make, move, read, do: coping with anxiety

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Because I’ve seen articles about pastors and counselors and therapists seeing the same in the people they care for, I feel pretty confident in saying that I’m not the only person feeling anxious as all get-out lately. I had anxiety before it seemed our country went to hell in a handbasket, and it feels like every day there’s a new reason to protest, be outraged, be worried. Advice to unplug from the news may be well-meaning, but it doesn’t really suit my personality. I’d feel even more panicked if I didn’t know what was going on. Still, I probably could do better with my time than spend hours a day reading articles online and freaking out.

So. Since I’m freaking out and you’re probably freaking out, we need some coping strategies.

First of all: I take medicine. I make no secret of the fact that I take anxiety medication, and it helps me function. Before I took medicine, my face and neck and back hurt constantly from being perpetually tense, I had trouble sleeping, I ground my teeth when I did sleep, I was constantly one tiny trigger away from a rage or crying outburst, and I was having panic attacks. Most of that I don’t have to deal with anymore since I take medication.

Now my new thing seems to be avoidance. I do not feel like doing anything. Sleeping. Checking my voicemail. Doing much of anything. I just feel overwhelmed. All the time. And my sleep has been out of whack– I’m in a vicious cycle of sleeplessness, exhaustion, and afternoon napping.

My new strategy? Make. Move. Read. Do.

Make means exercising my creativity. This means writing, sewing, cooking, hand-lettering, and painting for me. It turns out finding time to be creative every day really does make you happier. And it doesn’t have to be a great work of art. I remember hearing Mary Steenburgen speak in college. She talked about creativity, and how when we’re kids we’re dancers, singers, painters, artists, but at some point, we let those creative outlets go, often because we decide we aren’t “good” enough to keep at it. But the point isn’t the product, it’s the producing. I find especially that something that allows my hands to be busy and my rational brain to take a break can refresh and relax me. Some creative pursuits I’ve been up to lately: sewing rainbow felt banners for the girls’ upcoming birthday, watercolor painting, hand lettering, and making complicated food like homemade pasta while sipping wine and listening to music.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Move means literally moving my body, preferably outside in the sunshine. I am not naturally a “move” kind of person. I have observed that my new city of Denver is an outdoorsy place. When people ask you what you “do,” they often mean “outside for fun” not “professionally.” All of my favorite things happen inside. I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios. However, as we all earned from Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” They also tend not to feel like they’re flipping out all the time. Now, I’m not suddenly going all outdoorsy, but I’ve taken THREE WALKS OUTSIDE WITH MY DOG lately, and I admit they make me feel better. Usually I listen to a podcast that calms and interests me (Fresh Air, On Being, and the Robcast are my favorites). Also, I read somewhere that having an anxious mind is like having a border collie puppy: you have to give it something to do, or it will find something, and you probably won’t like what it finds. I’ve got anxiety AND a border collie mix, so the walks are good for both of us.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Walks with my dog also give me the opportunity to see cool signs like this.

Read means the news, yes, to stay informed, but it also means reading actual books. Right now I’m re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and making a point to read and post a poem a day by a Black poet for Black History Month (check out my Facebook Page to see today’s poem). Note: I do not watch television news. Television news makes me more anxious and panicky. Even listening to NPR news can make me feel like the world is closing in. I follow a lot of writers I trust on Twitter, so I get a lot of the articles I read there, and I’m a New York Times subscriber. I try to stick to sites like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, etc. and avoid things that overly stress me out. And then I need to also make a point to walk away from news and the internet and just read stuff that feeds my mind and soul.

Do means taking action on behalf of what I believe in. Ideally all that reading will give me one thing per day that is a tangible thing I can do to let my voice be heard and try to resist the Trump administration. This may be calling my Senators and Representative, attending a protest or rally, sending a postcard or email, going to an event where I learn about an issue, or donating money or time to a cause I believe in. I can’t do All The Things, but I can do one thing per day to resist and persist.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

That’s my coping strategy. Are you doing anything to cope with Trump administration anxiety? What’s working for you?

