“I” is for “Imposter Syndrome” – An A-to-Z Blogging Challenge Post


For the A-to-Z Challenge 2017 I’m writing all about myself. Every post will be some random fact or bit of information about me that you may or may not have already known. Maybe you’ll learn something! Feel free to let me know! ^_^

Show of hands: who here has ever heard of something called “Imposter Syndrome”? I know I certainly hadn’t, until maybe six or seven months ago, but like the anxiety that I mentioned coming to terms with back in my “A” post, once I knew that this was a thing, I realized immediately that I suffer from it in a big way.

Basically, what “Imposter Syndrome” is, is a mental condition in which high-achieving individuals are unable to internalize their own achievements and accomplishments and suffer from a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It tends to afflict adults who were “naturals” as children; the kinds of kids who got perfect grades with very little effort, or were just naturally talented at things like sports, the arts, and so on. As adults, those children feel, for whatever reason, that the things they accomplish are mere luck, that they aren’t truly accomplishing anything at all, and that one day the people around them are going to wake up and realize that they’ve just been tricking everyone into thinking they’re anything other than a charlatan.

It might sound weird to someone who has never experienced it, but the second I had someone explain to me what this phenomena is all about I knew that it described me perfectly, and it explained a great deal about the random bouts of anxiety and depression that I’ve had on a regular basis for the past decade or more.

As a kid I was a total nerd, naturally intelligent and moderately talented musically and artistically. I regularly had the highest grades in my classes, read the most books, won awards, and so on and so on. In that sense I held myself in high regard. I knew I was smart, I knew I was talented. I knew that I was going to be the kid who grew up to do great things, one way or the other. Even though I was teased for my geekiness, tormented for being a nerd, and was kinda socially awkward, I always had that knowledge in the back of my head that I was a winner.

And I can pretty much pinpoint the moment when that all fell apart.

Our school system does not properly prepare young people for college, in my opinion. There’s so much hand-holding and pushing-through in the K-12 system that once you hit college, where your decisions have real world consequences (fail class – lose money, etc), a lot of young people fall apart. For me the moment was second-semester Calculus. My program didn’t require Calculus, but after seeing my excellent Pre-Cal marks from high school, the dean suggested that I take the two semesters of Calculus rather than the four semesters of required “Technical Math” in order to save both time and money. I thought that sounded totally logical, so I went for it. Unfortunately, our university happened to have two of the worst Calculus teachers a student could possibly imagine, and they were the only options. My professor, in particular, refused to answer questions in class (because it would disturb his precious plan), and failed to ever be available outside of class hours to help students who were having trouble. I’d always been excellent at math – my high school marks averaged around 98 – so at first it wasn’t a problem, but by the time I hit the second semester the vast quantity of new information that was being thrown at me began to pile up, get confused in my head, and everything began to fall apart. All of a sudden I had no idea what the heck was going on. Math didn’t make sense anymore, and I couldn’t wrangle two seconds with my professor to  help me figure things out. My fellow students were just as confused, so I had no one to help me, and I began flunking quizzes and doing miserably on assignments. I wrote several tests that I barely passed by the skin of my teeth. It was all going to hell in a handbasket.

And then the moment of truth happened. It was the night before the final exam. I was cramming like crazy, but it didn’t seem like anything was sinking in. At some point I took a break and looked through all my quiz/assignment/test scores to figure out what kind of score I needed on the exam in order to pass the course. I don’t remember what the exact number was, but it was  higher than I thought I could manage. In that moment, my brain kinda broke. I know now that it was hardly the end of the world, but as someone who had never failed anything before in her life up until that point, I had a total nervous breakdown.

I won’t go into the details about what happened after that, but in the end I just managed to pass Calculus with a mark of 52, and I considered it both the biggest failure and biggest relief of my life.

And after that, my mindset just seemed to do a 180. I no longer considered myself to be a “winner”. From then on, in the back of my mind, I always had this little voice telling me that I’d only ever been lucky, that I’d never really been smart or talented, and that it had all come to a head with that Calculus class. Practically everything in my life after that seemed like I was just acting. In my work I’ve often considered myself to be the least-knowledgeable and least-useful member of the crew, even when I was doing good work. In my writing I’ve regularly told myself that everyone who ever liked my books was just lying to make me feel good. Even in day-to-day life I’ve found that voice telling me that my friends and family were just humoring me, and that someday everyone I’ve ever known would turn around and finally start treating me like the useless failure I really am.

Logically I know that this line of thinking is ridiculous. I’ve done some great things with my adult life, not the least of which has been raising a smart, beautiful daughter, publishing two books, and making a ton of awesome friends through my YouTube channel. But that voice is still there, all the time, whispering horrible things in my ear, telling me that I’m a fraud, a failure, and a miserable imposter, and that everyone around me can see it too. And every time I fail anything in the slightest or do something that my boss/a friend/a family member scolds me for, that voice gets twice as loud and twice as bold.

The good side to all of this? Once I knew what it was called, it became a hell of a lot easier to deal with. Because, for the past decade, it’s just been the voice in my brain, but now I know that it’s something that’s been studied, something that lots of people deal with every day, just like anxiety or depression. And knowing that takes some of the loneliness out of it, even if I know that I’ll probably always be this way.

What do you think of “Imposter Syndrome”? Have you ever suffered from it, or do you know someone who you think might suffer from it? Please feel free to leave a comment!

“A” is for “Anxiety” – An A-to-Z Blogging Challenge Post


For the A-to-Z Challenge 2017 I’m writing all about myself. Every post will be some random fact or bit of information about me that you may or may not have already known. Maybe you’ll learn something! Feel free to let me know! ^_^

Well hell! I went and told you guys that I was going to make these posts all about ME, and then I go and pick a topic like this for the very first post? Well, come on, it’s not my fault that “anxiety” happens to start with the first letter of the alphabet, and it also happens that the affliction is a bit of an important part of my life.

People aren’t readily willing to diagnose children with mental disorders like anxiety and depression because there’s a stigma that children have no good reason to feel those sorts of things. Kids (or, at least, I guess I should say kids with relatively “good” lives) don’t have “real” troubles and worries, so why should they have troubled minds? It’s a poor mindset that has done many, many children absolutely no favors.

