Tag Archive | anxiety

Getting rid of ANTS: tips for anxiety

image by Asif Akbar

A couple years ago, my mom gave me a book that she thought was very insightful. I should reword that. It  WAS insightful. However, at the time it went over my head like my husband’s explanation of how fertilizer works.

The book was about “ANTS” : “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” And you had to squash them. Certain thoughts were “red ants” because they were so dangerous. Clever.

Although at first I thought the list of “ants” was obvious and unhelpful, I don’t think so any more. In fact, I have that list sitting next to my nightstand. It’s dog-eared, with drippings of coffee and afternoon snacks and watermarks all over it, because I love it so much.

It’s funny how God works. During the same time I got busy conquering the ants in my head, our formerly adorable and clean kitchen became infested with millions of the real thing. I am not trying to sound ungrateful that the Lord provided me with an object lesson, but it was disgusting. Just disgusting. “Honey, just try to keep the crumbs up,” my husband offered helpfully. Oh, sure. Because it’s not like two us of eat 75% of our meals with our hands, throw spoons of oatmeal on the floor when we’re bored, smoosh up jelly sandwiches on the crevices of our high chairs, open the jar of raisins and jam them under the wheels of a pretend shopping cart. No, it’s not that easy!!!!

Anyway. Point being, my house was a jackpot for these things. They would literally throw parties off the rooftops of the traps we placed.

Over the weeks when I battled the ants, literally and figuratively, here are some things I learned about them. I guess it was God’s way of punishing me for not taking the “ANT” book seriously the first time around. 🙂

-At first they’re a nuisance. But if you don’t deal with them, eventually they interfere with everything.

-They keep coming. The battle is never-ending.

-You can’t let your guard down (aka leave splatters of chicken broth unattended) for a minute.

-In their full-blown aggressive state, they are so disgusting. And embarrassing.

-Sometimes you need professional help.

-Even one ant is a problem. You know why? Because there’s never one ant. There are 34,942 of them in some invisible mountain behind your outlet cover. And eventually you will see all of them in shifts.

Luckily, I found some things that do work in fighting these ANTS. In this part of the blog series, I’d like to share a few things that have (and haven’t) been helpful to me. For this post, I want to focus on one particular thing I learned that has been really helpful.

In short, I have learned that while I can’t control my feelings of anxiety, I can control my thoughts. And thoughts change feelings.

Read that last paragraph again. Really, do it. I cannot put into words how revolutionary this one fact has been for me. I realize that to some it’s the emotional equivalent of discovering facebook. Hellooooo, old news. But not to me. For years I felt powerless against my anxious feelings because I couldn’t change them. And I was right, I couldn’t; sometimes I just feel anxious.

I can’t control those feelings, but there is hope if I change my thoughts. The book on “cognitive therapy” for anxiety (where I got this information) pointed out that every time you have a thought, it affects your body in some way. Think about something troubling, and a flood of negative feelings comes into your body. Remember a fun vacation you’ve had recently, and your heart rate slows, endorphins enter your blood stream, and you take nice deep breaths. In other words, you feel better.

How wise our heavenly Father is. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) And, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

This next part may sound confusing, but I’ll try to say it. I think I used to think this meant I should be more positive about a situation. You know, if I’m worried about Sam getting sick, to try to tell myself it won’t happen, etc. etc. Now there is probably a place for that. And, heck, maybe that is best. I don’t know. All I can say is that for me, what worked best is just to stop thinking about the thing altogether. Period. To dump out that whole batch of cookie batter, throw it away, wash the pan, and begin again. (Geez, my life is narrow. My analogies are really suffering. But you get the point.)

So if I am worried about Sam, I clean out the closet. I plan a party. I book a vacation. I paint my toenails.

I switch gears.

And I guess I’m jumping ahead of myself here, because this is my next tip. If thoughts control feelings, then actions control thoughts. At least this works for me – I put my hands to work on something. My brain follows, and then my feelings.

In the process, I have discovered something remarkable: People who are suffering can still get things done.

