Category Archives: anxiety

Slip and Tread

It’s been a terribly long time since I posted on my fitness blog, and I’ve got ground to cover.

For several years, I was a moderator and an active member of a Reddit fitness and health subgroup, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I didn’t make close friends, but it was nice seeing the same familiar screennames. I was friendly with a few people whom I followed to other apps, including the food photo journal YouFood, and encouraging others to explore the feelings that led them on their journeys was rewarding in a lot of ways.

However, my crappy at-home internet situation discouraged me from spending a lot of time online, and eventually, the demands of work became too great for me to continue to moderate as well. There was a lot of emotional output without much reciprocation, i.e. there are only so many times you can pour out encouragement to a stream of strangers without any meaningful feedback before it starts to feel useless. I’m a loner anyway, but it made me feel lonelier than ever.

2015 was a great fitness year – I ran for a lot of the summer and competed in my hometown’s 5k for the first time ever, something that I had always wanted to do. Was I fast? No. Do I believe I will ever be fast? I’m not sure. But I was active a lot of the time and even walked with my coworkers some mornings.

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Feeling pretty super after a cool morning and a fun 5k.

My part-time job offers a program that rewards you for taking steps to improve your quality of life and health, and I won two awards through that program in 2015, one of which was a running watch that I traded in for a fitness tracker that I’ve been wearing for a year. As a data aficionado, I am pleased to sync the information with my smartphone app and ponder my step count, my hours asleep, my active minutes, how true the caloric burn count could possibly be.

I took a lead position at my part-time job in the autumn of 2015 and spent a lot of time on my feet to the point that my old broken foot injury started to really bother me, and if I didn’t wear comfortable sneakers, I was in for an evening of elevating my foot.

Right before my day job ate my life for a few months, I applied for and accepted yet another position at my part-time job, this one in the office. I didn’t realize how much this would influence my life for the next year.

2016 started with me tethered to my desk at my main job for crazy hours, which I had expected. When I went back to my part-time job, I found that while I wasn’t working as many hours, I was still overextended. This contributed to one of the most stressful seasons of my life. And when I tried to go back to running to de-stress, almost immediately, I underestimated how sedentary I had been and aggravated my dormant plantar fasciitis. So I showed up to my day job in my professional clothes wearing sneakers for a week or so. Good job.

I was active throughout the year, and a friend gave me a stationary exercise bike. Now, I have found it difficult and painful to attempt to ride a bike outside on the road, because I tend to stand up on the pedals to get me to where I want to go faster. The point of biking outside is exhilarating travel. At least it is to me, but then again, I have always loved biking, and a bike was my car when I lived in my college town after graduation. Years later with a foot that still gets angry if the instep undergoes a lot of pressure, I looked upon this gift with trepidation and skepticism, but it turns out that the point of the exercise bike is to exercise the muscles and raise your heart rate, apparently. As long as I don’t overdo it and keep my heels on or near the pressure points of the bike pedals, I’m OK riding the bike.

My story of fitness, weight loss, and perseverance was featured on Charity Miles affiliate Humana’s Health Star blog. That was a high point for me. Sadly, when I went to look for that post to link to, I find that it has been taken down! Aw man!

I started on a book, doing more writing in several months than I had done in nearly a decade, and more than I’d done since working on ‘zines and newspapers all throughout high school, college, and my younger adulthood.

Unfortunately, working in my part-time office’s environment led to overeating due to stress or want of a break, some bad food decisions, and easy access to candy. I no longer was on my feet very much, as my new job involved a lot of administrative functions that necessitated me sitting at a computer.

I ran several terrible 5k races in 2016. My times were always improvements over the prior race, but my performance and how I felt after the race seemed to deteriorate throughout the year; this is partly attributable to the persistent heat that sat on the southern US state where I live for most of the summer and into the autumn, but some of it was, frankly, due to the weight I put on due to bad eating choices and less outdoor physical activity.

At the end of the year, despite being something of a Pokemon GO fanatic who hatched a ton of eggs while walking and running, I had logged fewer miles than in 2015 by almost two hundred.

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At Mammoth Cave National Park in December 2016. I logged only a mile underground? Seemed like forever!

Here I am in the late, unseasonably warm winter of 2017, pondering my future as I end my annual month-long break from the part-time job to focus on my main job. I usually don’t get time or suitable weather to go outside and run during day light hours until March or April, but the temperatures this coming Sunday, my first day back, will be in the 70s F, and I intend to take a long walk or a short run if my after-work errands don’t keep me out past 5pm.

