Anxiety Management

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! It has been an up and down sort of week. We had a lovely time with my husband’s family on Saturday (it always warms my heart when my gluten-free self can eat everything on the table, and it was delicious). Then on Sunday night, I got super sick with a stomach bug out of nowhere. I powered through work for most of the day on Monday (I did end up signing out a little early in the afternoon). Tuesday I took the day off because I had a physical in the morning and I didn’t know how I’d feel after getting poked and prodded, and I also got my flu shot and my covid booster while I was there. I cannot tell you how happy I am to have found this doctor – she is so affirming and pragmatic and it’s such a relief not to have to educate my doctor or be continuously advocating for myself in a medical setting.

This afternoon I have an intake call with a potential new therapist. I’m tentatively hopeful that this will be a good fit and that I’ll be able to get back to working with someone on expanding my toolkit for dealing with anxiety. I also started on blood pressure medication this week, which I am hoping will also help with the anxiety, since anxiety and high blood pressure tend to create a horrible feedback loop (I’m anxious, and my blood pressure is high, which my body interprets as anxiety, etc.). A friend listed out all the things I have going on right now in a text to me this morning, and it really put it into perspective that yes, it does make sense that I’m under some stress and should be utilizing every resource I can to manage it. So that was a good reminder.

I learned yesterday that the university that partners with the seminary I’m starting at next month to do the Spiritual Direction courses is actually discontinuing their Spiritual Direction program, but that it shouldn’t impact my journey – next semester is the last cohort of new students they’re taking for the program. So that’s an additional level of stress that I’m processing. Fingers crossed I’m able to finish all the courses I need to there before the program closes (slated for 2025, so my chances should be pretty good).

Today and tomorrow I’m going to be spending a significant portion of my time between meetings writing performance assessments for my direct reports. I think it’ll actually go pretty smoothly, but getting started is always the hard part with these. I’m grateful for these rockstars and I want them to know they’re doing well, but I also want to give whatever constructive feedback I can to help them continue to grow and excel.

That about does it for this week. As always, here’s your weekly dose of Nova:

Making Space

Hello, dear readers – it’s Thursday again. I hope you’re all hanging in there. This past week was a long one as we waited to hear who won the US presidential election. It was a lot. It…continues to be a lot.

I realized over the course of the last few weeks that my anxiety was getting progressively harder to manage. This is pretty understandable, given the state of *gestures vaguely at everything*, but I hit the point early this week where I decided I had to do something. I’ve cut back a little bit on coffee, but that’s not really the direction I want to take – while the caffeine can be unpredictable in how it affects me, I find my morning coffee making ritual pretty steadying. When talking with my therapist on Monday, I finally admitted that I’ve noticed that time I spend on social media directly correlates to exponential spikes in my anxiety.

So, I’m taking a little break this week. I’ve signed out of Facebook on all of my devices and set up a 1 minute time limit in case I do hop back on. I’ve set a 15 minute time limit on Instagram and moved the app to a less convenient place on my phone’s home screen. And I think it’s helping. While I do get a little twitchy sometimes when I start to fall into autopilot and navigate toward Facebook and then realize I can’t do that, for the most part I don’t miss it. We’ll see how I’m feeling by the end of the week – I committed to staying off for a week starting Tuesday, and I’m going to reassess early next week if I want to go longer.

I also had the day off yesterday, for Veterans Day. That was also helpful on the anxiety front – I slept in and was pretty lazy for most of the day, which was (mostly) what I needed (it probably would have been a better long-term decision to work on some housework, but oh well).

So that’s where I’m at this week – trying to create some space so that my anxious brain and body can hopefully relax a little bit. I hope you’re all doing what you need to in order to take care of yourselves and your communities right now.

Coming Out

Hello, dear readers! This blog post is going up late today, because I did not write it yesterday and also because I stayed home from work today to catch up on sleep and fight off the headache I woke up with.

I’m also not really sure what to write about this week. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator of the two shootings in our neighborhood that I talked about last week, so we’re still a bit on edge, trying to figure out how to navigate our neighborhood in a way that feels safe right now. Also, on a national level here in the US, things are pretty overwhelming right now. (If you’re a US citizen and haven’t checked your voter registration or haven’t registered to vote, do so now. We need everyone to show up and vote in November. Voter suppression is a serious reality in a lot of places right now, and voter rolls have been purged in some states as a part of that, so check your registration even if you know you were registered before.)

