Level Up

Just read my summary of 2019 from a few posts down and how it was a “surreal” year. lol

I didn’t even know what that meant. Just clueless as to what was to come, and kept on coming into 2021. In retrospect, 2019 was the last year containing anything of what, in my life, I had considered to be normal. That was a more innocent time, when you were likely more able to tell from an article’s headline that it was from The Onion. However, as much as 2020 was a mind-effer, a horrible time in many people’s lives, it was a bit of a smashing year for me. The first half was a bit shaky, for reasons described two posts ago. After I went all in with my pregnancy, everything became exciting and rather interesting. After my 28th birthday in late June is, I’d say, when life itself seemed to bloom and glow. It’s a time forever seared in my memory as sunshine and rainbows. Potentially traumatic things occurred, particularly during the birth, and I just merrily hopped my way through them.

Then here comes 2021 all, “Here, have some fascists reaching a breaking point, and a snowpocalypse, and a bunch of people refusing to do their part to protect the public health, prolonging this pandemic situation. Oh, and a bunch of other people thinking it will be okay because Trump is no longer president. This is the world your child lives in.” These types of things give me anxiety, and that’s not the type of response that I want to be typical for Lucy. If I’m going to teach her healthy habits and great coping skills, obviously I need to be modeling that to the best of my ability. So that’s something I just have to work on figuring out for myself. Reducing social media use is a good start. My mind isn’t that different from Lucy’s. Just a little redirection helps.

Another source of anxiety is the whole, “I’m about to turn 30, where has time gone, didn’t think I’d make it this far, etc.” Imagine what 15-year-old me would think if I knew that there I would be, at 30, still on my same bullshit. Surely I’d have figured it all out by now? At the very least, I’d have wanted to roll into 30 with the ability to say, “I’m super happy with how far I’ve come, especially in the last nine months during which I became committed to making better choices in my day-to-day life.” No previous-aged me would want to wake up on my 30th birthday and think, “Damn it. Back on my bullshit.”

So that’s one source of intrinsic motivation: wanting to wake up on my 30th birthday not feeling like a piece of shit.

That’s up to the choices I make in any given moment. “Oh, there’s a muffin sitting on the counter. I am not hungry, but I am a little bored. It looks good. Well, go for it.” That’s a common thought process. But it’s evolving into, “Muffins, irrelevant. Anything on the countertops, irrelevant. What am I here for? Oh, I’m filling up my water bottle. Let’s do that.”

If I’m being honest with myself, though, my approach will need to be more disciplined. I can’t keep coasting on tiny improvements. I’m holding back when I know I’m capable of more. In a manner of speaking, it’s time to throw another bowling pin into my juggling routine.

Over one year later…

Hopefully no one was waiting for an update, because I never did follow up with that last post containing very special news. I suppose I had hoped to keep a record of my pregnancy journey, but that ship has sailed.

My daughter was born Thanksgiving Day 2020. She was three weeks early. I’ll save the birth story for another day… or another year, perhaps, given my consistency of updating this blog. Bottom line is, I have been doing the mom thing for 10 months now. She is the true love of my life. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I was expecting it to be much more challenging than it’s been. She’s a treasure, a beauty, an absolute delight. On this blog, I will refer to her as Lucy.

I have returned to this blog and am giving it new purpose:

  • Accountability to myself and a potential audience
  • Communicating my goals and the actions I take to achieve them
  • Sharing my experience in case it helps somebody else in their personal journey
  • Seeking opportunities to receive suggestions and constructive criticism

There are several abandoned blogs out there that belong to me. Anytime the hiatus becomes too extensive, my solution has been to just start fresh with a new one. This time, though, the idea of “starting fresh” is counter to my ever-evolving perspective.

I want this to be a blog that documents my journey of wellness. I have been on many “wellness journeys,” lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months before I returned to the behaviors of dysfunction. I can’t say it will be different “this time around.” But I’m trying a new strategy.

It isn’t just about replacing poor habits with healthy ones. It’s about facilitating changes to my mindset that are in better accordance with my life circumstances and promote my wellbeing. An error that I have typically made in the past was an attempt to dissociate my “old” self from a “new” self, the past from the present. There is no new self and there is no temporal line of demarcation. There is just me and right now, same as it’s ever been. When I was pregnant, this false belief in magical transformations led me to believe that when I had my baby, somehow my bad habits would make way for better ones. How did I imagine this would occur? Maternal hormones? Sheer force of will driven by necessity? I didn’t think too deeply on it. But no. Becoming a mom didn’t imbue a sense of momness in me. I’m still just me, and I have a daughter. And the obstacles that stood in my way before are the same ones facing me now.

