Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “panic”

There is no fun in fungus.

I am vain. And I am OK with that. In fact, the best, most enduring life changes I have ever made were for the sake of vanity. Vanity is a tool for me, and I use it to my advantage. Getting my eating under control, quitting smoking, regular exercise, and drinking water all came from the desire to look beautiful, or look like I had my shit together. No complaints. They all worked.

Right now, I have a fingernail fungus that I seemingly acquired at a nail salon in either Texas or Illinois. I didn’t know what it was until last week, when I went in for my every-two-week manicure, and the woman told me she couldn’t paint my nails because that hard skin under my nails was a fungus.

My first reaction was panic. Because that is always my first reaction when something goes a way that is difficult, painful, or inconvenient for me. But then I dialed it back, and took some “right actions.”

So since then, I have been soaking my nails in Listerine and vinegar, rubbing them with Vicks VapoRub, and painting them myself with an anti-fungal nail polish. It’s a pain in the ass. But it has to be done. If I were to let it go, and hope it would get better on its own because I was in denial, it would only get worse.

Thankfully, I seem to have caught it early. It’s still not fun. I had to chop off my normally long nails. I am terrible (though getting better with practice) at painting my own nails. And I have to think about them all the time, whereas I normally only think about my nails every two weeks when it was time to get them done. But it could be worse. I could have not realized what was happening and let it go so long that it caused a health problem, and not just a cosmetic one.

When I got my eating under control, I began to understand how to “just take the next right action.” I began to understand that all things are done one step at a time. And that baby steps are still steps, and will get me moving in the right direction.

When I got my eating under control, I learned to let myself panic. But just for a moment. And then take an action. The longer I am free of sugar, the better I am at taking stock of the situation, and the less time it takes to figure things out.

Before that, I didn’t “let myself” panic. I just panicked. I didn’t have any other option. And I would become paralyzed. I couldn’t make any decisions, or take any steps. And to quell the panic, I would eat. That only made me numb. The problem wouldn’t go away, I would just not care. Until the high wore off. And by then, the problem would be worse.

The truth is, I hate this nail fungus thing. Every time I look at my hands I feel unhappy. But I know that this is temporary because I am doing something about it. And I won’t eat over it because I don’t eat over things like feelings or problems.


Making a new friend of an old enemy

You may know from last week’s post that I have had an infection in one of my gums. I went to the dentist on Monday and she told me that she thought it was the result of a broken wisdom tooth. So on Thursday I went to an oral surgeon and had that tooth pulled.

Now it is no secret to anyone that I am emotional. But when it comes to medical procedures of almost any kind, I freak the hell out. I always have. From the time I was a little kid. I can remember totally losing it in the doctor’s office at five, when they were going to prick my finger for my routine kindergarten checkup. Once, the phlebotomist at Planned Parenthood had two maintenance guys come talk to me about the heaters they were installing to distract me while she drew blood.

I cry and start to hyperventilate. As I have gotten older, I tend to rock, wring or rub my hands in an obsessive way and do deep breathing exercises. This usually keeps me from actually hyperventilating. It takes a lot just to keep the panic at bay.

There are things that I want to change about myself. I believe in changing. I believe in growing as a person and being better. And hell, I am good at that. I am really good at it. But I also believe that there are things that you have to learn to live with, that you just have to make friends with. For me, being sensitive to sugar, grains and starch, and not being able to “eat like a normal person” is one of those things. And freaking out about medical procedures is too.

It is humiliating to discover that you are a compulsive eater and a sugar addict. It takes something to stop being ashamed of not being able to control yourself when it comes to food and accept the truth of it. But as long as I fought against admitting that I am a food addict, I was never going to get any relief. I was just going to keep trying to get it right, keep trying to manage, keep trying to eat in moderation. And I was going to keep failing and falling deeper into misery.

Once I admitted that I had a problem with food and that I was incapable of eating like a regular person, I was able to really do something about it. Namely putting boundaries around when, how much, and what I ate. I was able to make it work. And I was able to stop fighting against myself. Fighting myself is just plain exhausting.

I have come to the point where I have decided to make friends with my medical panic. When I called to make the appointment with the oral surgeon, I told the receptionist that I would cry, that I am emotional. I said, “you might want to make a note of that in my file.”