We did have the lovely experience on Monday of seeing our friend Heather Mae play a show in our neighborhood. We got to spend a while before and after the show catching up with her and hanging out, and that was great. Go check out her music if you’re not familiar with her stuff – she’s fabulous!

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and today is National Coming Out Day. So I think to close this blog I’m going to combine the sentiments of those two days and tell you a little bit about myself that you may or may not know:

I am queer. Queer is a label I’ve chosen because it represents so much of who I am. It describes my orientation – I’m attracted to all sorts of people of all sorts of genders. It describes my gender – I was assigned female at birth, but realized in my mid-twenties that that didn’t fit; I’m now living and presenting in such a way that I’m read as male by the world at large, but in my heart of hearts I really don’t identify with binary gender at all. Queer also describes my brain – I have Bipolar II Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, both of which I was finally diagnosed with 9 years ago, and which I’ve been medicated for ever since. A few months ago, I had to seek out a psychiatrist to get my meds adjusted – I was manic and anxious as hell for a solid month. It was miserable, and I still don’t know how I managed to get anything done during that time. Since getting my meds adjusted, I’m feeling much more capable of handling all of the anxiety that comes from life right now.

I choose to be out and proud about all of these intersections of my identity, but I can make that choice because I live with a great deal of privilege. I have safe, nurturing spaces where I can be myself. Not everyone is so lucky. If you’re struggling with whether or not to come out today, remember that your safety comes first, and that your identity is valid regardless of how public you are with it. I see you; you’re real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. May we all work toward a world in which “coming out,” whether it’s in regard to sexuality or gender or mental health or anything else, doesn’t carry so much weight and fear with it.

Progress

Yesterday, I finally had my psychiatric appointment to discuss adjusting my meds in an effort to better manage my anxiety. And I’m pleased to say it went well! The psychiatric nurse practitioner and I talked about my past diagnoses and mental health history. Based on that, he gave me a couple of options that we could pursue, and respected my choice between those options.

Thankfully, the first step is simple: I’m just increasing the dose of one of my meds. If I feel in six weeks or so that that’s helping, then that’s where we leave it. If I’m still feeling like I need more help, we’ll look at adding an anti-anxiety medication to the mix. I’m hopeful that this first adjustment will be sufficient, and while I feel a little silly for taking so long to pursue this, I’m mostly just glad to have a plan. I’ve also finally come down from my most recent bout of hypo-mania, so I feel like I’m in a more stable spot to work out of, which is nice.

Here’s to (hopefully) better anxiety management!

Plans

After I posted last week about my word of the year being “Action”…I promptly caught the cold from hell and lost several days to that nonsense. I was out of the office for three of the last five work days, and spent a lot of time annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t breathe through half my nose and kept waking myself up coughing. But I finally (FINALLY) and starting to feel more human again, so now I feel like it’s time to move forward with starting 2018 (a little over a week late, but hey, who’s counting?).

I’m continuing PT for my knee, which is helping a lot. It also makes me whine a lot, because the exercises are HARD (but feel like they shouldn’t be). I’m working on being more gracious about it and grateful for the progress I’m making.

Songwriting class started this week, and I’m trying to hit the ground running, so I have a shot at hitting my goal of 40 songs written this year (twice the number I’ve written each of the past two years).

I’m working on anxiety coping mechanisms in therapy. One of the things I’m trying this week is writing down my anxieties, in the hopes that getting them out of my head onto paper will make it easier to talk myself down. So far it seems like it’s helpful, but it’s only been a couple of days, so jury’s still out. I left my session this week with several ideas to try, though, so if this doesn’t work out, I have other options.

One of the things I want to do a better job of this year is actually planning out my weeks. There’s a big part of me that hates the idea of being boxed into a rigid schedule, but I also recognize that I’m more productive if I have a plan. If the only way I will make time to write songs or read books or whatever else I want to do is if I block out time in my schedule every week, then that’s what I need to do.

