A is for Ack! It’s April Already and I am Anxious

AI can’t believe I haven’t finished my first blog for the A to Z challenge yet. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, planning, scheming, writing it in my head, but clearly I’ve not put any words down yet. Until now. These few, uninspired, last minute words that seem so unequal to the task, so small and worthless and hurried.

A is for Apology, apparently. Abject. Abysmal. But I’m at AWP this week, a conference all about writing, and so, apology or not, abysmal or not, tired or not, write I must.

I am going to write about Anxiety. My plan for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge is thus: I want to spend this month writing about my experiences as a student in the Clinical Mental Health Counselor Program at Antioch University. I want to weave together a narrative, exploring the concepts (from A to Z) that I study as a student of mental health counseling and how my studies intersect with my life. How my coursework shows up in my day-to-day world.

I haven’t studied Anxiety, per se. I have taken many relevant classes, delved into the DSM 5 and learned how I might diagnose a client who presented with symptoms that fit the criteria for, say,  Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I learned to write a treatment plan and theorized about which therapeutic modality I might employ to best help my client regain his or her equilibrium.

Most of what I’ve learned about Anxiety comes from first hand experience. I am not one who has been plagued with Anxiety for much of my life. No, my familiarity with this particular demon has only been recent and is one of the reasons I started running regularly a little over two years ago.

I started waking up in the mornings with a pit of dread churning in my stomach and found that if I went for a run, somewhere around mile two or three, the pit of dread loosened and eventually abated. I guess the endorphins kicked in, the oxytocin released, and the runner’s euphoria lifted the anxiety. Cured, if only temporarily, I could get on with my day. The next morning, the anxiety would return, and I’d start over. Run. Rinse. Repeat.

A nice side benefit to running off all my anxiety was that I started to lose weight. I felt healthier. My blood pressure dropped, as did my cholesterol, and my pants size. But, I digress. I still woke up most mornings feeling like something horrible was about to happen. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the axe to fall, for the bottom to drop out, for . . . well, you get the picture.

Anxiety chased me into my running clothes and out of the house each morning. But the thing about being a graduate student in a counseling program is that these sort of disruptions don’t slip by unanalyzed. While one part of me succumbed to the anxiety, another part of my tapped my forefinger thoughtfully against my chin  and asked, “How do you feel about this, Pam Sue?”

Some people have angels and demons sitting on their shoulders. I now have Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, or their modern day equivalents, Jack Cornfield and Tara Brach. I can have a panic attack and simultaneously know for certain that while what I am experiencing might feel real, it isn’t true.

It’s weird, living with this meta awareness. I had all sorts of anxiety about traveling to AWP this week–logistical stuff that I know I’m capable of handling but for whatever reason just kept spinning on: how am I going to get to Sea-Tac from Bellingham? To the airbnb from LAX? I can’t check in until 4 p.m., but I arrive at 9 in the morning. What would I do? These questions dogged me for weeks. I envisioned myself in dire circumstances, dragging my carryon around LA for hours, sad and alone and dazed.  Yet, I simultaneously knew my fears were unfounded and not based in reality. I could make a shuttle reservation, find a friend to stay with in Seattle, even one who might take me to the airport. I just couldn’t see the logical steps in the midst of my anxiety.

Something similar happened when I realized how expensive it was going to be to eat and drink here in Los Angeles. The first day I spent way too much money on so-so food and paid $8 for a mediocre beer. So, I took myself to the grocery store, but instead of going shopping at the end of the day, when the conference was over, I went in the morning on my way to the conference and so had to schlep my groceries around the conference hall, from one panel discussion to another.

I was so anxious about not having drinking water back at the airbnb that night, I bought a six pack of bottled water and stuck it in my already heavy backpack. All the while I’m hearing Jack and Tara on my shoulders, telling me not to believe the anxiety, reassuring me that all will be well, that I will be fine, that there will be water at the conference. That the universe will provide.  But, do I listen? No. I buy the water. And I vow to do better tomorrow.

 

 

 

New Year Haiku

Sitting, staring, contemplating
Sitting, staring, contemplating, notebook in hand.

During the holidays I had the luxury of time, during which I was able to write some new haiku. I’m always amazed at how a few moments of contemplation can result in words, images, and phrases arriving and coalescing into something more, how an hour or two staring into space or at the sea creates the space in me to realize metaphors and make connections.

I want 2016 to include more of these moments, stolen away from the pressures of daily life. I want 2016 to be a year of more poetry.

This ache, unyielding,
Spreads through my bones. Malignant
Love, metastasized.

Pulled by your tides and
Seduced by your moon, I float
Free in your salt sea

Dreams of you send me
Beyond the curve of the earth
Spinning through night skies

Wash me, erode me–
Rough surf, relentless pounding.
Can’t swim in these waves

I hope you don’t mind,
Ersatz inspiration, you
Are my makeshift muse

I want to be as
relentless as the ocean
pursuing the shore

Anxious attacks me–
All soft syllables, she bites
With ferocity

We could be breathing
Side by side. Instead you chose
Only to exhale

There’s new light on the
horizon. Nighttime will slip
Away into dawn

Some days I forget–
Even deep scars fade with time.
Blood and tears both dry.

I googled your name.
A thousand not-yous filled my
Screen. Damned imposters.

We are all blind in
Our refusal to really
See one another

Choosing blindness won’t
Render you invisible.
My vision is clear

Uninsulated
This fear electrifies–my
Body, conduit

A is for Accountability (And Also April and Anxiety)

A[1]

 

 

When I started running seriously about a year and a half ago, anxiety propelled me out of bed and into my running shoes every morning—that relentless pounding thrum that only abated after my endorphins released around mile three or so. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I didn’t lace up my sneakers every morning, but I certainly didn’t want to find out. Once I hit mile three, the agitated voices in my head calmed down, and I could go on with my day. Until the next morning when we (the voices and I) started again.river to rails run

I’d met April sometime around Christmas 2013 and joined her and other members of Carol Frazey’s Fit School on occasional weekend runs. In mid-March April announced she was training to run the Vancouver BMO half marathon and needed someone to run with on her long run—11 miles. Up to that point, my longest run ever had been seven miles (and not easy ones, either), but I agreed to join her on her long run anyway. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I’d have to walk part of the way? I’d get in really good shape?

We made the 11 miles and struck up an alliance along the way. I don’t remember exactly what transpired next, but eventually April and I were meeting up three or four mornings a week to run and train together. We didn’t actually run together after that first 11 miles—we have wildly different paces and distance goals, but we held one another accountable.

And accountability is key. Knowing someone is waiting at the trailhead or in the parking lot at 7:30 or 8 a.m. is a good motivator. Even if I don’t feel like getting out of bed, let alone going for a run, I can’t leave April hanging, and I am confident that she won’t leave me out there to face the early morning hours alone either.

I’ve lost count of how many races we’ve done in the past year or how many laps we’ve traveled around Lake Padden or how many miles we’ve logged on South Bay trail (actually, not true–I could tell you exactly, but I won’t). But I haven’t lost sight of how important it is to have her there so I’ll get out of the car and run in the rain, the wind, even through the thunder and lightning (though I don’t recommend the latter).

In running as in
life, accountability
kicks us into gearband aid run