Anxiety

Dreaming of My College Comeback

Download-1Like many, many people, I have the classic it's-the-day-of-the-final-exam-and-I've-never-been-to-class anxiety dream. There are variations - can't find the classroom, don't know my schedule, did none of the reading, etc. 

But lately I have a new version. In this dream, I'm back on campus for another four years. But at my current age. I'm thrilled - I can't believe I was accepted and I am really excited to go through college again. Sometimes in the dream, I debate joining the school newspaper, and wonder if it's fair, given my 30+ year career in journalism.

In real life, i.e. my waking hours, I volunteer to write our class alumni notes. Recently I asked my classmates if they have this dream. A surprising amount do. And it's a happy dream - everyone is delighted to be back and marvels at the beauty of campus.

That's not to say that the anxiety dream isn't still prevalent. I heard from doctors who dream they forgot to take biology, a former basketball star who dreams he missed every practice, and one guy who reports dreams of wandering aimlessly around New England, trying to find the college.

I'm wondering if at this stage of life, many of us want a do-over. Not of our whole lives, but of some of those earlier times.

How about we have two years of college when we are 18 and the final two when we are 60? Don't you think we'd get a lot more out of it? 


Bibliotherapy

DownloadI came across the term "bibliotherapy" for the first time this week. Not surprisingly, it refers to the use of literature for mental healing. Therapy through reading. 

The concept is not new - Psychology Today reports that Egyptian King Rames II had a special chamber for books, with the words "House of Healing for the Soul" over the door. Evidently Sigmund Freud also used literature in psychoanalysis, and other doctors have "prescribed" books for their patients. Apparently now it's a thing, and some psychologists train in it.

To me, bibliotherapy seems like another one of those intuitive and obvious things that has now been turned into an industry. It reminds me of Forest Bathing, an entire science devoted to the shocking notion that spending time outside is good for you. Download-1

To be clear, bibliotherapy does not refer to self-help books. We're talking about novels which portray the human condition.

As soon as I learned to read, I stayed up late at night, under the covers with a flashlight, spending hours on adventures with Doctor Doolittle, devouring stories about families and orphans  - The Little Princess was big for me - and on and on. As my reading abilities and sophistication increased, so did the depth of my book choices. Books have always served as both an escape and a way of understanding the world. 

It makes sense that being a good reader helps develop empathy in a person, but apparently it can help with depression, anxiety and other human conditions. Who knew? Most readers. 

 


The "Medicine Cabinet"


Download-3Until three years ago, I took no prescription medication. But now all medical hell has broken loose, and the pill boxes are piling up. (Don't ask - it's a mess of issues.) 

As in many homes, my bathroom has medicine cabinets. The mirrors over the sink open to lovely glass shelves, many of which are now jammed with prescription bottles. On top of that, I have resorted to those little plastic Monday-Sunday pill organizers, which also live with the bottles.

That all seemed fine, though humiliating, until I realized that every medicine I take says "do not store in bathroom."  According to pharmacists, medicines degrade in light, humidity and moisture. Well sheez. Why are they called "medicine cabinets" and where am I supposed to put all these bottles instead?

I don't want them in the kitchen, which I might add also has moisture and heat. Besides, medications are private - you don't want people coming upon them. I guess I have to stick them somewhere in a drawer in the bedroom, but that begs another question. How will I remember they are there and that I need to take them? 

Getting older sucks.

 


Immersed in the Past

ImagesRecently I bought a Groupon to have our old family videos converted to digital. Our VCR has long since broken down and I hadn't seen any of these films in years.

Back in the 1980s, we rented a video camera - a heavy, complicated behemoth of a thing - so we could document our new baby girl. By the 1990s we actually invested in one ourselves. It was very expensive. 

All this, of course, was long before cell phones or the Internet for that matter. 

Anyway the first batch of conversions has arrived and I am absolutely riveted. Who is this young family? Those beautiful children? My husband, with a huge mop of jet-black hair? And was I ever that young myself?! I was in my twenties when my daughter was born. And there I am pregnant with my son, clutching the hand of my three-year-old girl. She is in a pink bathing suit with a little skirt, mine is a navy blue maternity suit that I borrowed from my friend Missy. 

In one way, it's reassuring to watch these old movies. Sure, we were on our best behavior when the camera rolled, but I can see I was a calm and loving mother. (Somehow I'd remembered myself as an emotional wreck, but in the films I look competent and relaxed.) 

But these images also fill me with longing and sadness. That newborn blinking up at that mobile in his crib? He's moving across the country with his wife at the end of the month. That little toddler with the mass of blonde hair singing to herself? She already lives thousands of miles away.

How did this all happen so soon? 

 

 


Two New Ways To Worry

Download-1Anxiety Girl wants to have it both ways with antibiotics. I've been sick quite a lot this summer, with everything from acute bronchitis to an infection of .... well, let's skip the details. The point is, I've been on a lot of different antibiotics.

On the one hand, I'm so grateful that these medications exist. To finally stop coughing, burning, whatever - and know you are on the mend.  I promise I never take these meds for colds or any other viral ailment - only confirmed bacterial infections.

Anxiety Girl thinks of all the times she would have been dead, but for the existence of antibiotics. I'd certainly never had made it to this summer. Before the discovery of penicillin, average life expectancy from birth was 47 years. 