I’m not blaming anyone or anything – I just wanted to start off by pointing this issue out, because I doubt anyone throughout my childhood would have ever guessed that I was suffering from anxiety, even though it’s very obvious in retrospect – at least to me. I was the kind of kid who threw up on the first day of school every year. Whenever we went on a family trip I’d give myself headaches and stomachaches, and need to go to the bathroom ten times more often than was normally necessary. I’d panic before tests, even if I knew the material like the back of my hand, and then panic after the tests even if I’d felt confident that I was doing well during them. All of that might seem totally normal and benign to anyone who has never felt truly “anxious”, but a few years ago, when I finally realized that I do, in fact, suffer from anxiety problems, all those childhood moments came rushing back and it finally sank in that the intensity of those feelings was not normal.

I didn’t really realize that anxiety was a real problem for me until a job I had a few years ago. This particular job involved living on a work camp and busing to and from the site every day. That was the kind of thing I’d been doing for a while, but this site was different in two key aspects. One: the bus ride was an hour long each way. Two: the extraordinarily cheap company we worked for wouldn’t spring for an actual coach bus, and instead crammed us all onto a refurbished school bus with no toilet. At first it didn’t bother me too much, because I’d mostly lean back and try to catch a few z’s on those bus rides, but sooner or later it was bound to happen that my stomach had a bad day. That evening, on the bus ride back to camp, I was practically crying as I watched the seconds tick by on my watch, knowing that I had literally no way to escape and no options besides waiting. Our bus ride was through wilderness in the middle-of-nowhere, so it wasn’t like I could just ask the bus driver to pull into a gas station or something. I just had to wait and suffer.

After that day, I developed an anxiety toward the bus rides that I can’t even describe. Every day, as we neared time to get on the vehicle, I’d completely lose it. My heart would race, my skin would burn. I’d run to the bathroom three, four, five times just to make sure that I’d be okay, but the anxiety itself would cause my stomach to twist, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the weeks that followed, nearly every day was worse than the one before, to the point that I’d be staring toward the bus stop, willing myself not to burst into tears in front of my coworkers. A few times I even delayed our departure by sprinting off the bus at the last second to run to the bathroom one last time.

Now, I had great coworkers. They knew what I was dealing with. I’d explained to them how I felt. Some of them even experienced it themselves (come on, fifty people on a bus two hours a day with NO TOILET?). And I knew that I had nothing to worry about with them. If the absolute worst happened, it would be mortifying, for sure, but it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.

And yet, that’s the thing with anxiety. The logic is there, on one side of your mind, telling you that even the worst possible outcome isn’t really that big a deal. You know that you’re being unreasonable and that there’s no need of getting so worked up. But you can’t stop it anyway. That’s the thing that a lot of people don’t understand; you can’t just turn it off. You can’t just say, “This is dumb,” and stop feeling that way. There is no kill-switch.

I explained it to one particularly cheery, not-a-problem-in-the-world coworker like this:

Imagine that you’re trapped in your car, on a bridge that’s collapsing. Your car is surrounded by other cars, such that there’s no way you can open any of the doors, and no matter how hard you kick and punch you can’t break any of the windows. You’re trapped, and you can see the collapse working it’s way toward you. There’s a hundred-foot drop and you know that this is it – you’re going to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re screaming inside, terrified, heart racing so hard you think you’re going to pass out. You feel like the world is coming to an end.

Now imagine that feeling…but it crops into your mind and body for the most ridiculous reasons even though you know the reaction doesn’t suit the situation. That’s what anxiety feels like. Or, at least, that’s how it feels to me.

I’ve been able to work through my anxiety in recent years through facing it (via YouTube) and calming it (via meditation), but it’s something that will always be there, waiting to pop up at the worst possible moments. I wanted to share that fact for my first “All About Me” A-to-Z post, because I know there are plenty of people out there dealing with the same or similar issues, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone, not by a long shot. There are a lot of anxiety-sufferers out there, and even if the closest people in your life don’t understand what you’re going through, they do, so seek them out. It helps a great deal.

Have you ever had to deal with anxiety? Was there a defining moment that made it become a major issue in your life? Please feel free to share in the comments below.





What Makes Me Anxious, and What I Do About It

Memoir Mondays

I’ve spoken on this blog before about anxiety, what it feels like, how difficult it can be to deal with – and I’ll continue to talk about it on a regular basis because those with anxiety need to be supportive of each other, and those who without it need to understand that it is not as simple as just flicking a switch in your brain and turning anxiety off.

Today I want to talk about something that has significantly helped me with my anxiety, but to understand best I’d like to first explain precisely what it is that makes me anxious.

Approximately a year and a half after my daughter was born, I developed very sudden, surprising, and completely random gastrointestinal issues. This would have been a distressing development under any circumstances, but my personal situation added its own set of extra difficulties. You see, I work in the Alberta oil sands. That means that I hop a plane at home (in Nova Scotia), fly most of the way across the country, and both live and work in the middle of nowhere for two weeks at a time. The particular job that I was on at the beginning of this story required residency at a work camp, and this particular camp is a sprawling site consisting of three buildings that share almost sixty three-story wings. When you check in you receive a card that scans you into your wing and room, but you have no access to any other wing, either from inside or outside the building. So, the important bit of information to take away here is that if you’re walking around the outside perimeter of this camp there is exactly one wing-door that you can unlock to get inside, plus the main entrances to each building (three doors) and the main hallway access doors for each building (three more doors). Seven doors may seem like plenty, but six of these doors are grouped together in roughly the same place, and the outer perimeter of the camp is almost one-and-a-half miles. So, what I’m getting at here is that if you’re walking around the buildings there are large gaps of space during which you’re half a mile or more away from a door you can open – more if you’re in a wing for which the door is near that grouping of main doors. None of this ever occurred to me until the day my internal organs first began to torture me. I’d been jogging around the perimeter in the mornings, trying to get my pre-pregnancy body back, when the need to get to a bathroom hit me like a sack of bricks right to the guts.

