Monthly Archives: September 2013

Baby Steps = Mini-Adventures

Today was an amazing day. But I need to back up…

I work in a department that focuses on teaching and supporting service and leadership opportunities to our university students and the community. I’ve worked there since May 2012 and was immediately impressed by the students’ passion for service. My office has several different types of service projects that students can participate in throughout the year. Some are on campus, in our community, and some require travel, even internationally. At the end of the year we hold two awards ceremonies for the students to honor them and the work they do. One is the Presidential Service Award and the other is the Impact Awards (where we honor not only the students but our community partners for their service too).

I started to think about my first time as an undergrad. I never did service. I think I did two service projects but only because my theater honor fraternity, that I was Vice President of, decided to give it a shot. But never sought out service projects on my own. So now I that I’m back in school I thought, you know, I should give this a shot!

During one of our staff meetings people started to talk about the extra help they could use for various events, and that if anyone not involved in the event wanted to volunteer to let them know. This was really directed toward our graduate assistants and our AmeriCorp *VISTA rep. I emailed the directors and told them that I wanted to volunteer.

Today was amazing. I joined my colleagues and 600+ university students for our annual fall day of service. I went around to the different service sites and took pictures and Tweeted with our event hashtag. Being an event photographer is something that makes me feel really confident. Also, going out and about to places I don’t know by myself on my own is something that would have made me feel really anxious, triggered my IBS, and generally make me feel miserable. My day started at 6:40 a.m., hit the day of service event until 12:30 and came on home.

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BUT it doesn’t end there – I went out and had lunch at a restaurant BY. MY-SELF! Mike was out hanging with some friends and I needed lunch. My friend Rafa has this great quote on his office door. It basically says that if you make friends with yourself you’ll have a friend forever. I took myself out to lunch and enjoyed my own company thoroughly.

This is not to say that I don’t do things myself, I do, but usually its hanging out at home. I rather enjoyed going to the restaurant. I took my iPad and read a book and just sat and enjoyed the quiet time, my wonderful lunch, and treated myself to a nummy dessert.

Overall, I’d say it was a good day. I did somethings I that used to be a challenge that didn’t even feel like a challenge and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is what I want from my life. Confidence. Good times.

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Still Trying

I still have so much anxiety about this trip. I wish I didn’t. It would be really nice to be excited about the trip. I’m debating on making a list of what makes me anxious about this trip. In my head all the reasons are absolutely ridiculous, which makes sense for an agoraphobic. None of our reasons for fears are sound.

Instead of making a list of the things I’m afraid of, at least I’m not making that list tonight, I’ll make a list of things I’m actually excited about. Maybe that will help me feel better.

1. Seeing my best friend. I mean, duh!
2. Getting out of FLORIDA!!! I know that people who don’t live in Florida think Florida is sunshine and beaches and Disney. But my Florida, the real Florida of non-vacations, is oak tree pollen, year round vegetation that blooms and expels this hideous yellow pollen that coats cars, standing water, buildings, anything standing still (even ponds that aren’t still!). And I’m allergic to it. Year round I’m sneezing, I’m itchy, I’m sniffling. At my worst, like this past weekend, my eyes swell up, I get hives, and I’m drugged to the gills with Benadryl and can’t get out of bed.
3. Being in cool temperatures! Florida is still hot in October. Sometimes we will get a nice couple of cool evenings at the end of the month, but that usually happens every other year. Last year was our nice, cool evenings. This year it will be hot. I’ve checked the Philadelphia weather every day and getting excited about having to possibly wear a hoodie or fluffy, fuzzy socks.
4. Chilling out. Vacations are always nice. It’ll be a working vacation as I still have homework I have to do but it won’t be working all day and homework all night….then again

crap this list is becoming less about what I’m excited about and more about the things that make me anxious. CRAP! Okay, okay. Maybe this post should be about what I actually have control over.

1. What I eat. I can control what I eat so I won’t trigger an IBS flare up.
2. Doing my homework. I have this week to buckle down and do the best that I can with my homework. I think I need to schedule office hours with my technical drawing professor because that’s the class that’s throwing me for a loop. Okay, so that’s a good plan.
3. Just talk to Sarah about needing time to do homework. She is taking some art classes herself and suggested I bring my sketch book with me. I guess I thought I’d be doing less technical drawing (it says drawing for design – a lot of us were under the impression that we were taking a graphic design specific drawing class, not a technical drawing class).
4. Make sure I’m drinking lots of water. Been drinking too much soda – a no no for those with anxiety and depression.
5. Call my therapist and talk to her. That’s the first thing I’m going to do tomorrow. She’s pretty cool. I’m hoping she’ll give me some tips. I have lots of tools for calming down in a panic attack and some ideas on how to calm anxiety; but sometimes I just need to re-hear it.

