Yoga (but Not Naked Yoga) as Antidote to Anxiety

I went to yoga the other day. I didn’t want to. I mean I did, but when I woke up I came up with all sorts of excuses for not going. I had too much to do. I hadn’t yet read the multitude of emails from school, and school was starting up in a few days. I never ordered one of the summer reading books for my son, which I’ve been meaning to do for over a week. I’m tired. I don’t have the energy. I have a query letter to write and research to do. I have a book to finish. But the library in the next town offers a free yoga class on Mondays during the summer with Labor Day being the last one, and I had to drop my daughter off at band camp a few minutes before the class started so I’d already be out and in the car ready to go. And, I had to go to the library anyway, which opens when the class ends, and I’ve been meaning to take up yoga again – remember my New Years resolution?

I knew that final class would be good for me, though, so I forced myself to go. So far this summer I’ve managed to make it to two classes. Years ago my therapist recommended yoga to me (but not naked yoga because that would only make things worse) to help quell the anxiety. But, again, who has time for that? I’d much rather walk around hyperventilating and trying to ignore the pain in my stomach while I spin my wheels and piss the time away. I feel more productive that way.

Yoga as Antidote to Anxiety. By @OneFunnyMotha

Once in Puerto Rico I did yoga under a banyan tree. It was and still is the best yoga experience of my life, and not just because of the location. The setting, overlooking a crescent strip of sand studded with palm trees fluttering against the cerulean sky, didn’t hurt, but that wasn’t it. It was the instructor. The practice wasn’t really about yoga posses, or at least it wasn’t about the strength and stamina to hold downward dog indefinitely. It was spiritual. Throughout the instructor implored us to appreciate the sun beating on our shoulders, the chirp of the coqui, the beauty of the old banyan tree. We were practicing yoga on a warm, summer day, and the present moment was all we had to think about. Just that moment. Nothing else.

Toward the end as I laid on my back under the shade of the thick, squat tree, looking up at pure white clouds drifting lazily overhead as palm fronds rustled in the breeze, the instructor said in a voice so smooth and assured as to be unimpeachable, “Everything in the universe is fine. Everything is as it should be.” And for someone constantly trying to stuff the world into place, someone plagued by worry and doubt and fear, someone trying to find order and control, those words provided such relief that I continue to think of them to this day.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe everything is happening the way it should be. I’m just not privy to it. God, for some reason, has not filled me in on what that is. Why won’t God tell me these things? For Pete sake. Whatever the case, I needed to hear those words. I needed to hear someone say, “Everything is okay.” It gave me permission to believe it.

Suddenly my shoulders dropped into the turquoise mat, the crease down the middle of my forehead smoothed out, all the muscles in my body released. I was lighter. Afterward I floated through the lobby to the breakfast buffet at the open air restaurant, no longer trying to hold everything so tightly together because if I didn’t the world might crumble and collapse.

That’s the message I need whispered into my ear every morning. I need to hear those words. My husband used to do that for me. He didn’t say the words exactly, but his presence, his calm demeanor always reassured me. But we’re older now with kids and all the complexity that brings, and he’s too busy with work, emails constantly pinging on his cell phone, business trips, meetings and commitments, for me to bother him. I don’t think he has time to tell me everything is okay. I’m not sure he believes it himself anymore. But if her words are right, if everything is as it should be, then I have nothing to worry about. That’s hard for me to accept, but I’m trying.

That’s the class I’ve been looking for since Puerto Rico. That’s what I’ve been missing. I got a little glimpse of it this summer.

Today’s the first day in two weeks the knot in my stomach hasn’t lasted all day. It’s the first time I’ve felt like writing in the past three months. And the words came. What a relief. Sometimes when I get this way, well, all the time when I get this way I think it’s over. I’m washed up. That’s it. Time to hang it up and get a paying gig at Starbucks.

But not today.