The first time it happened I was lucky enough to have come around to my own wing. The second time I was fairly close to one of the main entrances and managed to dash to it. But this phenomenon kept happening, almost every time I went out, and some of the time I was a very long distance away from where I could escape to a bathroom. There were some close calls. Eventually I found myself regularly not going out for my jobs because the slightest tummy twitch would have me worrying that I was going to have another episode. Soon I’d quit running all together because I was simply too scared to take the chance, and before I knew it I’d developed a panic-attack-like reaction to being too far away from a bathroom.

I survived for a while by simply avoiding situations that took me too far away, but soon enough my job changed and that’s when the anxiety really began. At my new job the camp and the site were an hour’s drive away from each other, and our transportation to and from was on an old, refurbished school bus. If you’re not understanding quite yet I’ll just go ahead and spell it out for you: for my fourteen-day shift I would have to spend two hours a day on a bus with no bathroom.

To say that I suffered for months is playing it down. I would run to the bathroom at least three or four times every morning before being able to coax myself onto the bus. In the evenings I’d have to run off the bus at least once before it could pull away to take us back. And my anxiety grew and grew because it wasn’t as though I was just being jumpy and worried…I actually needed all those bathroom runs. I would get anxious about needing a bathroom when I couldn’t have one, and the anxiety would twist my guts into a knot, making me need a bathroom. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy in which I could no longer tell if the horror in my body was completely random (as it had been when I was running around camp) or if it was actually caused by the anxiety itself. The fact that I couldn’t tell made it even worse because I could sometimes manage to stave off the anxiety-gut-twists, but if they were real-gut-twists I was only prolonging the inevitable and making it worse.

And for those of you who are thinking that I could just ask the bus driver to stop should needs be, that wasn’t exactly an option. That hour-long drive was through open plains; no commercial buildings, no residences, no trees, even. Just wide, open field. I eventually did have to ask the bus driver to stop once during an absolute, five-alarm emergency, and I was extremely fortunate that we just happened to be passing by a farm, which was one of the only places in those 100 or so kilometers that had some trees. Regardless, it was one of the most mortifying moments of my life. Try to imagine, if you will, having to scream at a bus driver to stop so that you could sprint like a crazy-person into the woods while fifty-or-so of your coworkers look on in complete confusion. I got no grief for it, and there was a lot of sympathy afterwards (understandable, considering I probably looked like a kicked puppy when I returned to the bus), but I definitely felt like curling up in a corner and dying. And another self-fulfilling prophecy came to pass, because now every time I got on the bus while trying to convince myself, “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay,” I would inadvertently imagine that moment of having to walk back out of the woods and onto the bus, and a second little voice in my head would scream, “But what if it’s not?! Sometimes it’s not! This could be one of those times when it’s not!!!”

The anxiety just got worse and worse after that. It began to leech into my home life and I’d start to panic during pretty much any kind of travel. My husband and I taking a shopping trip? I’d be pulling into the nearest Tim Hortons after only fifteen minutes on the road. My father driving the half-hour distance to the airport? I’d be gulping down Immodium beforehand and I’d practically run out of the car when we got there. Even just driving my daughter to kindergarten in the morning – a five-minute drive at most – would prompt me to run to the bathroom two or three times before we could even get out of the house. I’d try to talk myself down, try to convince myself that neither my husband, nor my father, nor my toddler could care less if the worst were to happen, but the part of my mind that had become trapped within the spiral of anxiety refused to accept that as a reasonable argument. By the time my job changed again the anxiety related to travel was so deeply rooted that I would begin to have a panic attack at even the thought of getting on a bus. That’s when I knew that I really had a problem because my new job had buses with washrooms, but that didn’t matter anymore. Just looking at a bus would fill me with dread and make my guts twist in knots.

And now we get to the upside, fortunately. See, I tried a number of things to work myself through the anxiety. I tried listening to classical music and I tried listening to dragon rock to distract myself – both helped a little bit for a little while, but then seemed to gradually lose their power. I tried distracting myself with books or handheld games, but that would just marry motion sickness into the situation. I tried drugs prescribed to me for both stomach spasms and anxiety, but even after the dosages had been increased several times I never felt any different after taking them.

Then, one day, thanks to a Fab Fit Fun subscription box, I received a three-month trial gift card for something called Headspace, and when I looked into it I learned that it’s an app that teaches you how to meditate. I thought it sounded kind of lame at first, but then I read a ton of excellent reviews and figured, hey…three months free…may as well give it a try.

Those three months totally changed my outlook. First of all, Headspace doesn’t just teach you “how to meditate”. It starts off by giving you a basic breakdown of where to start, and then goes on to provide you with a plethora of specialized packs that aim at everything from controlling anxiety to bolstering creativity. There are packs to help you sleep better, packs to help you hone your focus, and packs to soften stress. There are guided and unguided meditations and special single meditations to listen to while you’re walking, cooking, commuting, or to help you deal with the fear of flying. There are even three special 3-minute “S.O.S” meditations designed to calm you down when you’re having a complete meltdown.

Each meditation is read by Headspace founder, Andy, and there’s something about his reading that immediately helps to keep me calm. He has a friendly, gentle, non-judgmental tone, and his meditations are designed with the understanding that meditation is actually quite difficult to learn. He explains things in layman’s terms, without being patronizing. He sounds like a good friend who genuinely wants you to get this right.

I ripped through the “Basics” meditations as quickly as I could, eager to move on to the “Anxiety” pack, which was calling my name. I listened to one “Anxiety” file every morning and sometimes another in the evening. I learned how to breath properly, how to clear my mind, and how to allow the anxiety to wash over me, just another thought coming and going. And on the days when I just didn’t think that I was going to be able to drag myself out to the bus, the “S.O.S.” meditations got me out there.

