Anxiety has been whirring in the background since I went back to school, and it’s been especially tough since the dad passed away. It’s the normal stuff: I can fall asleep but can’t really stay asleep past 2am, headaches, tight chest when I wake up, the works. Usually by the time I’m done getting ready for school it’s calmed down and I don’t have to be quite so intentional about keeping my breathing slow. The problem is that it’s been a looooong time since I’ve had this for days on end and I’ve kind of forgotten how I dealt with it. I mean, I know what I did – acupressure, yoga, advil, etc – but I can’t remember what I really did emotionally. My self-talk is rusty, and it doesn’t help when I’m feeling not that great physically. I looked at my data from the last few weeks, and I had a headache for ten days straight. TEN. DAYS. WTF.
I’m typically pretty good at doing what I learned from Headspace and going oh, hey, that’s anxiety and then moving on. When it starts interfering with my sleep for more than a few days, though, I run into problems. When you’re not sleeping well, all of those lovely mood regulating hormones are disrupted, which is why we get irritable and cranky. Your cognitive function is impaired, too: poor sleep makes it harder for neurons to communicate with each other. It sets some areas of your brain into 24/7 activity which, lets face it, is not great. You can’t focus well, your reactions are slower, it’s harder to make decisions and retain information… Mostly, you’re screwed.
Not only is all of that sucky, but it also makes it WAY harder to separate myself from Lenny(if you’re new, that’s my affectionate nickname for anxiety).
Because I’m not functioning as well as I can, I fall into this trap of thinking that I am the anxiety and that it is me. I start to feel like it’s a flaw, like something is wrong with me. Even though I know that’s not right, my brain is like Hey. Psssssst. Hey. You suck. You should cry about it. So then I’m stuck in this anxious place and I’m just in this loop of no sleep and headaches and anxiety about not sleeping which of course leads to more not sleeping.
I’m not sure that there’s anything specific going on; I think it’s a combination of being back in school, having to see the student who threatened me last year every day, the loss of the dad, not being able to do yoga as much as I’d like, worrying about my family. I think life is just coming at me from all sides and it’s rougher this time that it usually is. And I’m also not helping myself, to be honest. The other night I woke up at 1:00 and thought oh cool, I’ll just go to the bathroom and then sleep until my alarm goes off. But that’s not what happened. I woke up at 2:00, then again at 2:45, at 3:00, and so on. Did I get up and get my weighted blanket? Nope. Did I do a quick meditation to slow my breathing? Nope. Did I do anything to adjust my temperature? Nope. I just kept thinking this time I’ll stay asleep. And I. Did. Not. And the next night, when I was worrying about not being able to sleep, did I reframe it for myself? Not a chance. Take one guess about what happened in the wee hours of the morning.
Self-care is hard, guys. It’s hard to remember that you’re allowed to say no, to take care of yourself, to do what you need. It’s hard to remember, when things are going well, that you need to keep doing the things that help because that’s exactly why things are going well. And it’s hard to do those things when you feel like crap. I know I should have gotten my blanket. I know I should have meditated. But I didn’t; I was tired and I just wanted to skip straight to sleep instead of doing the things that help me sleep. I didn’t want to do the work – even though it was minimal.
The other thing I’m learning is that the things I know to be triggers have an even lower threshold than normal. As I was getting ready to go to work a this morning, I thought I want a break from what I made for lunch this week. I’ll just go get something at work. Boy was that a mistake. Of course it was the day when I had to spend my lunch period covering for another teacher so instead of eating at noon like usual, I didn’t eat until 2:30. And let me tell you something- my body was NOT having it. By the time I was finally able to eat, my brain was screaming at me and life was well on the way to being miserable. When this has happened in the past I’ve definitely gotten headachey and short tempered but the difference here is that anxiety and poor sleep have been wreaking havoc for a while and I just know I’m in for another marathon pain session. And, as I mentioned before, I’m trying really hard not to just reach for the meds so that I don’t get a rebound headache(also because I’m pretty sure they come from stress and anxiety so Advil is really just a band-aid on a gut wound). So I’m sitting in my classroom in the dark. I’m listening to Headspace’s mini about pain. I’m going to go home and do some gentle yoga. I’m going to take a hot shower. I’m going to go to bed early.
And then I’m going to kick anxiety’s ass.