Category Archives: mental health

Let’s Run Away Every Day

Or, How I Stopped Running 5ks and Learned to Love to Run Again

A month ago, two things happened in my life.

First, I started having some problems breathing. I don’t have health insurance and haven’t gone to a doctor because, well, see earlier part of sentence. I have no idea what caused it, although I am attributing it to the allergies that I’ve started being affected by that get worse as I grow older. I have been treating it with common asthma medications – a nasal spray and an inhaler that a friend from an asthmatic family gave to me. I’ve done some productive coughing over the last day, making me feel less like there’s a small elephant sitting on my lungs, so it could just be the springtime allergy season is coming to a close.

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Oh, the drama of not being able to breathe or whatever.

Maybe it’s related to allergies, or the uber-high humidity in the southern US since late spring started, or the construction dust I inhaled two years ago that seemed to trigger my exercise-induced asthma, or living with smokers for many years of my life. Whatever it is, I’m alleviating the symptoms as I can and toughing it out until something changes for better or worse.

Second, I traded 5ks for 2 miles. I lowered my miles per running workout to save time on workouts, not get discouraged by how I feel at the end of a workout, best utilize my new regular running path, and work on my speed over stamina, especially given that my stamina is affected by the weather. But I also increased the other exercise I was doing from almost none to almost daily, so I’m no longer doing 3 days of workouts a week at max – I’m doing different kinds of workouts all week long, staying consistently fairly active instead of pretty active every other day/every three days.

The short running distances came before the breathing issues, to be honest. After I recovered from my foot injury this spring and had some run-ins with growling, chasing dogs† in my rural neighborhood, I changed my regular running path to the relatively flat road to the left (stopping naturally at the one-mile mark where the flat dives suddenly to a 100-foot incline over a quarter mile, which is a pain in the ass to climb) away from the rolling hills to the right that have been my regular running ground for the last two years.

(†Yes, I’m sad to stop running that way because of fear for my physical safety, but it’s the country, people dump dogs and let their aggressive pets run free and pack up with other dogs. Both our next door neighbors have lost pets to wild dogs. I’d rather run a shorter distance on a shorter path than be bitten. I know what I’m talking about; I was bitten on the face and arm as a kid by my grandma’s dog. The recovery was long, I still have scars, and I was afraid of dogs for decades. For a while, when I went that way, I ran while carrying a large stick. That did make me feel somewhat better when I ran across one dog that crossed a field to bark at and stalk me, as I waved the stick around myself to make myself look bigger, ignored it as much as I dared, and prayed for a pack of cars down the winding country highway to put a scary physical barrier between us. But the stick is heavy, doesn’t improve my time, doesn’t alleviate my paranoia and slight fear, and probably wound’t do that much good.)

A shorter run meant that if something else went wrong with my foot, I would be a mile max away from home. I started just walking on it, adding short sprints of running (20 to 50 to 100 steps) to test my recovery and pain threshold.

I’d also try to get in a short run so that I could be home in time for dinner or cook dinner at a reasonable time when the last of the sun and most tolerable running weather of the day was near the evening meal. A half hour instead of 45 minutes to nearly an hour (depending on how far I went, of course) was preferable, and it’s something I could squeeze in much more easily. Plus, the last mile of my 5k was always my worst, because I was usually pretty dog tired.

One day, I went for a 5k that turned quickly from a run into a walk, and I walked the entire way home. “I’m so out of shape!” I said to myself on my second or third run that week. That was the last 5k I’ve done all at once in a single day.

I have expanded my exercise types according to my spring/summer schedule, the tools at my disposal, and the goals I have set for myself.

My goals are currently to exercise nearly every day (and give myself important rest days) in order to…

  • get limber
  • strengthen my legs
  • burn fat
  • eventually strengthen my upper body
  • avoid injury
  • deal with my anxiety
  • give myself goals for speed, distance, etc.
  • work on my respiratory system strength.

The tools I’ve been using:

TOSfitbitFitbit and a group of friends-of-a-friend who have daily challenges in which I still participate. I was first last Saturday, and I was last yesterday. It’s a lot of fun to get that social encouragement in a small group setting without the anonymity of an online forum and the negativity that a large online forum can engender.

TOSmmr MapMyRun, which tells me how poorly or how well my splits are looking. I run for about two days in a row, then take a rest day or do some other exercise in between.

