Stabbing Anxiety In the Face With a Soldering Iron, Part 1

Panic attacks, overwhelming urges to freak out, dark thoughts, emotional numbness, emotional rage: good times in the life of an anxiety ridden mind.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I have managed to get a hold on my anxiety this year. Sure, it rears its nasty head sometimes (like yesterday and today, ironically), but it’s so much better than it once was.

So how have I managed it?

Anxiety has two different parts to it, at least mine does, one is a physical part, the other is mental.

The physical part frequently manifests itself as a feeling of dread. I get a tightness in my chest, my heart races, every stimulus becomes overwhelming, and I get an urge to move and yell and just generally explode. It can happen any time, but often after a ton of overstimulation or too much caffeine.

The mental is a bit more difficult to describe. Most people use the word “anxiety” to describe worried thoughts. But what I have experienced is a bit more than that. I had utter dread of future events, inability to think positively about anything, always searching for the negative. I create a hundred scenarios in my head and find every single negative possibility, every single thing that can go wrong, and every reason why those things don’t have a solution. My worry goes beyond the simplicity of “what shall I wear?” or “what will I eat?”

The thing is I know all things will turn out. Intuitively I know God cares for me and will provide. I know I am saved by His grace and I will some day be in Heaven with Him. I’m just not a huge fan of the wait.

But as I read in a quote this week if salvation was merely about attaining heaven we’d have a long gap between baptism and our funeral. God has given me the mind that I have and the personality that I have. He knows that my struggles with my mind and personality will drive me to Him. I sin far too much because my mind wanders….

But I digress. This post is not so much about how I don’t trust as much as it is about how I have learned to trust.

Trust takes care of the mental, I’ll get back to that in Part 2. But first let’s tackle the physical.

I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice without talking to your doctor and doing your own research. This is just what has worked for me.

First, herbal supplements. I take a regimine of passion flower, lemon balm, chamomile, vitamin B, and CBD oil. On top of that I take a multivitamin. The dosage varies depending on how I feel, I may increase on particularly stressful days or decrease when I feel better.

They took awhile to start working but when they did it was a complete change. I actually had a ton of difficulty getting used to having feelings again. My anxiety had numbed me to so much when I actually had clarity it was scary to navigate.

Exercise. This is always the standard answer from most people. “Work out and you’ll feel great!” It doesn’t work like that for me, but combined with the above regimine I find it does wonders. When I stop doing the herbal remedies, or I stop working out, I find it much more difficult to get through the hard times. Panic attacks come back, my focus wanders, and I just generally have a bad time.

That would explain this week…

I also drink a little. I know it’s taboo to recommend alcohol as some people can get addicted. But I find one drink of wine or spirits can sometimes settle my mind enough to help me think clearly. If you are the type of person who struggles with addiction, definitely don’t go this route, but if you can control your appetite then moderate consumption may help you.

Diet has also been a great help. I cut back on sugar and processed junk. I reduced my caffeine intake. I started eating more “real” food. It was a night and day difference. I felt less sluggish. When your body feels good, it’s mush easier for your mind to go along with it.

For acute attacks I have found lavender to be particularly helpful. You can drink it as a tea (chamomile too) or diffuse the essential oil in your room. We also have a lavender lotion that is great for rubbing down tense muscles. Another great essential oil is Palo Santo. Diffuse it with lavender and you’re almost guaranteed to fall asleep!

As I said, I am not a doctor, so don’t take this advice as Gospel. I just have found these things to help with my generalized anxiety. If you have more severe anxiety, or depression, or other mental health issues, these may not work for you.

Next time I will discuss what I have done to get the thoughts under control.

Absence and Fondness Of Heart

There is an expression well known to people who go long periods of time without their significant others.

Absense makes the heart grow fonder.

Well, does it? I mean do you really want that other person around more when they are gone? Do you love them more when you are separated?

My marriage has been a test of this theory for some time. I used to go out once or twice a year on two week assignments, then I took a job that had me gone for two weeks at a time several times a summer. Now my wife has that same job and she spends a week or two away at a time. We won’t even mention the long days at her own station which make her home life basically just sleeping, eating a meal or two, and perhaps marital intimacy if the exhaustion isn’t too much.

Do I miss her? You bet. Do I pine about her lack of presence? No. What’s the use? Do I love her more when she’s away? Not really. In fact we have both found that the busier you are in a period of absence, the less likely you are to have strong feelings about the situation.

If anything, absence actually makes presence more difficult. You get used to a routine without that person. You get used to keeping certain emotions bound up. You stop thinking too much about the situation (and the other person) lest it become painful.

Then they come back. Your routine is muddled. You emotions are stirred. Where there would have been pain is now an empty hole into which you shovel your excitement over the reunion. Absence didn’t make the heart fonder. It kinda made it numb.