I would be lying if I said that anxiety medication didn’t help tremendously in this process. Also, I would be lying if I said that every time I felt anxious, those feelings dissipated when I redecorated the guest room. But you know what? Sometimes they do.

There are quite a few other things…more to come. I am sure you are all hanging on the edge of your seat here for “tips from the anxious person #3.” Oh well. 🙂

Oh, and ps. We did eventually call Terminex. So, rest assured, my house is not party central for ants anymore.

See you next time!

Part 2: Down To the Bottom and Up Again

Three years ago when I started writing this blog, it was a little…cutesy. I mean it was always real, but I bet after reading it you probably thought I had a pretty swell life.

A few months later, based on a series of events you can read about here, Todd and I went through something really terrifying. Basically, Sam was three months old and exhibiting early signs of autism. We had to go through a battery of tests and clinics and prayers and tears. It ended well … Now you would never in a million years guess that Sam was evaluated for such issues. But the point was, for a while I wanted to stop blogging. I was embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t going the way I had planned. Eventually I decided that, awkward or not, I still had something worthwhile to say, so I would keep writing.

I kind of feel the same way now. Part of me is uneasy to articulate what has happened in my life the past few months, but another part of me knows that what I have learned might be helpful to others.

In a nutshell, my anxiety finally got the best of me. Come to think of it, that’s literally what happened. Anxiety took all the best of me – those gifts that make me perfectly Jessica, the moments I’ve been blessed with to enjoy – and stole them.
It’s hard to make you understand, because anxiety is kind of Miss Congeniality of the sins. I have liked to think so anyways; you know – amusing, endearing, productive, etc. And I guess it can be those things…you know, when I’m scrubbing down the grocery cart with Lysol wipes, excitedly tracking the latest storm, things like that. Those are endearing, right? Oh, those are psycho too?? Well forget it then.)

But back to my point.

The thing is, worry is sin. It’s not a common cold in a world of cancer. It’s not a plastic squirt gun in an arsenal. It is the demon of sin itself, “and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

I keep picturing the language of C.S. Lewis. I think it is The Screwtape Letters book where he talks about a “pet sin” someone keeps perched on his shoulder (maybe not the right language, but you know what I mean). The guy is attached to it. It’s not that harmful, he likes it, he keeps it alive and close. For the longest time, I have been like that with anxiety.

And then it grew up. I think I’m going to blame it on motherhood, and you will all nod and sympathize. The lack of sleep. The crazy hormones. The truly terrifying reality that you love something so fragile. It all became too much.

And then I realized another thing God was right about… our health. Go figure, he who made the body knows what harms it. A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. I’ll tell you what it means for me. At the height of my anxiety, I went to see my doctor. I came for sinusitus, fatigue, “jitteryness,” headaches, weight loss, and honestly there were probably a few more random things I can’t even remember now. The very wise doctor gave me (instead of the panels and referals and screenings I expected) a prescription for generalized anxiety medicine. I still remember his words: “You know, when you start feeling better, you start feeling better.” I was disbelieving. But since then, I have realized that it’s not that my anxiety made me imagine my symptoms. No; they were real, because it created them.

Crazy as it sounds, it has been extremely therapeutic and freeing to think of myself as an alcoholic. I need help, beyond myself. At first I read the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous a few times a day. I would take my deep breaths and soak in the truths and picture all the millions of drunks turned sober. If they can change, then I can, too.

I know it sounds like I am being overly dramatic, which, to be fair, is often the case. Maybe I am. All I know is, I was down and now I am up. I feel really grateful for the things that have helped. In the next post or two, I’m going to share some things that have been actually, clinically, helpful in treating anxiety for me.

In the meantime, here are the practical applications of this part of the story (because I’m a teacher, that’s what we do at the end 🙂

– If you are someone who struggles with “recreational” worry, beware. If I could go back again, I would take my worry habits a lot more seriously, a lot earlier.
Everyone has something. This is something my kind husband often reminded me of when I felt like the world’s biggest most secret failure. Everyone has something they deal with.
This too shall pass. God is so gracious, that for those who struggle with much, much worse than I do -there is light, and hope, and laughter, and joy comes in the morning.