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on dealing with anxiety

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It was only 9 a.m., and I had already screamed at every single member of my family and had just broken down in tears. I could see in my husband’s eyes that things had gotten bad.

“I see the way you look at me, like you don’t like me very much right now. I don’t like me very much right now either, but I don’t know how to feel or do any different. I feel out of control all the time.”

He wrapped his arms around me as I cried and cried. And then he gently told me that while he knew I had an appointment in a week or so to talk to my doctor about my anxiety, but that he thought maybe we should talk to her about doing something NOW. I could only agree. I talked to my doctor on the phone, and after I described how I’d been feeling, she gently suggested that I start taking medication that night, so I could be on it for several days by the time my appointment came around.

As I took that first pill, I felt more hopeful than I had in a while, even though I knew it might take a while for the medication to begin to help.

The last few months have been very hard for me. I am not generally a person who yells at people or regularly breaks down crying, and it had begun to happen a lot. It was like I was walking around all the time at stress level 8, and every small setback, even things like my kids refusing to put their pants on or my inability to parallel park, would trigger explosive rage or tears as my stress level hit 10 again and again. My whole body vibrated with tension. My muscles in my head, neck, and face were so tight, my teeth hurt. And I was having to take melatonin every night just to slow my racing mind down enough to fall asleep.

I know it’s normal for people who are preparing for a big life change like a cross country move to feel tension and stress, but my feelings had become overwhelming past the point of my control. I felt awful most of the time, unable to find bright sides or hope, unable to feel anything but scared and angry and sad. Not a good way to live.

Within a few days of taking the medicine, I was sleeping much better, but still feeling very easily triggered. We have eased my dose up a little bit, and now that I’ve been on it for longer, I feel maybe 70% of my normal self? I hope to get to feeling even more back to myself as I am on the medicines longer, and my doctor says if I’m not feeling 85% or so in a month, to let her know. Already, I’m not screaming at my family constantly. I haven’t cried in days. I am so glad I had people in my life who encouraged me to get help.

And I’m sharing this with you because we don’t talk about this kind of stuff often enough. First, you feel bad because of the anxiety, and then you feel bad because who wants to admit that they keep finding themselves yelling at the people they love most, blinded by rage and fear, falling apart at every turn? But that stuff wasn’t ME. That stuff was anxiety. And for me, this anxiety was a sickness that needed medicine.

And I want to talk about this so that anyone out there reading who is feeling awful most of the time, who is feeling panicky and fearful and rageful and wired, knows that it’s not just you. You don’t have to keep feeling terrible all the time. You don’t have to be ashamed to ask for help. And you deserve to feel better.

the light and the dark

orsbornpicLike a lot of people who have spent their lives loving his work, I’ve been pretty sad about Robin Williams’ death. He was just a bright light in the world, and now that he’s gone, things seem a little dimmer. He will be missed.

I’m glad that his tragic suicide is being used to shed some light on the very real problems of depression and suicide. It’s not enough to replace his light, but it’s something.

I have been concerned by some of the rhetoric I’ve seen though, even in well-meaning statements. Mental illness is an illness. It’s one that others often don’t know about, because of things like stigma that keep people from reaching out. But it’s an illness, same as any other chronic condition– with something like diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t work right. With mental illness, it’s your brain. You can’t cure any chronic disease just by “knowing how loved” you are. Or by “knowing God.” Or by “choosing joy.”  Continue reading

dog days

IMG_1002Often, as a mom, I feel like I spend my time tending to the squeakiest wheel. The past couple weeks, that wheel has been our dog, Olive. Olive is a beloved, slightly crazy, very sweet border collie mix that we adopted some six years ago after some family friends found her as a skinny puppy in the Arkansas deer woods. She has always been a little skittish. She’s occasionally gotten out, because she loves to run. But that was usually not a problem so long as we had a nice, securely fenced yard with no weaknesses for her to exploit. She’s shocked us by being the most gentle of our pups with the girls, and though she still hates Tinycat, we had been making some progress in allowing them to both have run of the house together.  Continue reading