With the return comes the feels. Strong feels. So you bicker. Bouts of fighting interspersed with intense passionate embrace. All those emotions that you buried with busy-ness now find themselves naked in the laziness that comes in the arms of your lover. Your heart is no longer numb, it wants to explode.

You confuse your excitement with the negative feelings you had in the absence. It feels like panic, so you seek to suppress it. But your heart won’t let you, so you stutter over your thoughts and words and apologize profusely over the smallest of disagreements.

Absence doesn’t create fondness. There isn’t really a fondness growing at all when she is away. Instead, there is a ton of awkwardness rising up and waiting for the return. And oh so much passion.

I don’t want her around more when she is gone. I just want her to stay more when she is here. Honestly, I would rather she never leave. Especially it it’s only to build up some sort of elusive heart fondness.

Because that doesn’t actually happen anyway.

Stop Fearing Your Own Voice

Kids aren’t afraid of their own voice.

I got an email the other day about writing in your own voice. We grow up being told in school how to write, and writing in your own voice is a big no no. You must write through a filter, just like good speakers talk through a filter. I can’t tell you how many “great” speakers truly grate on me with their speech patterns (Hillary Clinton and Obama both have a cadence that runs me up a wall).

It’s much the same with writers, there are some bloggers who I read once and think “never again.” Sometimes it is because they are too long winded. Sometimes it is because they are too stiff and formal, sometimes they are just trying to sound too fluffy for my tastes.

That article really got me thinking though. I filter a lot. (My 12th grade English teacher would kill me for using “a lot.”) I hold back so much out of fear. Mostly fear of the audience and what they might think, but also just fear of really being myself. (And “really”… she really hated that one.)

Whether it is writing or painting or picking a picture to post (don’t get me started on my guitar playing) I hold back. I don’t put my all into anything, I am afraid of it. I am afraid you will see me for what I am. You will see my flaws, my lack of talent, my lack of ability, or my ignorance. I fear that you will chuckle at me or walk away confused by me. I fear you will think I am a fool or a dork or any number of other pejoratives.

Perhaps I am all too aware of my flaws. Knowing them makes it all the more difficult to show my best. I am not the aloof kindergartner who actually believes his recorder playing sounds good (it never sounds good), I am a grown man who knows what he is trying for and exactly how far off the mark he is.

But just because I am not quite on the mark does not mean that I can’t show off my progress. I am getting ever closer to the mark, when I put in the effort. Whether it be in painting, in writing, in taking pictures, in playing music (that one’s in a holding pattern) or any of the dozen or so things I attempt to do in life, I am progressing.

Not sure if better…
Or just a change in style.

I need not fear my own voice or my own hand, for both are bound to improve with exercise.

And neither should you.

Bad Week

So you had a bad week,

What could you do?

Providence isn’t always easy,

What we all go through.

Maybe you were tired,

Maybe you ate too much junk.

Maybe you indulged

In sin or in too much.

Maybe you fed your guilt,

Or stroked your shame.

Maybe you didn’t give your sins to God,

And instead soaked in blame.

So you had a bad week,

Everyone does,

Sometimes.

Will next week be better?

Who’s to say?

Perhaps it will get better,

Maybe it will stay the same.

You can’t always control the circumstances,

Just how you respond.

And I promise you this:

If you respond the same,

The bad will remain.

So change.

Hang-Ups

Kids and hangups? Ha!

What is your biggest hang-up?

For some it’s their body, for others it’s social interaction. Maybe you have bedroom hang-ups, or food hang-ups. I’m sure we are all aware of something that we just can’t quite get over.

But what about unconscious ones?

What hang-ups are lurking in your sub-conscious mind?

I took medications for years for a painful back. Very rarely did they help, and they came with the unpleasant need for blood work every six months or so just to make sure my liver was handling the stress. These days it’s difficult to take even herbal remedies (which I have found to actually work) because somewhere in my mind I am expecting nothing.

Like many people, marriage led to weight gain. I gained over 35 lbs after tying the knot. Diet, lack of exercise, stress, parenthood, there were so many factors it was hard to fix them all. It wasn’t until I switched careers to one that made me work out that I began to see a downward movement in my weight. Even then it took a drastic change in diet to get back to what I was on our wedding day.

Well, guess what my new hang-up became?

Carbs.

I got so good at counting them that I became almost phobic. And when you cut back on carbs you start eating less in general. Which leads to losing more weight than you really wanted to. In the month I have been on this mountain I have lost ten lbs. I am way more active than I am at home and I am sitting at 9,000 ft. My basal metabolism is higher, my activity level is higher, but my calorie intake is lower. I have gone too far.

It is really hard to tell yourself “eat more” when you remember what that extra 35 lbs felt like.

