Monthly Archives: March 2006

Exhausting Vigilance

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EXHAUSTING VIGILANCE

A Story About Dealing with Health Anxiety

 

My pulse is about 73. Temperature is 97.6. I wonder if I am hyperventilating.  The doctor still hasn’t called with my blood test results. What if something is abnormal? I am only 31 and am not ready to die. God, what if its cancer? Or heart disease, please don’t be heart disease. Imagine having these thoughts on a regular basis. Imagine having them daily, or even hourly!  This is being in a state of constant awareness and extreme sensitivity.  Is this what Health Anxiety causes or is this what caused the Anxiety? There is this line between sensible caution and hyper vigilance. One day I catapulted over that line and it’s been hell finding my way back to the other side.

 

Since the age of 23, I have had what was diagnosed as Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I battled through many different medications and several therapists. I would go into year long remissions with no symptoms what so ever. It would strike again for a while, and then leave. A very disruptive yoyo. When I would have these panic attacks, it would always start with a feeling that my heart was racing, though it never occurred to me to take my pulse. I would sweat, my throat would tighten, and I was certain I was dying. I even went to the ER several times only to be given a xanax, patted on the head, and sent out the door. I remember one ER visit quite clearly. I felt as though I was about to pass out. The RN was taking my pulse and she kept re-taking it as though something must have been wrong. She continually asked me if I was on any kind of drugs. I kept telling her no. I had even given up coffee at that point. I never even asked what my heart rate was. Never thought to ask. I just trusted them and waited for the xanax to kick in, as it eventually did.

 

In Spring of 2003, I was preparing for my wedding when I began feeling these flutters in my chest, like a fish flopping around beneath my ribs. I could actually feel my heart skipping beats. I later found out that these were PVCs (premature ventricular contractions).  I had been anxiety symptom free for years and feeling quite “normal” until then. These flutters did make me nervous, but I tried to pass them off as indigestion and just started popping Rolaids. However, it did create some anxiety and I went back into counseling. After about 7 months or so, I was doing so well that the counselor thought I didn’t need her services anymore at that time. I was really making strides dealing with the anxiety and doing so without a daily medication.

 

It was a Friday in December of 2003, and I was home doing the dishes.  I was looking forward to going out to dinner with my husband that night. I bent over to pick something up when it happened. I felt that familiar flutter and then what was about to occur was in no way familiar. My heart began to race. But much faster than anything I had felt before. I broke out into a cold sweat. And I had a feeling of sheer doom. I tried to take my pulse and it was too fast to count. I counted about 120 or so but I couldn’t be sure. Normal resting rate is about 60-90 beats per minute. I tried to calm down, but that was impossible. I decided to drive myself to the ER.  I realized later that was a big mistake because I could likely have passed out and not only put my life in danger, but the lives of everyone else on the road.  When I arrived my pulse was 155. They immediately hooked me up, gave me tests, and sat with me the full four hours this carried on. Finally I was given a beta blocker medication and my pulse went back to normal. My chest hurt. It felt the same way the muscles feel the day after a hard workout.

 

The following Monday I visited a cardiologist. She diagnosed me with SVT (supraventricular tachycardia). She said I likely had it for many years and probably never had Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Apparently the symptoms are pretty much identical, and they are very often confused.  Great. For the past several years I have been convincing myself my heart was fine. Was all that wasted energy? How could I ever trust anyone again? How could I even trust my own instincts?  I spent over 8 years undiagnosed and untreated. In fact, many of the medications I had been prescribed for the anxiety (SSRIs and Tricyclic Antidepressants) were aggravating the heart condition. I was told that this is a benign arrhythmia and would not threaten my life. And I was told to continue taking the beta blocker medication indefinitely. But I couldn’t stop worrying.

 

Regardless of whether or not I had anxiety disorder for all those prior years, I definitely had it after this episode. I was panic stricken.  Throughout the following months I struggled with this experience. I have doubted the words of physicians and their staff. I have made so many phone calls and asked so many questions. It was clear I became an extreme annoyance to everyone in my Cardiologist’s office.  I had looked up every possible article on the internet and tried to read everything I could about this condition. What I have learned is that basically, there isn’t much to learn. I have learned that you can flood yourself with enough information to suffocate your mind and give wings to your fears.

 

I became pregnant shortly after the diagnosis and continued to take the medication. I began feeling great. No anxiety, no panic, no flutters. I felt better than I had in years.  After having my beautiful little girl, however, the anxieties returned, but things were different. I began obsessing about my health and mortality. I was so afraid I was somehow going to die suddenly and leave my baby behind. The very thought was so scary and depressing to me and yet I fully realized it was all so irrational. Nonetheless, I couldn’t make those thought, those ‘what ifs,’ disappear.