The truth is that it makes other people deeply uncomfortable. I can’t tell you how many people in the office asked me if I wanted to postpone, come back another day and have them put me out for it. (Thank God I didn’t agree to that. My mother pointed out that if they put me out, they would have given me an IV!!! Just the thought of that gives me the chilly-willies! I’m still shuddering at the idea.)

I am sorry that my emotions make people uncomfortable, especially my irrational fears over medical procedures. But so do my food boundaries, and I am not willing to make other people’s comfort a priority over my own wellbeing.

So I am not going to be ashamed of the fact that I freak out before procedures. I need to make friends with it so I can deal with it. It’s one thing to be deathly afraid of being poked and prodded, but it is something else, something extra and totally unproductive, to be ashamed of that fear. I have decided I can do without the shame.

My shame, the idea that I shouldn’t be this way, is the kind of thing that makes me walk away. When I was younger, I absolutely would have walked away from every stitch, blood test, physical exam, and shot, if my mother had let me. I would have forgone all needles and drills and what not if they would have let me go to school without my shots and tests. But in my old(er) age, I have come to recognize that not having the procedure wasn’t going to get rid of the infected tooth. I wanted the results of the procedure. So I cried, and wrung my hands, and panicked, and did my very best to breathe. And I stayed, and opened my mouth, and kept still and quiet, and let the man do his work. And he was awesome!

The procedure was quick and easy. The oral surgeon, against the odds, got the infected tooth out in one piece. (I know because I asked him the odds and he said it was an 80% chance that he would have to drill it into pieces to get it out, and then stitch my mouth.) It literally took him longer to numb my mouth than it did for him to extract the tooth. And I have had minimal discomfort, completely manageable with over the counter pain relievers. And when the doctor called me that evening, I was eating dinner and I told him (while laughing) how I told everyone the story of how I freaked out and how he was awesome.

P.S. Did you get that? My oral surgeon personally called me that evening to ask how I was doing! As my husband said, “Now that’s small town living!”


A love of making things, and a predisposition to panic

I have come to a point in time where there are so many things that I want to do and seemingly not enough time to do them all.

Of course, that is ridiculous. I have a shocking amount of free time while I am not working. But it is filled with things that I want to do.

I am working on a new writing project, totally unrelated to this blog. I have started a new crochet project. Not to mention necessary things like trips to the grocery store, and laundry. I still have a basket of nothing but clean white socks that I have not paired and put away. Plus I have been cooking almost every meal when it is time to eat it. When I was working, I would cook once or twice a week and pack it all up.

It’s hard for me to think about what I got done when I worked. It was different. Mostly what got done was work. It would take me months, not weeks, to complete a crochet project. And my projects then were much simpler. This blog got written on one of the few days that I had off. Usually on the day that I did not cook all of my meals for the week.

There are so many things that I want to do all at the same time. Even, or maybe especially, when I am not working, and I feel like I should have time to do it all.  It’s frustrating. Sometimes when I am doing the mindless part of some errand, like pairing socks, or walking home from the grocery store, I can feel myself getting worked up, almost like a panic. About the next scene in the story I’m writing. About how to attach the sleeve of my new crochet sweater. About which I should do first, and what I will do if they don’t turn out right. I start breathing heavy and my mind starts to whirr. I have to tell myself that it all doesn’t have to be done right now. I have to remind myself that these are not life an death decisions. I have to accept that nothing has to get done in a day except that I have to keep my eating boundaries.

Most of this is stuff that I have gone through all of my life, with one glaring exception. In the years of my life before I put boundaries around my eating, I was never able to calm myself to the extent that things could continue to get done. When I was eating compulsively, I was never able to manage my panic.

My addiction to sugar and my compulsive eating manifested as a kind of manic-depressive disorder. I would have great ideas. I would be overwhelmed with the desire to learn new things and create beautiful art. All kinds of art. I would have great bursts. I would have artistic binges. I would write in a frenzy. I would crochet through the night. I would read until I passed out and then wake to immediately continue reading. I would not want to stop for anything. I was a salve to the panic. I was trying to keep up with the whirring in my head.

And then I would crash. A mistake, or problem, or a block would rear up. And I wouldn’t know what to do. And I would eat. Sugar. And I would be so exhausted from the whirring that I would stop. I would get so high on sugar that I couldn’t do any more. And then would come a period where I would just get high. I would’t write, or read or crochet. I would just get high on sugar and crash from sugar. And this period of nothing, this depressive part of the cycle, would last so much longer than the manic period.

