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Hulk Headaches & Health Anxiety

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“So sick I am not, yet I am not well…” ~William Shakespeare (Cymbeline, IV, ii)

I haven’t been feeling too great lately.  Nothing life-threatening or too deeply dire, just lots of mostly minor maladies here and there that add up to an overall sense of suckiness.  Headaches, weird muscle aches, earaches, toothaches, overall body aches…it’s getting pretty tiring, both physically and mentally.  I seem to have a few good days where everything seems in pretty good working order, but it’s inevitably then followed by about a week of bad days where I feel crappy…and then the cycle repeats itself.

I know no one likes to be sick or feel bad, and I realize there are many people out there that are dealing with a LOT worse than me, but the fact remains that when I don’t feel good, I seem to just…shut down.  Being sick or hurt for me presents a mental roadblock that is pretty tough for me to push aside.  You see, I have a history of some pretty impressive health anxiety.  It used to be a lot worse than it is now, and I’ve brought it under manageable control with the help of a life-saving therapist – but I continue to grapple with it and have come to accept that it will probably always be a part of who I am and something I have to work to overcome.

For someone with health anxiety, the whys and whens and hows and what-ifs threaten to overwhelm a person when they get sick or hurt, or have any “unusual” symptoms: Why is this happening to me, what’s the exact, specific, pinpointed cause?  (Because if I know the cause, I can then hopefully prevent it from happening again.)  How and when did I catch this cold, or get this headache, or become short of breath?  What if this headache is really the beginning of meningitis?  What if this weird muscle spasm in my armpit is a sign that I have clogged heart arteries?  What if those recurring cramps in my legs are because of life-threatening blood clots?  When we can’t get answers to these questions (which is most of the time), it just makes our anxiety worse, which then leads to more stress, which then causes even more health problems.

Stopping that fatalistic self-talk as it begins and trying to not immediately imagine the worst possible scenario is part of what I learned and practiced through therapy, back when the anxiety was at its worst.  I was also not allowed to look up any of my symptoms on the internet, so as to not induce even more panic and feed the medical monster.  I was banned from taking my pulse more than once/day or at times other than during exercise.  Ultimately, I decided I had to quit my job as a health counselor where I talked about horrible health problems all day every day (the worst possible environment for me) and take myself out of that personal mine field. 

(Source: criticalscience.com)

(Source: criticalscience.com)

For the most part, I still am able to enlist those calming strategies and avoid the full-blown panic attacks and vicious worry cycles that I used to incur on a pretty frequent basis.  I remember my therapist’s teachings: to tell myself what the most likely and unlikely scenarios are, and then to logically handle the symptom and situation from there.  To realize that everyone – especially as we get older – has aches and pains as the normal part of life.  To also realize that life doesn’t always come with an explanation pamphlet for every scenario we encounter, and to learn to live with not always knowing why (as crazy as it may drive me).  I’m happy to say that I’m no longer a frequent flier at the doctor’s office, but I also still believe in timely visits for those issues that truly do warrant it and not ignoring what could be serious (like the stabbing/piercing ear pain I had this past week).

But – I am kind of a worrier by nature anyway, something else that was in the genes and I just have to accept and deal with.  Which means, that even when I am able to not panic out loud about an illness or strange symptom, I still quietly and subtly worry about it (for both me and for things happening to those closest to me).  Health anxiety quietly hovers in the corner of the dark room that you usually try to keep closed off, but then sneaks out every once in a while when you least expect or want it.  People tease you about it, or avoid talking to you about any health topic whatsoever, in fear that you’ll just have some kind of fit-like meltdown.  (This just makes us feel worse by the way, when we’re working so hard to improve.)

And I admit that even that subdued level of worry is still enough to cause me to focus on the issue more than I should.  I find myself making more mental room for it and sacrificing attention to other things on my to-do list that get waylaid by the worry.  Every once in a while, I allow myself to guiltily look up a new symptom online, and then usually regret it as soon as I see all the uninformed prattle on the chat boards.  I lose my appetite when I worry too much about what’s going on with my physical failings, but maybe that’s normal?  Being “normal” and feeling “good” are what I wish for every day, so I guess I feel let down and anxious when the opposite happens.

As mentioned above, I also know that worrying about my health – or anything really – actually contributes to a negative circle of physiological health effects in and of itself.  Ten days ago I had a spectacular tension headache across the back of my head that lasted for a tight and burning 48 hours; nothing would make it go away but time, but what was most frustrating for me (in terms of figuring out why it was happening) was that I’d been feeling what I thought was relatively tension-free lately!  I have a job that I really enjoy, and my overt stress levels compared to a year ago are practically nil.  But no one can ever be totally stress or worry-free, that’s unrealistic.  Even minor stress levels over things like money, or the future, or family issues, can apparently cause your cranium to feel like it’s being clobbered by the Hulk. 