I’m sorry for such a serious post here! I promise there are cute kid quotes coming again soon. In fact, I will leave you with this one, so we leave on a lighter note. 🙂 But stay tuned for Part 3! 🙂

{cute kid quote} :

Sam: Mommy, you’re beautiful.

me: Awww, thanks, Sam!
(pause) Sam, what does that mean?

Sam: It means you’re nice!

{Sigh. Good enough I guess :}

Part I: God Loves Mommy Ducks

I am such a little kid at heart. Actually, being quite honest in many ways I’m not. I get annoyed by messes, prefer being clothed, hate apple juice, and, oh, I like to nap. But I feel like vacation brings out the fun side of Jessica. Once I smell the salt, I have a one-track mind until my feet are squishing the sand. And, every single animal sighting brings me to squeals. You would never believe all the animals we saw on our recent trip to Myrtle Beach. I will spare you the list, but – get this – A REAL 11 FOOT LONG ALLIGATOR!!!!! My husband is going to interrupt me at this point and offer a more reasonable dimension. Ignore him. It was huge. And it was looking. right. at us. Yes, I was the one jumping up and down, craning to take pictures like I have lived in Hong Kong my whole life.

Then there were your token sand crabs (but big ones with pokey eyes), skinny lizards, jumping fish, and such. And, as mentioned, the Mommy Duck. We had a kind of affinity, the mommy duck and me. She looked so pathetically pre-occupied with those ducklings. Honestly her heart looked like it was going to pound out of her chest. (And let’s be honest, she lived smack dab in the middle of a submarine splash park, so I kind of understand the apprehension.) We tried to give the ducks all crackers, and she wouldn’t even eat any of them because she was petrified something was going to happen to the ducklings. Now things aren’t so dire here that I would ever turn down a free cracker. So don’t worry. But I do feel her pain.

To explain, I need to tell you a little about our life right now. Did you ever play “Jenga” as a kid? I sort of feel like my life is like Jenga. I keep pulling out logs, waiting for the pile to crash. It is like that parenting in general, you know. The first time they handed me Sam, I thought, “Seriously? I am in charge of this?? Are you going to give me a class first or something?” And when your child has a life-threatening allergy, the perilous and fragile nature of parenting always looms a little more ominously in the background.

We’ve had two really awful medical events back to back. And I am positive these are harder for us than him, being as we are the ones in control. Not really, of course, but sort of. I fish out the peanut shells in the sand where he’s playing (most of the them?). I call the company to find out if the hot dogs are safe (enough?). I wash off the table (mostly?) before we eat at the pool. I manuever Sam around the kids with the cheeze-its. I recall what I’ve eaten before I kiss him goodnight. I always remember the epi pen. I diagnose cough as cold or asthma. I prepare, I watch, I monitor. And – I Am Tired. Really tired. It is too much. I’ll miss something. I am not smart enough. I can’t hold it all together. I’m not able to do this job.

On top of that, I feel guilty. When I think of what God thinks of me – even though a million people tell me otherwise – I feel ashamed. I know in my heart of hearts, I don’t trust Him. I know in my heart of hearts, I’m frustrated and demanding and self-centered when I should be grateful.

Exhausted, and guilty. Not a real fun place to live.

Well, I have to tell you this. A long time ago when I was only weeks into being a mom, a friend of mine shared a verse with me. For us, she said. Us moms.

Isaiah 40:11
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Did you catch the last line? He leads the mommies gently. I have loved that verse ever since.

With the tired, he is gentle.
With the worried, he is gentle.
With the guilty, he is gentle.
With the frightened, he is gentle.
With the little ones over which we worry, he is gentle.

And this is the great and wonderful present of Christianity that I love everytime: that he does not treat us as our sins deserve, but He leads us gently to rest.

introducing…

Hi. The last few months have been pretty busy around here! Sam and Ty had birthdays, Cappy and Nanna took us to the “awesome ocean,” we’ve relished a few emergency room visits, I purchased an awesome new bathing suit (online, nonetheless!), we joined a meat co-op, I flew on a plane for the first time post-children for a beautiful wedding in Michigan, we planted a garden (Okay, Todd planted a garden. I actually hate dirt..love flowers; hate dirt. I know…you thought I was more Pioneer Woman than that. I get that all the time.)

but back to the updates.. we got the stomach flu, the nieghborhood pool opened, I’m getting a niece (!!!), and let’s see…Oh, I’m getting a niece!!!