I hated this part of myself. I was deeply ashamed of what I viewed as my laziness. My sloth. My disgusting waste of energy and talents. But I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t will myself to start back up again. So when I got a new mania, I seized it. I jumped in and pushed myself to exhaustion. I manic-ed myself into a new depression. The whole thing made possible by a steady stream of sugar and carbohydrates.

Now I don’t have the sugar to fuel my panic, or stop my flow. And I have the capacity to see the whirring, and calm myself. Because I am sober from sugar and compulsive eating, I have the tools to accomplish things at a manageable pace. I know how to stop temporarily. To regroup. To calm down. To do life things in between, like laundry and cooking and showering. And I have the knowledge that I never had before. That tomorrow is another day. That I will eat three meals tomorrow. I will write some more, and crochet some more. That there is more than enough time to do everything that needs to be done. And I know that if, on any given day, nothing gets done but keeping my food boundaries, that’s ok to. It isn’t a crash or a depression. It’s just a day where I take a rest.

I think I always thought I was a little crazy growing up. And I can see now that I was…sort of. Sugar made me a different person. Kate on sugar was Kate on drugs. I was a junkie in a totally legal and mostly socially acceptable way.

Sure, I’m still pretty neurotic. But I am not a person I am embarrassed or ashamed of. And I am not tormented by “sloth” or “waste.” I am just a woman with a love of making things, and a predisposition to panic.

With all due respect to FDR, I fear food more than I fear fear.

I had some high anxiety days this week. And while I am sure that my life would be more comfortable if I didn’t have moments of…well, discomfort…I won’t complain. It turns out that’s just not the way life goes. For anybody. And it was good to be reminded of some things.

Like that it’s nice to not only be able to feel, but also to be able to accurately recognize feelings. To be able to name them. I can say, “Hey! I’m feeling a little anxious today.” Which I couldn’t do when I was eating compulsively. Because I would eat my feelings before I knew what they were. I wouldn’t even recognize that I was having feelings, because everything masqueraded as hunger. I was well into adulthood before I realized that my yearning for food was really just yearning to get high. I just wanted to numb out.

When I stopped eating sugar and carbohydrates, and put boundaries around my food, one of the rules I took on was eating 3 meals a day. They are big, abundant, filling, and healthy meals. But there are exactly 3 of them. I do not snack. I do not save a little of a meal and put it aside for later. I do not graze. Three times a day, it is time for eating. And the rest of the time, it is not. The rest of the time it is time to do something else.

This is important because I cannot eat my feelings anymore. I may get to escape them for 20 minutes to an hour at any given meal time. But when dinner is done, and especially since there is no sugar in my meals to drug me, there is no getting away from myself. And that has proven to be a blessing.

Because it happens that you don’t get to pick and choose your feelings. You don’t get to feel and enjoy fun, joy and camaraderie if you insist on stuffing pain, anxiety and unhappiness.

It was actually something that surprised me when I stopped eating sugar. I found that I often wanted to eat because my happiness or excitement was overwhelming. It wasn’t just “bad” feelings that I found uncomfortable, it was all feelings.

So when I first stopped eating sugar and started only eating 3 times a day, I would think that I was hungry, but I wouldn’t eat. Because it wasn’t time. And then that hunger would grow and change. First into discomfort, and then into a feeling. A feeling I could grasp and name.

And none of those feelings ever killed me. Look! I’m still here! Breathing, even! And no longer afraid to feel things. Even yucky things. Like shame and jealousy and anger and embarrassment. I may not like those feelings, but I don’t have to fear them either. They always turn out to be paper tigers. Where as the food, the sugar and the constant eating and the obsession that I used to use to avoid those feelings, was killing me. Both physically and emotionally.

There is one other thing that my anxiety this week has me grateful for. It was good to remember that every feeling doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes feelings mean something. Many of my less pleasurable feelings have been signs that I needed to make some changes in my life.

But I don’t think I was learning any major life lessons this week. There was nothing in particular that triggered my mild panic. I don’t think recreational crocheting should make my heart race and fill me with dread. Which is what I was doing when I started to feel the impending doom. I think I am a person with a naturally anxious disposition. And it doesn’t mean anything about me.

I used to think that everything was a sign. That everything had a deeper, hidden meaning. That I was a puzzle that I was supposed to solve.

