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Archive for August, 2011

Have a Sinus Infection

I have a sinus infection and am in too much pain to blog today. (It hurts to breathe.) I am on antibiotics, so I hope to feel up to blogging later in the week. ~ Faith

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PhotobucketOver weekend, a friend and I went to the beach for a relaxing weekend without husbands or children. It’s been almost a year since I have gotten away without my child, but that was a different kind of weekend that had its own share of stresses. This was an incredibly relaxing weekend with the two of us doing whatever we felt like doing whenever we felt like doing it. I am not sure I have ever had a weekend quite like it.

As I shared yesterday, I had a professional massage for the first time. We ate at restaurants I have wanted to try but that hub has always nixed. We watched movies (something I love to do but rarely get the opportunity to do at home since nobody else in my family likes to watch movies). We laughed. It was a fun, carefree weekend – a concept that was completely foreign to me. I felt so relaxed.

As we started driving home, I felt a heaviness settle over my shoulders. I could feel the weight of returning home, and it made me feel so sad. (It doesn’t help that I also have a sinus infection, so I was/am in physical pain while working through these emotions.) I just wanted to cry.

When I got home after a 4-1/2 hour drive, I wanted to cry but had no time. I had dinner with hub’s family following by 2-1/2 hours of online (webcam) training for my job. I was exhausted after that and went to bed. The next day, I hit the ground running for work and appointments.

Thankfully, I had a therapy appointment yesterday. The first thing I did was cry. My T asked me what I was returning to in my life that was about me. I said nothing, to which he replied, “Exactly.” We talked about how I spend my time doing everything for everyone else and that there isn’t time or room for me.

My T asked why I went to family dinner the night before when I was so tired. I said it never occurred to me not to. He said that I need to examine all of those automatic responses that I have. I am on autopilot in so many areas of my life, and the autopilot is programmed for me to take care of everyone else. There needs to be time and space for me. Right now there isn’t, which is why I felt so depressed about returning home.

My homework is to challenge every automatic response and think about ways that I can make room for me in my own life. I have to expect that all of these changes will come with resistance, and I will have to let go of being perceived as the “good” person (good wife, good mother, etc.) It has always been so important for me to be the “good” ___ , and the people in my life have exploited this to direct me to meet their needs at the expense of my own.

This is such a tall order, and I don’t feel up to it with my head hurting every time I breathe. I need to get this sinus infection cleared up first and then focus on this challenge. I actually did do one thing yesterday – I didn’t feel up to cooking dinner and bought takeout instead. That’s nearly unheard of for me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Green PlantI went to the beach this weekend with a friend. Both of us desperately needed a weekend “off” from being responsible for our families. It was amazing to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, even when what we wanted was to do nothing at all.

My friend wanted to go get a massage. I have never had a professional massage before. I was not comfortable undressing in front of a stranger and having a stranger put his or her hands all over my body.

When I was in the early stages of healing, online friends who were farther along in healing encouraged me to do some spiritual healing work. I opted for Reiki since no touch is involved. Even being alone in a dark room for a Reiki session was scary the first time, but Reiki wound up being a wonderful healing experience. I had Reiki sessions on and off for years.

My experience with Reiki helped me ease into having a massage. I decided to go with a hot stone massage. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but I thought that having an inanimate object between the other person and me would be easier for me to handle. The room was very much like what is used in Reiki with the New Age music and aromatherapy. I also hit it off with the masseuse, which really helped.

I have talked with numerous women who have had massages. They all told me how relaxing and “wonderful” massage was, but not one person told me about the spiritual elements of massage. (This was my only massage, so I guess it’s possible that I happened upon a place that incorporates spiritual elements and that it is not the norm. I’d love to hear from readers if this is typical or not.)

One of the first things the masseuse did was place hot stones at two of my chakras, and they stayed there throughout the massage while I was lying on my back. We got to talking about spiritual healing, Reiki, etc. (I was also thrilled that I did not have to lie there quietly for 90 minutes. I was much more relaxed having a dialogue with the masseuse.)

The hot stones felt really great. Having the massage helped me to recognize that my body is not my enemy. I wrestle with hating my body because it was the gateway to harm – my abusers traumatized my body and caused emotional pain. Being in my body felt wonderful during the massage and helped me make the connection that being in my body can be a good thing.