Ugh. I hate this. I hate this illness so much. I hate how it can twist normal worries into catastrophes. Or even non-worries into worries and then catastrophes.

You know, I would love, LOVE to hang on to this one thing that makes me excited. I’m a photographer. Well, I like to think I’m a photographer. I love iphone-ography too. I’ve seen some really amazing photographs taken on phones. I use my iPhone more than I use my DSLR. Anyway, I want to take pictures of myself in the airport. In the plane. Of the clouds outside the window. Of Sarah and I at the airport. And then do it all again on the way home. That, for some reason, is something I think is marvelous. A lot of the artists I follow on Instagram take photos of their adventures from start to finish. I remember thinking a while ago how I’d like to have an adventure I could document start to finish. Guess I’m getting my wish granted.

 

Bi-Annual Panic Attack Celebration!

I hadn’t realized until just this evening that I was due for my Bi-Annual Panic Attack Celebration! As soon as I remembered it was high time to celebrate my agoraphobia I put on my party hat and let myself have a whale of a time panicking.

Good times!

I don’t schedule these celebrations. It’s so much more fun to celebrate panic unawares ahead of time then plan for it. Granted, it doesn’t give me much time to decorate or prepare some good eats, but, honestly, when panicking food and decorations is the last thing on my mind. I guess I could look at my on the spot panic attack celebrations as a fantastic money-saving tip.

The only downside to these celebrations is the real panic attack. I guess I should have realized, and probably knew one was on the way, that a panic attack was headed my way. Things have been rough, to say the least; and I’m about to undertake an adventure that I would never have been able to do 12 years ago. Scratch that…an adventure I could not do Fall 2011, which may have even cost me my then job in the long run.

My best friend, Sarah, lives in Philadelphia. Mike and I visited her once in 2011. We had a really wonderful time. It was my first long road trip since my agoraphobia diagnosis in 2001. We had a rough trip to South Carolina in 2009*. But we had one really nice trip to Virginia in 2010*. Our long road trip to Pennsylvania to visit Sarah and my family for Christmas 2011 was really, really good. Not a single panic attack. Not even an anxiety attack. The trip was really wonderful. I road public transportation. Spent a full day wandering around with Sarah and Mike around Philly. Took a mini-road trip with just Sarah from Philly to Williamsport. And then Mike and I had the return trip from Williamsport back to Florida. The whole trip was wonderful. In fact, it was the best I had felt both physically and mentally in a really long time.

Since then we have taken mini-road trips to Savannah to see my parents. I’ve even been able to drive good portions of the way without succumbing to my road-narcalepsy. Each trip I venture out further from my parent’s house bit by bit enjoying the freedom of being agoraphobia free without even realizing that I am at that moment agoraphobic.

But even though I have all these major successes I still have at least one major panic attack every six months. With everything as it is right now my various issues at this time, at that moment came together to create my perfect mental storm.

As the wave of panic flooded through me, the wave of cold sweats and hot flashes through my body, I held on to enough sanity to recognize and evaluate what was happening to me. This is something I’ve only been able to do over the last year. In the midst of the panic I reminded myself of where I was, that I was safe, and that it was actually OKAY to panic right now. I’ve been sick. I’ve had some bad news about my health come up this past week. I have a lot of work to do to get better. I’m about to get on a plane by myself twice! Yeah, lots of stressful things going on. I gave myself the permission to panic, to ride the wave of panic to its end.

In the 10 minutes (maybe even less) from the beginning to end of the attack I nurtured myself. Afterwards, I pampered myself by cooling off with a nice cold rag on my forehead and doing the things I was planning to do before the attack hit.

I’m still going to Philadelphia. As Mike reminded me, there is nothing to be afraid of by going to see the second most trusted person in my life. A couple of weeks ago I admitted to Sarah my fear she simply said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be at the airport.” Mike and Sarah are my heroes. Sarah recently flew to India by herself to see a friend of ours get married. Mike travels a lot for his job.

It’s not just important for me to go to Philadelphia to see my best friend, its important to go as part of the ongoing process of curing the agoraphobia. Sure, I’m “cured” when I’m in my safe place. But to keep getting better I have to move beyond that. So I am going to Philadelphia. I may go under the influence of Clonazepam, but I am getting on that plane to see Sarah and getting back on that plane to come home to see Mike. And I’m going to not only survive this adventure, I’m going to enjoy it!

*Dates might be screwy because of my agoraphobia and depression – each have the tendency to create a Swiss cheese effect in my memory.

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Post panic attack – tired and disheveled