Look, here’s the thing… I won’t say that Headspace has gotten rid of my anxiety, and I won’t say that it’s a cure-all for what ails you, and I definitely won’t claim that it will work for everyone because that would be a foolish assumption. But when you’re suffering from something like anxiety, and it’s affecting both your home and work lives, you definitely want to try every last option, and this is just another one. It has helped me in spades, and although there is a monthly fee to be able to access anything other than the “Basics” pack, if it can help you deal with something that even most doctors don’t really understand, I definitely say that it’s worth it. So why not give it a try? You can download the app (or visit the website) for free at any time and at least try out the 10-day “Basics” to learn a bit about breathing and clearing  your mind. And who knows? Maybe that’s all you’ll need…or maybe you’ll crave the option to listen to all the meditations…or maybe you won’t like it at all. Either way, I wanted to share the option because it has worked so well for me.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Happy meditating. 🙂

Sometimes It’s the Wrong Prescription (or: “How My Insides Broke”)

Memoir MondaysI’m going to tell you a tale, but I’m going to be a little bit vague as I’m doing it because the details are both unnecessary and firmly within the realm of TOO MUCH INFORMATION. You’re welcome.

The tale begins with my gut problems. If you know me personally you already know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you know me only by my online presence the important details are thus:

  • About three years I started having particularly insistent stomach problems, of the kind that find you rushing off to the bathroom like a lunatic while people stare after you in confusion and/or exasperation.
  • I could never figure out a definitive reason for said stomach problems; sometimes certain foods would seem to bother me, but other times those same foods wouldn’t affect me in the slightest, so I eventually came to rule out any specific triggers.
  • As a result of these continuing stomach problems and the fact that I couldn’t find a real reason for them, I eventually developed a bit of an anxiety problem, especially when it came to traveling (i.e. being without access to a bathroom for any length of time).
  • That anxiety problem multiplied tenfold during my last job, at which I was expected to spend two hours a day on a bus that didn’t have a washroom on-board, driving through the middle of nowhere, most of which was giant open fields (in other words: not even a tree to hide behind).

Around the time that I was dealing with all this I managed to get in to see a gastroenterologist, and had a few tests done to determine if I had any kind of major issues, such as Crohn’s Disease or colitis. In the end I had a follow-up appointment with the doc, during which he informed me that there was absolutely no problem with me physically, and that my problem was that I had an anxiety problem. Let me tell you, I struggled with whether to punch him or burst into tears (I managed to restrain myself from doing either) because I knew I had an anxiety problem, dammit, but it was the RESULT of the stomach problems!

The official diagnosis eventually became that I have IBS, and that anxiety is my major trigger. I personally was never satisfied with this diagnosis because it seemed strange to me that I just kind of woke up one day and magically all of a sudden had IBS (and, again, the anxiety came second so how could that have triggered it?), but since all of the tests came back negative I figured I didn’t have much of an argument to make. My family doctor gave me a prescription for a drug that tames stomach spasms, hoping that this would at least help me to survive the bus situation.

I tried that prescription for a while, but eventually I found myself back at my family doctor, complaining that it really didn’t help at all because as soon as I would see the bus I would start to panic, and the second I started to panic my stomach would twist in knots and it would just go downhill from there. He asked me a few more questions and at some point during the conversation I mentioned that, “I was the kid who threw up on the first day of school every year.” He suggested that perhaps I really had always had an anxiety problem and that some kind of outward stress had triggered it, causing the domino effect of my guts turning inside-out. He suggested a mild antidepressant that is usually used to treat anxiety and I agreed to give it a go.

Here is where I admit that this antidepressant did not, by any stretch of the imagination, solve my problems. It did make me feel a little better, and it did make it easier to close my eyes and breath through the panic in the mornings (which are always the worst part of the day, for some reason), but it was not a cure-all. I continued to take it because any help was better than no help, but that’s where we come to the second part of the story.

A few months ago, while at my current job, I started to experience a different kind of gastronomic issue. This is the part that’s TMI, so I’ll brush past it and if you’re really that interested you can brave Google. At first this issue only seemed to occur whenever I was on shift out West and would clear up while I was home, so I assumed it had something to do with the food (which, at this particular work camp, can barely be classified as edible). Eventually, however, it started to be a constant problem, never going away, never letting up. I should have gone to my doctor about it, but month after month I was too busy to make an appointment (and it’s difficult to get in when you only have a ten-day window once a month), so eventually I started researching this problem on the internet. I normally hate doing this because when the internet is involved it seems like every tiny issue leads to some form of cancer, but this case was actually pretty different. The problem I was having, said the internet, could only be caused by one specific issue: my digestive system was not absorbing fat properly. When I read some of the the other possible symptoms of “fat malabsorption” this self-diagnosis started to make even more sense.

So then the question became, “Why would my body suddenly not be absorbing fat properly?” And back to the internet I went. From what I could see there were two major players in this game: gluten intolerance, or the pancreas neglecting to produce enough stomach bile.

You might remember that a few weeks ago I did a “Low FODMAP Diet Experiment“, which is basically a gluten-free diet plus the cutting out of difficult-to-digest sugars. Now you know that the reasoning behind this experiment was to see if the issue I was having would clear up at all. The diet was not easy to adhere to while restricted to the foods available at the work camp, but I struggled through the diet for two weeks, hoping that this would fix me while feeling pretty confident that it wouldn’t. My instinct was right: I saw absolutely no improvement in the slightest, leading me to the conclusion that the problem must, in fact, be with my pancreas.

But why would their be a problem with my pancreas? I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions (whoops, silly internet, there’s that cancer popping up again…tsk tsk), but I also felt confident that there was something there somewhere, that this was the problem and I just had to narrow it down to whatever had triggered it.

It happened near the end of the FODMAP diet experiment. I was thinking about the possibilities, wondering what I could have done to cause my pancreas to suddenly stop working properly. Then it occurred to me: when this had begun it was only happening while I was out West, but then it had become a full-time issue. So what was different in the beginning from later on? It came to me like a bolt of lightning: this issue had cropped up not long after I’d first started taking my anxiety meds which, at first, I was only taking while I was out West. I’d figured that I didn’t really need them while I was at home (because I wouldn’t be dealing with buses), but after a month or two I’d thought that maybe they weren’t helping as much as I’d hoped they would because I wasn’t taking them full-time as one usually would. So I’d started taking the prescription daily, and soon my little gut issue was a daily one as well.