Well, usually when I’m behind in blogging I just do a nice long welcome-back post to catch up on all the ways I’ve gotten smartter each day in my absence. Believe it or not, in this pause I have actually gotten so smartt that not one update will do. Folks, I have so many stories to impart that I have taken on the endeavor to begin an eight-part series (doesn’t that sound sooo official??? I’m a real blogger! I just said “series”!!!)

You can look for Part I to run shortly. It has the sensational title of “The Duck That I Saw on Vacation.” Trust me, folks, this is just as fascinating as it sounds. Dare I say, even more?? See you then!

worry, and heaven, and C.S. Lewis

There are things that become incredibly relevant when you are a mom, things that didn’t mean as much before. Printable coupons. The flu season. Whether or not your husband will be home EXACTLY in time for dinner. And other sorts of things like that.
Also, C.S. Lewis. I have mentioned this before, but quite a few times I have found myself remembering a quote, and baffling that he was a middle aged mostly-bachelor who lived almost a century ago. Because, he knows me.

Like this quote: “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

That first part, about not being quite as holy as we think we should – now that rings true here in momland. See I used to be quite holy, back in college. I had daily, sacred quiet times, in which I prayed for all of the lost, and nearly all of fruits of the spirit (not just patience). I journaled; I sung (with my eyes closed, mind you) at worship night; I discussed. Oh, how I discussed. Heaven, in its official self, was near.

These days are a little different. Actually I have quite a complex about that holy Jessica of long ago. She has been replaced with someone who gets annoyed easily, who says her prayers mostly in bed, with warm covers on (you can see where this is going), and…I think I know where my Bible is, but a journal??? Forget it.

Which makes me wonder, comparitively, if I will be knocking on heaven’s door one day and somehow have forgotten my verses, and theologies, and…feel out of place.

I hope Mr. Lewis is right, then, that the inklings of heaven are still right here with me even if books and Bible studies have been replaced by dishes and diapers. And if I look at my heart, I think he is right.

Behind all of the vitamins and check-ups and seat-belt-buckling and baby-gate-installing and sneaking of vegetables into things, is the hope that nothing bad will ever, ever happen to my family. Heaven. Everytime I worry about my own health, it’s just because I want to live forever with the ones I love. Heaven. Everytime my heart breaks for yet another family with sick kids, heaven. Everytime I’m hungry, and tired, and need strength for another day, heaven. Everytime I’m struck with how perfect my children are, and somehow hugging them tight is not enough – I want the moment to last forever…heaven. Everytime I’m lonely. Everytime I’m worried. Everytime I hurt. Heaven.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
– C.S. Lewis

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

worries, culture, and updates

Where to start? I’ve received so many emails and phone calls demanding updates on my “no worries” resolution, so I’ll start with that. (okay, more like my husband mentioned it in passing two weeks ago. At least someone remembered. 🙂 It’s been almost two months since I gave up worry for lent, or fall, or something.

How’s it going, you ask? Well, it was going great. I wrote the blog, went to bed, and things were going swimmingly. Then I woke up and sort of felt that left-arm-numbness-thing I’ve been noticing. That was a bit of a battle to my spirit. But nothing compared to Day 3 of No Worry Living, when Sam had an allergic reaction to something still unknown, in our living room (carpet? pesticide? peanut butter?), and we had to administer the epi pen and call 911 and rush him to the doctor. I mean, I guess I knew there would be trials and tribulations to surmount. But really, God, really??!? The epi pen on Day 3??! Initially, even this challenge was met with confidence, maturity, and strength. What I mean is, the paramedics (and my mom) were impressed with my attention to detail, yet refusal to cry like a little girl, even though anyone would be scared.