My weight has increased over the last year, and I have failed in efforts to control my eating. I track my food, I lose five pounds, and then, I throw it all away. I don’t even know why I eat except for stress or the joy of eating, followed immediately by regret. I am nowhere near my highest weight, but I am not reaching my goals and feel as though I’m heading in the opposite direction. For the first time in several years, I feel truly ashamed of my body again, and I don’t like that feeling.

Snoring is always at the front of my mind when I go to bed these days, and the boil-and-bite mouth guard I purchased a month ago is only effective in alleviating my snoring until I take it out, which I usually wake up and do in the middle of the night.

I haven’t had good mental health over the last several months, struggling with deep depression the likes of which I haven’t dealt with since I was in college. I’ve tried to hide it from people, but the loneliness, sadness, and nihilism have been nearly crushing, and at times, I felt like I only kept functioning because of the structure I have in place that propels me from duty to duty every day.

I’m so out of shape at the moment that my last run turned into a walk a little over two miles into my  journey.

I have been going through some shit, y’all.

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Run faster. Or… run, period. Maybe. From last weekend.

Every day is a new opportunity to fail. It’s a new opportunity to succeed as well. I know that I’ve been a success story in the past. I just feel like I need a little help to get back to where I need to be.

I am in need of love, encouragement, harsh truths, and reminders to be accountable for my own actions. Yes, you can help me. I would appreciate feedback, encouragement, and even tough love in small doses. I don’t know that I or anyone else really needs platitudes; I want someone to tell me to stay within my calorie goal for the day, to try to walk around a little bit more, to get a glass of water instead of opening the cabinet or the fridge to get a sugar-free but not calorie-free treat, to take better care of myself, to make sure I can still fit in my underpants, to remind me that I will not under any circumstances live forever.

This is my confession. I have been terribly unhappy and not following through on my commitment to myself to be the healthiest that I can be. Things need to change, and change can only come from within. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that a self-motivated person is even more effective when they know they’re not alone.

Also, does anyone know how to get deeply ingrained horse poop out of Nike sneakers? Asking… for a friend. Who runs in an Amish neighborhood. Who is me.

The Hole Inside

I got sick over the winter holidays. It happens to most of us, right? Typhoid Mary gave Dirty Santa a whole new meaning this year, and friends and family alike were struck down by the same bug right around Christmas. And masked by the illness at first, my hernia showed up again to put a damper on my exercise.

The day before this mess started, I was lying on the couch watching TV, and my 30-pound dog jumped directly onto my stomach with his full weight. I felt a sharp pain, to the point where after a few minutes, I took pain reliever to, well, relieve the pain. I went to my part-time job in retail the next morning. I started out the work day just fine, but after an hour of being on my feet, I completely lost my appetite, felt feverish and nauseated, and still had to put on a smiling face to process customer returns on the weekend after Christmas for another 6 hours.

I had a case of the holiday season retail employee illness going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I had a case of the holiday-season, unwell-retail-employee, going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I was down with a bug for the next week, but even after I got over the fever and the tossing of the cookies and the aching of the body like the rest of my family was suffering, I was still feeling mild nausea at least once a day — mostly in the morning if I hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that’s a sign of… hernia! Aw yeah! Wait, that’s bad! No! Ugh!

Given my history of abdominal surgery and spending most of the summer of 2012 miserable and curled around a bottle of ginger ale, any abdominal weirdness puts my mild hypochondria into overdrive. Living in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, this turns into fruitless worry and hoping very hard that nothing is wrong.

Happily for me, I haven’t had any pain since the first night, and the nausea is getting a lot better. I’ve been taking antacids as needed, eating foods that will reduce the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, and not exerting myself too much.

Sadly, the weather shaped up beautifully over this weekend, and as much as I’d LOVE to be out for a run, wishing I’d bought a pair of fingerless gloves last night, I’m taking a rest to let my body heal. I don’t want to power through it and do more damage.

There's a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale...kind of to mental scale.)

There’s a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale…kind of to mental scale.)

My day job is about to get super busy, so I’m disappearing down the rabbit hole of work. But I am hoping that once the hole in my innards is healed, I can get back out on the road and keep on pursuing the sport I’ve fallen in love with to keep myself sane and remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a filing deadline that must be met.

And depending on how long it takes me to heal and how much of my life has been eaten by my job by early March, maybe I won’t need to outfit myself with fingerless gloves after all. That would leave a 3-month gap in my workout history, unfortunately, so maybe I should go ahead and get some outdoor sporting-appropriate gloves in case I feel mended enough in a couple of weeks to put my running shoes on during one of these 38º F days.