Now, I didn’t just up and announce, “THIS IS THE PROBLEM!” I did do a bit more research first, and though the information was actually rather difficult to find (are they trying to hide this stuff or something?) I did eventually determine that, yes, some kinds of antidepressants can cause a domino effect that creates the issue I was having by screwing with your pancreas.

At this point I should say that a smart person would have gone to their doctor right away and discussed her thoughts and issues. I didn’t do that. My immediate thought was that for the little bit of help this drug was giving me, it definitely wasn’t worth making my guts ten times worse than they’d already been when I’d started. So, for better or worse, I immediately stopped taking the antidepressants and haven’t returned to them since.

It took exactly five days for the problem to clear up.

Now, my guts are by no means fixed; I’m just basically back to where I was before my family doctor and I started talking about anxiety problems. However, I definitely think I’m better off (fat malabsorption…look it up…it’s not a good thing), and I’m managing. I’ve found other ways to help control my anxiety, and I’m currently at a job with shorter bus rides on a bus that actually does have a washroom, so there’s that too.

Basically, what it all boils down to – and the point I’m trying, in a roundabout way, to get to – is that drugs are not always the answer and you should always consider that they may, in fact, be part of the problem. I do think that my doctor was right to prescribe something for anxiety, especially since I was having major panic attacks at the time, but in the long run the side effects just turned out to be worse than the results.

So that’s my little story, as vague as I could make it so as to avoid the TMI-monster. And the moral of the story is: modern medicine is awesome, but everyone’s body reacts to drugs in different ways so never just blindly assume that every drug is going to do its job properly for you.

My FODMAP Experiment: Day 1

Today is Day 1 of my 14-day shift on the oil sands, and it is subsequently Day 1 of an experiment I have decided to try. That experiment involves FODMAPs.

FODMAP stands for a string of long, scientific-sounding words that basically just mean carbohydrates made mainly of sugar. Foods that are high FODMAPs have been shown to have negative effects on people with stomach and digestive problems. In fact, high FODMAP foods are theorized to be the real problem behind gluten intolerance, as gluten-containing foods also happen to be on the high FODMAP list.

It’s been suggested to me before that I should try a low FODMAP diet to see if it helps with my gut problems, but I never did it because it seems so daunting. You really have to pay a lot of attention to what you’re eating because, for instance, some fruits are fine and others are a big no-no. There are comprehensive lists that show what to eat and what to avoid, but in the past just looking at it made my head swim.

But today I’m going to begin a 14-day low FODMAP trial to see how I feel. Many of my digestive problems are seated in anxiety, but that anxiety arose as a result of physical problems, so I’m interested to see if this “diet” might actually help. Plus, my reasoning is that if I can manage to pull off a low FODMAP diet while stuck in a work camp with only the food options they give me, it should be a piece of cake to do it at home (without the piece of cake, of course).

So wish me luck, everyone, and I’ll let you know how it’s going as I move through the next two weeks. 🙂

Anxiety, Explained

A while back, a coworker of mine asked me what “anxiety” really is. As a happy-go-lucky young fella without a care in the world he just couldn’t fathom the idea and seemed genuinely curious. So I gave him the best answer I could come up with, and I thought I’d share a more detailed version of that answer with you today, so those of you who have friends or family with anxiety might understand a little better.

An excellent visual to start off with from Mr Munch

Imagine that you’re driving across a bridge in grid-locked traffic. Everything is fine and dandy until, from the opposite end of the bridge you start to see cars seeming to vanish. You realize that the bridge is collapsing, and this disaster is slowly making its way toward you. You start to panic. You try to back up, but there is a wall of vehicles behind you and their owners have abandoned them to run from the bridge. You try to abandon yours as well, but something strange has happened and none of the doors will open. You try kicking the doors and windows as hard as you can, but no matter how much strength and energy you put into it you can’t get anything to break. You’re trapped in your car with no way out, and the bridge is about to collapse beneath you. From the windows you can see that some of the people who fell in the water are alive and swimming to shore, but others are also trapped in their cars and are slowly sinking to the bottom of the water to drown or suffocate. You’re pretty confident of which people you’ll be joining. You’re terrified. Your heart is racing so hard you can feel it in your throat. You feel dizzy and lightheaded, and your stomach is in horrible knots. You might throw up. You might burst into tears. All you know is that this is the end of the world, and you can’t fathom any kind of positive outcome for yourself.

Now imagine all those horrible, twisted up feelings…but you have them as a result of mundane things like speaking to a crowd, or eating at a new restaurant, or riding on a public bus. You know it’s ridiculous, you know it’s not REALLY the “end of the world”, but you can’t stop your body from having the reaction, and now you feel even worse because you know how foolish you’re being.

That’s what anxiety feels like. It feels like any tiny thing that makes you uncomfortable is the worst possible thing that could be happening to you, even as you’re conciously telling yourself that you’re being an idiot. It’s like a bad drug that you can’t shake off the effects of no matter how much you tell yourself that what you’re feeling isn’t logical. It’s like your body and mind are broken and you don’t possess the tools to be able to fix them.

And all the while the people around you say things like, “Just calm down,” and “Geez, it’s not a big deal,” and, “Come on, what’s the worst that could happen?” And you can’t even answer because you know they’re right, but it does nothing to change the way you feel.

So there you go. I think I’ve about covered it, and I hope this helps anyone who has wondered, because it’s entirely unhelpful – and very hurtful – for people suffering from anxiety to be told things like, “Just get over it,” by their closest friends and family members.

Do you suffer from anxiety? Or maybe you have a friend or family member who does? What do you think of my explaination? What does anxiety feel like for you? Please share!

Dragging Anxiety Through the Fire and the Flames

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the word “relaxation”? Do you think about slow music and a warm massage? Do you imagine yourself in a sunny meadow in the summertime? How about a hot bath surrounded by candles? Or even reclining in your favorite chair to watch the big game with a beer in one hand and a plate of junk food on your lap?

Everyone has their own way to relax, but we generally accept the same sorts of things to be “relaxing”: pleasant smells, yummy foods, comfy furniture, time to rest, time to enjoy something that you truly love, being pampered. But then again, some of us relax in ways that make other people raise their eyebrows and wonder if perhaps there is something wrong with us.