It was much easier for me to stay present after the massage for the rest of the evening. I enjoyed the view of the waterway over dinner so much more than I would have if I had not stayed present.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Choosing Not to React to Emotions, a reader posted a link to an article about the differences between fear and anxiety. I had never really thought about the differences and found this article to be fascinating. I think this article also explains why I have had negative associations toward anxiety (I always equated “anxious” with “weak” and had a difficult time applying that label to myself.)

According to the article, while people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently struggle with anxiety, the anxiety is a byproduct of a “conditioned fear response,” which distinguishes PTSD from other anxiety disorders. The article argues that the two terms of “fear” and “anxiety” are not interchangeable because they have different causes:

The difference between fear and anxiety starts with the proximity of the threat. The individual in a state of fear perceives the threat to be real and immediate, demanding an active response. The anxious individual, on the other hand, does not perceive an immediate threat; he is focused on a potential threat that looms in the near or distant future. ~ How Fear Differs From Anxiety

The article points out that the person experiencing anxiety is in a state of distress, not fear. The anxious person doesn’t do much to solve the problem because the source of the fear is murky. However, the person who is experiencing fear “perceives the threat to be real and immediate, demanding an active response.”

The article then goes into the scientific explanation, which I hear as the teacher talking in a Charlie Brown cartoon. (My sister is the scientist of the family, not me.) Apparently fear happens in one part of the brain and conditions us at a primal level to react to a trigger as if we are currently in danger. If I am reading this correctly, we get hardwired to react to a trigger as if we are currently in danger, which is very different from feeling distress about something that could happen. We react as if the danger is happening.

More scientific blah, blah, blah stuff, but I think the article is saying that fear conditioning does not imprint the same way that regular learning and memory does. I wonder if this is the reptilian brain that Michael is always talking about?? Interestingly, the fear-state causes changes in the brain, including speech. I wonder if that is why I talk very fast when I am triggered??

This disruption of learning is thought to account for many of the symptoms of PTSD; there is no opportunity for the fearful experience to be processed and transformed into the declarative memory system. Instead, the changes in cellular activity are confined to subcortical structures. Encounters with somatosensory stimuli associated with the trauma continue to trigger the conditioned fear and the cascade of events starts anew, thereby interfering with the opportunity to “learn” (explicitly) that the conditioned stimulus is not a real threat. ~ How Fear Differs From Anxiety

You can read the full article here. It’s fascinating even if you don’t follow all of the science stuff. I’ll have to email the article to my sister and get her to dumb it down for me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Upon my return to therapy, at the end of my first session, I asked my therapist how I can process emotions without being swept away by them. His response was to give me homework the next week. He wants me to pay attention to each time someone pushes my buttons and then fill out a worksheet. These are the four questions he wants me to address:

  1. Identify the people who frequently “press your emotional buttons.”
  2. What emotions do you feel when these people press your buttons?
  3. How do you usually respond when these people press your buttons?
  4. What could be an effective way to disable these emotional buttons (that is, disable the button while feeling the feeling)?

I didn’t need to wait to fill out #1. I am painfully aware of the people who press my buttons, and the main ones live under my roof.

So far, I am beginning each response to #2 with anger. I guess that is progress because I used to react with shame, guilt, and fear of no longer being loved. Now it just p@$$es me off. Underneath the anger is sadness and frustration with my husband and mostly frustration with my kid.

For #3 – How I respond varies depending upon the situation. I was surprised to discover that my husband actually presses my buttons more by the things he doesn’t do than with the things that he says or does. Because he is typically not around when I discover the latest thing he failed to do, I don’t really react since he isn’t around to react to it. It’s more just grumbling in my own head.

I actually had to call a friend and ask if “inaction” counted as button pushing. She said it did, so I am including it. I think it is an interesting thing to note that inaction is what is really bothering me the most with him. Of course, the week is not over yet…

And then there is #4, which remains completely blank. How can I disable these buttons? I have no idea. With my husband, I mostly choose to stop caring. The sad thing is that, the fewer behaviors (or inaction) I care about, the less I care. That can’t be healthy for a marriage.

With my son, I actively choose not to go head-to-head with him because that is counterproductive. I have to step away and think through how to accomplish what I need to accomplish in a different way. Some strategies work nicely, such as rewarding him for making good choices. Other strategies, such as trying to reason with him, don’t work very well at all. He has a variety of special needs, which makes parenting him a challenge since none of the tips in the parenting books work for him.

