Tag Archives: anxiety

On Thriving (not just surviving) in the Dog Days of Winter

Lazily browsing Instagram this afternoon, I stumbled upon a woman who described herself, in winter, as a hibernating bear. I adore this in so many ways. How freeing to allow, to forgive, to be PATIENT with myself through the long, struggle-y winter months.

Though born in the heart of it, I’ve never loved winter. Extra hours of darkness combining with icy sidewalks, bitter wind and waves of 21st century plague cause my insides to tremble in dread as early as mid-August. I know I sound dramatic. The fact is, winter means facing things that feed my depression, making staying ‘okay’ a bit more difficult.

Medication and therapy can be vital tools for managing depression, however, I believe much of the healing happens in the seemingly insignificant moments of daily living. Truly LIVING with depression means finding ways to fuel the inner flame.

In winter, much of my survival toolbox consists of methods for generating warmth and light, both literally and figuratively. These are a few of the things I do regularly, if not daily, to keep my fire burning.

  • Light candles with intention. By this I mean, be PRESENT in the action.
  • Create a skincare regimen and stick with it. Cold winter air means dry, thirsty skin. Taking care of your skin not only helps combat dragon scale but also serves as a SELF-CARE practice.
  • Maintain a TIDY and pleasant environment. I keep my space clean and organized.  Those who know depression will relate to the all-encompassing dullness of anhedonia, that lack of interest in everything. Keeping art and craft supplies in easy to reach, organized compartments means that when I feel like doing something I easily can.
  • Hang string lights. Yes, year round.
  • Focus on eating healthy, PLANT-BASED meals. Stay away from items made from a long list of ingredients you cannot pronounce. I also like to keep low or no prep items in stock for days when my energy is running particularly low. Lotus Foods’ Rice Ramen is my current addiction. And Larabars are almost always available in my kitchen.
  • Plan for FUTURE fun. My latest project is researching all the road trips I can take with our new little dog, Hazelnut. She’s just the right size for car travel, and I’m thrilled at the thought of sharing outdoor adventures with a canine friend.
  • If at all possible, GET OUTSIDE. Early last autumn I determined not to allow winter to keep me housebound. Keeping cold weather gear at the ready gives me fewer excuses to remain glued to the couch.
  • Show MERCY. Some days are tougher than others and that’s okay. Dare to show yourself the compassion you would a beloved friend.

Now it’s your turn. I want to know–how do you get through the winter doldrums? What are your tried and true self care methods?

Keep it cozy, fellow hibernating bears!

 

 

 

 

Mountain Therapy – where agoraphobia met adventure

The agoraphobia struck forcefully and without warning. I cannot entirely identify the catalyst, though I remember those first weeks well—long October days, hiding under layers, smoking menthols out the bedroom window and pure, unadulterated panic at the mere thought of needing to leave my apartment. Depression swirled through it all like milk poured into black coffee. I skipped holidays and family events. I made excuses. I slept through entire days and nights. Anxiety medication was popped like candy. I watched the seasons change through glass, like some kind of backwards peeping Tom.

When spring arrived, I forced myself out to stretch my legs and breathe something other than staleness and smoke. I couldn’t make it past the end of my street.
Fast forward five years and you’d find an older, slightly happier, slightly less agoraphobic me. I had a healthy relationship, a cat, a dog and a ten-year-old girl who wanted me to be her stepmom.

And yet…
I still had panic attacks in the grocery store.
I still could not drive more than 20 minutes from home without fear and nausea and a jumpy, palpitating heart.
I still skipped family functions sometimes.

I’d had enough.
I would do something big, push myself beyond every, last level of comfort. I would perform my own version of immersion therapy.
I would not die before I saw something beautiful.

I chose Glacier National Park. Crown of the Continent. More than a million acres of mountains, lakes and streams. Teeming with everything from tiny pikas to mountain lions and grizzly bears.
Lying in bed at night, I scrolled through pictures on my phone. I wanted to be there so intensely I could feel it in my chest. I had been a prisoner of my brain for too long; it was time I unlocked the gate.

I didn’t have money for hotel rooms—I would sleep in my car. I’d arranged my sleeping bag so my lower half would snuggle down into the trunk of my 2007 Toyota Corolla. My food supply consisted of protein bars, peanut butter, bananas and instant coffee. I didn’t have the proper “outdoorsy” clothing. My too-cheap, stow-away backpack was made more comfortable with a little help from a bungee cord as a makeshift chest strap. My hiking shoes had holes in the toes.

None of this mattered.

On the morning of the great exodus, I was readier than I imagined I could be. When I’d awoken throughout the night, I was met with feelings of confidence, not the get-me-out-of-this dread I had anticipated. Nerves were high but so was excitement. The car was packed. The house was checked and double checked for things I might have missed. I said goodbye and logged the first of 1700 miles.
For each of the next few days, my routine was similar. Drive until I couldn’t anymore. Find a place to park. Set up sheets as makeshift curtains. Slide into the me-sized trunk bed. Sleep. Wake before the butt crack of dawn. Make coffee over my tiny stove and jetboil fuel. Drive. Drive. Drive. I-94, you vast, barren creature—I will never forget you.

Wildfires were raging just west of here. I’d noticed for hundreds of miles the hazy muted shades of the horizon but on my morning drive to Glacier, the sun was a strange murky, coral-colored orb. With the windows rolled down, I breathed in the acrid scent of what, to me, smelled of childhood bonfires. The Blackfeet Indian Land I traversed was immense and looked nearly untouched. I imagined this land looking much the same as it always has, unharmed and wild.