I’ve mentioned a great number of times on this blog that I have stomach problems. Part of those problems are due to the fact that I eat food I really shouldn’t and fail to take care of myself properly, but something I’ve only really figured out in the past couple of years is that a great deal of my problem is due to anxiety. I get anxious about the possibility of stomach problems, and thus I wind up having them. Then the stomach problems make me more anxious, which exacerbates the stomach problems even more. My body and mind work together to create a very miserable, cyclical self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anxiety can result from a great many things, but for me what starts the avalanche sliding is any kind of travel. If I know that I’m not going to be handy to a bathroom for any significant period of time the anxiousness rears its ugly head and it all goes to hell from there. And because my work requires me to spend a significant amount of time on buses, shuttles, or out in the plant where I can easily be a ten-minute walk from any wash-car, you can see that I have many opportunities in daily life to become an anxiety-riddled basket-case.

Medication helps to an extent, but I also have to talk myself down on a regular basis; to force myself to relax, if you will. So how do I do it? How do I convince myself to relax? Peppermint tea? Lavender perfume? Pressure points? Breathing techniques? Nope. When I find myself in a position of imminent anxiety, I throw on my headphones and listen to this:

Now, you may, of course, recognize Through the Fire and the Flames by Dragonforce to be one of the least relaxing songs of all time. This is the point in the post where you’re probably raising an eyebrow and wondering if there’s something wrong with me.

The fact is that I’ve tried lots of different, seemingly more appropriate, music to help me relax. Classical music helped the most because it’s so soft and soothing, but what I found even with that was that my mind would still wander, and that wandering would inevitably land me back in anxiety-land. Then one day Through the Fire and the Flames randomized on my playlist while I was on the bus coming back from work, and by the end of it I realized that I’d spent the last few minutes of the trip blissfully lacking in anxiety.

My theory is that what I really need is something so busy and complicated that it forces my brain to turn off in order to deal with the barrage of information. I can’t think about being anxious because I’m busy focusing on the multitude of different instruments, beats, voices, and melodies that are intricately interlaced to create what many people would say is just noise. For many people this particular song would probably send their heart rate through the roof and actually make them more anxious, but for me it helps my brain to default to some kind of primal music-only level. I start to count the drum beats, to predict tonal changes, to focus on distinguishing each instrument, and to follow the notes in my head as they storm past. My mind becomes absorbed with music and everything else turns off.

Of course, that’s not to say that this method will work for me forever, but for no the combination of medication and Dragonforce are making my daily travel a heck of a lot more doable.

How do you relax? Do you have any favorite techniques or methods that seem weird to other people in your life? How about suggestions for methods that you think could really help other people? Please share!

Be Your Kid’s Cheerleader, Not Their Bodyguard

As a kid I was what some people might refer to as a “nerd”, and other people might refer to as a “geek”. Some people may have even classified me as a “loser” or a “dork”. It wouldn’t have been way out there to hear someone call me a “dweeb”. I had all the qualities of these many descriptors: I enjoyed school and was good at it, I loved writing and drawing, I only had one or two good friends, I had no sense of fashion or what was “cool” at any given time, I was fairly shy, and I liked lots of things that were considered to be (at the time) things that only nerds liked, like Star Wars, anime, and RPG video games.

I mean, come on...look at those walls! LOOK AT THOSE WALLS!
I mean, come on…look at those walls! LOOK AT THOSE WALLS!

The thing is, when I look back at my childhood I know that I actually had it pretty good. I got along with kids from all social groups, and though I was often teased and tormented I was actually fairly well-liked overall. And yet, if you had asked 10-year-old me, or 12-year-old me, or 15-year-old me, she would have had a grocery list of complaints to make, because that’s the thing about kids: they see things very differently and react explosively. That’s what we have to remember when dealing with young’uns.

For example, when I was young I was an excellent student, but I was dramatically lacking when it came to things that were important to all the other kids. I remember once when I was in the 5th grade, a couple of kids in my class were talking about “Green Day”. I remember wondering why they were talking about Saint Patrick’s Day in the middle of November. I had absolutely no idea that Green Day was a band and I felt like a total loser when I finally figured it out. I was regularly tormented for not knowing about the “important” bands, TV shows, and celebrities.

I was even pretty pathetic when it came to normal “kid” lingo. I read constantly and had a great vocabulary for my age, but when it came to things that kids say to one another I just didn’t get it. Once, I can remember one of the girls in my class told me that one of the boys in my class thought I was a “fox”. I had absolutely no idea what that meant. I didn’t know whether to be amused or upset. The boy in question was the kind of guy who was friendly enough but also a bit of a torment, so I didn’t know if being a “fox” was a good thing or if he was teasing me. In this particular case my ignorance showed clear through; the girl actually ended up asking me if I knew what a “fox” was because she could see the twitchy confusion on my face. I felt like a complete idiot as I tried to convince her that I did, even though I didn’t. And then even after I was clear on the definition, I didn’t know if the boy was being serious or mean, because I was not the kind of girl that boys liked and I knew it.

These kinds of things were exacerbated by the “normal” kid’s ability to be annoyingly ignorant toward the “nerdy” kid. When I would draw, for instance, I tended to draw in an anime style, and the result was a constant barrage of, “Oooh, is that Sailor Moon?” which is significantly more annoying than it sounds. In this vein everything I did or said was assumed to be related to Sailor Moon or Star Wars, because if a kid happens to like these kinds of things every other kid in the world will assume that that’s all there is to that kid. For a large chuck of my life I was designated to be the “kid who likes Star Wars”, and as far as some were concerned that was my only defining feature.

As I’ve mentioned before, these kinds of things, though they seem meaningless to an adult, are a huge deal to kids. Kids are emotional. Kids are quick to temper. Kids are cruel to each other. Kids are stupid.