TOScmCharityMiles, which recently updated its sharing user interface and looks even more amazing than ever as well as being a great tool for generating donations to charities through corporate sponsorship of workouts.

yogastudioYogaStudio, which I got for free several on International Yoga Day (June 21) several years ago. It used to be a one-time fee service, but it recently changed to a subscription service. I have declined to update the app to get access to new classes that a subscription service would provide; I’m such a newb and an infrequent yogi that I’m fine doing the same several classes over and over.

TOSwaterMy knockoff Yeti Cup for replacing diet soda with ice water. I got hooked back on diet soda during my main job’s busy time and at my part-time office job – it’s easy to sit at a desk and drink down soda after soda to keep you going or because you want a sweet taste in your mouth all the time. About 3 weeks ago, I stopped buying the big packs of soda and have switched to filling my cup up with ice and adding water throughout the day instead. At my day job, which is cut down much per week at the moment, I bought a large pack of water to keep in the fridge since the building’s plumbing is so old and the faucet water is therefore a little on the iffy side of potable.

TOSbikeThe exercise bike my friend so generously gave me last year. I have used it a few times while watching movies or TV shows. Frankly, it’s kinda torturous to use indoor equipment, but it gets the heart rate up and works my legs. The only way to get through it is to do it with a video, I have found.

TOS-hikeatparkA local park with a hiking trail. Torrential rains damaged alternate paths several weeks ago, and roping off those sections led me to actually find the correct trail that encircles the park. I’ve gone hiking there alone a few times and with my dogs twice in the last month. They love it, and last time we were there, we ran into a camp of children that descended on them with oohs and ahhs and awwwws. My people-friendly dogs were on cloud nine.

Ok, so what else? Something ridiculous and great I’ve been doing: putting my legs up on a wall.

YES. This is stupid as hell. Yes, it feels great. Yes, it seems to be helping me to ward off injury. It’s a great stretch. Full disclaimer: everyone who sees you doing this will make fun of you if they know you well, unless they’re a workout nut who tries it and also likes it for the benefits it gives you.

Results from so far

My weight loss is slow, but it’s coming along. My legs look better. Although I still feel like I’m drowning when I run sometimes and even like I’m gasping for breath while I’m biking at a fairly normal speed in my air-conditioned house, my times are faster, and I’m getting stronger, even if my body isn’t working quite right.

I’m getting to an age where I can’t neglect regular maintenance anymore – I have to do things for myself to keep active, be fitter, and try to be as healthy as I can be. Until I can work something out about my health insurance situation or live in a country where we have insurance covering everybody and the taxes to pay for it, I’m just going to try my hardest to work toward a better self, remember to take rest days, and never give up trying, even if I sometimes give up blogging.

Follow me on Instagram!

Click on the link to see my fitness Instagram page. It’s not all motivational posts and carefully lit, carefully culled, carefully carefuled images – a lot of it is post-workout selfies, animals lusting after my food, and my lovely lunch choices.

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.

Mothers and Daughters: Legacy of Body Image

I love xoJane and the thought-provoking articles that its writers tend to put out into the world. This post was inspired by a comment I wrote on this article. The comments are a trove of first-hand testimonials from other people on the same subject.

When I was a preschooler, the story goes, my mom told me I could only have one cookie because I was putting on weight. I was so sad that my slightly older brother took an extra cookie to give to me in secret. We weren’t that subtle, so of course my mom knew about it and cherished the memory as one of sweetness between siblings.

As I got older, my mom never said anything to me about my weight. I was a chubby kid, presenting as a purple-and-silver-sequined cylinder in my ballet recital pictures, and an overweight teenager, hiding my body as best as I could with oversized shirts and weird fashion. She said she loved me no matter what and never criticized my body, supporting me in my academics, my art, and my writing. But she talked negatively about her own body all the time and still does today.

I know that like a lot of privileged first world women, I have spent a lot of my adulthood thinking about my weight. These days, I look back on the experience of growing up and living my adult life overweight and mourn all the time and mental energy spent by people like us fretting about our weight. Do I wish I had lost weight sooner so I could get on with my life? Perhaps, but I know that I wouldn’t appreciate my body as much if I didn’t feel pride in losing body fat, improving my health by stopping snoring almost completely and taking weight off injured/stressed muscles and joints, and increased self-esteem by conforming more to social norms. But what if I had been able to focus my gifts on something other than myself and self-improvement over the last 10 years? Would I have done something more “meaningful” with my life?