I’d like to give a shout out to chicken broth. You complete me. When I am feeling sick and trying to avoid pasta as per my doctor’s standing orders two years ago, you are chicken soup in the purest, most digestible form. I love you.

Roller Coaster of Food

Whee! I’m eating healthy!

Just kidding, chocolate oatmeal cookies and sugary cappuccinos forever!

No, wait, carrots for dinner. Nothing but raw carrots. 40 BABY CARROTS.

Woman from the fake Nutrigrain ad "I Feel Great."

CARROTS EVERYWHERE. (If you recognize this image, you’ve been on the internet too long.)

OK, if I could just figure out what my body wants and stick to it, that would be great. Thanks.

I’ve maintained my weight through the month of December through the power of never wanting to eat, not stocking food in my house, going on long walks with the dogs, and eating more at holiday meals than I mean to do. But it is now January, and people have stopped cooking for me out of some sense of familial obligation and holiday spirit. Well, fine, I didn’t want to eat their delicious bacon-wrapped Parmesan and avocado cracker sandwiches. I’ll just go look at my condensed beefy mushroom soup and not think about Danish wedding cookies and soft bread covered in cheesy spinach dip.

Listening to my body is something I have historically had a hard time doing. I’ve tried to develop that skill for my own good and my own health, as lately, I have found myself ignoring hunger pangs and letting my anxiety tell me that everything is terrible and nothing will ever go right again because of some uncontrollable factor.

So if I see a plate of freshly-made dessert things in the kitchen, and if I haven’t had much else to eat that day, sometimes, I just say, “All right. Let’s do this.” At the grocery, I try not to police myself so hard on the food items I buy for myself. “No, soup is fine. Get more vegetables to put into it. And get a different type of apples this time. Eggs! Get some damn eggs!” And then, I prepare these foods when I’m hungry.

I had a dinner of foods that were not on my usual eating-stuff list on New Year’s Day. The ham was pretty much fine, though I ate a lot of it; I also had baked corn, hoppin’ john, homemade mashed potatoes, and peanut butter cookies. How many peanut butter cookies? Hmm. Maybe, like, 5 or 6. Worth it. I hadn’t eaten a lot in the days leading up to that day, and I had two plates of that food. It was pretty awesome. I felt so much better.

I worry sometimes that I’m restricting my foods too much with my lower carb, paleo-ish diet. I worry, too, that my lack of consistent weight loss, my plateauing, and my public straying from my declared eating lifestyle will come back on me as judgment from others and from myself when my body turns all these marvelous things into fat and re-glues some weight to the parts of me that have gotten smaller since last year.

A cartoon of an alien accusing a remorseful human woman.

JUDGED FOR FOOD CHOICES. No amnesty.

There’s letting your diet go completely by the wayside as you eat nothing but sugary snacks and non-nutritious foods. And then, there’s rebuilding, learning new limits, and eventually, eating foods in moderation. I like to think I’m engaging in the latter and not the former.

Some days, it really does feel like I’m riding a roller coaster of food choices. I have to remember that life has peaks and valleys, and self-care is no exception. Nothing is smooth sailing forever. If you learn to recover from the valleys and take them in stride rather than freak out or give in to the temptations completely, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself in the long run, stick to a plan that works, and learn to live with the choices you make rather than learn to begrudgingly tolerate sacrifice for the sake of ephemeral physical transformation goals.

Anxiety: After The SSRIs Have Worn Off

Last year, my doctor prescribed me sertraline after diagnosing me with anxiety. I was a little skeptical, but I was also badly in need of a better way to live. I went off my meds several weeks ago, and I hope that the way I am aware of and deal with my anxiety now will prove my decision to be a good one.

Anxiety is a coercive thief. I was codependent for years, taking on other people’s problems – problems I couldn’t do anything about – and living their anxieties as if they were my own. For example, when a family member’s divorce turned ugly, I imagined people were eternally trying to break into my house. I covered my head with blankets one night, wide awake in the wee hours, imagining that I heard breathing on the other side of the shut bedroom door. From then on, we slept with the bedroom door slight cracked, wedged open enough to let the animals come and go as they pleased, closed enough so that I had a measure of protection against the people who were coming to get me. I regularly got up and did one or two laps around the house with a 2×4 at 3am. I slept with my cell phone by the bed in case we were trapped in the bedroom and I needed to call the police. Any time my boyfriend left town while I was off work, I stayed awake until dawn, hypervigilant, then slept during the day.