The reason I mention all of this is because when you have a bunch of little things slowly building up and niggling at a kid’s mind, eventually it will come to a head and there will be an outburst of some kind. For me, the eventual outburst was a good thing. You see, my two best friends and I were picked on fairly regularly in junior high school. One of those two friends was the biggest target simply because she was the quietest and therefore the easiest (see previous paragraph about kids being cruel). One day in gym class we were going to be playing badminton, and while our teacher was distracted by showing one of the kids the proper swing, some of the “popular” kids were amusing themselves by hitting birdies at my friend. It was the kind of thing that she had endured before, and normally did so by gritting her teeth and trying to ignore them. On this day, however, she cracked, and on the tenth or eleventh birdie to the back of the head she twirled around and chucked her racket at the kids as hard as she could. Her reaction was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the other friend and I. Up until that point we had always been calm, quiet, and soft-spoken, but at that moment we snapped. I don’t even remember half of what either of us said. I do remember that there was an incredible amount of profanity involved, and that I ended up with my finger right in the face of one particular girl who looked, in that moment, like she was absolutely terrified that I was going to beat her face in. And the thing is, I actually may have, if our teacher hadn’t run over at that moment, grabbed my friends and I, and dragged us off to her office. I don’t remember much of that talk either, except for the fact that I was crying while we were trying to defend ourselves and I was so mad that I couldn’t stop.

We three ended up getting sent home for lunch early that day. At my grandmother’s house I explained to my mother and grandmother what had happened and that my two friends had already said that they weren’t going back to school that afternoon. After listening carefully my mother told me that I could stay home too if I wanted, but that she strongly suggested I return for the afternoon classes. She told me that not showing up would just show those kids that they’d won in the end. I hated that so much, you have no idea, but I returned to school that afternoon and spent the entire rest of the day sitting alone, knowing that the entire class was watching me, waiting to see if I’d snap again. Those three or so hours were some of the hardest I’d ever experienced. It was all I could do not to burst into tears every time I saw someone staring at me.

But as I said, in the end, the outburst that my friends and I had turned out to be a good thing for us. No one messed with us after that, and in honesty we seemed to gain quite a bit of respect. Life became a hell of a lot easier from there on out. And I truly believe that those “popular” kids learned something that day…in fact, one of them recently informed me that she’d felt extremely bad about that incident and apologized profusely for being a jerk.

Here’s the thing though…that incident could have gone a hell of a lot differently. For one thing, I could have forgone the screaming and cursing and gone right to bashing a girl’s face in. We could have done nothing at all and instead self-medicated in secret with drugs or self-harm. My friends and I could have let everything build and build and build until we ended up with major depression or anxiety or any other number of things. We could have wound up in a very different place. One of us could have even resorted to suicide. I would never in a million years have said that any of us were ever capable of that, but people often say that of kids who do end up taking the final plunge.

Now, these days we pay a lot of attention to bullying, especially it’s cyber-counterpart. And that’s good, for sure. We definitely don’t want to ignore the problem. But if you want to know my honest opinion, I think we spend way too much time focusing on the cause and not enough time focusing on the effects. Sure, it would be great if we could stop bullying all together and save all our kids from having to deal with that kind of mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical anguish, but we can’t. Not really. We can’t be on top of our kids every hour of every day, and no matter what we do or say to bullies they will continue to do what they do because that’s just the way they are. To reiterate: kids are cruel. They will always be cruel. We as parents and teachers and concerned adults can do what we can, but  some bullies will always work around the systems and thus some kids will always be bullied. Therefore, I suggest focusing more on the effects. Look for the signs. Keep your eyes open for changes in the way your kid acts. Be vigilant, but don’t hover, because kids recognize that kind of thing and they hate it. Don’t be forceful and demanding, but talk to your kids, let them know that they can talk to you. Don’t overreact. Kids won’t tell you that they’re being bullied if they think you’re going to go stomping over to the bully’s house to yell at their parents (hint: no matter how much you think it’s a good idea, that kind of thing results in MORE BULLYING). Your kids want you on their side, but they want you on their side on their terms. Your kids don’t always need you to fix the problem: sometimes they just need you to acknowledge the problem and let them know that you have faith in them to deal with it. Like my mother listened to my story about my breakdown and encouraged me to return to school to show the bullies that they hadn’t won, sometimes all your kid really needs is to know that you believe in their ability to face their own problems head-on.

Being a kid is rarely easy, and lots of horrible things have happened as a result of that, but our kids don’t need us to be their bodyguards; they need us to be their cheerleaders.

Theory: Only Your Own Brain Knows How Screwed Up You Really Are

Dreams have always been something that amaze me, perhaps in part because I have so many of them. Whether due to a sleep issue that keeps me in REM sleep more often than I should be, or simply because my imagination doesn’t like to turn off, I seem to spend significantly more time dreaming than most people I know. Therefore I spend a lot of time contemplating my dreams, from the interesting and confusing, to the downright “what the hell”-level insanity.

"Welcome to your messed-up subconscious. We'll be your guides."
“Welcome to your messed-up subconscious. We’ll be your guides.”

I’m not a person who believes that specific symbols in dreams mean the same thing no matter who is dreaming them, but I do believe that what we dream about says something about us if we can only figure out what. And since I often have the same dreams over and over, I thought I’d share a few of them.

Recurring Dream #1: Math is the Devil

One dream that I have so often it makes me seriously wonder about myself is the one in which I’m back in school. The dream can vary in a number of different ways, but there are a few key factors that are always the same. One is that my best friend is always there as well, regardless of whom else the dream my feature. Another is that the school in question is outrageously enormous, a sprawling city that is almost impossible to navigate and usually results in my wandering around for hours just trying to find my classroom. But the most important key factor is the math. This dream always features me back in math class and I’m failing miserably. Every time I have this dream, I’ve somehow managed to miss an entire semester’s worth of math classes and thus am excruciatingly far behind. This is always frustrating and panic-inducing because I don’t even know how I managed to miss so many classes. Often I have a notebook full to the brim with homework that I didn’t do, with no idea how I even have it. This dream always results in some major anxiety as I try to teach myself advanced calculus so that I won’t fail the course. I’ve never completed this dream in any way…either pass or fail. I always wake while still panicking.

