Tag Archive | anxiety

My Story Part 1

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Do not let your past define who you are today, but allow it to help you to better understand who you want to be tomorrow.
Childhood
Like so many of you, my story starts at a young age. I was a very insecure and fearful little girl. I was raised in a home with my mother, father and two sisters. I was a middle child. My mother is a wonderful and caring woman who worked part-time as a registered nurse. She is an incredibly hard worker with a giant heart for people.

My father is a positive and happy man. He too is a very hard worker. My father became a successful business owner by taking a risk, leaving a job he was not happy in and opening a business of his own. He was rarely home, but when he was it was nice.

My parents were caring parents. They were very supportive of me and encouraged my education, my athletics, and me becoming an independent woman. They raised my sisters and me to become responsible young women, with a strong set of morals and values. Overall, they were very successful parents; the kind of
success I hope to achieve as a parent one day. I had a good relationship with my mother growing up and she is my best friend today. I have a father who I admire and respect and am able to have great conversations with today. I am who I am because of my parents. I learned what I learned because of my parents and today my parents are two of my greatest supports and encouragement.

Another person who greatly impacted my childhood was my grandmother. She was 100% Greek, was loud and loved food. She died in her seventies and suffered many medical conditions including obesity. She triggered a lot of my anxiety growing up. She was very rigid with her thinking. She was emotionally abusive and sometimes even physically. Her expectations of children were completely irrational. She controlled my mother; therefore, she controlled me.

I was afraid of my grandmother. I grew up secretly in fear. I was too afraid to talk about it; therefore, I did not allow myself to feel it. I began to numb my feelings and blocked everything out mostly with food. I started having panic attacks and anxiety by age 7 or 8. I would lie in bed the night before having to see my grandmother and I would panic and cry. My feelings were never validated and I was not taught how to cope with them. I was just told to stop feeling it.

Looking back into my childhood I can see now that I struggled with so many things. I was a sensitive child who was abnormally uncomfortable in loud and busy environments. I can also see now that I was very intuitive. I could and still can sense feelings and
emotions from peoples’ faces, body language and energy; things that most people can’t sense. This sensitivity contributed to me being anxious around people, places and things that were unknown. It also made it very hard to watch the way my mother was treated by my grandmother.

I learned at a young age to ignore my feelings. Like many of you, I learned to feel shame, guilt, fear and insecurity. I learned at a young age to become controlling to protect myself from being emotionally and physically hurt. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobia by middle school. I will talk more about all of this in the next few chapters.

The interesting thing about my social phobia was that I was was extrovert with social phobia. I loved people and craved connection in relationships and fun, but inside I feared rejection and shame. I learned to use my extrovert personality to mask my anxiety. To this day people tell me they never would have guessed that I struggle with anxiety or social phobia.

By age 8 I began using food to mask and comfort my emotions. My eating disorder started out as overeating and comfort eating that quickly grew into binge eating. I was overweight by age 9 which impacted my body image and self- esteem. By age 11 I was dieting and restricting food and by age 15 using
laxatives and diet pills. At age 19 my eating disorder turned into full blown bulimia where I binged on food and purged it with exercise, diet pills and vomiting. I hated how I looked and how I felt. Today I can see that my eating disorder was triggered by my
OCD thinking. My OCD thinking was triggered by my social anxiety and generalized anxiety. It’s no wonder I struggled in and out of depression my whole life. The anxiety was just too much to handle.

I struggled in school socially. I did not struggle to make friends, but I struggled to keep them. I had difficulty trusting people, so I talked about them. I feared rejection, so I stayed emotionally as far away from them as I could. I became so anxious around people that I sat far away from my friends in class. I was still able to mask my anxiety and nobody ever knew.
High School/College
My teen years and twenties were an absolute mess which is where some personality stuff comes in. I learned to behave a certain way to get my needs met. Sometimes this meant seeking attention from others by lying and manipulating or even dressing a certain way. Sometimes it meant making a bigger deal out of something than it really was to get attention. I did not do these things to hurt others; I did them because I was hurting.

I met my husband Steve in high school. We were 15 years old. I couldn’t resist his cute smile and “Z. Cavaricci” pants. Plus he always had gum and bought me lots of food. I was a food addict so this worked very well for me. On a serious note, we fell in love freshman year of high school and spent the next four years together. Steve was and still is very good to me. I love him very much, but there was also a part of me that stayed in this relationship because it was comfortable. I feared men and talking to boys. My social anxiety kept me from being able to communicate with others. I hated myself and felt unworthy. I think part of me feared first dates and talking which made it very easy to stay in the relationship with Steve.

