Wednesday, February 6, 2019

What Self-Care Really Looks Like

This year has been very challenging for me, and it's only February.  Last year--December 9th to be exact--something traumatic occurred and changed my life for[probably]ever.  I'm not really ready to open up about it to thousands of strangers on the internet, but maybe one day I'll get there.  This incident sent me reeling in a way I've never experienced before.  I was totally out of control (in the literal sense), hurt, and scared because of the way things unfolded and continued to play out over the following week.  I was immediately more depressed, sad, and apathetic than I've ever been before.  I would say I was emotionless, because my face didn't change for the entire week, but there were plenty of emotions brewing below the surface.  I cried more in two weeks than I have in 10 years, and at times I felt like I ran out of tears so I would silently sob on the floor of the shower until my lungs could calm down.  It pains me to admit it, but there were several days I did not want to be alive and began formulating plans to make it so.  My anxiety kicked into high gear as I began to catastrophize about the implications this event would have on my future and the rest of my life.  I was free-falling into a bottomless black smoke and it was increasingly harder to think about or interact with anything other than the situation I was in.  There were only a handful of people I felt I could turn to, and they are honestly the reason I am still alive.  I realize this is very vague, intentionally, but the whole story is probably none of your business, especially over the internet... sorry!

The weeks immediately following are still a blur, including Christmas and the handful of days and events leading up to it.  On December 16th I started taking an SSRI to help with PTSD and benzodiazepines to help with anxiety.  The doctor put me on Lexapro (escitalopram) and Xanax (alprazolam).  This was my second time ever being placed on an anti-depressant; the first time was in early college, but to be honest I don't really remember why (I think I was feeling depressed as a side-effect of another medication I was taking at the time, but quickly figured that out).  Previously I was placed on Fluoxetine and I just remember hating it.  I was nervous to try Lexapro after hearing stories from friends (and Kanye West, tbh) but I figured anything was better than how I was feeling at that moment.  I started taking 10MG every night because my doctor warned me it would probably make me drowsy for the first week or two.  I don't know if it was the dosage or just my body's response, but I was drowsy for much longer than that.  I was drowsy all day long, peaking around 2-3pm, and it became almost impossible to put in a full day's work without stopping to sleep.  I felt high or buzzed or in some altered state of mind whenever I was around others and being social.  I lost all my energy and enthusiasm for my job and for life.  I felt like I couldn't think straight.  Mainly, though, I didn't feel my depression lift and if anything, it felt worse.  I was even becoming more depressed because I was missing so much work and so many events due to drowsiness.

EMDR Equipment
In the first week of January I started seeing a new therapist, and I say new because I was seeing someone last year for completely different, "normal" preventive-maintenance reasons.  The therapist I'm now currently seeing specializes in the type of trauma I experienced.  I was skeptical of him at first because he is older, and takes his time when he speaks, but he really does know his stuff.  At my first visit he diagnosed me with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and panic disorder.  I was diagnosed with OCD as a child, but I believe I've outgrown it, and this therapist believes these diagnoses are only disorders when they negatively affect our life, which is not the case for me with OCD anymore.  For all the disorders I have, we've decided EMDR would be a good therapy for me, so we have been working toward that and will probably do our first session this weekend.  There is a lot of groundwork done before you can begin the actual EMDR therapy.  EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and is a technique used to relieve psychological stress, often stemming from traumatic events.  In the same way that REM sleep allows us to process the events of our day (and conjure our vivid dreams), EMDR allows one to revisit and reprocess a traumatic event to begin healing and preventing future trauma.  It involves the use of lights and pulsators in your hands to help guide your eyes back and forth as the session takes place; recreating the REM state.  I haven't had a full session yet so I can't explain much further, but hey, that's what google and youtube are for. ;)

