Stop It Right There

Don't even think about it.

I’ve joked or hinted about this before, but I don’t think I’ve ever really laid it out there: I struggle with anxiety. Like, a lot.

I spent quite a bit of time last winter being anxious about all sorts of things. While I was happy in my new marriage, everything else felt a little off. I was unhappy with my job. I was worried about an enlarged lymph node in my groin. I wasn’t getting a period. I was drinking way too much and eating too little. And because I was too skinny for my body type, I felt uncomfortably cold all the time. So what did I do about all of that? I threw my energy into calorie counting to make sure I maintained my slim physique. Naturally. It seemed logical at the time. I basically focused on that one thing and let all of those other concerns grow into big, giant monsters. I was the epitome of passive.

Then I don’t know what happened. There was no ah-ha moment, no light shining down from the sky, but one day I decided that enough was enough. I called a therapist and set up an appointment, I visited an acupuncturist and I made a vow to go to yoga more often. I got a biopsy of the questionable lymph node (it turned out fine). I saw a specialist about the missing period. I took charge of my life again. Phew.

But what scares me is how quick I got to that bad place and how hard it was to leave. Anxiety totally had me pinned and hog tied before I even realized something was amiss. Anxiety is a sneak. All it takes is one unchecked thought to start a spiral of badness.

Which is why I must be vigilant. I need to stop the anxious thoughts before they get out of control. There’s many ways I attempt to do this. Sometimes it’s as simple as visualizing a stop sign when the first thought creeps in. Sometimes I read a book. Or go to yoga. Or snuggle with my dogs. I’ve by no means perfected this nip-it-in-the-bud technique, but I’m getting better. Because I’m not going back to the place where I was last winter. I refuse. There is too much wonderful life to live.

So here’s my question to you. What do you do to stay calm when things feel overwhelming? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? I could always use a few more in my arsenal.

Picture This

Gretel's hard at work visualizing

I’ve been playing around with visualization lately. Much like my experience with wheatgrass, I became intrigued about visualization after reading Inconceivable by Julia Indichova. I’ve mentioned this book before and I’ll probably mention it again, so much so that you may begin to think I’m obsessed with it. Which I am, a little.

Here’s the idea behind visualization: even if you’re not literally doing the thing you’re imagining, it still works because your physiological response is the same as if you were. For example, when you have a nightmare, you wake up and you’re sweating and your heart is racing, even though you were in your bed the whole time. Your body’s response is the same as if you were physically in the nightmare world. So if you picture yourself lazing in a meadow and feeling at peace, you can still obtain that feeling, even though you’re nowhere near the meadow. Or if you’re imagining your body to be mega fertile, then you can make it so. Or at least help it along.

I’m using visualization for fertility, but the cool thing about it is that you can use it to help with anything: stress, depression, illnesses, whatever.

But let’s get specific. Because this would not be a complete blog post unless I made it weirdly personal. So I’m going to walk you through my favorite visualization exercise. The CD I own is called Fertile Heart Imagery (also from Julia Indichova…I should start an official fan club, no?) and the name of the exercise is Sacred Choices. In Julia’s words, “This exercise can be quite useful when you find yourself obsessing about statistics and so-called realities that might feel overwhelming.”

Obsess about stuff? I don’t know anyone who does that.

The exercise goes like this: Picture yourself walking out of your house. When you get to the street, look to the left and see a street sign that says Infertility (or any other word you want. I was using Amenorrhea when I wasn’t getting a period, but you can name your street whatever). Take note of the people walking on that street. Check out the buildings, the store windows, the weather.

When I look down that street it’s always raining. The sky is grey. The sidewalks are made of stainless steel. Doctors are walking around in white coats, generally ignoring everyone or else handing out plastic cards with stark diagnoses written on them. The stores are selling dusty baby bottles and empty boxes of diapers. The other patrons on the street are crying or wearing stunned, confused expressions.