Steve and I parted ways our first year of college. That is when life really fell apart. I turned to partying, alcohol and sex to calm my social anxiety. I didn’t know how I felt and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. I just knew I didn’t want to feel it anymore. Drinking alcohol allowed me to let loose. Unfortunately I can’t say it allowed me to be myself because I was acting nothing like myself. Like food, I lost control when I drank alcohol. I did not know my limits and I drank way too much. I threw myself at whoever would give me attention. I was an active bulimic who hated herself. To this day I believe that I was in survival mode, desperately trying to make it in a world that I did not understand at all.

I got back together with Steve at age 20. I was in my third year of college at the University of New Hampshire. I was studying psychology. My goal was to become a clinical mental health counselor and own my own private practice one day. I was learning about addiction that year. That is when I realized I had a problem. I can remember it so vividly. I was taking a class on “Dysfunctional Family Therapy”. We watched a movie about an alcoholic father and our teacher taught us about the family systems theory. He taught us about what it means to be dysfunctional; he taught us the roles and stages of change in a family system. As I read the course material and watched the movies he showed, my affect got flatter and flatter. My mood got more depressed and eventually my eyes were opened and my denial was lifted. At age 20, in the middle of my junior year of college, my life came crashing down.

I met with my professor briefly that year to ask some questions about what he was teaching. I rarely spoke to men unless I was drunk because they intimidated me. But I was desperate to learn more and he was the only person who was able to break through my thick denial. I remember telling him about the feelings I experienced growing up in my home. I told him about the roles that we were playing out in my family and how it all made sense after watching the movie he showed.

For the first time, I cried. And I don’t mean I cried because I was hurt. I mean, I cried because I was devastated. I thought my family was perfect. That moment was the beginning of a long recovery. That moment was the beginning of the 15 years of grief that I was about to endure. That moment was the beginning of my spiritual journey.

My eating disorder became extremely compulsive that year. I was obsessive about what I ate and compulsively purged it. I would workout with fevers and no sleep. I lost weight and was praised for it by family and friends. On the outside I looked like a new person, but on the inside I was dying. On the eve of my 21st birthday the best and worst thing happened. I binge drank that night. I drank shot after shot until I was so intoxicated that Steve had to call 911. I was non-responsive to the world. After a terrifying ambulance ride to the hospital, I am grateful to say that I recovered; well, physically that is.

Four weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. It was my discharge summary. At the bottom was a recommendation for me to see a therapist. It made no sense to me at the time. I still didn’t get the big picture. I needed help, but I could not see it. I went to the University’s Counseling Center. They immediately sent me outside of the school for help. At the time I did not understand why, but now I can see that the issues I was dealing with were not academic. They were personal and they were much more complex and serious than the school counselor could handle.

That spring I started therapy with my first therapist. Her name was Jodi. She was sweet, kind and gentle. So much came to light for me. By working with Jodi in therapy, I was able to gain insight on my issues of anxiety and began to learn about how it impacted my eating disorder. I also disclosed another dark secret that spring; it was the first time I talked about the impact of being molested by a family friend.

I went home that summer and binged, purged and exercised my way through it. With my education as a resource, little things began to make sense. My family dysfunction became clearer. Only this dysfunction did not only exist in my family, but it also existed in my relationship with Steve.

I started a Twelve Step program that year. And it was not because it was suggested by my therapist. It was actually an assignment I was given my junior year of college during a class I was taking called, “Alcoholism and Addictions”. We were required to attend six AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings to learn more about addiction.
I love telling the story about my first meeting. I will never forget it. I showed up with a bag of chocolate chips to listen to addicts talk about their addiction to alcohol. I laugh every time I think about it. In all seriousness, there was something I fell in love with during those meetings. There was a presence there that was unexplainable. It was something I felt deep within my heart. I had a lot of social anxiety, so talking with others out loud in a group was not my thing. But I continued to go back because of the strong presence and connection I felt in the room. It was that year that I learned about a Higher Power whom I choose to call God. It was that moment of my life that I began a spiritual journey and the Twelve Steps became the foundation of my faith. So I was now seeing a therapist and attending Twelve Step meetings thinking to myself, “Man oh man, I am messed up”.

