When Healing is Painful

Over the last two months since I started having neck and shoulder problems many kind people have asked how I am doing. Mainly, they wonder if my neck and shoulder are feeling better.

I never really know what to say to this question. In many ways I am much, much better.

But to be honest, some days it still really hurts.

In part this is because my body is still a little injured and some days I get carried away and inflame the injury.

But I also think I am hurting because complete healing often includes pain.

Take my first couple of massages after the injury. First of all, my healing team made me wait a month or so to get a massage saying I wouldn’t be able to handle it right away. I couldn’t understand this at first because I have always loved the relief and relaxation that I got from a massage. But then I finally got my tight muscles worked on post injury. Even though the massage therapist was very gentle and careful not to overwork me, I was quite sore afterward.

I guess it took the gallons of water I drank a day or two to wash away the lactic acid and other toxins those knotted muscles were holding.

In the end the massage was for my good and the pain went away, but for a couple of days the only way to describe me was tender and tentative.

I think it is the same with our emotional life.

Sometimes we get hurt and injured and we tighten up inside. There is a hard place where the trauma occurred. A place that is either scarred or tensed up to protect the vulnerable spot from ever getting hurt again.

If we embark on a journey of complete healing, there will come a time when we have to let go of those knotted up places inside of us.

And when we do release the knots of pain, we are going to release some toxic stuff that will hurt for a while. But the only way for it to get washed away is for us to release it, feel the pain, and then let it be gone for good.

If you really want to know what I feel about all this, it is that our bodies and minds are tied up together more than we could ever understand. Our bodies hold our emotional pain in complex ways.

During our yoga teacher training I began to experience a flare up of anger and irritability. I brought this to my teacher’s attention and he said he wasn’t surprised. He guessed all the yoga had my body releasing some pain I had been holding internally for a while. When I told him I was tempted to cut back on the yoga because I was so tired of being angry all the time, he called me to the carpet.

He asked if I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with anger always lying underneath the surface like some shadow inside of me I couldn’t see, or did I want to do the hard work of clearing it out for good? In the end I kept with the yoga and doubled my time in meditation and prayer to calm my spirit. It helped and afterwards I felt healed in a way that I can only barely explain.

So if you to are in a period of healing that is surprisingly painful, take heart. It will not last forever. You are likely doing deep work of releasing painful toxins, whether they be lactic acid, emotions of grief or some mysterious combination of things we will likely never understand.

I encourage you to gently stay on the road to recovery. Try and breathe and be patient with the pain. And know that with time if you keep releasing and doing the good work of healing it will one day wash completely away.

And then you won’t just be pain free, you will be made truly well.

Letting go of guilt

I have come to a conclusion over these past few weeks meditating on anxiety and fear.

We all are WAY too hard on ourselves.

Most of us carry heavy loads of guilt for either what we have done or what we have not been able to do.And that guilt makes us worry.

That we are not doing enough.

That we are not loving well enough.

That well, we are just not enough.

So we strive and struggle to make ourselves worthy.  But it never comes.  And it never will.

For you can’t earn your worth.

It is just given to you because you were created in love and are held in love.

Even when the laundry piles up.

Even when you strike out at work.

Even when you let a love one down.

We were not created to get everything so right that we would one day become good enough. We were created to be loved our Creator and to share that love.

And in the end that is more than enough.

So much so that the other things begins to matter less and less until they fade away.

So let us all set the guilt down, shall we? We’ll leave it right here in the middle of the week.

And as we go forward we will just leave that nagging worry over our worth with the guilt.

My wish for you tonight friends is to know you are loved. That you bring delight and joy to your creator’s heart.  Not because of what you do, but just because you are.

Caring for the body cures the mind

When I was first diagnosed with anxiety it surprised me that the first recommendations my therapist began making involved not my thoughts or emotions, but my body.

Start taking some walks each day, she said.

Try to cut back on the caffeine and sugar.

Maybe you should try yoga, she offered.

Maybe even more surprising was the changes I made in how I treated my body did in fact help my mind.

When I began to learn more about anxiety this made sense as so much of it is physically rooted.   Anything we can do to discharge the adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our veins, anything we can do to increase levels of feel-good chemicals of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, bring it on. And if there is something we can do to release the tense muscles that are holding only God knows what inside their painful knots, all the better.

In our anxiety management class, my husband and I came back again and again to care of the body to soothe the mind. Now this is tricky, because you don’t want to fall into the trap of perfectionism or all or nothing thinking with taking care of yourself. (Oh no, I missed two days of walking this week, I am such a failure!”

I think the best way I can sum it up is with these two invitations:

Begin really paying attention to what makes your body feel good and what makes it feel stressed.  

Be as good and gentle to yourself as possible.

It is okay to take time to love and care for your physical self. And when you do this, everything else will get a little better too.

 

Any physical changes that have made a big difference in your anxiety levels? Or changes you are looking to make?

 

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting children while dealing with an anxiety disorder can be a very tricky dance.

If you are like me, of all the things you worry about

Messing up your kids is probably your number one worry.