It was only days later that I basically crumbled like a cookie in a lunchbox. Crumbled apart. The terror, the adrenaline, the questions that needed answers, the rashes that needed watching, the doctors who needed prompting…

Worry is like a toilet. No, not just that it’s crappy. (Seventh grade humor…sorry. Too much time with my husband.) No, picture the part where it flushes and water is swirling and swirling and sucking down. Worry swallows everything. There is no middle ground. Worry a drop about something; soon you will worry oceans about anything. Either worry is dead or worry is tyrant. So I guess despite my failure it wasn’t a total loss. I have learned a lot about worry. I have learned how destructive worry can be. I have learned I am a hypochondriac. (Who knew? Oh, you did? Shoot.) Finally I have learned that I can be great at managing worry, especially with a little medicine, a glass or two of wine, people who listen, a few good nights of (mostly) uninterrupted sleep, when I am surrounded by people, and, ahem, at certain happier times of the month.

I am not the hero of this story. I did a bad job not worrying. (Although give me a little break…the epi pen on day 3?!?! Did anyone think I’d survive that??) I still remain resolute as ever for the next 23 days. I think I am just more humble now. I know I am a worry junkie. I need to go to AA meetings and run like heck when I see a needle. It’s my pathetic drug to cope with life, and I am grateful for people who help.

SO there is that update. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way here are a few random happenings and thoughts of the last two months.
– We are praying for the right next place to live! Our house is rented. Where do we go next? No pressure, since it’s not like our kids will probably grow up in this house, and I’m sure our 3.85% interest rate will be around any old time we need it again. (!?!?!)
– I am teaching again. I have the most wonderful students EVER. Sam, Jack, and Lincoln, so far. Homeschool preschool rocks.
– It’s not too late to get up in the wee hours of the morning (or just the regular morning, only if you have a toddler and baby, heads up that it may FEEL like the wee hours of the morning) to read your Bible with us! I am so grateful for this program, and for all the friends all over the country who are reading with me! We sign in via facebook in the morning for accountability. Not too late! Join us
– Finally. I have realized I have a love/hate relationship with pop culture, now that I am offically an adult. Love: I want to be cool again. When did I lose it? (Oh, yes, that’s right. When I got pregnant.) Anyway, I miss shopping. I miss knowing how to do my eye makeup, or doing my eye makeup in general. I resent the realization that I am actually not wearing the kind of jeans the cool kids are wearing. But also: HATE. At the risk of sounding like a grandmother (no – I take it back. No “risk” – I offically WILL sound like a grandmother.) BUT WHEN THE HECK DID AMERICA GO TO POT??? (I warned you…grandmother.) But seriously. Maybe I have just been removed from culture too long while I was burping and shushing and making babyfood. But have teenagers always been so grungy and disrespectful and texting nonstop and just plain NOT who you want your precious little boys to grow up and be with? (or – gasp – be LIKE??) Has mainstream TV always been so full of sex and boobs and really awful people?? Seriously??

Okay, I am off my soapbox. Just had to note it, for the one other person in the world who also feels that way, now you are not alone! 🙂 haha.

Whew, thanks for reading this quite random update, and I promise I won’t be gone so long next time!

before 30

You have probably heard of this thing where people list 30 things they want to do before they turn 30. I am behind a little. I only have 81 days to do whatever crazy things I want to do. Typically this type of thing would be right up my alley. But I have subconsciously been avoiding it for two reasons I just realized. First, even though it sounds cliche, I am joining the club of people who are in denial about their age. I am still coming to terms with the fact that “thirty-year-olds” are not people who hang out with my parents, or those dragging their kids to little league games, or people who tell cheesy jokes and drink adult drinks. No, “thirty-year-olds” are MY FRIENDS, and I am one of them. Sigh. My mom says when you are a kid life goes so slow and then somewhere around adulthood it starts rolling like a snowball until about 50 it is racing so fast you have no idea what’s happening. Guess I better hold on.

