NotSoZen YogaJen

Archive for May 2010

In the aftermath of my panic attack last week, I was discussing it with my good friend.  Let’s call her “Jane.”  Jane is a beautiful, smart, successful writer and entrepreneur with an effervescent personality and a dry sense of humor (and no, this is not a thinly veiled device for lavishing compliments on myself, Jane is a real person who is not me, and just happens to not really be named Jane).  And Jane has anxiety.

Now, if you were to meet me or my friend Jane at a book reading or yoga class or hanging out in a coffee shop, you might think that we were cute, bubbly, chatty girls, excitedly engaged in our lives and filled with optimism.  You might not suspect that behind closed doors, we struggled with depression and battled anxiety.  You might think we had everything going for us, and not a care in the world.  You would have no reason to think otherwise.  Unless I happened to tell you about my most recent depressive episode or anxiety attack the first time I met you, which I generally wouldn’t do, although occasionally, I would.

But Jane and I, we have a secret.  Or, in my case, thanks to this blog and the miracle that is the Internet, a not-so-secret-anymore.  We have anxiety, that, on some days, threatens to overtake us.

We’re not recluses with matted hair and crazy eyes and nary a social skill, sporting the latest in straight jackets.  We are cute, bubbly, chatty women in our 30’s, who are (often) excitedly engaged in our lives and (sometimes) filled with optimism.  We are creative and ambitious and warm and friendly and enthusiastic and…anxious.

So we decided that it’s time to make anxiety trendy and sexy.  Enough with the stigma and the hiding and the shame.  Tons of trend-setting celebrities have an exciting array of anxiety disorders!  And if anxiety is good enough for Oprah, then it’s good enough for me and Jane.

And it’s sexy to rock your anxiety loud and proud, to be a full, complex, messy human being accessorizing with a whole juicy range of attributes, from sparkling to anxious, panicked to serene, and everything in between (OK, maybe serene is a bit of a stretch).  Besides, anxiety usually comes on when you are taking risks and breaking out of old limiting beliefs and behaviors, and it doesn’t get any hotter than that!

So now not only can we have a Xanax-sprinkled cupcake eating anxious club, but we can get stylish t-shirts, too, to declare our trendy anxiety to the world.  Mine will say, “I’m Bringing Sexy Back…One Anxiety Attack At A Time” or “Anxious is the new HOT!”  It will be hot pink, of course.  And bedazzled.  What will your t-shirt say?

Rock it, Baby!

Namaste!

YogaJen

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It was bad.  It was by far the worst anxiety I’ve ever had in my life, and completely crippling.  If I could get down a cup of yogurt, take a few sips of water, and respond to one email, it was a good day.  And by that I mean a good bad, terrible, horrendous day.  It was so bad that I only made it to one yoga class this week, and I had to force myself to go so I could relax a little and do something other than panic.  And then I panicked through the entire class. So yeah, not relaxing at all.

While I was IN IT, the fear felt absolutely real and there was no doubt in my mind that I had every reason to be so terrified.  Now, on the other side of it (which, by the way, I thought I’d never get to), I can see clearly that it wasn’t, and was all made up in my mind.  Which just goes to show you how strong the mind and psyche are, and wouldn’t it be great to always be able to channel this powerhouse strength for good and hope and light instead of being tortured by its wretched darkness?

And this is why it came on when it did:  I had a great week last week!  I am taking MAJOR strides to break old destructive patterns!  I am living in NEW, EMPOWERED ways!  And somebody (my Ego maybe?, and yes, I realize that referring to different parts of myself in third person in the same post that I admit to barely being able to leave my apartment might make me seem a little…eccentric) didn’t like that very much.  And actually got really fucking pissed and launched a complete attack on me, pulling out all the stops.  I’ve often seen this pattern on a smaller and less paralyzing scale in my life, like, I’ll be moving forward taking these little steps, and these little fears come up along the way, and just as I’m on the verge of making some major breakthrough, ALL the scary demons come out to play.  And the bigger my dream/goal/life change, the bigger the fear guarding the gates to this new way of being.  That’s why it’s just safer and easier (you know, if you like being able to ingest food and feel the warmth of the sun of your skin) to let your life go on autopilot and hang out with your old, familiar, destructive patterns, even when they do nothing but hold you back and keep you far away from your dreams.

When I was IN IT, for not moments but DAYS, I thought that the panic would never end.  But it did.  I had to do that awful thing where there’s nothing to do, and even yoga and meditation and deep breathing don’t help because it is just so BEYOND that, and you just have to wait and ride it out.  So I rode.  And it passed.

On the other side, there are a couple of things waiting for me.  First of all, I feel like I have a whole new lease on life and a giant appreciation for the simplest pleasures.  Finishing a whole bowl of soup – incredible!  Enjoying a walk around the block – amazing!  Being able to focus on a task for longer than three seconds, like reading an article or a (gasp!) book – MIRACULOUS!