After taking in that whole scene, you look to the right and see a street sign that says Hope. Again you notice the weather, the vendors and the buildings. On my street of Hope, there are gardens lining either side of the street, filled with rainbow-colored roses and zinnias. The weather is sunny and warm. Babies are crawling everywhere (don’t worry, no car traffic on this street) and one of them, I know, is mine. Dudes in carts are giving away wheatgrass smoothies. The people on this street are happy and they’re all making their way towards a fountain at the end of the street, which is bubbling over with cool, healing water. My favorite part about this street is that Tim is always there waiting for me with our two dogs. He’s smiling at me and the look on his face says, “What are you waiting for?”

Once you finish visualizing both streets, you choose which direction to walk in.

I did this particular exercise every day, twice a day, for two weeks straight. After I’d completed it, I was usually smiling. I felt calmer. And, yes, I felt more hopeful. Most importantly, I chose to feel that way. I didn’t let my anxiety choose for me.

This exercise is so ingrained in me now that whenever I start getting upset about the world of babymaking, I just picture my street of hope and my mind is quieted. Is it a fool-proof, cure-all technique? Of course not. But it helps.

So which direction do I choose? I’m heading straight to Hope Avenue.

I’ll see you all there.


The Weighting Game

Weight, eesh. This is a rough topic for me. I could probably write an entire book on this subject, but for your sake, I’ll try to be succinct.

I joined Weight Watchers in May 2010. On the whole, Weight Watchers is awesome. The program encourages you to eat healthy, unprocessed foods—lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. It’s based on a point system and you get a certain point allotment each day. On average, whole foods, like meat and vegetables, have a lower points value than something processed, like, say, a 100 Calorie Pack.

I had always thought of myself as a healthy eater, but this program required me to put everything I ate under a microscope. And I realized I was eating a ton of preservatives, chemicals and refined sugar. So overall, Wight Watchers changed my life for the better. But an eating plan, even the healthiest eating plan, can’t control what goes on in my mind. Weight Watchers is not my therapist and can’t possibly address all of the BS about eating and body image that plays on a constant loop in my head.

My goal was to lose a few pounds for my wedding. Here’s a picture of me wedding dress shopping in September 2009, nine months before I joined.

It’s not like I was a total whale. I mean, I looked fine. But regardless, I wanted to feel extra-special-beautiful on my wedding day. I didn’t want to look at a single picture and think, well that would be a better picture if my arm wasn’t so chunks.

Because I’m a control freak, I discovered I was really, alarmingly good at Weight Watchers. I followed the program to the letter and I lost weight every week. I was feeling great, and I soon saw the scale drop to the lowest I’ve ever seen it in my adult life, even lower than my high school weight. Slowly but surely, I passed the 10 pound mark, and then 15. And I thought, why stop now? I eventually had to pause temporarily after my last wedding dress fitting because if I lost anymore, my dress would be hanging off of me. All told, I lost a little over twenty pounds before my wedding.

Mission accomplished. I felt amazing on my wedding day.

So now that it was over, I could go back to my regular weight, or at least ease up a little. Right?

Wrong. I became convinced that if I gained a single pound, people would start whispering about how I let myself go. Plus, I really liked the way I looked now. For the first time in my life, I felt completely happy with the way my clothes fit on me. I had an excuse to buy all new pants! It was exhilarating. So I continued to lose.

At my lightest, I weighed 118 pounds. Which, really, is not that small for some people. But on me, it didn’t look right. Friends who had previously said I looked good started saying I looked too skinny. When I took off my shirt I could see all of my ribs, clearly defined. And you know what? I liked it. From then on, my measure on whether I was “skinny enough” was how clearly I could see my ribs.

Kind of effed, no?

Fortunately or unfortunately for me, 118 lbs was not sustainable, unless I said goodbye to my social life. Those of you who know me know I enjoy imbibing a healthy share of adult beverages (and alcohol costs a lot of Weight Watchers points). So after a month or two, I went back up to 125-ish and stayed that way until my recent vacation. But that was hard to sustain, too, especially if I wanted to keep boozing it up every weekend. I put myself on a modified Weight Watchers plan. Basically, I ate less than my daily points allotment during the week so I could drink mass amounts of wine and, inevitably, binge eat on the weekends. Even though I was still eating healthy, whole foods, I cut out anything extra. Instead of olive oil, I cooked with Pam, and so on. This went on for months, even though, logically, I knew it couldn’t be very healthy. And it didn’t help that every time I went to a doctor they assured me that I was a normal weight for my height.