Hang-ups are trained into us. For years my wife suffered debilitating depression, and I adapted my behaviors around hers. I changed my personality, my habits, and my speech. My thought patterns were molded by how I expected her to respond. My very being was changed.

College psychology class was full of boring lectures and seemingly crack-pot ideas about how humans behave. But from what I have observed, people really do react and adapt to stimuli in sometimes bizarre ways.

Now that she is not depressed my brain is having a fit retraining itself to respond properly to her new and different stimuli. I expect her to be one way and act accordingly, but she is so different now my predictions hardly land correct.

There is so much I avoid doing or saying around her, all because of the training my brain endured for eight years. These hang-ups are hardly ever conscious. Like Pavlov’s famous puppies my body and behaviors have simply learned to respond according to what my mind expects.

What do I do with these hang-ups?

Well, the first step is realizing that I have them. As so many of them are subconscious it usually takes a secondary factor (like ten lbs of weight loss) to realize they are there.

Then it takes discipline and concious effort to change the behavior that results from the hang-up. Eat more, eat carbs, eat when you aren’t hungry but know you should. Talk to your wife, tell her what you like about her, pinch her butt, kiss her in public because you want to, ask her to do things you need. Take your medicine, even if you aren’t sure it will work, don’t stop taking it when you discover it does actually work (this will make it stop working, dummy).

You won’t necessarily be able to get rid of the hang-up. It may still lurk somewhere back there, whispering lies, trying to keep you locked up in it. But by changing your behavior, conciously and consistently, you will break it of its power.

How do you handle your hang-ups?

Epiphany

Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you feel? Like you just have a blockage somewhere and you wish something could come along and clear out the pipes of your soul?

I don’t know if I have ever used the term “emotional constipation” on this site, but it is a phrase which occasionally pops into my brain. This constipation frequently occurs when I have nothing to worry about.

Anxiety is like fiber in that it really pushes all that emotional crap out into the world. It’s an extroverted emotion that wants to display itself and be the center of attention.

Peace on the other hand… Peace just likes to be. When I am at peace I tend to hole up and be insulated. I need no one to share with, no one to dump on. When life is stress free, nothing moves.

Stillness can be great, don’t get me wrong. But my natural inclinations are towards worry, so when nothing is moving I feel like a marble on a tabletop. I just roll wherever I am tilted.

This leads to conflict, I don’t know what I am feeling. Am I at peace? Am I secretly anxious? What should I be? Then I get meta-feelings about my feelings. Or non-feelings. Whichever happen to be occurring at the moment. Then I get all clogged up, not knowing which way to go.

How do I solve this blockage? Simple: stress. Writing, reading, sex, painting, singing, praying, a walk, running, weight lifting, forcing myself to do something intense, anything which puts a load on my body or my mind to the point where it just can’t hold anymore.

Some people need peace and quiet. I need a challenge.

Seasons

This is my third season.

In fire, we describe a firefighter’s experience level in terms of “seasons”. A typical season is six months long and can be quite arduous. Sometimes the season is busy and physically demanding, sometimes it is slow and mentally exhausting. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

This is my third season as a stay at home dad. So far I find that parenting is a lot like that as well.

My first season began in Truth Or Consequences, NM. My wife handed me the keys to our truck and trailer and said “don’t destroy our house.” She went off to fire boot camp and left me to find a camping spot for five kids, two cats, a dog, and me. I never felt so free and optimistic. I was newly unemployed, and she had no job prospects, but I felt like we were finally headed in a good direction.

That first season we stayed with family in Virginia. She worked 60 hour weeks and I battled family disagreements, juggled school and play, and tried to keep seven people fed well. It had its problems, but for the most part it was easy. I felt like I accomplished something. I felt that I had it under at least some control.

Then came the second season. After a fire season in New Mexico, we returned to our home in Florida. I now had to worry about more than just a couple rooms and a trailer. I had an entire house to care for. I stumbled. I failed. I succeeded in some, I completely missed the mark in others.

It wasn’t completely the role reversal we were going for, and I almost wonder if that is part of where the struggles came from. I still worked. I still tried to take on more than I could. I let some things slide and over focused on others.

I didn’t even realize my failures.

Now I am in my third season, the beginning clearly marked by a new living space and a stable schedule. I have only 200 square feet to care for, not nearly the same distraction as 1800. I have been given an opportunity to make a good season.

This is going to require focus and determination, two things which don’t come to me easily. I intend to learn in a small space what I couldn’t in the impersonal space of extended family’s houses or the “large” overwhelming space of an entire house. This tiny space doesn’t require too much work, unlike the tiny people in it. They are going to be a main focus this time in a way they weren’t in previous seasons.

If I can’t handle this, I definitely can’t handle a “normal” living quarters.

Some Friends and Some Work

I tried for bigger piles..

We made it to Mississippi… I mentioned yesterday that we might not get far, I was correct.