The other thing that happens is I feel super-strong and badass, like, “Dude, you do NOT know what I’ve just been through.  I just kicked fear’s ass!”  I feel like some kind of warrior hero who triumphed in this tremendous battle.  And like I want to share my war stories with the world.

And then there’s the weight-loss side effect.  But being on the Panic Attack Diet is just about as fun as being on the Food Poisoning Diet, though equally as effective.

I also remembered that John Mayer gets anxiety attacks, and that made me think that it would be fun to start a club for all of us peeps who get anxiety and panic attacks.  We can sit in a circle (but not too close to each other if we’re like, IN IT), and John can serenade us, and we can eat cupcakes.  That maybe have Xanax sprinkles.

So, here I am, on the other side at last.  I threw on some SPF 30 and am about to go outside to relax and bask in the sun (EXTRAORDINARY!).  I kicked fear’s ass.  This time.  I realize that there’s a good chance that it’s not done with me yet and will return for a rematch and kick my ass again.  Especially if I’m trying to change and grow.  But I’m a badass anxiety-battling warrior, and I’m not giving up the fight.

Do you ever have anxiety and panic attacks?  What brings them on?  Does overriding old patterns tend to stir them up?  What to you do to get through them?  And how do you feel when you’re on the other side?

Namaste!

YogaJen

Check out my guest blog on Crazy Sexy Life (love this site, so excited!) to find out!

http://crazysexylife.com/2010/how-yoga-helped-me-get-over-my-ex/

Namaste!

YogaJen

“I finally smiled, remembering something I heard Ram Das say on the radio once, about somebodyism–how most of us are raised to be somebodies and what a no-win game that is to buy into, because while you may turn out to be much more somebody than somebody else, a lot of other people are going to be a lot more somebody than you. And you are going to drive yourself crazy.”  -Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

When I’m striving, to be somewhere else, somewhere further along and farther ahead, full of ambition and trying, trying, trying to make things happen, three things take place in rapid succession:

1)  I look around me at my life and see that I am nowhere near where or who I want to be.  I dream of living in a brownstone; I reside in a small studio.  I desire to attain Total Financial Freedom; I’m basically broke.  I long to meet my soul mate & frolic daily in our happy, healthy marriage; I’m single and I hate dating (if I like a guy and he doesn’t like me I get depressed, if a guy likes me and I don’t like him I get anxious, and honestly I don’t know how anyone ever pairs up without being on serious meds!).  I’d love to be rocking moisture-wicking Lululemon yoga pants that make my butt look hot; while in a forward bend in yoga class, I notice a hole forming in my saggy cotton Alternative Apparel capris.  And so it goes…

2)  It doesn’t take me long to then notice that everyone around me everywhere (No, I don’t want to examine how this belief is faulty and inaccurate, I like wallowing in my misery so leave me alone!) has more and is further along than me and generally just well, better, and I got such good grades in high school and showed such promise and when did I become such a fuck-up?  Everywhere I look people are sporting their Seven Jeans and their cute Lululemon hole-less yoga pants and achieving new unheard of personal and professional heights of success and jet-setting hither and thither and buying brownstones or at least one bedroom apartments and I don’t even own a couch!  I see people who are career-wise doing similar work as I am, only they are infinitely more successful.  I see my friends’ husbands doing ridiculously romantic things for them like packing them a heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and throwing a love poem they wrote on a Post-It into the brown bag and reciting Rumi to them or spontaneously composing love songs inspired by them while giving them a hot stone massage to usher them out the door to work in the morning, all Soul Mate-Style ‘n shit.  Then I regress back to #1, Examining My Own Life To Catalog All The Many Ways In Which It Is Lacking, and I don’t see any Soul Mate types toting hot stones while strumming love songs and whipping up poetry for me hanging around my apartment; all I see are my stuffed animals glaring back at me.  Judging me?  And this immediately leads me to:

3)  Tumbling into hopelessness, despair, and depression for a day or a week or six months.  I mean, what’s the point anyway?  Because I’m striving and trying and pushing and nothing is moving, which makes me so tired I just have to rest.  Curled up a ball.  For what could be a while.

And then, miraculously, a fourth thing happens, which I always forget about until it actually transpires.

4)  I wake up one morning and I just don’t give a shit anymore about trying to be somewhere or someone I’m not.  I just give up the striving.  And I’ll be walking down my street and the sun will be shining, and I’ll forget that I thought I’d be this other person in this other place by this time in my life.  I’ll just feel the sun on my face and be present and…happy.  Like this:  Ahhhhhhh….. 

I was watching The Bonnie Hunt Show a few weeks ago and she said, “When I’m at a party of actors and someone asks me what I’m working on I like to say absolutely nothing.  Even if I’m working on something.”

I want to be like Bonnie Hunt, and if someone asks me what I’ve accomplished lately, or what I’m working on, I want to say: “I’m working on being a flawed, imperfect, sensitive human being in a harsh and insensitive world.  And that’s enough!  I’ve got my plate full with that, thank you very much!”  !!!