It was around this same time (early January) that I noticed my left leg going numb.  It started as a slight "pins and needles" feeling in my foot and leg, and eventually they became fully numb.  Over the next week it spread to my right foot and started creeping up the left side of my body.  On top of that, my feet felt freezing cold all the time and I've since purchased a foot warmer for my desk, and acrylic socks to wear around the house.  Thankfully, because I work from home I rarely have to wear shoes or tight pants.  It wasn't until I had a weekend photoshoot where I wore heeled boots and skinny jeans that I realized this was going to be a problem.  Pain shot up my legs for the entire 2 hours of our shoot, and I honestly don't know how I got through it.  Probably yoga breathing (which I'm getting quite good at).  When I got home I had a huge blister on the bottom of my right foot and my back was radiating pain worse than I had ever felt before (I seriously think it was the same pain one would have after throwing their back out).  I began considering alternative medicines.  James and I drove to the local dispensary late in the evening (yes, we went to a weed shop) and bought their strongest nerve-pain cream that they sold.  It cost a pretty penny, but it was worth it.  I took a long bath with a CBD bath bomb, and then applied the cream all over my legs and back.  When I woke up the following morning I had no pain in my legs or back but the numb, tingling sensation was still present.  I made an appointment and met with my primary doctor who was just as baffled as I was about the strange symptoms I was having.  She did a blood panel to test my thyroid, B12, and other factors (which all came back normal) and said the next step would probably be an MRI of my brain to rule out a tumor or other CNS problem.  That really escalated my anxiety surrounding the situation and I felt like the MRI was a bit extreme without trying other things first.  (At this visit I also told my doctor I wasn't feeling improvement from Lexapro, and she suggested taking it in the morning instead of at night, so I made that change.)

Magnetic Needles

I did a quick search online and found an acupuncturist in my neighborhood who could see me right away.  My first visit was a little anxiety-inducing, because I had no idea what to expect, but now it is something that I look forward to (I am still going to this day).  The place I go to is small and hidden in the corner of an old medical plaza and the doctor is a very old school acupuncturist who has been doing this since 1990 (I read an article about him in the waiting room and could hardly recognize the photo of him).  This was my first real experience with eastern medicine but I am convinced there is something to it.  For anyone who hasn't tried acupuncture before, it's really not bad.  The needles are long and thin (about the thickness of a human hair) and they go in so quickly you can't feel it except for the split-second that they connect to the energy source or nerve.  If you are having a flare up, those nerves may be more sensitive and painful, but in general I didn't experience any pain in my sessions.  The doctor would put in the needles (about 20-30) and leave me under a heat lamp for 30+ minutes.  After he came in and removed them he would do cupping on the spots that had the most sensitivity--my lower back and my left butt cheek.  I've had cupping done before at physical therapy, but this was authentic Chinese cupping where he lit a match under the cup in order to achieve suction. After a few minutes of cupping he did a quick acupressure massage (like the cheap reflexology massages everyone is so into these days) and lastly, he applied magnetic needles.  The look like little circle/spot bandaids, but they have tiiiiiny little needles that stay stuck in your skin until they fall off in the shower a few days later.  I've had trouble with these because I do a lot of floor time in yoga and pilates, so they poke me and cause a lot of pain during class (so I usually take them out after 24 hours).  The doctor always prescribes herbs based on your condition, so I have been taking a root/herb medley 3x per day for the past month.  I wish I could say that acupuncture has eradicated the pain and numbness in my legs but it hasn't gone away entirely.  My left leg has improved immensely but now my left rib cage/back are numb (no tingling) so as of today we've started targeting that spot.  While my primary concern and reason for trying acupuncture was my leg numbness and tingling, we've also started doing treatment for anxiety and depression, which involves putting needles in my face.  It's not as bad as it sounds, I promise! 

After a lot of research, I've realized my numbness/tingling could be a side effect of my medication.  I've also decided I do not want to be on Lexapro anymore, since the pros do not come close to outweighing the cons.  With consent from my primary doctor I've tapered down from 10MG to 5MG and I already feel much better.  I don't really see my depression lessening, but the drowsiness is almost completely gone (which makes it more bearable).  The same time I switched my dose was also when I noticed the numbness shift from my leg to my ribs, so that's when I started putting the dots together.  I am curious to see if it will stop once I've worked my way off Lexapro completely.  I have an appointment with a psychiatrist in early March (that was the soonest I could get in to see anyone!) at which point I plan to discuss whether I'm still a good candidate for an SSRI or if I can be off of it, given everything going on in my life this coming year.  While I am disinclined to be on a prescription medication, I can admit that it may be what I need for the next year or two, and hopefully I can be off of it relatively soon after that. 