So, it’s a work in progress, this tempering of my teetering.  I feel alone in my anxiety journey most of the time, and I don’t usually like to talk about it, but I wanted to shed a little light on it today in case someone else out there is also struggling to get a handle on it too.  It can get better, so hang in there.  Get help if you need it.  Figure out the source and root cause of where this anxiety is coming from, as that’s how you’ll be able to start dealing with it.  I’ve been lucky to have a few friends and family and therapists help me through it in the past, but it’s a constant effort that I have to work at mostly just by myself.  Like Pam from ‘The Office’ said, “Pobody’s Nerfect.”  Definitely not me…and I don’t want to be perfect anymore anyway (or nerfect). 

Bonne santé et à la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Let Them Eat Marshmallows

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“To be young again, if we could…” ~ William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, II, ii)

Yesterday I took my two oldest nephews and their father (my brother) to a kid’s improv show at a local comedy theatre.  Both of the boys had a good time, although the almost-8-year old was much less inhibited while the 9-year old is starting to exhibit signs of a brooding pre-teen and was a little more embarrassed about getting on the stage in front of everyone.  On the way home in the car, I told them they should act silly for as long as they can while they’re still young and have a good time doing it.

The 9-year old said (who was also upset at a no-electronics ban for the day) grumbled from the backseat “what’s so great about being young, why can’t I just become a grown-up as fast as possible?”  I glanced at his trademark furrowed brow in the rear-view mirror and wished I could make him understand.  I guess we all thought that way when we were little and wanted to be big.  They made a whole movie around that yearning premise, after all.  I answered him by saying something to the effect of it’s nice being carefree when you’re young and not having to worry about things like money and houses and cars. 

When we’re little we never know how good we actually have it, right? (Even after we’re official adults, sometimes we still don’t realize it, something about always wanting that greener grass…and no, not the kind you can find in Colorado or Oregon.)  Or as Andy Bernard said in the finale of the ‘The Office’ this past May: “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”

And there is no better reminder of how good the young have it than around the holidays.  This past week I looked into the pure, innocent eyes of my 3-year old nephew as he recited what he wants Santa to bring him and nodded seriously that yes, he’s been a good boy (I’ll vouch for him, Santa), and marveled at how completely happy he seems to be almost all of the time.  I listened to the almost-8-year old sing every word to Feliz Navidad along with the radio while in the backseat – no holding back or second thoughts, just his joy at singing a favorite Christmas song (in perfect pitch and Spanish accent I might add).  I watched as a friend’s twin toddlers ripped tissue paper to tiny shreds that had accompanied their present and laughed at their cute baby giggles as they played peekaboo with the gift bag (holiday tip: just give the 1-year olds in your life some bags full of wadded up tissue paper and they’ll be perfectly content for hours).

Oh to be young again, if we could…  To not have to worry about paying the nonstop bills, or enrolling in the new government healthcare plan, or trying to figure out why you have a new ache or pain every other day.  To not have to stop buying bread and cheese to shed those stubborn extra pounds, or deal with the dynamics of intricate family politics, or calculate the least-damaging tax structures for your financial situation.

Oh to be young again, if we could…  To fly down the stairs each morning looking for the newest spying spot of their Shelf Elf.  To sing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs and dance like a lightning bug with your hands in the air.  To dream about that new toy or game that you just have to have, that will just totally make your life complete.  To eat handfuls of Christmas cookies and drink endless cups of hot cocoa (with mounds of marshmallows of course). To eat more handfuls of more marshmallows even after you’ve run out of hot cocoa…

cocoa

The growing-up part will come soon enough; in the blink of an eye actually.  And I think we expect kids to be more than just kids these days – we expect them to be young grown-ups, perhaps because they have more in terms of resources and technology and opportunities than any generation before them.  But at this time of the year, we should remind ourselves that it’s fun to just watch them be excited, hopeful, wide-eyed kids.  Let’s help them, as much as possible, realize that they’re in the good old days right now.  I  know, easier said than done when they’re screaming and shrieking and running around the house like sugar-whacked banshees…(deep breaths).

Life moves on despite the holidays, and sometimes brings hardship instead of happiness.  My father’s aunt passed away a few days ago, some friends and family members are having some health struggles, and a close friend of mine is mourning the recent loss of her beloved dog, so my thoughts and condolences are with them.  If someone around you is having a hard time this holiday, be sure to try to bring them a little extra cheer if possible (flowers are always nice, if I do say so myself).

schnauzer flowers

And if you do celebrate Christmas, I hope you are with family or friends this week and experience a relaxing, UNunhappy holiday.  I recognize that not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that situation or that we don’t all celebrate the same occasions, and so I wish peace for you too, in whatever form that may come. If you yourself need some cheering up, then this video about super-cute penguins in Santa suits is for YOU:

March of the Santa Penguins (Click to view)

March of the Santa Penguins (Click picture to view)

Mele Kalikimaka! (I think that’s my favorite Christmas song by the way and I’ve never even been to Hawaii…)

hohoho

Joyeux Noël et À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Hate your job? QUIT ALREADY!!! I did.