They come into the world so sweet and perfect, that it is almost overwhelming to imagine how you will get them to adulthood healthy and whole.

In terms of parenting with an anxiety disorder, there are two main ways that I struggle.

 

One struggle is dealing with the limits that my anxiety places on my parenting.

It hurts my heart to think of the number of times that I have told my children

Mommy can’t

play,

help you with homework,

take you to soccer today,

because she

has a migraine,

doesn’t feel well,

is worried about flaring up her allergies.”

 

Add to that all the extra things my kids have had to do because of my anxiety-induced limits. Just in the past month they have taken on laundry duty, carried items and pushed the cart at the grocery store, and generally been my arms and back around the house while I sort out this stress-related neck and shoulder pain.

I try to tell myself that my kids are resilient. That learning to help others in their family/community is an important lesson. That if I didn’t struggle with this, there would be some other limitation that would affect my relationship with my kids.

But at the end of the day I still worry that I am shortchanging my kids.

 

The other big issue I face in parenting with an anxiety disorder is trying not to pass on the habits of worry and fear to my kids.

This may be the bigger factor of the two for me. I pray that one day my children will forgive me my faults and brokenness, like all children eventually have to do with all parents.

But Dear God in Heaven, let them not inherit my anxiety.

This is doubly tricky because I believe propensity towards anxiety can actually be inherited as in written into our DNA. But I also know that anxiety can be learned.

We have two children, one that was born from me and one that is adopted. Of the two kids, I actually notice our adopted child mirroring my anxiety more than the one that shares my DNA. Now is this because she came with her own anxiety, having been abandoned at birth, moved from foster home to orphanage and then finally across the world until she settled in her forever home? Or is this because she is modeling her same-sex parent who has taught her to be anxious?

Since anxiety is a complicated beast, we may never know.

So mainly I focus on damage control.

1) Sometimes I am honest with them about the fact that I am anxious.

And I tell them I am probably more anxious than I need to be because worry is something I struggle with. We think we can hide these kind of things from our kids, but young ones are uncannily sensitive and smart. I figure if I don’t put it out there and explain what is going on, they will still feel my fear and come to their own conclusions on why I am afraid.

 

2) When possible I defer to the braver, calmer parent. 

I am lucky in that my husband does not suffer from anxiety. To me he is a fearless rock. When we get in a situation where I know I am more anxious about something than I need to be, and he is just fine, he takes the reigns. This is why Daddy takes our kids zip-lining while Mommy tours a winery. The kids learn to be brave and I soothe myself until I can greet them at the end of their adventure with a smile and pretend it is fun to hear how they flew down a mountain.

 

3) I teach them how to soothe their own anxiety.

Since I’ve taught my daughter to be anxious, I figured it was only fair that I also teach her deep-breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and how to recognize and switch her anxious thoughts. Since my son tends more towards irritability, we work on breathing and easy meditation.

 

4) I try to be brave.

Honestly, having kids has brought out the brave in me more than anything ever could. So when they want to ride the chair lift at the fair or watch the tightrope act at the circus, I summon up my courage and go along for the ride. Sometimes they are sweet enough to encourage me, “Come on Mom, you can do it!”

And when they want to ride around the block by themselves or go to the middle school dance, I take a deep breath and say okay. I may be breathing the worry away until I see their beautiful faces again, but I know it is important to believe in them enough to let them go.

 

In the end I guess we all just do the best we can with what we have.

And learn to say I’m Sorry.

And I Love You.

And hope we’re not hugging them too much because we’re worried about how badly we’re messing them up.

 

Relapse is a part of Recovery

relapse is a part of recovery

One of the more frustrating elements in my journey with mental illness is relapse.

Things will have been going pretty good for months, if not years, and then some trigger hits that sends my anxiety into a flare.

Next thing you know, I’m back on the panic train and having to implement all my strategies of healing in order to to slow down the train enough so that I can get off.

Even in the midst of recovering from a panic and anxiety flare, there are ups and downs. Oh how I wish recovery went in a straight diagonal line that only moved up!

But unfortunately, in the midst of healing there are good days and bad days alike. So many times it is two steps forward, and one step back, to the point that the image of recovery looks more like a corkscrew moving upwards instead of a line.

I have to frequently remind myself that this is okay.

It does not mean I am a failure.

It does not mean I will never get better.

It does not even mean I will go back to square one in my healing process.

 

To borrow a line from the substance abuse community:

Relapse is a part of Recovery

 

I still don’t understand all of why this is true, but if you want to know more, you can look into the work of researchers Prochaska and DiClemente. My nerdy (but adorable) social worker husband loves what they have to say about change.

 

I also have to remind myself periodically that relapse is not the same as free fall decline, though at times for this anxious girl it feels like it is. I feel myself loosing ground and I wonder and worry about how bad the fall will be this time.

This past summer I flew for the first time in several years and as a part of a get over your fear of flying course, I learned a lot about turbulence.

Now let me just go ahead and tell you how much I hate turbulence. Bumping around in the air like that drives me crazy. I worry that the plane is going to hit a pocket of air that is so unstable it will cause the plane to just plummet all the way to the ground.