The obstacles mainly come from the sum of the beliefs, behaviors and assumptions that underlie my decisions from one moment to the next. I’ve come to recognize many of my typical thought processes as toxic. Part of me has been aware of them, and I have, over the years, evolved in my perspectives and outward treatment of people and situations. But the underlying core of the toxicity has yet to be challenged out in the open. The result is anxiety and stagnation. I’m not here to get into the nitty gritty of all the ways this toxicity manifests. That’s mainly something to sort out with my therapist. I couldn’t put it into words, anyway. It’ll be one of those “I’ll point it out when it happens” sort of thing. I know I must have blind spots, but when they cause me to stall, perhaps a bit of examination will help me realize what the root of that roadblock is.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been building some momentum. They’re just little decisions that serve to tweak or disrupt the routine I had built upon many deleterious habits.

I’ve deleted my Facebook and spend more time writing in my journal. Facebook alone wasn’t the main issue, though. I waste a lot of time on my phone. It just happens that Facebook was the least productive thing I could have possibly been doing on my phone. The time I wasted on Facebook has mostly been replaced by wasting time on YouTube. At least YT is somewhat useful in that it contains informative videos that are useful in my studies, but it still induces a mindless scroll in a quest for the next dopamine hit. I would ultimately like to be liberated from the mindless scroll. And it is possible. Last year, I entered the world of Reddit. Spent a few months in that ditch until I decided, some time after giving birth, that it wasn’t doing me any good. Then Twitter happened. I was casually watching the news on January 6 and witnessing in real time as hilarity ensued. Just absolutely enthralled, I hopped onto the Twitterverse for moment-by-moment updates and random takes. Inevitably, I became mired in the Twitter hellscape. Never in my life had putting my phone down been so impossible. After a couple months of that, I knew I had a problem. Thankfully, Twitter made it easy by banning me. I could have made a new profile (wouldn’t have been the first time), but decided to put it to rest forever. No. More. Twitter. Ever. Again. Point is, I’ve seen my rock bottom, and I’m not going anywhere but up from here.

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Watching the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6

I’ve cut way down on the amount of fast food I eat. When I do opt for fast food, I make healthier choices. If there’s a decent salad on the menu, that’s what I get (not the 1000 calorie bacon-and-cheese loaded ones). I drink more water than I used to, thanks to the Hydro Cell water bottle I carry around (love that it’s a straw). I’ve been taking an unprecedented amount of walks in the past month.

I’m still not great at picking up after myself, but my room doesn’t get quite as messy as it used to get. On many days, I feel inclined to at least throw loose articles of laundry into the hamper and remove the accumulation of Diet Coke containers.

I’m doing things that get me hyped to build on these baby habits. I made a workout playlist and bought some workout clothes that I’m eager to use. I took some photos of myself thinking that maybe, in six months, I may look quite a bit different.

The past month or so has felt a bit like a trial period for the leveling-up that I’m ready to do. It’s been a pretty minimal effort so far, and already I’ve noticed some cool things happening. I still wear a lot of maternity clothing, but they’re fitting loose. I’m down to my pre-pregnancy weight, such that it was. My energy level has generally gone up. Now I’m imagining what I could accomplish if I raised the bar, go from an effort level of 4/10 to 7/10. Add a few bursts of 10/10.

My only other option is to maintain a perpetual sense of helplessness because of the state of the world we’re living in. Anxiety doesn’t do me any good or my daughter any good. It doesn’t do the world any good. Does calamity and suffering lie ahead? Probably. All the more reason to appreciate the peace that I’m privileged with today, from which I can comfortably build habits that will better serve me when times become tough.

Welcome back. Join me in my glow-up.

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Panic! everywhere

For almost ten years on the dot, panic attacks and anxiety have been the bane of my existence. If I experienced anxiety before that, it was minor compared to the monster that was about to be unleashed. I woke up one day as a high school sophomore, and went to bed that night as a whimpering ball of existential terror. One acute episode of absolute panic triggered what will probably be a lifetime of chronic generalized anxiety.

Some details I had left out in my previous accounts of this event to friends and family, but I’m not embarrassed by that anymore. So this is the full story.

At my high school, we had what was called Mentorship Day. The seniors would be assigned to a classroom of underclassmen of varying grade levels and would give a 45-minute long presentation on a mentorship project they’d spent the year on, usually as it related to their chosen career path.

I was not a senior, of course. For the rest of us underclassmen, it was supposed to be a chill day of staying in the same classroom as seniors filtered in and out to give their presentations. The classroom I was assigned to was that of my English teacher, Mr. Scott. The first person did their presentation without incident. I think it was during the second presentation that my brain short-circuited.

The story I’ve previously told involved overthinking the whole presentation thing and freaking out over the inevitable fact that in two years, that would be me speaking to a bunch of kids for almost an hour.

The truth is that I really, really had to take a shit.