Which reminds me of a story a former co-worker told me about when she was going to get Bat Mizvahed.  And all the other moms were constantly asking her mom, “What’s your daughter’s theme, what’s your daughter’s theme?” expecting an answer like, Carnival! or The Wizard of Oz! or The Lights Are Bright on Broadway! but her mom said (insert Coffee Tawk accent here), “Judaism! Her theme is Judaism!”

Eventually I get sucked into that whole pointless crazy-making striving somebodyism loop again and I have to lather, rinse, and repeat this entire cycle, but for gaps of weeks or days or even seconds in-between lapses, I am absolutely and perfectly content to be exactly who and where I am, and in those seconds/days/weeks, I know that I am and have enough, more than enough even.  I’ll realize that on any given day I can wake-up and go to a 7:15am yoga class (preferably a reduced-price or donation-based class ;)), and then head to Starbucks and sit at my seat to sip a cup of coffee and if my seat is taken, another regular I know gives me an empathetic look, and his seat when he leaves because it is my second favorite seat.  And then I get to spend the rest of the day in my yoga clothes writing and reading, and I can take a walk in the park or sit on a bench or go to a bookstore in the afternoon if I want.  And this is pretty freakin’ amazing. 

And in those moments, it doesn’t matter anymore that I can’t afford Seven Jeans, because I remember that I hate shopping, or that I don’t have enough money right now to take a vacation, because I recall that I’m a homebody who is perfectly content taking a staycation and gets out of sorts when she travels, and is happy anywhere she can curl up with a good book.  And I let go, even if for just a brief flash of time, of needing to be a somebody, any kind of body, other than this one that I like to call, affectionately, and with deep appreciation, Me.

What happens to you when you’re striving?

Namaste!

YogaJen

Hi, my name’s Jen, and I’m a yoga-a-holic.

I have a highly addictive personality and I’ve always been grateful that this has manifested in relatively harmless soft addictions like coffee and email, and not hardcore drugs, alcohol, or even cigarettes. (Full disclosure: I smoked cigarettes in high school and college but I never got addicted and just stopped cold turkey when I wanted to.  Now I smoke approximately one-half of one cigarette every year and a half.  Usually this only happens when I’m really pissed off and I’ll call my friend Karen and say, “I’m so mad I want to blast gangsta rap and smoke half a cigarette!”)  ANYWAY, suffice it to say that I definitely lucked out with my addictions because given my, um, tendencies for being extreme, things could have gone in a whole different and much worse direction, addiction-speaking.

But lately I’ve developed an addiction that’s not only soft and relatively harmless, but dare I say, healthy.  I’ve become extra-addicted to yoga.  Over the past few weeks I had hardcore anxiety, and every day became mostly about just managing my anxiety.  I’d wake up and think, “OK, I have to get through this day, and I have X, Y, and Z to do, how can I do this given my anxiety?”  And the answer was usually, “Go to yoga.”  Make no mistake:  I’d be super-anxious regardless of if I did yoga or not, but if I did take a class it would bring my anxiety down a couple of notches to slightly-less-super-anxious so that I could do what I needed to do instead of curling up in a ball of anxiety and calling it a day.  At 8am. 

In yoga last week the teacher asked us to notice how we felt at the end of class, and then instructed us to let this be the motivation to bring us back to class.  I’d been noticing enough of a difference to motivate me to go to 5-6 classes a week and take 7:15am classes on many days, even though I am so NOT a morning person and when my alarm goes off at 6am I go through all five of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression, during which I hit the Snooze button and hard, and finally, as I drag myself out of bed and reach for my yoga mat, Acceptance.  There is an addictive edge to my yoga practice these days because going to class feels like a compulsion and like I don’t have a choice; I am addicted to how it makes me feel better, and also, sometimes, varying degrees of terrified of how I will feel if I don’t go.  But is this a bad thing?  If I’m going to have an addictive personality, it seems to me that the best thing I can do with that is channel it into healthy addictions.

At a yoga class I took years ago, the teacher talked about how we have these obsessive thought loops going all the time in our brains, but we can use that to our advantage.  Instead of just defaulting to the “I’m shit, I suck” thought mode and then hitting the repeat button and listening to that message day in and day out, we can plant an uplifting thought that makes us feel good and then obsessively repeat that.  I know, easier said than done.  But I love the idea of co-opting our obsessive tendencies for our own good, instead of letting them torture us with destructive thoughts and addictions.

On a side note, I accidentally didn’t have coffee yesterday because I was at an event all day, and this morning I had an excruciating headache, was nauseous, and had shakes.  I told the baristas at Starbucks about my withdrawal symptoms and one said, “This is a wake-up call,” and another one said, “Does this mean you’re going to stop drinking coffee?” to which I replied, “NO! It means I’m going to hook myself up an IV coffee drip and make sure I never have to go through withdrawal again!”

You won’t find me in coffee or yoga rehab anytime soon.

Do you think some addictions can be good for you?  What are your healthy addictions?

Namaste!

YogaJen

Postscript:  My massive anxiety passed, as it always does, and now I am happily back to my normal baseline level of regular anxiety.