We met up with some friends and spent our day playing with a chainsaw, fires, children, and chihuahuas. Two of these things are not like the others.

I made a friend

We weren’t really planning to work, but when someone has a giant tree cut down in their yard, and you have a chainsaw you have been itching to play with… You get the picture.

I made seats

2030 rolls around and the question comes up “hey, weren’t we going to leave?” “Yeah, I guess we should…” Followed by another 30 minutes of child wrangling, route picking, and cat crate loading.

At 2100 we were finally on the road and headed to the first of three stops. It wasn’t supposed to be three, but when you are relying on truck stops for sleeping space you sometimes end up with a dud. The third time was a charm and after some yelling about water “I’m firsty!!” from the three year old, we managed to get some rest.

I almost forgot how nice it is to drag your home along with you. I actually longed to go to bed last night. It wasn’t just because I was weaving a bit on the road from exhaustion either. People think we are crazy to cram seven people in a 27 foot travel trailer. Maybe we are, but it is home to us. And strangely, it’s more home than our brick house.

Perhaps I will give you a tour when we settle in for the season….

Mending Of Broken Things

‘Twas the fuel pump that did her in.

Almost a month to the day and we fixed the broken truck!

Over the past two days I’ve completely emptied and cleaned our trailer, did several loads of laundry, organized some very irritatingly cluttered tools, and replaced a fuel filter.

That last one was no small feat. Thanks to some brilliant engineering, the fuel pump of our “trusty” Expedition is buried inside the fuel tank. With much wrenching (and a couple fuel soaked shirts) I managed to get the tank down and out.

Then came the fun part…

The same brilliant engineers (I assume) decided that a rusty piece of steel was needed to hold the pump in place. According to the Haynes manual one should use a special tool to get this off. Or… a brass tap and a hammer.

Why brass? “To prevent sparks.”

I was not deterred! Armed with a hammer and very non-brass screwdriver I laid into it.

Thankfully no death occurred.

The ring popped off and the old pump was removed. Determined to make sure it was the pump that died, I plugged it in and had the wife turn the key just to see what happened.

Nothing!

Aha! It was the pump!

After running the same test with the new pump and finding it in working order, in went the new pump. With the same deadly hammer and screwdriver combination the ring was tapped back on.

Again, no death. I think those Haynes folks are a bit too cautious.

After the successful pump installation came lots of cussing and bruised knuckles as the tank was reattached to the dead truck.

Then: The Moment of Truth.

Sputter, sputter, give it some gas…

It’s alive!!!

I have not been this happy in a long time. Not that I showed it. But you know, there was a moment where I danced a little on the inside. It was awesome.

This was going on… In the fuel tank… Eek.

And then I was thoroughly exhausted. The wife suggested that I do a manly thing and take a bubble bath and drink a little wine to celebrate.

So I did (minus the wine). Then to be really manly, I enjoyed a cigar and a Kentucky Mule (the only good kind of mule IMHO).

No shirt to boot. Oh so manly!

Not a bad way to end a day.

The best part of the experience was my very excited nine year old exclaiming “You fixed it! Now we can get out of the ugly house!”

She’s looking forward to western adventures.

As am I.

Learning Definitions

Hey Google, what does ____ mean?

How frequently do you find out you’ve been using a word incorrectly your entire life? For me it was fairly infrequent. Until I started fighting anxiety that is.

Need

Should

Want

Shame

Guilt

All of those words are ones that I had always used without consideration for the real definitions.

You may have noticed that the five words fit into two categories. The first three go together as do the second two.

“I need to do this.” I have lived my life believing so much of what I did was a need when most things are simply induced by my own harsh expectations or those of others. While it is correct to say that a dish needs to be washed, it is not correct to say that I need to do it.

More correctly I should say “I should wash that dish.” It is an obligation of my responsibility to my family to ensure that dishes are clean, therefore I should wash them. But I don’t need to. I won’t die if I don’t.

Want is different entirely. I can want what I need, but wants aren’t needs. I should want what I need, but I am not limited to only wanting what I need. I can want other things. Nonetheless, I need far less than I want, and I want far more than I should.

Now, the last two words are nearly always conflated in common parlance. Guilt is not shame. Shame is not guilt. The two are related, but not the same.

Guilt is a forensic term. It is a statement of fact. “You did the thing.” You are either guilty or you are not. While it may take a jury to sort through the evidence, there should be no doubt in your mind whether or not you did the thing.

Shame on the other hand is how you feel about that guilt. You can have guilt without shame, and you can have shame without guilt. Both of those conditions are dangerous for the soul. One is the main ingredient in damnation, the other is the main ingredient in anxiety. One is cured by the Law and the other is cured by the Gospel. I’m working on the shame problem, Jesus took care of the guilt.

One day I will get my words right. Until then you’ll just have to keep reading these little blog posts.