I didn’t want to interrupt the presentation, however. So I sat there, sweating, and pleading with my bowels to not cause any embarrassment for me with a fart or whatever. The pressure became too much. I forgot how to breathe. I thought I was dying. I gesticulated wildly to Mr. Scott from my seat and mouthed, “I can’t breathe.” He nodded toward the door, and I silently slipped out of there.

Apparently I didn’t have to take a shit after all. I tried and nothing happened. I also tried to throw up, because I certainly felt like it. Ultimately, I paced in the hallway and then sat on a bench with my head between my legs, hyperventilating. Mr. Scott sent a classmate to check on me, and I explained that I thought I was dying. They walked me to the nurse’s office, and I told her my symptoms: shortness of breath, sweating, clammy hands, fast heart rate, and certainty of impending doom. A heart attack, probably. But she treated it as she would any panic-ridden student, and lo and behold, I began to feel better. She said if it happened again to come back and she’d send me home.

After lunch, I got confused about where to go because the next presentation was going to take place outside of a classroom. Nobody I asked knew where Mr. Scott was. So I just went back to the nurse, said I’d had another panic attack (I hadn’t), and she sent me home.

In the weeks after that, I discovered it was not to be a one-time thing. Every once in a while it seemed like a raging storm was threatening on the horizon; it was like an aura, which usually precedes migraines, but for panic attacks instead. I’d do what the nurse instructed and breathe deeply, desperately trying to keep myself from being swept away.

After a while, I was able to keep my shit together during the day, but when I lay down at night, there was no other option but to ponder how horrifying it is to exist, how death is inescapable, blablabla, basically just chipping away at my own sanity until I managed to fall asleep.

I suppose that was the story of my life for the next few years. I did a great job on my mentorship presentation, considering all the time I’d had to prepare. I can’t remember how often I weathered panic attacks. Over time all the stress of worsening bipolar II, depression, and identity crisis after identity crisis resulted in dropping out of college, going back, dropping out again, going back, changing my major several times, and working several crappy restaurant jobs. Age 18 through 23 was a blur, and I didn’t retain very much from that time.

Things came to a head in early 2014 or 2015 (again, it’s a blur, so I don’t know what the timeline is). My anxiety manifested itself through clamminess and vomiting. I became suicidal. I was so afraid of dying that I wanted to be dead. I knew death itself was infinitely better than the anxiety associated with fearing it. I have always been a huge hypochondriac, and I was convinced I was dying of multiple things at once. I went to the ER one night for suicidality, which was entirely useless. Feeling dehumanized by sitting in a hallway in a hospital gown and no one around me paying me any notice, not allowed my phone, sitting for hours with absolutely no idea of when anyone is going to do anything about me, only to have a five-minute Skype session with a psychiatrist in India, was not helpful in the least.

A few weeks after that, I was feeling suicidal again, so I followed my psychiatrist’s recommendation and drove to Laurel Ridge, a psychiatric and substance abuse facility. I assured them that I didn’t believe I was in any actual danger, and just wanted help, so I was admitted to their outpatient program. And that really turned my life around.

I hear doing inpatient there is a different story, but the outpatient program was pretty good, I thought. I was there from 7:30 AM to 2:00 PM, Monday through Friday. I’d eat breakfast there, always biscuits and gravy. We did group therapy of various sorts, meditation, yoga, and even slack-lining. I learned about grounding, wellness tool-kits, and safety planning. I filled out worksheets that helped me visualize a future for myself. Most importantly, the psychiatrist diagnosed me as bipolar and prescribed mood stabilizers. And wow. I just can’t believe how much I needed that, and how long I’d gone without it.

I enrolled in summer classes at SAC, and applied and was admitted to UTSA as a psychology major. After a while I got the sense that the facility was keeping me there to milk my insurance, because I had cycled through the entire curriculum and things were getting repetitive. I was able to get out of there because the summer session at SAC was about to commence.

The next two years whizzed by. I never knew what an excellent student I could be. I finally graduated with a 3.6 GPA. For the most part, anxiety wasn’t taking over my life.

Things are different in the springtime, however. Just based on various traumas that always seemed to occur in the spring, it is a time associated with great anxiety. It’s also a time associated with the peace and calm of my stay at Laurel Ridge. So seeing as it’s spring right now, I am simultaneously a nervous wreck and a sentimental fool. I eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast several times a week. I sit out on my swing in the morning, peacefully reflective of the things I learned while there. I dry heave at night and go to bed early before the anxiety makes me sick. This is my life, before the heat of the summer evaporates my anxiety and replaces it with straight-up crankiness. Then fall and winter comes and everything is alright.

So that’s just an introduction to my experience with panic attacks and generalized anxiety. I will probably make future anxiety-related posts that are more specific, such as coping mechanisms, triggers, etc., so stay tuned for that and more.