How Not to Deal With Anxiety

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m crazy. I don’t like talking about it because, well, it makes me sound crazy. I haven’t written about it much, or at least I haven’t written about it much on such a public space as this because for one, I don’t like to admit I’m struggling with anxiety. I’d much rather ignore it and hope it goes away, okay? And for two, maybe I feel like I’m admitting weakness. I know this not to be true. Still, I feel like I should just be able to get over it already. I think, What’s my problem? I have two healthy kids, a husband who’d do anything for me, a home in a good school district. I don’t live in Syria. What could my problems really be?

Still, for the past few weeks the anxiety has creeped in, wrapped it’s tendril-like fingers around my throat and pulled tight. I wake up with it, the nauseating gnawing in the pit of my stomach. I try to press on with my day, ignoring it, hoping by doing so I can shake it, but I’m never able. I’d always thought my anxiety was confined to my OCD so that if I wasn’t ritualizing or obsessing about germs, I was fine, disorder-free or as close to it as one can get. And while over these past few years I’ve been able to suppress the OCD much of the time or at least to the point where it’s manageable, the thing about anxiety is it’s always with you. It lies dormant, waiting, and there’s no telling when it might walk through the door again.

Anxiety can always be counted on to make an appearance during stressful periods so it makes perfect sense that the anxiety would rear up now at a time when I can least afford to yield to it. I’ve just started querying agents with my book proposal. Which should be a joyous occasion except that for me all good news is tempered by doom. The whole process has sent me into a paralysis of inadequacy and doubt. I feel rather like a joke. I think, how long can I fool them before they figure out I don’t know what the hell I’m doing? How long can I pretend to be a capable person before they learn the truth? In a word (or six) I feel out of my league.

How Not to Deal with Anxiety
That’s me.

It’s a little ironic at the point I must present my most confident self, I am the least capable of doing so. Have you any idea how hard it is to be an eager and enthusiastic self-promoter when you’re depressed? I just want to shriek, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!” as I shake my head and fall to the floor. But I don’t think that’s a good thing to write in a query letter.

Fortunately, I’m not in a deep depression. I know what a blessing that is. If I were, I wouldn’t be writing this at all. Still, with the haze sifting around in my head, I’ve become a muted, dulled version of myself. I can’t find my footing. I am unsure of everything – myself, my work, my voice, my ability to pull this off – and fear my writing will turn out as flat and dull and grey as the thoughts in my head. The anxiety obscures my ability to see clearly, to focus with objectivity, to think. Without that how am I supposed to do anything? I try to work through it while wondering where the end is. Will I reach it?

But you can’t say any of this. Not if you want to be seen as reliable, confident, intelligent author. Funny thing, though, is that while in life you’re supposed to present a polished, assured facade, in writing you’re supposed to present the truth. I’m having a hard time bridging that gap. Maybe I’ll just publish this now so that it gets buried at the bottom of my blog and by the time an agent takes a fleeting interest in me and checks out my site, they won’t find it.

To keep myself going, I tell myself all I have to do is write one query letter a day, but of course it’s not quite that simple. Nothing ever is with OCD. First I must conduct exhaustive research. So I spend my days Googling and reading up about agents instead of actually writing the letters because that’s easier. Plus, I can never be sure I’ve gathered enough information. There’s always another link, more to read. When will I know everything?

I keep reading and wasting more time. But all the advice tells you to study up on the agents and the industry. The agents want to know why you’ve selected them, why your project is right for them. After hours of research, I still don’t know. I become paralyzed with indecision. So I do nothing.

And here we are. And I’ve wasted so much time already, and I should have landed an agent months ago, and I still don’t have a decent query letter. And there’s no one to ask. I’m the boss, and I’m not qualified for the job. I have no one else, no one to say good job or send it out or you need to rework paragraph two because that shit is stupid. Who the hell would say something like that? You’re suppose to be a writer for Christ sakes, and you can’t even write a simple letter. You sound like a goddamn idiot.

