Assemble your toolkit

This is where the work really comes in. Want to see change? Then … there’s gonna be some work. Hard work. Fun work. All kinds of work, but for the best reason: You.

I tried so many things to find what belonged in my toolkit. So here’s what’s worked for me:

TIPP skills: These are super helpful when you are in full-blown panic meltdown. But: you should practice them before you get to that point. (If you google ‘DBT TIPP skills’ you can find all kinds of good resources.)

The skills:

  • Temperature – change your temperature (i.e., ice pack on the face)
  • Intense exercise – even just 30 seconds of jumping jacks
  • Paced breathing – slow, focused breathing
  • Paired muscle relaxation – work through your body, tensing a pair of muscles (i.e., both hands) for a few seconds, then relaxing those muscles for a few seconds, before moving on to another muscle pair.

My favorite is the paired muscle relaxation. And if you find yourself getting lightheaded doing the paced breathing: breathe out just a bit longer than you breathe in. Ask me how I know.

Quit Stuff: Ok, so maybe this isn’t a tool, per se, and maybe it’s a given. But yeah, clear your plate. A lot of the stuff that is adding extra stress? Even some of the stuff that you usually love? You don’t need to do it. You need to eat; you need to sleep; and you need to shower every couple of days. I’m lucky, in that the husband was able to run a lot of interference for me.

And yeah, it sucks to quit stuff. People will ask you about it. And that sucks.

I quit teaching Sunday school. There were a lot of weeks I just wasn’t there, because, well, uh, I was too busy falling apart in my closet. But then there were weeks I was able to venture outside, so I did! And I would be at church, trying to hold it together for 2 hours … and some people told me how much they loved my Sunday school lessons! And that was really nice to hear.

But then: one Sunday, I was asked point blank: “You are such a great teacher! What happened?”

So, yeah. That … was not my favorite moment. There is stigma around mental health. And around being a quitter. And I was still a very hot mess. I smiled and mumbled something and got outta there.

But today? Today I wish I would have said: “What happened? My anxiety exploded and I needed to scale back.” Because people need to know: it’s ok to scale back when we need to. It’s ok to quit stuff.

Meditation: yup, it works. It takes practice!! If you have a smartphone, get a meditation app. And if you’ve got room in your budget for it, I highly recommend Headspace or Calm. Calm is my preferred option, but you can’t go wrong with either one. For me, the benefit of a paid app is the organization of everything. I downloaded a few free apps, but they were just sooooo disorganized, I found it stressful to dig through it all to find what I was looking for.

What it does: it helps create a distance between your overwhelming emotion (anxiety, worry, loneliness, etc) and your self. There is a huge difference between being worry, and in watching myself be worried. One is drowning; the other is awareness of a wave that will pass, and in being able to ride it vs. resisting it.

Exercise: One thing about anxiety – it can cause a build up of all those fight-or-flight chemicals in your body. And if you never fight or flee … then they just hang around creating mayhem. So exercise! A walk around the block, a full-on kickboxing class, whatever it is: get up and move.

I love the Down Dog apps – if you’ve got the budget for it, and you are a person who loves being told what to do when you exercise (fitness class junkie? fitness dvd user?), then these apps are great. I can vouch for the HIIT, Barre, and Yoga apps. One subscription gets you access to all 3. You set your workout length (as low as 2 minutes, even, I think) and difficulty, and then it just tells you what to do. Every workout is made up on the fly, so its different every time. I love living in the future!

One thing I really like doing is a workout with all 3 apps: 5-15 minutes of HIIT, 5-15 minutes of barre, then 5-15 minutes of yoga, depending on how much time I have. 15 minute total workout? Nothing wrong with that.

Yoga: this one works, too! Yoga with Adriene is free on YouTube. Or the Down Dog app, as mentioned above.

One warning: yoga brings clarity. I’m not sure what it is about all the breathing and the movements and the concentration, but doing yoga breaks loose all sorts of stuff in your head. Clarity is good, but you may need some time to work through it all. So I suuuuper recommend pairing yoga with:

Journaling: There’s just something about pounding out your thoughts, on the keyboard or on paper, that helps focus and shape everything. Some days, it feels like all my inner truths are really held in my pen, and I just need to keep moving it to get them all out. Yeah, I write a whole lotta nonsense. But there are those nuggets that pop out that really make me stop and realize I need to make a change – or that perhaps my changes are actually working.

Bullet Journaling: So along with my journaling, I’ve started using a bullet journal to track my mood and habits. It has been illuminating, to say the least. Being a hormonally-driven lady, after a few months of tracking my mood, I found that there are 4-6 days a month that are low days. And they are suuuuper predictable. So now I mark those days on my calendar, and all those horrible things I tell myself during those days? they are nonsense, I can just put those on the shelf and look at them in a few days and make my decision later. Just the awareness that I have garbage days has made so much difference. I have permission to pause, permission to ignore. And I pause! And I ignore! Mindfulness … there’s a reason everybody is talking about it. (Now I don’t ALWAYS pause and ignore; I’m still a work in progress.)

Meal planning: I have a lot of bad eating habits. But: if I plan ahead, buy food, meal prep, and the meals and snacks are just THERE? Already taken care of? Then I am MUCH more likely to make good choices. And when your body is FED, everything is just so much better. So, so much better.