Anxiety held my hand and told me I didn’t need to go to the doctor when I stepped off the bed funny in the middle of the night and possibly broke a bone in my foot. I say possibly because I never got it fully checked out. Not even staying home the next day in bed, unable to walk, was enough of an alarm of “something is WRONG here” to penetrate the fog. “It’ll get better on its own,” I said. I’d like to get a time machine and go slap that version of me in the face, because now I experience foot pain anytime I try to ride a bicycle. I rode a bike around my college campus, then around the city of Memphis during the summer after graduation, as my main mode of transport. I bought a bike on Craigslist several weeks before my foot problems began. I then had to sell it after riding it perhaps a handful of times. I rode it in the summer in Texas, too. You know that’s devotion. My boyfriend bought an exercise bike, which we also sold when I found putting pressure on the middle of my foot was too painful. “But no, I can’t get my foot looked at, even if it has robbed me of the ability to ride a bike. What if something is horribly wrong, and I have to have surgery and spend a lot of money? Nope, it will get fine on its own!”

Anxiety was the one telling me my frozen shoulder would get better, there was no need to go to the doctor for that, even after two years of increasing pain and the inability to wear bras that put strain on my shoulder. It told me it was OK to internalize all slight criticisms as blanket condemnations of my character, all offhand remarks as set-in-stone rules by which to live my life. I was convinced I was responsible for the bad moods of others. I was subsumed by the drama of other people’s lives. I was empty of myself.

It all started to turn around when my gallbladder tried to kill me in late 2010.

Suddenly, I had a health crisis of my own. I was the one who was having surgery, in pain, recovering, waited on hand and foot by an amazing man, the topic of conversation instead of assuming the role of blank conduit.

My gallbladder surgery was the first in a long line of events affecting me and the people I love that are probably familiar to a lot of people in the U.S.: foreclosures, job loss, serious illness, death.

When I went to my doctor last year with my little list of bodily ailments I hoped he’d help me with, I broke down crying in his office while telling him about what was happening around me, what I put myself through worrying about them. He screened me for anxiety, then sent me home with a prescription for sertraline.

I endured just a few side effects as I eased into dosage and quickly found that the drugs were effective in curbing my anxiety. My friends said I was more “myself” than I had been for a while. I felt much better, too.

I also did some reading on codependency. It’s a way of wanting to control the situations around you by putting yourself in charge and making yourself responsible for everyone else’s feelings, the outcome of everyone else’s lives, etc. And it’s both selfish and unproductive, and it robs you of wholeness of personhood.

There are many things in this world we can control, but there are so many more that we can’t do anything about. It’s important to come to terms with this and realize where the boundaries lie, and how to judge those boundaries when they aren’t clearly outlined. But for the most part, the only thing you can control is your actions and reactions, not the actions or reactions of others. You can feel guilt for things that you genuinely are responsible for, empathy for bad things that aren’t your fault and you couldn’t have prevented. But another important aspect of wrangling anxiety is forgiveness. You have to forgive yourself, especially for things you’re not responsible for or you couldn’t change. Even the things you’ve done wrong, you have to start to let them go if there’s no lasting harm, if you’ve made it right with the harmed party. Guilt and anger only hurt the person who holds onto them long after they are useful.

This last year has been, in many ways, both better and worse than any previously experienced. My life has changed dramatically; I moved across the country, lost a family member, changed jobs, lost a beloved pet unexpectedly, regained range of motion in my left arm, endured a health crisis. I’m stronger in some ways. I’m sure I’m weaker in other ways. But I think that I’ve found enough avenues through which to channel negative feelings and ways to work through, work around, or negate anxiety before it starts to be a problem.

A little anxiety before jumping into something with both feet is normal, and I was anxious before the move. But everything turned out fine. And if things hadn’t turned out fine, I don’t think my anxiety would have prepared me to deal with them in any useful way. Things will happen, for better or worse, regardless of how you feel about them. I’m not saying you must be blase, uncaring, some kind of robot. You can still have feelings, and you will still have feelings, because that’s the way most humans are built.

It can be hard to control your anxiety, and not everyone will have the same success with just over a year of medications, productive reading, exercising self-care, embracing forgiveness, and a firm support system. I’m only a few weeks out from going off SSRIs, and I may relapse into a state of uncontrollable anxiety as things get even busier for me when my job starts to get more labor intensive.

For now, I feel in control of my feelings. I know I can’t control the feelings or actions of others. Letting go of that self-imposed responsibility is wonderfully freeing.