I realize this perspective and this question are both from a place of privilege – I largely feel like my struggle with being overweight is over, and I’m on autopilot as far as my food intake goes. I can afford to buy nutritious food, and I’m getting into running (despite approaching the nitty gritty of winter and me with no indoor gym access). Other people are less able-bodied, less able to access the kinds of food I can buy and dietary information my doctor gave me, still working on themselves, not in the same mental frame of mind, and have legitimate concerns and health problems that I have no right to dismiss and do not presume to.

I mourn my own potential – what things could I be writing about instead of concentrating on gaining 7 pounds in a month? – and the potential that my mother had and still has. When I was in high school, she was pursuing her masters in education with a focus on special needs education while working delivering pizza and raising 3 kids. She also wrote works of fiction on lined notebook paper she kept in binders under her bed, with several unpublished drafts of novels to her credit. And she, like all of us, was constantly bogged down by the everyday worries of life, including her body. I constantly heard her saying how upset she was that she could no longer fit into the clothes she wore when she was younger; she is short and used to be quite thin during high school. She dropped the “fat” word to describe herself on an at-least weekly basis. “If only I wasn’t so fat.”

Being thinner is a privilege in this society, and she may have been more kindly treated by the world at large. But I wonder how fully her gifts might have come out if her self-esteem hadn’t been hampered by her self-criticism, which always seemed so unforgiving.

My having the same body type that she did probably had some influence on how I viewed myself. It was a while before I came to a truce with myself over my looks, worrying about everything from my acne-prone skin to my large nose to my weight. I was ashamed of my body after the start of puberty, uncomfortable with male attention that I received in 7th grade, and down on myself for my many failed attempts at losing weight, even as an adult. I dieted for months, then fell off the wagon. I exercised hard for several months, then took half a year off. I came to be more accepting of what I looked like, but my health began to suffer as I aged. I was smart; why wasn’t I smart enough to figure out how to change my body and stick to a weight loss plan?

Losing weight was not the answer to all my problems. I’m still thinking about my body – still moderating a self-improvement community, still occasionally blogging about my pursuit of fitness, food, and health – but the rest of my life’s problems persist. It’s easy for us to fixate on having a great body and see it as the answer. “If only I wasn’t so fat.” If I wasn’t so fat, then what? I would get everything I wanted out of life automatically? I wouldn’t have to pay my car insurance? I would finish cleaning out the shed? It never stops unless we reframe the way we think about what’s important, whether losing weight or shaping our body into a more pleasing shape is a self-serving, endless goal, or if it’s a stepping stone to happiness, a facet of our existence.

Sometimes, chasing the ideal body or an improved version of ourselves seems so futile in the long term. I think back on my amazing, beautiful, business-smart, no-nonsense, hilarious stepmom; she was in my life from preschool until last year, and when I was younger, I remember that she was always trying low fat diets, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet… right up until her diagnosis of colon cancer, a disease she fought for 9 years.

I helped sort out her enormous closet of clothing after she passed away; she had clothes (some with tags still on them) in US size ranges 6-18 from where her body size fluctuated so much during years of chemo, surgery, remission, and relapse. There’s a despair in that part of the legacy of mainstream, straight, adult ciswomanhood in the U.S. What good does it do to fret so much over what size we wear and how many carbs we eat and whether our butt looks arbitrarily too big and that we can’t fit into that exact pair of pants anymore?

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and the present-day, easy to obsess over weight or unflattering photos, but now and then, life smacks you in the face again with the fact that it’s precious and short; your health, your ability to function as an independent person, and the degree to which you are able-bodied are things you can take for granted. The gift of perspective is precious, if hard to take. My stepmom spent most of her last decade working at the business she and my dad built together, baking cookies and sweets with her grandchildren, going on vacations with my dad, and enjoying herself as much as her health would allow her to do.

Sometimes when I’m out running, out in the middle of the country where nobody can see me, I imagine I’m passing my stepmom on the sidelines of a cancer charity race or some other event, and I give the air a high-five. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me for taking up a new sport. I hope she’d say she’s never seen me so happy in my own skin

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

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.