Medication: The brain is an organ, just like any other, and can malfunction, just like any other. Work with medical professionals to find the right answers for you. One word of advice: if you can possibly not be alone while you work through drug options and doses, don’t be alone. They can have wacky side effects. (They can also have dangerous side effects, luckily for me I just got the weird ones.) Also: TRUST yourself. If something isn’t working, you are the best person to know. Your doctor? works for YOU. If you need to stop and try something new, then your doctor should work with you to find that something new. There are a LOT of options available. Working with a psychiatrist (they are the experts in the brain meds), I found my drug and my dosage. Will I be on them forever? I don’t know. But for now, they are a vital part of my toolkit.

THERAPY: This shouldn’t be a luxury, but … it is. I am so grateful to have access to it. How do you think I found out about some of this stuff I keep in my toolkit?? I mean, I know there’s google … but, there are also experts who can provide specialized direction for you. And also: I am a person who needs to be held accountable. If I know I’m talking to Jenn once every two weeks, then ya better believe I meditate, exercise and do yoga at least once every two weeks …

Experts: There are so many experts out there! Some of them are bound to resonate with you. Keep watching TED talks, falling down internet rabbit holes, reading books, till you find your people. Here are some of my favorites:

Self care alarm: I have an alarm on my watch that goes of Sunday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm. (I take the weekends off.) And yeah, sometimes I ignore it. (Sometimes I try to ignore it, but the husband doesn’t let me. Get yourself a team!!)

But: it goes off, and I have a few hours before bedtime to focus on me. Exercise? Journal? Yoga? Buy groceries so I can meal prep the following evening? Pedicure? Blog? Organize my yarn? I don’t have to do all the things all of the time. But I can do one thing, some of the time.

Because I am worth it.

YOU are worth it. Build yourself a toolkit.

Assemble your team

After a week and a half of being very deeply not ok, I realized I was in way over my head.

I needed a team.

I didn’t know it at the time – I wouldn’t have believed it at the time: but I DESERVED a team. If you are reading this, I want you to know: You deserve a team. You deserve people who have your back, you deserve people who will push you forward, you deserve people who will sit with you in a closet, you deserve people who will be there to help you out of it.

Here’s the crazy thing about anxiety: it’s way too easy to look ok to the rest of the world, when you are super not ok.

It’s way too easy to look ok to people you live with, when you are super not ok.

I mean: the husband knew I was having a rough go of things, on some level. But I had a brave face and was still moving forward and all of my worst, inconsolable breakdowns: they happened in a closet behind closed doors.

He did not know how not ok I was because I was not showing him how not ok I was.

So first team member: I recruited the husband.

My primary care provider had retired, and so I found a new one. Luckily I already had a recommendation from a friend, and luckily, she had openings.

Made an appointment with my gynecologist. Hormones can be brutal.

Found a therapist. Who was TERRIBLE. Found a new therapist.

Who gave a recommendation for a dietician. (That whole not eating thing? I was in a really bad place. The dietician was a God-send.)

And the new therapist also gave a recommendation for a psychiatrist. (I know drugs aren’t for everyone, but – especially if you have a family history of mental illness: consider drugs.)

I reached out to family.

I reached out to friends, especially friends who had BEEN there.

There are people who are part of my team who had no idea I had recruited them. And my team: it was bigger than I could have ever imagined. And they KEPT reaching out to me, even after I found my footing and was in an okayer place.

And I recognize how fortunate I am to have access to health care: I have 5 medical professionals on my team. That should not be a luxury, but somehow it has become one in this crazy world we live in.

Get yourself a team. It is terrifying. There are people who won’t join. But there are people who will! We are not meant to live these lives of ours alone.

You deserve a team.

And once you’ve got your team? Get working on that toolkit.

Happy Anniversary!

12 months ago today, I fell apart.

Into a million pieces.

I was inconsolable.

I lived in my closet.

I used up all of my vacation time.

I took out a vacation loan. And I used up all of that.

I stopped eating.

And that was all before 2020 really brought it! So … it’s been a rough 12 months. I know it’s been a rough 12 months for all of us, and not to brag or anything … but I really got a running start on it all.

I live with anxiety. That is a thing about me. I have spent 40 years holding it together. When a chink fell off, I picked it up and fit it back in. There were always chinks falling off. But always, always, I held it together.

Turns out: that is not the best way to handle anxiety. Focusing on the superficial means you never really get to the source.

Falling apart is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Being untethered is terrifyingly lonely. But …. but …

When you are unmoored and broken into a million pieces, with all your bits around you on your closet floor: you get to see yourself.

You get to see what you hold at your core.

And … for me at least: it is no wonder I am an anxious mess. At my core, at my center, the foundation I built everything on top of, I held the ideas that: I am not worth loving. Not worth listening to. Not worth knowing.

No wonder chinks kept falling off! That is not a solid foundation to build on.

It feels absurd typing those words. It felt absurd admitting to myself that I felt that way about myself. Because: those things are not true about any other living soul on this planet, THAT I know. So, as a logical person, I also know that it is highly, highly unlikely that those things are true about me.

The first step to change, to growth, is to really and truly SEE that thing that you want to change. But, oh, there are so many steps to take after that.

Luckily for me, I am a woman of action. When I have a problem, I need to DO something. When I am relaxing, I like to DO something. When I am learning: more DOING.

So, after a week and a half of being the most not ok I have ever been in my life: I started DOING something about it.

I assembled my team.

And I assembled my toolkit.