Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Facing This Battle Med-Free

A few years ago I decided I was ready to face my anxiety issues without the help from medication.  Little did I know what an ordeal it would become to taper off of the one remaining medication I was on - Clonazepam.  But here I am, almost 7 months medication free.  I'm far from perfect, but very slowly things are improving.  Much of what I feel now is still my body and mind recovering from the effects of being on the Clonazepam, so I'm not really certain of what the "real Sarah" is like.  But I am fairly confident that the "real Sarah" will be able to take on anxiety naturally.  So what techniques have I used to help me thus far, and will continue in the future?

Yoga.  I only do a few minutes at a time, but yoga has become a bit of a life saver.  I've mentioned my favourite "Tree Pose" in a previous post, but I can't say enough good things about it.  The key is to really open your pelvis and pull your knee back.  As soon as I do this pose and deep breath, my mind shuts down and doesn't think about anything negative. 

Change in diet.  I talk about this often, but I truly believe the changes I've made in my diet are what will get me through future (possible) issues with anxiety.  There are many things I have cut out of my diet.  Some for personal reasons as I do have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and found many foods were aggravating my stomach.  Here is a list of the food and drinks I have cut out:

Red Meat
Most poultry
ALL Dairy (I only eat Greek Yogurt)
Fried foods
Store bought cookies (although I'd have one here or there as a treat)
Potato chips (I miss them, but I've tried them recently and they did NOT agree)
Pop, juice and coffee beverages (that includes diet pop)
Alcohol - not even a sip

The foods I focus on eating now:

Vegetables - my favourites are cucumber, sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes, asparagus, bell peppers, red onion and mushrooms
Fruits - especially bananas, kiwi and grapes
Chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans
Whole wheat pasta
Almond Butter and Sunflower Seed Butter
Sourdough bread
S. Pellegrino Water
Almonds and Sunflower seeds
Sauces from scratch - no more bottled sauces for stir fry or pasta

For treats, I enjoy homemade banana chocolate chip muffins or homemade vegan chocolate cookies.  I WILL indulge in the occasional piece of chocolate bar or Cadbury's Buttons...but I do notice my anxiety level rises sometimes about an hour later.

Meditation and Self Talk.  This is hard to learn for most I think.  I never thought I'd be able to do it, but I'm getting better at it.  I have found I have a few "images" I can think of that calm me.  It's important to take the time to learn what works best for you.  Many like guided meditation.  Some like mindfulness - learning to live in the "now".  I find I can take myself to another place altogether.  I put an image of a peaceful place in my head and think of ONLY it. 

Exercise I am no where NEAR to perfecting this one.  I still suffer from a lot of nausea which can make exercising very difficult, but I will get there.  The best thing for me right now is walking.  I have never gone for my drivers license, so I walk everywhere.  I walk my daughter to and from school and often go for a longer walk once I drop her off to get some fresh air.  I hope to do a lot more hiking this coming Spring and Summer.  In the past, I thoroughly enjoyed everything from hiking to jogging to workouts in my basement.  Once I build up more strength, I plan on doing a lot more!

TalkingI have become an open book.  This is something I was a little hesitant to do.  Even beginning this blog was a big step as I wasn't sure how people would respond to it.  I have met some amazing women through my daughter's school, but then as I began to share more about my experience with anxiety and then the meds that made me worse, I started to worry the various parents would be hesitant to send their children to my home for play dates in fear I was the "crazy mom".  It turns out I haven't had that response from ANYONE.  If anything, I find women are opening up left, right and centre to me - and that was the purpose of me sharing my story.  To reach out to others who may not know how to help themselves or someone they love.  Most people see my journey as a strength instead of a weakness - and I thank them dearly for that.

I'm also very open to my parents, my husband, my daughter and my friends.  If I'm having a bad day, I try not to just hold it in all day and let it fester.  Instead, I call my mom and cry...or a friend and, you guessed it, cry.  It's not always tears though.  Sometimes it's just little fears that make me think I'll never get better.  Sharing those fears has been important for me and I think more people should do it.  Because even if to the outside world these fear seem silly, they are VERY real to the person experiencing them.  So find someone you feel comfortable talking to, and without expecting great words of wisdom, just share.  It can make a huge difference with your level of anxiety.  I think it's important for the person suffering from anxiety and/or depression to find a person(s) they trust who they can just "let it all out" to.  A true friend will listen.  Even if they can't understand it, they'll want to be there...just because.  Don't feel guilt over "letting it out".  Allow yourself to do it.  In the end you not only help yourself, but the person who listens become more empathetic to those around them.

I recently watched the documentary, "Darkness and Hope" by Michael Landsberg.  He speaks to a few athletes who have struggled with anxiety and depression, and the famous Canadian cyclist, Clara Hughes, mentions her "system".  She has a system that she uses every time she feels the depression hitting her.  It's a great way to look at it.  We are not alone in this.  It is more "normal" than we think to be hit with anxiety and bouts of depression.  So we need to learn how to deal with it and live with it until it's ready to pass.  It is possible.  We just need to realize that it is something that cannot be rushed.  We live in a world that is all about "getting things done".  When anxiety or depression hits you, life NEEDS to slow down, and we have to learn to allow that and to be okay with it.  I thought I was a pretty patient person before this, but after getting so sick from this medication and having to live by its rules, I've had no choice but to sit back and ride the wave.  I know it will end and get better, so I live each day thinking "today may be the day".

“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.”
 - Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

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