In addition to acupuncture, talk therapy, EMDR and medication, I've also been keeping up with yoga.  I've been practicing yoga for 2 years now and it has become a huge relief for me since my two hip surgeries which left me unable to run recreationally.  While I started going for the calorie burn and physical benefits, I quickly learned it was more helpful for my mind and for learning breathing techniques.  When I am having a panic attack, I know I can breathe my way out of it.  I do Bikram yoga, commonly referred to as hot yoga, and it is amazing for stretching out sore muscles and sweating out toxins (be it literal or figurative).  I feel pleasantly exhausted and relaxed after class.  I've been trying to go 3 times a week but sometimes I physically have no energy (thanks, Lexapro) so I've really only been going twice a week (I hope to increase that!).

So now that I've written a long, seven paragraph blog about all the things going wrong with me, I guess I could explain why I'm writing.  1, I really don't want to forget all of this.  Another side-effect of my medication is that I have been having trouble remembering things; I'm not as sharp (mentally) as I normally am.  I want to remember what happened and what I did to "fix" it, and if somehow this can help someone going through something similar, that's definitely an added bonus. 2, I want to explain that this is the most progressive and radical self-care I've ever been able to practice, and more people should start taking care of themselves sooner than later.  So many people have come out of the woodworks since I've shared about this on social media, but it scares me how many people aren't getting the help that they need.  I always thought self-care meant getting a massage or having my nails done while kicking back on the weekend with a nice drink.  Basically I thought it meant taking a "cheat day" from real life and its stresses.  What I've realized over the past two months is that self-care is so much more than that, and is so, so important.  It's about being brutally honest with yourself and taking steps to nurture and take care of your soul.  I heard a quote today that self-care is the opposite of the golden rule--don't treat yourself any different (or less) than you would treat someone else.  As a person who habitually people-pleases and goes out of my way to serve others, this hit home and made a lot of sense.  So often I put my needs last or I minimize the severity of the things going on in my brain because I don't want to make time to work on it.  I also worry about money a lot, and have a hard time spending money on mental health.  This is so backwards!  You can't pour out of an empty cup, and you can't have a sustainable, joyful life if your brain is sick or suffering.  Instead of seeing these things as momentary "fixes" for my current situation, I am writing this blog because I want to challenge myself to continue seeking out lasting self-care practices.  What good is it to gain the whole world, but lose your soul?  Why do I allow myself to treat myself as poorly as I do?  I want to practice three things radically this year {and after}: honesty, self-care, and self-love. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ancestry DNA Results

This year for Christmas James and I both received Ancestry DNA kits to discover our genetic makeup and origins.  The day after Christmas we both spit in separate little vials, then mailed them off for processing.  The kit said it would take 6-8 weeks for results (bummer!) but to our surprise we were thrilled to get them just three weeks later.

Being a germaphobe, bottling my saliva in a vial was worse than getting my blood drawn, but I digress..

Here are my results: Mostly German, with a really small amount of other European sprinkled in.  You can see most of my family was also part of a large migration from Ireland in the 1700s.

Here are James' results: Mostly Scandinavian, but with a fair amount of other European countries mixed in.  Because he has built his family tree extensively through, we can even see the migration patterns of his direct family members during two large migrations in very early US history (1600-1700s).

James explained to me that this test doesn't necessarily show you where your ancestors came from (migration-wise), but that it matches DNA patterns in your cells to common markers from different people groups all over the world.  So even though I can trace my family members entering the States through Ellis Island from both Germany and Ireland, the physical traits I have and the DNA patterns in my body most closely resemble pure German genetic traits.  James' results were a bit more intriguing, because he has no known ancestors from Scandinavian countries, mainly just the British Isles, France, and the Czech Republic.  It would be interesting to try and trace his family back far enough to find out!

If I'm being honest, these results left me feeling a little disappointed.  Partly because I was hoping for some surprise amount of diversity, but also because they arrived in my inbox the morning after visiting the Holocaust museum and listening to a survivor share her stories of her captivity and the german SS soldiers.  Now I know my family members were already in the United States well before the 1930s and had no part in that, and I also know that you can't blame every German person for the acts of a small group of sick men, but it was just a little unsettling to think that the people my DNA stems from were capable of such a disgraceful time in history.  Much to think about.

Some of my friends have taken a similar test through 23andMe, which I would be interested in taking as well, to see if they offer any other information about my genetics.  I know that their fancy version of the test includes additional information like your risk for certain diseases, carrier status, and a few random facts like whether or not your body responds to caffeine.  I might try this test later this year and of course I will share my results. :)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Welcome, 2018!

In the new year I'd love to blog more, if not for keeping my family near and far up to date on our lives, I'd love to write more often so I can look back on this next year and remember all the little things that filled our days.  In 2017 my words for the year were Honesty and Transparency, because I wanted to not only be more honest in communicating my needs (and when I needed help), but I also wanted to stop contributing to the deceptive image of perfection we see on social media, and hopefully help others by being authentic and vulnerable.  I'd like to think I really made a lot of progress there, but I can tell it's still a work in progress.

Currently, James and I are enjoying a lazy Monday morning in Scottsdale, AZ where we rang in the new year with James' mom Jill, grandma Doris, sister Laura, and her husband (our new brother-in-law) John.  Conflicting schedules made it hard to visit Arizona together earlier this year, but this was a convenient week for all of us.  So far we've attended a cool music and art walk (Luminarias) at the botanical gardens, made a day trip to see the sights and red rocks of Sedona, tooled around Old Town Scottsdale, and now we are relaxing for a few more days before we head home and back to real life.

James and I watched the new years countdown in bed from his phone after a long introspective conversation about the highs and lows of our year.  Without sounding too cliche, here are my resolutions for 2018:

  1. Stop using curse words; find better descriptor words/improve my vocabulary.
  2. Set hard-line boundaries for my work hours so that I can...
       a. Spend more time with James/invest in our marriage
       b. Take time to do things that simply make me happy and/or inspire me (hobbies, relaxing activities that are not related to my job or chores around the house).
  3. Spend less time on my phone, be an active participant in whatever I'm doing
  4. Get outside more (this one comes straight from my doctor, who says I'm vitamin D deficient)
  5. Make a lot of money.  Without sounding greedy or materialistic, I'd just really like to remove the huge stress of not having enough money to pay our bills some months.  

James would like to finish his time at Long Beach city college, start looking at new career opportunities, and lose a few pounds.

Above all of these resolutions I have one clear goal that I've been meditating on for the past several weeks.  In 2017 I was hurt by peoples' words and actions more than any physical pain or injury.  So many times I silenced my own opinions and preference, took on more work than I could handle, or personally overextended myself in efforts to make insignificant people's lives easier, and prevent their feelings from getting hurt.  But if I've realized anything from all this thankless work and fear of confrontation it's that no matter how much I do all these things, I'm not being my authentic self and I'm nowhere close to living a life that I'm intrinsically happy with.  I'm also really freaking tired of being taken advantage of (especially professionally) and repeatedly having my own feelings invalidated, and I'm done making myself smaller for the sake of saving face with people who wouldn't do the same for me.  I realize how negative that sounds.  I'm not saying this from a place of bitterness, but instead with the last exasperated breath of an incredibly (and unnecessarily) stressful, upsetting year for me...
In 2018 I want to continue my theme of Honesty, and take it one step further: Advocate.  I want to advocate for myself and protect the people I love most (including me!) from the consequences of poor decisions.  I want to take back my life (via boundaries) and actively work toward creating the future we have been dreaming of, rather than just "making it through the day" 365 times in a row.  Sometimes this will mean saying No and disappointing people that I previously catered to, and therein lies my biggest challenge for the year.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Take a picture, it'll last longer.

This morning was the first day back in my "walking group" which is, at this point, just me and one other woman from my neighborhood who wake up at 5:00am to walk a few miles around the block before starting our day.  As I mindlessly scrolled through my Facebook feed, staving off the dreaded getting-up process, I saw one of my peers' posts from the night before, claiming she had "the best life ever," accompanied with photos of her and her new baby boy.  As horrible as this sounds, my first though was, "no you don't".  And not because I know her intimately, or think that I have it better, but because she is one of those people who often overshares on Facebook and rants about any and every thing that irritates her.  I am not one to forget, so I quickly recalled all of these previous posts and thought, "how can she honestly think she has it all, when all she does is complain?"