I’m trying to keep my goals reasonable, to not bite off more than I can chew in the first two weeks of the year, because I don’t want to burn out. Finding the balance there is a challenge.

Down Days

It has, objectively, been a pretty good week I got to spend some quality time with friends, enjoy a comedy show, a theatre show, and a concert, and I’ve had some quality alone time, too. 

But because my Bipolar brain doesn’t always or only react to outside circumstances, the objective positivity of the week hasn’t translated to an equal level of emotional positivity. 

I’m in a bit of a depressed downswing, is what it comes down to. 

Now, this is nowhere near the worst I’ve felt, and I know that eventually I’ll be fine. But it’s still a struggle. 

At the same time that this downswing has been happening, I’ve been working really hard to establish more routine in my life. My partner and I have started meal planning over the weekend for the whole upcoming week. I’m getting back into the habit of using my planner and writing down my to do lists instead of trying to keep it all in my head. And I started working through The Artist’s Way this week, so I’m getting up early to do morning pages (three pages written longhand as a brain dump first thing in the morning) every day.

Establishing new routines is a challenge at the best of times, but it’s especially hard when depression hits and leaves you with no motivation. 

Still, I’m managing okay. I’ve done a better job than I was expecting myself to do. And I think it’s helping. Having a routine and a schedule to stick to saves energy, because I’m not wasting time figuring out what I need to be doing in the moment. 

So life doesn’t feel especially easy right now, but I think I can say that I’m doing okay. 

Stressed

I almost didn’t write anything this week. Life has felt a little overwhelming lately in ways that don’t lend themselves to very interesting blog posts, and I feel like all I have to say is, “Overall, things are okay in my life, but I am extraordinarily stressed.”

Monday morning we went live with the project I’ve spent the last few months on at work. It didn’t go off entirely without a hitch; there have been some minor road-bumps that we’re still working through. But overall I’m really pleased with and proud of the work I did, and I’m calling my first project as project manager a success. 

The stress of the last couple of weeks continues to make me wish our August trip to Song School was closer. At the same time, there are still details we need to nail down about the travel there and back and some of the stuff we need to bring with us, so perhaps I shouldn’t be wishing for the time to pass so quickly. 

This weekend is the Square Roots Festival put on by the Old Town School of Folk Music. I’m volunteering for part of it, and I’m looking forward to it despite feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

I feel like I’ve gotten better at managing anxiety about some things lately, but not others. It might be time to review the coping mechanisms I have at hand and try to be more consistent with the things I can do daily. I don’t like feeling caffeinated all the time, especially when I’m not drinking regular coffee anymore. 

Taking Care

The people who know me best know that my brain never really stops racing.

This is still true, despite the fact that as of yesterday I’ve spent ten minutes a day meditating (using Headspace) for 27 days straight.

It remains true despite the fact that I am spending large swaths of my life feeling exhausted.

Last week, I mentioned that I was getting back into embroidery for the first time in about a decade. Last week, I embroidered the corners of nine handkerchiefs in six days:

I embroidered all of these between Monday and Sunday.

I embroidered all of these between Monday and Sunday.

It feels a little silly, and I have some complex feelings about indulging in a craft that doesn’t have a lot of practical application. When I knit, 99% of the time it’s something I am going to use, or give to someone else in the hopes that they use it. I knit beautiful things, but I knit beautiful things with a purpose – things that I will wear, or that my nephew will play with, or things to snuggle under. Embroidery doesn’t really make anything, it just makes existing things prettier. Which is, I recognize, a perfectly valid reason to do a thing, and my internal resistance to the idea of doing something that a part of me finds “frivolous” is likely largely rooted in misogyny and the devaluation of things deemed “women’s work” by society. So that’s my own bullshit to work through. And it’s (clearly) not stopping me from doing it.

A large part of the reason why I keep making one tiny stitch after the other is the fact that embroidery requires focus. Not so much that it feels strenuous, but enough that it occupies a significant portion of my mind. I noticed pretty early on in the week that when I was carefully stitching away, following the lines of the patterns, that my brain slowed down. I didn’t stop worrying altogether. The anxiety was still there. But the cacophony of thoughts quieted down to a more manageable volume. It gave me a little space to process some of the ideas pinging around in my skull.