Recurring Dream #2: Teenage War

One of my stranger and more involved dreams, this one features myself and everyone I knew from high school participating in some crazy, futuristic war. We’re always in this weird indoor town – there’s houses and fences and grass and trees, but you can also see huge white walls and a ceiling around the borders of the place. Everything is brightly lit and almost cheery-looking, but there are fires and explosions and gunfire everywhere. My classmates and I are fighting against some strange robotic army, like a messed-up combination between the Skynet robots and the Daleks. It’s all very cinematic and exciting. There’s danger around every corner, but never in this particular dream am I even the least bit scared or concerned. I’m just running around with an enormous gun, taking out robots. Often in this dream myself and a select few others (usually my husband and my best friend) will go on a secret mission that involves sneaking through these air-duct-like tunnels beneath and above the “town”. This dream has never found completion either. I always just keep dreaming about the fighting until I wake up.

Recurring Dream #3: Dumped

This one doesn’t pop up nearly as often as the other ones, but every so often I’m plagued by dreams in which my husband is either cheating on me, has dumped me, or is acting as though he’s never met me before. These dreams are weird in the sense that I don’t have the reaction you would normally have in such situations. Rather than being furious or feeling horribly betrayed or what-have-you, my reaction is always more childish, more like that of a teenager whose found out that their crush likes someone else. I always feel terribly sad, but in a pathetic, self-pitying kind of way, and usually when I have a dream like this I wake up still feeling depressed and vulnerable.

Recurring Dream #4: The Never-Ending House

The other dreams I can at least think of a little bit of some kind of explanation for, but this one flabbergasts me. On a regular basis I will dream about my husband and I moving into a new house. Oftentimes my parents or his or both will be there, I guess to help us move in, and it’ll be a bit like a party. The weird part comes when, inevitably, I’ll be looking for something and discover that there are extra parts to the house that we didn’t know were there when we bought it. I’ll find entire extra wings filled with numerous bedrooms and bathrooms, big game rooms. Sometimes it’ll be an enormous basement that we just somehow never noticed the stairs for. Sometimes it’ll be a basement, but it’s like this giant underground catacomb under the house that winds up being full of old furniture and boxes full of old artifacts. Most often, however, it’ll just seem like the hallways are never-ending. Like, there will be this one hallway full of doors that lead to bedrooms and bathrooms, but one of those doors will lead to another hallway which is also full of bedrooms and bathrooms, and so on and so on. In these dreams I’m never confused as to where all this extra space is coming from or how we never noticed it before, but sometimes I’ll find myself getting lost, going up and down stairways and not able to find my way back to where I started from. There’s never anything scary or upsetting about these dreams; on the contrary, usually I’m super-excited to have found that my new house is a hundred times bigger than I thought it was.


So what do you think? Am I completely insane? I can see signs of inner anxiety, maybe some self-doubt and uncertainty about the future, but that’s all guessing, really. For the most part I look at these dreams – which I have on a very regular basis – and I can’t help but wonder to myself if my brain is playing games with me. Surely fighting robot wars and having a house that just seems to grow and grow can’t really mean anything, and yet my subconscious sees fit to throw those same images back at me all the time. It’s a great mystery and I will be the first in line the day they figure out a way to record dreams, because this insanity bears deeper investigation and analysis.

How about you? Any crazy dreams that show up in your mind regularly? What do you think about dream analysis? Please share!

A Little Push

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

29. Encourage other writers to keep going

I suspect that it is an inevitable truth that at some point (and possibly multiple, regularly occurring points) every writer feels like giving up. Whether you’re an amateur working on your first real manuscript or a published professional having issues in editing, writers are a naturally self-depreciating breed. As my rage comic indicated, we have a tendency to flow through repeating stages of “I’m so awesome!” and “I’m such a hack!” It is a tendency we share with artists, musicians, and other creative peoples who put a little piece of their own selves into their work.

Some of this constant shift in attitude can be attributed to physiology (moods, hormones, emotional state due to outside forces, etc), but much of it is likely due to the lifestyle of a writer and the inability of people in general to fairly, and without bias, judge themselves.

The lifestyle may break may would-be writers because they simply can’t (or feel that they can’t) handle it. The life of a writer may seem simple and carefree to many, but in reality it can be very stressful and difficult. Deadlines may lead to anxiety and burnout. Disagreements with editors and agents can cause frustration and a feeling of losing creative control. Rejections from published and poor critiques/reviews can create doubt, depression, and the belief that you’ll never be successful. It’s a mentally and emotionally exhausting situation to volunteer for.

And then there’s that bit about being unable to judge ourselves. As humans, we are notorious for this, not just involving creative processes, but in every aspect of our lives. One only needs to observe drivers on the highway to understand the concept. Everyone on the road believes that they are an excellent driver, while everyone else is a dangerous SOB who needs to be arrested. It’s the same with writers, except that in our case it works at both ends of the spectrum. Either you think you rock (even if you don’t) while everyone else is a hack, or else everyone else is amazing while you’re a miserable failure (even if you aren’t).

So, in conclusion, being a writer is wrought with emotional distress, time management impossibilities, peer-to-peer conflict, pain of rejection, and psychological issues, and on top of all that you might never become successful enough to make a living out of it.

And here I am, supposedly about to tell you to keep going. Hmm…

Here’s the thing…have you ever heard the phrase that nothing worth doing is easy? While it may not be a logical descriptor for every person in every situation, it still rings true a good deal of the time. Do you think the athletes who go to the Olympics just breeze through the events without any training? Do you think young army recruits just walk through the door and all of a sudden they’re a high-ranking officer? Hell, do you think pregnant women just have a squat and a grunt and a beautiful, perfectly healthy baby just pops out?

If you really care about something – genuinely want it with all your heart, then you’ll do what you have to do and endure what you have to endure to make that dream a reality. Olympians know that they’re going to have to push their bodies to the limit, but they crave that gold, so they move through it. Privates-in-training know they’re going to be trained hard and disparaged at every turn, but they want to serve, so they deal with it. And women know damn well that childbirth is like to be a painful, miserable event that makes them feel like they’re going to die, but they want to bring a life into the world so they damn well manage it.

So if you really want to be a writer, write. Put your heart and soul into it and deal with whatever you have to deal with as a result, because in the end that’s the only true way to get what you want. You have to be willing to do whatever is necessary, end of discussion. If you aren’t willing, well…I guess you didn’t really want it very much in the first place, did you?