Click here for part 2…

My hope in telling you my story is to help you to uncover yours. My guess is that you can relate to some of the feelings I felt and the experiences I went through. To continue reading more about my journey with self-renewal, check out my book, “RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal”.  If you would like to learn more about how I can help you to find peace and balance in your life, please visit my website at www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net.  To join a RENEWED group or attend an upcoming 5 Week Transformational Workshop, please check out the Events at Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling. 

“Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food”

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Intuitive Eating has been my way of life for quite some time now.  I spent most of my life worrying about food and my weight.  In turn, I spent much of my energy counting points or calories, labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and feeling guilt and shame if I were to consume something that was “bad” or not in my calorie or  point range.  So I guess you can say that I was a very restrictive eater.

My very first step with Intuitive Eating was to erase all of the information I learned about food and adhere to principle one, “Reject the diet mentality.”  As I started to do that, I gained weight.  I gained weight as a result of my body’s rejection to the in and outs and ups and downs of dieting my whole life.  I gained weight because I didn’t know how to eat when I was hungry or stop when I was full.  I couldn’t do that because I didn’t even know what being hungry felt like.

My second step with intuitive eating was to learn how to wait until I was truly hungry to eat.  This has been a big challenge.  We are so used to eating at certain meal times that it makes it really hard to do this.  My mind goes into panic mode if it is dinner time, but I am not feeling the hunger cues.  Do I eat or not eat?

I am learning how to tune into my body and really listen to it and better yet learning that I can go against the social norms and not eat when everyone else is eating.  In the end it makes me feel so much better to do this.  I may get asked a few questions during a meal, but it only lasts a minute or two, whereas, if I eat when I am not hungry, then I am left for hours feeling physically awful and mentally and emotionally stressed.

This weekend I am away on a trip with my son’s hockey team.  We took a bus with the team up to Montreal, Canada.  Yup, you heard that right!  TOOK A BUS WITH THE TEAM UP TO MONTREAL, CANADA.  That is a 6 hour drive from home.  I don’t think I really registered what I was getting myself into when I agreed to come.  All of my “safe” planning tools are gone.  We have no food (well, I did bring my own coffee because that is a necessity), we have no car to drive to get food and there is a language barrier.

We got to the hotel around 6:30 last night.  I was not yet hungry because I ate a large sub on the bus at noon along with some pretzels and almonds.  Looking back I can see that I was anxious with the start of the trip and did not tune into my body.  Instead, I shoveled the sub into my mouth to calm my anxious feelings.  The ride was fine; better than I anticipated.

We got to the hotel and the team ordered pizza and wanted to swim.  I sat in room for a few minutes and that’s when it really hit me.  “What the hell did I get myself into and what are we going to do for the next three days?”  I feel bored out of my mind with nothing to do in between the hockey games.  I feel insecure around the other moms who look better than me.  I brought one outfit a day to live in and that is it.  It consists of leggings and sweatshirts and UGGS, something I do not feel very attractive in.  My head is spinning and what I see in the mirror I don’t even want to say out loud.  The only thing to ease this anxiety and boredom is to go to the vending machines, get junk food and eat.  It was then that I realized just how anxious I truly am.

The pizza arrived by 8pm and it looked amazing.  I already ate a few pretzels and finished the nuts, partly due to hunger and partly due to anxiety.  So the questioned remained, do I eat “dinner” (the pizza) or do I call it a night, drink a cup of tea, watch my t.v. show and go to bed?

I thought about my options and the consequences of both.  I am happy to say that I declined the pizza.  It looked amazing, but I knew that number one I was not even hungry.  Number two is that pizza and me is not a good mix late at night.  There is something in it that makes me lay awake all night and makes me super thirsty and also have heartburn.  I need to have pizza during the day if I am going to eat it or early for dinner.

The feelings that flooded in that hour were difficult.  I could feel every bit of discomfort and fear that I worked all my life to avoid.  But the beautiful thing is that it lifted.  I was able to lay in bed with my kids and enjoy them last night. I was not irritable or grumpy because I was not physically uncomfortable.

I went to bed and slept okay last night, much better than I would have if I chose to eat the pizza.   And this morning I feel pretty good.  Most of all, I feel extremely empowered because I realize that I can “honor my feelings without using food.”  I can sit through them and feel them and the anxiety does lift.  I am certain that it will come back today, but I know that I can work through them.  I brought my lavender/chamomile tea for comfort and my computer for writing.  I brought my devotionals to read and I have my biggest comfort in God who is always with me no matter where I go on this earth.  I can do this without using food to get through.  And today, my goal is to eat when I am hungry and enjoy all the restaurants and take out food because it tastes yummy and I don’t eat out all the time.