Of course, there’s the rest of my life that still needs living, and I can’t continue to let the time I take out to embroider consume the time I need to get things done around the house, get knitting projects with deadlines done, and otherwise take care of myself.

So this weekend, I have a massage scheduled for the first time since October (I haven’t been in since just before I had surgery!), and I have an appointment with my new therapist. Because embroidery is a great coping technique in its right (and is certainly a less expensive coping mechanism than some that I’ve used over the years), but it can’t be the only tool I have tucked into my belt. I want very badly to get involved in whatever forms of resistance I can, but I also need to be realistic about the fact that I’ve been finding it difficult to do much above and beyond my regularly scheduled activities. I can’t take care of the rest of the world if I’m not taking care of myself first.

The weekend won’t be without its own anxieties (I have a gig scheduled for Monday night, and I’m planning to play the songs I’ve written in the 8-week class that just ended yesterday, so I have a lot of polishing and practicing to do), but I am determined to do what I can to get my brain in a better place, both in the short-term and into the future, uncertain though it certainly is.

To Do Lists

I’ve been trying to get through each day by way of to do lists the past couple of weeks. Often, they go something like this:

  • Organize request list at work
  • Do songwriting homework
  • Look for new therapist to help with anxiety management
  • Remember to eat actual meals (like a normal person)
  • Breathe

I’m trying to stay on top of things at work (because I just accepted a promotion that takes me from direct user support into project management), and that’s a struggle. I’m also trying to stay on top of my social media engagement and news intake (because I don’t want to be paralyzed by the deluge of horror coming out of D.C. these days), and that’s a struggle, too. Self-care fits in there somewhere, which isn’t any easier than the rest of it.

I’m tired. This level of anxiety isn’t sustainable. I’m doing everything I know how to do in order to manage it, but I’ve never had such a prolonged, physical reaction to anxiety before.

And I’m not just anxious. I’m also increasingly angry. I have always had a strong, ingrained sense of justice and fair play (Hufflepuff FTW!), and this administration of rich white folks walking all over every marginalized group they can reach is maddening. I will never understand why it’s considered okay to sacrifice people in the name of profit. I will especially never understand the people who are supporting this and still claiming they have the moral high ground, but that’s perhaps a post for another day.

I would love to hear what all of you out there in the great wide world of the interwebs are doing to manage your own anxiety and anger, or even better, how you’re channeling it.

Fighting to Focus

It’s been an anxious week. I got some good news on a personal front (that isn’t official enough to fully announce here yet, sorry), but the time leading up to that news was extraordinarily stressful. And the actions of the Dorito-in-Chief in his first week in office have been nothing short of horrifying.

I’m struggling to balance my intake and output of news-related information on social media, as well as the effect of that input and output on my mental health and general ability to function in my daily life. As a white dude, I have immense amounts of privilege that I want to leverage for good. To do that, I need to stay informed, and use my voice in the hope that I can help to inform other people. However, I also deal with chronic pain, anxiety, and the joys of being Bipolar, which means that the deluge of horrible news can be particularly paralyzing.

I don’t have answers for this yet, but I’m looking for them. I’m taking steps to get my life more organized, and am trying to exercise other methods of anxiety mitigation as well. Despite the fact that the last week has been more than a bit of a political dumpster fire, I’m determined to do what I can to make 2017 a year of forming better habits and breaking out of unhealthy patterns. I’ve struggled in the past to do this for my own sake, but I’m  hoping the sense of urgency I feel now to reach out and create change in the world around me helps to propel me on to greater success.

There’s no point in lying and saying I’m super hopeful, because I’m not. I’m struggling with some pretty crushing despair and questioning where we’ll be as a nation in four years, or if we’ll be anywhere at all. But I’m clinging desperately to the hope that this is a wake-up call for a lot of people, not just for me, and to the belief that We The People are stronger than any attempt at autocracy.

Hang in there, folks. And stay alive. Sometimes that’s the greatest revolutionary act we’re capable of.

Edited to add: my partner pointed me to this article yesterday that is related to all of this and was really helpful to me. I hope you also find it useful: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind.