I'm Fighting Against My Anxiety
This May I finally hit a breaking point in terms of my mental health. I was starting to become dysfunctional. After 3 years of repeated trauma it was all catching up to me. I ended up in the hospital for what I thought was a heart attack but turned out to be a really intense panic attack. I was in shock. I was in denial about needing help. I was drowning and did not even realize I needed a life vest until this moment. I had to make some changes. This journey of change over the past 6 months has been incredibly hard, it's been slow, it's had it's setbacks, and it's not over. But I wanted to share my story, open my heart, so you would know things can get better. You can take control of some aspects of your life, even when there are things in your life you cannot control. You can improve your health in many ways, and shift your thinking.
A Little Back Story if You Are New Here
If you are new here, welcome! I am honored you are here. It's always hard to summarize our life with Adeline in just a paragraph so I will stick to bare bones to keep it concise. We struggled for years to pregnant, did IUI, IVF, miscarried and finally after 3 years gave birth. Happy Ending?? Well, yes & no. Adeline was born nearly 4 month premature and has had a really tough road medically. She spent 4 months in the NICU, and was in and out of the hospital for most of the first 2 years of her life. In her 3rd year, hospitalizations have become less, but we just spent a few weeks inpatient only a few months ago and we just ended our vacation early for a hospitalization. She is medically complex, with short bowel syndrome and all sorts of other GI issues. She's had 12 surgeries, has a feeding tube, and up until a month ago she had a central line. It's been an incredibly rewarding journey, but a tough one. There have been times we have feared for her life, there have been too many days to count spent cleaning up vomit 20 times per day, and it's been stressful. At nearly 3 years old, we just started to have some nights in which we could sleep through the night. I left my dream career as a Director of Education to take care of her, and we spend our weeks doing countless early intervention therapies, going to Doctor's appointments, and medical cares. But if you follow us on Instagram and watch our stories, you know we are living life to the fullest and making the best out of the cards we've been dealt.
This little blurb is just a tiny glimpse into why I might have crumbled this May. But I am fighting back and I wanted to tell you how I’ve totally changed my life,
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
I finally found a therapist (after 3 mismatches) and began Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). John and I both had to make adjustments to make this happen. He had to leave work on time each week (never happens!) and I take care of more medical stuff to make his night more manageable. CBT is a sort a mix between psychotherapy which focuses on meaning behind things and connects them to childhood) with behavior therapy which focuses the relationship between our problems, our behavior and our thoughts. I like this type of therapy since it works on specific strategies to change patterns of thinking, patterns of behavior, which results in changing the way you feel. These strategies or principles can then be applied to everything, forever. I am learning that my worries are real regarding Addie's medical needs, my concerns are legitimate, but I am learning different ways to cope with these feelings. This has been a game changer.
After our last 3 week inpatient stay, endless takeout, hospital food, years of weight gain, my husband John and I need we needed to make a major change to our diet. We started a Ketogenic diet at the end of June which is a very low carb diet, with high quality fat added, clean, whole foods, and not many processed foods. We got rid of carbs and sugars and are feeling great. In 5 months, my husband has lost 33lbs and I have lost 21lbs. We eat cleaner, less processed, less volume, and feel wonderful. To learn more about this type of lifestyle check out Dr. Axe. It’s important you talk to your doctor when you are going to start any type of diet as I am not one. In addition to the physical benefits, I started this diet to improve my mental health. Research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression and is also at the root of chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body . I have chronic back pain issues and have seen improvements in my pain levels since I removed sugar.
I am not crazy when I say that my brain felt more clear. There is research to support my feelings. In an animal study rats that took fructose solution for 6 weeks forgot their way out of a maze, whereas rats that ate a nutritious diet that included omega-3 fatty acids found their way out faster. The high sugar diet caused insulin resistance, which in turn damaged communications between brain cells that fuel learning and memory formation. Whatever diet you choose, just know that food matters and can impact your mental health.
I had months of on and off insomnia, and desperately needed sleep. Each night I was up until 1am and then Addie would start having issues around then. I was either in two modes, extremely exhausted or incredibly hyper. I was constantly moving around but felt like I was all over the place. I decided to add a psychiatrist to my team and they recommended some medication specific for anxiety and also another medication that a side effect was drowsiness to help with sleep. Because of Adeline's medical needs I need to be alert in the night so many sleeping medications were not a good fit for me. This is not shared because I recommending medications and you need to do what's right for you and receive medical advice from your own doctor, but I share because it's part of what I am doing. There is stigma around medication and I like to remain open and authentic and this is part of it. It has helped with my sleep, my energy levels, and my anxiety.
This is something my therapist recommended I start doing and I was a bit overwhelmed since I have not exercised since 2011 (minus our hikes). This is something I am the most inconsistent with, because of time, issues with chronic back pain, this blog, and I could keep going with excuses but when I do exercise it does help my anxiety. I do a few things to make it work for my family and our life'; I will do workout videos while she naps and I try to keep them between 30-45 minutes, I will walk the dog, or we could go on family hikes. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. It can assist in producing endorphins, the body’s natural mood-enhancing chemical that is involved in fighting off pain and stress. Third, studies have shown that exercise decreases a person's sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety, as well as decreases the intensity and frequency of panic attacks in some cases. Last, the reduction of stress hormones that can occur from exercise may help improve one’s sense of well-being. It can also improve the ability to sleep, which then also reduces stress.
I just started using Young Living Essential Oils (EOs) a few months ago after my first severe panic attack sent me to the hospital. My cousin shared all her favorite oils for anxiety and I began to really like them. I love this neutral article written by biologist Dr. Kevin Curran whose career focuses on the medicinal benefits of plants. He wrote an excellent summary covering the cultural history and biology behind various applications of essential oils: in aromatherapy, pharmacology and household cleaning. In a study published in Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, women were given the lavender-sandalwood blend, an orange-peppermint blend, or a placebo. There was a reduction in anxiety with the use of the lavender-sandalwood blend. Some of my favorites oils to help decrease my anxiety are lavender, white angelica, valor, frankincense, joy, and stress away. I use them topically on my wrists, chest, I diffuse them, put them on my hands and inhale, and even use them in the shower. If you want to purchase them at a discount check this out.
This term used to be a trigger for me. I wanted to laugh in everyone’s face who suggested it. Because when you are caring for a child who is going through a health crisis, you are the lowest priority. There are even times now when she’s sick that I totally stop taking care of myself. I am a work in progress, but the key word here is work!!! I am working on taking time for me. Recently, I started waking up before my entire family and I have about 2 hours to myself to do just little things, actually drink my coffee, scroll through my phone, blog, listen to my inappropriate podcasts. This time really lets me have some time without interruptions, in quiet. It really helped me to think about taking care of myself as something I was doing for my daughter, Adeline. Then it just sort of became something I did for her, and not for me. Because if it was for me, I could skip it, cancel it, because there is always a reason to. I feel like I am beginning to feel like a human being again, although believe me I do not have it all together. I try to take care of myself by incorporating her into some of the things that will help my mental health. I love photography, so I photograph her. I love to hike, so we go together. When I feel overwhelmed, we do “secrets” under the blanket with the flashlight and chat or watch a movie. I’ve started to teach her to request a break if she has a certain feeling, and I am telling her the same thing. I cope by connecting with other families who are going through the same stuff . The people who “get it.” I do this by sharing our story across our social media and blog. #MeTime can be whatever you want it to be, however you want. It does not have to be a bath, a day at the spa, etc. It has to be doable, make YOU happy, and fit into YOUR life.
Do you suffer from anxiety? How do you cope?