There’s just me, and if I mess up the third sentence in the last paragraph, I’ll blow my chances, and you only get one shot, and that could have been the perfect agent, and now I’ve ruined it all, and I’ll never find another agent again.

How Not to Deal with Anxiety by @OneFunnyMotha

That’s pretty much the perpetual beat inside my head, which tends to wrench the joy out of just about any situation. On a logical level I know the answer. It’s to relax and just be myself because at the end of the day, if you don’t find an agent who really gets you, if you don’t have that connection, it’s never gonna work. But that’s a shitty answer. Be myself? Who wants that? I need to be better than who I am. But how?

So you see my dilemma now, don’t you?

Photo credit: Flickr/Chris Devers

Fun With Anxiety and Depression

The other day I lied.

I was in the waiting room of the physical therapist’s office filling out the in-take form when I came to an unexpected question. It asked for the names of all the medications I take, but instead of listing them all (there’s only two), I omitted the Paxil. Hunched over the clip board, pen poised in the air over the form, I paused. Why does he need to know? What does the arthritis in my back have to do with my mental problems?

After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, I'm ready to admit I still have it, but it doesn't define me. @OneFunnyMotha

Although I’ve toyed with twisting the truth before, I’ve never actually gone through with it. I’ve always relented in honestly listing my meds because these are medical doctors we’re talking about, and the omission could have potential dangerous consequences. If questioned by the doctor about the medications listed, I just say the Paxil is for depression, which it is only that’s not the reason it was prescribed to me. Everyone’s on Xanax or Prozac or Zoloft these days so I know this little fib won’t raise an eyebrow. In fact, it’s probably expected. With so many people on meds, now there’s something wrong with you if you’re not medicated. (“You’re telling me you’re not on Xanax? What the hell’s wrong with you?”)

But that day sitting in the physical therapist’s office, I didn’t want to have to explain myself. I didn’t want someone making assumptions about me. I didn’t want to be seen in some altered light. Although I have a long running history with depression, I didn’t even want to use that as an excuse for the Paxil. At the time of the appointment, I’d been fighting depression for weeks, mostly by trying to ignore it, and now that I was out of the house, where depression hits hardest, I wanted to forget. I just wanted to be a regular, normal, semi-functional person. For once. Please allow me to pretend.

So I didn’t say a thing.

It’s not that I’m embarrassed or ashamed. Not too much anyway. I’ve done a lot of work on recovery. But I don’t want to be defined by my mental illness. I have it. It’s there. I’m managing. Does everyone need to know? I also want to pretend that that part of my life is over, but as evidenced by recent events it’s clearly not. I’m pretty sure I’m in it for the long hall, and while it’s gotten much better, it still persists, showing up every now and then when I’m not at all in the mood. When it pops up it always manages to surprise me. I’ve been fighting off the depression and anxiety for so long I really feel like it should be gone by now. Why is it still here, Goddammit?

So in addition to the arthritis for which I was seeking physical therapy and my high cholesterol because apparently I’m 80, I also suffer from (at-times severe) anxiety and depression. I could’ve named this blog, One Depressed Motha, but I don’t know. I didn’t feel like that had the same catchy ring to it. And the truth is while I find myself battling depression on occasion, I don’t like to write about it. It’s bad enough I have to live with it. Do I really have to talk about it, too? Just leave me alone with my mental illnesses.

I’ve avoided writing about the depression and anxiety, which for me comes in the form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for which the medication was prescribed), in large part, because most of the time I’m trying to run away from them. Why would I focus on the very things I’m struggling mightily to forget? That makes no sense. I’d rather focus on humor. It’s way more fun. Although I’ll admit being funny when you’re depressed presents its challenges.

All this is why I came up with my New Years Resolutions. Why I so desperately need a change. Which I wrote about on Romper although I happened to leave out the whole mental illness part. But I felt like it was time to come clean. This is a part of who I am. And as much as I wish it wasn’t, I feel I have to acknowledge it.