But I worry about antibiotic resistance. Already I've had a few infections that did not respond to the first antibiotic tried. Meanwhile, I faithfully pop a pro-biotic in my mouth every morning, to try to keep my stomach from complete rebellion. 

So I worry if I do, and I worry if I don't. Fortunately, (or is it unfortunately?) anxiety can NOT be treated by antibiotics.

 

 

 

 


Advice, please.....

DownloadThis week I interviewed a very charming, very smart and pretty famous man for a magazine profile I am writing. From my research, I also knew he could be ruthless in his work and inspired fear in those who opposed him.

Back in the day, this sort of thing made me nervous, but one advantage of being older and experienced is that much of that anxiety has dissipated. My subject was brilliant and accomplished, but in the end, a fellow human being.

Before we settled down, his flack (publicity person) had been chatting about a safari that Famous Man had taken, his wife's many accomplishments,  and also pointing out various awards and photos in his office.  We all sat, and I started my two recordings (I may not be anxious during interviews, but I'm compulsive about having technological backups) and the flack set up hers.

Suddenly and before I asked my first question, Famous Man said, "I want to show you something." He took out his iPad and showed me a photo of himself standing behind an absolutely huge African tortoise. 

"Isn't that great?" he asked. 

I responded with my usual articulateness: "Wow. That's big."

Here's what I need advice about: I keep wondering why he showed me that photo. He didn't show me any others. Although the safari had come up earlier, so had many other things. Don't you think that tortoise is a metaphor - and a message? It seemed really clear when he handed over his iPad, but now I'm struggling. A metaphor of what? Was he letting me know I will never know the true him, because he is so well protected? He'll only show me a very tiny bit of who he actually is? He has armor on his back? He's a survivor?

Or maybe I'm just pushing it. But please feel free to weigh in if you can think of any useful interpretations. Thanks!


Meditation on Meditation

Download-2Generally, I'm about 20 years behind trends, so I only just started a meditation practice this winter. Much of my adult life, I've been told by well-meaning people - or passive aggressive people, or both - that I needed to meditate. This Anxiety Girl is high strung, of course, and it shows.

In my book, telling an anxious person to relax is akin to telling a depressed person to cheer up. Do they think I enjoy anxiety? Do they believe I don't aspire to a less frightened, worrisome, thoughts racing, disaster-imagining mind? See? I'm getting worked up again.

Anyway, what finally inspired me to meditate was my doctor. I was worried about becoming forgetful, (okay, Anxiety Girl thought she was losing her mind) and the doc had two main suggestions. One - stop taking Tylenol PM to sleep. The "PM" is basically antihistamine, and can screw up your memory over time. Two - try meditation. Because she is a physician I respect, I did not roll my eyes in front of her.

I tend to be a compliant little thing, so I dutifully downloaded a meditation app. (I also weaned myself Download-3off the Tylenol PM but that's another story.) Much to my shock, I am really, really enjoying the practice. I've done some basic series, a series on balance, a series on anxiety and just finished a series on appreciation. It really does calm me and make me feel better and more clear-headed.

Of course, I'm the opposite of a natural. There's a point during each session when the kind voice on the app says to let your mind just do what it wants for a minute - don't worry about focusing on the breath or the subject. By that point, chances are that my mind was no longer focused on the breath anyway. But each time, I get this image of my brain neurons suddenly getting permission to  party and race around, squealing and jumping up and down. Then the mellow voice tells me to gently bring my attention back to the breath.

In out. In out. In out. 

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Love and Hate

DownloadStill struggling with integrating disparate worlds. The Pittsburgh synagogue murders break my heart. I cry whenever I read about it. I hadn't even finished reading about the bombs sent to 14 people before this slaughter happened.

Our country is in deep trouble. Every day it gets worse. 

And then there's my family. Last weekend we spent my son's 30th birthday in upstate New York. My husband and me, our daughter, our son and his wife. I wanted to freeze frame just about every minute - the hikes (all of us in ridiculous matching bright orange wool caps, which I insisted we wear because it's deer hunting season), the laughter, the games, the meals, listening to my daughter and my daughter-in-law compare notes on political canvassing, watching the tender relationship between my son and his wife, watching my husband quietly take care of stoking the fire to keep us warm....

Sheesh - I'm teaching tonight at the place-that-shall-not-be-named, and I was going to focus on run-on sentences. Doctor, heal thyself.

Anyway, I know I am privileged to be able to put some distance between my family and the political nightmare that is our country. Many people, especially those living in war ravaged countries, cannot. And yes, most of us are doing what we can to repair this broken, broken world.

But I'm scared. And you can only hide out in the mountains for so long.

 

 


Anxiety Girl Returns

DownloadJust last night I was thinking I'd become too calm and relaxed. My own daughter described me as "mellow." That is SO not me, though she may have meant that I was relatively mellow. I'd began to worry that I had lost my edge, my ambition - just my overall drive.

Leave it to Anxiety Girl to worry about not being worried. Fear not - I'm back to my usual heart galloping, stomach-aching, hand-shaking self. Sigh.

Too much going on - including a now-delayed flight this afternoon. Was dreading the flight, but now am anxious being late too.  I need to get to a wake and a funeral.

Also stressing out over a volunteer commitment that I am not allowed to discuss on social media. Let's just say it involves a great deal of clearance and security and hoop-jumping. All for good reason, but incredibly time-consuming and being shoe-horned into a handful of days. 

And then there's Congress. 

Well, I guess I can take being too calm off my worry list. Lists.