I am going to keep trying to fill out my worksheet, but I fear that #4 will remain blank.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yellow Flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtI shared yesterday that I have given up alcohol and pills (Xanax) to suppress my emotions. I am, instead, using new tools being provided by my therapist to ride out my emotions without reacting to them.

This was put to the test last night. So far, I have been experiencing flashes of anxiety with no apparent cause. As long as I don’t react to them but, instead, just become compassionately aware of them, they pass.

That did not happen last night when I experienced a full-fledged flood of anxiety. I don’t know what the cause (trigger) was, which was really annoying. If I could have said to myself, “I am feeling X because of Y,” then I could have talked myself down and challenged the lie that was fueling the anxiety. However, because I had no idea why I was being flooded with anxiety, that didn’t work.

I tried using the same visualization that had been working successfully all week (and that I have used for years), but it did not work, either. I visualize that I have an “emotion magnet” that gathers the emotions as I breathe in deeply. Then, as I breathe out, the emotions flow out of my right side. I repeat this process until my mind and body relax. I don’t know why it has to be my right side, but this has worked very well for me, especially with mild triggers.

I tried doing some other things (watching a TV show, burning a lavender-vanilla-scented candle, etc.) to no avail. By now, it was bedtime, and I had to make a choice – Do I give in to the Xanax so I can sleep? Or do I ride this out?

I thought about another metaphor that my former yoga instructor taught me – I am the fire hose, and my emotions are the water coursing through it. No matter how powerful the water flow, I am the hose, not the water. This didn’t work, either … at first.

Then, I don’t know how it happened, but I latched onto my body – I don’t really know how else to describe this – and became very aware that I was grounded, solid, and safe in my body because my body is the hose. As soon as I made this connection, the intensity of the anxiety poured out of me, and I was left with the hose – my body – safe and no longer anxious.

I guess this is what multiple people have been trying to get me to do through deep breathing, etc. I have heard numerous times about grounding yourself through deep breathing, etc., but I never really made the connection about reaching out and grabbing onto my body as a grounding tool. I have mostly seen my body as the “enemy” since childhood because it was the vehicle used to hurt me. For the first time, I truly appreciated being attached to this body.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have my therapy appointment later today, so I thought I would blog about how I am doing before I go. I am sure that therapy will point me in a different direction, so I want to capture my progress so far.

My “homework” from last week was (1) not to react to my emotions but, instead, observe them with compassionate awareness; and (2) not justify or explain myself to others. I have done a better job with #1 than I have with #2. As for #2, I have made progress in noticing when I am explaining myself but have not been very effective so far in stopping myself beforehand. However, I have done a very good job with #1.

I gave myself a third homework assignment to help with #1 that my T did not suggest but did support – ceasing all mood-altering drinks and pills for now. I have not drunk any wine or other alcoholic beverage, taken any Xanax, or even taken any sleep aids in over a week. Before I continue, let me assure you that I have no addiction issues other than food (binge eating). I use alcohol and Xanax to numb the difficult emotions, but there is no physical or compulsive element to this. Food has been a harder demon to slay because I do struggle with compulsive overeating, but I have been making progress in this area as well.

So I went a week without using any external means to numb myself or help me sleep. You know what? It was a much better week than I have had in a long time. That isn’t to say that I did not feel any difficult emotions – I did. The differences were that (1) I did not fuel them; and (2) I did not numb the “good” emotions, like joy. By not fueling the hard emotions while, at the same time, enabling myself to experience the “good” emotions, I achieved an emotional balance that I have not experienced in a long time.

I found that I have an internal “anxiety geyser” that shoots out anxiety several times a day with no apparent trigger. I could be doing something throughout my day, not thinking about anything in particular, and become flooded with anxiety. In the past, I would immediately try to analyze it, which would fuel the anxiety, snowball, and drive me to food, wine, or Xanax to detach from it. Instead, I would simply notice the anxiety without attaching to it, and it would pass.

Giving up sleep aids (which does include wine and Xanax but also melatonin and herbal sleep aids) was harder because I struggle so badly with insomnia. My sleep patterns actually improved this week. I had three nights lying in my bed at 3:00 a.m. looking at the ceiling. Instead of taking a Xanax to fall back to sleep, I popped in a DVD with a comedy I had seen before and listened to it until I fell back to sleep.

I don’t know where I am going next in therapy, but I am very pleased with the results so far!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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