If I can sit through these feelings, then anybody can.  I am my own worst enemy and my head can be a powerful enemy.  So grateful for what I am learning with the principles of Intuitive Eating.

4 Steps to Dealing with Anxiety Naturally

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Everyone feels anxious at times. Anxiety can come out of nowhere. It can come when life is going well. It can come when times are tough. I would be lying if I said I don’t have anxiety. Because lets face it, most of us struggle with some form of anxiety. Just because I am a therapist doesn’t mean that I am not a human being. I always tell my clients that I am here in this line of work because I understand what it feels like to struggle.

I struggled my whole life with anxiety. I mostly struggled with social anxiety. I managed my anxiety with food and other obsessive compulsive behaviors. I developed a nasty inner critic that took over my thinking and impaired my relationships with myself and with others. I developed co-dependent relationships as a result of my anxiety.

It took me many years of therapy to understand my anxiety. In therapy I never really learned how to overcome the anxiety, how to think differently, how to make the negative thinking go away. I studied 6 years in college classes to learn about anxiety and other mental health disorders. I still didn’t know how to manage my anxiety. Maybe I wasn’t ready.

I tried medication for a couple of years. That was just a bandaid. The anxiety was still always there and when the medicine wore off doctors insisted on adding more medications.

A few years ago I decided that I was ready to do what it took to make the anxiety go away. It was at that time in my life that I discovered what the word “surrender” means. I am not talking religion here. I am talking about surrendering to things we have no control over. Letting them go.

After learning how to surrender, some amazing things started to happen. I began to implement a process into my life that would help me manage my anxiety. Little by little it melted away. What I found was that the anxiety did not disappear over night nor was it one specific behavior or thing that made it go away. It was a lifestyle change I made that slowly began to shift my thinking and my behavior.

Here are four things I do when I am feeling anxious.

1. Embrace the anxiety. “What!! Embrace it. Are you crazy?” No I am not crazy. Let the anxiety in. Feel it and embrace it. Your anxiety is there for a reason. It has a purpose. It is your mind and body telling you that there is something not working in your life; something not healthy perhaps. By embracing the anxiety I was able to explore and understand why it is there and what needs to change. In order to manage and rid the anxiety you need to make some changes. You can’t make changes if you don’t know what changes you are supposed to make. You can’t identify the changes you need to make if you don’t embrace the anxiety. Do you see? It is a vicious cycle.

2. Surrender. Once I was able to recognize, understand and feel the anxiety, I had to learn to surrender it. I found that the anxiety usually served a purpose in my life. It is almost always a sign that something is not working or something is not healthy for me. I struggled with surrender because to surrender means one must give up control. Well I finally decided that my way was not working anymore so I surrendered trying to control every little detail of my life. Surrender also meant having to change my way of doing or thinking. Many things changed as I implemented the word surrender into my life. My job changed, my relationships changed, my eating changed, my lifestyle changed. For me change is very uncomfortable and difficult. Now I enjoy change. Because I know that on the other side of the changes is a much brighter way of life.

3. Trust. Once you surrender what you are anxious about you must trust. This is where my faith was very helpful. You do not have to be a religious person to have faith and trust. Trust that the situation or problem will be naturally dealt with and trust that the way it will be dealt with will be better than your way. Because let’s face it…your way isn’t working so well if you are having anxiety. I find that every time I trust, the situation always turns out better than expected in the long run. I may not understand the whys and hows in the moment, but eventually it always makes sense in the end. I may not like the reasoning or the outcome, but I always, always, always find that there is a bigger picture.

4. Let Go. Lastly, I learned to let go. Trust that the situation will turn out the way it is supposed to in the end. Letting go of the fears, worries and anxiety was the last step in managing my anxiety. Once I let it go I was free to use my time and energy to focus on something else….something more purposeful.

This new way of thinking, behaving and living is not a one time thing for me. I have to do this on a daily basis with each and every situation I encounter. Sometimes I need to do it several times for the same situation. But it works!

I will address in a different article the types of things I implemented into my life to be able to do these four things each and every day with each and every situation.

If you would like to talk more about how I can help support you on your journey, please check out my website at http://www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net. I offer small group coaching, individual coaching and professional counseling services. Don’t forget to “LIKE” https://www.facebook.com/mindbodyspiritcounseling on Facebook for daily tips and inspiration.