Now I suppose that may be true. But I stopped trying to solve the puzzle that is Kate. I stopped worrying about the hidden meaning. I figure that hormones and brain chemicals have a lot to do with my reactions to day to day experiences. That living in a body is complicated and strange no matter how healthy, sane, and well-balanced you are. And that if there is a major life lesson to learn, I will certainly learn it. It’s my experience that life is a strict schoolmaster. It doesn’t just let you off the hook. If there’s a lesson, there’s a test. And you will have to take that test as many times as it takes for you to ace it.

So for today I am grateful that my anxiety has passed. But more, that I know when I am afraid. And that I know better than to fear fear.

Pick a panic, any panic

There are only 2 feelings that I have ever been comfortable with. Since I got control of the food, I get whole washes of peace. Sometimes for days! I treasure those days. I can be with peace. Peace, I like. The other is resignation. It is the same resignation that I had when I was eating compulsively. It is the feeling that made it easy to lock myself in my room with boxes and bags of things to poison myself with. It is the feeling that let me keep my life as small as possible. Nothing good was ever going to happen to me. I should just enjoy my cake. (Of course, I didn’t enjoy my cake! I didn’t enjoy anything…) I can be with resignation. But I do not like it.

I have written quite a bit so far about how I ate my negative feelings. My shame and pain. But I also ate my good feelings. My joy and excitement. My happiness. This may not make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I didn’t even know I did that until I stopped. But real joy is intense and confusing to me. And I have never been good at riding the waves. It is easier to be numb. And I am never numb anymore.

When my feelings get unmanageable, I have generally had three strategies. The first, which I no longer utilize, was to eat. Sugar. That would get me numb for a while and then make me feel bad about myself.  Problem with joy? Problem solved. The second, which I am doing less and less lately, is to make a rash decision and take a drastic action. Specifically, to make a big ol’ mess of things. Then there is no need to deal with that feeling. There are too many things to do in order to get my life square again. And the third is what a friend of mine calls Pick A Panic, Any Panic. (I can still get stuck in this one. Baby steps, Kate.)

Pick a panic has the advantage of providing all of the drama of making rash decisions, but without all that mess. I can keep it contained enough to only hurt and torment myself. This eliminates a lot of the guilt associated with lashing out at others. But it’s also harder to distinguish. My panic occurs to me as real, not like I fabricated it. Pick a panic is very close to the highs and lows of compulsive sugar eating. I’m guessing that’s actually where my brain learned it. And did it so often and so regularly that it doesn’t even need the sugar anymore. Pick a panic is useful if your goal is to get worked up enough to declare certain doom unto yourself, quit, and return the damp cocoon of resignation.

So let’s get to men (ok, just one man) and my heart. And happiness. I asked the man I like if he liked me. (See! I did take a risk with my heart!) And wow, did he give me a response! He positively touched me. I felt so incredibly honored and appreciated. The whole thing left me speechless. It made me really really happy!

Which makes me really really uncomfortable.

So I want to pick a panic. Any panic. About all of my faults and flaws. About not being pretty enough. About fucking up. About time and money. About logistics. About how many beautiful women there are in the world and where they are located. About the uncertainty of the future. Really. Any one will do.

While I am letting my panic blossom and flourish, I am never thinking about where it will ultimately lead. But panic is a straight line to resignation for me. It is the first step down the short, desperate road to…well, anywhere but here where I’m uncomfortable. Where I have to deal with life, and other human beings. Or, God forbid, joy!

So what’s the remedy for panic? Now. Here. This moment exactly as it is. Being still. Being quiet. Not panicking.

I am responsible for my thoughts. And I know what it takes to change my mind. And not just on a particular subject or issue. I know what it takes to change my thinking. Meditation. Standing still. Taking in. Being.

And it turns out I like these practices. They take the pressure off. They remind me that I am not in charge of the world or anyone in it but myself. That I have only one responsibility; to live. To be in the place and moment that I am in. To do the next right thing.

Basically, I think the cure for panic is surrender. And I believe that surrender is a grace. In other words, you don’t work at it, you receive it. I want to keep myself open. Eyes, ears, arms, heart, and mind. I want to be available for grace and peace. I want to be available for this moment. Whatever moment it is. And if it’s joy, intense and confusing, may I know how blessed I am.

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