But I think I know where she's coming from, and I'd be lying if I said I don't feel the same way sometimes.  Days when everything's clicking and the sun is shining down on you, and your heart feels so full you could burst.  Yeah, they are few and far between, but I have those days too.  As silly as it sounds, I started taking selfies on these mountain-top days, to remind myself that they exist and that for a fleeting moment, no matter what present troubles are plaguing my life, there is good in the world and I have found it, if only for a day.  When I scroll through my camera roll I sometimes roll my eyes at these dorky photos, but they give me hope and I'm glad they are documented.  These are the days when I know I have the best-life-ever.

I once read an article about how the #1 trait that guarantees success in relationships is something called "The Awesomeness Factor," which essentially means believing deep down that your relationship is actually better than everyone else's.  Not in efforts to be conceited, but because perception is reality and once you truly believe this, your perceived awesome relationship actually becomes more awesome.  I thought this was fascinating and I sought to implement it in areas other than my marriage (which if you're wondering, is totally awesome😉).  I think that's where the selfie idea came from, because I am so quick to lose sight of my accomplishments and blessings when things start to get difficult, and I needed a reminder.  Now, when I'm sad, or feeling anxious, I look forward to my next selfie opportunity and smile, because I know it's coming, no matter how far off it might be.

So to the girl who is awake into the late hours of the night, posting photos of her and her babe on social media, beaming with joy--shine on!  The world (and news feed) can always use more positivity, and hopefully you will look back on this post and smile, when Facebook inevitably reminds you of it on a later day.  We all deserve to believe we have the best life ever, even if the feeling only lasts a little while.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Where I Was

In a weird way, I love hearing peoples' stories about "where I was" when _____ happened.  Be it a shooting, an earthquake, or any other global catastrophe, I think it's fascinating to see through someone else's perspective how they experienced this time in history.

On 9/11 I see many people post about where they were when the towers were hit, but for me and my cohort, most of us were pre-pubescent kids with no idea what was actually taking place.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was asleep when the first tower was hit, as many on the west coast were (5:46 AM). I remember my mom waking me up for school earlier than usual and telling me something terrible had happened to the World Trade Center in New York. I didn't know what a World Trade Center was but it sounded very serious. I wiped my eyes, climbed down from my bunk bed and stumbled towards the blue glow coming from my parents' bedroom. My dad was laying on his belly across their bed, propped up on a pillow just inches from the TV, unmoving and fixed on the screen in front of him. I tried to understand what I was watching, but at 11 years old, I really could not comprehend what was happening or how this would come to impact the following years of my adolescence and now adult life. It was then that we watched the second plane hit the second tower (6:03 AM). "Oh my God, Robin, they just hit the second one." That's when I knew it was a big deal, because we did not take the Lord's name in vain in our house, ever.

This summer James and I had the opportunity to return to New York City (again!) but this time we budgeted time and money for the 9/11 memorial museum--a truly amazing experience that moved me to tears (and that does not happen often).  The collection of artifacts, photos, video footage, phone recordings, and personal testimonies amassed there are incredible.  You can spend an entire day just reading about all of the found items and recollections from the people in the city on that day.  I cannot imagine being there or what it must have been like.  I read in the paper today that heroes of 9/11 are now facing an all new terror--the fact that most of them are beginning to get sick and develop breathing problems due to inhaling so much toxic ash, dirt, and debris during that day and the weeks to follow.  This is so sad, but had they not acted, who would have?  True heroism.

One of the most powerful and upsetting parts of the museum was a small TV screen looping the airport security footage of each of the different terrorists passing through security that morning, several of them entering together at the same time.  They exchanged smug looks with each other before grabbing their bags and heading off into the terminal.  This made me SO SICK and ANGRY.  I truly began to HATE these individuals.  To think that they were moments away from committing such a heinous act, and so happy about it, made my blood boil.

Perhaps because I subscribe to the true religion of love I will never understand what possessed these men to commit these acts "in the name of [their] god."  As much as I don't agree, I can understand why so man Americans hold grudges against all Muslims, no matter how impassioned.  I do not plan to make this blog political, but I will say today that I hope our next president, whoever he or she may be, will do something to stop radical Islamic terrorists from committing these types of devastating crimes against our country and its citizens.  If we are not able to learn from our past, how will we ever learn?

God Bless the USA!