Imagine my surprise to learn that when a plane encounters turbulence most times it actually is only moving a few inches up and down.

Yes, that is right. Inches. It only feels like we are bobbing wildly through the air. The scientific answer for why it feels worse than that is that the plane is moving so fast. (Also, the anxiety probably amplifies things for me as well.) The course also informed me it is almost impossible for a plane to crash from turbulence. Turns out those flying metal cans are way more resilient than I thought them to be.

I think it is like this with our lives sometimes as well. We feel like we are losing major ground in a relapse, when in truth if we looked at the big picture it would only be inches. Also, we are much more resilient creatures than we often believe ourselves to be. We are not going to totally crash into chaos;   we are just bumping around a little bit. We will be fine. Let me say that again.

We will be fine.

So dear readers, do all the good things you can to help heal your anxiety, but know that in the end it will take some time to get to better. And just go ahead and expect some bumps along the way. For whatever reason, it is just part of the process.

But from one anxious flyer to another, I hope that your ride to healing is as quick and smooth as possible.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to look out the window occasionally on your journey. There might be some surprisingly nice scenery along the way.

releasing control

 

 

For when others just don’t understand

The words below were written early on in my latest anxiety flare up.  I had been to a medical professional to be treated for a physical problem resulting from my anxiety.  During my treatment this professional got exasperated with me and said,

“You just need to relax. This is all in your head you know.” 

I was so hurt and frustrated (because if I could “just relax,” trust me, I would in a racing heartbeat). So then, the following words came out (at least I thought them and jotted them down).

 

An Anxiety Sufferers Manifesto

I have an anxiety disorder.

And I am kind.
And I am caring.

And I have an anxiety disorder.

And I am intelligent.
And I am creative.

And I have an anxiety disorder.

And I am beautiful.
And surprisingly funny.

And I have an anxiety disorder.

So sometimes I struggle.
Sometimes I am a bit of a mess.

But I still deserve your attention and your respect. Your compassion even if you dare for I have likely been through more than you know.

I am not crazy.
I am not to be dismissed just because I may be difficult to deal with or bothersome to you.

I have an illness.  And illness that is not any more my fault than diabetes or cancer.

If you will take the time to look and listen past my tense shoulders and racy heart you will find a person who has a lot to offer.

Even though . . . and even because . . . I have an anxiety disorder.

 

So that’s what I wrote. And maybe one day I’ll have the courage to say them out loud to those who just don’t get it.

Making Rest a Priority

Making Rest a Priority

 

Whenever I am stressed,  add overtired to the mix and you can watch my anxiety rise.

Because exhaustion amplifies anxiety.

For those of us who struggle with anxiety,  getting our rest is important priority.

However is our fast paced culture this is no easy task. To be honest most of us get too little sleep at night,  much less a chance to rest during the day.

In our house we have to be up and about by 6 am to get the kids to school on time.  My husband and I have been trying our best to turn off the tv, shut down the computer and put down our phones by 9:30 so we can begin our bedtime routines. (If you suffer from insomnia read about how light from all our blue screens disturbs our sleep here.)

This is never easy but oh so important to keep my anxiety at bay.

 

But rest is about more than just sleep.

I invite you this weekend to practice the discipline of Sabbath.

Close the laptop, lay down the chores, take a break from the busy kid activities and just relax.

Read.

Take a walk.

Nap.

Play.

 

You might just be amazed at how great you feel.

All or Nothing Thinking

all or nothing thinking

 

Another thought pattern that leads to anxiety (yes, there are many) is All or Nothing Thinking.

This is the type of thought pattern that leads us to label something is either really great, or just a total mess. In that way it is similar to perfectionism, but all or nothing thinking has a much broader scope.

In addition to leading me to have high expectations, all or nothing thinking also makes me very impatient. When I expect something to happen, I expect it immediately, or else I doubt it will happen at all.

This can be really frustrating to people when they are healing from anxiety and depression as they really want to get better, and they want to get better RIGHT NOW. It can be hard for us to see the small steps of progress along the way.

Moreover, if we are healing in a two steps forward, one step back way that many of us do, we can view that one step back as a chutes and ladders type slide all the way back to where we started instead of one move back on the game board.

When my husband explains all or nothing thinking to people, he often draws a little line graph and label it from one to ten.

When he hears someone talking about something using the language “always” or “never” or describes something as awful or a “total failure”, he asks them to chart how bad it was on the 1-10 scale.  Usually we are not at zero. Oftentimes we have made it all the way to a six or seven in a certain area when we used to be at a 2.  By looking at our struggles incrementally, we can see that we are making progress. Also, we can see that even our setbacks are not as dramatic as we feel them to be.

This is definitely an area that I am still progressing in. It takes a lot of practice to move from a mindset where things are just “good” and “bad” to a multiple layered approach.

However, in doing so I find that life is often better than I had initially viewed it (not perfect=bad) and my struggles and setbacks were not as bad as they might have seemed.

How do you struggle with all or nothing thinking? What helps you see the middle ground?