won’t budge past my knees.

Even little things are different, like realizing that I take up more space when trying to squeeze into tight corners, or doing yoga and finding my flexibility restricted by my new friend The Chub.

And the world cries out “Eat less, exercise more!” as though it were some kind of magical prescription to make everything better. Well, sometimes it doesn’t. I could go on for pages about what I eat (and don’t eat), what I do for exercise, the amount of activity I get at my job, and really it wouldn’t do any good to the Calories in, Calories out people. Maybe some bodies work just fine as a heat engine, but I’m eating healthier and exercising more than I ever have before, but I went on all these stupid medications and I’m still gaining weight.

Also, it’s really not at all fun to be painfully, ravenously, eat a whole bag of carrots hungry all the time and yet know that you’re already fatter than you used to be.

I’m already eating low-carb, thanks to being gluten free, so I’ve tried to step that up a little, but it means never leaving the house without a string cheese or some almonds or pecans or dried fruit. I refuse to give up carbs entirely (phase 1 of South Beach, essentially) because I can’t take the mental changes that requires – the last time I tried Phase 1, I was a raving, plate-throwing bitch for three weeks. I don’t need any help being crazy these days.

Which kicks off the constant wondering why I’m bothering. Every time I’ve tried to lose weight, I’ve lost it, and then while still on the same diet, still enjoying the benefits of the “lifestyle change” I’ve put the weight all back on, plus 5-10 lbs (if I lost any weight at all. I can put on weight on a calorie restriction diet in ways that just boggle my mind). Every time, even if it was just a quick “lose 10 lbs before someone’s wedding” thing.

So is trying to stay on top of this now only going to mean buying all new clothes again in another 6 months?

Or is ignoring it and just listening to what I know my body needs going to result in the same thing anyway, thanks to metabolic changes from these medications?

Ugh.

*Oh and by the way, the medication I’m on now can cause hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. Yay.

Riding the Rollercoaster

Sometimes, you’re up. Sometimes, you’re down.

Things were looking more in the up direction for awhile… except then (to continue the metaphor and stretch it perhaps too far) they turned upside down and I fell out of the little harness and splattered all over the pavement. Faulty lap belt. Or something.

In short, things aren’t so good, but I’m working on it. I don’t know when it will get better, but the only way out is through. I’ve run out of ability to pretend everything’s OK at work now too, so I figure one of these days someone is going to realize just how fucked up in the brain I can be.

I may or may not talk more about it, but at least this space exists.

<3 and such.

Oh. And whatever smartass thought it would be a good idea to add “Black Cherry Flavor!” to sublingually dissolving anti-psychotic medications can go blow a goat. Because really, now it tastes like terrible artificial flavoring AND bitter poisonous nastiness. It’s almost adding insult to injury that taking a medication that makes me feel so shitty has to Taste. That. Bad.

(And before someone suggests water, I can’t have any. Tablet under tongue, no food or drink for 10 minutes. It makes the underside of my tongue peel too. THAT’s fun…)