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“Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth)

I’m an über fan of the show “The Office”  (both versions – British and American).  I’ve seen every episode multiple times, and I was sad to see it end when the series finale aired on May 16th.  Whenever I’m feeling down, watching an episode or two never fails to make me laugh out loud.  (And, I have a major crush on John Krasinski and his perfect hair.)

JKpic

(Thanks Jenna Fischer for tweeting this perfect John pic!)

One of my all-time favorite scenes from The Office was the one where Michael Scott quit his job at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company:

Oh Michael, I love you and your resolute, childlike narcissism.

Like most of you I imagine, I’ve spent most of my working life in an office; only a few of my working years have NOT been in an office setting (Peace Corps & Home Depot spring to mind).  I’ve dealt with my fair share of office politics, drama queen co-workers, bipolar bosses, pervasive PowerPoints, and mind-numbing boredom.  I’ve stared into enough filthy food-splattered office microwaves to last me a lifetime.  At one office – not exaggerating – I endured a musical-chairs-rotation of 8 different bosses in the 7 years I worked there (and none of them were Michael Scott, unfortunately). 

Looking back on all my office work experiences together, it resembles a schizophrenic reality-show combination of Survivor, Punk’d, and The Joe Schmo Show all rolled into one (“What is going ooooonnnnnn??!!!” = Best reveal moment ever by the way on Joe Schmo).  The cumulative effect of all these experiences was disturbing yet manageable, or so it felt that way at the time. 

It was almost like a badge of honor to outwit, outplay and outlast other coworkers that would fall by the wayside – but at an expense I couldn’t yet recognize.

So what happened that prompted my current journey?  Almost a year ago, I found out I was being transferred into a new position by my employer; funding for our prior positions had run out, and they scrambled to plop a few of us into ill-fitting new jobs at a different office where we were underutilized and undervalued.  I had no choice in the matter, and I knew within a nanosecond of the announcement that it would be a job that I was going to hate.  Not dislike.  Hate

But did I listen to the voice in my head that was screaming “GET OUT NOW!”  Of course not; being the responsible workforce professional that I was, I trudged ahead in sensible pay-the-bills fashion.

That daily trudging left much of my sanity and health lying battered and bleeding on the side of Austin’s congested roadways that I wrestled each day on my 50-mile round-trip commute.  It was a hell of a ride (TWSS).

I lasted nine months.  And then I finally made the decision to give my bundle of frayed nerves up for adoption.

About a month ago, I finally took back my life and JUST QUIT.  I wanted so badly to boldly march into my boss’s office and quote Michael Scott from the video above as I turned in my notice, inspiring shock and awe in the process. 

Turns out I’m not quite the brave thespian I’d envisioned…and the boring reality is that I walked (normal-style) into HR and turned in my notice in a perfectly-civilized non-histrionic meeting.   I never could have delivered the line as good as Michael did anyway…it should remain his.

michaelscott-truffled-650x365

I was taught growing up that you never give up, never quit, so this was a hard decision for me.  But there are times when we just don’t win the battles we choose (or are thrown into) and simply must walk away.  Sometimes knowing when to make that decision and following through can be a victory in itself.

I read a quote by Confucius the other day that said “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”  Staying in such a soul-sucking job for as long as I did was me making my own life complicated; quitting it was me getting back to basics.  I’m ready for simplicity again!

And before you ask: no, I didn’t have another job lined up at the time that I quit, despite my father’s voice on a repeat loop in my head saying “Don’t quit a job before you have a job.  Don’t quit a job before you have a job.”  I feel a little like Baby in Dirty Dancing, rebelling with the bad boy despite what others think she “should” do – only my Johnny is joblessness, and way less sexy.

Yes, I’m terrified. But I’m FREE!  But definitely terrified. My last day on the payroll was two weeks ago, and I don’t have another job yet.  Those real-life bills aren’t going to pay themselves.  But I do have a vision that I’m working toward – one that started when I was only 16 years old actually (stay tuned for future posts to learn all about it).  

The line from The Office series finale that struck me the most – and validated 100% my decision to try my hand at life decisions that would hopefully lead to a state of UNunhappy – was this one by Pam:

“Be strong.  Trust yourself.  Conquer your fears.  Just go after what you want, & act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”

It doesn’t really get much clearer than that. 

John Wayne once said “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”  So I guess this is me saddling up (yippee-ki-yay blog readers)!  Let’s see where this trail ride leads.

So to sum up:  You have no idea how high I can fly…on an uncomplicated horse…that dances dirty….  Or something like that.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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