The other thing is as much as I like to jest, it’s not all fun and games over here. I thought you should know. I started this blog to be honest. About everything. So that maybe others wouldn’t feel so alone in this mixed-up parenting world like I did when I first gave birth all those years ago. If I can in any way help others with my honesty, that’s what I’d like to do.

In that vein, always remember at least you have your health.

Just not necessarily your mental health.

*Let it be noted I was not depressed when I wrote this piece. Had I been depressed this would have been a lot more depressing.

Don’t forget. I can be funny – like in my book, I STILL JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE, the third installment in The New York Times best-selling series from some of the funniest women on the web. For a good time get it on AmazonKindleiTunes and Barnes and Noble. I will love you forever. 

Waiting for the Fog to Clear

I almost cried in the food store yesterday. I don't know why. It happened while I was pushing my cart down the canned vegetable aisle.  @OneFunnyMotha on fighting depression and anxiety.

I almost cried in the food store yesterday. I don’t know why. It happened while I was pushing my cart down the canned vegetable aisle. One minute I was scanning the shelves for black beans and the next I was squeezing my eyelids shut, willing the tears back into their ducts. I didn’t want to be seen crying in the middle of the food store like some kind of lunatic.

Nothing was wrong. Nothing really. And, I like food shopping. Actually, I look forward to food shopping. It’s the one job I can do and be free of all my other obligations. At the food store I have one task to focus on. That’s it. I don’t have to worry about the million and one other things. Just follow the list, and find the stuff on it. Simple.

It happened again in Starbucks. I was looking up at the board trying to decide between a latte and a frapuccino when the tears came. Again, I blinked them back, afraid the barista might see. I turned and left without a drink.

Sometimes I have so many thoughts swimming in my head, I can’t make sense of them all. I can’t think. It feels like a fog has settled in my brain. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Everything seems like bullshit. I don’t know what’s genuine or fake – from the world or myself. I don’t even know what I want to say. So I say nothing. I become paralyzed.

I stare at the computer screen for hours waiting for something to come. Nothing does. Or I write a whole bunch of garbage and delete it all. The stuff I want to write isn’t sellable. The stuff that’s sellable, I don’t want to write. I’m lost.

I waste so much time, so much time, because I don’t know what to do. It makes me more anxious.

I had 8 hours. I got nothing done. How could I not have gotten anything done in EIGHT hours? Oh my God, I’ll never catch up. I’m gonna have to work double-time tomorrow, and I still won’t be able to get everything done. I just wasted two more hours on Facebook. I’m failing.

I try to remain upbeat and positive. I know I have no right to complain so I joke around, but half the time I’m fighting depression. I don’t like to write about depression. It’s depressing.

Last week was the week of doctors. My appointments, my kids’ appointments, every appointment under the God damn sun. I never cancel because then I’ll just have to reschedule for another time that will be equally inconvenient.

Everything’s fine. Just the annual well-care visits. They used to be called check-ups. You’re supposed to schedule them each year around your kids’ birthdays. My kids’ birthdays were over the winter.

I took one kid one day and the other the next because they see different doctors in the same practice and apparently you can’t get both of them on the same day. Which was fine because instead of spending five hours in the waiting room in one day, I spread it out over two back-to-back days. I think it turned out to be quicker that way.

They screen for all sorts of stuff these days – sports and activities, grades, screen time, depression. They gave my daughter a short questionnaire, but it was worded strangely, and they had to ask her to clarify.

“Here you circled you ‘take little interest in things,’ and I just want to make sure you understood the question because it’s a little confusing. Does that mean everything? Even things you like?”

“Oh, no, I like some things,” my daughter answered. “I just meant I take no interesting in the things I don’t like. Not everything.”

Like me, I thought, sitting silently in the chair next to her. Nobody asked me those questions.

I smiled at my daughter and the doctor and the staff and everyone in the world and drove home.

Where I’m still waiting for the fog to clear.