How, at 33 years old, could I have let myself get into such an unhealthy cycle? Isn’t this the kind of crap that college-age kids pull? How did I get so addicted to smaller jeans and hearing people say I looked good that I would endanger my own health? The answer is, I don’t know.

It wasn’t until a few weeks before my recent vacation that something clicked in my brain. All of a sudden I was like, oh, maybe my eating habits have something to do with my missing-in-action period. After that, I began eating a little more and, most importantly, I cut back on the alcohol. Seeing the doctor last week just confirmed what the little voice in my head was already telling me.

The doctor tells me to eat more fat. I’m doing this, with gusto. But this probably means I’ll gain some weight. Which is fine, especially if it means I’ll be healthier and able to sustain a pregnancy. I’d pretty much do anything for that. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling with it. For more than a year a large portion of my energy has been focused on tightly controlling what I eat. And I have to let some of that control go now. And it’s scary.

But so worth it.

Visit With the Spesh

Me with my new best friend, almonds!

Last week Tim and I went to see a fertility specialist.

I’ll go ahead and begin my very first post with some over-sharing. Prior to this specialist visit, I hadn’t gotten a period in months. Four months to be exact. This has been a source of great frustration and angst for me. Tim and I are ready to have a baby, oh, like, now, but that’s not going to happen without the ole monthly cycle. I stopped taking birth control pills in October. Since then, I’ve had a few regular periods, one very late period, and then they just disappeared altogether.

I went to see an OBGYN after a couple of months of this no-show business. The doctor ran some basic hormone tests, seriously freaked me out by saying I might be in early menopause (sayonara, dream of having children), and sent me away with a prescription called Provera. Provera is basically progesterone in pill form. You take it for five days, and once you stop, the progesterone withdrawal is supposed to bring on a period. It didn’t work. Boo.

Luckily, my hormone tests came back normal, so early menopause was out, along with a variety of other scary things (sigh of relief). But still, no period. Hence, the specialist referral.

Now, onto the visit: From the moment we stepped into the office, I knew we were in good hands. The receptionists were friendly. Friendly. This is rarity in my experience. Maybe it has something to do with living in a city, I don’t know.  When I walked back to get my blood pressure taken, etc., a woman passed by and smiled at Tim and me. A real, genuine smile. Even though she was wearing a breezy summer top and not an imposing lab coat, I knew this was our doctor, and that made me very happy. After a few minutes, we went into this woman’s office and she asked both of us a million, billion questions. The whole session felt very personal. She explained everything thoroughly and was careful and considerate of our feelings. Tim and I loved her. After a stretch of bad doctors and OBGYNs, this was a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Her diagnosis? I’m not eating enough fat.

Wait, what? You mean, it can really be as simple as that?

I had lost 20 lbs for my wedding last August and kept it off for a year (more on that in another post). She said that, even though I am a normal body weight for my height, I am being too careful about what I’m eating, and the lack of fat is causing my body to go into self-preservation mode. She ran some more blood work and instructed Tim to get a sperm analysis, but seemed confident the fat was the problem. We have another appointment with her in a couple of weeks to go over the results.

The day after the visit, I got my period. For the first time in four months. A few weeks ago, Tim and I went on vacation and I ate my face off. I came back from that vacation 6 lbs heavier. So I think it took that extra six pounds to get my body working again. Seems like pretty good evidence to support the doctor’s theory.

I’m going to continue to diligently add more fat to each and every meal. And hopefully this is the beginning of a new era, an era where my period comes every month on schedule. An era that will hopefully bring about what I want most in the world right now: a pregnancy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go eat some celebratory almonds and avocados.