 

I began realizing that I was overly sensitive to everything. I could feel my blood pressure drop one point. I could feel the food digesting in my abdomen. I could feel the slightest amount of adrenaline released from my brain and I hated it. With every discomfort, sensation, stimuli came the intense fear. A headache was an aneurysm.  Reflux was a heart attack. Simple things that normal people feel everyday somehow became my signs of impending death.  I became so vigilant about recognizing symptoms so I could avoid death that I was not living.  I was unable to enjoy a wonderful life with my family. I was unable to live fully. As much as I wanted to stay alive, I was living a life that was anything but alive.

 

I have decided that even if this is my last day on this earth, I needed to enjoy it to the best of my ability.  I have realized that not one of us knows how long we have.  We all, like it or not, will die. But the only way to fight that fear of dying is to live well. I needed to make some changes. I began therapy. I journal. I even take medication daily. I am definitely on the path to returning to my life. The life I have been so vigilantly fighting for. The life I have always wanted. I refuse to miss out on each day I am given. Some days are harder than others. Some days I need to write a bit more in my journal. Some days I need to make a conscious effort not to give in to the fear. But other days, most days, I can live as though I truly am a normal person. I say that tongue in cheek because, truly, how many of us are really normal.

 

I know there are many people out there with feelings similar to the ones I have experienced.  I want those people to know that there is a way out. Whether it be through therapy, medication, meditation, distraction, journaling…there is a way out for you. It will not be easy. It will not be quick. But it will be. You are not alone. And right now, this very moment, you are alive. So now, start living.

Freaked About a Strange Dream

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Last night I had a dream that has me kind of freaked out. I will explain it and you can let me know what you think…

 

I was in a hospital. I wanted to go home, but the nurse said that I couldn’t because my heart was still at 120. We were waiting for the Dr to come see me, but he was busy and I wasn’t considered a serious case. Also, for some reason, the heart Doc we were waiting for was my ex husband. Anyway, while we were waiting, a man came up to me with a gurney and told me to get on that he was to take me some where. I got on and he wheeled me really fast  down all these hallways. It was fun and I was laughing. Then we were outside of the hospital and in a cemetery. He rolled me up to an open grave and I asked if it was mine. He said yes. I complained because I didn’t like the location. It was next to a bunch of strange sloppy graves that had a bunch of junk all over them and was next to a big pine tree. Suddenly I began to realize I was dead. Then IN MY DREAM, I woke up…but I wasn’t REALLY awake, I just thought I was. I was next to a window and I started to ascend out through the window and up into the sky. I was grabbing leaves and branches as I was flying slowly upward. I was kind of scared, but I had a weird fun, happy kind of feeling too. Then I was like in a field of some sort. A lot of grassy hills I think. And I just kept calling “God? God?” No one answered or appeared and I woke up.

 

Everything felt so real. I was very anxious and almost breathless when I awoke.

 

I have been so afraid that this dream means I may die soon.

 

I am 31. I have an 18 month old. And I have a severe fear of death.

 

Any words of wisdom??

 

My mom has precognitive dreams. But she complains because they are “stupid” and “insignificant”. Like last night she dreamt about a coffee table made with sand in it. This morning she watched a home deco show and watched as a woman was making a table with sand in it. She said it happens all the time. I told her that it isn’t stupid or insignificant. That it is just nature/God/Universe’s way of trying to get her to pay attention to that sense.

 

Anyway, perhaps this kind of thing is genetic?? What if I am going to die?? I am really quite fearful. This dream has me all freaked out.

Being a Stay at Home Parent – Shameful?

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Here is the link where this was published online at The Journal Times website: http://www.journaltimes.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=5350

 

When I decided that I wanted to be a stay at home parent, I thought I was making the best decision for our family, including myself.  I was proud and confident that it was the best choice.  We have had to make sacrifices. I never buy high end, brand name clothing. I do not get my nails done.  We live in a modest home.  But we have what we need and then some. And to me, any of the sacrifices that have been made are well worth it. 

 

What I didn’t expect was the stigma attached to being a stay at home parent. What I didn’t foresee were the condescending remarks. What I didn’t predict were the feelings of worthlessness brought on by the above mentioned issues.

 

My step daughter went to a daycare provider from the age of 8 weeks until 5 years.  Her parents needed to work and they did not have a choice.  And while she did receive adequate care, I witnessed her basically being raised by her babysitter.  She is now 6 and is as smart as can be. She is polite and basically just a very good kid. I am in no way taking the stance that daycare is a wrong choice. But it wasn’t my choice. And I felt in every bone in my body that I was making the very right choice for us.

 

I cannot count the multitude of rude, condescending, and negative comments I have had said directly to me and behind my back regarding my staying at home with my daughter.  I have heard remarks such as:

 

“It must be nice to sit at home all day.”

 

“Don’t you want to do more with your life?”

 

“You’re a smart girl, but you’re not getting any younger…don’t let the grass grow under your feet.”

 

 “We don’t ALL have time like you do Heather.”

 

“Aren’t you worried about being dependant on your husband?”

 

Sit home all day? Man, I wish. I am more exhausted now than I have ever been in my life. I have never had a fulltime job that was as draining and tiring as I do now. I also have not had one that is as fulfilling.