Anyway, I think the second reason I haven’t done the 30 before 30 is that to be honest, making a list like that just wouldn’t be that big of a deal, for me or anyone else who knows me. I live and breathe lists. Grocery list, wish lists, meal lists, goal lists, packing lists, project lists. I’m one of those people who adds something to the list just to cross it off. (You know who you are.) I make so many lists that last year I decided that a master notebook (think Trapper Keeper, thirty-somethings) to hold all of my books of lists would be a good investment. It held my notebook for grocery lists, my notebook of project lists, and my notebook of – wait for it – miscellaneous lists. (this is not a joke.) When describing my trapper keeper to my husband, this was the point at which he burst out laughing.

No, for me the challenge has never been lining the lists and getting the goals. My 30-before-30 list would just be one more feather in my cap for self-accomplishments and petty victories. If I really think about, for me a REAL success would be to STOP doing, stop planning, stop analyzing, stop achieving, stop predicting and charting and mandating and controlling and thinking and… DO NOTHING.

In other words, to stop worrying.

Hmmm. The first time this insane idea crossed my mind I literally laughed. What a ridiculous, impossible thing. To make a goal to stop worrying! Makes for a good chicken-soup-for-the-soul story but how in the world. How would I even find the resources to totally, totally let go and with all my strength and heart and mind work on being positive? Too crazy.

And then I was dared to. I was talking to my mom; I can’t remember if it was the time I thought Ty had whooping cough or I was having another kid or I couldn’t ever have another kid or Sam was too energetic or too lethargic or what. But anyway, I was bemoaning the state of me, the inflicted worrier, when she slapped me with this: You know, you don’t really know if you can stop worrying, because the truth is, you’ve never really tried. Being the goal-oriented person I am, I was more invigorated than offended. Puh! Never tried it!! Is that a challenge? I’ll take it!

Of course, it would be goal-making heresy to vaguely pledge to forsake worrying with no defined end. So 1-before-30 it is. Until October 26, 2011, I will do no worrying. (Don’t ask me what happens the 27. Worry party?? Anyone in?)

Anyway, upon further deliberation I realized I may need to redefine things, because, come to think of it, telling someone to not worry is about like telling someone not to think about oranges. (What are you thinking about??) And also like, if you forgive my presumption in Bible interpretation, the story Jesus tells about the empty house and the demons coming and filling it. No worry, and you just have an empty space for more destructive thoughts.

So perhaps a better goal is this. For the next 81 days, I will be a positive thinker. I like the sound of that. Truth be told, I am a little, um, worried, about it though. What if I fail? Of course now I’ll have to tell all of you, but it’s really not little old blog followers that terrify me. As any perfectionist understands, it’s me. What if I set a goal, make a list, and FAIL? I would be so depressed. Honestly, though, I don’t think it’s failure that terrifies me most.

It’s success. What if I try to become a different person – and it works?? Then what?? Secretly, I like me. Flaws and all. And goodness knows we don’t need two Todds around here. Who would rush the kids to the doctor? Who would warn everyone of tornados (okay, tornado warnings. same thing.) I am at core terrified that if I stop worrying the next 81 days will be full of undetected ear infections, uninspected lumps, untreated diseases ravenging through bodies, unaddressed child-rearing issues and basically, calamity after calamity slapping us, out of the blue, in the obliviously cheerful face.

So it is with great trust, both in God, who I do admit is REALLY in charge (there, I said it), and also trust in those of you who see me daily, that you will alert me if I am exhibiting pre-diabetic symptoms or my child does indeed break out in rashes at the sight of ragweed or whatever alarming things I might miss.

I choose to sit in the passenger seat.

And I am going to dare to enjoy the view. At the impending notion that something terrifying could be coming, I am going to – gasp – choose another, more happy ending. I am going to give life the benefit of the doubt. I am going to assume the best, or does it count if it is at least a medium option. I am going to speak hope, and good, and life and health and beauty, and not tiredness and hints of a runny nose and why-could-he-be-late and I can’t-make-it-through-todays.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure WHAT I will do because this optimism thing is foreign language. So I think I will ask for help. In fact, I think I will interview a few optimists and maybe post it here. Stay tuned. And in the meantime, give me an early 30th birthday present and pray with me. That I can let go. And that if I do, I won’t fall (apart). I’ll keep you posted on my exciting adventure. Here’s to 81 days of optimism. Kind of has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
🙂