And then, it happened.

I saw my first ‘real’ mountains. I stopped the car at a pull-off, got out and stood on wobbly, unused legs. Far below me, an animal bellowed deeply. This was the wilderness. I was here in all my shaky, four-days-of-car-living, no-shower, stinking realness, and I was more alive than I had ever been. I drove the rest of the way into the park, paid for my pass and listened to the park ranger with a raptness I’d not previously conjured.

I entered at Two Medicine and parked at the Scenic Point trailhead. I’d done no real research, so focused was I on keeping myself relaxed and calm as mile by mile I became further from home. I didn’t know how long the trail was or what to expect. I secured my bungee cord chest strap and stepped into wonderland.

The trail started gently, quiet and meandering through thick forest, the sound of the rushing water of Appistoki Falls to my right. I was convinced I had walked on the set of a film. The trees and flowers were props, each stone strategically placed. If I exhaled too hard, I’d blow it all down. I ached to touch it but I could not. This was sacred ground. This place could eat me alive. I was dumbfounded. I hiked with my mouth hanging open.

Thick vegetation lined the trail, and I quietly wondered where the grizzlies were hiding. Never had I hiked with the very real possibility of becoming someone’s meal. Overcoming my trepidation about making noise in this beautiful place, I occasionally clapped my hands loudly to scare away wildlife. The trail opened, looking down at Two Medicine Lake. Gnarled skeletons of dead white-bark pine trees stood stark against the landscape like wise village elders.

Scrambling over boulders and talus, I continued up, switchback after switchback. Despite running nearly every day back home, I had never felt more out of shape. I was panting. Hard.
I began to realize that Scenic Point was at the top of this mountain. I didn’t arrive looking for this particular challenge but now it was my life’s sole mission. Veteran hikers coming down passed me at intervals, looking nonplussed, decked out in their Osprey backpacks, carrying trekking poles, bear bells jingling cheerfully as they walked. I was a novice. I didn’t care. When I thought I’d certainly reached the top, another switchback led me further. I refused to stop.

The wind was whipping my hair into my face, sun beating down on the exposed trail when I saw the cairns. I was too tired for tears of joy. I was an agoraphobe on a mountaintop. I had breathed for the very first time. Such a strange mix, the fear of leaving the safety of my home and the elation of standing there, a solo brunette lightning rod. The latter force was stronger. It was worth every dusty mile.
On the way down I wondered if everyone could see that I’d looked at the face of God. Was my hair a little whiter? Was it written in my eyes? I felt I had grown, that my heart was bigger and my soul finally full and satisfied after years of starvation.


I was not…am not…cured; Life doesn’t quite work that way. But I was changed. The essence of that mountain had seeped into my pores. Now, when I am afraid, when I feel less than brave, I know that I am still the same girl who once defied the enemy and drove 1700 miles to stand on a mountain.

A (Very Short) Bedtime Story

A long time ago, in a galaxy much like this one, boys and girls, there lived a very sad girl. The fire in this sad girl’s heart had been nearly snuffed out, and she struggled just to find the strength to make her way through each new day.

Luckily for this very sad girl, there also lived a wise old man. And when the girl cried to this man that she had lost all her hope, he looked her in her very sad eyes and said, “It’s okay, very sad girl, if you cannot have hope in this moment, for I have enough hope for both of us.”

And this, boys and girls, is what I want to share with you tonight, as you drift off into soft pillows and magic dreams. If you have lost your hope, do not fear! For I have enough hope to last us both until you find yours again.

 

On…Choosing Childlessness

children

I never really felt like the ‘mommy’ type. When many of my high school friends talked about getting married and starting a family, I vaguely wondered if there might be something wrong with me for NOT feeling this drive. Marriage? Yes, maybe. Babies? Hmm…I dunno.

Some time after college, I made the, somewhat detached, decision to not have children. Not because being a mother didn’t appeal to me (there are certainly aspects of motherhood that I long for), but because I 1) see within myself a “selfishness” in regards to my need for personal space, time alone, the ability to come and go as I please, etc. 2) have a personal and family history of struggles with mental illness which I have elected not to pass on via genetics and 3) (as a result of #2) require a high level of mental power simply to keep myself afloat on a day-to-day basis.

Regardless, up until recently, my decision had always felt fairly distant. It was a speck on the horizon, an ineffectual blip on my life’s radar.

Until it wasn’t.

Quite unexpectedly, I was hit with the full reality of what choosing childlessness means for me. It means I will never look down into the eyes of my baby, it means I will never see myself in another human being, it means that what makes me ME (at least so far as genetics is concerned) dies along with my last breath. For the first time, I truly grieved the things I had surrendered.

As little girls, we are groomed for motherhood. Shortly after birth, dolls are placed in our hands. We are playing house, imitating our mothers. It isn’t easy to let go of this ideal.

I know my periods of sadness over my choice are not yet over, though they have momentarily waned. And I realize that I am only 32 and that circumstances can change. I will, most likely, be forced to reevaluate from time to time; however, based on the present, I feel confident that my decision is the right one. I am lucky to have Alan’s girls in my life and am attempting to be the best mother-like figure I can be. I will most likely never have a baby of my own, but I can still comb a child’s wet, tangled hair. I can still make pancake breakfasts for a family. I can still share my thoughts and experiences with a young mind. There is solace in this.