 

Do more with my life? I thought I was doing a lot with my life. I am a mother, a wife, a step mother, a chef, a teacher, a life coach, a house manager, a book keeper, a receptionist, a personal assistant, a chauffeur, an event planner, a nurse, and a writer. Will I do more as my daughter gets older? Likely, yes. I will eventually get my Bachelors Degree. And yes, I will work outside the home sometime in the future.  Will I ever be a career woman? Probably not. That isn’t me. That is not my nature. Does that make me lazy? If you chose to believe so that is your choice. I do not.  

 

Am I worried about being dependant on my husband? Financially, yes. That is something I do think about. That is one of the sacrifices I feel am making. But my dependency is not one sided. My husband is also very dependant on me. If I weren’t doing all the work that I do, he would not be able to lead the life he lives.  Believe me; he needs me just as much as I need him, if not more.

 

And these are all about me personally. I also hear comments about how my child isn’t getting all she needs because she is not in a daycare. Though I do now , at 18 months, have her in a daycare 2 hours a day 3 days a week for socialization.

 

How did something I felt to be so right become something of which to be ashamed? When did it become a world where a woman must work 40+ hours a week to be worthwhile and meaningful? Is a woman who spends endless hours dedicated to her career anymore valid or important than a woman who spends endless hours dedicated to her family?

 

It has gotten to the point that when I meet a woman who has a Masters Degree, works 50 hours at the office, and sees her children 2 hours a day – I actually feel intimidated. I feel two feet tall next to some women because of what society and even close friends and family have nagged into my psyche. 

 

I realize I am responsible for my own feelings. And I realize that I should not depend on the opinions of others to form my own self worth. And you better believe I am working hard to replace these opinions and judgments with my own self validation. Because I will not allow a money and success driven community to minimalize my life and my choices. And just because I wear flip flops instead of high heels, drink apple juice instead of martinis, and change diapers instead of toner cartridges doesn’t mean you or anyone else is better than me. I am a damn good mother. I am a damn wife. And I am a damn good woman.

Gilmore Dress Code – Letter to the Editor

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Letter to the Editor – Racine Journal Times

 

To the Editor:

 

I feel that perhaps I am among the sparse few who support the new dress code for Gilmore Middle School. In fact, I wouldn’t mind it being Unified-wide.  I personally think it is a really good idea. When I drive past schools or see school age children in public, I am many times shocked at the clothing they are wearing. Belly shirts that say “hottie” or “boy crazy” on a ten year old? Tight jeans that reveal a 15 year old’s thong underwear? You cannot really blame the kids as this is what is pushed in their faces by media everyday. You can however blame parents for allowing their kids to dress this way. But once again, the school has to pick up the slack of lazy and irresponsible parenting. I have heard people complain about the lack of expression these new dress codes are allowing the children. Are you telling me that the only way kids know how to express themselves is through their clothing? Why not teach your child to express themselves through art, writing, and drama – anything other than clothing. Even a hairstyle can be a form of expression. Why must a child conform to the clothing ads in a magazine, paying outrageous prices for brand names, in order to express themselves? I think a dress code is a great way to teach children that they have inner value and that what they wear should not be who they are.  In a world devoured by commercialism and high profits, in a country void of values, I think this is a lesson that needs to be instilled at an early age. I applaud this decision made for Gilmore and hope people will come to see it is for the best.

Nine Lives (2005) – A Review

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Searching the aisles of Blockbuster this morning I was craving a movie that would be one worthy of a rare partial afternoon of freedom.  I came across a cover that wasn’t necessarily appealing, but I was drawn to it anyway. As I picked it up and read the long list of impressive cast on the cover, I decided to rent it. The movie, Nine Lives, which was written and directed by Rodrigo García adorned many fine actors such as Sissy Spacek, Kathy Baker, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, and Robin Wright-Penn – just to name a few.

 

The movie is essentially, in a very basic description, a peek into a window of nine women’s lives.  A quick ten minute glimpse into an emotional, human, captivating moment in the lives of women we know, love, and become daily. Each story leaves the audience to fill in their own blanks to a certain extent. But it is written in a way, and most defiantly acted in a way, that evokes a very purposeful emotion in those who chose to accept that what they are watching is truly the reality in our very own lives.

 

Each segment, each short story which very subtlety intersects with the others, was shot without a single cut. It was very much like watching short ten minute plays.  It was very intriguing the way this film was made.

 

The direction, writing, and acting were beyond and above the typical movie and I can easily say it is a new addition to my top ten. I cannot think of a single criticism.  Oh wait. I do have one complaint. I am depressed when I see a movie so compelling. It saddens me to come to the realization that I will never be able to even step foot into a realm of writing from which films like this are born. The thoughts that are typed onto paper by writers such as Garcia seem so far from anything in my capabilities. So, there is my one critique. My inferiority. Other than that, this movie is worth watching more than once. It is worth buying. It is worth discussing. And it was more than worth my 2 hours of Sunday freedom.

 

Now, I must change a diaper and fold 2 loads of laundry while I wait for the roast to finish cooking.